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.
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.
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.
Today I added the following section to my earlier post, ‘How Trump is Normalizing Relativism‘, looking at some disturbing trends in the Republican Party that throw into question the normal operations of the human mind.
When we pan out to see the big picture of what has been happening in the Republican Party since Trump took the reigns (which, by the way, is a departure from true conservatism), we see a troubling trend towards epistemological relativism. As Paul Waldman observed in his Washington Post article, ‘Republicans are trying to destroy the very idea of neutral judgment‘, GOP lawmakers have been acting as if “there’s no such thing as a neutral authority on anything.” We see this even on a popular level with Trump’s supporters, in which the new modus operandi is to delegitimize critique, not through appeals to objective truth, but through creating suspicion that we are even able to appeal to an objective rational order. On this way of thinking, we all have our own personal truth, the only difference is that some of us are winners and some of us are losers.
When this relativistic modus operandi trickles down to the larger populace, we see it beginning to influence the character of political discussion on the street. In an article I wrote last October about how to discuss politics without alienating your friends, I pointed out that a conclusion is only as good as the premises leading up to that conclusion. Consequently, the way to dispute someone’s conclusion is either to show that it doesn’t follow logically from the preceding premises or to show that the premises from which the conclusion follows are actually false. Not so in the world of Trump. For the votaries of the President, the come-back is no longer, “That’s false – prove it!”, or even “I disagree, and here’s why”, but “What newspaper did you read that in?” The narrative is: everyone has their spin, their biases, so what is more important than what someone says is where that person is coming from. “Did you hear that on CNN or Fox?”
Trapped in our own subjective tribes and ideological micro-cultures, the possibility of objective analysis of facts becomes impossible (according to this narrative). In practice this means that unless you are a Trump supporter, anything you or your newspaper might say is discredited a priori, without actually requiring proper analytical engagement. “Of course they would say that because that paper is liberal.” It’s the standard ad hominem combined with the genetic fallacy, with a twist of postmodern cynicism thrown in the mix. As all of us are trapped in our language games, biases, and ideologies, there is no objective point of reference where we can meet to have a meaningful conversation, according to this narrative. In colluding with this subjectivist epistemology, Republicans are casting doubt on the normal operations of the mind. They do not intend to do that because they are not philosophers, but that is still what they are doing. What is at stake is the very idea of truth, the very idea that there can be an objective rational order to which we can make appeals and which remains independent of the speaker, independent of bias, and independent of who happens to be more powerful.
Increasingly, the political order is treated as so much raw material waiting for the imposition of raw will. As questions of ultimate meaning become relativized, naked authority rushes to fill the vacuum. This can be seen at both ends of the political spectrum. On the one hand, we see the autonomous individual being given unprecedented authority over matters that would once have been a matter of politics (see my comments about Planned Parenthood v. Casey here). Simultaneous with this, we see the state adopting an increasingly authoritative posture in which the rule of law becomes an obstacle to the type of change we expect our lawmakers to implement.
Both these mindsets (inflated individual authority and inflated government authority) easily orient us towards anti-intellectualism, not in the sense that those who embody these polarities are unthinking, but in the sense that political questions become questions of authority rather than questions of teleology, questions of power rather than questions of meaning. Out of this milieu there can only emerge different reconfigurations of tribalism, including tribalist conceptions of national identity.
As the tumultuous year of 2016 draws to a close, new political forces, impulses and ideologies dominate American public space and demand to be taken seriously. From the surprising groundswell of support for socialism that we saw in the Democratic primary to the political potency of social media in the Presidential election, it is clear that American politics is entering a new era where the winners and losers can no longer be easily quantified according by familiar canons.
However, one force that has been all but overlooked this year, but which remains central to understanding the emerging political scene, is the triumph of philosophical nominalism.
The BBC has just reported yet another story of a young woman from a dysfunctional home situation in Britain heading off to Syria for the hope of a better life with ISIS. Only in this case it didn’t quite turn out as planned, leading Tareena Shakil to return home to Britain (which also didn’t turn out as planned since she has been found guilty by a court of being a member of ISIS).
Significantly, Tareena Shakil was fleeing domestic abuse when she went to Syria to become a terrorist’s wife. This fits with a pattern that I keep seeing in the reports about the sorts of women who head to Syria to become Jihadi brides. Although young people decide to join ISIS for a variety of reasons, often the movement attracts woman who are not from the families of devout and pious Muslims who want to max-out on piety, but women who are socially marginalized and whose lives seem to have reached a dead-end.