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Professor McAllister Asks, "Can the West Defend Itself?"
As the nation fights wars of ideology in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States continues to struggle with its own ideology on the home front. Ted McAllister, Edward L. Gaylord Chair at the School of Public Policy, spoke about America's identity crisis at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) Regional Leadership Conference on Saturday, Nov. 8, at Stanford University.
His talk, titled "The Acids of Modernity: Can the West Defend Itself?" was part of the ISI 2008 conference themed "America in the Clash of Civilizations." McAllister's presentation explored the history behind the development of western philosophies, from their foundations in ancient Greece, as a springboard to explain how America became the cornerstone of the modern west.
"I made the claim that America is the only real defender of the west now," McAllister says. The professor also explored the struggle America has with its own identity in an increasingly polarized era. "America can defend the west only by reaffirming its own version of western ideals, but it must not evangelize."
McAllister has been academically inspired by the philosophical musings of renowned journalist Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), who coined the term the "acids of modernity." McAllister has furthered the argument of a decreasing values system, saying that the west will struggle to defend itself because it has no higher authority beyond the notion of "tolerance" – an ideal that may not hold up as religious and cultural demographics continue to shift.
"The principles we claim to be universal are from American experiences of western traditions. I'm rejecting the Bush argument that in the heart of every human is the need for freedom and democracy," he says, adding that certain principles can be transplanted into another country, but to be successful they must develop the principles independently.
He looked to Iraq as a particular example. "We have thinned out the complexity of American freedom. Some principles can be applied, but they really must grow from their own Iraqi soil. And we make enemies of everyone else by trying to make them like us."
Other speakers at the "America in the Clash of Civilizations" conference discussed the vision of America by its founding fathers, America's relationship with other western democracies, and the clash of cultures occurring in Europe. For more information about the conference, visit the ICI Web site.