Rarely, in the course of history, has a nation gone to war while praising the enemy’s ideology. We can, however, see this absurd spectacle today. While terrorists attack our greatest cities in the name of Islam, we are told that these ideas have nothing to do with their actions. As Muslims cheer with joy throughout the Islamic world, we are told that we mustn’t rush to judgment and stereotype another culture. With each report of repression, misogyny, self-imposed poverty, anti-Semitic hatred, and suicidal glorification, we are told that they are human beings just like us – don’t judge! There is a pathological fear of saying anything negative about the motivating force driving our enemy: Islam.
At first this may seem like an exaggeration. But is it? We do condemn radical Islam but notice how we unduly minimize our criticism. We add the qualifier “radical” or “militant” to imply that it is something added to Islam. The problem must be this additional element – not Islam itself. Or we borrow a word from Christianity and call them fundamentalists as if there were differing versions of Islam. We presume fundamentalist Islam is spurned by the average Muslim, who, we imagine, sees this 7th century practice as a relic relevant to Mohammad’s time. How enlightened we imagine the modern Muslim!
Or we may complain that Islam needs some missing element that will transform it and bring it into the 21st century. We make a moral equivalence between Christianity’s failures centuries ago and Islamic backwardness today. If Christianity can move forward and adapt to the modern world, why can’t Islam? It must be this missing element, modernity, which Islam needs. It took Christians two thousands years to grow up, we are told; you can’t expect Islam to do that in 1400 years. At no point must we question the Islam religion itself.
The taboo against subjecting a religion to critical analysis is even greater when that religion is part of a foreign culture. Conservatives are quick to attack the relativism inherent in contemporary multi-cultural analysis – particularly on the left. There is indeed a wide-spread relativism and vitriolic anti-Americanism on the left but it is by no means universal. I will address this at another time. The contention of this article is that conservatives’ response to the Islamic threat is inadequate and they need to change if we are to fight this enemy effectively.
immediately following the Islamic attacks of September 11, President Bush launches a propaganda campaign – of adulation of the Islamic religion. On September 17, Mr. Bush says, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”
In the next few months, showing his understanding of Islam, he proclaims, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Islam “teaches the value and the importance of charity, mercy, and peace.” “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” A year later, presumably after an extensive study of the Koran and Hadith, he pronounces that, “Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. It's a faith that has made brothers and sisters of every race. It’s a faith based upon love, not hate …“ “Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others …”
The public is understandably confused and looks for leadership as it reads the daily news. Continual reports from all over the world show nothing but Islamic atrocities with few denunciations from Islamic religious leaders. Yet, Mr. Bush is undeterred. “President Bush yesterday removed his shoes, entered a mosque and praised Islam for inspiring ‘countless individuals to lead lives of honesty, integrity, and morality.’”, writes Bill Sammon of the Washington Times.
Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press explains that the purpose of Presidents visit is two fold: “defuse Americans’ anger against Islam” and decrease “hostility by Muslims around the world against America”. He reports that the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows “large percentages of Muslim respondents in several countries said they believe suicide bomb attacks are a justifiable defense of Islam.”
This is not a shrewd tactic as conservative apologists imply. This is a fundamental failure to understand the enemy we face.
A few conservatives
have hinted that there may be something wrong with Islam. In a November 30, 2002 article of the Washington Post, called “Conservatives Dispute Bush Portrayal of Islam as Peaceful”4, some take issue with the President’s repeated claim that Islam is “a faith based upon peace and love and compassion” that has “morality and learning and tolerance.” Kenneth Adelman notes: “The more you examine the religion, the more militaristic it seems. After all, its founder, Mohammed, was a warrior …” Eliot Cohen says: “… the enemy has an ideology” but “nobody would like to think that a major world religion has a deeply aggressive and dangerous strain in it -- a strain often excused or misrepresented in the name of good feelings.” Norman Podhoretz writes in Commentary magazine: “Certainly not all Muslims are terrorists. … But it would be dishonest to ignore the plain truth that Islam has become an especially fertile breeding-ground of terrorism in our time. This can only mean that there is something in the religion itself that legitimizes the likes of Osama bin Laden …”5
In contrast to the usual conservative hesitancy, Paul Johnson writes with clarity and decisiveness in the October 15, 2001 issue of National Review:
“Islam is an imperialist religion, more so than Christianity has ever been, and in contrast to Judaism.” He reviews the relevant passages from the Koran and adds, “These canonical commands cannot be explained away or softened by modern theological exegesis, because there is no such science in Islam. Unlike Christianity, which, since the Reformation and Counter Reformation, has continually updated itself and adapted to changed conditions … Islam remains a religion of the Dark Ages. The 7th-century Koran is still taught as the immutable word of God, any teaching of which is literally true. In other words, mainstream Islam is essentially akin to the most extreme form of Biblical fundamentalism.” To which one rises to one’s feet and shouts: Bravo! Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson is the rare exception in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic attack of 9/11.
These few critics are but faint whispers in the wind. Almost as soon as their warnings are made, the effect has dissipated. There is no sustained focus, no continued analysis built on a sound foundation of knowledge about Islam’s essential nature. Each insight about some failure of Islamic culture is noted and generally ignored as if it is an irrelevant side note immaterial to the problem we face. Each fact about Islamic history is dismissed as irrelevant to today’s Muslims. Why? The rationalizations are many. All Muslims are different – you can’t generalize, we are told. Each horrendous proscription of the Koran or atrocious example in the Hadith is discounted as if only the pleasant passages are valid. And, always, a comparison is made to Christianity and the Old Testament. We don’t follow those pronouncements do we? Thus, Islam must be the same. Proof!
The conservative embrace of Islam stems from the respect afforded to all believers in God. God seems to be the magic keyword to gain entry to respectable conservative venues. Christianity has become Judeo-Christianity. How about the Muslims? Not only are they God-fearing people, but they even respect Jesus if only as an earlier prophet. There is a positive prejudice – particularly towards monotheistic religions – that inclines many conservatives towards an expectation that Islam is, deep down, like the old time religions we know and love. Since 9/11, conservatives have gone out of their way to look for so-called moderate Muslims for ecumenical memorial services. (Note that secular philosophers and poets are virtually non-existent in these services.) For Republicans, Islam is in. The problem is finding moderate Muslims. Enter one Grover Norquist.
has been a Conservative organizer, fundraiser and fixture in Washington Republican politics for decades. His Islamic Institute was established with the help of Abdurahman Alamoudi – an active supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah. The institute’s founding director, Khaled Saffuri, supported Islamist operations worldwide. With Norquist’s help, Saffuri became George W. Bush’s “National Advisor on Arab and Muslims Affairs” during the 2000 presidential campaign. After 9/11, as the President implemented his Islamic sensitivity program he brought forth Muslims for photo ops – supplied in large part by Norquist’s contacts. The press was quick to dig up embarrassing archival video of the President’s Muslim friends cheering known terrorist groups. Frank J. Gaffney Jr., while ducking the usual charges of racism, tried to sever the connection between the Islamists and the White House. Eventually he had to expose the whole sordid affair in David Horowitz’ online conservative magazine.
Conservatives aren’t alone in their blindness to Islam. The Left is going through the same denial. This might tempt one to attribute the difficulties to politically correctness. Yes, this influence is felt across the political spectrum but the susceptibility to such self-induced blindness derives from different failings. The Right could condemn communism with full moral righteousness and without a hint of exculpatory relief. Communism wasn’t a noble ideology hijacked by an evil one, Stalin. Communism was evil and the Soviet Union was the “Evil Empire.” No apologies there. Political correctness be damned! Conservatives are unable, this time, to deal with the threat of Islam in the black and white terms that fueled their fight against communism. Let’s contrast the current threat with the 20th century crisis that helped define modern conservatism.
Hitler’s conquest of continental Europe and the barbarity of the death camps was a profound shock to anyone who remembers that Germany was land of Goethe and Beethoven; the German language was the tongue of Kant and Schiller; and German universities were home to scientific giants like Einstein and Heisenberg. How could Germany sink so low? What makes this all the more shocking is that in Germany, Nazism was embraced by the intellectuals of the day. Hitler’s popularity soared in German Universities – among both students and faculties – before the electoral success. The rise of Nazism was no accident. To this day intellectuals still haven’t fully faced the role of German culture in the descent to totalitarian barbarity.
The euphoria of our military victory was tempered by gruesome and sobering evidence of the nature of the Nazism. The liberation of the concentration camps unearthed the soul of totalitarianism. The second shock was even greater: another strain of totalitarianism engulfed Eastern Europe and half of Asia. Despite the verbal obfuscation, banal sociological theories and hair-splitting distinctions, the common man knew in their gut that these ideological twins were of common stock. But they lacked an explicit explanation for what was before their eyes. It seemed so sudden and spread so quickly. What was happening to the world?
The few intellectuals who saw this coming, argued that the roots of this illness were deep and that the disease was spreading to the Anglo-American world. In the early 1940s while we were blind to the collectivist horrors these few fired the first warning shots. F. A. Hayek, in the “Road to Serfdom,” argued we were heading down the same path as continental Europe. Ayn Rand portrayed the individualist hero fighting against the collectivist onslaught. And there were others – Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Albert Jay Nock, Henry Hazlet and most of all Ludwig von Mises. These were advocates of what was once called liberalism – a liberalism that embraced the sovereignty of the individual in thought and action – but which most people think of as conservatism, today. These individuals, however, were the exceptions.8
The pro-collectivist apologists
worked quickly to salvage what they could creating what we today call spin: the problem wasn’t collectivism, government domination, or economic central planning but just the nationalism in National Socialism. International socialism, i.e. communism, shouldn’t be lumped with that perversion created by an evil one, Hitler. Uncle Joe, was on our side, remember? Forget that Hitler was following Mussolini’s example and, Benito was an old comrade of Lenin before they had a falling out. Forget the fact that both systems were totalitarian; because fascism never completed the transformation of state ownership – leaving the old guard in place to carry out the orders of the new state. Don’t be prejudiced against that noble experiment to create a worker’s paradise. Communism, after all, means community and sharing. Or so the intellectuals of the day told us.
Yet, the common man wasn’t fooled, at least not for long. The collectivist threat was swiftly expanding over Europe and Asia. Trapped behind the Iron Curtin, denied the liberties we’ve associated with civilization, communism sadly chained a large fraction of once proud peoples. The 20th century manifested the prevalence of evil and the precariousness of civilization. But what about the stable democracies of England and the United States? Why didn’t it happen here? While continental Europe descended into dictatorships, totalitarian horrors, and the Gulag, the Anglo-American tradition upheld the rule of law, parliamentary proceedings, and the individual liberties of speech, thought, and religion. Clearly, we realized, there is something right about the American way; something that we must hold unto and cherish.
It is under such conditions that American conservatism was born.
was a marriage of two overlapping orientations: individualism and traditionalism. Individualists, or Classical Liberals, championed the rights of the individual. To that end they favored a minimal government and limited engagements in foreign military adventures. A liberal stood for free speech, freedom of religion, and a free press. A liberal economy is the free market based on property rights and free association. Thus, liberalism was primarily a political and economic doctrine. Traditionalism was not a doctrine at all – it was a disposition. To the extent that individual liberty was part of our history, it was prized but not without limits. Religion, family, community, nation, and duty were additional competing goals. Both the traditionalist and the individualist abhorred the onslaught of 20th century collectivism and its dehumanizing barbarity. In this they were united.
Some of the most influential classical liberals maintained the liberal label: F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and the early Frank S. Meyer. Ayn Rand preferred the appellation “radical for capitalism.” The liberal economists’ influence had the widest effect among scholars in the last quarter of the 20th century. And it was during that time Rand’s novels and philosophy enthralled and inspired many a young idealist. But it was Frank S. Meyer, a senior editor at National Review, who forcefully advocated a fusion, as it became known, of classical liberalism and traditionalism that was to become the American conservatism that dominated popular politics. The new movement had a ready contrast and an urgent threat: communism.
If conservatism was to oppose the danger suddenly apparent to all, it had to do so in a charged atmosphere of abandonment and betrayal by the intellectual elites. This void is fertile grounds for demagogues and rabble rousers, paranoids and racists, cynics and fear mongers. There existed a need for a clear comprehensive grasp of the nature of the enemy and, if not more importantly, the nature of the alternative. In such a short time perhaps the best that one could hope for was a disposition or sentiment. In that case conservatism was made for the job. It provided a sustained opposition to communism while never wavering or doubting the moral stature of America.
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.’”
“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
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.’”
With minor changes could not the same be said about Jihadists? Yet we do not see anything remotely hard hitting and uncompromising from conservatives today. Instead they are more like the social democrats, who, during the Cold War, had difficulty condemning collectivism at the root. Conservatives today show “understanding” of Islam and are forever hopeful that Islam can and will reform. They are eager to be helpful with aid, advice, encouragement, and military protection. But most of all they are gentle with criticism and dismissive of those who are outspoken critics of the Islamic religion at its root. We will explore the conservatives’ vastly new kind and gentle disposition shortly.
The conservative movement evolved from those early years as an establishment opposition. Eventually, the neo-conservatives – ex-socialists but ardent anti-Communists – joined the fold. This synthesis triumphed in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Conservatism had persevered; communism is buried in the graveyard of failed utopias (and minds of tenured professors, but that is a part of the story of the left) while America has continue to grow and prosper.
But something interesting happened on the way to the victory party: conservatism became just that – a reticence to change the status quo. As a sentiment, opposed on principle to systems of abstract principles, it could never achieve the clarity and soundness of a well-grounded body of knowledge supported and established by evidence and rational argumentation. Frank S. Meyer initially understood the problem well in 1955 before his “fusion” with traditionalism. Conservatism “carries with it, however, no built-in defense against the acceptance, grudging though it may be, of institutions which reason and prudence would otherwise reject, if only those institutions are sufficiently firmly established. … the mantle of the conservative tone can well befit the established order of the welfare society.”
In the end, the traditionalists won control of the conservative movement and Republican Party. To understand the implications to the current crisis we must understand the limitations of traditionalist conservatism.
The conservative movement was united in its opposition to communism. The arguments ranged from economic and political to the theological. It was obvious we were facing an illiberal mindset – actually a police state to be exact. Yet the drawbacks of life under communist rule failed to sink the socialist dream for many intellectuals. A deeper understanding – a philosophical orientation – was required to underwrite a firm and long-term opposition. The traditionalist conservatives provided one such explanation, in broad philosophical terms that could be understood by the average person. They argued that communism was morally evil because it abandoned the source of morality: God. Many ex-communists who embraced God, like Whittaker Chambers, became major figures of the early conservative movement. This line of thought was their stock in trade.
Communism abandon’s religious faith for the false faith of man’s rational mind, says Chambers. “It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world.” “If man’s mind is the decisive force in the world, what need is there for God? Henceforth man’s mind is man’s fate.” “It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom.”
Now most people know someone who is not religious – whether they are an atheist or not doesn’t matter – who nevertheless lead honest respectable lives. How can Chambers’ simplistic explanation even temp any thinking person? Many secularists are pro-freedom while many religious have given up freedom for the security and safety of authority. The historical correlation isn’t between liberty and religion but liberty and secular-oriented reason. Both individual liberty and secularism arose together during the last 300 years after centuries of religious domination. Most of history consists of the rule of the crown in close association and sanction of religious authorities. One would be quite skeptical that the religious critique of communism could gain such a prominent position in the conservative literature. Yet, it is ubiquitous – particularly among traditionalists.
didn’t achieve this philosophical triumph on their own – it was handed to them on a silver platter. For decades, post-modern philosophers had argued that values (i.e. ethics) could not be founded in fact. In fact, they argued, no arguments can support one system of ethics over another. If there is no law-giver, then there is no law. God is dead, was the oft heard post-modern reframe, no ethics is possible in a barren materialistic world of mere physical objects. You are now in God’s shoes; make the rules as you please. With such a confession, the traditionalists needed do little but point to the resultant horrors of the 20th century totalitarian movements.
For the conservative, given the false alternative of relativistic secularism and the moral absolutes of God, the choice was crystal clear. God is the answer. But who’s God and what does he say? The history of religion is replete with different Gods and theologies. As recent as the 17th century Europe fought wars over religious differences. Currently, there are more Christian sects than one can count. They disagree on any number of details – perhaps almost all details except the inspiration of Jesus’ message. And Jews don’t even need Jesus while Muslims find Jesus a flawed prophet that pales in comparison to the infallible Mohammad. Is there any necessary component of a well-formed religion? Is there anything more to religion than some nominal belief in some kind of God? Or if religion is more substantial, how does one demand fidelity and uncritical assent (faith) to specific eternal transcendental verities yet remain tolerant of the multitude of conflicting visions of the truth?
The number of ways conservatives see religion’s role within our secular civilization is as varied as the conservative movement itself. From the cosmopolitan intellectual journals there is an aversion to go beyond the general notion of a God (as was common with the most literate of the Founding Fathers) and leave the realm of religious faith in the private domain of individual conscience and practice. Christianity became Judeo-Christianity as the ecumenical spirit expanded to include members of the Jewish faith. In essence, the intellectual conservatives, as I’ll call them, became religious multiculturalists: beyond God and the Golden Rule it’s all a personal subjective matter. While never said in such terms – indeed, they would vehemently deny such a notion – that, however, is the sentiment prevalent at the intellectual end of the conservative spectrum. The sectarian religious right, at the other end of the conservative spectrum, would prefer a less inclusive and more literal interpretation of religious doctrine - and, of course, with a greater public presence.
Both religious tolerance and the rise of secularism go hand and hand as religion is eliminated from the public intercourse in numerous ways while it is restricted to the private domain of individual salvation and family tradition. For example, disputes are handled not by reference to the authority of religious texts but by reason and rhetoric with reference to common experience. Religion, however, is based on dogma – the steadfast acceptance of doctrine on the basis of faith – and is not amendable to debate or individual judgment. It claims to be an alternative to the “unreliable” process of human judgment. If religion was conditional upon rational deliberation it would fail to achieve the purpose of supplanting human thought – a fallible process that is contingent on the development of culture and individual character. It is such uncertainties of human knowledge, experienced as an unbearable anxiety, which motivates the premature acceptance of settled belief closed to the threat of further questioning.
There are a number of means used to reconcile reason and religion. Or, to look at it another way, there are numerous ways used to marginalize religion and enable the continued growth and expansion of reason. The most common way is to shrink the domain of religion’s applicability. Christianity is suitable to this approach since the original apostolic religion was concerned with salvation and the imminent coming of Jesus. This left a lack of concern with the needs of long-term planning and living this life well on the individual level. One the level of social organization little is written; missing, for example, is a detailed political theory. Consequently, contradictions between rationally living this life and religiously seeking salvation for the afterlife can be minimized.
Religious toleration can be seem as a hierarchical approach that singles out essential religious components from the thicket of sectarian eccentricities and the detailed prescriptions, dogmas, rituals, and extraneous side issues – yielding a more streamlined rationally ordered religion. This is common in the Anglo-American tradition. While John Locke sees God as important for morality, he also argues that the religion goes beyond reason without contradicting it. The sectarian differences, Locke argued, were less important than the essentials of the Christian religion which Locke considered eminently reasonable at its core.
The conservative historian, Paul Johnson, writing of the Great Awakening of the 17th century says it was a “specifically American form of Christianity – undogmatic, moralistic rather than creedal, tolerant but strong, and all pervasive of society.” “It crossed all religious and sectarian boundaries, made light of them indeed, and turned what had been a series of European-style churches into American ones. It began the process which created an ecumenical and American type of religious devotion … “
Johnson considers Washington, Franklin and Jefferson deists. Washington “regarded religion as a civilizing force, but not essential.” Franklin’s “Autobiography” clearly shows his ecumenical practical approach to religion as an aid to living this life well. And Jefferson was even less religious in the traditional sense.
The American Founders were not conservatives – they were revolutionaries. But they were revolutionaries in the British tradition fighting for the restoration of liberal principles that every Englishman expected since the days of England’s Glorious Revolution over a century before. These principles found their expression in John Locke’s
Second Treatise. The intellectual leaders of the American Revolution, Jefferson, Madison, John Adams, and Hamilton, were well read of liberal political writers from treatises of Locke, Grotius and Puffendorf to the collection of articles called “Cato’s Letters” of Trenchard and Gordon. From this intellectual tradition, the Founders expressed their doctrines of natural rights in clear terms and argued with full generality – even if their aspirations never gained full acceptance among their countrymen and remained a challenge and inspiration for succeeding generations.
There language was power and principled explications of universal truths.
The examples of history were even more important to the Founders than political theory. They devoured history books – reading from Greek and Latin authorities to eighteenth century British historians. They read it all. For history exemplified philosophical principles in graphic detail showing the subtleties and pitfalls of actions and practices over the centuries. The Founders showed a wise policy of learning from experience – often the experience of other great men of history whose triumphs or painful lessons provided amble examples. The Founders knew what principles implied. But what was most important with regard to liberty was the fact that they had lived it. In part by design and in part by benign neglect, the colonies had ruled themselves; it was the loss of liberty that outraged the Americans as England sought to exploit the colonies as she had others throughout the empire. By historical standards, the colonialists were clear about their goals. They could express it in principles, justify it with logic, place it in tradition, and they had experienced it in their own lives.
Even though 20th century American conservatives respect the revolution of 1776, their tradition has it roots in the rejection and reaction of another revolution: the French revolution. The conservative spirit owes its genesis to the English writer Edmund Burke. 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.”
Burke set the tone with his concern for the “patriarchal family, local community, church, guild and region which, under the centralizing, individualizing influence of natural law philosophy, had almost disappeared from European political thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries …” While Burke looked back to the feudal past, American conservatives, in most cases, looked back to the individualism and natural rights of the Founding Fathers but tempered with concern for traditional institutions that at times superseded the individual: family, church, community, country and God. Tradition becomes the arbiter among these conflicting claims.
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.
Relativism, or multi-culturalism, is a method which respects a strong role for religion or other cultural practices but allows group identity to determine the substance of belief. The stark subjectivism runs counter to religion’s motivating rationale. The contradiction was appreciated in Burke’s day by the American revolutionary, Thomas Paine. After all, Burke is advocating one religion for the English establishment and another for the French. What would he recommend for America with its myriad denominations? Despite its contradictions, religious relativism is, nevertheless, a means of maintaining a spirit of toleration in conjunction with strongly held beliefs.
The conservative spirit was an idyllic if not romantic longing for the past. For the 18th and 19th century conservative, capitalism and the industrial revolution was a destructive innovation which unsettles society. On the other hand, Burke detested the egalitarianism of the French Revolution – in particular the Jacobins – with their rationalism which pushed aside the past and set about to deduce a new social order via a central plan. In both cases, Burke saw the power of human reason and conceptual abstraction as a force to stamp out the fragile gains wrought through a practice slowing cultivated collectively, over many generations. There is a distrust of individual reason – a fear of the power to act on abstractions.
Even in religious matters traditionalism favors the wisdom embedded in institutions of long standing. Burke was weary of John Wesley, the Methodists, and the “enthusiasm” that could galvanize radical change in his day as well as the ghosts of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan excesses. Religious enthusiasm was to be feared as much as the Jacobins across the English Channel. Interestingly, Nisbet expresses similar concern in regard to the rise of the Moral Majority of the 1980s.
The intellectual leaders of the American Revolution do not fit the conservative ideal; they were Enlightenment men dedicated to the primacy and efficacy of reason. Jefferson’s justifiably famous quote eloquently expresses the Enlightenment spirit: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."
Rights were not supernatural and stipulated by God. Rights “are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature,” says Samuel Adams. These rights are inherent in man’s nature neither created by God nor the state. But to “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” But Americans did not write philosophical treatises on foundational issues. With the quintessential American optimism in human nature, they deferred to common sense – a universal capacity in each individual. There was no conflict in the minds of the founders between valid well-reasoned ideals and the lessons of history. How could there be if one reasoned from nature and the empirical datum of a comprehensive study of history?
The French Revolution, superficially dedicated to the same noble ideals, had a radically different breading. The rationalism of Descartes, with its dubious deductions from pure thought, set the tone for the quick and easy dogmatic assertions untested by reality and tradition; a process that allowed the French Revolution down the Jacobin road and ultimately the tyranny of Napoleon. Continental Rationalism hijacked Reason and severed its connection to reality. Unlike the American colonists, the French were not a self-governing pluralistic society solidifying their gains and advancing the tradition forward. However, the difference wasn’t fully understood, even if the results were clearly and painfully divergent. The abstractions often sounded similar but in the case of the British and Americans, they summed up a broad experience and tradition.
The French were more Platonic in the boldness of their utopian Republic designs. Americans, whether conscious of it or not, were more Aristotelian in their reliance of vast observations, generalizations, and organization by essentials. Aristotle is the father of deductive logic, but his modus operandi is generalization after broad surveys of the subject under study while maintaining context and proportion. Deduction itself depends on prior generalization from particulars. The difference wasn’t appreciated as one tends to take for granted one’s distinctive approach. Jefferson initially thought the French Revolution to be in the same vein and for the same ideals as the American. He sided with Thomas Paine and against Edmund Burke on this matter. Burke, to his credit, quickly saw and reacted to the excesses unfolding in France.
Thus the American tradition at its founding marginalized religion in a variety of ways. It was regarded as private and personal. At times the core commonality was regarded as obvious and consistent with reason. There was an ecumenical spirit that was tolerant of non-essentials. And there was a confidence that nature and nature’s law exemplified the Creator’s design. Such beliefs boarder on religious relativism as contradictory details are dismissed or shrugged off. However, it fails to become relativism by the expectation that the important fundamentals should be absolute truths common to all religions and rational analysis. The privatization of religion leaves that common ground within the realm of rational discourse. We see the rise of deism in fact and spirit. The deist emphasis on nature and science led them to behave, operationally, as every non-religious person does: generalizes from an examination of reality with the aid of reason. Religion, too, had to be judged and found reasonable. Jefferson questioned the divinity of Christ and edited the New Testament to conform to the criteria of reason. This was, after all, known as the Age of Reason.
Contemporary conservatives attempt to shoe-horn history into religious terms. Religion is seen as a force for good despite the atrocities committed in the name of religion and despite the wars fought for sectarian supremacy. Since religion defines right and wrong, it is exempt from blame prior to observation and argumentation. It can’t be wrong – God is never wrong; He makes right and wrong possible. For the devout, religion can always be relied upon. Reason, on the other hand, is suspect in many conservative quarters. We’ve seen such skepticism going back to Burke’s reaction to the French revolution. Rather than contend for the title of reason’s standard bearer, conservatives readily surrender that title to any and every passing social movement that waves the flag of rationality. If some atrocity is done in the name of religion – the religion must have been “hijacked.” Religion is never suspect. On the other hand, reason can’t be trusted. Any failure done in the name of reason and reason gets full blame no matter what self-styled theory, half-backed thesis, or concocted dialectic claims to be a legitimate manifestation of human reason.
Charles Murray, one of today’s more intelligent conservative thinkers, warns about what he sees as the “unintended consequences of great art and science.”
For Murray, Aristotle’s discovery of logic led to the destruction of empirical science. “So the possibility arises that Aristotle, the same man who did so much to bring science to that edge, also supplied the tool that distracted his successors ...” The genius of the scientific revolution doesn’t fair any better: “Isaac Newton's discovery of the laws of motion and of universal gravity is another candidate for a supremely wonderful achievement with consequences run amok.” How? “Man could remake the world from scratch by designing new human institutions through the application of scientific reason. ... Reason was the new faith. Its first political offspring was the grotesque Jacobin republic set up after the French Revolution.” But wait, Murray’s not done! “... with their Leninist and Stalinist applications to follow.”
This is standard conservative faire. It’s not Descartes’ perversion of rationalism that takes the hit. It’s not reason “hijacked” by dogmatic intolerant “fanatics”. That’s right – while any failure of religion is seen as a distortion or perversion of a true faith that can only be good, reason, as we have noted, gets the full blame for the failures of its nominal adherents. Any twisted and tortured ideology built with the stolen authority of great men is seen as a hazardous flaw in the original ideas or a perilous side-effect leading us inextricably down the path of perdition. Does Murray actually think that reign of terror is rational? Do conservatives believe that discovering and respecting the laws of nature will be lethal to civilized society? And how did American Revolution avoid the disasters of the French and Russian revolutions? Was it because Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Paine and Adams based their ideas on close scriptural readings? Clearly not!
Such hostility towards reason is arguably an implicit rejection of our Hellenic heritage. However, most intellectuals, including Murray, express admiration for our secular Greco-Roman tradition. William J. Bennett once said we owe half of what we know to Classical Civilization. Russell Kirk and Leo Strauss both find Plato indispensable. Thomists still champion Aristotle. Historically, Aquinas plays a pivotal role in Western civilization for his role of solidifying Aristotle’s influence in Western Christendom. However, Aristotle’s profound influence over the centuries since Aquinas has so infused Western culture that it underlies and permeates our way of thinking. His logic is acknowledged but less so his eudaemonistic worldly ethos of living well and actualizing one’s potential. The pro-reason individualism of the Anglo-American Enlightenment is Aristotelian in spirit while it transcends the limitations of Aristotle’s aristocratic context of Attic Greece. To a large extent we take for granted and are not fully aware of our Aristotelian influence. Even Western religious practice has been affected by the Philosopher’s influence and it is hard to imagine a pure religion. Thus, the religious conservative need not harbor an antipathy towards reason, secularism, and naturalism as history shows. Yet, today, conservatives continue to exhibit hostility towards human reason.
The fear and hostility of purposeful human rationality is a central component of conservatism but it is more of a disposition than a result of an analysis. The father of modern American conservatism, Russell Kirk, explains, “conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order. … The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.” This intellectually timid stance is made plausible by the hubris of totalitarian dogmas that swept aside the accumulated achievement of the Enlightenment’s respect for individual sovereignty and rights. Without that knowledge and understanding, the conservative’s humility would be warranted. But conservatism is actively hostile to the enterprise of rational analysis and subsists on the pre-rational level of sentiments and inherited dispositions.
Thus, the conservative generally doesn’t concern himself with an analytical attribution analysis, a search for intellectual origins, dialectical examinations, or theoretical system building. Consequently, the full extent of the Hellenic influence is missed. It’s not common to hear Conservatives blast secularism as materialistic and relativistic. How can there be ethics, they ask, without religion? Ethics, however, is a branch of philosophy. In fact Aristotle wrote the first treatise on ethics and it is secular in nature. He can hardly be called materialistic – indeed, he is teleological to a fault; he fully appreciates volition, values and achievement. Nor is he a relativist. Just the opposite; he is the heir of the Socratic/Platonic tradition advocating ethical knowledge in opposition to the Sophists’ excessive emphasis on human convention, which easily degenerates into relativism. Of course, these inconvenient facts, generally taught in philosophy 101, seems elusive to the modern conservative as he continues to reduce secularism to post-modern relativism.
The Conservative is committed to the primacy of religion. Almost everything good about Western culture is attributed to the Judeo-Christian tradition. This syllogism is rather crude but I find it ubiquitous when talking to conservatives (but rarely find it in print). It proceeds as follows: X considers himself a Christian; X discovered Z; therefore Z is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. For example, Madison and Hamilton were admittedly Christian; our constitution is therefore Christian based. This kind of reasoning is a double edge sword. Should we call every atrocity done by a Christian, especially those done in the name of God, a result of the religion and the teachings of Jesus? Some critics, using the same crude syllogism say just that. Both are wrong. The superficial praise by association and guilt by association are poor substitutes for a broad study and rational analysis. Of course, one must be willing subject the matter to a rational analysis.
The credit given to Christianity is often astounding and, for some conservatives, engulfs almost everything. M. Stanton Evans, in the book “Freedom and Virtue”, sees individualism and rights in Christian terms. “As the political state is scaled down in the Biblical perspective, so the individual is raised up. In the Christian view, every person is precious because he or she is a child of God, made in His image.” He continues with a Burkian fondness for feudal time. “The second leading idea of the period, I would venture to say, was that of contract. The much-maligned feudal system was in fact a network of contracts – in which political allegiance was based on the notion of reciprocity. If the lord did not fulfill his obligation to the vassal, then the vassal’s allegiance was dissolved.” Evans seems to find all ethical and political values in religion. “Even in a brief recapitulation, it should be evident that we have derived a host of political and social values from our religious heritage: personal freedom and individualism, limited government-constitutionalism and the order-keeping state, the balance and division of powers, separation of church and state, federalism and local autonomy, government by consent and representatives institutions, bills of rights and privileges.” I must have missed that part of the Bible. Paul Kurtz, also in “Freedom and Virtue”, says, “Ethics is a vital dimension of the human condition and a recognition of the ethical life has deep roots within Western philosophy antecedent even to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The current attack on secular morality is a display of philistine ignorance about the origins of Western civilization in Hellenic culture and its historic philosophic development. It is an attack on the philosophic life itself.”
Surely the conservative is willing to acknowledge our debt in law, mathematics, science and engineering to the Greco-Roman civilization and the rebirth of classical studies during the Renaissance. Evans continues relentlessly: “Add to these the development of Western science, the notion of progress over linear time, egalitarianism and the like, and it is apparent that the array of ideas and attitudes that we think of as characteristically secular and liberal are actually by-products of our religion.” When conservatives completely marginalize our classical secular heritage by usurping the achievements of the great thinkers of Western Civilization, they join company with those movements broadly classified as Identity Politics. There are American Indian academics who claim everything original in the America Constitution came from Indian culture. There are Black Studies professors who claim all the major achievements of Ancient Greece are African in origin. Now Christian Identity Politics, as I’ll call it, is making similar absurd claims; thus they join those who minimalize our classical heritage.
The Hellenic spirit is what makes Western Civilization distinct. Christianity is a Middle Eastern religious movement in origin (as is Judaism and Islam). By trivializing and at times outright attacking the Hellenic tradition, it can be argued that Christian Identity Politics becomes another attack on Western Civilization similar to the current multi-cultural Identity movements common in academia today. At times, they even employ the same tactics. When multi-culturalists argue that non-Western science should be included in the curriculum or that we need a woman’s alternative to contemporary physics, it isn’t on the basis of the merits; the standards of merit – reason and scientific proof – are the invention of white European males according to these proponents. Similarly, when “Creation Science” is advocated as an alternative to contemporary biology, it is not that reason and evidence shows creationism is a viable alternative in an ongoing controversy. Christian Identity Politics is an embarrassment to the conservative movement. If it is an exaggeration to say that conservatives must rejoin Western Civilization, it is certainly true that they must once again embrace and champion our secular heritage.
How can the conservative movement, which is now essentially religious based, deal with the religious enemy we now face? Conservatism, formed in the face of the Communist threat, is now challenged by a totalitarian movement that is driven by a pure religion undiluted with the rationalism of Greece and Rome. How will the conservative maintain their moral clarity in the face of the new threat? Will the soft ecumenical approach, so important in the marginalization of religion during the rise of liberty and toleration, blind the conservative to the depth of the problem? Or can intellectual conservatives again privatize their religion, embrace our Classical secular tradition, and champion our rational scientific culture against the barbarian theocratic enemy seeking to return civilization to the dark ages. Where is that moral clarity, Bill Bennett talks about?
To date, the conservative response is worrisome. In 1979 two important events occurred in the Islamic world: the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The horrors of Iranian theocracy were obvious to any reader of the daily news. Even before the Shah fell there were ample reports of what was to come. Islamic fundamentalists burned a movie theatre full with women and children; apparently movie-going violations Sharia law. The viciousness of these types of atrocities gave a preview of the coming regime. However, conservatives were ready with a nuanced rationalization: Shia enthusiasm is not indicative of the more staid and established Sunni traditionalists. The Sunni religion provides a more sedate foundation for the values of an Islamic society. Our government eagerly helped Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan as they fought the atheistic communists.
The myth of the sedate and peaceful Sunni traditionalist was refuted by a single event: the atrocity of September 11, 2001. On a clear sunny autumn day as the office workers grabbed a morning coffee on their way to work, as early morning bond traders were calling their floor traders in the Chicago pits, and Jersey secretaries emerged from the subway in the sub-basement of the World Trade Center, this modern metropolis was jolted by an inexplicable attack unimaginable by civilized men and women. A jumbo jet crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center disintegrating on impact and spreading debris and fire onto the street below.
Puzzled, almost everyone believed it had to have been an accident until the second jet hit the south tower. No one would have imagined that this was methodically planned for years, carefully rehearsed, and undertaken with full intention to deliberately cause the greatest number of deaths, chaos and terror. No demands were made, no military maneuvers followed, nothing tangible was gained except the pure satisfaction of the act itself. Just like the rise of Hitler and Stalin, intellectuals can’t grasp the significance of this event – including conservative intellectuals. This act was understood – not here in America or in Europe – but throughout the Islamic world. The response was immediate: delight and deliverance.
Cheers erupted among celebrating Arabs in the West Bank. Throughout Saudi Arabia there was pride and satisfaction. "I don't know a man, woman, or child who was not happy about what happened in the US [on 9/11/2001]" says Abdullah Al-Sabeh, a professor of psychology at Riyadh's Imam Muhammed bin Saudi Islamic University.
Soon we would find out that the master mind behind this movement was admired by the majority in many Islamic countries. The Muslim denials, perfunctory and with a wink to their brethren, was punctuated with the typical blame that is part of the humiliation process of every Islamic attack: you brought it on yourself. Without missing a step, they quickly contradicted themselves by denying it was Islamic in origin – and followed up with charges of racism for even thinking such things. To this day it is common to hear Muslims blame 9/11 on Zionists or President Bush while taking quiet satisfaction that their folk hero, bin Laden, has still not been brought to justice.
One of the few accurate descriptions of the Islamic reaction can be found in Benjamin and Simon’s book, “The Age of Sacred Terror.”
“Bin Laden’s popularity is remarkable. The Arab street exulted in the September 11 attacks and acclaimed him a hero in the mold of Saladin. The mood was encapsulated by Radwa Abdallah, a university student who, sitting in a McDonald’s in Cairo, told a
Wall Street Journal
reporter that when she heard about the carnage at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ‘Everyone celebrated. People honked in the streets, cheering that finally America got what it truly deserved.’ Op-eds in regional newspapers reflected Radwa’s sentiments. … Public opinion in Saudi Arabia, where polling is difficult to conduct because political self-expression can be dangerous, matched the Egyptian reaction to the attacks in one survey, where 94 percent of the respondents applauded bin Laden’s actions.”
To this day, the Islamic attack of 9/11 is not understood. This was first and foremost a religious act. That is hard for Americans to fathom given the religions they know. Islam, however, is very different. Islam is a warrior religion at its core. It is an imperialistic religion bend on world domination and, at the height of Islamic power, conquered most of the known world. The religion had been marginalized during the 20th century as Arabs and other Muslims desired to modernize and adapt socialism – the dream of the intellectuals during the time most Islamic countries came of age in the post-colonial period. During the last few centuries, Islam was often mechanically practiced and only lip-service given to its warrior triumphalism. But as the socialist ideal faded and the global rise of identity politics, with the emphasis of indigenous culture authentic to each demographic group, the Islamic revival became a reality.
The difference between dead ritual and animated belief is not uncommon during stages of a religion. One can imagine during the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, from the shettels of Russia to the ghetto of Venice, the phrase “next year in Israel” was said without a shred of conviction or hope of ever living to see that day – until the mid 20th century, as Israel became a reality, these words became alive and potent. So to, the Muslim practice of Jihad in its primary meaning atrophied to mere words. It didn’t seem possible to regain the glory of Islam when it ruled what seemed like the world and reduced the infidels to constant humiliation as second class citizens called dhimmis. The Islamic attack of 9/11 was a reaffirmation of the Jihadist spirit – it was indeed a religious act meant to galvanize the believers and recruit men for the Jihad. And in accord to Islamic practice, a reaffirmation of Islamic superiority involves the humiliation of the dhimmis.
There were ample reports from Americans who were in Islamic countries during the attack. Few were reported in the media. One American in Saudi Arabia relates what for her was a puzzling state of affairs. She said there was a considerable amount of anger and hostility towards Americans after the attack. She and others agreed that there was clearly an increase in hatred – again afterwards. Of course, you’d expect hatred and anger to motivate and lead to such atrocities. But here cause and effect seemed reverse. The events of 9/11 galvanized the Islamic world. This was a re-affirmation. The Jihadist spirit, which lay dormant and implausible, became real again. This was a profound religious act but not of any religion imagined in the West.
Westerners were puzzled. Who would deliberately kill innocent individuals quietly going about their lives among other civilized people gathered from all over the world in the peaceful and productive activity of trade? What kind a sick person would spend years to plan this atrocity as their final act of life? Who would bring such shame and disgrace to their cause and their people? This was incomprehensible to any rational civilized person. No one would step forward to even categorize the event correctly. The media continued to call it a tragedy. Some called it a horrible tragedy – a redundancy which elicited snide commentary from CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Now, a tragedy is when your car’s breaks fail and you drive off a cliff. The two planes didn’t hit the World Trade Center because of a mechanical malfunction. This was far more than just a tragedy – although it was obviously that. This was a deliberate vicious attack – it was an atrocity. That’s the missing word that people avoided. Why?
The silence after 9/11 was more than a respect for the families of the victims. It continued too long. What was missing was a righteous anger that should have surfaced after a respectful period of mourning. But without intellectual guidance it continued to lay buried, unexpressed, and formless – perhaps shared only in private. There were those who were ready and eager to demonize America and thus blame the victim. However, the subliminal anger was sensed leaving most critics to complain that there was an atmosphere of censorship. America was in no mood to hear about the so-called grievances of dark-age savages or theories about how we upset these barbarians. The anger is there and it continues to grow.
The Islamic Revival and the Jihadist movement grew exponentially during the last several decades. It is arrogant and self-absorbed to attribute this ominous development to our actions or inaction. This indigenous cultural movement is driven by
factors. The Islamic spirit lay dormant during the secular-socialist post-colonial period. During that time there were signs of a serious return to Islamic basics as a reaction to the failing attempts at modernization of Arab society. Arab dictators only hid the growing revival and in many ways fueled it; Islamic institutions are often the sole sanctuary for the opposition. As the Islamic Revival grew, these dictators adopted a more respectful tone towards the religion. And, as usual, all problems were blamed on the usual scapegoats: Jews and America. The majority of Muslims remained ignorant and angry; and they remained vulnerable to any group that could seize power – at first fascist, and now Islamist.
The revival of original Islam brings with it all the imperialist ambitions and supremacist posturing that has been part of the religion since founded by Mohammad. This is a totalitarian-like religion bent on world domination. In many respects, Islam is religious communism but in some ways it is worse than communism. Communists were atheists who didn’t want to lose this life on earth; containment was a logical solution. Islamists believe they will be rewarded when they die fighting the infidel; containment will fail. This is a battle we will have to fight but to do that effectively we have to start facing the nature of the enemy. We can’t dismiss this problem because we would like it to go away. Islamic imperialism is intrinsic to the religion - whether it remains hidden by a fascist regime or comes out in the open as it has in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia – we have to face the fact that we have an enemy.
A central part of Islamic supremacy is inflicting humiliation on the infidel. During Islam’s long history certain infidels were spared death, i.e. “religions of the book”, mainly Christian and Jews. However, continual humiliation was part of the ruling ritual towards the dhimmis. Today the Islamic attacks against the West have the very same characteristics. For example, the March 11, 2004 attacks in Madrid were planned before the Iraq War. Part of the humiliation process was to blame the Spanish for their own suffering. Even though the Spanish changed course and promised to remove troops from Iraq, two additional attacks were still attempted in the next month. Even as late as Oct 2004, with Spanish troops long out of Iraq, Islamic terrorists attempted an attack on the Spanish Court. Those who cite Islamic propaganda of “troops in Iraq” as a “reason” or motivation for the 3/11 attack are unwittingly becoming “useful idiots” – in essence, they are helping to complete the humiliation process. Until we understand the role of Islam and the need to humiliate the dhimmis, we will fail to understand these attacks.
The most important element missing from the war on Islamic terror is honesty. Honestly means facing the facts and making the appropriate moral judgments. Trying to pretend Islam has nothing to do with the enemy’s motivation
is lying. Trying to appease the Arab Street by expressing admiration for this unreformed barbaric religious practice
is lying. Trying to be politically correct by playing down their faults and exaggerating ours
is lying. Reality cannot be faked – lying only blinds us to the threat and leaves us vulnerable. The cost, in terms of lives, wealth, and liberty, will be far greater if we continue to evade the simple and salient facts about the threat we face. It is of utmost importance that we speak out and condemn, in the appropriately strong language, how horrified we are at this dark-age superstition engulfing the Muslim world and threatening all of civilization. We can not be too strong in our condemnation nor should we be humble and hesitant to demand respect for our greatness. Honesty and justice requires it.
The problem for conservatives is twofold. Intellectual conservatives are ecumenical by inclination; this policy has helped to avoid religious strife while forging a common secular culture. However, the ecumenical disposition involves a
– one that is predisposed to find all religions, or at least well-established religions, as fundamentally good. Combined with the multi-culturalism of the left, we are undercuting our fight for civilization; we blind ourselves to the full nature of the growing Islamic movement and the radical difference between our secular society and their theocratic one.
In contrast, sectarian religious conservatives are often able to face the ominous growth of Islamism. Perhaps it is because of a
– one that sees Mohammad as a false prophet. In this case, they may be rationalizing their belief. However, the assessment is still correct: Islam is a threat. The multi-culturalist left will seize on sectarian rhetoric to argue that this is a war between the religions – an absurd throwback to the past. We must be ready for this lie. This is not a war between “our” religion vs. “their” religion. Both sectarians and multi-culturalists would like to put the conflict in such terms - the former out of conviction, the latter out of blame. Multi-culturalism holds that every culture is an equally valid alternative; there are no universal verities. This premise blinds one to the truth: Islam is inimical to life while Western civilization holds a crucial idea that sets men free to live and prosper.
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. If conservatives miss categorize this war in terms of Christendom vs. Islam, or our God vs. their God, this will disintegrate into a barbaric religious war and our society will degenerate into internecine paralyzing strife. 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.
Once again, like in the Cold War, this is primarily a moral battle, but not some fight against an “atheist” foe as conservatives miscast the communist threat, and certainly not a fight against a false Prophet as some sectarians on the religious right see it. We face a pure religion, a barbaric relic of mankind’s darkest days. These unreformed theocratic fanatics have no place in the modern world where the power of technology can multiply their repressive anti-life impulse into a catastrophic force. If our rational-secular civilization is to withstand today’s barbarians we need to first and foremost develop the mental posture and moral certitude that only comes from a deep understanding of the huge gulf between the essential greatness of our civilization and the savage nihilistic hatred at the core of their retched spiritual depravity. When conservatives and others can talk like that, the war has started. Until then we are just biding our time. It’s time that conservatives retool for the coming struggle as we all must.
Footnotes 1.Bush quotes can be found on the While House document
“Backgrounder: The President’s Quotes On Islam“. 2.
Bill Sammon, “Bush praises Islam for its 'morality,'”
Dec. 6 2002 3.
Scott Lindlaw, “Bush Marks End of Ramadan, Visits Mosque (Islam brings hope and comfort),”
Dec. 5 2002 4.
Dana Milbank, “Conservatives Dispute Bush Portrayal of Islam as Peaceful,”
Nov. 29, 2002 5.
Norman Podhoretz quoted in Dana Milbank’s article above 6.
Paul Johnson, “Relentlessly and Thoroughly,”
Oct. 15, 2001 7.
Frank J Gaffney Jr.,”A Troubling Influence,”
Front Page Magazine, Dec 9 2003 8. A few notable books from the early 1940s warning of the global rise of collectivism and demise of liberal individualism are Freidrich A Hayak, “The Road to Serfdom” University of Chicago Press, 1944. Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead,” Bobbs-Merrill, 1943. Rose Wilder Lane, “The Discovery of Freedom,” Fox & Wikes, 1943. Isabel Paterson, “The God of the Machine,” 1943. Classical liberal contemporaries include Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlett, Albert Jay Nock, and H.L.Mencken.
9. George H. Nash, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945”, p. 256, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1979
10. Nash, ibid p. 257
11. Nash, ibid p. 258
12. Frank S. Meyer, “A Rebel in Search of Tradition,” The Freeman (July 1955): 559-62 reprinted in Gregory L. Schneider’s “Conservatism in America since 1930”
13. Whittaker Chambers, “A Witness” reprinted in Gregory L. Schneider’s “Conservatism in America since 1930”
14. see Garrett Thomson, “On Locke,” Wadsworth, 2001
15. Paul Johnson, “A History of the American People”
16. Forrest McDonald, “A Founding Father’s Library”, Literature of Liberty (January/March 1978) Cato Institute, San Francisco
17. Robert Nisbet, “Conservatism: Dream and Reality,” University of Minnesota Press 1986 p. 1
link. Quotes are from the hardcover edition.
18. Nisbet, ibid
19. Nisbet, ibid
David N. Mayer, “The Forgotten Essentials of Jefferson”
The Objectivist Center April 4 1997
Charles Murray, “Ideas & Trends; Well, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time,”
New York Times, Week in Review
Nov. 30 2003
22. Russell Kirk, “Ten Conservative Principles”
The Russell Kirk Center
23. George W. Carey, “Freedom & Virtue: The Conservative Libertarian Debate,”
Intercollegiate Studies Institute; Rev. and updated ed edition p. 101 24. Stanley Reed, “Inside Saudi Arabia,” Business Week, Nov. 26
25. Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, “The Age of Sacred Terror,” Random House, New York 2002 p. 167