Is the West Bust?

‘Even in the midst of financial turmoil, the West still needs defending’

Economy History International Manchester Square Media Politics The West

Accompanied by the steady drumbeat of bankruptcies and bailouts, by whoops of schadenfreude-fuelled gloating, a catastrophist consensus is forming: capitalism as we know it is done for. Moreover, the civilisation that has depended on capitalism is being written off by ingrates who never understood either but were in reality the beneficiaries of both. Everywhere the message is the same: this time, the West is bust.

Progressive pundits and professors who yearn for revenge for having lost the argument back in the Thatcher and Reagan era, are joined by the end-of-history man himself, Francis Fukuyama, who turned against his erstwhile allies after his theory that history had come to an end was exploded on 11 September, 2001. He now says that America’s “brand” – free markets and liberal democracy – has been damaged beyond repair and must be reinvented. Here in Europe, the vacuum created by the evisceration of our moral values is now revealed by the loss of the prosperity that masked the spiritual poverty within.

In this month’s Dialogue, Samuel Brittan and Edward Hadas disagree about whether religion is necessary to underpin morality in the marketplace, and about whether that morality should be utilitarian or not. Yet neither believes that there is anything intrinsically immoral about markets; indeed, preserving the system that has served the West so well is much more urgent than a vindictive attempt to penalise those culpable for the crash. Reviewing Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money, Noel Malcolm concludes that the evolution of Western finance required not only the spontaneous order of the markets but also intelligent design on the part of moneylenders and lawgivers. Roger Kimball reminds us why we need, once again, Leszek Ko?akowski’s dissection of Marxism and Jeremy Jennings warns us against its latest mutation, Slavoj Žižek’s “egalitarian terror”.

Wealth is not only measured in monetary terms. There is much here in Standpoint that has endured over centuries: Ian Bostridge on Schubert and Blair Worden on Jonathan Bate’s Shakespeare; Mark Ronan on Euclid and Michael Prodger on Babylon and Byzantium. George Vass offers a Catholic theologian’s response to Geza Vermes’s historical view of Jesus. But there is novelty, too: from the embers of Simon Gray to the enigmas of W.G. Sebald; from Carlo Gébler’s narrative of prison life to Emma Sergeant’s luminous equestrian images – not to mention Clive James’s tribute to another kind of warhorse, Denis Healey, and Alain de Botton’s paean to the art of conversation

Even in the midst of financial turmoil, the West still needs defending. This month we have Michael Burleigh on pirates and Edward Lucas on Putin; Douglas Murray and Denis MacShane disagree over whether we should tolerate Holocaust deniers, while Amir Taheri reveals what happened when he challenged the Democrats over Barack Obama’s tergiversations on Iraq. Mr Obama emerges as a Chicago machine politician.

Even before the American presidential election had taken place, Sarah Palin was being blamed for the blunders of the McCain campaign by those on both sides who wish to smother her political career at birth. Here, Midge Decter unpicks the irrational reactions to the Palin phenomenon. But Mrs Palin will remain a force to be reckoned with; like Ronald Reagan before her, she defies the establishment that (as Melanie Phillips points out in this issue) has favoured appeasement ever since the 1930s. An Obama presidency might mean a relapse into that appeasing mentality, but the West is not bust yet.