Okay it is a form of grandstanding to make pronouncements about the death of Western civilization. But maybe these pronouncements should be made, because our civilization is in its last gasps of life. It is not as if we are not staring down the barrels of a Western economic "total emergency" as now not only Greece threatens to go belly up, but so does Spain. Nor is it the case that we are living in an era of inspiring leaders whom we may follow with confidence into the turbulent headwinds of the future. Why, even Maureen Dowd has taken on the role of declaring that the emperor has no clothes. When some say that only in the German Chancellor does a smidgeon of hope lie for the future, we are clearly living in interesting times!
We are staring down the barrels of an economic recession to end all recessions because we have grown lazy as thinkers. Western civilization is a product of thinking. Greek philosophy x Christian theology x Roman statecraft spawned Western civilization. Our civilization developed in leaps and bounds (with occasional regressions between) as the beauty and truth of Greek and Roman culture were reappropiated and rediscovered (Augustinianism, Thomism, the Renaissance) and combined with Christian reappropriation of its gospel roots (Franciscanism, Reformation), with a Saturn 5 rocket booster pushing us forward through the Enlightenment into a long era of scientific discovery, all aided by careful clear thinking which sought to evade inconsistency in order to find coherency in politics, ethics and business.
A singular Christian contribution to the development of Western civilization has been compassion so that the excesses of capitalism and of communism have been beaten back by regard for the worth of human beings. That clarity of theological insight about the worth of people as made in the image of God has driven forward, consciously or unconsciously the progress of Western civilization in overcoming inequalities of (say) slavery and oppression of women.
But have we entered into an era in which our thinking has moved from the clarity of the Enlightenment to the fog of Post-Modern Multi-Cultural Pluralism? On the economic front, it appears that we are in the mess we are in because we have confused entitlement to basic human rights for food, shelter and medical care with entitlement to a complex system of benefits which, effectively, involve a disregard for both the straight dollar cost of these benefits and the amount of labour required to earn those dollars. We also seemed to have confused ourselves about the cost of reproductive choices in the West: I belong to a generation in which, routinely, my friends growing up came from families with four, five or six children. But we ourselves in our marriages are routinely producing none to four children. There should be no confusion in our minds that our expected long retirements can be adequately funded by our children. But there is confusion!
This week, however, I have come across a very opaque fog in Western thinking. Across in the USA some legislators are trying to outlaw "sex-selection abortions" (i.e. abortions for the reason of not wanting a girl baby). One might reasonably expect that the outcome of all that Greek philosophy, Christian theology, Enlightenment rights thinking would be a unanimous vote for outlawing this dreadful determination that girls are lesser humans than boys. But no. As pointed out here (drawing on here, here, here and here), US legislators cannot agree that the right of women to be treated equally with men trumps the right to make a choice to abort on the basis of sex-selection. (In a savage irony, the legislators trying to ban such abortions are Republicans and the legislators resisting are the Democrats who have recently taken to savaging Republicans as having declared "War on Women". There is no more vicious war on women than the killing of babies because they are girls.)
I think we in the West are going to go on this way for quite a while. Bit by bit we are undermining ourselves. The civilization that grew on the back of clear thinking will die under the weight of foggy thought. Unless we can -as we have done before - reappropriate the treasures of the past.
There is no guarantee that this will happen.