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Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies Hardcover – March 25, 2004
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Four characterizations of the West contribute to the anti-Western stance Buruma and Margalit call Occidentalism and are used to justify attacking individual Westerners as less-than-human beings. The West prefers the sinful city to the virtuous countryside; the West destroys heroism and replaces it with trading; the West thinks only of matter and not of spirit; the West worships evil. Buruma and Margalit argue that the first two of those conceptions, typical of secular Occidentalism, are themselves Western, products of European romanticism that early-twentieth-century Japan and Germany exploited to their own ruin. The third idea informs Russia's long struggle with the West but stems from German romanticism, in particular, with its sense of the wounded national soul. The fourth, peculiar to religious Occidentalism, animates radical Islamism but derives from the good-evil polarities of Persian Manichaeism that the young Augustine embraced. Buruma and Margalit conclude that these ideas' lives are "a tale of cross-contamination" that cannot be ended by answering anti-Western intolerance with more intolerance. A timely tract, brilliantly though broadly argued. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
...an important book on a topic that deserves to be treated seriously by scholars and concerned citizens alike. -- Library Journal, March 15, 2004
Top customer reviews
The rise of free market economics along with the Protestant reformation, broke the uniform European culture. The French enlightenment wanted to reimpose a 'scientific' unity. Reason, intellect, calculation, judgement would replace tradition, faith, devotion and feelings. No group identity - in fact no groups at all! Freedom!
Napoleon conquered Europe with this plan. The Germans lost to Napoleon's guns. They won the war of the spirit. ''There is a great deal of truth in Isaiah Berlin's view that the German Romantic movement and its Romantic nationalism were 'a product of wounded national sensibility, of dreadful national humiliation.' '' (77)
Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) detested universalism. Each language, national group are organic wholes, unique and special. ''Compared with cold rational Europe, nature's children were better off, purer, more authentic. It was an arrogant mistake to think all men should be free, since our supposed freedoms led only to inhumanity and sterile materialism.'' (38)
War Against the West
The Occidental City
Heroes and Merchants
Mind of the West
The Wrath of God
Seeds of Revolution
''Was there a way to modernize without letting in Christianity and other forms of spiritual pollution? . . . The appeal of socialism . . .is not at all surprising. Marxism is egalitarian, and indisputably modern. It came from the west, and like Christianity it has universal claims. But it's promise to liberate mankind is ''scientific'', not cultural or religious. This was tried Egypt, Iraq, North Korea, Ethiopia, Cuba, China, Vietnam and many other places. And it failed.'' (40)
Note these groups imported a (deeply) western ideology - Marxist socialism. (Numerous scholars believe Marxism is a secularized version of the Judeo/Christian "Messianic'' promise. George Steiner identifies Marx as 'the last Jewish prophet'.) Marxism destroyed much and - all for nothing. ''The most violent forms of occidentalism, of nativist yearnings for purity and destructive loathing of the west, were born from this failure.'' (40) Fascinating!
''Of all third world revolutions, Chairman Mao's was the most inspiring model of Occidentalist dreams. . . . But what made him original , compared with Stalin, was his war against the city. . . . Shanghai, in particular, was seen as the symbol of western imperialism, capitalist corruption, degenerate urban luxury, cultural artificially, and moral decadence. . . . The fact that one of the most ferocious apostles of Maoism, Mao's own wife, was once a Shanghai movie starlet and good-time girl only goes to show that violent hatred and deep longing can be closely related.'' (42)
Authors connect the cruelty of the Taliban to the viscous Khmer Rouge. ''Phnom Penh had western architecture, French restaurants, Chinese merchants, and a relatively modern economy. . . . And they had been told by their masters that educated city people, meaning anyone who had been to school, spoke French, or simply had soft hands and wore glasses, were enemies of the people. Vietnamese or Chinese. Who had lived and traded in the cities for centuries, just as Jews had in Germany, had to be cut out if the new society like cancerous cells.'' (43)
Pol Pot was educated in Paris, influenced by Frantz Fallon and Sartre.
''Through systematic mass murder, and by smashing the wicked city, the Khmer Rouge would restore purity and virtue to the ancient land.'' (44)
Another example of western suicide - ''Nikola Koljevic was a Shakespeare scholar from Sarajevo. He spent time in London and the United States. He was a citizen of the most cosmopolitan city in the Balkans, a secular city of Bosnians, Serbs, Jews, and Croats, a city famous for its libraries, universities, and cafés, a city of learning and trade. Yet there he was, watching his city burn from the surrounding hills. The orders to shell Sarajevo had been signed by Nikola Koljevic, Shakespeare scholar.'' (45)
This short work contains outstanding explanation of the hatred for free markets. This is part, although not all, of the motives for opposition to the West.
''Liberal societies also give people the to have exceptional achievements. But these are individual achievements. Individuals are rewarded for their exceptional talents with money and fame. . . . This cannot satisfy those who wish to heroism and glory as parts of a collective, and thus often vicarious, enterprise. Fascism appealed precisely to mediocre men, because it gave them a glimpse of glory by association. . . . Choosing to die a violent death becomes a heroic act of human will. In totalitarian systems it might be the only act an individual is free to choose.'' (72)
Material satisfaction differs from spiritual needs.
''It is a threat because its promises of material comfort, individual freedom, and the dignity of unexceptional lives deflate all utopian pretensions. The anti-heroic, anti-utopian nature of Western liberalism is the greatest enemy of religious radicals, priest-kings, and collective seekers after purity and heroic salvation.'' (72)
(See also, ''Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes; by Jacques Ellul)
Are they overreaching? Perhaps. To encompass so many diverse historical movements under one umbrella is ambitious, at best. But Buruma and Margalit are exceedingly well read and adept with philosophical concepts. If their book is a stretch too far, the path they take to arrive at their conclusion is nonetheless rich with insight and well worth following.
What’s wrong with Western values?
In a sense, Occidentalism is anti-Semitism writ large, as hatred for Jews suffuses most of its forms, but Anti-Americanism looms even larger. Though it’s not the same as anti-Americanism, the Occidentalist vision of “a machinelike society without a human soul” is most closely associated with the United States in today’s world: “the idea of America itself, as a rootless, cosmopolitan, superficial, trivial, materialistic, racially mixed, fashion-addicted civilization.” From an historical perspective, Occidentalism derives from the ancient clash between City and Country — an ongoing conflict between rural and urban values. Ironically, though, “[t]he West in general, and America in particular, provokes envy and resentment more among those who consume its images, and its goods, than among those who can barely imagine what the West is like.”
A response to Orientalism
The phenomenon Buruma and Margalit call Occidentalism is the counterpoint to Orientalism, a term popularized by the Palestinian philosopher Edward Said to characterize what he perceived as a patronizing Western attitude towards Eastern societies that is used to justify Western imperialism. The authors contend that the distrust, even hatred, of the West that is so widespread in the Global South actually originated in Europe. They trace the intellectual source of Occidentalism to the emergence in Europe of modern anti-Semitism following the French Revolution and nineteenth-century German Romantic philosophy. Outside Europe, with the growth of European empires, the clash of new ideas from the West with traditional values gave rise to a “split between nativists and Westernizers. The former dream of going back to the purity of an imaginary past: Japan under the divine emperor, the Caliphate united under Islam, China as a community of peasants. . . The struggle of East and West is a Manichaean struggle between the idolatrous worshipers of earthly matter and true worshipers of the godly spirit.”
About the authors
The authors of Occidentalism are both academics. The Dutch writer and historian Ian Buruma teaches human rights and journalism at Bard College. He has written 22 books. Avishai Margalit, now emeritus, taught philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has written or edited nine books and innumerable articles.
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