Blogs > Liberty and Power > First, A Revolution from Within

Jul 24, 2004 3:22 pm

First, A Revolution from Within

I've just secured a copy of the 9/11 Commission report, but have not had the opportunity to read it. Still, I was intrigued by David Brooks' comments today in the NY Times about how the commission asserts that this is not only a war on terror, but an"ideological conflict." In his article,"War of Ideology," Brooks maintains:

It seems like a small distinction—emphasizing ideology instead of terror—but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.
When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

Yes, indeed. The problem is, of course, that in an ideological battle, one must define a fundamentally different ideology in order to fight that which one abhors. If the"ideological counteroffensive" consists of a synthesis of fundamentalist Christianity with a neocon welfare-warfare statist mentality, then America is not offering any radical alternative to Islamic fundamentalism.

Brooks is certainly right to commend the commission for its belief that"the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles." It would help if the US were not in bed with so many of these autocracies; it would also help if US politicians could actually demonstrate and live up to the principles upon which America was founded: reason, productiveness, individualism, and liberty.

In the end, however, giving"an international platform to modernist Muslims" and"introduc[ing] them to Western intellectuals" would be terribly counterproductive, especially since so many Western intellectuals have been at war with such American principles for decades. (It is no coincidence that some of today's"radical" Muslims have been taught in Western, including American, educational institutions.)

We need an ideological revolution within the United States before exporting it abroad.

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Andre Zantonavitch - 8/1/2004

Chris, You point out that "if the West wants to win the culture wars---it needs to embrace specifically ~Western~ ideas...that are in keeping with freedom, individualism, and reason---ideas that too many representatives of the West can't even define, let alone defend." No-one on the planet agrees with this more than me!

One key here is to actually use the correct terminology in promoting what people today call "Westernism," "modernity," "globalism," "Jeffersonain democracy," etc. As you probably know, I have one hell of a problem with ~all~ of the above terms, concepts, and ideals. They seem quite watered-down, confused, ambiguous, and even partially mistaken.

I also think that the highly specific term, concept, and group of ideas called "Objectivism" is significantly off base as well. The great key to ALL of this, in my judgment, is a great unknown unanimity and commonality of ideas and beliefs which I call "the liberal ideal" and which is implicit even in classic Greek and Roman thought. This can be thought of as "the culture of (pure) reason" and it's both highly general (and welcoming and ecumenical) and highly specific.

Of all the anti-war thinkers, Chris, you are by far the most convincing to me personally. But still not convincing enough! ;-)

One nice, highly persuasive anti-war argument here is the example of Nicaragua in the 1980s and Iran today.

Whenever the US supported the anti-Sandanista "contras" with money and rhetoric back then, the "democratic" leaders all converted to semi-fascism, moved to Miami to snort cocaine, and then funded death squads -- while the contra movement withered on the vine! But whenever flip-flopping Congress cut ~off~ money (via the Boland Amendment, etc.) the rebel leaders moved back home, lived off the land, got to know the people again, converted to semi-libertarianism, etc. -- and absolutely thrived!

In a similar vein, an authentic freedom movement in Iran seems to be semi-thriving and doing far better than in Iraq. This seems to be all due to the current American policy of impotent neglect and baffled inactivity. So isolationism works!

Or at least it does nowadays with our highly inept neo-con crusaders who are, philosophically and intellectually, in way over their heads. Richard Pearl, et alia are all good and even heroic guys -- but they're very mediocre when it comes to "nation building" and "teaching democracy." So one could actually say (altho' still not me) that the US is better off just doing ~nothing~.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/31/2004

Andre, thanks for your post here. You'll get no arguments from me about the need to act; the question is how does the West act, and what is the most efficient course for defeating a terrorist threat? On these issues of strategy, you'll get enormous differences of opinion from people on both sides of the divide.

The issue in this thread, however, is more a philosophical and cultural one; my point is only that if the West wants to win the culture wars---it needs to embrace specifically ~Western~ ideas, and not different incarnations of the statist-collectivist ideology that it opposes. Much more specifically, it needs to embrace those Western ideas that are in keeping with freedom, individualism, and reason---ideas that too many representatives of the West can't even define, let alone defend.

Andre Zantonavitch - 7/29/2004

There's a bit too much quietism, defeatism, and passivism/pacifism here. In the terrifically important war between Western liberalism and radical Islam let's remember that ~they~ kind of started it with 9/11. And they stand more-than-ready to continue on with nukes at the very first chance. It's fairly valueable to avoid this.

Our goals here seem to be: 1) Self-defense 2) Punishment and revenge 3) Teach semi-freedom. They all suppliment and compliment each other. There's more to foreign policy than introspective self-improvement.

No doubt a completely liberal America would provide an example and paragon which would be overwhelmingly convincing and world revolutionary without firing a single shot. But that isn't the US today, nor will it be anytime soon, and in the meanwhile...we have to ~act~.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/28/2004

Amen, Jason, especially about government and education. I shudder to think of the kind of "teaching" that may ensue in a different cultural environment...

Jason Pappas - 7/26/2004

Hear, hear.

All and all you make excellent points in your main post.

Of course, Brooks has in mind something like the Cold War where our implicit principles were in stark contrast to Communism. And after 60 years that had some effect. You’re quite right, Chris, without an explicit exposition and understanding we undermine our own society; and limit our example as an inspiration.

Let’s also remember, to the extent we are an example of an alternative, we already do have an effect; young Muslims are attracted to our culture. That’s why fundamentalists are so hostile. Let’s continue to live well, in liberty, and become that good example – for our sakes, first and foremost.

By the way, I don’t think the government can teach them “our ideals” as Mr. Brooks seems to fantasize. The government doesn’t have a good record in education here, imagine what will result there.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/26/2004

That would be terrific, Matthew... I'd like to get the Western intellectuals to study them too! :)

Matthew Humphreys - 7/25/2004


"In the end, however, giving "an international platform to modernist Muslims" and "introduc[ing] them to Western intellectuals" would be terribly counterproductive"

Agreed, but how about encouraging the modernists to study Averrores, Avicenna (sp?) and other Islamic Aristotelians?


William Marina - 7/24/2004

Dear Chris,
I am not a subscriber to Chronicles, & was in Europe in early June when the Gregorian article was published. If you have it, could you send it to me as an Attachment?
Bill Marina