For over a decade now, Janan Ganesh has been producing tightly written columns for the FT with provocative themes. Here he takes on those who believe that the West is a decadent society in structural decline (a theme that those of who grew up in India have been hearing about since we were in kindergarten).
Janan posits that you don’t have to be an intellectual to understand that people value freedom highly: “I don’t pretend that the average westerner has read their Hume and Spinoza. I don’t even pretend they deal in such abstractions as “the west”. But there is a way of life — to do with personal autonomy — for which people have consistently endured hardship, up to and including a blood price. Believing otherwise is not just bad analysis. It leads to more conflict than might otherwise exist.”
Secondly, he claims that the rest of the world consistently underestimates the West’s determination to impose its will on the rest of the world: “Kremlinologists report that Vladimir Putin saw the US exit from Afghanistan last year as proof of western dilettantism. From there, it was a short step to testing the will of the west in Ukraine. You would think that US forces had rolled up to Kabul in 2001, poked around for an afternoon, deplored the lack of a Bed Bath & Beyond, and flounced off. They were there for 20 years. Whatever the mission was — technically inept, culturally uncomprehending — it wasn’t decadent.”
Thirdly, he drills into why the rest of the world misreads the West again and again (and why that misreading leads to repeated conflict): “The culture that produced the Jazz Age shouldn’t have been able to take and hold Guadalcanal. Each month, I expect to see western exhaustion with Ukraine. Each month, the support persists. Seventy per cent of Germans tell pollsters that high gas prices won’t sap their will.
Why? The eternal error, I think, is to confuse the substance of liberalism (which is compromise-minded) with people’s attachment to it (which is far from compromising). Liberalism is sparse in content. It has no account of the good life, but rather allows competing ones to go at it within a framework of rules….The historical record is clear: it is possible to be committed to a political system that itself abjures commitment. Knowledge of the dire alternatives helps.”
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