Robert Merry at The American Conservative has put his finger on the psychology behind Europe’s self-abrogation. His article, ‘How Europe Built Its Own Funeral Pyre, Then Leapt In‘, looks at the psychological and ideological context behind Europe’s current tidal wave of immigration, as well as the potential consequences of allowing so many immigrants who are openly hostile to European culture and historic values. Spend a few minutes today at The American Conservative reading Merry’s article.
From my recent article, “The Republican Retreat to Identity Politics“:
Historically, nations are held together by common memories, customs, symbols, myths and legends. In its most rigorous and consistent form, classical liberalism de-emphasizes or ignores these deep-seated cultural-symbolic underpinnings of civil society and attempts to secularize the public life, often migrating transcendence to the claims of the state. This creates a dangerous vacuum in which citizens find themselves without the basic building blocks of national cohesion. This inevitably results in human beings looking to their most basic and primitive bonds for cohesion, and thus reverting to a raw tribalism. A secular and materialistic society offers little scope for the type of roots that humans innately long for, with the result that the most plausible roots become race and ethnicity.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, there is a curious moment when the reader becomes aware that the animals who led the revolt against their human overlords have become the new oppressors.
Animal Farm is a uniquely human story. Even a cursory glance over the last half millennia reveals that empowerment has a strange way of enticing former liberators not merely to abandon their own principles, but to begin embodying the principles of their opponents.
We saw this happen when the “Committee of Public Safety” abandoned the principles of the French Revolution, ushering in a terror far worse than anything under the Ancien Régime. We saw it again when the Soviet State abandoned the pseudo-liberating rhetoric Marxism and turned all of Russia into a giant prison. We saw it again when the “agrarian socialism” of the Khmer Rouge found embodiment in the genocide of Pol Pot.
As Jordan Peterson’s Channel 4 interview goes viral (indeed, it reached #7 for all of YouTube), I have been delighted to see it provoking international discussion, not just about the issues he raised, but about the nature of conversation itself. This is a classic case of ideology causing a two-person dialogue to turn into a three-person dialogue: a conversation between the positions of Person A, the positions of Person B, and the positions that Person B ascribes to Person A.
One of the easiest mistakes to make in political discourse is to assume you know where the other person is “coming from” and to then “hear” what they are saying through the framework of those assumptions, just as Cathy Newman did with Jordan Peterson.
The following material is taken from my book Saints and Scoundrels, chapter 16.
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, where the Berlin Wall separated the free world from the communist empire.
In one of the most memorable speeches in living memory, Reagan offered a direct challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, general-secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. Gorbachev had claimed that he wanted to reform the Communist party on the principles of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). But Reagan believed that there was one thing left for Gorbachev to do to prove his earnestness.
“General Secretary Gorbachev,” Reagan entreated, “if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev – Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Two years later, on November 9, 1989, East Germans began dismantling the Wall. As if in silent answer to Reagan’s words, Gorbachev did nothing to stop them. Earlier in the same year, Gorbachev had allowed the first open elections since 1917 to be held in the Soviet Union. Also in 1989 the USSR lost control of its satellite nations in Eastern Europe. For the next two years the free world rejoiced as it witnessed the systematic downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. Communism had failed. Reagan and the free world had won.
Or had they?
From Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger:
“People speak with incredible contempt about, depending on their views: the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born, the President, or the entire US government. It is a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime except that now it is applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”
I sometimes say I used to be a journalist, although in reality when I used to write for Christian Voice the majority of what I did was simply to “curate” content from other news outlets. The difference between curation and genuine journalism is important to understand, since this distinction is in danger of being obscured amid widespread cynicism about the mainstream media.
Beth Kanter defines content curation as “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.” It “involves sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information.”
I don’t use this blog to attack other blog posts, but I feel compelled to make an exception in the case of an article written by Aristotle Papanikolaou.
Dr. Papanikolaou is the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, and the article in question was published on the Public Orthodoxy, under the title ‘Political Nestorianism and the Politics of Theosis.’ It was originally a talk delivered at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the (then) upcoming “Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church.”
Readers of this blog will know that I have never been a fan of President Trump. But at least I held out hope that something good might come of his presidency if Trump could avoid the military adventurism of the last two administrations, reign in America’s secret and forgotten wars, and halt the headlong rush towards another cold-war situation with Russia.
Alas, these hopes are now dashed. On Friday morning I woke up to the news that President Trump has started a war with Syria, attacking the very regime that has been fighting ISIS. This has occurred despite evidence that the earlier 2013 attack was staged by jihadist rebels to turn the international community against Assad, and despite prima facie evidence that the current attacks “may” have been perpetrated for a similar reason, and despite the fact that the goals and terms of surrender for this new war have yet to be made clear.
With the same impetuosity with which he goes on Twitter without considering the consequences of rash, careless and inflammatory speech, Trump is now rushing into an impulsive, ill-considered and illegal war with Syria in the absence of proper due diligence. The lack of due diligence was encapsulated by Robert Merry in an article this morning for The American Conservative this morning:
What does Trump owe to his constituency, the people who put him in office? Does he owe them a resolve to avoid getting enmeshed in yet another Mideast war, even in the wake of the horrendous chemical weapons attack in Syria? Does he owe them actual proof that Assad was in fact the perpetrator?
More broadly, does he owe the American people an explanation of just what he intends to accomplish with this military action, what its parameters are going to be, what’s its limitations might be? Does he owe Congress any respect as the branch of government charged with the responsibility to declare war?
Trump administration officials waxed bellicose on the matter immediately, before there could have been any serious investigation of what actually happened in Syria. Assad, it was assumed instantly, was the culprit. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad deserved “no role” in governing his country. Thus is America seemingly set to embark on yet another adventure in regime change, a policy that reaped endless regional havoc when it was done in Iraq and Libya.
To be sure, this type of impulsive military adventurism is something we have come to expect from our presidents. However, there is a key difference between this engagement and past engagements in the Middle East. The difference is that Trump has not even given a nod towards the legal constraints that properly regulate military action. As Noah Millman explained at The American Conservative this morning:
Least of all should it be a surprise that President Trump cares even less than his predecessors for the norms and legal constraints on military action. Trump hasn’t the slightest legal warrant whatsoever in domestic or international law for his attack on Syria. In this he has extended the precedents set by Barack Obama (who prosecuted war well beyond the warrant approved by either Congress or the United Nations), George W. Bush (who made war with Congressional approval, but based on deceptive marketing, and who conducted that war in a manner that violated international and domestic law), and Bill Clinton (who made war without international warrant but with the clear and solid support of our NATO treaty allies). But this time there is barely a fig leaf of legality, and no public attempt whatever to justify the action as based on anything but Presidential whim.
Impulsive behavior has consequences, and only time will tell what the consequences of this impulsivity will be.
I’ve often had occasion to reflect on Neil Postman’s trenchant comparison of the dystopian visions of Orwell and Huxley, as represented in their respective books 1984 and Brave New World. In 1985, the year after Orwell’s prophecies failed to materialize, Postman suggested that perhaps we should think twice before congratulating ourselves.
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.
Since Postman wrote those words, Orwell’s warnings have continued to capture the public mind while Huxley’s warnings have been comparatively neglected. During the ten years I spent working for a Christian lobby group, we were on constant alert to Orwell’s dark vision, which seemed imminent during Obama’s Presidency. In those days, things were clear to us; Obama could never have been mistaken as an angel of light as he aggressively pursued policies that eroded the freedom of Christians and–to the more conspiratorial minded among us–inched us closer to the Orwellian apocalypse.