Either Carry a Big Stick—Or Shut Up!

Western culture is deservedly exceptional. No other tradition has given the individual such security, freedom, and prosperity.

The Athens-Jerusalem mixture of Christian humility (and guilt) and the classical Socratic introspection combined in the West to make it a particularly self-reflective and self-critical society, in a way completely untrue of other traditions.

Unprecedented Western leisure and affluence also have given Europeans and Americans a margin of error, in the sense of the material ability to indulge in ethical critique of themselves without existential danger.

But self-proclaimed moralists also developed habits of ethical nitpicking. Here I do not just mean the more recognizable jingoism so common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Instead, today progressive global strutting showcases how magnanimous Westerners are and how they can afford to remain disengaged and nonjudgmental.

If in the 1880s Victorians could dress up conquered and dethroned Zulu King Cetshwayo in British tweed and parade him around the liberal parlors of London, today we can psychoanalyze why thugs and murderers abroad are mostly misguided, and thus without Western guidance and empathy understandably become nihilist.

Such liberal self-moralizing is never termed chauvinistic or culturally arrogant, because its practitioners are so often liberals who want all others to become as liberal as themselves. Nonetheless, many of our current tensions in the world result from our enemies’ dislike of our smug sense of moral superiority.

Lecturing Egypt to respect a "largely secular” Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral win means that the U.S. is safely distant when one-election/one-time Islamists dismantle the process that brought them to power and seek an Islamic state.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, as a champion of Western rationalism and British fair play, was convinced that he could persuade Adolf Hitler to play by Europe’s post-Versailles Marquess of Queensberry Rules. The more Hitler violated the Versailles accords, rearmed, militarized the Rhineland, gobbled up Austria and dismembered Czechoslovakia, the more Chamberlain redoubled his efforts to convince Hitler of Europe’s shared interest in peace and friendly relations instead of a Neanderthal return to Verdun and the Somme.

And Hitler’s reaction?

He not only interpreted Chamberlain’s magnanimity as contemptible weakness to be exploited, but also was goaded on all the more by Chamberlain’s smug scolding. After giving away the proverbial European store, Chamberlain still managed to enrage Hitler by his nagging sense of sober and judicious British sportsmanship. Hitler seemed enraged by Chamberlain’s condescending invitations to grow up and join the mature statesmen who had learned from the Great War and were invested in the new League of Nations.

Hitler certainly did not appreciate Chamberlain’s concessions to Germany to ensure peace: “If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I'll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers.”

Rarely has such a kind man been more hated by a monster. During Hitler’s last days in the Führerbunker, he praised the mass-murdering Stalin (who had killed over three million Wehrmacht soldiers) while still harping on the scolding Chamberlain.