Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
What have the last four and a half years taught Conservatives about war? One thing is that a treacherous and spectacular attack against her will make a republic more warlike. This rather platitudinous statement is nonetheless lost on a surprising number of people. I am certainly more sympathetic to the Old Right, with its isolationist and pacifist tendencies, than perhaps anyone else around here; but even I think the remnants of that strident and vigorous faction have made themselves blind on this point. As have the “pale Ebenezers” among our Liberals. The caricature of hawkish principles erected by these characters is positively stultifying of fruitful debate. Consider this simple theoretically problem for pacifism: There is, I think, justice and nobility in a man refusing to defend himself, in essence laying down his life in the name of peace. There is no justice, and indeed great injustice, in a man refusing to defend those for whom he is responsible. If I am home alone and a man enters my home with murderous intent, I am free, if I have the courage, to abjure resistance. I have no such freedom when my wife and children are there with me. Not to resist, when resistance might very plausibly prevent violence against the innocent — and specifically the innocent in my charge — is, it seems to me, a vicious act of presumption. How a principled pacifist is to escape this dilemma I leave to some skillful sophist to disclose; but I can attest that I have personally debated people who really think the dilemma can be dismissed merely by the assumed righteousness of the pacifist position.
Oh, but we have learned more than this.
We have learned (though relearned would be a better word for all of this) that the Old Right was emphatically on to something when it declaimed against the tendency of war to expand the role of the Servile State, to drive out private enterprise, to enfeeble self-government — in short, to truncate liberty. We have seen, and are seeing, the emasculation of this libertarian wing of Conservatism (not the sort of libertarianism that confuses itself with libertinism, but rather the sort that reveres free enterprise, fears the State, holds dear the liberty of local community, and venerates greatness and excellence). And whatever differences we may have with this wing (I for one have many), no historically self-aware Conservative can imagine American Conservatism without it.
We have learned, in short, that what we need is not more war but less. Totalitarian Islam is at war with us, and will be at war with us until one or the other capitulates or is destroyed. This is a fact, unmovable and bleak. But how we carry out our defense need not take the form of “war” as we know it. I have called for an immediate end to all Muslim immigration, or, failing that, for additional oaths of loyalty, taken on pain of perjury, for Muslims seeking to immigrate here: in fine, for institutionalized discrimination against the Islamic religion in our immigration policy, to put the matter in its starkest form. I have called for this in part because Europe is showing us, as a kind of omen, just how easily the growth of large Muslim populations can carry a society rapidly toward civil war. Is the prospect of civil war implausible? Only to the blind. I have proposed the introduction of specific sedition laws that mention the Islamic religion by name, taking note of the uniquely pressing threat of totalitarian Islam. Again, I think such legislation justified in part because throwing a man in prison for two years on a wrongful sedition conviction is indeed an injustice; but it is a pittance compared to what injustice might await that same man, and his family, when legislation is no longer an option, when anarchy and civil war are upon us. I say “in part” because there are other justifications as well: justifications not premised on the speculation of civil war. One is that totalitarian Islam, quite aside from its threat to us, is a wicked doctrine and should not receive the protection of our laws. Another is that we can fight totalitarian Islam by prohibiting it, by letting its stand naked without the shelter of the civil liberties which it seeks to obliterate.
We have learned, moreover, that a country can be dragged into war decidedly against its will. More: that a country can be dragged into religious war against its will. Roaring Mohammad who killed him thought it right. Five years after September 11, when calculating men, reasoning from the premises of their faith, rendered parts of Lower Manhattan a mass grave — and still it is fiercely controverted that we are in the midst of a religious war. But what wants repeating is that only one side need launch war for war to be. Totalitarian Islam desires religious war; our most fervent desires to the contrary mean nothing: religious war is what we have.
We have learned, finally, that terrible lesson about war as hell. Say what you will about the justice of the Iraq war (and I say nothing here on that head), there will be unexpected and ugly consequences, beyond what we have already seen, from the exposure of our fighting men to the fanaticism and bloodletting of that ruined country. That exposure may have been a dreadful necessity, but it will not be without cost. Violence and mayhem do terrible things to some men. Whatever comes of our collision with totalitarian Islam, we will emerge from it certainly less innocent and likely less free.posted by Paul Cella | 1:29 PM |