Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

A Conservative Approach to “International Awareness”

Posted by Tony Listi on May 16, 2008

Conservatives are not opposed to learning about other countries and cultures around the world. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. Americans need to be aware of the diversity of beliefs around the world and what their implications are for international relations. In fact, such knowledge can increase the peace and prosperity of the US.

However, international awareness can easily devolve into cultural relativism, a form of moral relativism. And this is what conservatives vehemently oppose. In an atmosphere of multiculturalism, mere knowledge often devolves into mindless, politically correct, approval and appreciation of morally inferior elements of certain cultures.

Moreover, though, conservatives believe that younger generations of Americans hardly have any knowledge of their own heritage. Young people do not learn about and understand the value of Western civilization that has been passed down to us from Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian traditions. They do not understand the ideas and reasoning that went into the Founding of America. SO, with this in mind, why should young people be traveling abroad and studying other cultures when they don’t even understand their own cultural heritage?

The American, ignorant of his own heritage and the reasoning behind it, is unable to think critically about other cultures. And this inability will lead to confusion and error. And such confusion and error will weaken the US and the values and beliefs that have made it great.

I’d like to end with this very interest commentary on international travel by G.K. Chesterton:
“I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like. This is not meant for nonsense; still less is it meant for the silliest sort of nonsense, which is cynicism. The human bond that he feels at home is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is rather an inner reality. Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as those who labor and love their children and die, he was thinking the fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in fantastic masks and costumes. Many modern internationalists talk as if men of different nationalities had only to meet and mix and understand each other. In reality that is the moment of supreme danger-the moment when they meet. We might shiver, as at the old euphemism by which a meeting meant a duel.

Travel ought to combine amusement with instruction; but most travelers are so much amused that they refuse to be instructed. I do not blame them for being amused; it is perfectly natural to be amused at a Dutchman for being Dutch or a Chinaman for being Chinese. Where they are wrong is that they take their own amusement seriously. They base on it their serious ideas of international instruction. It was said that the Englishman takes his pleasures sadly; and the pleasure of despising foreigners is one which he takes most sadly of all. He comes to scoff and does not remain to pray, but rather to excommunicate. Hence in international relations there is far too little laughing, and far too much sneering. But I believe that there is a better way which largely consists of laughter; a form of friendship between nations which is actually founded on differences.”

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