Skip to comments.It is a legacy of the Enlightenment that we find it so hard to deal with madness and fanaticism
Posted on 08/15/2006 11:45:47 AM PDT by NutCrackerBoy
Scholars of the Enlightenment should be in high demand these days. For the political and media responses to the plot to bomb up to ten U.S. airliners in mid air above the Atlantic reflect its two-faced intellectual and philosophical heritage. There is that great optimism in human nature, the belief in rationality and science, the conviction that everything has an explanation and that every problem has a solution. There is the unbending belief that all men are created equals, that we are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Then there is the dark side, not of Locke and Montesquieu, not of the American Revolution and the Federalists, but of the French terror, of the tyranny of ideas over the liberty of men, of the totalitarian regimes that sprang out of Enlightenment philosophy no less than liberal democracies did.
Some, in Europe and the U.S., have already understood terrorisms true nature: the tool of a totalitarian murderous ideology, which must be confronted for what it is, not for what we wish it to be, if liberty is to survive.
But others are trying to play down this characterization, for fear of the consequences of putting radical Islam in the same category as Fascism and Communism, especially given that Islam is not a distant reality of the East, but it now dwells in the heart of Europe.
Watching the details of the murderous plot and learning the identities of the plotters mostly British Muslims, one of them a middle-class convert to Islam commentators were quick at work stirring debate away from such conclusions and indicating different solutions. Writing in the Italian daily La Stampa, for example, Igor Man comments the plot by spending more than two thirds of his op-ed, entitled The Shadow of Beirut discussing Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Palestine. His main conclusion? One must return to the head of the waters, the ancient question of Palestine. Grievances arising from the troubled Middle East feed into terror. Solve them, and there will be no terror. Elsewhere in his newspaper, theres a reminder of this view: Al Qaedas number-two, Aiman al-Zawahiri had warned us all, a few days ago, that they would not remain indifferent to events in Lebanon. The logic of cause and effect is at work: There is a belief that Western foreign policy in the Middle East including, crucially, support for Israel is the root-cause of Muslim grievances. These grievances must be addressed, says Dan Flesch in a Guardian commentary, lest anger mounts to the boiling point. Timothy Garton Ash (writing in Italys second daily, the left-leaning La Repubblica) decries the apparent failure of Britains integration model. Should we try harder? Yes, we should (there are 1.6 million Muslims in Britain; Not trying harder would be foolish). But what, in detail, does it mean to try harder? Ash is willing to think that one of the reasons there is so much anger among British Muslims is British foreign policy (which has nothing to do with integration, incidentally). Why dont French Muslims join terrorism against their own country, he asks himself? Is it because France did not join in the Global War on Terror which Muslims, Ash reminds us, see as a Global War on Islam?
Or perhaps Ash was on holiday when French suburbia was set on fire by angry Muslims; perhaps he did not see the writing on the walls of 185 French cities, where similar Islamist slogans suggested the anger was not just an outburst of socio-economic grievances. Besides, that they see the GWOT as a GWOI does not make it so. Maybe it means they are delusional, or maybe it means that their leadership is cloaking the mantle of victimization in order to hide the fact that radicalization and unwillingness to embrace Western values are at the root of the problem.
Perhaps it is easier to argue that the problem (Muslim anger) has a solution (change of foreign policy), rather than recognize that our belief in rationality and our optimism about human nature are sometimes misplaced. It is a legacy of the Enlightenment that we find it so hard to deal with madness and fanaticism. We are always inclined to seek an alternative explanation: There is a cause our policies there is an effect their anger and there is a solution our change of policy.
Western impulses to explain away the threat of terror and seek a solution to the problem are empowering in a way. We have a diagnosis and we have a cure. But they are also misleading. For why should it be logical or even understandable that Muslim anger at Western foreign policy solicits terrorism? Should anger at high taxes, inefficient health care, poor environmental standards, or disagreeable op-eds solicit understandable similar responses? Should we condone people blowing up airliners because they think the highest tax bracket should not be higher than, say, 30 percent? Should we address their grievances? By, say, lowering taxes? What if someone decides to blow up, say, the Guardian because they are fed up with the political inclination of its Comment section? Should the Guardian address their grievances by becoming right-wing? Can we not call it blackmail, instead, as it should be the case? Can we not say that differences of opinion are only legitimate when voiced in the peaceful forms amply provided by the open societies we are part of? That what makes people angry is no excuse for killing people?
The root-cause argument boils down to excusing the inexcusable. It also ignores the plain facts: The foiled plot to blow up airliners was not hastily planned in response to Israels war on Hezbollah, or U.S. and British reluctance to stop Israel. The planning began months before those events. The real cause is a totalitarian ideology that uses grievances as excuses but has goals we can never accede, if the West is to stay true to its values and beliefs, let alone interests, as an open society.
Western inability to look at evil in the face, call it for what it is, and respond to it instead of caving in to its blackmail is understandable. Evil makes little sense to us. It is irrational, illogical, and it defies our expectation that all human beings somehow must want the same things: a job, a house, a decent and peaceful life. Those who defy this logic cannot be crazy. They must be banging on the table because they have been deprived and left out of the grand bargain that our affluent society has given virtually everyone else. Give them what they want, and we will have our quiet back.
This logic is behind the fascination for Hezbollah that is gripping much of Europes hard Left. Their romance with the new revolutionaries is driven by their old fetishes: Hassan Nasrallah is a new Che Guevara; American hegemony and its imperialism in the Middle East must be stopped. The freedom of oppressed people must be defended. The aggressor comes from the West, not the East. Those amongst us who attack the West are not evil, just misguided. Their methods are questionable, but their cause is just. If we only indulged them in their political demands, all would be well.
Yet, this logic only leaves us exposed to the dark side of the Enlightenment, that tradition that raised the Idea of Liberty above the Life of the people it was supposed to grant Happiness and in the process murdered untold millions for its triumph. Radical Islam has been rightly labelled as fascist, not only because much of its roots lie in the West, but also because it acts like a totalitarian ideology, whose main aim is to create a new world order based on an Idea, the triumph of which justifies the murder of anyone who stands in the way and the death of million others as sacrifice to the cause. What, after all, is the difference between those who are ready to kill thousands of innocents in the name of radical Islam and, say, Cambridge historian Eric Hobsbawm secular and Communist who claimed once that had the triumph of Communism cost the lives of 20 million people, that would have been a fair price to pay? Life is cheap in the pursuit of a grand idea, whichever this idea happens to be. And there will always be intellectuals ready to lend their pen to obscure its true nature.
We should understand this logic. It is part of the Western intellectual heritage. Socialism is not a child of the East it was deadly in Europe. Fascism is also a child of the West and it also killed tens of millions across the Continent. The West tried to address the grievances of an angry and humiliated Germany in the 1930s. Why do we assume that addressing grievances is going to go differently this time?
We should also not ignore what addressing grievances does to those members of our societies who will pay the cost of this policy. They will learn the lesson and turn away from democracy and liberalism because they will explain democracys inability to confront evil as a failure of its moral and ideological underpinnings. Just as the failure and inadequacy of liberal governments to face the Communist threat after World War I empowered the fascists, so will the failure to treat radical Islam as a brutal totalitarian ideology end up empowering Europes extreme right.
The path will soon be opened to a process of erosion of those liberal-democratic values our societies thrive on because sooner or later, the inability of the addressing their grievances approach to solve the problem, gives way to a violent backlash. When last year unaddressed grievances blew up the London Underground, racist acts against people of Asian background increased 600 percent. Expect more of the same now. Racist parties across Europe have been making electoral inroads in the last five years. Expect more of the same now. Ignoring the nature of the threat or pretending there is a quick solution to it will only raise the price of protecting our freedom in the long term.
As for those who have unaddressed grievances, one thing should be made clear: as children of the Enlightenment, we believe that some values are universal, both rights and duties. Therefore, we believe in reciprocity. Those who renege on this social compact and choose not to play by the rules are beyond the pale. They must be treated accordingly.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is the incoming executive director of the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute.
Actual title/subtitle on NRO:
Our Grievance Problem
Some root-cause talk will get you nowhere.
Things are far from fine when so much elite opinion in the West lives in la-la land: i.e. the multi-culti grievance culture. I'd venture to say it's a problem.
A point worth reiterating.
The same ideological movement that spawned the eminently triumphant American Revolution also gave rise to the Terror and the guignol in the Place du la Concorde.
The difference is that the American Revolution was constrained by conservatism -- a conscious determination to retain those parts of English tradition that had proven themselves over time. Only those concepts that had proven tyrannical were to be rejected. The French, on the other hand, untrammeled by any conservative bent, set out to discard the entire system in all its aspects, without regard to their historical value. Unchecked, the pendulum swung to its extreme, then back again nearly as far. The resultant cataclysm destroyed much of Europe and central Asia before it was finally over.
The lesson? Conservatism is the only force powerful enough to bind the present to the past, and to contain the foolishness of men.
We have become so PC that when GWB finally gets the guts to stand up and even mention Islamism with fascism, he gets crucified.
I wish GWB could/would tell the other half and call all muslims fascists, but I guess that would interfere with his "close friendship" with the Sauds.
Lemme tell you sumptin' George, the Sauds ARE NOT your friends. You have been lied to.
We no longer have the moral or political will to do what is right and give the entire Middle East the Dresden treatment.
Until you remove the root cause of all man's problems, the sinful, fallen nature, combined with Satan's authority given to him by Adam and Eve, he will continue down the wide path of destruction.
Bookmark bump. Great article.
You're like the dog that reflexively barks viciously at every car (thread) that drives down the street (is posted.)
And that, my friends is why we have a cease fire. Ignite the Middle East in all-out war and all bets are off. Don't think you can control what happens, next. The French Reviolution ws on and off from 1789 to 1960.
Having spent several years of my life as an Enlightenment scholar, I never cease to be be amazed at the many ways the Englightenment is misunderstood and misinterpreted. Which Enlightenment is he talking about: German, French, Anglo-Scots?
In one sense, the Enlightenment is the problem, and IMHO, in that one sense only: the Enlightenment worldview, and the Enlightenment philosphers (including, but not limited to, the philosophes), require sustained thinking, not simply faith. The beauty of religion is that faith offers a way of accepting the complexity and contradictions of life. To a large degree, the Enlightenment undermined faith (especially if one reads the Enlightment only casually or reads only their epigoni trying to interpret them) for those who are not constitutionally disposed to think seriously about hard things. While this sort of thing works for those who are serious about philosophical inquiry, that might be .001% of the population. Many writers about the Enlightenment have even tried to define the Enlightenment's substitute faiths, to no satisfaction. Hence, the baleful effects. But, of course, socialism and Marxism provided the replacement for faith in their embrace of dialectcial historical materialism (the great god Diahistomat). Hence the fundamental hostility of Marxism to the Enlightenment even as it sought to build on it.
In fact, when all this is said and done, that's probably what's going to be required. Otherwise, the vermin are just going to wreck every vestige of civilization.
Just over a century ago, the British defeated the Muslim fanatics of the Mahdi army at Omdurman and later in the interior of the Sudan. Muslim governments that had been hostile for centuries were run out of North Africa, which was colonized by the British, French and Italians. Earlier, the British defeated Muslim (and Hindu) fanatics in putting down the India Mutiny.
Europeans dealt with fanatics in putting down pro-democracy rebels in the early 19th Century, the Boxers in China, and in defeating fascism in the 20th.
What has happened to the civilization born in the Reformation and forged in the Enlightenment? Decline. Western Civilization is in an advanced state of decay and in many quarters the West is no longer inclined to defend itself.
Well then, bring back the 7th century, if that is what you regard as healthy. sarc/
I'd be happy with 1950, when the West was confident in its institutions, before Western elites began to hate the West itself in today's orgy of relativism.
The author writes: There is that great optimism in human nature, the belief in rationality and science, the conviction that everything has an explanation and that every problem has a solution.
I tried to avoid the language of "faith" in describing the Enlightenment flaw as it seems to be a hackneyed accusation to yell "they worship the false God of reason."
Um, why would any sane person embrace western values?
What, in the end, are western values?
At least half of the west spends its every waking moment castigating the west for the greatest crimes in world history. This article also arraigns the west for the greatest crimes in world history, but strangely enough those aren't the crimes for which half the west spends its every waking moment castigating the rest of us. No, the horrors for which we are put in the dock are consuming more than our fair share, practicing capitalism and technology, possessing power, etc. In fine, for being the modern west.
To be sure, those hurling the charges think that the act of hurling them makes them the most moral creatures ever to have existed, and wipes away all past evils, and establishes them as the saintly annoited worthy and destined to rule us all. And in particular, to run those cowboy warmongers out of town on a rail. But why would anyone else on earth see things in that twisted way? The crimes are proclaimed and they believe us guilty, full stop. They see no reason that the new power that is to replace the criminal rulers of the criminally capitalist and powerful west, should be milketoast socialists from Berkeley or pinstriped pinheads from Paris. Of course, it should be them - the revolutionary vanguard of the third world proletariat. Who intend to smash bourgois civilization, as it has been howling to be smashed, for over a century.
"Western inability to look at evil in the face, call it for what it is"
Um, half of the west is in lust with evil. They not only look it in the face, they celebrate it with bloodthirsty abandon. Do you think all those Che t-shirts mean "peace now"? Do you think the Anarchists have a black flag because they want to save solar power?
The author has been taken in my surface smarm and hypocrasy. The modern left is not too moral to see a hand raised in anger. It has utter contempt for morality in every form. Morality is oppression. Liberation consists in telling anyone with moral scruples to shove it up his backside, then rubbing their faces in liberal excrement and demanding the both fund it, and applaud. It wants to abolish morality as a hypocritical pose of uptight fuddie duddies, as superstitious nonsense, as insufficiently materialist about meaningless blobs of protoplasm standing between liberals and their self actualization.
You want to know what the left thinks of evil, go to the movies and pay attention to evil. They hate that they have to paint white hat goodie two shoes everymen as heroic role models. Deviant moral ambiguity and bottomless sass, now that is cool. Self seeking, right on. Selling out to the man is the only self seeking that is condemned, and not as selfish but as surrender to the evil white dudes everybody is supposed to be humiliating to death, preferably right before cynically murdering them for sport.
What are the values of the west again, exactly?
"it defies our expectation that all human beings somehow must want the same things: a job, a house, a decent and peaceful life."
Name any liberal who does not deride those aspirations as the very pinnacle of a slimy evil mediocrity that is destroying the world. A job? Do you think people in liberal fairy tales long for gainful employment helping other people with the mundane economic business of life? A house? Do you think liberals present owning a house as a great thing, rather than as a ball and chain, the citadel of patriachal conformity, or as a bankrupting disaster and bankers scam?
"we believe that some values are universal, both rights and duties"
Who is this utterly imaginary "we"? Has the author confused himself with the west? As a fact, half of the modern western world believes it is a heroic moral stand to call for divestment from Israel and for giving nuclear reactors to Amhadnejad and Kim Il Sung, and that driving a car that emits CO2 is a greater crime than firing rockets at Israel or setting off car bombs in a Baghdad market at noon.
Somebody involved is indeed mad, and there is indeed a failure to face madness, but the Islamic terrorists are not the madmen of the piece, and they are not the ones nobody is facing. They know precisely what they are doing and go about it in an utterly rational businesslike manner.
Why is it there are so many more horses' asses than there are horses? G. Gordon Liddy.
Your point about the difference being the absence of conservatism is well made and truely the root difference between the American Enlightenment and the French.
Those interested may want to pick up Gertrude Himmelfarb's book The Road to Modernity, the French, English and American Enlightenments which has a great analysis.
It shows how the English Enlightenment, vastly rooted in Scottish thinking, was the inspiration for the American and the French Enlightenment and what diverse paths they took.
Chapter Four of the Constitution of Liberty by Hayek is great on this subject as well.
Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. The institutions of freedom, like everything freedom has created, were not established because people foresaw the benefits they would bring. But, once its advantages were recognized, men began to perfect and extend the reign of freedom and, for that purpose, to inquire how a free society worked. This development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and France. The first of these knew liberty; the second did not.At least the author points out that besides the rationalism of the enlightment making the connection to the irrationality of the islamists difficult, we do have the centralization, revolution for revolution's sake, and the general will issues of the French Enlightenment actually fostering the islamist thinking of today rather than being totally at odds with it.
As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty: one empirical and unsystematic, the other speculative and rationalistic the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up and were but imperfectly understood, the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. Nevertheless, it has been the rationalistic, plausible, and apparently logical argument of the French tradition, with its flattering assumptions about the unlimited powers of human reason, that has progressively gained influence, while the less articulate and less explicit tradition of English freedom has been on the decline.
This distinction is obscured by the fact that what we have called the French tradition of liberty arose largely from an attempt to interpret British institutions and that the conceptions which other countries formed of British institutions were based mainly on their descriptions by French writers. The two traditions became finally confused when they merged in the liberal movement of the nineteenth century and when even leading British liberals drew as much on the French as on the British tradition. It was, in the end, the victory of the Benthamite Philosophical Radicals over the Whigs in England that concealed the fundamental difference which in more recent years has reappeared as the conflict between liberal democracy and social or totalitarian democracy.
This difference was better understood a hundred years ago than it is today.
The vision of Adimajad and Lenin are fairly similar.
What a fanciful, romantic PC idea that trerrorism is not done for profit.
Terrorism is the oldest profession LOL!
No, the ideology is the tool of the terrorists.
Perhaps the Enlightenment can be blamed for the present PC inablility to recognize even such an obvious basic quality of man as greed.
"We are always inclined to seek an alternative explanation: There is a cause our policies there is an effect their anger and there is a solution our change of policy. " should be recognized by even the PC infected as another of man's great basic qualities: his cowardice. Um, it's why terrorism is such a profitable business.
What a waste of mental effort PC causes.
It is no coincidence that Islamic terror finds its most accommodating European quarters in France. (The recent riots were, I suspect, a demonstrable objection against the PACE at which the takeover proceeds, not a declaration that it wasn't proceeding.) France welcomes the kind of totalitarianism incumbent in Islam's version of fascism, the subordination of all individual desires to the collective. The Terror was known -- even by its devout champions -- to be laying waste to France's intelligentsia, its philosophes, even its revolutionaries. (How many of the Jacobins perished on the same scaffold as Louis XVI?) But the sheer momentum of the movement, the fear of asserting any idea different than that of the moment's collective, propelled idealists to become, if not participants, at least silent bystanders in a horror that painted the gutters red with blood.
It is that same fear of individuality the paralyzes France -- and to a lesser extent, England -- today. And it will leave this country vulnerable as well, if we let it.
We need the courage to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done, the PC collective be damned!
What a fanciful, romantic PC idea that terrorism is not done for profit. Terrorism is the oldest profession LOL! No, the ideology is the tool of the terrorists.
Nice inversion. Tolstoy in War and Peace illustrated that leaders are constrained by what is happening with the masses. Or put another way, leaders make opportunistic use of the tendencies of the masses.
We can admire the Russian people in 1812 executing the scorched Earth policy (a form of terror since it exploded civilized rules of law and war) as an act of patriotic will saving Europe from Napoleon, a usurper.
But we must utterly reject Islamist terror while recognizing it has some of the same characteristics.
You said greed. I conflate that with the will to dominate. The terror masters USE for their "greedy" purposes, the Islamist ideology. They induce "patriotic" (but barbarous) acts which the individual terrorists can be recruited to perform. That is evil.
The inversion was by the author. I corrected it.
You make my point yourself: the ideology helps to recruit, and supplies political cover, for the terrorism. Russia's scorched earth policy is a weak example of terrorism though saving the country was obviously to the Russians' profit.
Terrorism is business. Columbus didn't terrorize the indians for religious reasons.
Ironically, the Aztecs probably debated the ideological nuances of Cortez' attack upon them. I can understand their superstitious belief in the exceptionalism of Cortez' terrorism.
The PC attitude of "there are no bad boys" distorts not just our view of enemies but of ourselves. And it does it to great effect when this subject is addressed.
You might be interested in the Pope's take on that subject of relativism. He traces it to Nietche.
The only response to your rant is, speak for yourself. You way exaggerte the denial of western culture in a sick attempt to achieve moral equivalency. Of course, you ignore history, too. You appear so completely ignoranct and ill-informed you should avoid this subject.
The inversion was by the author. I corrected it. You make my point yourself: the ideology helps to recruit...
Yes, my "nice inversion" was not ironic. Your points were good. But I am not prepared to say the author was entirely wrong. Which is the tool of which? The ideology, that the world should exist in total Islam, does have a momentum of its own. But I am more to your way of thinking.
There is civilization wide craziness in the modern world, but it is the left within the west that is afflicted by it. And no, they are not seriously part of the civilization I am a part of. They are not my allies in a common front against Islamic fascists, and they weren't my allies in a common front against Asian communists.
And atthis point, if the Islamic nutjobs ate them all for breakfast, I'd stand up on my chair and cheer.
I believe Rousseau and Voltaire died in 78 and Diderot in 84. Condorcet was the only one of great note still alive to die in the Terror.
Of course, Montesquieu was gone long before the revolution as well ('55) but he is more commonly viewed as outside the French tradition and an inspiration to our own.
Himmelfarb's greatest impact on my understanding was her quotations pointing out how much the French figures were proponents of enlightened monarchal power, and easy transfer to dictators or central power in general. There were few French proponents of democratic institutions and much distain for the common man.
The point is that French Revolutionary zeal became a juggernaut that could not be contained by the very Reason it purported to serve.
This very item, pointed out by Burke at the time, is what conservatives alone understand. Leftists, liberals and I am afraid even libertarians, fail to understand that a full revolution, attempting to form society anew, always leads to that without the continuity of institutions.
The USA and Costa Rica are the only two 'rebellions' that kept that understanding in place and thereby charted their own success.
Precisely. An indepth study of the constraining factors of the French and American revolutions would go far toward making a blueprint for successful political renovation.