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This week we approach the end of the second millennium. It is a span
of time which coincides with the rise of the West, which emerged into
global dominance after the discovery of the New World by Columbus. The
Christian West, more than any other civilization, enjoyed an
unprecedented growth and development during the last 10 centuries. The
word commonly used for this development is “progress,” which we have
come to take for granted.
Contrary to what most people think, however, progress has never been
inevitable. We only have to look at the first millennium to see why.
Historians are still debating its causes, but the economy of Western
Europe collapsed and the population quickly declined around the seventh
century. The great and populous cities of antiquity, especially in the
Western Mediterranean, lost a large portion of their inhabitants.
Max Weber once wrote that “the city is a settlement where the
inhabitants live primarily off trade and commerce rather than
agriculture.” What happened in the seventh century, it seems, involved
a collapse of commercial activity and a decline in trade.
The Belgian scholar, Henri Pirenne, attempted to explain the reasons
for this decline. In his book, “Mohammed and Charlemagne,” Pirenne says
it was not the Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire that brought
civilization to a halt by the late seventh century. According to
Pirenne, “the Germanic invasions destroyed neither the Mediterranean
unity of the ancient world, nor what may be regarded as the essential
features of the Roman culture as it
still existed in the 5th century. …” The destruction, he argued, came
from another direction — from Islam, which emerged out of Arabia in the
seventh century, stopping European trade in its tracks by suddenly
taking control of the Mediterranean. This disruption resulted in
near-total economic collapse in the West. “The West was blockaded,”
wrote Pirenne, “and forced to live upon its own resources.”
As history records, Western Europe fought back against Islam and
eventually recovered control of the Mediterranean.
Looking back on 10 centuries of progress, we need to realize that no
law of history guaranteed that Charles Martel would stem the Islamic
Juggernaut in 732, stabilizing the defensive position of the West. If
the soldiers of the Frankish kingdom had failed at the crucial moment,
the West might have ceased to exist.
Those who take progress for granted underestimate the destructive
forces of history. A system that encourages trade and science can
always be opposed, however irrationally, by a system that smashes trade
and opposes science with irrationalism.
The followers of Mohammed didn’t need hydrogen bombs to depopulate
the cities of Western Europe. They only had to blockade and despoil the
inhabitants back into subsistence farming. Today we have many methods
for reducing civilization to subsistence farming. Not only are today’s
Islamic countries striving to build nuclear weapons, but they also have
the potential of Arabia’s vast oil reserves.
The hostility that one civilization feels for another should not be
underestimated. Today we are told that “globalization” is smoothing
over differences between peoples and cultures. Let us hope this is
true. At the same time, however, we must not forget that globalization
is of European origin. It carries a European stamp.
We must never forget that Europe colonized the New World, brought the
benefits of modern administration, communications and industry to Africa
and Asia. It was Europe that brought the planet together under various
colonial empires that have now disappeared. If the planet becomes
unified it will have been a European project. (America and Canada
should be included as part of European civilization in this equation.)
Looking ahead to the next millennium, taking positive and negative
forces into account, can we rationally expect another ten centuries of
economic and scientific progress? Or have we now bumped our heads
against the ceiling — on the uppermost limit of civilization’s
Because of globalization, technology is now pouring out of Europe and
North America into countries whose leaders deeply resent the West.
These Asiatic leaders are not primarily interested in what European
technology can do for their people. They want military power. They
want to challenge the “hegemony” of the West (which is defended by the
Consider the words of Saddam Hussein, who screamed at his scientists
a decade ago, “Give me the bomb and we will avenge the centuries of
Looking back at the last thousand years, a Western person will find
comfort in a picture of steady and continuous progress. But does a
Chinese or Arab person find comfort in these centuries?
We often think of the heroes of progress as those who advanced
medicine, science and industry. But these advances were only made
possible because the West was not overrun by Arabs, Turks or Mongols.
The military function, in a world of competing empires and
civilizations, is the deciding function.
Today the structures of Western civilization have suffered an
internal cataclysm. Ideas hostile to the very ingredients that made the
West successful have overtaken the educational institutions of the
West. Anti-Westernism is preached on college campuses. Popular
entertainment itself carries messages hostile to Western traditions. In
keeping with this tendency, the soldiers who defend the West are being
systematically disarmed — physically and intellectually. Meanwhile,
the enemies of the West are sharpening their knives.
Thanks to the
soldiers who stopped the tide of Islam, the last 10 centuries have belonged to the West. Looking at the turn things have taken in recent years, it is doubtful that the next 10 centuries will herald anything but decline and calamity. If Western civilization is smashed, if our trade is harmed or our cities bombed, the next several centuries will witness a depressing and continuous descent.
As we reflect on the last millennium and the next, we should consider our responsibility to fight against forces that would bring our civilization down. We must not remain inactive. We must defend what has been built. We must oppose the ideas and the barbarians that threaten our civilization.