Ralf Dahrendorf: I am first and foremost a Westerner

From a speech by the historian at the German Historical Institute in London
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The Independent Online

Robert Kagan, in his essay Of Paradise and Power, sees 9/11 as a turning point for the West: "Now, with the threat brought directly to the American soil, overleaping that of America's allies, the paramount issue was that of America's unique suffering and vulnerability, not 'the-West' ". At the same time: "post-Cold War Europe agreed that the issue was no longer 'the West'. For Europeans, the issue became 'Europe'. "

These are bold claims, and while there is some truth to them, they are in essence mistaken. Neither the notion of "America" nor that of "Europe" makes any sense without the enveloping concept of "the West". I for one remain a Westerner before I am a European, and while some of my American friends may be Americans first, no definition of this identity can ignore that its underlying values are Western.

For like the United States of America, the West is an 18th-century creation. It is the great child of the Enlightenment, and nowhere was enlightenment less encumbered by closed minds and ancient privileges than in the 13 colonies of England across the waters ...

Among Houdon's gallery of the portrait busts of great Enlightenment figures - Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire, that of Benjamin Franklin has a characteristic and special place. The man who invented both the Declaration of Independence and the lightning conductor represents the "can do" version of the Enlightenment which is America.

There are differences between the European tradition and its American offshoot. But the basic values remain the same, and they are French and English and British and also German in origin as well as American in their real manifestations. They are, in Karl Popper's words, the values of the open society.

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