“The Curious Sterility”

Richard Fernandez, writing about the conversion of , “Son of Hamas,” reflects on the growing, rather than declining, importance of religion:

Apart from the obvious other crises facing the West — the well known financial, demographic and ideological ones — I’ve often wondered whether the most fundamental one of all was whether the world-view of 1960s was not under existential challenge. Just as there was for a long time an unstated assumption that the future would be economically socialist (“Star Trek Socialism”), I think there was a also the implicit hypothesis that it would also be “atheist” in a certain sense.

The best pop summary of this idea was John Lennon’s “Imagine”. He didn’t invent the ideas, merely expressed them; and in the forty years since the song came out, the academic, media and entertainment establishment pitched very similar themes as the standard attitude; it was the content between the laugh lines, the punch line in plots, the subliminal message in countless books, shows and dramas. I think many in the West began to accept the world of “Imagine” as inevitable despite the fact that there was no inherent reason, given the West’s own history and the history of the world, that it should be necessarily so. Finally it acquired the status of established fact the way driving on the left is established fact in certain countries; it became the assumed order of things simply because it was customary.

The long dominance of certain ideas made it easy for their adherents to assume that the rest of the world would sooner or later come around; that America would drop its backward religiosity and finally become socialist; as would the rest of the world. The great shock of September 11 and the American response to it was that this was not necessarily so. The End of History had not yet come, at least not in the form assumed; and I think some Europeans are beginning to have nagging doubts that its Islamic citizens are just going through a passing phase before they settle down and recite the “Imagine” creed. It’s begun to dawn on them that the Islamists in Europe might actually believe what they profess. And the possibility that Barack Obama might not represent the future but instead the last gasp of ancien regime has finally occurred to an increasing number of observers.

I may be putting the case too strongly, but I strongly suspect that something like this is actually taking place and that it partly explains the curious sterility in the response of Europe and “Left Coast” America to the geopolitical and ideological challenges facing them. Every challenge is met with a double-down as if the answer to each problem simply required repetition. There’s an intellectual elite out there that simply knows they have all the answers. Their inability to accept at face value their enemy’s oaths to destroy them are the flip side of the same confirmed ignorance that makes it impossible for them to accept that anyone might have a serious religious belief: simply not worthy of serious consideration. They are in denial of other possibilities which isn’t to say those other possibilities are necessarily true, but sufficient to suggest that the received conceit is almost certainly false.

I’ve always hated “Imagine,” precisely because it expresses the naive, utopian, atheistic worldview that I see as the root of many of our problems. Putting that aside, however, two remarks here hit home strongly with me.

First, “the possibility that Barack Obama might not represent the future but instead the last gasp of ancien regime” seems increasingly salient. Obama does not represent the way of the future; he and his policies are the way of the 20th century, the attempt to use the state to bring about heaven on earth. It won’t work, and it will bankrupt us in the process. But the elites who insist on pushing us in this direction refuse to look to their beloved European example and realize that their vision is already collapsing. Socialism is unsustainable. But the Left’s response to its ills is to double down and push socialist policies even harder.

Second, the “curious sterility” of the elite’s response to challenges—the financial challenge of ballooning deficits and the security challenge of terrorism and nuclear proliferation, to name just two—has startled me as well. Vigorous debate between left and right used to be not only a possibility but a reality. Now, it seems impossible, and not only because the Left prefers the thuggery of Saul Alinsky. The elites simply have nothing to say. Like the fabled lawyer who has no case, they resort to abusing the opposition. What is the Obama administration’s strategy for combating terrorism? For preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons? For handling unprecedented deficits as far as the eye can see? For financing major new programs in such an environment? As far as I can tell, there isn’t one. The mantras repeated by the President, his associates, and his apologists wouldn’t fool an astute sixth grader. They did somehow manage to fool a majority of the electorate in 2008, however. The idealistic aspirations expressed in “Hope and Change” hid its vacuousness, for a while. But people in power actually have to govern, and the incoherence of their ideas quickly becomes apparent in a hostile world.

2 thoughts on ““The Curious Sterility”

  1. “The idealistic aspirations expressed in “Hope and Change” hid its vacuousness, for a while.”
    I would say that for some of us, they highlighted its vacuousness.
    “But people in power actually have to govern, and the incoherence of their ideas quickly becomes apparent in a hostile world.”
    I don’t like the word incoherence in this sentence. With respect to a hostile world, there’s the hostility of simple facts, like the deficits, which by their existence make the goal of exponentially expanding the government politically disastrous in the short term and monumentally destructive to our economy, our wealth, and the well-being of our citizens in the long term. In this respect, the ideas are not so much incoherent as based on long-term goals that are at deep variance with vast multitudes of traditional American values, beginning with fundamental respect for the independence of the individual.

    The other kind of hostility, as you show by your example, is what we call “actual hostility.” Don’t you find it fascinating that Obama et al have no problem incurring the wrath of Americans, those of us in the ever-expanding bitter-clinger demo, but are in a hand-wringing flop-sweating diplomatic faint over upsetting a maniac like Ahmadinejad? But I don’t really find their ideas for handling him incoherent in and of themselves as obviously a case of narcissism run amok. They seem unimpressed that the Europeans “engaged” Iran for years with no effect. If Obamite “engagement” had worked (and the tides receded and unicorns danced on the WH lawn) it would have been the Messiah Trifecta: O is better than the Europeans, he’s Not-Bush, and the Muslim world becomes a pussy cat. He’s be an effing St. Francis of Alinski, with terrorists coming down out of the trees and laying their guns/ied’s/crotch bombs at his feet.

    I blame Columbia and all International Studies programs. And Global Warming.

  2. I deliberated for quite a while about ‘incoherence’; I don’t like it either. You have a good nose for finding my weak spots! A better term might be ‘inanity.’ The ideas are incompatible with American ideals and traditions, true, but they’re also plainly stupid. Jamie Galbraith, writing in The Nation, thinks deficits are fine, without limit, as far as the eye can see. In fact, he thinks they’re the only reliable source of economic growth. I take it that most people can see intuitively that that’s idiotic. You cannot borrow vast and increasing amounts of money indefinitely.

    When I wrote ‘hostility,’ I meant both the hostility of enemies such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, but also the general unwillingness of reality to bend to the requirements of Alinsky-style politics. Obama & Company do not, I think, operate on the Reality Principle. They’re stuck at the Pleasure Principle stage, convinced that mommy will come around and make everything OK if they just act nice.

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