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Cultural superiority isn't racism: Why western values underpin the world’s best countries
By Sam Jacobs
Elements of the left and their allies in the media are constantly driving this point home: White people are bad and so is the culture that they have created. Everything we value as a society is bad and, more than that, little more than an ex post facto justification for the subjugation of non-whites. Western culture is white culture, and all things white are bad.
But as with everything else which these elements of the left and their allies in the media push, this is simply false. While the overlap between white people – that is, people of European descent and some Christian populations in the Caucasus – and Western culture is undeniable, it is likewise undeniable that Western culture is no longer the exclusive domain of whites. What we can call, without the slightest bit of stretching the truth, Western culture is present not just in Western Europe, North America and Australia, but also in former British colonies such as Israel, Singapore and Hong Kong.
What’s more, a country simply being part of Europe does not make it “Western” in any meaningful sense. While there is a certain Western cultural continuum based around Christianity that extends from Lisbon to Vladivostok, it would be overly simplistic (and indeed, a bit demeaning) to label the post-Soviet countries as “Western.” They have a similar set of cultural values rooted in Christianity, however, even the introduction of democracy has not made many post-Soviet and post-colonial nations more liberal in the true sense of the word – open markets, an emphasis on free speech, strong private property rights, an independent, impartial judiciary, and the primacy of the individual over that of the group.
Throughout this article we will provide some terms to define what we mean by “Western culture.” We will also make the case that Western cultural values have a universal aspect in the sense that they can be applied with success anywhere in the world, that these values are objectively superior to other value sets at maximizing human freedom, quality of life, and potential, and that the belief in this superiority has nothing to do with “racism” in the sense that it is commonly understood by ordinary people.
One demonstration of the proof that these values are objectively superior is that "people vote with their feet", as Dr. Jordan Peterson points out: "The fundamental assumptions of Western civilization are valid. Here's how you know: Which countries do people want to move away from? Not ours. Which countries do people want to move to? Ours! Guess what, they work better. And it's not because we went around the world stealing everything we could get our hands on. It's because we got certain fundamental assumptions right - and thank God for that."
What Are Western Values?
Before going any further, it is necessary to define what we mean by “Western values.” Indeed, what we mean by this is very specific and has a basis not in the West at large, but specifically in Anglo-Saxon culture. Virtually all of the values that we will identify in this article as being “Western” are perhaps more accurately termed “Anglo-Saxon values.” However, as the former term is more concise, succinct and in greater general use, we will use “Western values” throughout this article.
So what are these values? What is their origin? Where do they come from?
Again, it is our belief that what we call “Western values” are rooted firmly in the Anglo-Saxon tradition above all else. The formalization of these values can be found in the Magna Carta, but this simply codifies values that had been practiced in long standing in post-Anglo-Saxon Britain and likely long before it in some sense, going back to the days when the Angles and Saxons roamed the border regions between what is now Germany and Denmark.
While the Magna Carta is a complicated document, for our purposes it means something succinct and simple: it means that the king is not above the law.
There are a number of principles that flow from this general recognition that form the bedrock of Western civilization: Legal norms apply to everyone regardless of social class. The right to a fair trial by a jury of one’s peers and the right to face one’s accuser in open court. The right to one’s own property and the right to defend that property using deadly force. While these rights have all been hemmed in – in extreme ways in some cases, particularly since the events of September 11, 2001 – the point is that they form the bedrock of our legal structure and value culture in the West.
To boil this down to a single sentence: the West believes that men have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that these rights can only be deprived through due process of law. Both national constitutions and prevailing moral attitudes prevent angry mobs or powerful oligarchs from systematically depriving unpopular and powerless minorities of their rights.
Are Western Values Universal?
Western values are not universal in the sense that they will eventually be arrived upon by all cultures given enough time. They are not, contra Francis Fukuyama, an endpoint of history, a teleological goal post that all of humanity has been moving toward for its entire existence. It comes out of a very specific lineage, the Anglo-Saxon culture of yeoman farmers, freeholding lords, restive barons and, more than anything else, a total rejection of the notion of authoritarian kings who could rule at their whim without, at the very least, the consent of the men providing armed bodies for their war efforts and paying the lion’s share of taxes.
But perhaps Western values are universal in another, different respect. Consider what we said earlier: These values are by no means limited to the Anglosphere, though they do seem to be strongest in former British colonies – North America, Australia, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong. These values manifest in different ways in each of these places and it would be more than a little odd if they didn’t.
However, the basic notion that there are a set of legal norms applying to everyone and, perhaps more importantly, that property rights are as important as other rights such as free speech, seem to have a universality about them. By this we mean that everywhere they have been put into practice, they have yielded impressive results in allowing human society to reach a greater potential while also providing better results for greater numbers of people.
Why does this matter? Well, Communist nations have historically raised living standards dramatically. Compare Russia during the waning days of the Romanovs to the Soviet Union in the 50s, 60s and 70s, or China today to China 70 years ago. But this is only impressive if you ignore the failure of Communism with regard to the rights of the individual and the rather sterile record of Communists with regard to innovation and invention. Sure, the Soviets beat America in the space race by putting a few dogs and satellites in the air – and then promptly did nothing else. Similarly, China is known far more for stealing Western intellectual property than it is for innovating its own.
Quality of Life
Innovation is necessary for both maintaining quality of life for large and growing populations, and for increasing quality of life. Again, China presents an important test case in what happens in a growing economy without transparency, an emphasis on the rights of the individual and the freedom to innovate that comes with an open, liberal economy: China’s one-child policy, which has been demographically disastrous beyond the humanitarian considerations, as well as its environmental degradation are both symptoms of a society that has become aggressively anti-liberal, stifling innovation.
Indeed, the results are plain to see: Of the ten countries in the world with the best quality of life, three of them are former British colonies – Canada came in at number one, Australia and New Zealand. One was in personal union with Britain (the Netherlands), four are Nordic countries with a similar emphasis on the rights of the individual and due process (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland), and one is arguably the country in the world with a value system most closely resembling that of the Anglo-Saxons (Switzerland). Former British colony Singapore comes in at number 20, behind only Japan and China (which includes Hong Kong – and we wonder how much lifting that former British Crown Colony is doing for the People’s Republic) in Asia. Malaysia and India, both former British colonies, come in the top 30, beating out even a number of European countries outside of what we have defined as “the West,” such as Russia, Bulgaria and Slovakia.
Quality of life is an important metric because it includes non-material and non-economic factors. How subjectively happy are people? Are they satisfied with their lives or are they simply awash in money? Do they want to have children? Are they invested in society through mechanisms such as home ownership? All of these questions will yield a far more accurate picture of a country’s quality of life than simply looking at their GDP or per capita income.
There are other ways of demonstrating the kind of cultural superiority that we are talking about. One of these is by looking at the countries who have produced the most Nobel Laureates: Despite the prize being of Norwegian extraction, two Anglosphere countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, absolutely dominate the rest of the world with regard to winning Nobel prizes: Of the 866 individuals who have received Nobel prizes as of 2020, 516 of them (nearly 60 percent) have been from these two countries.
All five of the top five slots are occupied by Western nations, with these five countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Sweden) making up a whopping 83 percent of all recipients. Within the top ten, we see an additional three Western countries (Switzerland, Canada and Austria) and the share of Western countries in the top ten expands to fully 92 percent of all Nobel prize recipients.
This achievement is so lopsided that it must be discussed by anyone seriously considering this topic.
Technological achievements are difficult to quantify. What one considers to be an important technological achievement might be rejected by another as insignificant. However, this list created by The Atlantic is not a terrible representation of the most important technological achievements since the invention of the wheel. While nearly all of these were invented somewhere on the continent of Europe, what is more striking and important is how many of them were created in the West in the way that we have defined it – i.e., those cultures most embracing the values summarized in the Magna Carta and its extrapolations.
Corruption and Transparency
Finally, there is the matter of corruption and transparency in government. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 180 different nations around the world in terms of transparency, accountability, general fairness and other important factors. Of the top ten countries for 2019, nine are in Europe. The one that is not is the former British colony of Singapore, a country that is light on democracy but heavy on freedom, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. Former British crown colony Hong Kong – thankfully ranked separately from the People’s Republic of China – comes in at number 16, ahead of Japan, Ireland and Belgium. Indeed, the two Asian former British colonies come out ahead of the United States according to the terms established by the Corruption Perceptions Index.
One of the reasons for America’s low rank among Western countries is because Americans often watch in disbelief as top government officials leave public service and cash in on their expertise in the private sector, regardless of the crimes they committed while in office – whereas in a place like Sweden, when a politician is caught violating the public’s trust for even minor infractions like drunk driving, they immediately resign. Consider how Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are fugitives facing charges while General David Petraeus (who provided his illicit lover and favorable biographer information so secret it defied classification, including the names of covert operatives and the president’s private thoughts on matters of strategic concern), former director of the NSA General Keith Alexander (who lied under oath to Congress and the courts about the NSA spying on U.S. citizens), and former CIA Director James Clapper (who also lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee in order protect his agency from oversight) all breathe free air.
Are Western Values Superior to Other Value Systems?
Whether or not Western values are “superior” to other value systems is entirely reliant upon what one considers to be the ideal results for a society. Honest and good people have disagreements on this topic. However, we believe that in the West, there is a general, broad agreement on what constitutes a “good” result for society best summed up by two principles: freedom and fairness.
Freedom and fairness are, in fact, two ideas that are in tension with one another because they are often mutually contradictory. What makes one man free might be unfair in a meaningful sense to another. Indeed, the left-right spectrum in the United States and the Anglosphere might be described as the Party of Freedom (for example, the Republicans) versus the Party of Fairness (in this case, the Democrats).
Both of these values are important to everyone to varying degrees. The resolution of this tension – drawing the line at some point between fairness and freedom – is effectively what our entire civilization is about. It is about maximizing results for the greatest number of people, creating a society that is as fair as it can possibly be while minimally infringing on the rights of individuals.
In a word, Western values can be described as “liberalism” in the sense that John Stuart Mill and John Locke would have understood the term. While there are coherent and important arguments about the limitations of liberalism on both the left and the right, both sides of the political spectrum have thus far failed to offer an alternative to classical liberalism that provides the same degree of generalized prosperity and individual liberty that Western civilization has provided using classical liberalism as its de facto political ideology.
If one believes that freedom and fairness are not important, this doesn’t mean much. However, most Americans and most Westerners believe, whether they are aware of this specific description or not, that freedom and fairness are important and perhaps the most important values that a society can aspire to.
What’s more, we believe that these values are directly responsible for the material prosperity and plenty that characterizes these societies. Individuals are able to pursue happiness in their own way and, for the most part, retain the fruits of their labor. This creates motivation for innovations that raise the standard of living across the board, from top to bottom.
Is It Racist To View Western Values As Superior?
When the superiority of Western values is touted, the retort is often that prizing these values above all others – indeed, recognizing them as “superior” in some way – constitutes “racism.” We believe this is not an unreasonable response to the claims that we are making and that it requires specific attention. Ultimately, however, we find that the argument that Western cultural superiority is racist to be lacking.
Before we go any further, we wish to clarify that we will only use the terms “racist” and “racism” in the sense that they are commonly understood by the average person: racially motivated hatred, domination and subjugation. We will not use the Marxist-influenced definition, which effectively defines entire groups of people as “racist” regardless of their views, actions or motivations.
We have already discussed above that there are a number of countries that have adopted Western cultural values outside of Europe. This is not an insignificant point when it comes to defending the viewpoint of Western cultural superiority against racism. There is also the small matter of generalized racial, ethnic and religious tolerance that characterizes the West. Western nations have, on average, the greatest degree of tolerance and pluralism in the world. Much of our public discourse in the West is about how to best balance tolerance with the above mentioned principles of fairness and freedom.
Western nations often include in the upper echelons of their academic, cultural, economic and political structures, prominent members who are of non-European extraction, either the descendents of African slaves or more recent immigrants from other parts of the world. This is not to be hand-waved away – can, for example, Arab nations boast of black politicians, entertainers and entrepreneurs? Is there a similar phenomenon of Asian achievement within the African cultural sphere? Put simply, there is no equivalent to the social mobility that Western nations offer diasporic, immigrant and formerly enslaved populations anywhere else in the world. This speaks to the universal quality that we mentioned previously – Western values do not advantage or disadvantage any specific group.
We would also be remiss if we did not recognize the institution of chattel slavery and the degree to which it has largely been ended in the West – and indeed, throughout the world, thanks to the efforts of Western nations. Chattel slavery is flagrantly incompatible with Western cultural values, which is why it has largely been eradicated in the West and its former colonies. It’s largely a legal non sequitur throughout the world today. And while there are forms of bonded and unfree labor, they are aberrant and concentrated in areas where Western influence is at its weakest. Enslaving another human being is generally seen as the worst crime a person can commit, dwarfing even rape and murder in its magnitude, being in roughly the same category as war crimes and genocide.
The role of slavery in the West is a complicated one, but it is worth noting that while Western nations did not invent slavery, an institution as old as recorded history at the very least, they have done more than anyone else to end it. The British Empire abolished slavery throughout the empire in 1833. The United States fought one of the bloodiest wars in human history to end bonded labor within its borders. Each of these together acted as a one-two punch that effectively ended slavery in the West. Where slavery persisted in Europe, it did so largely under the auspices of the Islamic Ottoman Empire and the Orthodox Russian Empire.
Finally, a significant portion of Western discourse in the intervening years has been about how to increase participation, toleration and pluralism throughout Western societies. Greater and greater inclusion is a hallmark of Western civilization as part of its generalized emphasis on freedom and fairness. None of this is representative of Western civilization being “racist,” thus prioritizing the values of Western civilization above that of other cultures is not racist.
What of Multiculturalism?
“Multiculturalism” is one of those words that is often bandied about with very little thought as to what it actually means. Being a multiculturalist does not mean that one finds something of value in other cultures. It means that one considers all cultures to be of equal merit and that cultural values and practices become beyond reproach simply because they are cultural practices.
Like many things that the left pushes, multiculturalism is not a good faith position. No one, for example, argues in earnest from a position of multiculturalism that Confederate monuments ought to remain standing because they are a part of Southern culture. Indeed, those most loudly touting the multiculturalist line are those least respectful of the cultural norms and mores of Appalachia, South Boston or Deer Lodge, Montana. Multiculturalists are quite vocal about their distaste for the cultural practices of unwoke whites, and this distaste is by no means limited to outbursts of violent racism. See, for example, the current cultural jihad against debutante balls in the American South.
What’s more, the multicultural appreciation of other cultures tends to be very shallow and performative. The affluent and educated like to “travel,” but largely spend their time cooped up on resorts or at pubs and restaurants catering to tourists such as themselves. One can scarcely get ten seconds into a conversation about immigration without hearing a multiculturalist moan about who will make our tacos. Much rarer is the person who speaks Arabic, has read Proust in the original French, or has spent a summer living with a Cuban family in Havana. The average multiculturalist generally doesn’t even know the capital of Zimbabwe or the chief export of Vietnam.
There is certainly much to appreciate about and learn from other cultures, but the same types of people touting multiculturalism are generally opposed to this, lambasting it as “cultural appropriation.” Whites, we are told, are not allowed to have dreadlocks or wear hoop earrings. No word on whether or not non-whites are allowed to get vaccines or fly in airplanes, but we do see a growing consensus among the left that “there’s no such thing as white culture.”
Multiculturalism must be understood for what it really is: it is a form of weaponizing the Western sense of “live and let live” and fair play for the purpose of subverting and attacking that culture. One manifestation of this phenomenon is the No Go Zone, a place where law and order has broken down and the area is effectively governed by parallel powers openly hostile toward Western cultural norms.
No Go Zones happen because those in power don’t believe in the primacy of Western cultural values, and don’t want to insist on those values being “imposed” on newly arrived immigrants from other cultures. They selectively celebrate multiculturalism in their own country, even when those cultures are acting in ways they find abhorrent in their home town.
Against Western Cultural Cringe
So what does all of this add up to? A call for pride in the West?
Not necessarily. But consider the inversion of pride – shame and guilt. White guilt is a popular sentiment in the United States and the West, whereby one is supposed to feel directly responsible for any crimes committed by or in the name of Western civilization. This is a patently absurd view. If one is responsible, for example, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, then one is equally responsible for vaccines, toilets and antibiotics.
What we would call for rather than Western cultural chauvinism is, instead, a call for Westerners to end their cultural cringe against Western values.
Cultural cringe is where one feels embarrassed or uncomfortable about their culture, seeing it as somehow “less than” others or emphasizing its shortcomings over its achievements. The West as a whole seems to be suffering from widespread cultural cringe, though it is worth noting that this sentiment is largely inorganic. Rather than being a natural outgrowth of prevailing cultural attitudes, it’s instead manufactured by the media and academia, which incessantly propagandize about the evils of white men, the nuclear family, Christianity and Western values.
The assault on our cultural institutions is largely successful because of historical illiteracy. While many Americans are embarrassed about America’s slaveholding past, few know how limited slave ownership was throughout the country, the degree to which it was opposed while it still existed, and barely think about how slavery is an institution extending all the way back to the dawn of human history, and is thus not a uniquely American invention. America simply did what the rest of the world did at the time and what virtually all of the world had done since the beginning of time.
Lacking a proper historical context, it’s easy to convince anyone of anything.
One need not become a braggart about Western culture to combat this. Indeed, doing so might well be counterproductive. However, one certainly should refuse to feel guilt about the color of one’s skin or the broader values of Western civilization. It is important to remember that the people who seek to weaponize guilt about historical crimes of the West – which are certainly a matter of historical record, but by no means exclusive or unique to the West and, as we have pointed out above, have been aggressively combated by the West more than anyone else – do so out of a position of bad faith. They are not seeking to make the world a better place or reflect thoughtfully on the sum total of the West’s history. They simply seek to weaponize your guilt for their own personal political gain.
It is the West’s insistence on equal treatment and fair play that makes this so easy for anti-Western leftists. Because, as a culture, we strive to make men equal before the law, it is easy for us to be guilted and shamed when we fail to live up to our values. Leftists do two things when they attack Western culture: First, they say that because we have not always lived up to our stated values, that we have failed as a society. But then they commit a rhetorical sleight of hand, declaring that because of this, our values must be bad, then attempting to substitute a radical, alien and totalitarian set of values in their place – the values of radical equality and social leveling.
This is the most important part to remember: virtually none of the people demanding that you hate yourself and your culture’s values have anything better to offer in its place. Replacing cultural cringe with an honest cultural confidence does not require looking down on other cultures. It simply requires you to acknowledge that, when compared to all of human history, the West has done a great job of increasing human freedom and human prosperity, as well as encouraging an overall sense of fair play.