The re-readable Mark Steyn
Mark Steyn has been writing about the culture for more than a decade and a half, for National Review, the National Post, Maclean’s, The (London) Spectator, his own website (Steyn Online), and numerous other publications. Not a noted environmentalist, he recycles those columns, essays, and blogposts in a must-read collection, The [Un]documented Mark Steyn: Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned by Mark Steyn (Regnery, $34.49, 442 pages). And they are worth re-reading.
While the breadth of his writing is impressive – from musical theatre to post 9/11 global affairs to human rights commissions – his underlying theme is the loss of cultural confidence in the West to challenge the various “isms” that threaten our way of life. From radical Islamism to cultural relativism, North Americans and Europeans seem utterly incapable of defending what made it great. For decades, the West has been engaged in a literal and figurative orgy of moral decadence, cultural nihilism, and historical amnesia. Now we are incapable of protecting what made our culture prosperous and vibrant.
Some readers will be challenged by his decidedly politically incorrect views. But the fact that what was once taken for granted – the differences between men and women, that freedoms of religion and speech are to be vigorously defended against fashionable ideologies and an intolerant state – is now deemed inappropriate in polite company is evidence of the truth of his thesis: we in the West are unable or unwilling to take on the barbarians at the gate.
A friend of mine who writes for a living, says that every Steyn column produces a dozen lines of which he is insanely jealous and that if he could produce just one such sentence in his lifetime, he would die a happy man. In other words, reading Steyn is pure pleasure.
Now that I’ve oversold Steyn’s writing, a few morsels. He is at his absolute best writing about changing mores, when he takes up the flag of various socially conservative issues.
During the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in the late ‘90s, Steyn said of the feminists who defended the “pro-choice” sexual predator president: “That is what the leadership of the women’s movement has been reduced to: defending a man’s right to trouser-drop in order to protect a woman’s ‘right to choose’.”
Or on the advances in reproductive technology, Steyn wrote: “Having run out of useful things to invent” such as cars and planes, “we’ve reinvented ourselves and embarked, with a remarkable insouciance, on redefining human identity.” He noted that procreative freedoms went from abortion to test-tube babies to gendercide to genetic manipulation of embryos. “There is a logical progression in all this: if you have the right to end life (with abortion), surely you also have a right to decide when, where, how, and with whom you wish to initiate it.”
Or on the Sexual Revolution and the legacy of the 1970s: “The Me Decade is over, but its philosophy – hey, man, whatever’s your bag, it’s cool – endures, no matter if it kills you and your friends and even some uptight squares as well.” Of the debauched nightlife of that era, Steyn said: “the floor was always full, but ultimately everyone danced alone.”
Love him or hate him, the problem with Steyn is that all too often he’s right. Things seem only to get worse. In the days after 9/11, he warned that radical Islam will challenge our way of life. By 2011, the Toronto Star ran a (non-judgemental) piece about a middle school that allowed Muslim prayers in the cafeteria, the menstruating girls at the back of the room, segregated from the others. Steyn’s point that we in Canada and elsewhere in the West have lost the language and ideas to say that this state of affairs is completely unacceptable in Toronto has come to pass. Ironically, liberals (and feminists) who once would have stood for the rights of the marginalized early teenage girls, “can no longer quite articulate on what basis they’re supposed to object to it.” And that’s the problem.
Thankfully we have Mark Steyn to help us all identify the problem with morally relativistic multiculturalism so we can resist the barbarians at the gates, whether they be immigrants who bring the worst of their culture to Canada (gendercide, honor killings, female circumcision) or the human rights industry that seeks to silence troublemakers (like, at one time, Steyn himself) who dare to speak the politically incorrect truth.