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.