Occidentalism

I just noticed this review of Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit’s Occidentalism: The West In The Eyes of Its Enemies. If the book isn’t meant as a rebuttal of the late Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism, at the very least it wants to show that the views of the West in non-Western countries are rife with stereotypes of superficiality and arrogance. But the authors want to go beyond this simple observation. They contend that these stereotypes originate in the West itself, in reactions to the ideals of the Enlightenment. But according to reviewer Philip Bobbitt,

This claim is the most ambitious and impressive aspect of ”Occidentalism,” and yet as an argument it surely needs further development. Heidegger, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong may all have despised the cosmopolitan city, with its political corruption, loose sexual mores and commercialized glamour. Solzhenitsyn, Osama bin Laden and Herder may all have preached against sterile rationalism and the instrumental, secular view of life. But it is unpersuasive to locate the universalizing goals of Maoism in the ideas of the supremely localist Counter-Enlightenment, and just as unpersuasive to link the blood-and-culture movements of the Counter-Enlightenment to radical, global Islam. Buruma and Margalit are on firmer ground when they show that all these elements are united in their portrayal of the cowardly West as so weakened by its addiction to material pleasures that it is unable to make the sacrifices necessary for its own defense.

Read the rest here.

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