Tag Archives: free speech

Making America Great Again

voteI find it troubling how the media exaggerates and condemns discord stemming from political debate.

For discord is the bedrock of democracy. Silence is democracy’s opposite, and should be feared, for it means a drugged populace, whose speech has been taken from them.

As we watch both political parties engage in heated debate, I see the heat as healthy. We should be celebrating the candidates’ right to speak, their passion. To be sure, there are degrees of civility and incivility, lines we don’t like crossed, a continuum that can be slippery, but that is the rough-and-tumble nature of freedom. “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Not entirely true, but true enough. We have laws governing the degree of hurt, of slander, of libel, and when dealing with public figures the laws stretch to accommodate the free speech necessary to the public square.

I celebrate the fierce rivalry displayed over the last year between our many candidates. But I also celebrate those who bemoan the incivility, the name calling, the “tricks” played with “rules” regarding delegate selection. Let those who bemoan continue to be the brave watchdogs that report the crossing of lines and the slipping down the slope of unmannerly dialogue.

All this is good for our country, healthy for America. And there are other kinds of dogs in our political arena – underdogs, those who have been surrounded and bullied by both the left and the right and the media. While it is difficult at times to view Mr. Trump as an underdog, he is clearly beset by his own party powers-that-be, as well as his opposing party and the media both left and right. It is difficult not to root for such a knight clanking clumsily about in his rusty armor, such a strange American hero disguised in rich man’s clothing. For our knights since the time of Arthur and Lancelot are supposed to be gallant and polite. Our heroes are supposed to be in rags. The riches are ordained to come later, after the conquest, like trophies. Mr. Trump is a curious hero appearing on the American scene. He is rich and he is unpolished. Upper classes call such persons “boors.” They are embarrassed by him.

America is not a monarchy and because her people are fighters in both word and deed, they have saved the disintegrating, nominal Western monarchies from foreign occupation. Essentially, America has fought their wars, rescued them. And so when I see the upper crust in Britain and France bemoan our gutter candidates, looking down at such American roughnecks, I wonder at their grasp of reality, their knowledge of history. Remember World War II? Remember the London bombing? Remember Dunkirk? Remember the Holocaust threatening Britain?

The world is affected by America’s national elections. We make a difference in the balance of power, and how we structure our elections matters immensely. While I’m not a fan of the electoral college, I understand its history and the place of state’s rights. As a conservative in California my vote has rarely counted in Presidential elections. I would like to see more enfranchisement and less disenfranchisement. I would like to see, as Mr. Trump would like to see, a complete overhaul of the electoral system.

I would like to see a more honest media, both left and right. I have read again and again allusions to Mr. Trump’s invective against Muslims, Mexicans, and women. The “invective” as I recall regarding Muslims, while poorly stated, called for a temporary ban on non-citizen Muslims entering our country until the borders were better secured against terrorists. Makes sense to me. The “invective” regarding Mexicans, again poorly stated, called for building a wall to keep the drug traffic out and to require all immigrants to enter legally and obey our laws once here. Makes sense to me. The “invective” regarding women, while again poorly stated, concerned a reaction to the slurs against his wife by the Cruz campaign. Makes sense to me.

Mr. Trump does not yet have my vote, such as it is. I am concerned, as many are, as to whom he will nominate to the Supreme Court. I am concerned about religious liberty and compromises he might make with Congress, in his deal making. But then, candidates promise all kinds of things and don’t deliver. This we know. At least he isn’t making specific false promises.

I believe that if America is made strong again, both militarily and economically, many problems will be solved or slowly dissolve. But without a strong military and a robust economy we will not be able to survive the many invasions across our borders that will destroy our culture, silencing our freedoms. Tyranny will reign, and those polished monarchies across the seas with their good manners will not send us aid, for they will have been silenced by sharia law.

It might be the time to elect a bumbling bear of a fighter, an unpolished knight in rusty armor. Perhaps he can improve his manners, polish his act. Perhaps he can be more “presidential” as his wife has urged him to be.

It might be the time to elect a strongman to protect the weak, a strongman who celebrates law, freedom, and the rule of the people. Ineffective leadership at this crossroads in our nation’s history will invite an even stronger regime from outside or from within. Americans want peace at home and abroad, but do they want marshal law, curfews, and a police state? History tells us, in the midst of anarchy, such an answer lurks in the shadows.

Let us celebrate and honor all of our candidates, for America truly has an embarrassment of riches, so many highly qualified men and women of varying ethnicities. The debate has been enriching, informing, and has awakened a sleeping giant, millions of voters paying attention. We are showing the world our greatest strength is our people. We are showing the world we are unafraid of confrontation, of free speech, and of searching for the truth. We may stumble and bumble and even be unmannerly but we will always fight to keep our Camelot democratic and free.

Americans and Mr. Trump

voteIn considering the remarkable Trump phenomenon, I watch and I wonder, trying to understand his massive appeal. He seems trumpeted by those outside our nation’s elites – academia, media, politics, wealth.

Those folks outside these exclusive national clubs may not have succeeded as they hoped they would. The American Dream didn’t happen to them or they didn’t have the resources to make it happen. They didn’t make it (for whatever reason) to the top universities to sail into teaching or law or medicine. They couldn’t compete in the world of journalism and publishing and Hollywood, perhaps because of appearance or opinion or luck. They didn’t run for office because of quiet temperament or lack of desire, or the inability to pivot, preach, or promise with fingers crossed. And lastly they didn’t have the financial backing and courage to go into business and take risks, compete for their market share, broker deals so that others would lose and they would win. In the end, they perhaps weren’t competitive, and were happy to allow others do the competing, fight the fight, and provide products at competitive prices.

What does this group who trumpets Mr. Trump do for a living? I haven’t studied the stats but my guess is that they are proudly working class, sometimes working at several jobs, counting on their spouse to do the same. They watch their children bullied in school and on sidewalks and graduating unable to read and not knowing why America is great. All they want is public safety, good schools, and protection from tyrants at home and abroad. Freedom of speech and worship are taken for granted. They work hard, pay their taxes, and wonder why the schools are on lockdown and they can’t own a gun to protect their families and their pastor is going to jail for preaching from the Bible. 

They don’t have the time to study the issues. They aren’t schooled in the national debt and what it means for our future and our children’s future and even national defense. Many don’t understand that growing government means raising taxes or cutting programs. The nuances of numbers require a degree in accounting or economics or at least the time to study the current issues, none of which the working voter has. They are losing their faith in the media’s lockstep endorsements and explanations and they look to someone who says what they mean and mean what they say in words that make sense.

All the while we are seriously threatened by those who hate our freedom, outside our borders and within. We are not only threatened internationally but by homegrown terrorists in gun-free zones and by fellow citizens who would disallow people of faith to practice their beliefs. We are threatened by the dominant culture of self: selfishness, sloth, lust, envy, greed, gluttony, and arrogance, all vices that encourage self-pitying grievance and frivolous lawsuits crippling our courts. We are threatened by the strong who rob and kill the weak in dark alleys and bright abortion clinics.

Mr. Trump says, enough! And the disenfranchised hear him. They understand his message. And as I watch Mr. Trump in the debates what strikes me is his simplicity. A tad arrogant, to be sure, but clear and compelling.

I worked my way through college when college degrees meant something, and today have the rare opportunity, the time, to study issues and candidates, but I still feel incompetent to judge the complicated questions that will make or break our country. It makes sense that the Supreme Court shouldn’t be legislating new law,  but rather interpreting the Constitution. And it makes sense that our three branches of government serve to check and balance one another so that we the people are protected from tyranny. After all, we fought a revolution about that once, as I recall from fifth-grade Social Studies. The First Amendment is still a good idea, or I wouldn’t be allowed to write this or worship as I choose, at least as of this writing.

What I don’t like about Mr. Trump is his apparent arrogance, but perhaps he hasn’t been coached as well as the others on the art of image. He changes his opinions on the issues, but he says he’s learning as he goes. He often speaks in hyperbole, but the media (conservatives and liberals singing together) treats his simplifications as lies. They seem to enjoy misunderstanding his statements even as they reap huge ratings from them which means, of course, huge advertising dollars. When does exaggeration misrepresent one’s position? When Mr. Trump, for example, said he would like to see worse torture than waterboarding I assumed he meant within the law, that he would work to see the law changed. Many presidents work to see the law changed, some work legally and some don’t. Somehow I trust Mr. Trump to work legally, not like others we all know.

Mr. Trump is unpolished. His words are unpolished like many voters. He is a straight-shooter if it is safe to use a shooting analogy. But he listens and he learns and in spite of it all I trust him.

I’m not sure who I’m voting for. I’m undecided, although I will vote for the Republican nominee in the General Election. By the time the primaries get to California there won’t be too many candidates left standing. I long ago studied the two parties, trusting principles over people, and decided that the greatest good for the greatest number was represented by the Republicans. The greatest danger remains clear and present in the history of the last century when Hitler, Stalin, and Mao slaughtered close to 100 million in their totalitarian regimes. Big government stifles freedom and smothers the poor. It curtails creativity and hampers hope. It rewards those who promote bigger government, a self-perpetuating enterprise.

I will vote for the candidate that will work to keep America safe, ensuring our freedom and our future and our children’s future. I will vote for the candidate that will protect my right to worship, to speak, and to defend myself and my family. I will vote for the candidate that understands the need for an educated electorate, beginning with fifth-grade History, Economics, and Civics.

And I will vote for the candidate that sees America as exceptional, a beacon to the world, so that we can welcome more legal immigrants into our national family. They will, to be sure, add their own time and talent and treasure to our unique land of opportunity. Let’s build that border wall so that our laws can be enforced, so that no-one cuts in line. This is America, a land of liberty and justice for all, not just for some.

I have to thank Mr. Trump, for his energy, enthusiasm, and simple rhetoric, albeit sometimes harsh to the ear, has captured the national attention. Voters are listening. Voters are voting. They are taking their place in our exceptional history.

Licensed to Vote

voteSometimes I think one should be licensed to vote in national elections, perhaps take a test as one is tested for a driver’s license. Each of us wield a powerful tool, the vote, more deadly than any vehicle. We should be responsible with that tool, just as we should be responsible with our vehicles. We must know the rules of the road – the role of government, the history of our country, essentially, Civics 101.

The history of the West is largely the history of Jews and Christians and their systems of right and wrong, codified in time, ways of living together (not always successful) that honor the dignity of every person. We are taught shoulds and oughts. We feel shame and guilt when we should and ought to feel this way. We honor humility, and we dishonor pride. These are mechanisms of change within and without, ways to right our behavior, to become righteous, better people. We confess our sins and we make amendment. We repent, return to the right path. Can a society survive without these habits of living and thinking? Can a society that values self-esteem over self-sacrifice continue as a community? That is the challenge of today’s secular culture.

In many areas of society – government, church, family – I increasingly meet those who want to run away from serious debate, rational reasoning. We are like birds with our heads in the proverbial sand. It is more comfortable to avoid discomfort, to insulate oneself with rosy visions of reality. Who doesn’t want to love everyone and be loved by everyone? Sounds good.

But life is more complicated than that, indeed, survival as a nation is more complicated. One behavior slides toward another. In studying history, whether it be the history of an individual or a nation, we see these patterns and can better predict outcomes from those patterns. We apply that knowledge to current crises and so make better decisions.

In a democracy we citizens need to be educated on the issues. Without an educated electorate electing, choosing candidates and platforms who will determine our nation’s future, democracy becomes a sham and we the people, blindly teeter on the edge of a cliff.

It takes courage to face reality, whether it be the state of our own hearts or the state of the state. Many of us would rather not face facts, just to keep the peace. The price is high, however, as we veer unchecked toward the precipice.

In our nation, we look to educational institutions to educate us, to ensure each generation learns their country’s founding story, as unbiased as possible, through clear lenses rather than filtered through biases of gender or class, race or religion. We look to our schools and universities to foster honest debate, in fact, to teach us how to debate civilly, how to consider the opposite side of an argument. Most importantly, we want to be able to hear criticism and not deem it hate speech, to differ without fearing jail.

There has been a recent trend on university campuses for students to veto invitations to speakers with whom they disagree. So far, among many, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, George Will, and Charles Murray have been invited and disinvited because of the possibility of disagreement among students. For disagreement has become synonymous with hate. Here, on university campuses, where the exchange of free ideas should be encouraged, where the First Amendment right of free speech should be explained and exalted, tyranny of thought and language reigns.

McLaughlin & Associates conducted a survey of attitudes towards free speech on campus, and by wide margins, students desire codes regulating speech for students and faculty, requiring “trigger warnings” in class in case material might be uncomfortable. Might be uncomfortable? I would find the trigger warnings themselves uncomfortable; does that mean there should be triggers for the triggers?

Such absurdity nearly sidesteps the serious harm done to free speech and the dumbing down of an electorate who should be tough on all sides through reason. The gift of reason is unique to our species, one claimed divine and proof of God’s existence, that is, the existence of a reasoning Creator. We think things through, we legislate laws, we judge our fellows innocent and guilty. Courts and their legal systems, rights to defense and trial, separation of powers stemming from Magna Carta and earlier, all are rooted in the remarkable belief that we can reason through our differences, and only in this way can we maintain peace.

That we must train the next generation to do the same, to carry on this great tradition of Western civilization, seems obvious, at least to this writer, using her limited talents to reason.

Children who are surrounded by serious conversation around the dinner table are deemed to have a head start in life in contrast to those not exposed to such speech. They learn by example the steps taken to reach a point, and the charity required to listen to opposing views. Such beginnings are far more powerful than class or gender or race. There was a time it was thought that only the best educated could provide these beginnings for their children.

Not so any more, it appears, with the current trends. For academia favors a sweet diet of no opinion, sameness. We must agree (with the liberal viewpoint) or be arrested. Why does this brave new world remind me of a book by that name? Why does it remind me of Islamic State and its thought police who behead Christians and crucify those of differing beliefs, who sell their children into slavery, who watch and wait as America grows increasingly weak and wavering?

The natural desire to avoid conflict, to silence speech contrary to one’s own, and then silence one’s own speech to keep the peace, is especially harmful to a nation nearing national elections in 2016. But we must take courage, pull our heads out of the sand, and listen to the arguments pro and con. We must study our Western patrimony (Daniel Hannon’s Inventing Freedom is a good and readable start) and make intelligent, educated choices in the voter booth next year. We should listen to the candidates and judge their true character. Do they understand America’s true character? Are they unafraid to uphold the character and the history of the West? Or do they feed us a sweet diet of platitudes and promises to make us feel better?

If we don’t do our homework, then we should not be voting. If we do not license ourselves to vote, others will take our vote from us.

Law and Order

If we can’t police ourselves, others will police us. History, that long forgotten study of cultural, social, and national memory, is a clear witness that this is so.

And so I weep when I see Baltimore burn with such division, so inflamed by looters who discredit and dishonor the peaceful protestors of their community. Then, to see the city government allow this to happen, as though sanctioning it. For when law is not ordered, enforced by the state, disorder is seen as lawful.

We live in a democracy, a glorious, messy mix of peoples of all races, classes, ages. We are an experiment, according to European observers, and I often think the experiment is on the brink of collapse at moments like Ferguson and Baltimore. We have grasped a delicate balance between state and individual, between no speech and free speech, between public and private spheres. We are a family of passionate beliefs and ideals, often opposing, thrown together in a whirlwind we call society.

How are we to we get along? How do we express our deeply held opinions and beliefs? How do we protect property and individual freedoms? Provide for our future as a free people? Ensure our defense and care for the poor and innocent, the least among us? We do all of these things through laws, good laws.

Without law, we become slaves, property owned by the strongest among us. Without law to protect us, we allow might to make right. We hide in fear waiting for the looters who will, in the end, rule us.

I am looking forward to reading Os Guinness’s book, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity. As Christianity is marginalized in our culture, so are the Judeo-Christian virtues of tolerance, self-restraint, and brotherly love, among many other values supporting democracy. To be sure, Christians and Jews do not always practice what they preach, but ideals must still be preached, they must still be heard and honored in the public square.

We can differ as Americans, but we can continue to converse. We can respect one another’s right to speak, to believe and live in peace, as long as we keep the peace. One group of color or creed need not dominate; but all must keep the peace.

And so as the looters set fire to their own community in Baltimore, and as others smashed car windows in our neighboring Oakland, I thought back to our inaugural lecture on Sunday night taking place at our new Center for Western Civilization, near UC Berkeley. It was well attended by young and old, from many racial backgrounds, and we were told by one speaker that each of us had lit a candle with our presence, adding to the light of freedom. There were also many words of encouragement at the reception afterwards: “So glad you are doing this,” they said again and again as I recalled the Center’s mission:

“Ignorance is the greatest threat to our civilization. Departments of Liberal Arts are shrinking in our major universities. Courses in the Western Tradition, history, literature, art, poetry, philosophy, and ethics are no longer required. Few students have enough understanding of the origins and principles of Western Civilization to maintain or advance our democratic institutions. The absence of this critical knowledge threatens the future of our personal freedoms. It is our responsibility to support every effort to keep the lights of freedom burning before we descend into darkness.”

The lights of freedom – our flaming candles – must help us see where we have come from in order to know where we are going. Fire is good when tamed and used constructively by man. It warms us when we are cold. It cooks our food and burns our garbage. In even turns our flesh to ash to be buried when we die. It lights the dark of the past, the present, the future. Each of us present on Sunday night on Bancroft in Berkeley was lighting a candle in and for our world; each of us was eager to keep the flame burning if only for another lifetime, another year, another day.

And in the end, each of us is only that, a single voice in a sea of voices and one soul in an ocean of souls. I carry, like my neighbor who sat next to me on the hard folding chair in that YWCA hall, a hope within me that my single voice matters, and that my neighbor’s voice matters too. The Baltimore looters matter, each one of them. All of us form America, and we can all carry a flame – our voice – into the public square of our nation, and of our world.

But the flame must not burn others; it must light their way. It must not destroy; it must give life. But how do we keep our candles lit in this darkness?

We keep them lit by respecting law and order; by enforcing peace in our communities. We keep them lit by understanding who we are – where we have been and where we are going.

Civilization and other Challenges

703683I’ve had the privilege to help out with the beginnings of a new Center for Western Civilization, located in Berkeley, one block south of the University of California, on the corner of Durant and Bowditch. We hope to enrich the university curriculum with lectures reflecting the traditions of the West, those of ordered liberty, privileged and responsible freedom, elected government, open markets, habeas corpus, rule of law, jury trials. These ideals are our rightful inheritance, principles that reflect John Adams’ “government of laws, and not of men.” Laws protect; men dictate. 

These are principles not always found in required university curricula. It is also true that freedom of speech and religion is not respected on many college campuses, with the most egregious intolerance found in the cloistered halls of the Ivy League and in the lofty liberalism of our public universities, namely U. C. Berkeley.

There is a correlation between this rise of intolerance, with its enforcement by campus bullies, and our increasingly empty churches, according to Mary Eberstadt. In “From Campus Bullies to Empty Churches” (Intercollegiate Review, Spring 2015), she describes the peer and faculty pressure on students to deny their Christian faith, to consider such belief a fairy tale. Christianity is not acceptable in quad or classroom, and students want to fit in. Christians and their beliefs are ridiculed. Parents, beware of paying outrageous sums for such an education! Students, beware of going into debt for a lopsided program, to put it kindly. 

And so it has been of some concern to many of us that the pillars of our society are crumbling and those who might rebuild the foundations – the best and brightest of the next generation – are being stripped of their heritage, our legacy to the young. Today a counter-revolution composed of brave warriors who are unafraid of the bullies, unafraid of the speech police, is challenging faculty and tenure tracks, armed with support networks. These conservative groups, folks that want to conserve our ideals enshrined in the constitution and Bill of Rights, grow stronger each day. They need our support. 

Our Center for Western Civilization hopes to do just that. In these early days, we have connected with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), founded by Frank Chodorov in 1953 who saw the need for a fifty-year project to “revive the American ideals of individual freedom and personal responsibility… by implanting these ideals in the minds of the coming generations.” A young William F. Buckley Jr. was ISI’s first president. Since then they have held seminars and summer programs based on six major principles: limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, a free-market economy, and traditional values (i.e. Judeo-Christian). 

This past year ISI established a U. C. Berkeley group, the Burke Society, and we hope to work with them as well. We will also network with others on campus concerned about these vital issues. 

God seems to be writing with our crooked lines, hopefully straightening them. While every effort we have made has been fraught with difficulties and impossibilities, doors keep opening. We boldly walk through them, wondering what is on the other side.

In April we will sponsor our first lecture. David Theroux, Founder and President of the C. S. Lewis Society of California, will speak on “C S Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism.” Lewis was keenly aware of the threat of totalitarianism, having lived through two world wars and witnessed the rise of Hitler and Stalin. Our event has outgrown the planned venue and we are moving it to a larger one. 

All the while my little novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, considers these issues as well: the borders between wilderness and civilization, the effects of the sexual revolution on American culture, the dangers caused by a culture of narcissism and grievance, and the inclusivity that allows barbarians through our gates. It considers what defines us, who we are, for if we don’t know who we are, we don’t know where we are going. Our own history – that of America and the Western world – answers these questions, and it is to our founding fathers and mothers that we must turn. We cannot afford to look away, denying that the pillars are crumbling.

Some take exception to the label, Western civilization. Are we being ethnocentric? Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament representing South East England, calls Western civilization the “Anglosphere,” and this is a useful name, for it avoids the charge that we are speaking only of America and Western Europe. The Anglosphere – the free English-speaking peoples worldwide – has an important story to tell, and tell again and again, for as Hannan says, “the Anglosphere is why Bermuda is not Haiti. It’s why Singapore is not Indonesia. It’s why Hong Kong is not China (for now)… the individual is lifted above the collective. The citizen is exalted over the state; the state is seen as his servant, not his master.” (Intercollegiate Review)

Much has been written denigrating the history of the West. Corruption, crimes, misogyny, slavery, conquest, and many other dark moments are brought to light, judged, and sentenced, both secular and religious. But this has been true of every era; there will always be the good and the bad in human society. And so we make judgments about what is good and worth conserving. We choose the good and reject the bad.

The existence of these dark events and those who perpetrated them does not warrant rejecting the foundations of our culture. And so, for example, we look to Michelangelo, Dante, Shakespeare in the Renaissance. We want to recapture their “mimetic content” as Joseph A. Mazzeo writes, to pass it on to the next generation, and to enrich and fortify our own. Likewise we want to disregard the Medicis, Strozzis, della Roveres, and other dark Renaissance figures. We judge what makes our people great, good and free, and eventually we realize that the artists and writers and statesmen of the “Western Canon” (so abandoned in our schools) looked to their own history, to the Christ story for mimetic content, for they lived in a living tradition. In the story of Christ we find the origin of our ideals, our unique Western worldview. We find the sacredness of each individual regardless of class, gender, race, and religion, a revolutionary concept. And of course Christ lived and breathed within the Jewish tradition of law and faith.

We must not take our Anglosphere inheritance for granted. It is unique, precious, and under attack from within and without. The first battle that must be fought is on our university campuses. The second is in Washington D. C.

The Question of Civilization

703683What is civilization? And more particularly, what is Western Civilization?

I have been pondering this question, particularly in light of the demise of Western Civilization course requirements on university campuses across the nation. We are told that these classes are elitist, that they promote only the West and shun the rest, and we need to be more inclusive, study all civilizations equally. (Perhaps that wouldn’t be a problem if all were actually studied; but in many schools, the student chooses, and often neglects Western histories when left on his own.)

In my reading and unraveling, there appears to be an odd word game at play here. To be sure there are many civilizations throughout the world and in time, and this meaning of the word “civilization,” that is, any society of people and their culture, recognizes this. All are worthy of study.

What is more to the point, however, is how to conserve those aspects of a civilization we find valuable and necessary, i.e. those ideals of the Western world, going back to Athens, that we find crucial to free peoples today. Many of these aspects, these roots and ideals, are found in other cultures in varying degrees, planted by the West through colonialism. This is not being elitist or exclusionary. It is simply true.

Clearly there are aspects of civilizations that we might not want to encourage on our shores. The tyrannies of the Islamic State and of the Communist State come to mind; repressive and corrupt governments come to mind. We are not keen on beheadings and lawlessness and military dictators. We like free elections and freedom to travel and own property. Western democracies are (or should be) favored because liberty, limited and representative government, free speech, the freedom to worship and assemble, the rule of law, are lauded as ideals.

What happens when we fail to teach our children the history of these ideals found in the development of the Western world? What happens to our electorate when we say North Korea and Iran have equally good forms of government and pose no threat?

In my ponderings, I’ve come up with a working definition of civilization, which one of my characters poses in my novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, a story about the borders of civilization and the wilderness:

A civilized society is a culture in which the common good is desired and advanced, but individual life and liberty protected, in which the natural world is controlled but cultivated and cared for, in which respectful debate is fostered and slander discouraged, in which social charity is promoted, yet private property protected, in which the rule of law and representative government work to provide peace at  home and to defend our borders.

A cousin to the question of civilization is the question of the Christian influence in Western Civilization’s development. They are interwoven, for Christianity’s inherent belief in progress, of bettering oneself and one’s community, as well as the value of the individual, spurred Western Civilization forward. The work ethic was largely a Christian ethos that has become secular through time. Eastern civilizations did not develop in this way, for life was circular and determined by fate; one worshiped one’s ancestors and was not so concerned with one’s descendants; happiness was to deny the real world and retreat into a mystical present.

Christianity, in its theology of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, recognized that at that moment man turned away from God, to make himself godlike. Instead of godlike, however, he became primitive, savage. By recognizing this original sin, Christianity claimed that God saved man from himself, and death, through God’s Incarnation; man was shown sacrificial love. The Judeo-Christian tradition, i.e. the Western tradition, embraced the ideals of honor, sacrifice, communal charity, protection of life, liberty, and yes, claimed a path to happiness, not just its pursuit. The idea of the noble savage, a romantic primitivism embraced since the eighteenth century (from Rousseau, Mead, Marx, and Engels to Karen Armstrong), does not hold up to reality. The natural world is a wild world, one that humans must tame, just as we must tame the wildness within our own hearts.

Aristotle is quoted as saying, “the purpose of politics is not to make living together possible, but to make living well possible.” It is most certainly both. And these are also purposes of Western Civilization, to create a culture that cultivates freedom of expression through word and image, one that encourages our nobler side, our more sacrificial and heroic side, one that teaches us to love. It does this by ensuring peace and prosperity, and by passing on these ideals to the next generation.