An Anglo-Indian force of 24,000 men under General Sir Hugh Cough attacked a Sikh army of 52,000 at Gujarat in the Punjab on February 21, 1849. In the words of Byron Farwell, the Sikhs had “a splendid army. Its equipment was modern and it had the largest artillery park in Asia. The Sikhs made fine soldiers and they had been trained by mercenary European officers.” Yet the British routed the Sikhs, losing only 96 killed in the process. Three weeks later the Sikh leaders made a general surrender and the Punjab was annexed to British India.

The Age of Imperialism was full of such lopsided victories where Europeans defeated larger “native” armies on the way to dividing the world into colonies, protectorates, and spheres of influence. Leftists have long condemned the West for imposing itself on the rest of the world, and they have hailed such turning points as the “revival” of China under Chairman Mao and the “defeat” of the United States by Vietnamese peasants as marking the collapse of the West’s ability to dominate the Third World. Then in the desert a coalition force spearheaded by American troops, literally taking up where the British left off, routed a larger Iraqi army. Coalition casualties were about the same as Imperial loses at Gujarat even though the forces engaged on both sides were an order of magnitude higher. For every coalition soldier lost, one thousand Iraqis fell. The Iraqis had modern weapons with more tanks and artillery than the coalition. They had been trained by the Russians as the Sikhs had been trained by the French. Some “bean counters” credited Iraq with having the fourth largest military machine in the world, one that was battle-hardened from the war with Iran. Yet it was still a Third World army, militaristic rather than professional; unprepared for combat with First World legions.

Technology played a critical role, but cannot in itself explain the totality of the coalition victory. The Iraqis had access to technology, but could not use it—the prime example being the Soviet and French fighters that the Iraqis could not fly. Technology is a system encompassing both those who develop it and those who use it. It is a manifestation of that matrix of aptitudes, philosophy, experiences, and spirit that form a civilization.

And I do mean “civilization,” not mere “culture” as the p.c. academics would have it. The current “multicultural” fad is not new, just more blatant. As a graduate student in the mid-1970’s, I had an avowedly Marxist professor of economic history who stressed the variety of economic organization found in other societies and other times, the point being that capitalism was not “normal,” let alone “natural.” I earned the unofficial title “resident fascist” by pointing out that these other cultures had not accomplished very much compared to the West. The West, in its period of vibrant mercantile and industrial capitalism, has overrun these other cultures. Indeed, the only non-Western cultures that are now advancing are doing so by adopting Western forms. To be worthy of the term “civilization” a culture must do more than exist; it must be successful, spreading its influence and setting a pattern others will wish to follow.

Historians have debated endlessly about what factors produced in the West the matrix that propelled it past the other societies that in the 14th century were on a par with Europe, if indeed not somewhat ahead. What is known is that there has been a marked contrast between Europe and the rest of the world since then.

The most advanced civilization, China, was in decline as the Confucian philosophy tightened its grip on the bureaucratic state in the 15th century. With a philosophy that scorned both military and commercial affairs, China turned inward for five centuries. Laws were passed prohibiting the building of ocean-going ships; thus the fleets that had sailed the Indian Ocean and even reached Africa and the Persian Gulf were scrapped. The industrious (and industrializing) Europeans who reopened China were called “barbarians” by a decadent court.

In India, regard for individual achievement was also low, reserved for leaders in religion or philosophy. Those in the West who were motivated by science, personal gain, national ambition, and the quest for glory (usually seen as complementary motives) found an encouragement lacking in Eastern cultures.

Islam had the spirit for expansion, as shown by the rapid conquest of the Middle East, North Africa, and Indonesia and its continuing attempts to push into Central Europe in the 17th century. The Moslems had only been pushed out of Spain shortly before the discovery of the New World. Through the 12th century, they were far ahead of the West in manufacturing, commerce, shipbuilding, and weaponry. The West had to learn much from the Moslems in order to catch up by the 14th century. However, Islamic civilization never completely grasped the scientific philosophy that took hold of the West. Had it done so, history would have been far different. “The white race had used this powerful method to dominate the globe,” writes Kurt Mendelssohn in The Secret of Western Domination, but adds, “There is no reason to believe that, if another civilization had developed science, it would have desisted from using it for exactly the same purpose.”

In his study Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind sociologist Lewis Feuer argued, “When civilization has moved forward in the past, it has invariably been propelled by a strong imperialist movement on the part of the most advanced society.” His examples included Athens, Rome, France, and England. These movements “have taken place precisely at times characterized by intellectual progress rather than regress, when something like an intellectual and scientific renaissance was taking place, when a spirit of exuberance and adventure rather than defeat and timorousness prevailed.” Elizabethan England produced not just Drake and Raleigh but also Bacon, Shakespeare, and Jonson.

Consider, however, today’s victory in the Gulf war and the renewed American preeminence in the wake of the internal collapse of communism and the Soviet Union. Though it can be seen as a confirmation of continuing Western superiority, it also points to the deterioration of the matrix. Contra Feuer, the intellectual life of the West is clearly regressing, not progressing. Indeed, the intellectual establishment was as united against U.S. action as the American people were united behind it.

Fortunately, American society has never depended on intellectuals for leadership. As the intellectuals have turned “timorous” in world affairs and obstructionist in terms of science and material progress, the public has turned hostile to them. The next step will be to direct the renewed national exuberance towards their removal from positions of trust or influence, replacing them with scholars and artists whose ideas reflect the ambitious spirit that built the West.