What is Western civilization? Is it in danger? Does it matter? These are questions explored in The Fight of Our Lives, the newest work by documentarian Gloria Z. Greenfield. The film showed at the Anthem Film Festival, part of FreedomFest. The event ran in its tenth-anniversary year from July 17-20 at the Paris Resort Las Vegas.
After the screening, the director participated in a panel to discuss the issues the film raised.
The film defines Western civilization as the ideas and institutions spreading out from Europe over the past 300 years. It does not present those ideas or institutions as perfect but argues that they caused the spread of economic and political freedom. More people now enjoy those freedoms, it suggests, than ever before in the history of the world.
The film goes on to suggest that this civilization and its values are under attack from both internal and external forces and may be on the verge of collapse.
Does it matter? It does, according to the film, if you care about freedom.
Many documentaries exploring philosophical questions fall into the trap of presenting a series of “talking heads” who turn audiences into nodding-off heads. This film uses two techniques that avoid this pitfall.
First, although the film presents commentary by an amazing array of over 30 intellectual and political movers, including Victor Davis Hanson, Allen West, Brooke Goldstein, Niall Ferguson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Alan Dershowitz, it does so in a unique way.
Most documentaries show a person making a point, then move on to another person making another point. Filmmaker Greenfield first presents a warning from Hoover Institution historian Niall Ferguson: “Civilizations, empires, great powers, can fall apart very fast. Collapse can come suddenly, like a thief in the night. And we should be very wary of assuming that our civilization, the civilization of the early 21st century West, will oblige us by declining gradually.”
She then manages to edit the many observations by authors, lawyers, anthropologists, and activists into one cogent argument supporting that proposition.
Second, she structures the presentation of these complex ideas into seven segments. “Utopian Masks” explores the subversive nature of cultural relativism. “Crumbling Towers” looks at the sad state of universities (a subject also investigated by Anthem film No Safe Spaces). “Weaponizing Identity” suggests that focusing politics on gender and race is self-defeating. “Breaching the Gates” documents the danger from radical Islam. “People of the Book” highlights the violence being done against Christians and Jews around the world. “Durable Values” argues that freedom of speech, religion, and other Western values should be defended. Last, “Standing Up” calls on believers in those values to resist efforts to dilute or destroy them.
Watching this film will remind you of what you learned, or should have if you never took it, in your university’s Western Civ 101 course.
The panel following the film was moderated by Reason magazine’s Editor-at-Large, Nick Gillespie. Participants included filmmaker Gloria Greenfield, Discovery Institute co-founder George Gilder, tax reform advocate Grover Norquist, and Cato Institute executive Ilya Shapiro.
Gillespie challenged the panelists to summarize what they perceived to be the problems facing the West.
Greenfield suggested that the internal and external forces out to destroy Western civilization realize that most of its values arise from the Hebrew Bible. “They understand the need to persecute it,” she said.
Gilder supported her position. “It’s the Israel test. I think the way individuals and nations respond to the state of Israel is the real test,” he said. “When you see people excel, do you want to emulate them, or do you envy them and want to destroy them?”
Gillespie asked Gilder if a lot of people and nations pass the test.
Gilder replied, “Few. This is a signal of a deep ailment around the world.”
Norquist was the holdout on the panel, suggesting that this was a form of xenophobia as seen in the past like anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism.
Shapiro pointed out how he and his family were twice immigrants. “First Canada, then here,” he explained. “We came from the Soviet Union and then I got to attend a great university. But, like most immigrants, I do a job most Americans won’t do: defending the Constitution.”
Gillespie tried to get the panelists to define the greatest threat to the West. The discussion devolved into some Trump bashing and arguments about fixing the internet with blockchain and whether China was a nice nation, and generally went off the rails.
Gilder did credit Trump with passing his “Israel test,” and Shapiro when asked about the greatest threat cautioned the audience, “Don’t forget cow farts!”
You can watch a preview of the film below and find out about upcoming screenings or purchasing a DVD at the film’s website.