Skip to comments.The West's choice : Courage or collapse
Posted on 09/13/2006 11:15:23 PM PDT by TheMole
WEST ORANGE, New Jersey -- The park is green and quiet. Pathways curve around lawns bordered by rosebushes, daisies and boxwood. Dogwoods shade the grass. A nice place, you think, for a Sunday picnic or an afternoon's stroll.
And the view is spectacular, well worth the hour-long drive from New York City. From Lookout Point atop Eagle Rock Reservation, you can see New York City 25 kilometres away, the spiky skyline stretching across the horizon. On a clear day, you can make out the Empire State Building. You can see why George Washington set up an observation post here to monitor the movement of British troops on the plain below during the Revolutionary War. And you can see why hundreds of area residents came here on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. From Lookout Point, they could watch the plumes of smoke rising from the ruins of the Twin Towers when they collapsed after being hit by terrorists.
Many of those people will undoubtedly come here today to mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks. A lot of area residents commute to New York City to work. Five years ago, some of those New Jerseyans - fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, uncles, cousins and grandfathers - were in the towers when they came down. Their names are embossed in bronze on a memorial that residents had built about a year after the attacks.
The memorial consists of a bronze bald eagle in flight, a bronze book inscribed with the names of the Essex County residents who died that day, and a statue of a young girl holding a teddy bear - "Gabrielle" - to acknowledge the children who lost parents or relatives that day.
On either side of the monument are a bronzed firefighter's helmet and a police officer's hat. A polished granite wall bearing the names and home towns of the 3,000 people who died in the attacks stretches along the edge of the cliff on each side of the monument.
The Eagle Rock memorial is only one of dozens that have been built in and around the New York metropolitan area since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to writer Steve Malanga. During its first year, the site attracted about 75,000 visitors. But even today, as Mr. Malanga relates in a recent edition of City Journal magazine, the memorial still draws "thousands seeking to remember the dead, to contemplate the heroic acts and sacrifices of that day, and to recall the Manhattan skyline back when the Twin Towers graced it. One thing that comes through in visiting these memorials is just how much people miss the Twin Towers."
That is, perhaps, not surprising. The terrorist attacks were a tragedy for Americans as a whole (and the West as a whole, I would argue). But as Mr. Malanga observes, "they hit home most acutely in the scores of commuter towns within 100 miles of New York City, where many World Trade Center workers lived." These communities -- Spotswood, Middleton, Monmouth County, Manalapan, and Danbury, Connecticut, to mention a few -- responded with a variety of memorials. Some serve simply as gravestones for victims with no other resting place. Others honour the courage exhibited on Sept. 11, particularly New York's firefighters and rescue workers.
The view is hypnotic. You look across a broad plain of green toward Jersey City and beyond to the jagged skyline of New York, blue and shimmering in the distance beneath the vast sky. Inevitably, you sense the presence of what is absent. Almost instinctively you scan the horizon for those higher-than-anything-else-in-sight towers. They are no longer there, of course, but you can't help but visualize them, imagine them still shining defiantly in the sun.
And as you read the names of those who disappeared along with the towers -- Sean Booker, Franco Lalama, Ming-Hao Liu, William Murray, the list goes on and on -- you can't help but imagine them, too. Most, I notice, are men in their 30s. It's not hard to imagine them, if only for an instant, not as bronze letters on a plaque but as fathers and husbands, sons and uncles, brothers and friends.
As I ran my fingers across some of the names, I remembered how, a year or so before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan destroyed some of the country's most ancient Buddhist shrines and statues, despite the world's pleas. They justified their vandalism by denouncing the statues as blasphemous to Islam.
Wasn't the World Trade Center, as a symbol of American economic power, an icon of free enterprise and secular liberalism, also blasphemous to Islam, at least as interpreted by the Islamist terrorists? And, I thought, they would destroy these memorials if they could, erase these names from human memory. And that's when it hit home: The Islamists and all who support them are barbarians, because it is barbarians who destroy what they cannot understand.
The Taliban pulled down the statues of another faith. Osama bin Laden seeks to destroy the symbols of western civilization. In both cases, they justify their vandalism by appeals to religion. But how much of this justification is rooted in resentment? The Islamists know their culture cannot match what this shimmering city on the horizon represents, so they want to pull it down, burn it to the ground, reduce it to their level in an act of revenge born of their failures and inadequacies.
Something similar happened 1,500 years ago when the barbarians invaded the Roman Empire. I'd been reading historian Samuel Dill's classic 1898 study, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire. Here's how he describes the barbarian view of Rome: "Even the rude barbarian, bred on the Danube or amid the forests of Thuringia, felt a strange awe of that city, so distant, yet so omnipresent in its power, which to his imagination, in her worldwide dominion and marvelous vitality, was a superhuman force." However, that awe and fear didn't prevent the barbarians from attacking. Indeed, the barbarians felt themselves "drawn on by an irresistible spell to sack the Eternal City." And so they finally did.
In AD 410, Alaric's Goths attacked Rome. It was one of the most traumatic events in the ancient world. "To the minds -- both of Christians and pagans," Dill writes, "the news of the capture of Rome by Alaric came as a great moral shock." It was inconceivable that the heart of the empire, the city that had stood undefeated for hundreds of years, could so easily be attacked. After that, the world felt a lot less secure. Indeed, the Dark Ages were just around history's corner.
Are the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States comparable to Alaric's sack of Rome? History will answer that question. But there is no question that the world took notice of the destruction of the Twin Towers and the strike against the Pentagon. As symbols of American economic and military power, the terrorists could not have picked better targets. Nor is there any question that our post-Sept. 11 world is a lot less secure.
To be sure, the Islamists can't defeat the United States (or the West) in a direct military confrontation, but by hitting soft, largely symbolic targets such as trains, malls and airplanes, they can, like water dripping on stone, gradually erode the West's resolve and self-confidence. This is war by a thousand cuts, not unlike the constant cross-frontier probes the barbarians inflicted on the late Roman Empire.
The "war on terrorism" is unlike the first two world wars where the West faced enemy nation states. It's also unlike the 50-year "cold war" of World War III, when the enemy was an empire that promoted an ideology of enslavement.
If you ignore the assassinations of western diplomats and airline hijackings during the 1970s, the War on Terror -- World War IV, as Norman Podhoretz calls it -- began in 1979.
That was year the mullahs of Iran seized power and authorized the sacking of the American embassy in Tehran and the seizure of 52 hostages.
U.S. president Jimmy Carter could bring neither courage nor conviction to respond in a way that might have stopped the new war in its tracks.
Only when Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, did Ayatollah Khomeini order the hostages released, fearing, as Mr. Podhoretz writes, "that the hawkish new President might actually launch a military strike against them."
Those who say war solves nothing obviously haven't read much history. The only reason Nazis don't today rule Europe -- and every Jew in Europe isn't dead -- is because thousands of mostly young men fought and died in the jungles of Burma and on the beaches of Normandy. The Soviet Union no longer exists because thousands of young men fought on frozen hilltops in Korea, the back alleys of Berlin, and the rice paddies of Vietnam.
As Mr. Podhoretz says in his essay World War IV: How it Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win, the West won the Cold War because it "persisted in spite of impatience, discouragement, and opposition for as long as it took to win."
In this new war, however, the West has been weakened by decades of moral ennui, spiritual lassitude and a debilitating intellectual incoherence. Consider how the war has been fought since 1979. Until the 2001 attacks, it was a war of a thousand cuts -- embassy bombings, assassinations, airliners blown out of the sky, diplomats kidnapped and executed. The West, including the United States, more or less absorbed the assaults without much response.
In 1983, for example, Hezbollah terrorists, backed then as they are now by Iran and Syria, used a suicide bomber to destroy the American embassy in Beirut, killing more than 60 people. A few months later, another Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 241 U.S. marines in the barracks at the Beirut airport. In 1985, Palestinian terrorists, backed by Libya, hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship in the Mediterranean, and killed an American passenger in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, and threw him overboard. Libya was also behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, in which 270 people were killed. Five years later, in 1993, al-Qaeda made its first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center with truck bombs.
President Bill Clinton was no better than Jimmy Carter in responding. In 1998, for instance, after al-Qaeda simultaneously exploded car bombs at American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, killing more than 200, he fired off a few cruise missiles, hitting some tents (empty) in Afghanistan and a factory in Sudan. Mr. Clinton, it seems, just -- didn't want to know. According to a former Clinton adviser, Dick Morris, the weekly White House strategy meetings in 1995 and 1996 "featured an escalating drumbeat of advice to President Clinton to take decisive steps to crack down on terrorism. But Clinton hesitated and failed to act, always finding a reason why some other concern was more important."
Why this reluctance on the part of western leaders to fight back with all the power at their command? Surely the only intelligent response to those who explicitly state their intentions of killing you and destroying your society is to take their weapons away, or kill them. Or both. But then this psychology of appeasement is not unusual, particularly on the part of opinion-makers, intellectuals and politicians. They laud the value of liberal democracy in their speeches, but many are reluctant to defend it against totalitarian threats. In the 1930s, many thought peace was possible with Hitler. Others justified Lenin's and Stalin's mass murders as the price to be paid to achieve their utopian dreams.
The same psychology is at work today. "Appeasement-minded Frenchmen and decadent Germans and Dutchmen must be pushed to defend their own countries and their own allies, so that Islamic theocracy does not overtake Europe," writes political theorist Robert Kraynak in his essay Living with Liberalism. "Once again, liberalism needs to be defended as the only hope for a sane and decent future."
So where are the defenders of liberalism? Or, to put the question differently, why is liberalism no longer a fighting creed? Liberal political orders have many faults and failings, but, as Mr. Kraynak says, for anyone in the modern world who wants a sane and decent political order, the only realistic choice is liberalism in the classic sense -- a regime dedicated to individual liberty based on democratic institutions. ..." But do the citizens of liberal democracies -- westerners, in short -- have the will to fight for their way of life? More pointedly, do they have leaders with the courage and conviction to persuade them of the necessity to fight?
In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, I thought the Islamists had made a colossal blunder in directly attacking the United States. When President George W. Bush announced on Sept. 20 that the United States was at war, I thought that the years of narcissism and self-indulgence that characterized the Clinton era, our collective holiday from history, as it were, had finally come to an end. In that speech, the president voiced the first formulation of the Bush Doctrine when he defined the "global terrorist network" as "the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."
Stirring stuff even for our low and dissolute times. But even better was the example of the New York firefighters, police officers and rescue workers who rushed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. They were a bracing reminder that duty and self-sacrifice remain the bedrock of human values. What kind of inner resolve and discipline must you possess to run into danger instead of running away from it? There was also the example of the "civilians" on United Airlines Flight 93. They knew they were going to die, but refused to die like sheep. Remember Todd Beamer's "Let's roll"? Such courage caught the publicâs imagination. Firefighters' costumes were the hot seller for little boys that Halloween.
It seemed to me that with those examples, it was possible to think the West would shake off the debilitations of anti-western ideology promulgated by the post-modern intelligentsia that has occupied many of the West's academic and cultural institutions for the past three decades. Even the French seemed to awaken from their post-modern fantasies. As one French newspaper put it, "We are all Americans now."
Yet, five years after Sept. 11 -- and after dozens of other terrorist attacks -- there are still those who don't believe the West is at war, or, if at war, believe that peace is possible by meeting the terrorists' demands. Italian philosopher Marcello Pera summarizes this appeasement mentality: Many westerners are "still locked into the illusion that the end of the Cold War marked the end of all wars, and give the impression of believing that (they) can live forever in a happy haven" of peace and prosperity.
European Commission president Romano Prodi exemplified this appeasement mentality. After al-Qaeda's attack on the Madrid train system in 2004, Mr. Prodi said, "the conflict with the terrorists is not resolved by force alone." Arguably, such remarks helped persuade the Spanish electorate that they could buy peace from terrorism by voting for a leftist government that promised to abandon Spain's American ally and cut-and-run from Iraq.
You also saw the defeatist nature of the post-modern mind in prominent academics promoting, in Roger Kimball's words, "an anti-patriotic stew of politically correct ideas and attitudes distinguished partly by its penchant to vague but virtuous sounding abstraction, partly by its moral smugness." Philosophers like Martha Nussbaum regard "patriotic pride" as "morally dangerous," while Amy Gutmann thinks it "repugnant" for students to be taught that they are "above all, citizens of the United States" rather than adherents of "democratic humanism."
But perhaps most of all, you see the mentality of appeasement reflected in the refusal of leftists and progressives who, in their embrace of cultural relativism, hesitate to denounce the Islamist ideology because, well, that's being judgmental. Islamism promotes practices that are anti-homosexual, patriarchal in the worst sense, regards women as second-class citizens, and takes religious intolerance to new extremes. Yet, the progressives seem to think that if the West would only understand the "root causes" of terrorism, and then apologize for being the guilty party responsible for those causes, well then the terrorists would leave us alone.
There is a colossal irony in this attitude. By embracing the moral equivalence of all cultures, the liberal left "has all but refused to denounce the illiberal ideology of our enemies -- an ideology that supports polygamy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, hatred of homosexuals, and patriarchy," writes historian Victor Davis Hanson in a recent essay in City Journal. "For 30 years, our schools have pounded home the creed that all cultures are of equal merit -- or, more accurately perhaps, that no culture is worse than the West's. Millions of Americans consequently aren't sure whether radical Islam is just another legitimate alternative to the dominant Western narrative."
The same can be said of the many Canadians who are so proud of their anti-American posturing. More than two dozen Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan so that the Taliban won't return and force Afghan women to wear the chaddor against their will or little girls won't have acid thrown in their faces for attending school. If the "progressives" truly believe in women's rights, why aren't they staging anti-Islamist demonstrations in front of the embassies of Iran, Syria and Pakistan, instead of protesting American "imperialism?" Indeed, why aren't they applauding George W. Bush's effort to plant the seeds of liberal democracy in the Middle East so that someday, possibly, women in those countries can enjoy the same benefits as their western sisters?
But then you don't need to look to the left to detect the confusions of the post-modern consciousness. Consider the five-year debate among New Yorkers about what to rebuild on Ground Zero, and how to memorialize those who died.
At one point, Myron Magnet relates in City Journal magazine, New York City Fire Department officials proposed the idea of a bronze statue based on the famous Bergen Record photograph of three firefighters raising the Stars and Stripes at Ground Zero as the recovery effort began. Sounds good, but then the officials wanted the heads of two of the firefighters to be replaced with those of a black and a Hispanic. It didn't matter that that's not what happened.
As Mr. Magnet, editor of the New York-based magazine, says, "This monument's readiness to falsify gives an especially bleak and revealing glimpse into the cynical mendacity that is political correctness, always ready to elevate ideology over ideals."
Another "post-modern" politically correct proposal came from the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Board members pumped for an International Freedom Center. The centre, as journalist Stefan Kanfer wrote recently in City Journal, would have addressed slavery and other human rights issues not directly related to the terrorist attack. The board members "could not make themselves acknowledge what almost all Americans know in their bones. Roman Catholics did not perpetrate the attacks; neither did Hindus, Klan members, Greek Orthodox Christians, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelicals, animists, Shintoists, Buddhists, or secular humanists. Radical Muslims did."
To their credit, New Yorkers rejected both ideas. The fire department dropped its idea in the ensuing public outrage. And after Debra Burlingame, the sister of Charles Burlingame, the pilot of the plane that hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal attacking the freedom centre idea as feel-good fraud, that idea, too, bit the dust. The centre would be little more than a vacuous "multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man," Ms. Burlingame said. And that would be a betrayal of the 3,000 who died in the towers. New York City's firefighters' union, which lost 343 members on Sept. 11, sided with Ms. Burlingame. So did the police union, which lost 23 men and women.
Last fall, Gov. George Pataki quietly dropped the proposal, promising that any memorial museum would "tell the story of Sept. 11."
So what is that story? It's astounding that the question even has to be asked. But not surprising. Since the end of the Second World War, the West has become a clutch of therapeutic societies. Western countries are populated by consumers who assume security and entertainment are a birthright, that they have a "right" to lives of comfort and plenty. We are entitled to our entitlements might well be the motto of our times. The result, though, is a life devoted to neuroses and narcissism -- worrying about the fat content of latte, hysteria about second-hand cigarette smoke, the titillations of American (or Canadian) Idol and the devotion to celebrity lives -- even as the threat of Islamism grows.
It sounds awfully like late-stage Rome, as least as Samuel Dill describes it. "This self-centred contentment with the material pleasures of life, this rather vacant existence, gliding away in ease and luxury, and a round of trivial social engagements ... is the real reproach against the character of the upper class of that age." The lower classes weren't any better. They were equally soft, having become used to a system of state welfare that not only drained the public treasury, but also encouraged them to regard the state as existing just to take care of them. They might not have country estates, but they could be kept pacified with the entertainments of festivals, theatres and gladiatorial games.
Interestingly enough, the Islamists also regard the contemporary West as soft and decadent. At the heart of their hatred is the fear that hedonism and materialism will destroy Islam. The godfather of Islamic terrorism -- and an inspiration to Osama bin Laden -- was an Egyptian intellectual named Sayyid Qutb. As scholar Gilles Kepel relates in Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, Qutb is arguably the most influential Muslim intellectual in the last century. He studied English literature at Cairo University and became a respected modernist literary critic and interpreter of the Koran. In 1948, he visited the United States to study the American education system. He didn't like what he saw during his two-year stay.
He thought capitalism was "predicated on monopoly and interest-taking, money-grubbing, and exploitation." The concept of individualism "lacks any sense of solidarity and social responsibility other than that laid down by the law." He even disliked lawns. They, too, were "symptomatic of the American preoccupation with the external, material, and selfishly individual dimensions of life." But what offended Qutb most was American women. He loathed their "thirsty lips, bulging breasts, smooth legs," and denounced "that animal freedom which is called permissiveness, that slave market dubbed 'women's liberation'."
At least one observer, political theorist Barry Cooper, suggests Qutb's condemnation of the American lifestyle might explain why Islamist terrorists have targeted nightclubs and tourist sites such as the Bali nightclub firebombed in 2002.
In his book, New Political Religions: An Analysis of Modern Terrorism, Mr. Cooper argues that Qutb's hatred of all things American is rooted in a never-be-admitted attraction. What Qutb missed, of course, was that there is more to the United States, and to the West, than sex, materialism and a life of entertainment. "There is no record that, notwithstanding his familiarity with western literary culture, he ever visited any of the centres of art or music in New York or Washington," says Mr. Cooper. Qutb's "personality seemed incapable of the imaginative extension required to understand America on its own terms."
This shortcoming seems to have been inherited by Qutb's heirs. Investigators trying to re-create the lives of the 19 Muslim hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks discovered that in the months before the strikes they frequented nightclubs, drank copious amounts of alcohol and hired prostitutes, all of which are forbidden to devout Muslims. Did they ever visit a museum? Walk through an art gallery? Or try in any way to extend their imaginations to understand what they thought they hated? If not, that is the Islamists' biggest weakness: They don't really know their enemy.
Yet, their notion of western weakness is not without foundation. In a series of interviews in the late 1990s, Osama bin Laden portrayed the United States -- and, by implication, western civilization -- as a weak giant. It might have plenty of power, but lacked the will to use it. Muslims are willing to die for their faith, he said. By contrast, westerners are afraid to die. This was proved by the fact that when al-Qaeda-trained terrorists killed a handful of American soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia in 1993, then-president Bill Clinton abandoned the mission. "The American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat."
Presumably, Mr. bin Laden rethought that conclusion when Mr. Bush, unlike his predecessors, decided to fight back after Sept. 11. The American military, with an assist from British, Australian and Canadian troops, shredded the Taliban regime, chased al-Qaeda (and, presumably Mr. bin Laden) into caves, and drove Iraq's Saddam Hussein into a hole in the ground.
Nevertheless, Mr. bin Laden touched something fundamental about westerners as a whole: They are, as Thomas Hobbes long ago noted, afraid of violent death. Indeed, it can be argued that the fundamental purpose of modern liberal technological society is to avoid violent and unnecessary death. Mr. bin Laden sees this as a weakness. As far as he's concerned, westerners are so fearful of dying that we don't have the will to defend ourselves, much less fight for our way of life, decadent as it may be.
Is he right? Or is there still some residue of what once made liberalism a fighting creed? If so, where might we look for sources of strength, examples of resolve, testaments to courage and self-sacrifice? The answer is obvious: The New York firefighters and police officers, along with all those soldiers manning the bloody frontiers where Islam and the West collide.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, scholar Christina Hoff Sommers wrote an essay titled Maleness is back in fashion. She observed that we should be grateful little boys still want to play dodge ball, wrestle on the ground and read about war heroes, despite three decades of effort by "gender facilitators" to "resocialize boys away from 'toxic masculinity' and effeminize them with girl-centred education.
It was this instinct for rough-and-tumble competition that allowed the "awesome display of masculine courage shown by the fighters and policemen at Ground Zero," Ms. Sommers argued. The feminists might continue the campaign to make boys docile and weep-prone, but fewer people will listen to them, she said. "Americans are increasingly aware that traditional male traits such as aggression, competitiveness, risk-taking, stoicism -- constrained by virtues of valor, honor, and self-sacrifice -- are essential to the well-being and safety of our society." The terrorist attacks have rekindled "an appreciation of the masculine virtues. Many courageous and even heroic women took part in all these endeavors."
One of every nine people who died at Ground Zero was a firefighter, police officer or emergency worker. And the virtues they displayed on the morning of Sept. 11 -- courage, duty, loyalty, self-sacrifice -- demonstrated that the virtues that have traditionally been described as masculine still exist, even in our effete age. As Myron Magnet writes, "In giving the last full measure of devotion, in Lincoln's luminous phrase, the rescuers showed that our civilization still nurtures ordinary men with moral qualities capable of amazing the world."
Maybe that's the hidden "story," the subtext of Sept. 11 -- the recovery of traditional manly virtues. I don't mean that in a sex-specific way. These virtues are available to men or women. However, traditionally, they have been ascribed to men, in the same way the virtues of caring and compassion have been labelled as womanly virtues. That said, the list of woman who have demonstrated manly virtues -- courage, pride, love, devotion to family and country, for example -- is a long one, ranging from Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc to Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to defy Myanmar's military dictators.
One of the heroes I remember is a woman about whom novelist Ian McEwan wrote in the Guardian newspaper a few days after the attacks. The woman was trapped in the World Trade Center when it was hit by one of the airplanes. She phoned her husband in San Francisco, but he was asleep and didn't pick up. She left a message. "We heard her tell him through her sobbing that there was no escape for her," says Mr. McEwan, who heard the woman's message replayed on a television program. "The building was on fire and there was no way down the stairs. She was calling to say goodbye. There was really only one thing for her to say, those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. 'I love you.' She said it over and over again before the line went dead." To my mind, it took immense courage to assert love in the face of such an awful death, to think of those you leave behind in the few seconds before oblivion.
The problem is that after six decades of relative peace and prosperity, too many of the me-first, me-all-the-time generations -- the baby boomers and their offspring -- are under the illusion that we can avoid a confrontation with what threatens us with oblivion, that all it will take to pacify the Islamists, to get them to be reasonable, is to address the "root causes" of their anger.
In our naivete, we think western exploitation of "others" is the source of terrorism. We believe that if democracy, law and freedom, along with all the consumer good and technological trinkets, could be extended to the whole world, then in the same way that westerners have, by and large, shed their tribalist hatreds, so, too, would everyone else.
But it is exactly those ideas -- freedom, tolerance, equality -- that the Islamists fear. They recognize those ideas as a threat to their culture. As political philosopher Waller Newell writes in The Code of Man: "At bottom, their rage is motivated by the fear that the West has triumphed historically and irrevocably over their own premodern culture." And what they fear, they hate. The question for us, as westerners, is whether we can recover those virtues necessary for confronting hatred.
Political theorist James Burnham addresses this question in his book, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, when he describes the "pathology of liberalism" as a failure to understand what is at stake in confronting totalitarianism. Do we really understand, at the deepest existential level, what words like freedom and duty mean, what freedom and duty "feel" like in their lived experience? I suspect the firefighters and the police officers who rushed into the Twin Towers knew, even if they would never articulate that feeling. So, too, do the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But what about the rest of us? After decades of listening to the relativistic catechism of our intellectual elites -- Above All, Be Tolerant -- we are drained of the capacity to know how to respond to real-world hostility. Once upon a time, ideas like freedom inspired people to take up arms. Once upon a time, people recognized those who were the enemies of freedom. Once upon a time, intellectuals went to war to defend freedom. Say what you will about the Islamists, but they are idealists, in the sense that they are willing to fight for an idea, that the West is their enemy.
The contemporary generations, on the other hand, shy away from words like "enemy." Our post-modern intellectuals have us taught that such thinking is atavistic. We are too cosmopolitan, too sophisticated to think of those who would kill us as enemies; they are only misinformed. That may be our weakness. As theorist Lee Harris writes in Civilization and Its Enemies, "Our first task is to try to grasp what the concept of the enemy really means. Before 9/11, the very concept of the enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary ... (but) the enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you."
In order to survive, liberal, pluralist democracy requires not only the existence of certain institutions -- elected legislatures and courts of law, for example -- but a populace that genuinely believes in the value of those institutions and what they represent, and possesses the will to defend them when necessary. "The question is," says cultural critic Roger Kimball, "do we, as a society, still enjoy that belief? Do we possess the requisite will?"
To answer those questions, we must first recognize that "open" liberal societies cannot be open to every viewpoint, every perspective, Mr. Kimball argues in his essay, After the suicide of the West. Liberal society is ultimately not value neutral. That is to say, liberal society cannot tolerate those who would deny the rule of law, respect for individual rights, religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Says Mr. Kimball, "The problem is that large portions of Western society, especially those portions entrusted with perpetuating its political and cultural capital (namely, our political and cultural elites), have lost sight of that vision."
One element of that lost vision, perhaps the key one, is that there are fewer and fewer things for which we are willing to risk our lives. In Mr. Kimball's words, "Modern liberalism has equipped us with an ethic too abstract and empty to inspire real commitment." Contemporary liberal society, given over to the pursuit of pleasure and the exultation of self-satisfaction, "does not offer ordinary men compelling motives for personal suffering, sacrifice, and death. There is no tragic dimension in its picture of the good life.
"Men become willing to endure, sacrifice, and die for God, for family, king, honor, country, from a sense of absolute duty or an exalted vision of the meaning of history. And it is precisely these ideas and institutions that liberalism has criticized, attacked, and in part overthrown as superstitious, archaic, reactionary, and irrational," says Mr. Kimball. "In their place, liberalism proposed a set of pale and bloodless abstractions -- pale and bloodless for the very reason that they have no roots in the past, in deep feeling and in suffering."
The West's liberal societies are hard-pressed to defend themselves because they no longer know what it is they are defending. That explains, in part at least, why so many politicians and the police are reluctant to use the word Islam or Muslim to describe the religious affiliation of terrorists, even when that description is clinically correct and used by the terrorists themselves.
This suggests that an unreasonable devotion to multiculturalism is a formula for self-destruction. Are we going to allow ourselves to be killed for the sake of political correctness? When does tolerance become suicidal? The fantasy world of post-modern relativism has weakened the West's immune system in fighting off the Islamist infection.
Staring at the skyline of New York, scrolling down the names of the Essex County dead, it seemed to me that the antidote for this infection is the memory of the firefighters and the police officers, the airline passengers, the woman calling her husband in San Francisco, the couple who held hands as they leaped from one of the flaming towers.
None of them likely thought this in the midst of their fear and suffering, but those desperate phone calls, those declarations of love, the rush to rescue others; all those acts were acts of defiance, expressions of the virtue of courage in the face of adversity. But their example is the secret subtext, the subterranean story, to the West's victory over the Islamists.
To borrow Waller Newell's words, "The continuing war on behalf of democracy against tyranny will confer on all of us -- in ways large and small, requiring strength of mind, character and conduct -- the privilege of trying to live up to their example."
Robert Sibley is a senior writer with the Citizen. This essay concludes his three-part series looking at the theoretical concepts related to the Age of Terror.
Part three of the 3-part series.
Bookmarked. Awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Wow. Great post - thanks a lot. Reminded me of a Victor Davis Hanson article.
I have been hearing a lot of good things coming from our friends in the Great White North recently (except from those useless slag heaps The Dixie Chicks!).
It reminds me of this essay.
The Path to National Suicide by Lawrence Auster (1990)
An essay on multi-culturalism and immigration.
How can we account for this remarkable silence? The answer, as I will try to show, is that when the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 was being considered in Congress, the demographic impact of the bill was misunderstood and downplayed by its sponsors. As a result, the subject of population change was never seriously examined. The lawmakers stated intention was that the Act should not radically transform Americas ethnic character; indeed, it was taken for granted by liberals such as Robert Kennedy that it was in the nations interest to avoid such a change. But the dramatic ethnic transformation that has actually occurred as a result of the 1965 Act has insensibly led to acceptance of that transformation in the form of a new, multicultural vision of American society. Dominating the media and the schools, ritualistically echoed by every politician, enforced in every public institution, this orthodoxy now forbids public criticism of the new path the country has taken. We are a nation of immigrants, we tell ourselves and the subject is closed. The consequences of this code of silence are bizarre. One can listen to statesmen and philosophers agonize over the multitudinous causes of our decline, and not hear a single word about the massive immigration from the Third World and the resulting social divisions. Opponents of population growth, whose crusade began in the 1960s out of a concern about the growth rate among resident Americans and its effects on the environment and the quality of life, now studiously ignore the question of immigration, which accounts for fully half of our population growth.
This curious inhibition stems, of course, from a paralyzing fear of the charge of racism. The very manner in which the issue is framedas a matter of equal rights and the blessings of diversity on one side, versus racism on the othertends to cut off all rational discourse on the subject. One can only wonder what would happen if the proponents of open immigration allowed the issue to be discussed, not as a moralistic dichotomy, but in terms of its real consequences. Instead of saying: We believe in the equal and unlimited right of all people to immigrate to the U.S. and enrich our land with their diversity, what if they said: We believe in an immigration policy which must result in a staggering increase in our population, a revolution in our culture and way of life, and the gradual submergence of our current population by Hispanic and Caribbean and Asian peoples. Such frankness would open up an honest debate between those who favor a radical change in Americas ethnic and cultural identity and those who think this nation should preserve its way of life and its predominant, European-American character. That is the actual choiceas distinct from the theoretical choice between equality and racismthat our nation faces. But the tyranny of silence has prevented the American people from freely making that choice.
"Nailed it" ping.
The feminization of law and order, and national security, is the Death of the West.
Freeper Warriors Rule The Earth
Did I miss the second part? Linky?
Thank you, I will go bookmark it too.
(Mole, if you already pinged me to that, sorry I missed it).
You're MOST welcome! :-)
Beyond age and gender ID. . . Mister is a an address of respect. . .and only one man; of the two mentioned, deserves that 'address'. 'Mr.' Osama Bin Laden is a mistake; if not an insult. IMHO.
(a personal gripe of mine, is how many times we hear the title 'Gentleman' ascribed to a man who has just committed a heinous crime - 'the gentleman was picked up and taken into custody - or some such)
Shows just how far-reaching is the impact of Liberal meaningless - by way of political correctness; when those, most aware, might in a 'hurried or distracted moment', trip on the Liberal, egalitarian - and empty playing field.
That said. . .DEMOCRACY OVER TYRANNY - COURAGE or PERISH are messages for America that should be written in bronze; and as well, carried on bumper stickers - everywhere.
. . .a Fox News sign-off, in a 'dream'. . .:^)