Victor David Hanson & The Future of the West’s Engagement with Islam

No one grasps the West’s definitive embrace of Christianity, its development and trajectory, its intercultural depths than Hanson.  He resides as senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at  Stanford Univeristy and a professor of Classics emeritus at California State University at Fresno.  He was asked by Hilldale College to reside in a four week residency to research and deliver a lecture of his choosing.  He chose a hot topic, namely the future itinerary of the West’s engagement with Islam.

He defined the West as the culture that originated in Greece, spread to Rome and under the guise of the Church, permeated Northern Europe, was incorporated by an Anglo-Saxon tradition which itself spread through British expansonism.  Today it is primarily associated with Europe, the United States and former commonweath nations associated with Britain.  The content of such a tradition includes a commitment to constitutional government, freedom of the individual, religious toleration, respect for property rights, development of free markets and an openness to rationalism.  These ideas cannot be separated from the rise of Christianity.  Needless to say Hanson sees an up and down side to our future in our engagment.

First, he see’s our commitment to civilian control of government, specifically civilian input to war aims as distinctly Western.  The Near East is dominated by autocracies that are unstable in the current world whereby Democracy and technology both complement and deter populist passions and progress.  The future will demand competent civilian control.

Second.  As the Near East and other Islamic cultures come into contact with the West, the intercultural mix reveals a distinct impression of courage not found in Islam.  In Hellenic culture, the prowess of a hero was not recognized by the number of heads on his belt.  Aristotle made note of this Greek phenomenon in his ‘Politics’, namely that Helots did not wear trophies.  The West developed the impact of reason on valor.  We give distinction in battle for deeds of staying in rank, protecting the integrity of the line, rescuing a comrade or an orderly retreat.  With the advent of Christiany the West elaborated on the Hellenic concept of heroism to a new understanding.  This is on full display in our engagement with Islam throughout the world.

A third factor underlies our achievement since the 17th century of a distincly advanced technological socieity.  However since the demise of Marxism other more intractable cultures are proving more resistant with dangerous consequences.  The rapid electronic dissemination of Western technological progress comes at a cost.  Such insight produces tremendous unearned captial in non-Western countries.  The long process of civilization required to create is not required by despotic regimes. This parasitic relation that Islamic cultures have to the West is growing.

Hanson discoverd the ever rapacious anti-war movement to be debilitating along with our aversion to asymmetry.  The West is affluent, leisured, free and extremely well protected.  This could prove disastrous long term.

The single most significant gift this engagement has is its blazing emblem of liberty grounded in human nature.  Many throughout the Near East and the world over are patiently watching the embrace and inculturation of liberty in the land of Islam.


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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