Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mark Steyn: `The Apathy of Defeat'

Mark Steyn asks the question:If our cultural past isn't worth defending, why should our future be?

UPDATE: Some of you have had trouble accessing the link to the piece, so here it is in full:

"Five years after the (a) all too predictable blowback to U.S. foreign policy born of decades of poverty and desperation or (b) controlled explosion by Bush-Cheney-Halliburton-Zionist agents (delete according to taste), I get a lot of mail on the lines of: C'mon, man, cut to the chase--are we gonna win or lose?

Well, let me come at that in an evasive non-chase-cutting manner and circle around to it very gradually. I gave a speech in Sydney last month and among the audience was a lady called Pauline Hanson. A decade ago, Miss Hanson exploded onto the political scene Down Under on an explicitly nativist platform, forming the One Nation Party and arguing that Australia was "in danger of being swamped by Asians." She was mocked mercilessly as a former fish'n'chip shop owner, a 14-year-old school-leaver, an old slapper of dubious romantic attachments, etc. On the last point, I must say, having seen her in a little black number on the TV show Dancing with the Stars, I thought she was a fine-looking woman, an impression confirmed when she stood up to ask her question.

Nonetheless, her question was a little overwrought. After some remarks about "grave concern for Australia," flag-burning, immigrants who "do not want to assimilate," and "a push for multiculturalism," she ended with: "This is not just happening in Australia. We see it happening worldwide, as you said, in the western societies. I want to ask you who's doing it, why is it happening?"

Now I don't happen to agree with all the "swamped by Asians" stuff. An ability to prioritize is essential in politics and, simply as a practical matter, there's no point in our present struggle in making enemies of large numbers of potential allies. So I took refuge in a big philosophical answer, and said I thought it all went back to the battlefields of the Somme. The ruling classes of the great powers believed they had lost their moral authority in the First World War and, although they rallied sufficiently to defeat Nazism and fascism and eventually communism, they never truly recovered their cultural confidence.

There's always been a market for self-loathing in free societies: after all, the most effectively anti-western idea of all was itself an invention of the West, cooked up by Karl Marx while sitting in the Reading Room of the British Library. The obvious defect in communism is that it's decrepit and joyless and therefore of limited appeal. Fascism, likewise, had many takers in those parts of the cultural West that were politically deficient--i.e., continental Europe--but it had minimal support in the heart of the political West--i.e., the English-speaking world. So the counter-tribalists came up with something subtler and suppler than communism and fascism--the slipperiest ism of all. The great strength of "multiculturalism" is not that it's an argument against the West but that it short-circuits the possibility of argument. If there's no difference between English Common Law and native healing circles and Tamil Tiger fundraisers and gay marriage and sharia, then what's to discuss? Even to want to debate the merits is to find oneself on the wrong side--for, if the core belief of multiculturalism is that there's nothing to discuss and everything's equally nice and fluffy, then to favour honest argument puts you, by definition, on the extremist side.

I'm sure most of my colleagues at the Western Standard have found themselves in this situation on call-in shows or at public meetings. You point out, for example, that there are very few "free" Muslim societies. And your questioner retorts: "Well, that's just your opinion." And so you pull up a few facts about GDP per capita, freedom of religion, life expectancy, women's rights, etc. And she says: "Well, you're just imposing your values on them." And you realize that the great advantage of cultural relativism is that it renders argument impossible. There is no longer enough agreed reality. It's like playing tennis with an opponent who thinks your ace is a social construct.

To be sure, there are still those who are beyond the pale. Indeed, in a culture of boundless tolerance, there are all kinds of things we won't tolerate. Hating Jews, for example, is strictly verboten. Well, it's verboten if you're an elderly white male of German extraction, like Reni Sentana-Ries (formerly Reinhard Gustav Mueller) of Edmonton. Herr Sentana-Ries was sentenced to 16 months in jail by the Court of Queen's Bench for anti-Semitic screeds on his widely unread website in which he referred to Jews as "subhuman" "debauched" "demons."

On the other hand, if you're not an elderly white male of German extraction, if you're a large crowd of persons of, ahem, non-German extraction and you march through downtown Calgary with placards reading "DEATH TO THE JEWS," nobody prosecutes you. If you're the A-list imams at the Grand Mosque of Stockholm and you sell cassettes referring to Jews as "the brothers of pigs and apes" and urging believers to go out and kill them, Sweden's chancellor of justice, Goran Lambertz, says no problem, these are just the routine designations "used by one side in an ongoing and far-reaching conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds this conflict"--i.e., threatening to kill Jew pigs is just part of the vibrant multicultural tapestry. The president of Iran, like the hapless Herr Sentana-Ries, is also a Holocaust denier and one with rather more advanced plans for resuming implementation of the final solution. But he gets photo ops with the UN secretary-general and EU officials.

In other words, Jew-hating isn't the problem, only Jew-hating by certain narrowly defined types of Jew-haters. Even white men can get away with Jew-hating these days--not the old-school neo-Nazi white-supremacist jackboots-a-go-go Jew-hating, but certainly the new school of Jews-are-today's-Nazis disproportionate ambulance-targeting neo-apartheid Jew-hating.

The Fuehrer isn't coming out of retirement and, even if he does, there aren't enough Jews left in Europe to man a decent genocide. And it seems oddly apposite that the more we fetishize an extinct enemy the more Jews in Britain and Australia and even Montreal are targeted by the new Jew-haters. The question is: what other than Hitler is our society prepared to make a moral judgment over? Bernard Lewis, the West's pre-eminent scholar of Islam, worked for British intelligence through the grimmest hours of the Second World War. "In 1940, we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues," he told The Wall Street Journal a few months ago. "It is different today. We don't know who we are, we don't know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy."
Western Standard Cruise

That first is the most important: it's not just that "we don't know who we are" but that cultural relativism strips the question of its basic legitimacy. In Britain, they used to say that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the sort of line it's easy to mock as a lot of Victorian hooey. But it contains an important truth. This present conflict will be won (if at all) in the kindergarten classes of America's grade schools, and Canada's, and Britain's and Europe's. Because the resolve necessary to win a war can't be put on and taken off like a suit of armour. It has to be bred in the bone, and sustained by the broader institutions of society. And the typical western education, even when it's not telling you that your country's principal legacy is racism and oppression, teaches history in a vacuum--random facts, a few approved figures, but no overarching heroic narrative. And, if the past isn't worth defending, why should the future be?

Which brings me back to where we came in: are we gonna win or lose? I'd say right now the best bet for much of the world is a slow ongoing incremental defeat, the kind most folks don't notice until it's too late. That's to say, in 20 years' time many relatively pleasant parts of the planet are going to be a lot less pleasant. That doesn't mean "Islamofascism" or "radical Islam" or even just plain "Islam" is going to win. But it's interesting that big-shot analysts in Moscow and Beijing have concluded that, just as Hizb'allah is a useful proxy for Iran, so the broader jihad can be a useful (if unwitting) proxy for Russia and China. I doubt that will work out too well for them in the long run, but they're not wrong to conclude that a civilization's overwhelming military dominance, economic dominance and technological dominance count for naught if it's ideologically insecure. The issue is self-defence. If you're a genuine cultural relativist--if you really believe our society is no better or worse than any other--you're about to get the opportunity not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk. Good luck.


Anonymous said...

arghh!! When you follow the link it keeps on telling you to log in, and when you do log in, it tells you to log in again.

Screw this, I'm heading over to DailyKos.

Nah, just kidding. Heart miss a beat?

Freedom Fighter said...

Nah....if you can put up withDaily Kos for more thanten minutes, you're a stronger man than I.

The Weekly Standard requires a log in..I'll post the entire thing:

Anonymous said...

I wish we had resolve, but what do we resolve to??? I think we may really be too diverse and free to find a common identiy... other than perhaps what he's talking about.... how can we resolve to fight Islamo-whatever when we allow whats going on in Eastern Africa??? We give 100's of millions to lebanon to help them harbor hizbullah and almost nothing to fight the spread of extreme Islam in africa...???

Freedom Fighter said...

What's involved is leadership.

Bush is a decent, principled man to the extent one can be and still be president, but he is NOT a war leader,

He has failed at one of the chief jobs of leadership - to make decisions on policy and THEN sell it to the electorate.

He is severely handicapped when it comes to inspiring the nation, and continues to be handicapped by wanting to be all thuings to all people and be loved by everyone.

That's why you get the tough, bellicose language followed by wimpy, indecisive action.

And why Bush allowed America to go back to sleep after 9/11.

However, America has never failed yet to find the leadership it needed in a crisis, and we will not fail this time.

Victory is our destiny, and we will acheive it.