The ability to stand outside your own political system, your own culture, and your religion, to criticize your own society and to pursue the truth, is something we today take so much for granted that it is almost part of the air we breathe. Without it, our idea of freedom of expression would not exist. We should recognize, however, that this is a distinctly Western phenomenon, that is, it is part of the cultural heritage of those countries—in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia—that evolved out of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Christianity. This idea was never produced by either Confucian or Hindu culture. Under Islam it had a brief life in the fourteenth century but was never heard of again. Rather than take this idea for granted, we should regard it as a rare and precious legacy that it is our job to nurture and to pass on to future generations. That is the reason why the practices of journalists like Fisk and Pilger are more disturbing than they look. The responsibility of the journalist is the same as that of the historian: to try to stand outside his own political interests and his own cultural preferences and to tell his audience what actually happened. This can never be deduced from some overarching political cause or social theory. It takes original, empirical research.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Keith Windschuttle, writing in The New Criterion: