It began with the Enlightenment. The necessary social conditions may have developed over the preceding centuries, and perhaps the necessary biological conditions developed millennia before that, but our actual story, per se, begins with the Enlightenment. That is when the West was really born. True, Europe has long been a distinct culture and civilization, and even well before the Enlightenment, it did stand-out from the rest in many of the same ways as today. The Enlightenment though, was not just the beginning of a new era in the history of Western man, but in the history of the world. In a very real sense, it is the beginning of true world history. And since this beginning, fittingly, the overarching narrative, which has united world history for the first time, has been the West’s drive toward an ever more universal Universalism. Yet, as part of the effort to make universal its universal values, the West is sacrificing those same values. The Tragedy of the West is that the beginning is also the end.

At least that is my theory. And I think I should say at the outset that this is a big-picture theory. I am not here to assess the motivations of the pre-Revolutionary Bourgeoisie or the destruction wrought by the German Idealists or to examine the devious methods of the Frankfurt School. Though those are important and worthy subjects of inquiry, ultimately, they are just details. They have influenced the particulars of our civilizational course, but they did not start the train, and they are not necessary to keep it moving. The Enlightenment itself is at the root of our current situation, and so my job here is to step-back from the particulars and draw the secular trend line from there to here. The Enlightenment is our starting-point because that is where the trend line begins.

Ever since the Enlightenment, with its meritocratic and individualistic revolt against inherited privilege, the dominant social trend has been the expansion of the “us” category to include more and more of the “other.” Initially, the “us” was white men from old families, then it was white men of means, regardless of their lineage. Then it came to include all white men. Then, it was all white men and women, and then eventually, people of any race. (Depending on your preferred metrics, you might order these last two differently.) The trend line has been the same for religious tolerance; and the gay-rights movement has followed the same path too.

The idea of acceptance for its own sake has always been there, but the prime mover has been the belief in the universality of our values. Few turn-of-the-century Europeans thought of their colonial subjects as their equals, but they did believe their imperial rule was a “civilizing mission.” In many ways, this smelled like an ad hoc justification, but it was not wholly insincere; they did impart their institutions, religion, and values on the natives.

So far, this is a reasonably commonplace scholarly opinion; the colonial empires are gone, but multiculturalism is just a new and gentler means of Imperialism. Where I break with this orthodox understanding is in my assessment of the results. A typical non-radical academic might conclude that despite—or perhaps even owing to—superficial concessions to multiculturalism, the fundamental values of the West are more ascendant than ever. And yes, overall, Egalitarian Universalism is stronger than ever, but in nearly every other way, the West is erasing itself in the name of expansion.

If we add substances a, b, and c to substance d, we will dilute substance d. That is what we did (i.e. multiculturalism/diversity), and that is what we got, but this formula is not the whole equation. If one’s goal is to achieve an equality between two unequals, the natural instinct is to tear-down the one and build-up the other—given past injustices, equality before the law is not enough. This is the essential meaning and motivation behind the institutional and cultural anti-White double-standard. And if the West needs to tear-down Whites in order to allow the integration of the rest, the West itself also needs to be torn-down, at least rhetorically. Western history is seen as a White history; Western culture is a White culture; the previously celebrated Western accomplishments of the past are seen as White accomplishments. So if belief in White supremacy is an obstacle for the Western spirit of equality and tolerance, then so is the belief in Western supremacy. (If this progression is not necessarily logical, it is at least an entirely understandable and human reaction.)

But so what? So Western history is often neglected, and/or framed as a record of oppression and exploitation; so we say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas;” so some schools in Europe have taken pork off their menus to not offend Muslims; so some schools in the American Southwest ban students from wearing the American flag to avoid offending those of Mexican ancestry; so none of the Founding Fathers have national holidays named for them, while Martin Luther King does. So what? The post-modern style cultural imperialist might still claim success: we have democracy, we have free speech, we have rationality, we have meritocracy; the Enlightenment lives on, and among more people than ever before. And so what if Westerners are made to feel alienated from their ancestors?—now they know how the descendants of slaves feel. The Enlightenment was always meant to be a brake with the past; we are creating a new man person.

And if that were the end of it, perhaps we could still count this as a triumph of a kind of inhuman Humanism, but along the way to Universalism, “diversity,” the means, became the ends. And now, even the abstract core beliefs, the “universal” Western values, are cast-aside as the West collapses on itself.

Free speech? Hate speech is not free speech, and if you are speaking against diversity, that is hate speech. Yes, we still have the first amendment in the US, but when people justify attempts to silence political enemies by protest and boycott as the exercise of their own free speech, it is obvious that the rationale behind the idea of free speech is lost on them. Which is hardly surprising, because diversity fervor has also dealt a heavy-blow to rational discourse. The notion that ideas can be, or even should be, judged in and of themselves is now considered a tool of cisgendered heterosexual white male oppression. What matters is not the idea, but the individual who has the idea; what is his motivation? And does he have the right “life experience” to have standing on this issue? If he is a white man, and the issue has anything do to with race or sex, you can safely disregard his opinion.

The principle of meritocracy also bumps up against the diversity doctrine, and once again, diversity wins. I know that claiming that affirmative action is an affront to meritocracy is a tired old argument, but that does not make it any less true. My main point here, however, is that the primary legal justification for affirmative action is not that it makes-up for past wrongs, but that it promotes diversity. Most Americans do not realize it, but for decades now, the real rationale for affirmative action has been that diversity is good.

Material comfort remains a high priority, as it is in most societies, but if we have one spiritual credo, it is that diversity is good. So is freedom, of course, but if each is done right, diversity is freedom and freedom is diversity.

The West thought it had discovered universal values, so it set about making those values universal. The result is a paradoxical Universalism of diversity that has undermined the very values that it was intended to propagate. Only the spirit of tolerance and equality remains. All the rest of the West dissolves in the mass of its newly-assimilated parts.

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Do not read any more into this than what it says. While our unfolding tragedy follows naturally from the Enlightenment, it is not the inevitable result. If France and the US/UK had not emerged as dominant powers, things might have been different. If the Right had had a greater moral imagination, things might have been different. And I see no compelling evidence that Whites are “too idealistic” or “too altruistic” for Ethnonationalism. Many times in the past, whites have proven themselves to be extremely receptive to Ethnonationalism. The moral foundation for our Ethnonationalism should be idealistic and altruistic anyways—it should be enlightened.

Ryan Andrews is the author of The Birth of Prudence, which was published by VDare last year.