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But the liberal world view that has dominated the public sphere prefers to deconstruct the very idea of “civilisation”. It denies that clashes between the West and the rest are likely or even possible. On the contrary: the preferred liberal civilisational discourse focuses on cross-cultural dialogue and engagement; if there is aggression between civilisations, it is axiomatic that the West must be the cause, whether efficient or final. Contrasts between civilisation and barbarism are dismissed out of hand as ridiculously outmoded. A recent BBC programme presented by the influential historian Sir David Cannadine, the president of the British Academy, blamed Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for the idea that Western civilisation emerged from Greece and Rome, in stark contrast to the Orient, and Huntington for the idea that the West is today confronted by hostile Islamic or Confucian civilisations. And Cannadine’s recent, much-acclaimed history of 19th-century Britain castigated the Victorians for their failure to treat such ancient civilisations with proper respect. The history of the United States is likewise scrutinised on the basis that “the Other” is never an enemy but a friend, or at least a trading partner.

What was lost in the fog of retrospective reprimand is the fact — for it is a fact — that the two great nation states that have exercised the most benign influence on the progress and empowering of humanity have been the United States and the United Kingdom, without whose efforts Western civilisation would never have flourished as it has and certainly not have survived the onslaught of those, past and present, dedicated to its extirpation. The very familiarity of the Anglophone ascendancy has bred contempt not only among our foes but even more among our own liberal elites. And this is dangerous, because civilisations have in fact clashed throughout recorded history and do indeed perish.

Within living memory, our own civilisation came close to perishing. In the summer of 1940, the bulk of the Eurasian landmass lay under the yoke of dictatorships, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If the Battle of Britain had been lost, the threat to America would have been immediate. The British could prevent the French fleet from being seized by the Nazis or Fascists, but if Britain had been defeated, the Americans could not have prevented the Royal Navy falling into German hands, which would have left the US Navy outnumbered by the combined naval forces of the Axis. Roosevelt knew this, because Churchill had warned him; that is why Churchill unhesitatingly ordered the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir. The Atlantic Alliance, which has endured from that day to this, was and is the essential prerequisite for the survival of Western civilisation.

The post-Cold War idyll did not last long. The wars in the Gulf and Yugoslavia were successful in demonstrating that dictators could not violate the sovereignty of their neighbours or commit genocide with impunity. The Russians opposed both interventions against their allies, Iraq and Serbia, but these relatively localised conflicts reinforced the illusion of a global authority, with the United States leading Nato to enforce the resolutions of the United Nations. The idea of combining liberal internationalism with conservative realpolitik appealed to Western leaders of Left and Right, from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Democracy was still the watchword, as it had been in the two world wars and the Cold War; democracies do not fight one another. For the sake of peace and prosperity, the West had a direct interest in promoting democracy, rather than propping up corrupt dictators. Even in the most volatile region of the world, the Middle East, democracy was the only solution, as the astonishing success of the state of Israel has demonstrated for some 70 years.
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