Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Revolution Within the Revolution

The particular venom with which the Liberals regard President Bush is at heart a reaction to what they perceive as a coup d'etat directed against the carefully constructed edifice of their historical achievements. To understand why the President and individuals like Paul Wolfowitz are described as "illegitimate", one should not, like the man who doesn't get the reference, look to the Florida chads or US Supreme Court decisions. Liberals are not talking about that kind of statutory legitimacy. Rather they are referring to what is perceived as a brazen attempt to negate the cultural equivalent of the Brezhnev doctrine, the idea that certain "progressive" modes of behavior, once attained, are irreversible. In this view, an entire set of attitudes, commonly referred to as "political correctness" and their institutional expressions, like the United Nations, have become part of a social contract, part of an unwritten constitution.

President Bush, so the indictment goes, is guilty of ignorant trespass on these civilizational norms; he is simply too stupid, too much of a yokel to know better. Like a hairy caveman guided by only the most primitive of instincts, he is accused of reacting to the September 11 attack on America by clubbing all, near and far. Yet if George W. Bush is beneath contempt, not so his archpriests the "neoconservatives". They are the worthy heirs of a role historically filled by the Knights Templars, Masons and Jesuits: the scheming manipulators of the half-witted king.

In the days following September 11, the Liberals watched aghast as America went to war -- when that had been abolished! -- against Muslims in the Third World, all but twitching away the hapless figures of France and the United Nations in the process. Arrivals to America were not ushered to sanctuaries run by enlightened clergymen. They were interviewed by Homeland Security. Abroad, the doctrine of containment for rogue states, kept in place by gentle diplomatic prods, was replaced by outright confrontation. But worst of all, liberals were faced with an intellectual movement, one that had developed an alternative ideology, a competing explanation for the way the world worked. Prior to that, Conservatives, however distasteful, were inchoate; they had tacitly acknowledged the intellectual leadership of the Liberal project. No more. Now Liberals were confronted with people who didn't want to read the New York Times, were unimpressed by celebrity and didn't want to go to Harvard. Many liberals didn't recognize "their" familiar country any more. James Lileks described the intensity of the revulsion at the barbarians at the gates; not Osama Bin Laden, but rather someone else. (Hat tip: Roger Simon

I ask my Democrat friends what they’d rather see happen -- Bush reelected and bin Laden caught, or Bush defeated and bin Laden still in the wind. They’re all honest: they’d rather see Bush defeated.

Osama Bin Laden, if he was regarded as a foe at all, was the 'far' enemy; but President Bush and the neoconservatives were the 'near' enemy. Osama Bin Laden's men came but once, like flaming apparitions across a blue sky mayhap never to be seen again, but President Bush sat day after day in the People's White House to their everlasting chagrin. In the most ironic of reversals the Liberals had unconsciously taken on the mantle of defenders of the ancien regime while the neo-conservatives donned the robes of Jacobins overturning the old order. But just as the terrorist threat didn't emerge overnight, neither did the nemesis of Leftist edifice. Both took shape at around the same time, in the dying days of the Soviet Union, while Jimmy Carter racked his brains helplessly for a response to the Ayatollah Khomeini, where if one looked carefully one could see that Leftism in the West was dying too.

The key factor in the moribidity of both the Soviet and Western cases was that Leftism had ceased to work. Its last serious intellectual exponents, Baran, Sweezy and Joan Robinson had gone shuffling off to retirement homes. Its stultifying effect on demographics and freedom have been described elsewhere; but in one particular its failure was life-threatening: the "progressive" edifice had ravaged the Third World with its nostrums and willful blindness. Countries like India and China quietly abandoned the dogmas of Leftist progressivism in favor of a market economy but the more dysfunctional societies of the world turned to stronger waters. In Africa it was mayhem; in Arabia and South Asia it was Islam. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism coincided with the collapse of Nasserism. The Koran was what the incendiary Arab grasped when he cast away the Little Red Book in despair.

Through the long summer of 1990s, the wounds festered as the infection deepened. It was masked by the ineffectual cologne of NGO projects, corrupt aid delivery, United Nations peacekeeping public relations projects, by selective media coverage and by the jangling of fund raising concerts at which a Secretary General appeared, like some secular pope, to give his blessing, until the boil burst over Manhattan on that bright autumn day. As the debris showered on New York it obscured the fact that a new post-post-colonial ideology was ready to push the Liberal edifice aside and take up the challenge of Islamic terrorism; underneath the War for Terror there was now a War for the West.

James Lilek's friends must know that electing John Kerry to the White House will not restore the antebellum world. Things have gone too far for that. The Third World in general and the Islamic World in particular have burst their bounds; they can no longer be herded into the decrepit and threadbare tent of the United Nations; the Kyoto climate agreement; the International Criminal Court or any of Potemkin treaties woven by the European Union. Islamic fundamentalists are openly attacking Russia; besetting India; seizing British naval vessels; threatening to interdict the Straits of Malacca; menacing the House of Saud; renewing hostilities in Kosovo; bombing trains in Spain; raging through the Sudan and building nuclear enrichment plants. No Clintonian ceremony in the Rose Garden can replace the planets in their old orbits. All John Kerry can do if he must pay the price of restoring the Liberal dream is to withdraw, like Prince Prospero, into the artificial gaieties of last Bal Masque while the Red Death stalks without. Niall Ferguson, writing in the Wall Street Journal described a world exactly like that: 

"...a world with no hegemon at all may be the real alternative to it. This could turn out to mean a new Dark Age of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic rapine in the world's no-go zones; of economic stagnation and a retreat by civilization into a few fortified enclaves."

But that nightmare does not lie at the end of the Conservative dream; a dream which springs not from the Paris Commune but from the Declaration of Independence. And therein lies the problem for Liberals; that the only impetus to social survival springs from someone else and that illegitimate. To John Kerry's task of corralling Osama Bin Laden must be added the daunting job of persuading many Americans to renew their touching faith in the United Nations; to grasp the pages of the Time and Newsweek again as if they were gospel; to laugh on cue at the network anchor's artificial smile: to return, in short, to the Big Tent so recently punctured by the suicide pilots of the Al Qaeda -- as if nothing ever happened.

From a practical standpoint, the Liberal project will not die overnight. It is too old and established for that. But neither will the new faith that has risen to challenge it be banished by single John Kerry term. It is too vigorous for that. Sooner or later Liberals and Conservatives must form a coalition of national unity to face the barbarian horde as one. Perhaps President Bush is too polarizing a figure to achieve that; perhaps the current crop of Democratic candidates are too narrow to see that their world has ended forever. They will pass, and a new polity will emerge as the old wanes. On a long-ago summer in that vanished world, children played and sang a song so beautiful that it seemed it would never end:

Some will come and some will go,
We shall surely pass.
When the wind that left us here,
Returns for us at last.
We are but a moment's sunlight,
Fading on the grass.

But the last strains have sounded: the golden children have aged; night has fallen and the Morlocks have come. At their peril, for a flame still burns in the West.