America Alone?

Monday, October 02, 2006
John J. Reilly has written an interesting review of Mark Steyn's new book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It:
There is no way to put Mark Steyn’s view of the next few decades gently:
“The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020... How bad is it going to get in Europe? As bad as it can get – as in societal collapse, fascist revivalism, and the long Eurabian night, not over the entire Continent but over significant parts of it. And those countries that manage to escape the darkness will do so only after violent convulsions of their own.”
[...]
The welfare state in Europe and Canada allows the political system to focus on satisfying “secondary impulses,” such as long, legally mandated vacations and government-provided daycare, or for that matter, responsibility for the care of the elderly:
“But once you decide you can do without grandparents, it’s not such a stretch to decide you can do without grandchildren...[T]he torpor of the West derives in part from the annexation by the government of most of the core functions of adulthood.”
As he never ceases to remind us, there is an important distinction between Europe and America in these matters, or at least between Europe and Red State America. The distinction, he argues, results from a recent historical accident:
“It dates all the way back to, oh, the 1970s. It’s a product of the U.S. military presence, a security guarantee that liberated European budgets...[however]...[u]nchecked, government social programs are a security threat because they weaken the ultimate line of defense: the free-born citizen whose responsibilities are not subcontracted to the government.”
To quote an authority that Steyn does not, Immanuel Kant once said, “Even a nation of demons could maintain a liberal republic, provided they had understanding.” If we are to believe Steyn, however, Kant was wrong about the degree to which rights and procedures could replace morality and religion:
“[B]y relieving the individual of the need to have ‘private virtues,’ you’ll ensure that they wither away to the edges of society...Almost by definition, secularism cannot be a future: it’s a present-tense culture that over time disconnects a society from cross-generational purpose.”
One may note that this would apply only to a form of secularism with no metahistorical script for the future. Thus, a Marxist society (if it did not starve), or a eugenicist society, or a society intent on colonizing the solar system, might make the connection between generations. A society that was just a gas of atomic individuals today and looked forward to being just a gas of atomic individuals tomorrow, in contrast, would have neither a past nor a future.
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Steyn recounts many anecdotes of allegedly moderate Muslims in Western countries who turned out to be recruiting or fundraising for terrorist groups, but far more disturbing are the proliferating incidents of homegrown jihadis turning against the lands of their birth:
“If you’re a teenager in most European cities these days, you’ve a choice between two competing identities – a robust confident Islamic identity or a tentative post-nationalist cringingly apologetic European identity. It would be a mistake to assume the former is attractive only to Arabs and North Africans.”
As Steyn notes, multiculturalism was instituted not to acquaint Westerners with other cultures, but to criticize the West. One effect of multiculturalism has been to absolve students of learning any hard information about other cultures. The result is that the West has disarmed itself in the most critical arena:
“We have no strategy for dealing with an ideology...groups with terrorist ties are still able to insert their recruiters into American military bases, prisons, and pretty much anywhere else they get a yen to go.”
Western attempts to influence the development of Islam are usually exercises in self-delusion, beginning with the preferred choice of interlocutors: “’moderate Muslims’ would seem to be more accurately described as apostate or ex-Muslims.” As for more long-range efforts: “We – the befuddled infidels – talk airily about ‘reforming’ Islam. But what if the reform has already taken place and jihadism is it?”

The Islamization of Europe is no longer hypothetical, in part because of the determination of the anti-discrimination police to enforce accommodation to what often extremist and unrepresentative Islamic groups claim to be Muslim sensibilities: “there’s very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and sharia.” Worse than that is the casual use of violence and threats against European writers and artists, or even against ordinary persons: non-Muslim women in heavily Muslim neighborhoods increasingly go about dressed in something approaching Muslim fashion in order to avoid insult.
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In reality, though, what much of the developed world is going to experience in the next 10 or 20 years is re-primitivization: “The Serbs figured that out – as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em.” Where states fail, private parties can be expected to step in:
“If a dirty bomb with unclear fingerprints goes off in London or Delhi, it’s not necessary to wait for the government to respond. As in Ulster, there’ll always be groups who think the state power is too [timid] to hit back. So unlisted numbers will be dialed hither and yon, arrangements will be made, and bombs will go off in Islamabad and Riyadh and Cairo. There will be plenty of non-state actors on the non-Islamic side. In the end the victims of the Islamist contagion will include many, many Muslims.”
To combat the Islamic dimension of the threat (and remember, it’s chiefly a demographic problem) Steyn has suggestions of various degrees of plausibility, of which the most intriguing is the proposal to create a civil corps to engage Islamism ideologically:
“If America won’t export its values -- self-reliance, decentralization -- others will export theirs. In the eighties, Paul Kennedy warned the United States of ‘imperial overstretch.’ But the danger right now is of imperial understretch -- of a hyperpower reluctant to sell its indisputably successful inheritance to the rest of the world.”
Steyn wants to scrap the post-World War II international institutions and replace them with an alliance of capable and committed democratic powers. He says the Saudis have to be stopped from financing their worldwide religious underground. He would also like to develop technology that would end the dependence of the developed world on Middle Eastern oil: a fine notion, and none the worse for having been suggested a hundred times before.

This brings us to the cultural front. It is a good bet that Steyn is prophetic when he tells us, “By 2015, almost every viable political party in the West will be natalist.” And what should the platforms of these Mewling Infant Parties contain? “We need to find a way to restore advantage to parenthood in the context of modern society. Shrink the state. If you got four dependents, your taxable income is to be divided by five. We must end deferred adulthood.” And how do we do that? “We need to redirect the system to telescope education into a much shorter period.” The upshot, apparently, is that educated people should be educated faster so that they will normally have children while they’re in their twenties. We hear not one word that these proposals, though perhaps inevitable, will mean that the life courses of men and women will diverge again.
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The nanny state is a declension from that height of state fitness, and so is the libertarian state. In the face of an existential crisis, Churchill promised his people that their lives would be drenched in blood, sweat, and tears until victory was won. In the face of a comparable threat to civilization, George Bush made some fine public restatements of America’s now traditional Wilsonianism, but otherwise told the American people to support the tourist industry by visiting America’s beauty spots; while cutting taxes in the middle of two major wars, he reminded the taxpayers, “It’s your money.” Even if you accept the president’s economic model, surely it is obvious that such policies have no power to mobilize. The philosophy behind them diverts attention from the core functions of government, as the embrace of an open-borders policy by the Republican establishment illustrates. The small government that Steyn urges might be able to win conventional wars, but it would be unable otherwise to affect events. Increasingly, its irrelevance to the real problems, many of which Steyn has identified, would lose it the loyalty of its citizens. Thus we see that the libertarian state undermines patriotism quite as effectively as the European Union. They are parallel manifestations of the same phenomenon.

9 comments:

Luther McLeod said...

Interesting and thoughtful review. The consensus appears to be building that freedom faces a bleak future.

Reilly's last sentence sums up well:

"However, it must be patriotism strengthened by some wider loyalty impervious to the subversions to which the Churchillian State proved subject."

With the "wider loyalty" being what is missing in the current national debate. Appeals to save freedom and democracy fall on many a deaf ear, here and abroad.

truepeers said...

luther,

What could that impervious loyalty be? Religion? Well, even the strongest of religions is not impervious to subversion. No specific loyalty is.

I would conclude that a people who want to survive have to have the confidence in their ability to periodically renew that transcendent order to which they will pledge their loyalty. Ultimately, one quite simply has to be able to put faith in humanity and in whatever bunch or tradition you have around. Faith in tradition means faith that you can rework it when you need to get to the next stage. Faith in humanity means faith that you can get around any obstacles your tradition has built up.

truepeers said...

That last comment wasn't thought through. I don't mean to sound anti-religious. No religion is immune to subversion, but I think few will find the faith I am talking about without some kind of religion.

Religion is, among other things, a kind of anthropology that connects people to human origins, and the generative basis of our humanity, in which we have to put our faith if we are to renew our culture in face of obstacles.

Luther McLeod said...

Well Truepeers, that "impervious loyalty" needn't necessarily be impervious, just sustaining. I have no idea what it may be myself. But just as physicists search for the GUT of everything, I think we should always be searching for that one/several thing(s) that would serve as a unifier of all. Though I have not much hope of success. Yes, I can be utopian at times.

Obviously there have been many attempts at such. Religion would appear to have been the most successful over the years, while at the same time the most divisive. Witness present day. Most of the 'ism's' that I can think of have been tried and have failed. The list of potentials grows ever shorter. I mean, if individual freedom and liberty is not motivation enough, what is?

There may be nothing for us now. Perhaps in a few thousand years if some "Malthusian" crisis does occur that will serve as incentive.

truepeers said...

luther,

It's not hard to find unifying principles but it's hard to sustain a lot on them because by their nature they are quite minimal (e.g. the golden rule). To know how to interact, we need to know more than the shared human minimum - we want fully fleshed-out models for living and this need finds us within one historical tradition or another.

But the fact remains, while there are many ways to symbolize humanity, there is only one kind of (human) Being and thus inevitably better and worse ways of understanding this singularity. We can only be multiculti relativists because we can "decide" that one way to symbolize our singular Being is as good as another (or at least that we can learn something essential from both ways and putting one above the other will negate this possibility) - not because we think our Being is multiple and that we belong to many different species.

Thus, inherent even in multiculti relativism is an acknowledgment of that which is singular and unifying; and in times of crisis attention will shift towards that singularity and the best ways we have of understanding, representing, and sharing it with each other.

Ultimately I think we can understand the present situation as a religious war precisely because every particular tradition that might compete for dominance is actually going through hard times. Islam, the Judeo-Christian west, India, China, Africa are all in some apparent degree of crisis or decline, and so it is not at all clear what can come next - after all, how can everyone be in decline? surely someone or some tradition will come out ahead...?

This means that it is not clear what will serve as the dominant or mediating "international" language in future when various competing parties have to talk to each other, as they must from time to time. This lack of a common basis for discussion is what this religious war is all about, i think.

Luther McLeod said...

Truepeers, long day, brandy, tired, but check back.

truepeers said...

sure thing, Luther

Freudian Slip said...

Sure, there are many, many people that want to live in harmony and more or less free, but all it takes is one smart authorotarian to put a quick end to that. A bleak future indeed, it appears to be a part of what makes us human.
Matt

Luther McLeod said...

Truepeers

After numerous false starts, I am going offline. Look for an e-mail.