David Gress, From Plato to Nato (New York: Free Press, 1998), 592 pp., $28.
Christopher Coker, Twilight of the West (Boulder, co: Westview Press, 1998), 203 pp., $28.
Is the West an idea? A civilization? Or a set of political
arrangements? Plainly it is all three and, as a result, difficult to
pin down between hard covers. For if we talk about the decline of the
West, we may be discussing the difficulties that NATO encounters in
formulating policy toward the Balkans, or the rise of ideologies such
as environmentalism that blame the problems of the world on Western
science and capitalism, or the debasement of Western (and other)
cultures by Hollywood's entertainment industry. Or ten other topics.
So both David Gress and Christopher Coker have set themselves a
formidable task when they attempt to chart the West's progress. And
though they are fairly near to each other on the political
spectrum--Mr. Gress being a judicious Danish neoconservative and Mr.
Coker a pessimistic English conservative--they have written very
different books. To oversimplify, Mr. Gress is inclined to stress the
concept of the West as an organic civilization--though one repeatedly
riven by civil and cultural wars--and therefore to believe that its
political structures are natural and likely to survive. Mr. Coker
tends to see the West as an idea in the minds of poets and
philosophers, and he therefore envisages its political links being
gradually eaten away by the intellectual acids of Europeanism,
multiculturalism and postmodern skepticism.