Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Most Conservatives are in Denial

Those of us on the right often focus on left’s politically-correct self-induced blindness when it comes to Islam. One year ago, I wrote how the right also has a problem when it comes to facing the Islamic threat. Some of this is a spill over from the general PC atmosphere but there is also an ecumenical notion, among the intelligentsia on the right, that a religion can’t be bad. Thus, conservatives are soft on Islam as the left had been soft on communism decades ago.

Let’s remember how conservatives used to talk in the heyday of the Cold War:
George H. Nash, in his definitive history of American conservatism, captures the conservative anti-communist resolve. “In this struggle, there were, according to [Frank S.] Meyer and other conservative cold warriors only two choices: ‘the destruction of Communism or the destruction of the United States and of Western civilization.’” 9 “Liberals might prefer to hope – serenely, pathetically, endlessly, futilely – that maybe now, maybe this time, maybe soon, the Communists would change their spots, cease to be committed revolutionaries, and settle down. Perhaps we could then have peaceful coexistence at last. Meanwhile let us negotiate, “build bridges,’ engage in cultural exchanges, climb to the summit. Come let us reason together.” “The Communist system is a conflict system; its ideology is an ideology of conflict and war …” says Robert Strausz-Hupe 10 Frank S. Meyer argued, the Communist “’is different. He thinks differently.’ He is not ‘a mirror image of ourselves’ Communism is a ‘secular and messianic quasi-religion’ which ceaselessly conditions its converts until they become new men totally dedicated to one mission: ‘the conquest of the world for Communism.’” Gerhart Niemeyer writes, “It was totally unrealistic to expect that Americans could ’communicate’ with a Communist mind that ‘shares neither truth nor logic nor morality with the rest of mankind.’”
The conservative movement rightfully emphasized a respect for tradition but raised it to a fundamental beyond the principles that make our tradition great. Indeed, taking the view of Russell Kirk, they were skeptical of abstract principles themselves. Edmund Burke was a chief influence on traditional conservatives:
One of America’s most eminent traditionalist conservatives, the late Robert Nisbet, writes: “Rarely in the history of thought has a body of ideas been as closely dependent upon a single man and a single event as modern conservatism is upon Edmund Burke and his fiery reaction to the French Revolution.” 17 … Tradition for Burke wasn’t merely the British tradition. Burke was truly multicultural in his respect for traditions. He fought on the side of the “historical tradition of a people” in England and throughout the British Empire. His supported “a sufficient autonomy for natural development of American potentialities” and the American desire for a distinctive governing ethos. But he didn’t stop there. “The same held for Ireland and India, in each case an indigenous morality under attack by a foreign one.” He believed in the collective wisdom of the historical process imbedded in the customs and traditions of a people. And he defended Hindu and Muslim traditions within
India. 18
In many cases there is an explicit hostility towards reason on the traditional right that attacks Continental Rationalism and Hobbsian materialism as a proxy for reason in general. This ignores the Hellenic rationalism and naturalism which provide a richer and centered description of human nature. While this focus may have had some relevancy when fighting communism, it failed to reaffirm our philosophical Greco-Roman secular heritage. It’s influence – particularly that of Aristotle – is profound. The importance of taking stock of one’s achievements, distinctive character, and fundamental differences is vital when facing a vicious propaganda war from the enemy and, even worse, from the 5th column within. Conservatives have to do better than “Islamists are a bit extreme but they’ll snap out of it.”
If conservatives are to fight this war effectively, they must do what we all must do: face this enemy’s nature and our superiority. We need to know what we are fighting for as well as what we are fighting against. … We all need to realize that we face with an enemy driven by a pure religion - undiluted with Hellenic rationalism and Aristotlean eudaimonism. This is not a religion that shows any capacity to restrict its focus to individual salvation as a personnel private matter – it is, from its inception, a political religious ideology. This is not a religion that has been reformed by the rebirth of the classical worldview; it rejected that path long ago.

But this is the path we took. From Aquinas through the Renaissance and up until the mid-19th century, classical Greek or Latin was a part of a well-educated person’s course of study with which he entered the rich world of classical literature, art and science. Conservatives have to do more than pay occasion lip service to this heritage if we are to fight the Islamic barbarians effectively. This is what makes us different from them. Upon this foundation, stands the Anglo-American tradition of individual rights – a tradition that rejoices in the pursuit of happiness and well being. This is not a country of suffering, denial, and renunciation. This is not a martyrdom nation bent on holy war for the glory of Allah – whatever name you may give Him. Our nation was founded by absolutists who were certain of the rights inherent in human nature and expressed themselves eloquently in conceptual terms – not mere sentiment. Moral clarity comes from conceptual clarity. Conservative sentiment won’t do the job this time.
I often wonder if the fall of communism has left both left and right in denial of the power of ideology. Let’s remember that over 110 million people died as the result of communism before they shook it off. And given the ability to acquire nuclear weapons, failing to face the nature of the ideology of Islam is criminal negligence. Conservative intellectuals have to "snap out of it" and get serious about this war. We have to wake-up our own and not just remain complacent that we aren’t as absurd as the far left. Let’s hold the bar higher – much higher.


Blogger Benjamin said...

This is a good blog! It definitely provides the 'culture' aspect. Nothing like some good edifying quotes from greater intellects than ourselves.

It is indeed a curious irony that Communism, the foe of all traditional religions, was nothing less than a perverted religion itself. Complete with 'gods' in the form of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. This says something about deep urges in human nature which cannot be denied and which must be channeled into something more enlightened.

We must fear that 'religion' which is a surrender to the dark, emotional, primitive, chauvinistic currents in the subconscious, that is based on 'we vs. them' rather than on shining universal principles of freedom, equality and reason.

You are right to point to the rationalism of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They may have had civic pride, but they were rarely bigoted towards other religions and cultures and were willing to learn, from Egypt, India, Persia. They were free of parochialism and fanaticism.

The Burkian emphasis on tradition intrigues me. My attitude has always been: keep what is good and reject what is bad. But we have seen that when all tradition is uprooted, monstrosities occur. I think it is because we need some good traditions to nurture us when we are young. Only later may we exercise our freedom to pick and choose, after we have a high-quality foundation, tested by the past and by experience. Just my thoughts...

9/7/05, 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the pivotal moments in my life came when, in the early Seventies, I attended a week-long seminar sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Although founded by radical individualist Frank Chodorov, ISI had become increasingly chummy with--if not dominated by--the "trads" (which is what those of us in the libertarian wing of Young Americans for Freedom called the "traditionalist" conservatives). The speakers at the conference were all "trads" who were not only statist when it came to censorship and civil liberties, but who were also gung-ho for then-president Nixon's wage & price controls. (Ludwig Von Mises had been invited to attend, and probably he'd have wiped the floor with them, but unfortunately he got sick and, not long afterward, died.) They were also dead set against using reason--and argued their case rationally (provided, of course, you bought their premises). The irony of arguing rationally against reason seemed to be lost on them.
I soon realized that what the trads had constructed was their own sanctuary, an Logic-Free Zone into which they could retreat whenever their arguments failed them. That is, they would debate things rationally, but once the libertarians, using logic, closed in on them and were about to show up their arguments as obscurantist piffle, they would suddenly race into the Logic-Free Zone and shout, "Tradition! Tradition! You can't rely on reason!"
They also seemed caught in an ethical contradiction: for years they had been denouncing "liberals" for promoting a relativistic morality: i.e., not based on absolute principles, but on relativistic ethics. Yet when libertarians criticized them for advocating coercion, the trads would suddenly go all mushy and relativistic: "Well, true conservatism, as the great Burke showed us, believes in pragamatic actions, not abstract principle." (They are also big on the Argument from Authority. If they wanted to have puppies drawn-and-quartered, and could find a quote from Burke that seemed to justify it, they would soon be quoting Burke on how true conservativism advocated the drawing-and-quartering of puppies, and expect everyone else to shut up and stop their goody-goody "liberal-tarian" pro-puppy whining.)
Back then there used to be a lot of arguing on the Right about who was the true conservative and who was the impostor. Meyer or Kirk? Burke or Locke? After that ISI conference I decided that I didn't care whether I was a "true" conservative, but that if this bunch constituted true conservatism, I really didn't want to be a part of it.

9/7/05, 2:15 PM  

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