“…Take up the White Man’s burden —
The savage wars of peace —
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought…”
This poem by Rudyard Kipling was a thinly veiled exhortation to Americans to take up the British imperial responsibility with the coming of the Pax Americana. But “white” then is different than “white” now. When Kipling wrote this it was not a term of derision and insult amongst Western intelligentsia and glitterati. It was simply recognition of the ancestry of a great part of the Western world. That world had reached the known pinnacle of scientific achievement, advanced education, material success and national security for a great many of its people. Western Europe, and its colonies and subsequent nations, led the world and Western Europe was “white.”
But in less than a century a self-loathing took hold that ideologically turned the achievements into supposed oppression and the material success into perceived oligarchy. This view was held in place by a groupthink that was and is purely Orwellian. The white man’s burden, his noblesse oblige, became his assumed burden of guilt.
This is, of course, complete tommyrot, utter bosh. The West has brought more freedom, safety, and prosperity to more people around the world than any other civilization, culture, and system in the history of man. Our lineage of the Bible, Greek philosophy, Roman law, and the Western free-market tradition has led the world for two thousand years. To argue the adverse is to ignore empirical evidence and factual history.
Lovers of British comedy can get the perfect meaning of it by the What Have the Romans Ever Done for us? speech in Life of Brian.
I found that out personally as a young Latin Anglophile, when I was termed a “coconut Latin” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) by fellow Latins. I couldn’t find the insult. How, I thought, by identifying with an extremely successful demographic group, as opposed to Latin history of bumbling empire and banana republics, was I making the wrong move? When I responded as such, my interlocutors seemed confused, in the way a dog would seem confused if you tried to teach it calculus, and loped away mumbling in a godawful accent. Score one for the hildalgo.
But is there an actual “white” burden that turned into real guilt? Is a certain leadership segment of the West directly responsible for untold tragedy and the oppression of innocent non-Western Europeans at the hands of tyrants and murderers?
Yes. Who and how?
The international who are the scared and irresponsible diplomats of post-WWII Western European empires who decolonized too quickly and left their former charges in the hands of tinpots, demagogues, and the Soviets. Modern Zimbabwe, nee Rhodesia, though decolonized a bit later, is a macabre example. Hong Kong gets worse by the day.
The domestic who are the Great Society bureaucrats who by their callous social experimentations consigned generations of urban America to crime, poverty, and familial destruction. A place like Detroit is their monument.
Did they do this to be malicious? Generally not. However, were they incompetent and cowardly? Yes.
The Euros went with what they thought was the zeitgeist, as the clamor for independence was high. But giving self-government to peoples with no governmental infrastructure, no educated class, no sound legal system or constitutional traditions is like giving the car keys, a loaded gun, and a case of tequila to a teenager and hoping for the best. Like the U.S. did in South Vietnam, the postwar Euros just cut and ran. When they did, tribal brutality and ethnic wars of the worst sort broke out, which made a mockery of the precious blood and treasure they had spent there in the first place.
They internalized criticism by “revolutionaries” into a sick and twisted masochism that paralyzed them globally and tore their guts out domestically. It is a malady that still plagues the West.
Surely you’re now pondering, But what of the raw materials the imperial powers stole from the natives? And doesn’t everybody deserve self-determination?
Per economics, of course the empires exploited those lands. It’s the whole bloody reason for empire! But what did they invest? Who did they cure? What barbarities did they put an end to?
An example of such the story of Indian suttee, a charming practice whereby when a maharajah died, all his widows — there were usually many— were burned alive on the funeral pyre with him. When British General Sir Charles Napier became Governor General he put a stop to it. The Indian nobles protested, saying it was part of their cultural tradition.
Napier responded, “We in England also have a cultural tradition. When you burn a woman to death, we hang you.”
Self-determination? Piffle. Do we send toddlers out in the street to “determine” their own lives? We don’t because we recognize wisdom and experience will go a long way to insure they don’t flounder when they go off on their own. When the colonial peoples were set adrift they fell prey to every socialist charlatan, tribal bozo, and Soviet promise of weapons and “security” personnel that came down the pike. They have yet to fully cast off that heavy mantle. Another generation or so of responsible stewardship by the West and perhaps they could have actually prospered, if merely not degenerated, upon independence.
Our worst guilt in this drama? Cuba.
When John Kennedy lost his nerve in 1961 and refused to back up the Bay of Pigs landing force we had trained, we sentenced the Cuban people to a continued morass of communist corruption and lasting dictatorship. Had the USS Essex, stationed right over the horizon, answered the desperate calls from the beach, calls that they had been told by their American trainers would always be answered, the history of the U.S. and Cuba, even of Africa, would be far better today. Those brave men of Brigade 2506 died on that beach because the U.S., after several decades of alliance with Cuba, sold them out. Again, we cut and ran.
Such was the white man’s burden. Such is our guilt.
And domestically? Visit any inner city and look around. There you see the shining consequence of the culture of dependence foisted on families by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. In his Losing Ground and also his Coming Apart, sociologist Charles Murray documents the incalculable damage the hubris of liberal dilettantes did to American society.
By replacing father with government paycheck, enterprise with lethargy, traditional mores with the childish values of the 1960s, cold leftist social puppeteers ensconced themselves in the suburbs and sent their kids to private schools while their urban experiments turned into nightmares. When things got bad they just requested more funding to hire more bureaucrats, who made the situation even worse. Tom Wolfe hilariously relates their craven incompetence in his Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.
So if anybody is looking for white guilt and therefore reparations —and over the vast centuries there are very few who don’t deserve them for slights received and very few who shouldn’t pay them for slights inflicted— why don’t we think about taking it out of the Harvard and Yale endowments? This is proper and poetic justice, as so many of our faux best and brightest, who designed and perpetuated the national monstrosities of the Great Society, hailed from those quaint, sissified, overrated institutions.
There was a responsibility. There is a guilt.
But lo, there are palimpsests of hope as of late.
A resurgent America under President Trump understands where true American interests lie and has made our word once again respected. Will we idealistically assume the role of sole world policeman? Of course not. That era has passed.
But can our allies and opponents both count on us not to cut and run anymore just because tout le monde says we should? Are some of us once again beginning to realize that the West is a civilization worthy of defense? President Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and his vocal advocacy of traditional Western values in front of a den of thieves like the UN answers those questions.
His rising support amongst minority voters of all sorts, as their economic gains continue to rise, may be the beginning of the end of the Great Society and its manifest woes.
Even to this, in language of his time, Kipling reminds us of our civic responsibilities to fellow Americans at home, a burden we usually shouldered so well aboard during the best of the Pax Americana…
“…Take up the White Man’s burden —
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
A hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain…”