A clear lesson should be drawn from the Charlie Hebdo terrorist murders by Islamic radicals and the response in France and elsewhere in the Western world.
Western culture is superior to all others. It is the cornerstone of civilization. It is the only culture in the history of the world that makes votive offerings to reason and dissent in all their moods and tenses. Without Western culture, knowledge would stagnate, persecution would flourish, and liberty would be crippled.
This should be taught in the United States and throughout the world.
Socrates is an icon in Western culture. He did not take the hemlock in vain. He is honored for lecturing the Athenian jury that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The Oracle at Delphi proclaimed him wiser than all others because he knew what he didn’t know. French painter Jacques Louis David heroized him in “The Death of Socrates.”
Last Sunday, more than 1.6 million took to the streets of Paris to pay homage to the freedom of thought and expression that Socrates died to defend. Millions more paid tribute elsewhere.
It was fitting that the Parisian crowd bowed to Marianne, the Goddess of Liberty and Reason, and that the demonstrators marched on Voltaire Boulevard to honor the philosopher’s attributed creed, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”
The electrifying unity in Paris included the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women, Jews, Christians and Muslims, white, brown and black. Political leaders from France, Great Britain, Spain, Jordan,Turkey, Germany, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were there. (President Obama’s was not, although he occupies the White House because both blacks and whites during the struggle against Jim Crow gave and risked their lives by denouncing white supremacy).
Whatever their backgrounds or stations in life, all were honoring Western culture’s unique devotion to the deliberative forces over the arbitrary, fanatical, or violent.
No other culture features a Socrates.
No other culture sports a John Milton, Thomas Jefferson or John Stuart Mill lionizing the untrammeled search for truth without ulterior motives.
No other culture has produced a Justice Louis D. Brandies to sermonize in Whitney v. California:
“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties … They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government…Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”
No other culture would revere and defend a Charlie Hebdo despite its indiscriminate lampooning or satirization of everyone and everything without regard to race, religion, power, status, gender, wealth or otherwise.
No other culture appreciates that 90 percent or more of what we believe consists of knowing why alternate viewpoints are unconvincing, and that suppressing any opinion whatsoever diminishes our grasp of truth.
It is inconceivable that millions would rally to defend the principle of free speech in Cairo, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Tehran, Damascus, Mecca, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing or Moscow. In all of these places, the search for truth without ulterior motives is viewed as dangerous, not laudatory and imperative.
The superiority of Western culture should be demonstrated globally by example, not by force of arms. We should daily strive to purge our culture of impurities, for instance, ostracizing politically incorrect speech, and freely acknowledge our shortcomings. But we should never accept an equality with cultures that crucify free speech on a cross of national, religious, ethnic or other unity.
Justice Robert Jackson explained in West Virginia v. Barnette: “Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men … Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters.”