“The civilizational ‘us’ and the extracivilizational ‘them’ is a constant in human history”.
Samuel Huntington’s observations summarized in the above quote offer valuable insight, mostly regarding the mentality of former empires and great powers. For Romanians, the opposite is true. The ‘abroad’ has always been civilized, while we Romanians were not. We identify as being outside of the civilized world. Romanians have had a passionate love and desire for all things foreign for a long time. The socialist regime only helped intensify this desire by forbidding it. So, to any canny observer, this love for the abroad is not a new phenomenon. Neither is the low national self-esteem which comes with this reality, by focusing the attention on how much better off ‘the abroad’ is and how deficient Romanian society is.
There are always new events in society which remind Romanians of their love for the “abroad”, in particular, the West and its perceived functionality and luxuries. The most recent upsurge has come about through the efforts to get rid of the so-called “red plague”, that is, the Social Democrat Party. People want to embrace the West and all its material luxuries. They do not want any hint of business as usual from the bad old days to stand in the way of that. They have declared war on all things communist and on everyone pegged as such, which is not surprising, given the country’s recent past.
However, there is a problem. In order to ‘fight communism’, one must understand its socialistic roots, ideas, manipulation techniques, and nuanced diplomacy. One must also understand that the general enemy of liberty is extremism, whether it be left or right of the political spectrum. A superficial understanding of such things is a problem all over the world, starting with the US – the lodestar of all things Western. The US is dealing with its own fight against socialism as political figures emerge with new and promising ‘money and freedom for all’ ideas. While some parts of the electorate fall prey to these ornate ideas and ideals, others see them for the false, dangerous rhetoric they are.
The ‘greedy capitalist’: a legacy
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries” - Winston Churchill
Unfortunately, in the frenzy to prove that they are ready to embrace the West, many Romanians pervert key principles like free-market capitalism, freedom of religion and freedom of choice. In the midst of ire, manipulation and error become unnoticeable. For instance, some have protested the fact that the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) rides around in an expensive car, while the Pope rode in the cheap locally produced vehicle during his visit to Romania. Some point out the fact that the expensive car is provided to the Patriarch by the Secret Service and that, in fact, he does not own an expensive car. Some believed the photoshopped photo of him in a golden Mercedes and completely overlooked the Volkswagen Multivan he actually owns. The reality is that the Pope is the head of one of the richest churches in the world and in all of history. He is not only the head of a church but the head of its own religiously founded state, the Vatican. He is a proponent of liberation theology, a Marxism influenced theology which discriminates against classes and puts social activism before the teaching of the Bible, while a city and an entire world of believers pay taxes to him and submit to his word. The Romanian Patriarch is a financial administrator of the local church’s worldly goods. The comparison cannot really be made. But if it is made, one would expect a people tired of the ‘red plague’ of communism to be wary of Marxist ideology and media manipulation. Somehow, this does not seem to be the case.
This is not the heart of the issue, however. Even if the Church did have an expensive car, as I have stated in a previous article, this simply shows that the Church is a good financial manager. Protesting good financial administration helps no one. Unfortunately, it is ingrained in people’s minds that if someone, whether state officials or neighbors have something expensive, they must be put through some hardship for owning such ‘decadent’ wealth. The mentality that everything rich is unearned and that everyone should be equally poor, at least in public, has ties to the communist past. While protesting taxes is normal, just as asking for transparency is, Romanians protest wealth in general. This is a leftover attitude from the communist days when everything was the fault of the capitalists, with their ‘unfair wealth’. And it goes further. If a public person is to be ‘forgiven’ for their wealth, they must at least prostrate themselves somehow and beg this mercy of the general public. This is why the Pope washing people’s feet resonated with people so much that they forgot about the Vatican’s long and ongoing history of scandals, yet any new issue within the ROC is quickly brought to light by the Romanian mainstream and social media as evidence of irreparable damage within the institution.
Aside from the case of corrupt politicians, as long as people believe that wealth in itself is a sin and that all the rich should be hated, they are dooming themselves to a precarious economic position and foregoing the means of escape from it. In the US, this mentality is highlighted in the ‘tax the rich’ slogan. In Romania, it is seen in the ‘They have too much. There is no room to breathe for the rest of us’ template argument. One must understand that, as long as ‘the rich’ are seen as a class that is distant and to be hated, the low earners are making it impossible for them to ever reach a better financial state. And, as long as they hate the rich, they are in fact against liberty, personal property, and a free market. Romanians are wishing their country into poverty … again.
An important thing to remember if one wants to be part of the Western tradition of material wellbeing is that it is ok for one’s neighbor to have a Mercedes. The better the middle class does, that is, the more responsibly they invest, the better the country’s economy does. As well, the greater the number of rich people a country has, the more money there is. This money can get reinvested in the country, in the market.
Of course, one would hope that all people came by their money honestly, but this is not the case everywhere. However, it is also not the case anywhere that all well off people are thieves, selfish hoarders and lazy, dishonest, law-bending enemies of the decent poor man. In fact, in many cases, they are hardworking citizens who have given up many hours of their lives to build something, who account for a great proportion of taxes, especially in progressive taxation states, and who donate to charity or the poor one way or the other. If this was not the case, no NGO in the US would be able to provide the help it does on a worldwide scale.
Learning to ‘make friends’ with the idea of wealth is not a sin. The market does not have any morals that one does not give to it. If one seeks wealth for the right reasons, and not as a means in itself, the pursuit is an honest and commendable one. This also goes for one’s neighbor with the Mercedes. It is time for Romania to embrace true freedom, the freedom to dream, to work, and to become wealthy without fear of being labeled a ‘greedy capitalist’. Romania needs to understand the number one lesson from the ‘abroad’: wealth itself is amoral. Only individuals can give it meaning. And… it can be used for good!
Huntington’s ‘Western virus and cultural schizophrenia’
“Political leaders imbued with the hubris to think that they can fundamentally reshape the culture of their societies are destined to fail. While they can introduce elements of Western culture, they are unable permanently to suppress or to eliminate the core elements of their indigenous culture. Conversely, the Western virus, once it is lodged in another society, is difficult to expunge. The virus persists but is not fatal; the patient survives but is never whole. Political leaders can make history but they cannot escape it. They produce torn countries, not Western societies. They infect their country with a cultural schizophrenia which becomes its continuing and defining characteristic”.
It is difficult to make the case better than Huntington. The linguistic turn of phrase when referring to anything foreign, especially matters relating to the Occident, denotes a psychological obstacle which does not allow Romanians to see who they are and how issues are affecting them. Banding other countries together in one word, the ‘abroad’, inspires a feeling of inferiority regarding one’s own nation. During the communist regime, if a product was from ‘abroad’ it was precious and rare, and, perhaps forbidden. We Romanians have gotten drunk on this seductive and mysterious term for so long that we can no longer distinguish it from reality.
The abroad is not perfect, however, and some of its problems are not only undesirable but extremely destabilizing. The West has people willing to fight for its ideals though, and fix the system when it becomes too broken. Unless we can come to see that and understand that a perfect system does not exist and that a desire to improve and perfect one’s governing body is good and not something of which to be ashamed, Romania will never get rid of its communist psychological shackles.
Huntington sees the problem of ‘Westernization’ as a virus infecting a civilization. However, even if a less ominous comparison is used, say that of an organ transplant, instead of a virus, it is still an issue of indigenous versus completely foreign. While the body needs the new organ, it does not accept it because of its foreign structure. Thus, there are elements of the body which only function thanks to the new organ and other elements which are starting to self-destruct and attack the organ because it is not something they recognize. All of these effects, as well as the necessity of immunity suppressing medication (or in our metaphor, identity suppressing ideas), would be mitigated if the organ would simply be grown out of the person’s own cells. The body would recognize it as its own, and the side effects of surgery would not be so dangerous. Without diving any deeper into the medical metaphor, the point is that, if the successful ideas of the West would be grown from and with the help of indigenous elements within a society, the result would not be one as confusing and divisive.
There must be psychological and cultural fertile ground for ideas to turn toxic and tear a country apart rather than bring it together. So, no matter the comparison used, if a population is suffering from low national self-esteem, events will shift its focus on its self- proclaimed, and often self- fulfilling “extra civilizational character”. The desire to modernize and evolve economically is normal, but it must not and cannot be attempted to be done exactly as Western countries have done it in the past. It must be adapted to the country’s culture if it is to succeed. For, ultimately, it is not with empty novelty that progress lies, but rather with new ideas built on observation of history and reality. And it is not superficiality that makes a civilization great, but detail, study and thought.
 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 1996,p.129
 Winston Churchill, The House of Commons, UK Parliament, 22 October 1945, https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1945/oct/22/demobilisation, accessed Aug 16, 2019
Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations”, p.154
This article was originally published on The Market for Ideas.