What's Happened to the Left?
In the face of the Islamic attack of 9/11, the left has retreated from its historic antipathy towards religion. At least this is true in the case of Islam, despite the fact that Islam is a primitive religious fundamentalist ideology that sees no separation of church and state, that currently underwrites the most oppressive treatment of women and gays, and that is opposed to pluralism yet alone the multi-cultural so cherished on the left. If not supportive of Islam, the left has adopted a policy of anti-anti-Islam, attacking the critics of Islam, just as it became anti-anti-communism as the reality of communism became too absurd to defend outright. The rare exception is Christopher Hitchens, who was invigorated by the events of 9/11 to fight what he sees as a fascist and religious foe. But his singular example reminds us of the gulf between the contemporary left and what might have been.
As the threat of Islam became more and more apparent, the left has become dogmatically relativistic; they have ignored the vast distinctions between contemporary Christianity and an unreformed atavistic political ideology wrapped in religious garb by a vicious 7th century warrior/tyrant. To equate the two religions, they have minimized the faults of Islam and maximized the limitations of Christianity. In practice, this means the left has to come to the defense of Islam.
Let’s consider a counterfactual reality where the left had taken a very different path. Suppose they acknowledged Islam’s far greater faults but stressed that this was a difference of degree, not a difference in kind. For example, they might have put forth the thesis that Christianity has evolved by becoming tolerant, worldly, and accepting of secular knowledge, but Islam remains primitive, anti-life, irrational, un-reflective, dogmatic, and bellicose. They might even suggest that Islam is a reductio absurdum example showing what happens when faith, dogma, and religious authority are taken to extremes.
The Christian retort might be to acknowledge that there is a vast difference but it is a difference in kind. The example of Jesus and Mohammad are in stark contrast; Islam is inherently political by design; and the original focus of Christianity is the good news for the salvation of the individual soul. Both the secular left and Christian right could agree that Islam is a barbaric practice that needs to be scrapped if Muslims are to enter the modern civilized world. Both could agree that Islam has little room for reason while Christianity has welcomed reason into human affairs. And both could agree that in Islam, Mohammad’s harsh warrior-like tyrannical model is an antiquated Old Testament paradigm and that Jesus provides an alternative model.
That did not happen. The left couldn’t break free of its multi-cultural relativism nor turn-off its hatred of
Let’s compare this to another time when we fought another enemy: Nazism.
In our fight against fascism, Nazism, and Japanese imperialism, we were keenly aware of our moral superiority and proud to be fighting on the side of liberty. There was no question about the vast difference between them and us; but we each had our differences in emphasis on how best to express the essence of our values. Even if one reached for the words democracy and liberty, there was disagreement on the meaning of those words. But we knew there was a profound difference between the enemies we faced and our great nation; and we never lost sight of that fact.
There was one writer who believed that the difference wasn’t fundamental but one of degree; we too were heading down the path previously taken by our European foes. In “The Road to Serfdom,” Friedrich von Hayek described how
Social democrats dissented from his conclusion that it is only a difference of degree—seeing totalitarianism as a difference in kind from the welfare state. But that what makes for a reasonable debate between people who can respect each other. Today’s left has removed themselves from reasonable debate by failing to single-out the barbarity of our foes and the commonality on the right, center, and moderate left. Islam is a threat to all of us. We can argue about our differences but they are dwarfed by the nature of the threat created by Islam.
My explanation of our greatness emphasizes the importance of our Classical heritage, which since Aquinas championed Aristotle, has laid the foundation for the progress we’ve seen in the last 700 years. I’d argue that Christianity deserves praise for being flexible enough to absorb this heritage. Obviously, some of my Christian friends would put the emphasis more on religion. But in our disagreement, which in both cases reflects a lifetime of reflection, we are well aware of the odd man out: Islam. Why can’t the left get that?