An interesting feature of a society built on the intellectual and cultural cornerstone of a progressive philosophy of history–the view that a society advances linearly toward a more universally just, rational, and equal world–is that it tends to excite hatred of the customs and practices of its past, imperfect self. The phenomenon is particularly acute for more mature, materially and socially successful societies, because it is these societies that can afford a well-to-do, highly educated, elite social stratum, which separates itself from those self-same customs and practices. The seeds of self-loathing are therefore contained within the successful society and a cyclical marker of its decline.

Something like this seems to be the thesis of an interesting new book: Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations (Cornell University Press) by Benedict Beckeld.

Western Self-Contempt travels through civilizations since antiquity, examining major political events and the literature of ancient Greece, Rome, France, Britain, and the United States, to study evidence of cultural self-hatred and its cyclical recurrence. Benedict Beckeld explores oikophobia, described by its coiner Sir Roger Scruton as “the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours,'” in its political and philosophical applications. Beckeld analyzes the theories behind oikophobia along with their historical sources, revealing why oikophobia is best described as a cultural malaise that befalls civilizations during their declining days.

Beckeld gives a framework for why today’s society is so fragmented and self-critical. He demonstrates that oikophobia is the antithesis of xenophobia. By this definition, the riots and civil unrest in the summer of 2020 were an expression of oikophobia. Excessive political correctness that attacks tradition and history is an expression of oikophobia. Beckeld argues that if we are to understand these behaviors and attitudes, we must understand oikophobia as a sociohistorical phenomenon.

Western Self-Contempt is a systematic analysis of oikophobia, combining political philosophy and history to examine how Western civilizations and cultures evolve from naïve and self-promoting beginnings to states of self-loathing and decline. Concluding with a philosophical portrait of an increasingly interconnected Western civilization, Beckeld reveals how past events and ideologies, both in the US and in Europe, have led to a modern culture of self-questioning and self-rejection.

Leave a Reply