Many proposed Enlightenment universal truths, truths used to make moral claims, and truths often used to guide modern institutions and political movements (and a lot secular global humanism besides) come into conflict with local, religious, traditional, patriotic and national truths, a conflict which can be witnessed in much current political debate here in America.
I think Dalrymple is leveraging such a gap to highlight the downside realities of Muslim immigration to Europe:
‘When I learned of the provenance of the Manchester bomber, namely that he was the son of Libyan refugees, I asked myself a question that is now almost disallowable, even in the privacy of one’s own mind: whether any authority, in granting them asylum in Britain, asked whether it was in the national interest to do so. In all probability, the answer is no. The officials concerned probably thought only that they were applying a universal rule, or pseudo-universal rule, that in the name of humanity all political refugees (as Salman Abedi’s parents were) have an automatic right of asylum. And if they, the officials, were to be criticised, they would no doubt reply that there were a thousand, or five thousand, refugees for every suicide bomber, and that therefore the admission of Salman Abedi’s parents was a risk that had, on humanitarian grounds, to be taken.’
A student suggests (with the necessary caveat of having the proper politics) that point of entry to Shakespeare really shouldn’t be solidarity around current political ideals, especially solidarity as advocated by professors:
‘Students I spoke with after class appreciated the “relevance” of the lecture, noting how the election had revitalized the otherwise inaccessible works of Shakespeare. It’s been over 7 months since Trump was elected, yet my professors show no signs of putting their political digressions on hold. The spread of this phenomenon to subjects like Literature and English reflects a troubling trend: the growing partisanship of higher education.’
It’s hard to see how playing fast and loose with much of the humanities curriculum these past generations, while simultaneously inviting much political idealism, activism and radicalism to settle into academies won’t also invite a subsequent political response by those who don’t share in the ideals (if it’s got ‘studies’ after it…).
If you’re going to gather around political ideals, don’t be surprised when you’ve carved up the world into a series of political fiefdoms.
If it’s any consolation-I discovered similar trends occurring about twenty years ago: The vague notion there had actually been, and should be, a canon, along with much overt and covert political idealism uniting people in the academy.
But, I also found a lot to absorb, experience and hold dear.
It can be a bitter pill to swallow realizing how much shallowness, group-think and moral cowardice there is in a place dedicated to the pursuit of truth and wisdom, especially regarding radical ideologies, but that’s not all there is.
Try and leave things a little better than you found them.
‘Hou[e]llebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):
As previously posted:
Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.
Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).
‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’
On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:
‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘
Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.
Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?
And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?
From the comments:
‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.
Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.
Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’
Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:
‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’
As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.
I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“
Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.
***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.
Such a brave stance to take: Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus don’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.
Have these six happened upon an implacable standard of truth that perhaps might guide them in the eminently mysterious creative process of their own writing? Do they all share the same truth? Would they even know if they did?
Such a standard seems at least enough to guide their decision, then, to hold the folks at Charlie Hebdo to such a standard and protest the PEN award:
‘The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.
The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.’
The reasons? Here are a few:
‘In an email to PEN’s leadership on Friday, Ms. Kushner said she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view,”’
Salman Rushdie knows a lot about ‘Islamophobia:’
“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
In their exercise of freedom, let such writers be one day judged by their own truth.
Here’s Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:
“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”
‘Nevertheless, we cannot simply disregard the evidence, that there are Muslims among us who interpret their religion in another way. The liberal mind-set, which blames their crimes on ‘Islamophobia’, as though we, who threatened no one, were to blame for the attacks on us, shows a wilful disregard of the truth, and a crazy inversion of cause and effect. No doubt we should be careful not to be provoked. And the peaceful ceremonies with which the people of Boston have marked the anniversary of the bombings show that they have not been provoked, and that they continue to live in the open and charitable way for which the bombers chose, for reasons of their own, to punish them. But let’s face it, planted in the heart of Islam is the worm of contempt for the infidel, and this worm can lodge in the brains of otherwise reasonable people and gnaw away at their conscience until no conscience remains.’
I’m not sure the elder Tsarnaev brother, Tamerlan, in the months and years leading up to the Marathon Bombing, was always what we’d call ‘reasonable,’ but point taken. A siren song reaches some Muslim men, often younger and trying to forge identities of their own as they drift between civilizations. Charismatic Islamist Imams, often through online channels, urge rediscovery of Islamic roots and joining of the ‘front lines’ of a holy struggle. A few go in for it, sadly, usually over many months time and after a meeting or two, ending-up on a dangerously radical path.
Whatever their thinking, they pretty clearly had a plan:
Wherever the Tsarnaev clan started out back in Chechnya and Dagestan, and whatever experiences they had as immigrants to America, I think we can safely say they ended-up a disgrace. Through bad decisions, family failures, and what is likely religiously inspired ideology, the two sons chose to commit an act of murderous terrorism designed to take as many innocent lives as possible. They wanted to injure what matters most to Americans and then afterwards tried to make a cowardly, murderous escape. To top that off, Ma Tsarnaev scurried home without so much as an apology, thank-you or goodbye, perhaps either unable or unwilling to process the event and after years of collecting benefits.
I don’t begrudge the city of Boston its plain sense and Puritan work ethic, its civilized, educated roots and liberal, crusading bent along with waves of hardscrabble immigrants and many rough edges. Frankly, I don’t necessarily begrudge the secular humanist ideals that likely guide many of the people running institutions in Boston which provided shelter and opportunity to the Tsarnaevs.
But shouldn’t we be establishing and looking at facts in a cold, hard light? The new Puritanism is a zealous secular humanism with radical adherents desperate to deny those facts.
The victims and families deserve this much. Our law enforcement, intelligence folks and some military and SpecOps folks deserve some moral support and oversight in this generational struggle.
Below, Scruton discusses Islam and the West and his views in general. He’s a conservative Briton.
On that note: Islamist ideology, with Islamic roots, is currently reconstituting in the Middle-East after the defeat of ISIS. It will keep sprouting anew.
Old news I know, but it seems that the Yale Press was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could potentially lead to violence, and that they are responsible for the consequences of such potential violence:
“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”
One might even argue that politically, it will be harder to get Muslims to the table when knowledge of this kind of publication is used and misused to inflame the the Arab street…if it inflames the Arab street…
At the same time he’s [Erdogan] been rolling up the Gulenists and the deep staters he’s been mounting a breathtakingly draconian campaign against supposed Kurdish terrorists and their supporters, so far jailing and indicting thousands of civilians—including a Wall Street Journal reporter—on nonsense charges. Hasip Kaplan, once a member of parliament, is facing a 142-year prison term, and the court won’t even let him attend his own trial. As of the end of 2017, the state has arrested more than 11,000 members of his avowedly secular People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Well, it reminds this blogger of that Turkish/Armenian demonstration erupting into violence a while back. Right in front of the White House, no less:
I see Erdogan’s Islamic populism, and the broader Islamic resurgence towards notions of religious purity and ideological conformity, as quite obviously not leading Westwards nor towards any kind of moderation. Such a man, riding such a wave, towards an authoritarian and rather thuggish consolidation of power could likely yet draw other powers towards conflict.
Modernity and the West (and increasingly the East) have been pressing upon Islamic civilizations, and many of these civilizations have responded by turning inwards, reinforcing the old rules, and continuing to try and synthesize the products of modernity and the West within the Quran.
On a slightly deeper level, I think one of Douglas Murray’s central arguments is that civilizations are actually rather fragile things, requiring the continual consent and contributions of those governed, and a continual re-evaluation of what’s important and what isn’t; what’s true and what isn’t. Europe, through history-weariness, has produced inadequate political and social leadership as of late.
Personally, I see a rather backed-into economic union in theory, and a somewhat authoritarian and bureacratic labyrinth in practice, made from many good impulses and reasonable fears, but with poor design and many bad impulses and a lot of guilt.
Islamic radicals and genuine terrorists uniting with Western identity-radicals who’ve worked their way into many influential positions (academy, media etc) does not a healthy civilization make.
Perhaps even a little deeper?
Ken Minogue framed it thusly, and he believes there’s going to be some authority in your life, but you’ve got be particularly careful about which kind, and which rules govern that relationship with authority:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion.‘
Perhaps what many dark-webbers, some New Atheists, and various other liberal idealists and institutionalists can miss is the following: The very products of reason, the mathematical and natural sciences, advances in political science and material progress, for example, have also helped to create the conditions for many post-Enlightenment ideological, social and artistic movements to emerge.
Some of these ideological movements are simply totalitarian at their roots, and lead to disaster in practice. We’re still seeing their ruins around us (North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba) while their practioners, priests and adherents continue to colonize and cluster in relatively free Western institutions (orgs and academies, especially).
Some of these post-Enlightenment social movements can provide enough to live a truthful, moral, and decent life, but don’t stop the very human impulse to forget how little one knows, to proselytize and well…form coalitions of believing humans full of various talents and flaws. There’s a lot of idealism (naive) and utopianism.
To my current thinking (and this really may be more about me), these movements often fail in providing a deep enough moral framework to provide the stability necessary to account for much in human nature and how hard it can be to provide moral legitimacy in positions of authority.
Guess which type of characteristics were present in the terrorist?
Lawrence Wright discussed his long years reporting on Islamic terrorism (he spent some time in Egypt in his youth) at the Philadelphia Free Library. It might offer some insight.
***There is a point where I become reasonably angry as Wright mentions his creative work (good for him!) has attracted the likes of celebrities and groups of political idealists in high-society. These are types I see as not having the courage to properly confront this issue from anything outside a narrower band of their own beliefs, principles and self-interest, exposing us all to worse options, while lecturing us how to live and what to do.
On that note, others are filling in the gaps at great personal risk with courage and a more clear-eyed realism (there are many pieces to a bigger puzzle):
There’s a sober realism, reasonable use of statistics, and deeper analysis I find appealing: The number of immigrants each country can absorb is ever in flux and dispute, but it likely has limits. When problems of immigration are backed into as they have been for a few generations (cheap labor, post WWII exhaustion and colonial guilt), harder choices and worse outcomes loom.
European birth rates are low, European economies are relatively more static and weaker than ours, and the political ideals and sentiment at work in Europe seem capable of uniting only to produce many of the problems at hand.
Political leaders frequently elide questions of basic security (Islamic/ist terror), numbers (of immigrants and incentives), as well as the shortcomings and failures of large, top-down bureaucratic institutions to develop legitimate authority and properly allow individuals to mediate their own challenges locally.
The gist: Trump’s apparent defining of America’s interests more narrowly and nationally, transactionally even (quid pro quo), will further re-shuffle a deck already being re-shuffled by many forces outside American control (I still think America is uniquely positioned to adapt to many changes afoot).
American relative power has been declining, and we have some serious fractures within our body politic. Arguably, there’s less appetite for the soft and hard power reach of the America experienced during the past few generations.
Trump’s potential withdrawal from the international order the United States has been upholding with blood and treasure will likely signal significant change, and perhaps not always change for the better, Kagan argues.
What to change and what to keep?
What direction might Trump give on what to change and what to keep?
Kagan from his intro:
‘In recent years, the liberal world order that has held sway over international affairs for the past seven decades has been fragmenting under the pressure of systemic economic stresses, growing tribalism and nationalism, and a general loss of confidence in established international and national institutions. The incoming U.S. administration faces a grave challenge in determining whether it wishes to continue to uphold this liberal order, which has helped to maintain a stable international system in the face of challenges from regional powers and other potential threats, or whether it is willing to accept the consequences that may result if it chooses to abandon America’s key role as a guarantor of the system it helped to found and sustain.’
Here’s an interview with Trump on Donahue from 1987: Back then, it was the Japanese who were poised for imminent takeover, buying up New York City real-estate before the 1992 recession (both the Japanese and Chinese are looking at serious demographic challenges).
His appeal to national pride and trade protectionism was apparent then…as well as the self-promotion:
As previously posted: Some other models to possibly use:
It’s likely you won’t agree with all of Huntington’s ideas, but he maintained a deeply learned understanding of the animating ideas behind Western/American political organization with keen observation of what was happening on the ground in foreign countries. Here’s a brief summation from Robert Kaplan’s article:
“• The fact that the world is modernizing does not mean that it is Westernizing. The impact of urbanization and mass communications, coupled with poverty and ethnic divisions, will not lead to peoples’ everywhere thinking as we do.
• Asia, despite its ups and downs, is expanding militarily and economically. Islam is exploding demographically. The West may be declining in relative influence.
• Culture-consciousness is getting stronger, not weaker, and states or peoples may band together because of cultural similarities rather than because of ideological ones, as in the past.
• The Western belief that parliamentary democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with civilizations—notably, Islam and the Chinese—that think differently.
• In a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than on ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.”
That train may have already left the station: Which organizations/allies/partners do we back with our military? Which alliances do we form to protect and advance trade/security/national/broader interests?
Which ideas are universal, or should be aimed for as universal in the world of practical policy and decision-making?
Which kinds of contracts do we enter into? With whom and for what ends?
I’d like to see how this has held up:
A quote from Hill’s forward to Ajami’s then new book on Syria as discussed in the video:
“[The] greatest strategic challenge of the twenty-first century is involves “reversing Islamic radicalism”‘
Both men wanted to see more leadership out of the Obama administration. They both argued that there needed American led involvement of some sort in Syria. It’s a bad neighborhood, and we’ve got to provide leadership and side with the rebels as best we can.
Hill pushed further to suggest that if America doesn’t lead onto a new set of challenges that now face the West, then Europe surely isn’t capable of leading either. If we don’t strike out on our own as Truman did with bold leadership after World War II, we will end a generations long experiment in American exceptionalism. If we don’t lead, someone who doesn’t share our values, probably will.
I wanted to contrast this vision with Francis Fukuyama’s then new piece, entitled ‘Life In A G-Zero World,‘ where if I’m not mistaken, Fukuyama is ok with such a diminished role for the U.S:
‘It is clear that no other power is going to step in to fill this role of structuring world politics on a grand scale. It does not necessarily imply, however, that the world will turn into a chaotic free-for-all. What occurs after the retreat of US hegemony will depend critically on the behavior of American partners and their willingness to invest in new multilateral structures. The dominant role of the US in years past relieved American allies of the need to invest in their own capabilities or to take the lead in solving regional problems. They now need to step up to the plate.’
‘The regional military balance has already shifted toward China more than many American allies would like to admit. Moreover, while the basic American commitment to Tokyo under the US-Japan Security Agreement remains sound, the willingness of the Obama administration to risk military conflict with China over some uninhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific is not at all clear.’
To some degree, I think both analyses are right, in that we either renew our ideals and pursue exceptionalism, confronting and pushing against those who don’t share our ideals and interests as we have in the past (including the threat and potential use of military force), and/or we re-adjust and recognize the roles of others, but also recognize that they don’t necessarily share our ideals and interests and we can’t necessarily trust anyone to look out for our interests.
This requires us to cooperate and rely on international institutions to some extent, but also institutions which have serious design flaws, poor incentives, and can bind us in treaties and obligations for which our interests can be poorly served.
What I don’t want to see is a continued squandering of our leverage and our strength, mainly at the hands of what I see as a rather utopian and naive worldview, held aloft by tempered, but still rather Left-leaning democratic radicals and activists, who claim peace but see many of their own worst enemies in the West itself, and who still must deal with the world and its political base as it is.
What’s the best way forward?
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
***Addition: I’d also prefer not to see the continued squandering of American resources that came about with the promise of military action to remove Saddam Hussein. The promise was democracy in the Middle-East, the results are apparently much less, with many serious consequences likely still to come. Hubris and overreach is easy. Strategy and good policy is hard.
Right now, I tend to favor ordered liberty at home, a reduced role for the Executive branch, and the aim of strategic re-alignment based on a more realist understanding of alliance-making abroad. Trade and sovereignty, patriotism tempered with patience, humility, and moral decency would be better than some of what I fear may be in the cards.
Let the math, science, trade, study and friendships form as much as possible without the silly seriousness of politics entering into daily lives, and the issues of potential conflict handled with courage and wisdom.
Apparently, not all ‘individual humans’ as defined by Western intellectual traditions and Western secular humanists/idealists see themselves as Westerners do.
In spite of the last American administration, not everyone wants to be a member of a global Anglo-capitalist trading and legal order, forced to create some kind of functioning Western-style democracy, backed by American military power and guided no doubt, by some Christian belief from afar. Nor do many people perhaps even want a Westphalian state (which means having to keep-up appearances at NATO gatherings and maintain some basic founding documents/Constitution and a minimal standing army).
In spite of the current American administration, not everyone wants to join into a state of perpetual progressive protest and activism, living under ever-growing social-democratic bureaucratic States promising their own visions of the ideal society, justifying some violence and righteous revolutionary activity in the process, exerting their will through international institutions, looking for human rights and new classes of victims.
Not everyone prefers such ideals, say, over immediate relief, money, advantage, and leverage in their relations with American interests.
There are many other models which are NOT a part of the traditions and institutions to which I am responsible, from the old Persian empire to the modern Islamic/Islamist hybrid State (or as many would prefer, a functioning, secure Islamic order like the good ol’ days).
From the ancient Han Chinese core/Mandarin system to the big-chief tribal setup found in various regions of what we’re calling the modern world.
On that note: When ISIS holds territory, ISIS is able to amplify its reach and scope. Some ISIS folks apparently want virgins and/or slaves, guns, blood and power. Others have a slightly bigger picture in mind, settling for a brutal enforcement regime in Raqqa…for now.
I have some concern for these lower risk, higher consequence events happening where I live, and I tend to favor cold-eyed realist leaders who will focus on such threats enough to balance my/your/our freedoms with a lighter hand.
In fact, some consideration of the above is one the main reasons on which I consider my vote, even for the two unpleasant choices currently facing me and you (candidates who both seem to consistently put themselves, and their images of themselves, above most other considerations…most of the time).