|Town square in Poznan Poland|
The trouble, Mr. Manent thinks, is that enlightened liberal Europeans have defined themselves out of existence. “Dominant opinion in Europe,” he writes, “tends to consider Europe as a ‘nothing,’ a space empty of anything common, or at most as a ‘culture.’ ”There were no rules, no standards, everyone was free to do whatever they wanted, and this lack of structure was allowing all kinds of hooligans and terrorists free reign to destroy whatever they wanted. I think I understand his point of view, but he doesn't have it quite right.
Civilization is like a plaza, a wide open, reasonable flat area that can be used for any number of purposes. You can conduct business, set up markets or set up cafes and feed people. You can host parties, dances or sporting events. You can even erect sculptures. This is what civilization is, a level playing field where you are free to do whatever you want, within limits.
However, you are not allowed to tear up the plaza. Civilization is like a virtual plaza, and this virtual plaza extends to the limits of civilization. Past the edge of this plaza there be monsters who are constantly gnawing at the plaza, trying to destroy it by breaking pieces off of the edge. These kind of monsters have been around since the beginning of time and are well understood.
There are other monsters who sneak into the center of town and try to pry stones out of the center of the plaza. These guys have been around as long as we have had plaza's big enough to make such an attack possible. Used to be that the perpetrators were easily caught and punished, but these days they are sneaking about with explosives. They do more damage and they are harder to find.
So it's not that we have a context free civilization, it's that Western Civilization is based on certain ground rules, rules that are so ingrained in our culture that they are practically invisible. They are so ingrained in our psyche that we think everyone in the world also knows, believes and supports these rules. The problem is that this is not true. Many of the rules that Western Civilization takes for granted are not accepted by people from other parts of the world. And those people are our enemies.