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Suicide of the West (2006)

af Richard Koch

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412612,446 (4.25)Ingen
One hundred years ago, most Westerners felt tremendous pride and confidence in their civilisation. They knew what it stood for, and they believed in it. Today that sense has gone. That is largely because the six principal ideas which underpinned Western confidence - those of Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, liberalism and individualism - have suffered a century of sustained attack. These ideas no longer inspire or unite the West as they once did. The contributors to Suicide of the West believe that, in theory, a more sophisticated synthesis of the six ideas could provide a way for the West to recover its nerve and integrity. But in practice? This fascinating book seeks to find the answer.… (mere)
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Given the scope that the authors, Richard Koch and Chris Smith (yes, that Chris Smith, the one in the House of Lords), set themselves, this is a brilliantly lucid and concise book that takes in the last two millennia of Western civilisation and gives a none-too-rosy assessment of how that civilisation is a victim of its own success, destroying itself from the inside. On page 2, they set out their stall: "We ask four questions: Is there anything special about western civilisation? Why has it been so successful? Why is it now threatened? Will it survive?" And that's exactly what they do. In fact they give pretty plausible answers to all but the last of those questions. Step by step, the book assesses the contribution to West of science, liberalism, optimism, Christianity, individualism and growth. I have nowhere near the competence as a historian to argue with the detail of the case they make in each of these areas, but they seem fairly convincing. I grew up under the influence of post-modernism and its "incredulity towards grand narratives" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Postmodern_Condition), so I'm inclined to be wary of the neatness of the analysis in the book, and how it all ties together in one big sweep. Still, it was difficult to find fault. There were only two things about the book that left me unsatisfied. First, on growth, the authors broadly stick to orthodoxy: "The issue with growth is not whether it is desirable – of course it is" while trying to argue that post-industrial growth of the creative economy won't be harmful the way industrial growth has been over the past 200 years. "For those of us who fear the suicide of the West, economic developments are the most benign counter-indicator. Except, that is, for the looming shadow of ecological suicide," they write. But they duck that shadow. Second, the prognosis for how to avoid Western civilisation caving in on itself is broadly that we should keep calm and carry on. Don't let the grumpy intellectuals and the media dampen our hereditary optimism; don't let post-Newtonian science undermine our faith in certainty and the scientific method; don't enforce liberalism on non-Western states, because that undermines liberal values themselves -- and so on. These different tendencies for Western values to be followed to the point where they eat their own foundations seem so endemic that Koch and Smith's exhortation to go Back to Basics on the Grand Project comes across as unconvincing, even to them. ( )
  djalchemi | Jun 2, 2012 |
There is a not uncommon perception today throughout the West that Western civilisation is in decline, and this book investigates that sense.

The West, taken as a civilisation, is the most successful in history - of this there can be no dispute - but why do so many of us feel this way as we sit on the throne of Western triumph? Koch, and his co-writer (for some reason uncredited here) Chris Smith, assert that the West is built on six 'pillars': Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, liberalism and individualism. A chapter on each gives a review of its rise in Western civilisation, to our loss of love for it, and the threats each face. All the known enemies are here: climate change, terrorism, extremism, general ignorance, general pessimism, the erosion of core Western values on all fronts (the nature of 'the self' by scientific discoveries for example; Western morals by moral relativism; identity by political correctness) etc... All are woven together well, and shown to be interlinked and having influenced each other - for example Christianity's influence on scientific rationalism due to the idea of an ordered world. In fact, the thing I enjoyed most about the book was how it demonstrated the how intergral Christianity has been to the development of Western civilisation.
The threat to Western civilisation is, ultimately, us, who live in it, and fear for it, or feel threatened by, or alienated from it, but the writers offer a ray of hope at the end of each chapter and at the end of the book - because the West isn't doomed, and suicide is never inevitable until you become absolutely convinced that it is.

This is an excellent book, easy to read, which I highly recommend - especially for a brief overview of what is actually meant by 'The West'. ( )
  leigonj | Sep 8, 2010 |
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In 1900, most citizens of the West felt tremendous pride and confidence in their civilisation. There was a strong sense, common to Americans and British, Europeans and Canadians, to Australians and New Zealanders, of belonging to a vigorous, expanding, progressive and exciting civilisation, the best ever. Today that sense has gone. Why?
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One hundred years ago, most Westerners felt tremendous pride and confidence in their civilisation. They knew what it stood for, and they believed in it. Today that sense has gone. That is largely because the six principal ideas which underpinned Western confidence - those of Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, liberalism and individualism - have suffered a century of sustained attack. These ideas no longer inspire or unite the West as they once did. The contributors to Suicide of the West believe that, in theory, a more sophisticated synthesis of the six ideas could provide a way for the West to recover its nerve and integrity. But in practice? This fascinating book seeks to find the answer.

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