The problem is that the two major political forces of our age, socialism and capitalism, are rotten to the core. Ostensibly, socialism is the ‘public’ ownership of property and capitalism is the private ownership of property. In practice, neither is true. Capitalism, functionally the private accumulation of wealth for private means and purposes, becomes a tool of government objectives and a beneficiary of government favoritism as it attempts to make the greatest profit through the cheapest measures. Socialism, given that a true democracy will not function if there is an objection by the majority, assumes total power ‘for the people’ in the hands of the fewest politicians, and inevitably becomes a dictatorship not of the proletariat but of the meanest bully.
It may be argued that there are other political forces at large. Religion, for instance. Currently the strong horse in that field is Islam, largely advantaged by the fact that it is both a religion and a philosophy of government. Both socialism and capitalism see this development as an aberration. It will pass, as it has before. But historically, it does persist. The problem with Islam is that it is an automatic dictatorship and thus has an automatic enemy within—anyone in the population who does not agree. The great advantage of Western society is that it has found an alternative in allowing disagreement to fuel change. This will inevitably make Westerns societies stronger even as they might suffer the wounds of revolution.
It is true that, historically speaking, ‘Western’ society started out with it’s own flaws. Slavery, for instance. Sure, Islam has this flaw as well but in that philosophy slavery is made out to be a natural portioning of mankind, as is the subservience of women. In the West, involuntary servitude was always seen as a wrong, a punishment, and the result of a defect to be repaired. Western society too has had its religions. ‘Christianity’ is the broadest umbrella of these. What is ‘Christian’ was a matter of debate from the start, of course, and the cause of much murder. But it is difficult to read the words of Jesus Christ and imagine from them the great harm they were to engender. Yet, one blessing of that turmoil has been a breeding of independent thought. This sense of individual responsibility for ones’s actions dovetailed very well with the Hellenistic rites of independence. And this joinery has much more to do with what is ‘Western’ than any other heritage. As bloody and nasty as the process has been, it has resulted in change, and an appreciable betterment of the human condition. Eastern societies, dominated by philosophies begging for patience and acceptance of fate, have enjoyed much stability by comparison. Such harmoniousness resulted in thousands of years of essentially the same state of human subjugation to authority before the onslaught of Western expansion and now seem, in retrospect, to be some sort of ideal to a few—especially those with Western trust funds.
All of this is shorthand, of course. You can read more about it in Herodotus, Thucydides, Gibbon, Smith, and Tocqueville. History told without the very visible hand of political purpose is difficult to find but it is there. A shadow of the powers that be will always ‘dim the portal of enlightenment,’ but even moonlight is better than darkness. In our own time, with so many purporting to be the bearers of truth, it can only be beneficial to question assertion and assume an agenda wrought by prejudice.
My own prejudices are surely greater than any truth I know. My one virtue, I think, (often seen by others as another fault) is my willingness to question. I am proud of my doubting Thomasness and have always seen myself as the fellow in the Caravaggio painting with his finger poking at the wound. This is perhaps some odd vainglory, and perhaps my bete noire, but it is at least a particular sense and the faith that sustains me. When I have failed it has always been for lack of inquiry.
The problem is, then, that there is so little time to study and so much to do. My own answer may not satisfy others. It is to do the best I can and go on, with my eye out for a good book along the way.