RE: The West Has Lost Its Nerve (by AerospaceFan Aug 24 2006 in Non Aviation)#ID1346905
Robert Sibley, a senior writer at The Ottawa Citizen, has just published a lengthy article, the third and last in a series, advancing the theory that the West has lost the essential strengths upon which it had drawn in confronting totalitarianism in the past.
The problem is that after six decades of relative peace and prosperity, too many of the me-first, me-all-the-time generations -- the baby boomers and their offspring -- are under the illusion that we can avoid a confrontation with what threatens us with oblivion, that all it will take to pacify the Islamists, to get them to be reasonable, is to address the "root causes" of their anger.
In our naiveté, we think western exploitation of "others" is the source of terrorism. We believe that if democracy, law and freedom, along with all the consumer good and technological trinkets, could be extended to the whole world, then in the same way that westerners have, by and large, shed their tribalist hatreds, so, too, would everyone else.
But it is exactly those ideas -- freedom, tolerance, equality -- that the Islamists fear. They recognize those ideas as a threat to their culture. As political philosopher Waller Newell writes in The Code of Man: "At bottom, their rage is motivated by the fear that the West has triumphed historically and irrevocably over their own premodern culture." And what they fear, they hate. The question for us, as westerners, is whether we can recover those virtues necessary for confronting hatred.
Political theorist James Burnham addresses this question in his book, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, when he describes the "pathology of liberalism" as a failure to understand what is at stake in confronting totalitarianism. Do we really understand, at the deepest existential level, what words like freedom and duty mean, what freedom and duty "feel" like in their lived experience? I suspect the firefighters and the police officers who rushed into the Twin Towers knew, even if they would never articulate that feeling. So, too, do the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In order to survive, liberal, pluralist democracy requires not only the existence of certain institutions -- elected legislatures and courts of law, for example -- but a populace that genuinely believes in the value of those institutions and what they represent, and possesses the will to defend them when necessary. "The question is," says cultural critic Roger Kimball, "do we, as a society, still enjoy that belief? Do we possess the requisite will?"
To answer those questions, we must first recognize that "open" liberal societies cannot be open to every viewpoint, every perspective, Mr. Kimball argues in his essay, After the suicide of the West. Liberal society is ultimately not value neutral. That is to say, liberal society cannot tolerate those who would deny the rule of law, respect for individual rights, religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Says Mr. Kimball, "The problem is that large portions of Western society, especially those portions entrusted with perpetuating its political and cultural capital (namely, our political and cultural elites), have lost sight of that vision."
I believe he is right.