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Liberals Are Not All Alike Government Expenditure

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Western Reason vs. Islam

by Christopher Chantrill
November 30, 2007 at 3:30 am


OUR LIBERAL friends seem to think that the biggest domestic problem Americans face is the lack of univeral health care. And on the global stage the science is settled. The biggest threat to the planet is man-made global warming.

Conservatives beg to differ. We think that the biggest threat to life-as-we-know-it is the present eruption of radical Islam out of the Middle East. One of the most original voices making this case is that of Lee Harris. A couple of years ago in Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History he characterized the conflict as a war between the western team and the the eternal gang of ruthless men. Now in The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West he takes a darker view.

Can the western culture of reason, he asks, adequately defend itself against the tribal fanaticism of radical Islam? We in the west, conservatives and liberals, today live under the “myth of modernity” first advanced in the Enlightenment when “men came to believe that the law of the jungle could be permanently abolished... that life-and-death struggles between cultures and civilizations are a thing of the past.” Harris warns that

this myth... is the product of wishful thinking on the part of those people for whom the very thought of such life-and-death struggle is too disturbing to their own complacency to be seriously entertained.

What happens when such a society is confronted by a fanatical “culture like Islam, in which individuals, instead of following their own bliss, are willing to die... in order to impose their cultural traditions” on people like us? The west has forgotten that people are not born to follow their bliss. The individualism we prize is only possible in a society where the jungle has been hacked back and turned into a fruited plain.

To answer his question Harris retells the story of the west since Hobbes tried to reason his way out of the “war of all against all” that he was living through, the English Civil War of 1642 to 1688. He warns that it was not historical inevitability but accidents and unique circumstances that gave us our culture of reason. It started with the Protestant Dissenters, men who learned to reason by studying the Bible and who set the stage for the full-scale idolatry of reason during the Enlightenment.

Along the way we abandoned the old shaming code of tribal unity, the shared and visceral group fear of the Other, and built a new code in which children were taught to be reasonable and think and act for themselves.

But Islam has not changed its shaming code. It remains a tribal culture of Us vs. Them ruthlessly dedicated to the expansion of its Dar el-Islam.

Can Islam win against the vast cultural weight of the west? Perhaps it can, warns Harris. The fanatics of the Middle East seem to be seizing the historical momentum, making all the action and forcing their adversaries into reactive mode. “[N]obody can confidently predict who will be ruling Iraq or Pakistan or Iran two or three years from now.”

Harris finished his book in the fall of 2006 in the dark days before a change in US strategy showed that the people of Iraq did not want to be ruled by Islamic fanatics. But the challenge he poses still stands. Can the western culture of reason withstand the ruthless attack by the radicals of Islam?

Harris worries that the task of resisting the challenge of Islam is likely to lead to a “crash of civilization” in which the west will have to abandon its culture of reason and become as ruthless as Islam.

Such questions cannot be answered in books, any more than football championships are decided by the ratings of sportswriters.

It is in the field of action that these questions will be answered. And the experience is likely to be as challenging as the struggle of the Napoleonic wars or the recent Cold War.

But the question must be asked, and we are fortunate to have conservative scholars to ask them in the true spirit of the culture of reason and with penetrating insight into the grand narrative of the west.

Did you know, for instance, that it was the Marquis de Condorcet, the last of the French philosophes, who proposed in 1792 a government education for all? That is what it would take, he argued, to lead the common people out of the darkness of their prejudices and superstitions and into the light of reason. The fanatical Jacobins thought him too moderate, and ordered his arrest.

The Jacobins of the French Revolution were first fanatics of the modern age, and the first such movement that was stopped by the rising commercial and military power of the Anglosphere.

Such victories do not come cheap. Each fanatic movement has spilled the blood of millions before it was defeated.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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