Exits and Trappings

2005-10-07

Herewith a few additional observations on the Exit and the West. The exit to a modern industrial society occurred first in the West for a whole host of reasons that historians are still exploring. As I've discussed before, I think one of the keys was identified by Carroll Quigley in his description of the distinctively Western outlook (Weapons Systems and Political Stability, p. 1129):

The method of the West, even in religion, has been this: The truth unfolds in time by a cooperative process of discussion that creates a temporary consensus which we hope will form successive approximations growing closer and closer to the final truth, to be reached only in some final state of eternity.

Furthermore, the Exit occurred first in a specific region of Western civlization: England. Why? Here again the historians have been busy, led by Alan Macfarlane. It seems that England was in important ways more open, flexible, polycentric, pluralistic, trustful, individualistic, market-oriented (etc.) than the rest of the West around the time of the Exit (and indeed for centuries before). Observing these facts leads to the recognition of Anglosphere exceptionalism within the context of Western civilization.

As Western civilization has become ever more successful in solving the problems of existence, other cultures have attempted to emulate that success. The pattern is well described by Quigley (ibid., p. 166):

When a society finds a fruitful organization and outlook, other societies may copy its organization (although not its outlook), either in emulation or in self-defence against such a superior organization of human efforts represented by that superior system. When this occurs, numerous distinct societies over a wide area and over an extended period of time may seem to be moving, almost simultaneously, in meaningful and purposeful directions.

Naturally, few people in those cultures want to say that they are turning their backs on ages-old cultural traditions, so they claim to be advocates of (acceptable) "modernization" rather than (unacceptable) "Westernization". In Quigley's terms, they attempt to copy successful organizational features -- representative democracy, stock markets, research universities, and the like -- without copying the distinctive outlook of Western and Anglosophere societies. Yet a civilization is more than an outlook or a philosophy, it is a whole matrix of practices, attitudes, structures, and (in the broadest sense) technologies. As I've written before about modernization:

More than abstract philosophy or ideology, the West became such a powerful force in human history because of things like economic freedom, legal competition, choice in marriage, efficiency in timekeeping, eminently practical and often downright fun technologies (eyeglasses, guns, printing presses, washing machines, phonographs, telephones, computers, and who knows what next), forms of entertainment such as sports and theatre and movies and popular music, fast means of travel (including the invention of tourism), freedom first for slaves and then for women, and in general a culture that makes personal fulfillment not just a distant possibility but a lived reality for the vast majority of the people in Western countries (and a growing number elsewhere, whether you call it "modernization" or "Westernization").

The process of modernization is helped along by the many diasporas to Western nations, and especially to the Anglosphere, which for historical and cultural reasons is more open to immigration and assimilation than other parts of the West. Those who come from outside the Anglosphere to study or work for a while (or permanently to live) act as bridges to their home cultures, seeding them with aspects of the tacit knowledge built up over centuries within the Anglosphere -- knowledge about markets, society, volunteerism, trust, law, governance, consensus, cooperation, innovation, entrepreneurship, individualism, responsibility, and freedom. These all sound like big ideas, but they are just as much practices, behaviors, customs, and implicit attitudes that must be lived to be absorbed. Simply reading about them in a philosophy book or copying their outward forms is not enough, and results in a society that has the trappings of modernity but not its substance. Yet it is not the trappings that caused the Exit, but the underlying habits and practices and attitudes -- precisely what is hardest to impart. The implications for how the Anglosphere understands itself and interacts with other cultures are far-reaching.

(Cross-posted at Albion's Seedling.)


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