The World Goes Its Way

A French writer argues that “humanity” has become the accepted “version of the universal” in contemporary Western thought, functioning as the “action” of  modern democratic polity.  While Pierre Manent’s thesis is a convincing one, political and social occurrences in the past decade seem to indicate that the West’s humanitarian “version” is becoming discredited at an increasingly rapid pace in a world that since 1945 had appeared to play along with it, or anyway to honor it rhetorically.  The West since the time of the Roman Empire has been tempted by the notion of the universal, while other civilizations and cultures have remained more or less content in their own particularism.  The French Revolution initiated this universalist version at the end of the 18th century; the so-called American Century prepared the way for it in its 20th-century form; and the era of supposed American hegemony (only future historians will be positioned to say with any kind of authority whether it was actual or not) erected its banally imposing official monuments to it in New York, Washington, Brussels, The Hague, and elsewhere.  It is unrealistic to imagine that these will be pulled down anytime soon, as statues of Lenin have been toppled across the former Soviet Union.  Still, it is plain that ordinary citizens, formerly indifferent, are...

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