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Western Civilization: The Invisible, Beautiful Miracle That We Ignore

 

I grew up on a hog farm in one of the poorest counties in Ohio. We did our field work with draft horses. Then I moved to the mountains of Tennessee, where I practiced medicine for 20 years in the fourth poorest county in the fifth poorest state in the country (or maybe the other way around). My neighbors and I voted in an old “community center” which was a low concrete block building the size of a two car garage, with a leaky tin roof, whose only source of heat was a wood stove in the corner. After spending nearly 50 years in very poor communities, two years ago I moved to Hilton Head, SC, where I have a thriving concierge medical practice. The transition from poor communities to a very wealthy community has been fascinating to me.

The poor communities I lived in had a lot in common. They were nice places – very close-knit communities which tended to be dominated by a few large extended families which had been there forever, with many smaller but equally well-established families. You weren’t really from that community unless you were born in the same house as your great-grandfather was. You were identified by who your family was, and where you went to church. So our communities were structured by, and unified by, families and churches.

Not that we were all united all the time. For example, we made fun of one another’s families. And we made fun of one another’s churches. But at the end of the day, there was more that bound us together than pushed us apart.

One of those things that bound everyone together was the schools. When I was in high school in rural Ohio in the 1980s, a couple of disgruntled students vandalized the school one Friday night. They were there for hours, tearing things up. Word got out, and by noon the next day, everybody with a mop and a bucket in our county was in that school cleaning up the mess. Our few janitors would have taken several weeks to clean all that up, but the crowd of volunteers had it cleaned up in a little over 24 hours. That meant we didn’t miss a day of school, which reduced the crime committed from a felony to a lesser charge for the vandals. That bothered me, but it probably shouldn’t have. They’re both doing well in life, now.

The reason I bring all this up is that Hilton Head has none of those things. All those things that held my previous communities together – families, churches, and schools – those things do not exist here. At least, not really:

Hilton Head essentially did not exist 50 years ago (it was a small island used for timber production), and most of the communities on the island have been built in the last 25 years. There is a small Gullah presence, and they have been here for generations. So there are a few old families here, but their influence in the community as a whole is very small.

Very few people here go to church, and the churches that do exist here are often more social clubs than truly houses of worship. My family and I are devout Christians, and we continue to search for a church that meets our needs. There are churches here, but their influence in the community is very small.

Most people move here to retire. The average age of my patients is around 75 years old. I’m not sure what percentage of households here have children under 18 in the home, but it must be a very small percentage. My point is that we do have a public high school, but its influence in the community is very small.

The reason I find this so interesting is that Hilton Head is a very close-knit community. There are about 40,000 full-time residents here. My town in Tennessee and my home county in Ohio both had about 10,000 residents. So Hilton Head, with four times the population (nearly none of whom are actually from here), and essentially no families, no churches, and no schools – you would think that it wouldn’t even really be a community at all. What holds this place together?

Hilton Head feels like a very friendly small town. It’s a nice place. Every time we go out to eat, we leave with new friends. Everybody knows everybody. If you need something, someone is always willing to help. If they can’t help, they know someone who can. That other someone may not know you, but he’ll be happy to help you, too. This is a nice, close-knit community, for no obvious reason. I find that interesting.

Although perhaps there is something, somewhat less obvious, that holds this community together: Western civilization.

Respect for others. Property rights. The rule of law. Free speech and thought. Judeo-Christian ethics (even among those who do not practice a Judeo-Christian religion). Free markets. Self-responsibility, and “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s stuff.” And so on. There are reasons that Hilton Head is a nicer community than, say, Aleppo, Syria. Even though Aleppo has established families, influential churches, and community schools, just like rural Ohio and rural Tennessee. But Aleppo is not Ohio or Tennessee.


So perhaps Hilton Head is not converted from a bunch of individuals to a pleasant, close-knit community by families, churches, and schools. And perhaps my communities in rural Tennessee and rural Ohio weren’t, either. That’s the way it seemed, but I’m starting to think that there was something less obvious at work. Less obvious, but more ubiquitous. Something so omnipresent that I wasn’t even aware of it, like a fish isn’t aware of water.

Maybe western civilization is a good thing, after all. Amazing stuff, as a matter of fact. Heck, they ought to teach it in schools. But they don’t. They teach multiculturalism – that all cultures are equally wonderful. What if that’s not true?

Those in rural Ohio and rural Tennessee would suggest that western civilization has significant advantages, if they happened to notice it. I suspect that those in Hilton Head would share that view. Those in Aleppo would likely agree, in their heart of hearts, as well. Immigration patterns suggest that people all over the world take this view, as a matter of fact. Even the outspoken multiculturalists at the UN take this view – they wanted their headquarters in New York. Not Aleppo.

Immigrants don’t come here because we have money. They come here because we have western civilization. It’s wonderful. And everyone knows it. Even the multiculturalists, who put a great deal of effort into maintaining their blissful delusional apparent ignorance on the topic.

I believe that people all over the world are basically the same, but cultures are profoundly different. And immigrants coming here from all over the world, apparently, agree.

The world is not divided into nice places and miserable places because of an unequal distribution of natural resources, or brain power, or arable land. It’s because of an unequal distribution of western civilization. A civilization which we ignore at our own risk.

And everyone else’s risk, too, come to think of it.

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There are 24 comments.

  1. Member

    Didn’t Jonah Goldberg just write a book about this?

    • #1
    • November 25, 2018 at 8:30 pm
    • 5 likes
  2. Member

    Amen, Dr. Bastiat.

    • #2
    • November 25, 2018 at 9:45 pm
    • 4 likes
  3. Member

    Very good analysis. It’s a great tragedy that our schools aren’t teaching our young the importance of maintaining our unique civilization.

    • #3
    • November 26, 2018 at 1:11 am
    • 2 likes
  4. Member

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    Very good analysis. It’s a great tragedy that our schools aren’t teaching our young the importance of maintaining our unique civilization.

    Hank Hill taught it. 

    • #4
    • November 26, 2018 at 2:37 am
    • 1 like
  5. Member

    You make some very interesting observations. A problem I see is that today’s immigration is mostly illegal and the people continue there illegally once here. Crime in our area has greatly increased. Upon my travels to South and Central America I was shocked by the razor wire and electric fence. It’s everywhere. That culture is coming here. Nail it down or lose it to theft.

    • #5
    • November 26, 2018 at 6:12 am
    • 7 likes
  6. Thatcher

    It’s hard to believe our universities consider (and even implement) mandatory diversity appreciation training, or “white privilege is wrong” classes, but not Western Civilization.

    It reminds me of colleges which eliminate Shakespeare as a requirement for an English degree . . .

    • #6
    • November 26, 2018 at 8:03 am
    • 9 likes
  7. Member

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    Very good analysis. It’s a great tragedy that our schools aren’t teaching our young the importance of maintaining our unique civilization.

    Kids aren’t asked to consider what, if anything, there was about some rough and poor communities, similar to the ones in which Dr. Bastiat once lived, that made them able to develop into or generate rich, educated communities, similar to the one in which he lives now. You can’t nurture and maintain the culture of a community, never mind a civilization, if you don’t know what made the growth of that culture possible. Without that understanding, you don’t know what to fight to keep, what to deliberately discard or reject, and what to let time and changing circumstances erase.

    Dr. Bastiat’s post reminds me I want to know what other people on Ricochet think of an old novel I didn’t start reading until a few days ago, and then found enthralling and very disturbing. It was first published in 1946. (Wikipedia tells you it was first published in 1952, but the dead wood copy I borrowed proves that wrong.) It’s a simple story: An ignorant, dislikable missionary’s wife comes to a tropical island and, after an accidental discovery, starts searching for, digging up and destroying artifacts. Eventually the people grow to worship her as a goddess. The novel illustrates the effect on different cultures of different beliefs about God, sex, human life, race, what qualifies someone as inside or outside the tribe, and the cultural effect of the perception, knowledge or ignorance people have in common regarding their own history.

    The novel is October Island. It’s by a Southern American writer and war veteran, William March. (I’ve only read this by him, and haven’t read enough of Evelyn Waugh yet to know, but I think the guy’s work might be better, in some ways, than Waugh’s.) March finally got briefly famous by writing a book that was made into a movie everyone’s heard of: The Bad Seed; though he didn’t live long enough to see the extent of the attention that story got.

    • #7
    • November 26, 2018 at 11:09 am
    • 4 likes
  8. Member

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    You make some very interesting observations. A problem I see is that today’s immigration is mostly illegal and the people continue there illegally once here. Crime in our area has greatly increased. Upon my travels to South and Central America I was shocked by the razor wire and electric fence. It’s everywhere. That culture is coming here. Nail it down or lose it to theft.

    You were in Central and South America recently ? Please tell us more about what you saw and what you think of it.

    • #8
    • November 26, 2018 at 11:23 am
    • 1 like
  9. Member

    Dr. Bastiat: Immigrants don’t come here because we have money. They come here because we have western civilization.

    Mexico and Central/South America, countries founded by Catholic Spain, aren’t part of Western Civilization?

    • #9
    • November 26, 2018 at 1:09 pm
    • Like
  10. Member

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):
    MemberMisthiocracy, Joke Pending  

    Dr. Bastiat: Immigrants don’t come here because we have money. They come here because we have western civilization.

    Mexico and Central/South America, countries founded by Catholic Spain, aren’t part of Western Civilization?

    Catholic Spain had a much worse government than Britain or even France. It isn’t the part of Western Civilization that we should get excited about defending and promoting. 

    • #10
    • November 26, 2018 at 1:34 pm
    • 3 likes
  11. Coolidge

    A profound observation that should be apparent to all. What is interesting is why it is not.

    • #11
    • November 26, 2018 at 4:53 pm
    • 1 like
  12. Coolidge

    Excellent post, Doc.

    Here’s my take from your descriptions: aside from being Western, the common feature of the cultures you describe in rural Ohio and Hilton Head is the very high quotient of what sociologists call “social trust” among the population. The Western principles you describe as thriving in these communities–rule of law; property rights; etc.–can’t even get off the ground in low trust communities. 

    Maybe its a “chicken or egg” thing, but it seems to me social trust is a pre-condition of Western Civilization.

    • #12
    • November 27, 2018 at 11:09 am
    • 6 likes
  13. Inactive
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Ray Gunner (View Comment):
    Maybe its a “chicken or egg” thing, but it seems to me social trust is a pre-condition of Western Civilization.

    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams

    I’ve wondered about the chicken or egg question you bring up. I suspect that the Judeo-Christian background is the most important quality of what most would call western civilization. Or perhaps it’s just exactly the right combination of Aristotle, Martin Luther, Johannes Gutenberg, George Washington, John Paul II, and untold numbers of others who led us to this wonderful place.

    You’re right – it’s hard to know. Fun to think about. But if a team of brilliant people tried to sit down and design something as wonderful as western civilization, we’d end up with North Korea. We couldn’t do this if we tried.

    • #13
    • November 27, 2018 at 12:31 pm
    • 1 like
  14. Thatcher
    TG

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: Immigrants don’t come here because we have money. They come here because we have western civilization.

    Mexico and Central/South America, countries founded by Catholic Spain, aren’t part of Western Civilization?

    Sarah Hoyt, who grew up in Portugal, has, over the years, shared some thoughts (and feelings) on the differences between Anglosphere Western Civ and “Latin” Western Civ. https://accordingtohoyt.com/

    • #14
    • November 27, 2018 at 12:32 pm
    • 2 likes
  15. Member

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    You’re right – it’s hard to know. Fun to think about. But if a team of brilliant people tried to sit down and design something as wonderful as western civilization, we’d end up with North Korea. We couldn’t do this if we tried.

    Even if the Founding Fathers tried to do it, it wouldn’t work.

    • #15
    • November 27, 2018 at 3:19 pm
    • Like
  16. Inactive
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    You’re right – it’s hard to know. Fun to think about. But if a team of brilliant people tried to sit down and design something as wonderful as western civilization, we’d end up with North Korea. We couldn’t do this if we tried.

    Even if the Founding Fathers tried to do it, it wouldn’t work.

    Exactly. This took thousands of years to build. Not 200.

    America’s giants – our founding fathers – stood on the shoulders of giants. 

    • #16
    • November 27, 2018 at 4:58 pm
    • 1 like
  17. Member

    Your excellent post was picked up by Instapundit earlier today (also known as ‘Insta-lanched). Lots of comments over there. (If I try to link it, it loops directly back here. The time stamp there is 2 PM) 

    • #17
    • November 27, 2018 at 5:58 pm
    • 2 likes
  18. Thatcher

    Susan in Seattle (View Comment):
    Lots of comments over there.

    It’s a shame the Instapundit uses disqus for comments — they are on my “block everywhere” list, like Facebook.

    • #18
    • November 27, 2018 at 6:54 pm
    • 1 like
  19. Coolidge
    ST

    Dr. B, congratulations on “making it.” From your beginnings as the son of a humble pig farmer to concierge doctor to the Hilton Head ‘old money’ types is no easy thing, and if you are ever in need of snake and/or rat exterminator please do not hesitate to ring me up.

    Best regards,

    ST

    P.S. Seriously though, well done. My guess is that there was a bit of hard work involved and some keeping ones nose clean as well.

    P.P.S. My expertise leans more towards the extermination of serpents (FYI), but have been known to whack the occasional this-and-that as well. Will work for room & board.

     

    • #19
    • November 28, 2018 at 2:05 am
    • 3 likes
  20. Inactive
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    ST (View Comment):

    Dr. B, congratulations on “making it.” From your beginnings as the son of a humble pig farmer to concierge doctor to the Hilton Head ‘old money’ types is no easy thing, and if you are ever in need of snake and/or rat exterminator please do not hesitate to ring me up.

    Best regards,

    ST

    P.S. Seriously though, well done. My guess is that there was a bit of hard work involved and some keeping ones nose clean as well.

    P.P.S. My expertise leans more towards the extermination of serpents (FYI), but have been known to whack the occasional this-and-that as well. Will work for room & board.

     

    ST, thanks much for your kind words. It’s been a long, difficult road. Although I had a lot of advantages. I had two parents who loved me. That overcomes a lot of obstacles. They’re both very intelligent, and I was blessed with an active mind. That helped too, but as you alluded to, there’s a lot more to success than ability. Like, for example, hard work, calculated risk taking, and ambition.

    There were certainly some obstacles along the way, and things were very difficult for a long time. To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, I didn’t manage to avoid poverty, but I managed to avoid help. My parents taught me to work through obstacles. Which made the obstacles I faced less important. 

    Long story short, I had a lot of advantages.

    • #20
    • November 28, 2018 at 5:03 am
    • 5 likes
  21. Inactive
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    For those interested, there are well over 300 comments on this post over at Instapundit. Many of them are very worthwhile.

    • #21
    • November 28, 2018 at 6:22 am
    • 1 like
  22. Inactive
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    On the other hand, there are a whole lot of them that are not. Geez…

    • #22
    • November 28, 2018 at 7:19 am
    • 2 likes
  23. Inactive
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    ST (View Comment):
    My expertise leans more towards the extermination of serpents (FYI), but have been known to whack the occasional this-and-that as well. Will work for room & board.

    My neighbor gets on my nerves from time to time…

    • #23
    • November 28, 2018 at 7:20 am
    • 3 likes
  24. Member

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, Good Doctor! I also was born in Ohio (Cleveland) and my father was from a small Tennessee town of 5,000 people, called Tullahoma, where our family used to visit my grandparents twice a year.

    You are right about the sense of community in small rural towns. Another thing that struck me was the reasonable cost of living and reasonable pricing. For example, when I was a teenager in the 70’s, I was walking by the local movie theater in Tullahoma and I craved a Baby Ruth bar. So I walked in and asked for one, expecting to pay about triple the normal price, this being a movie theater of course. The clerk said “That will be 15 cents.” I was aghast and said, “You don’t charge higher than the normal price?” He looked at me with puzzlement and replied, “No, why would we do that?”

    My dad said that during World War II there was a prisoner of war camp for Germans near Tullahoma, and many of the prisoners were given work permits to help local farmers, for which they were paid wages. These prisoners were treated well and fed well by the locals, and even attended high-school football games on Friday nights. He noted their enjoyment in the stands. The prisoners were rarely shackled because, as my dad put it, “why would they want to escape this comfort and go back to the war?”

    • #24
    • November 28, 2018 at 7:20 pm
    • 3 likes