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Struggling to transcend mortality:  An illustration from “The Surprizing Life and Death of Doctor John Faustus”, printed in 1727 (Wellcome Collection/Wellcome Images)


Last November, when my good friend Dr Amichai Magen brought me here to the IDC [Interdisciplinary Center, Herzlia, Israel], he painted the place in such glowing colours that I thought I was bound to be disappointed. Nothing could have prepared me, though, for the beauty of the campus, the brilliance of the students and the welcoming attitude of the academics. The warm atmosphere here reminded me less of a university than of Kibbutz Amir in the Upper Galilee, where I worked as a volunteer for a summer back in 1977, although the food there, being home-grown, tasted even better. An unexpected pleasure of my visit here was to be received by an old friend from his time in London, Ambassador Ron Prosor. I hope Ron won’t mind my mentioning that, as my visit happened to be on the day of the US election, we had a lively discussion about the likely outcome. Ron ventured the opinion that the polls were completely wrong: in his view, they hugely underestimated the margin of victory. Knowing how well-informed Ron invariably is, I regretted that it was too late to place a bet. Actually, it was just as well for me, because the candidate Ron thought would win by a landslide was Hillary Clinton.

Having been pretty divisive as a candidate, Donald Trump has proved to be only slightly less so as President. But I hope we can agree that after the first few months of this administration, the United States is in a strong position at home and abroad, reasserting its authority in Syria and the South China Sea, reassuring most of those who feared either too close a relationship with Russia or too hostile a one with China. To judge by the economy, the President’s self-confidence appears to be infectious, while in practice his brand of conservatism seems both more compassionate and less isolationist than some of my fellow neo-conservative friends at first feared. Mr Trump’s style will never satisfy his critics, but the substance may yet surprise us all. As far as Israel is concerned, it has so far been more a question of giving the Prime Minister some latitude on the settlements than of any concrete shift in policy. But these are early days and Mr Trump has yet to be tested.

I shall return to the question of Israel and the West, but first I should like to consider what it is that we mean when we speak of “the fate of the West”. The phrase is reminiscent of Oswald Spengler, and Dr Magen has reminded us that The Decline of the West appeared almost exactly a century ago. Spengler’s prophecies have not stood the test of time, but his civilisational fatalism is still to be encountered across the political spectrum. For example, the former editor of the Economist, Bill Emmott, has just published a profoundly fatalistic book that is actually entitled The Fate of the West. Mr Emmott sees President Trump and Brexit — two distinct phenomena, both of which he conflates with the rise of “populism” — as the major threat of our time to the open society. Though he rightly sees the West as “the world’s most valuable political idea”, I beg to differ from Mr Emmott. The threat to the West does not come from the exercise of democracy, but from the enemies of the open society that he admires. The line that separates the friends and enemies of the West isn’t always easy to draw, but Donald Trump and Theresa May are both quite certainly on the right side of it. The conservative masses who are challenging liberal elites across the Western world are not enemies of liberty; for liberals to see them as such is to claim a monopoly of virtue that is as unjustified as it is illiberal. As Karl Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies, the classic work that supposedly inspired Mr Emmott, “This is why our Western civilization is an essentially pluralistic one, and why monolithic social ends would mean the death of freedom.”

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Eliahu Nov PhD
October 13th, 2017
5:10 AM
Ihave just finished your breath taking article 'The Fate of the West' (Hebrew version, Keren Tiqwa's 'Hashiloach' periodical). Actually, during the years (I am 74) I thought and talked along the same patterns that your article outlined. Your article only enabled me to formulate my beliefs more clearly ond orderly. However, in the present ultimate worldwide havoc situation we now need it is NOT suffice to only publish paperes and essays but to take ACTIVE steps to outline VALID PRACTICAL strategies to turn the clumsy ship to a better direction ie establishing/ organising an INTERNATIONL 'new masons'movementto fight, reveal and conquer the strongholds of both distructive powers in both extremes you elaborated in your article. Real measures must be taken to save the planet . ALL aspects (philosophical, communication, hard & soft scientific , networks, literate etc etc tools) must be discussed and published . Prominent Politicians and proffessionals must be reqruited to lift the flag of 'Re-enlightment' .

Iddo
August 6th, 2017
11:08 AM
Articulate and compelling. Guarantees to Israel from Europe won't suffice. For every John 23 there is a Pius 12, even today. The ability to be an Anti-smite while occupying the moral high ground is just too attractive to many of today's Christian Europeans. Though they endanger themselves, theirs is the cry of Samson "let me die along with the Philistines". My hope is that reasonable views, such as yours, will prevail in the never ending struggle.

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