Why Western Civilization Needs Defending

Aaron Klein
8 min readMar 28, 2024
Photo by Pierre Blaché on Unsplash

While I happen to be writing this essay in an election year, I’m not writing this to endorse a political candidate or party. Most politicians of every stripe have a simple philosophy — “I need to get re-elected” — and this problem transcends who you pull the lever for in an election. Regardless of your political tribe, try to read it with an open mind.

On July 13, 2012, President Obama was giving a speech in Roanoke, Virginia, and said this: “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

Those three sentences sparked a brushfire in that year’s presidential election that he spent the next few weeks trying to walk back. “Of course, Americans build their own businesses,” he said on camera four days later.

But while the third sentence tried to take credit away from entrepreneurs, and the second sentence tried to give that credit to the government because of roads and bridges, President Obama’s first sentence was 100% true.

Twelve years later, that system he lauded is under assault.

I’ve lived this dream.

I’m a very blessed person. I’ve had the opportunity to work with an amazing team of people to build an incredible company.

Over twelve years, we transformed how financial advisors helped their clients understand risk, empowering millions of average Americans to invest fearlessly and achieve their own dreams.

Thanks to all of that hard work, we created a massive ripple effect of wealth creation.

  • Average investors made fewer bad decisions out of fear, which allowed their financial assets to grow.
  • That gave their financial advisors more assets to manage.
  • Those financial advisors gladly paid us for the software that created this value for them and their clients.
  • My teammates started families, bought houses and cars, ate in restaurants, and shopped in stores they wouldn’t have otherwise. Pre-pandemic, we were the largest employer in our little town — it was tough to walk into a restaurant without seeing a hexagon-stamped badge dangling from someone!
  • The capital we raised was multiplied 20x before it was returned, largely to fund the pensions of teachers and health care workers.

This is the essence of “wealth creation” — everyone had more.

It wasn’t zero sum. Nobody had to lose for the world to get better, retirements to be more secure, and the average restaurant employee to take home a lot more in tips.

Free markets laid the foundation.

Why is the United States home to so many of these incredible stories?

How did this country, after only 248 years, manage to create nearly a quarter of the world’s wealth, even though we’re only about 5% of the world’s population?

About 5% of the world’s population has generated over a quarter of the world’s wealth. China’s population is over 4x larger and their economy is 70% the size of ours. Source: World Bank

It’s because of that unbelievable free-market system we created, and its two foundational elements.

  • The rule of law — I knew that if we played by the rules, we’d be allowed to prosper.
  • Private property rights — the teachers’ pension funds were willing to trade their hard-earned capital for our stock certificates, because they knew the system would protect their rights to that value.

Those two principals are the bedrock upon which our country built an abundant food supply, reliable energy, a powerful supply chain, institutions of higher learning, and a skilled workforce.

Of course, there was a basic governmental framework in place as well. We need police and prosecutors to enforce the law. We need roads and bridges. We need a fire department. We need a military to defend us. I’ve yet to meet a smart person who has an issue paying taxes for this small fraction of what our government is today.

But let’s be clear — China has police, roads, bridges, and a military. So does Russia. So does Cuba. So does Venezuela, and every other country where poverty is starving people to death.

What they don’t have is a system that uses the rule of law and private property rights to create wealth for their people.

And on the spectrum of systems from capitalism and communism, every country that slides closer to communism slides further down the GDP-per-capita chart of less prosperity for their citizens.

The math doesn’t lie.

It’s not just about financial prosperity, either.

Lest we fall prey to the argument that “this system is obsessed with money, and there is more to life,” let’s not forget the long list of benefits it has delivered for those fortunate enough to live in western civilization.

  • Individual liberty
  • Religious freedom
  • Scientific inquiry
  • Women’s rights
  • Human rights
  • Representative government
  • Trial by jury
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of conscience

Believing in the exceptionalism of this system, and how America has been its greatest embodiment over the last couple centuries, doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to make it better.

The fact that western civilization has been a gift to the world and to every person who has lived in it — it’s as indisputable as the fact that human beings need oxygen to survive.

Yet, our system is under assault.

Despite all this, the 2020s have borne witness to a withering assault on the foundations of our free market system.

The aggressors seek to tear down the rule of law, private property rights, abundant resources, reliable energy, the pursuit of knowledge, technological innovation, and growth in productivity.

It’s systematic — and it’s not an accident.

Solar and wind don’t work much of the day or year, and it doesn’t appear there are enough rare minerals in the world to build the batteries to change that. We have the solution right in front of us to take our electricity use to zero emissions, but we’ve regulated it to zero growth. Source: Washington Post
Source: US Department of Transportation, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press

On the razor’s edge of losing it all.

I’m not that worried about well-intentioned young people who don’t yet understand the fragility and greatness of this grand experiment. Many of these kids will grow up, get a job, and develop an understanding of reality.

I’m much more worried about the activists who are intent on tearing it down.

Whether they label themselves socialists, communists, collectivists or totalitarians, their assault on our system will destroy the future prosperity of my kids and yours.

We can’t allow them to succeed.

What can we do about it?

This is where it gets personal: I believe it’s our responsibility to push back against the darkness in our world.

Many people articulate this as a responsibility to “give back” — and I agree. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into trying to create opportunities for people who haven’t caught the breaks I have.

But I also believe that Joe Lonsdale is right — our greatest social responsibility is keeping the socialists, the people breaking things, and their ideas, out of power.

For you, that might look like voting this time.

Or volunteering for a politician who promises to work against the big government / big business cartel and fight for free markets.

Or helping to create experiments in public policy that can help your state become an outlier in education, or job growth, or innovation freedom.

This is one of the reasons I recently joined the board of Mountain States Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank helping to make sure the best free market policy ideas take root in the mountain states.

The bottom line?

It’s time to just say no to these de-growth communists who want to tear down the progress of western civilization.

If we truly want to pay it forward to future generations, it’s the only course we can take.

Thank you to Cacey Klein, Micaela Barraza and Andy Martin for providing feedback on drafts of this essay.

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Aaron Klein

Husband and Dad to your typical, average Korean-Ethiopian-American family. Co-Founder and Founding CEO at Nitrogen. Striving to live Isaiah 1:17. Love Idaho.