Nothing like us ever happened before

Friday, August 28th, 2015

What’s worth saving about “the West,” Adam Gopnik claims, is the moral achievements that have flowed from it:

The emancipation of women and their integration on equal terms in education, the granting of civil rights to homosexuals, the removal, at least formally, of racial discrimination — these are not a common feature of prosperous or declining empires but unique moral achievements of this one. There’s no pattern in history to compare us to, because nothing like us ever happened before.

Really? That passage immediately called to mind Sir John Glubb’s description of the Arab decline:

The works of the contemporary historians of Baghdad in the early tenth century are still available. They deeply deplored the degeneracy of the times in which they lived, emphasising particularly the indifference to religion, the increasing materialism and the laxity of sexual morals. They lamented also the corruption of the officials of the government and the fact that politicians always seemed to amass large fortunes while they were in office.

The historians commented bitterly on the extraordinary influence acquired by popular singers over young people, resulting in a decline in sexual morality. The ‘pop’ singers of Baghdad accompanied their erotic songs on the lute, an instrument resembling the modern guitar. In the second half of the tenth century, as a result, much obscene sexual language came increasingly into use, such as would not have been tolerated in an earlier age. Several khalifs issued orders banning ‘pop’ singers from the capital, but within a few years they always returned.

An increase in the influence of women in public life has often been associated with national decline. The later Romans complained that, although Rome ruled the world, women ruled Rome. In the tenth century, a similar tendency was observable in the Arab Empire, the women demanding admission to the professions hitherto monopolised by men. ‘What,’ wrote the contemporary historian, Ibn Bessam, ‘have the professions of clerk, tax-collector or preacher to do with women? These occupations have always been limited to men alone.’ Many women practised law, while others obtained posts as university professors. There was an agitation for the appointment of female judges, which, however, does not appear to have succeeded.

Soon after this period, government and public order collapsed, and foreign invaders overran the country. The resulting increase in confusion and violence made it unsafe for women to move unescorted in the streets, with the result that this feminist movement collapsed.

Comments

  1. Cui Pertinebit says:

    Read Juvenal, as well; he complains vociferously of the increasing social power and liberty of women, the prevalence of faggotry, the blithe acceptance of all kinds of barbarian races as actual freemen and property owners rather than slaves, etc., etc.

    Today’s liberal has to be amongst the most unwise, ignorant men ever to exist.

  2. Ivvenalis says:

    The primary legacy of the West is technological. But we’ve been around for a long time; I think I can name a few moral innovations.

    Christianity: I think it’s hard to overemphasize how much of a change this is from Classical paganism. And PC cant aside, no, it’s not like other monotheistic religions either. Just for starters, the ideal Christian man is a totally different animal from the ideal pagan man.

    Atheism: This one might be more contentious, but I think that capital-A Atheism — the systematic denial of the numinous and supernatural —is a unique feature of the West.

    Utilitarianism: For better or worse, this is a Western invention.

    The Abolition of Slavery: This isn’t a trivial matter, and it happened courtesy of the British Empire.

    Outbreeding: Western cultural strictures against incest are an obvious anomaly in degree, if not in kind.

    Universalism: Again, for better or worse, this is an innovation.

    These things are all going to go down the toilet (Christianity might turn out not to need the West, we’ll see) along with the West. Starting with Universalism, which about nobody outside of the Western world can barely even comprehend except as a series of magical incantations to elicit submission from their betters, then onto slavery.

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