Following in the footsteps of the Jewish people and the Catholic Church, the time has come for Western civilization to assume the role of a “creative minority” in a globalized world.
In a lecture given in New York in October 2013, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks – already quoted in my last article – gave his perspective on the role of the “Jewish people” as a major contributor to “society” in general, while having taken great care to preserve its own identity throughout history. (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/01/on-creative-minorities). He refers to the letter of the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon (Jer.29:5-7):
“Build houses, and dwell in them; plant gardens, and eat the fruit thereof. Take wives, and beget sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give husbands to your daughters, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply where you are, and do not diminish. Seek the good of the city where I led you captive, and pray to the Lord for it, for your good depends on his.”
It is therefore a question of the Jews acting, wherever they are, as a “creative minority” without seeking to promote an imperialist vision through the exercise of power, or to proselytize by imposing religious beliefs, but to make the whole community benefit from their presence for the happiness of all. This strategy has enabled this people to survive all the civilizations that have arisen, flourished and then declined over the past 4000 years, so that today, despite the vicissitudes and trials that have marked its history, it retains a distinctive unity that sets it apart from the communities, nations or empires that have existed during this period.
Rabbi Sacks then jumps 2600 years to quote a 2004 lecture by Cardinal (later Pope) Ratzinger (“The Christian Roots of Europe”) in which he suggests that Christians should, in turn, see themselves as a “creative minority”, not seeking to impose either their temporal power or their faith, but to limit themselves to making their skills and values available to the greatest number. This proposal constitutes a radical change in the traditional behavior that has accompanied European civilization since the Roman Emperor Constantine, culminating in the colonization and the undivided world domination of the West, to which the Christian Church(es) have largely contributed. Unlike the Jewish experience, this progressive vision of Christianity is still in its infancy and does not enjoy a consensus among its adherents.
In view of the latest geopolitical developments, the time is nevertheless ripe to draw inspiration from these two examples. Instead of fighting a rearguard action against the decline of the West, should it not be preferable to maximize – without imposing it – the influence that derives from its material, scientific and educational achievements, as well as the spiritual and moral values that accompany them? In so doing, the latter can be put to use in the service of a more harmonious future in a globalized and interdependent world, while at the same time abandoning any imperialist aims, whose purely materialistic underlying objectives have all too often been obscured by a discourse with civilizing, if not altruistic, undertones.
Is the decline of the West inexorable? The recent vote at the UN on a motion condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, won by a majority of Members but without the support of representatives of a majority of the world’s population, demonstrates that the West and the developed countries that support it, no longer represent a majority of world public opinion. In this situation, a decisive choice will have to be made: either western and assimilated countries will use force and intimidation to protect their privileges, based on their economic weight, military power and accumulated wealth, or they will shift towards a more peaceful strategy and follow the example of the “creative minorities” mentioned above.
The first alternative will eventually lead to the disappearance of the hegemony of the developed world whose survival depends heavily on its unity; yet, this unity is being called into question. This is demonstrated by the divergences between the European Union and its American or Asian partners, or by the tensions within sub-groups such as the EU. Whether it is disputes over the war in Ukraine, migratory flows, the effects of global warming, demographics, social or political tensions, etc., each of the actors, in this scenario, are encouraged to prioritize their selfish economic or strategic interests over the common good.
It is certainly difficult to predict what incident will cause a crisis that would lead to the dismantling of the current world order that has served so well the minority that has benefited most from it. This system is under constant pressure from the explosion of inequalities; it is further weakened by the imbalance between the exorbitant privilege of the US dollar and the incompleteness of the Economic and Monetary Union, which is becoming all the more worrying as a result of rising interest rates and the resurgence of inflation. The recent efforts to strengthen the cohesion of NATO and the solidarity of the 27 EU Member States towards Ukraine hide deep disagreements and impede the reconciliation of the geostrategic interests of the United States – turned towards China and the Indo-Pacific zone – with those of Europe, seeking as a priority to ensure the reliability and independence of its supplies.
The alternative is for the West to recognize itself as a responsible “creative minority”, aiming to bring the benefits of its prosperity to the whole world. This means erasing its internal differences; these are superficial compared to the common values that the developed world – and the planet as a whole – have an interest in protecting. For example, the United States should not be criticized for its policy of assistance to Ukraine as being purely self-serving; indeed, the USA came twice to the rescue of European democracies in the 20th century. A withdrawal of its forces from Europe would leave the EU fully exposed to a rapid and irreversible disintegration, fulfilling beyond belief, Vladimir Putin’s wildest war aims.
In conclusion, the idea of emulating the adjurations of the Prophet Jeremiah and Pope Benedict XVI is likely to fall into the category of wishful thinking. Will it once again be fear that stimulates, as in the case of NATO’s resurrection, the West’s capacity to act in the best interests of its population? The risks are now perfectly visible to all; it is the responsibility of those in government – and of anyone else with a shred of power – to avoid the foreseeable suffering that the multiple challenges we face are about to inflict. Europe and its thousand-year-old honed traditions must rise to this existential challenge, or risk disappearing like all the great civilizations that have ultimately faded from the face of the earth.
Brussels, June 3, 2022