“It looks as if Islam had a bigger hand in the thing than we thought”¦ . Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other.”
“”Richard Hannay in John Buchan’s Greenmantle
Suicide is probably more frequent than murder as the end phase of a civilization.
“”James Burnham, Suicide of the West
Today, I believe, there is a widely shared understanding that our culture””not just the political system of democracy but our entire western way of life””is at a crossroads. That perception is not always on the surface. Absent the unignorable importunity of attack, absorption in the tasks of everyday life tends to blunt the perception of the threats facing us. But we all know that the future of the West, seemingly so assured even a decade ago, is suddenly negotiable in the most fundamental way. The essays that follow highlight some of the principle features of those negotiations. In this introduction, I want simply to review some of the moral terrain over which we are traveling.
One of the most penetrating meditations on the nature of that alteration is James Burnham’s book Suicide of the West. Written in 1964, that book, like its author, is largely and unfairly forgotten today. Burnham’s was a first-rate political intelligence, and Suicide of the West is one of his most accomplished pieces of polemic. “The primary issue before Western civilization today, and before its member nations, is survival.” Suicide of the West is very much a product of the Cold War. Many of the examples are dated. But as with Irving Kristol’s Cold War, so with Burnham’s. The field of battle may have changed; the armies have adopted new tactics; but the war isn’t over: it is merely transmogrified. In the subtitle to his book, Burnham promises “the definitive analysis of the pathology of liberalism.” At the center of that pathology is an awful failure of understanding which is also a failure of nerve, a failure of “the will to survive.” Liberalism, Burnham concludes, is “an ideology of suicide.” He admits that such a description may sound hyperbolic. –˜Suicide,” it is objected, is too emotive a term, too negative and “˜bad.– But it is part of the pathology that Burnham describes that such objections are “most often made most hotly by Westerners who hate their own civilization, readily excuse or even praise blows struck against it, and themselves lend a willing hand, frequently enough, to pulling it down.”
What are the stakes? The terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave us a vivid reminder””but one, alas, that seems to have faded from the attention of many Western commentators who seem more concerned about recreational facilities at Guantanamo Bay than the future of their towns and cities. For myself, ever since 9/11, when I think about threats to democracy, I recall a statement by one Hussein Massawi, a former Hezbollah leader, which I believe I first read in one of Mark Steyn’s columns. “We are not fighting,” Mr. Massawi said, “so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.”
It is worth pausing to reflect on that statement. The thing I admire most about it is its pristine clarity. You know where you are with Mr. Massawi. It requires no special hermeneutic ingenuity to construe his meaning. And you also know that he wasn’t speaking idly. He was a man of his word, as the events of 9/11 and the names Bali, Madrid, and””just last summer””London remind us.
Or so one would have thought. Mr. Massawi speaks clearly, but who is listening? Our colleges and universities have been preaching the creed of multiculturalism for the last few decades. Politicians, pundits, and the so-called cultural elite have assiduously absorbed the catechism, which they accept less as an argument about the way the world should be as an affirmation of the essential virtue of their own feelings. We are now beginning to reap the fruit of that liberal experiment with multiculturalism. The chief existential symptom is moral paralysis, expressed, for example, in the inability to discriminate effectively between good and evil. The New York Times runs full-page advertisements, signed by all manner of eminent personages, that compare President Bush to Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, the pop singer Michael Jackson spends an unspecified number of millions to finance the construction of a mosque in Bahrain “designated for learning the principles and teachings of Islam.” Thanks, Michael.
Read it all. I’m not kidding, now. Get to work.