The alt-right may depart from mainstream conservatism in a number of ways, but one trait they both have in common is an obsession with something known as “Western Civilization.
The term gets waved around a lot by people all across the political right.
The alt-right may depart from mainstream conservatism in a number of ways, but one trait they both have in common is an obsession with something known as “Western Civilization.” The term gets waved around a lot by people all across the political right. The near-genocidal Traditionalist Worker Party founder Matthew Heimbach once headed a chapter of the “Youth for Western Civilization,” Stanford pop historian and Kissinger hagiographer Niall Ferguson makes a hierarchical distinction between “the West and the rest,” while noted social-scientific blowhard Jordan Peterson has repeatedly declared that “The West is right.” But what is this mysterious entity called “the West” anyway? Or, to break the question down a bit more, what do they think they mean by “the West,” what are they actually signaling by talking about “the West,” and why should anyone care about “the West” at all (since, spoiler alert, it’s largely a fabrication)?
When people on the right talk about “the West,” they almost always do so in glowing terms. It’s the “birthplace of democracy” or the “mother of reason” or the “nursemaid of science” or any number of other natal clichés. The achievement of the West, in their minds, is a kind of origination or invention of various significant cultural institutions that, for better or worse, now shape the experiences of billions of people around the world. (Ferguson nauseatingly calls these great Western institutions “killer apps.”) Setting aside for a moment the fact that modern democracy looks absolutely nothing like the Athenian system, or that Indian scholars began developing multiple systems of formal logic several hundred years before Aristotle was born, this affection is understandable: Democracy and reason and science are generally considered good things, and it’s good to want to know how they came about.