In terms of material prosperity, things have never been better. According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty during the past 25 years.
The life expectancy of a man born in 1919 was 53; today, the average 65-year-old can expect to reach 83. Free enterprise has enabled access to food, medicine, entertainment, and knowledge 24 hours a day.
However, studies show that we’re dissatisfied with our socioeconomic systems and undergoing a crisis of meaning. “Why are things so good?” and “Why are we blowing it?”
These are the two mysteries that conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tackles in his new book, “The Right Side of History.” Shapiro, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last month, posits that our achievements and freedoms are the product of Western Civilization, a revolution that began 3,000 years ago in Athens and Jerusalem.
The merging and tensions between these poles over centuries have yielded the best ideas ever conceived by man: The belief that we were all created in the image of God and endowed with free will, natural rights, a duty to care for each other, property rights, and the capacity to act virtuously.
The beliefs of the West — exemplified by the revelation at Sinai and America’s founding documents — have propelled mankind from its long journey from the swamp to the stars. Despite its unparalleled success, we are eroding the pillars that built our civilization.
In 218 pages, Shapiro makes a compelling case for how we have lost our way by replacing Greek reason and Judeo-Christian values with political tribalism, scientific materialism, ethnonationalism, radical subjectivism, and the application of Karl Marx’s theories to new victimhood hierarchies.
As they often do, the extreme ends of the political spectrum meet in a common place. While the detestable “alt-right” contends that the West’s achievements are unique to whites, the far left unwittingly supports that contention by dismissing western civilization — especially our country’s founding — as the construct of white oppressors.
Of course, our history does include atrocities, but what the West’s detractors fail to recognize is that not only are these evils not unique to our civilization, we overcame them (albeit, too slowly) by affirming the sanctity of all people, a uniquely Western value.
Unfortunately, it’s now mainstream to reject the West. In universities, postmodernists teach that objective truths do not exist, rendering logic and debate as unnecessary. Others argue that religion can be reduced to banalities like “just be a nice person,” and that morality is relative. The family nucleus? A patriarchal anachronism. Meanwhile, proponents of identity politics and intersectionality contend that immutable characteristics and “lived realities” by virtue of membership in victim groups matter more than the quality of ideas.
The social consequences of abandoning reason and Judeo-Christian values are troubling. Mental health indexes show that we are becoming emotionally bankrupt, especially the youth.
In March, the American Psychological Association found that between 2009 and 2017 there was a 63 percent increase in teens with depression symptoms while the number of children treated in emergency rooms for suicide attempts has doubled. Another report points to half of all Americans feeling lonely.
Our intellectual decay is equally startling. A recent poll found that two-thirds of millennials could not identify Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp where 1.1 million souls perished.
If this new generation is ignorant of the Holocaust, imagine what they do not know about Stalin’s gulags, Mao’s famines and Che Guevara’s murders. Hence, we should not be surprised that a majority of American youth favor socialism, but we do need to act.
The combination of political radicalism, historical ignorance, and nihilism is a recipe for catastrophe.
Thankfully, the solutions to our political, cultural, and educational decline are within reach, but they require reviving the values and ideas that built the West.
The works of Aristotle, Moses, Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, Adam Smith, John Locke, the founders, Frederick Douglass, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn should not be unfamiliar to high school, let alone college, graduates. We should also teach our children to be grateful for our civilization — the peace and prosperity that we enjoy are historical anomalies, not the norm.
We live in the penthouse of a building that took millennia to erect. It’s foolish to think that we can continue chipping away at its foundation without the whole structure collapsing, as nearly happened in the 20th century and is occurring now in Venezuela.
The past was far from perfect, but in it, we can find the inspiration and lessons we need to strengthen our social fabric and build a brighter future for the next generation.
We owe them these tools.
Giancarlo Sopo (@giancarlosopo) is a Florida-based media strategist and writer who has been featured in USA Today, National Review, The Miami Herald, Univision, and The New York Times.