Western civilisation, built on a foundation of individual freedom, rational, fact-based thinking and democracy, has been a major driver of progress around the world. Yet, the rules that constitute the basis of our civilisation are now under internal and external threat.
Internal critics — neo-Marxists and post-modernists — reject the very institutions that underpin our civilisation. A society of free, self-responsible citizens protected by rule-bound, limited government is to be replaced by subjects that are ruled by an elite of bureaucrats and activists.
They appeal to deeply engrained tribal sentiments, promising salvation and social welfare in exchange for subservience.
Western civilisation also faces external enemies, militant Islam and mass immigration from failing states. This in turn now gives rise to populism, which would undermine freedom and foster conflict.
Faced with these challenges, Western civilisation is going through a period of self-doubt, disorientation and timidity. In the past, such periods of tribulation were overcome by openness, enterprise and systems competition, specifically the rivalry of various European states that aimed to prosper by guaranteeing freedoms to attract capital, gifted people and entrepreneurs.
I argue in my paper, Does Western Civilisation Have a Future?, that hope for the future of our civilisation again hinges on the same systems competition that has always been the hallmark of our culture. Many of course do not welcome competitive challenges, but massive economic and cultural competition with the resurgent Confucian East is now unavoidable. Everything will depend on whether the West re-asserts the values of the Enlightenment, whether a more collectively oriented East continues to achieve unprecedented economic growth (which I doubt) and whether China follows a more individualistic Confucian-Daoist or a coercive Legalist development path.
Australia — a frontline state of the West with considerable exposure to Eastern values, virtues and ideas — is well placed to benefit from the coming ‘mother of all systems competitions’, not only because of our location on the globe, but also because this nation of immigrants has the potential of a good understanding of Eastern culture. However, it will be critical that we foreswear macroeconomic stupidity and reaffirm our rich civilisational inheritance.