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The War With No Causes

Indeed, many of the young men attracted to Islamist terrorism might easily, had they been born in different circumstances, been drawn to, say, the Red Brigades or the Brownshirts. For we are dealing with an ideology rooted in a violent critique of liberal values. Its adherents are few, but this has never been a war about numbers, any more than it is a war about the status of Israel, or the garrisoning or Iraq, or the form of government of Saudi Arabia. It is a war, rather, between the Enlightenment and what was once called Irrationalism: a belief that violence and blind faith are truer and nobler than reason. ~The Daily Telegraph [1]

There are assuredly a few ironies here.  First, there is the fact that the alleged partisans of Enlightenment seem to put a lot of stock in the power of violence to solve problems.  Second, one of the leaders of the side of “Enlightenment” seems committed to operating ideologically and in a manner consistent with what critics of all stripes might reasonably call blind faith (Bush might as well say, “God wants everyone to be free–so let it be written, so let it be done!”).  Third, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between Jacobins and jihadis in their commitment to the violent export of their creed, which suggests that reasonable people find ourselves pinned between a secular, irrational rationalism and an impious religious fanaticism.

The other problem with this formulation, besides the de rigueur comparisons with Nazis and commies, is how it writes off any and all proximate causes of the conflict as just so much fluff.  No policies could have had anything to do with this–they hate us for our Voltaire!  I would be happy to get rid of Voltaire, if it would satisfy their resentments, but somehow I don’t think that’s really what is bothering them.

Isn’t it interesting how ideologues can compartmentalise things so impressively?  When Bin Laden et al. say that American and Israeli politics are the causes of his terrorism, anyone who points to these statements as indications of what caused Al Qaeda to attack us is shouted down or run out of the room.  To use Bin Laden’s words to advance an argument, it was said then, is perverse.  Now Mr. Bush and his supporters point to Bin Laden’s statements about Iraq to “prove” that it is a “central front” in the war with Al Qaeda–we must believe Mr. Bush because of what Bin Laden says.  But when he said that the attacks were because of our presence in Saudi Arabia, our support for Israel and our embargo of Iraq, we must discount all of this and reduce the entire conflict to a simple struggle of Light and Darkness, an elemental struggle that has no intelligible causes or reasons and which has no rational solution via policy changes.  Now remind me again, who is on the side of the Enlightenment?

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1 Comment To "The War With No Causes"

#1 Comment By mencius On September 9, 2006 @ 7:01 am

As a fellow paleoconservative, it strikes me that you are worrying too much about what today’s political mumblers think. My overall impression of your blog is that your writing is excellent and your thinking is clear and incisive, but you are letting your strong moral convictions pull you into the vision-distorting trap of contemporary American politics. You run the risk of being dismissed as just another ideologue.

Painful as it seems, great as the errors of the day may be, immediate and balming as our solutions may appear, paleos should avoid the trap of passionate engagement in current affairs. Strategically it is not a winner. The only possible winning scenario for the paleoconservative or libertarian perspective is massive structural change. The only way to achieve this is to create alternative structures of reason which intelligent people, when they tire of the circus, can find on their own. In other words, we have to wrest the leadership of intellectual fashion away from the decaying institutions of leftism. The press and universities are unreformable.

A writer as good as yourself can play a significant part in this process. But anything that can be mistaken for conventional polemic is two steps back, because it lets readers pigeonhole you. The whole point of being a paleo is that you reject the pigeonholes and demand actual thinking.

For example, having spent a fair part of my life outside the US, I have a far more negative view of Third World militant political movements than you. Having parents who both worked for the US Federal government, I have a far more positive view of the sincerity and good intentions of the employees of that institution, even Mr. Bush. This does not change my view that the US can at present afford to ignore the Third World for a while as it sets its own house in order, or that the Federal government is a failed institution that should be abolished. But it causes me to question my answers when you arrive at a similar agenda from assumptions I find dubious.

I was about to recommend Kuehnelt-Leddihn to you, but it seems you are already a fan. The fundamental error of democracy is that it imports human passions into the task of providing law and security, which in a better-structured society is a dull and prosaic business. I don’t think getting into arguments with Mr. Bush is necessarily the best way to demonstrate this. It seems to take you too much down the path of lewrockwell.com.

On the specific subject of this post, I recommend [2]‘s The True Believer. I think you’ll find it quite germane.