“The upshot of the changes ahead is that Americans are now, and increasingly will become, less secure than they believe themselves to be. The reason is that we may not recognize many of the threats to our future….They may consist, too, of an unraveling of the fabric of national identity itself…..Democracy may be hollowed out from the inside….The growing sense of power that will accrue to many individuals….could corrupt moral balances and erode moral disciplines…..It could threaten the balance of healthy civic habits that have long sustained democratic communities.”—Excerpt from the Report of the U. S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, chaired by former Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart.
I wonder how many Americans took the time to reflect on this report or on these words as they pertain to our future as a community with a shared sense of purpose. Probably not very many, about the same number who have taken time to read and reflect on the Bush Doctrine, the most sweeping transformation of U. S. foreign policy in over fifty years. I think about these points as I watch and listen to the daily grind of “us vs. them” talk shows, partisan bickering and posturing, CIA and other agencies leaking for advantage, and other nonsense emanating from our political leadership class, and I wonder if we really understand what is at stake here. As our reigning dean of Islamic culture, Bernard Lewis, expressed to the Wall Street Journal, “In 1940, we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues…….It is different today. We don’t know who we are, we don’t know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy.”
Jean-Francois Revel, recently deceased, described as France’s most prominent intellectual, often remarked on the dilemma of Western democratic societies, which have a tendency to self-destruction and, in fact, in his 1983 book, How Democracies Perish, he described democracy as “the first system in history which, confronted by a power that wants to destroy it, accuses itself……The distinctive mark of our century is the humility with which democratic civilization agrees to disappear and works to legitimize the victory of its mortal enemy.” These words were written with primary reference to the Cold War with Communism, but are appropriate as well in our current confrontation with Islamofascism.
Why is this so? Revel seemed to believe it is a trait inherent in a regime which pursues liberalism and its tolerance to the point of undermining its own foundations. In his recent essay, “White Guilt and the Western Past”, Shelby Steele has another idea, and I believe he is on to the core of the problem. To him, our tendency to hesitation and restraint in defending our civilization is the result of a minimalism growing out of the late 20th century collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority in the world. For this he blames white guilt from the perceived sins of racism and imperialism and notes that white leaders struggle, above all else, to distance themselves from these sins for which they have been stigmatized. As a result, any military action, however noble or justified in terms of the defense of our civilization, must be defended on two fronts with two separate victories—on the battlefield and on the front of dissociation from guilt. He further believes, and I agree, that this guilt is a major reason why we cannot truly confront the need for control of our border with Mexico. And it is this guilt for the historical sins of white moral authority, real or perceived, that is the primary source of anti-Americanism.
So how do we stop the nonsense and turn this around? It won’t be easy. Return to Bernard Lewis—we don’t know who we are, we don’t know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy. Lynne Cheney has often said that it is difficult to defend what you do not understand or no longer believe. We are living off the accumulated capital built over almost four centuries of commitment to core beliefs which were encapsulated by our founders in the political institutions that have provided our continuity. This continuity has produced enormous power and affluence and a life style that is the envy of most of the world, but the degree to which we understand or still believe in the core tenets of our founding is questionable in my view, let alone whether we have the strength of our convictions necessary to overcome the guilt that Steele describes and to successfully export these beliefs.
In addition to the realization that we are engaged in the equivalent of World War IV, we also need to understand that we are one of the catalysts for and are in the midst of an Islamic Reformation from which it will be impossible to extricate ourselves, that it will no doubt continue for several decades and that a lot of people, including many Americans, will be badly hurt before it has run its course. This is a part of the uncertainty and anxiety that Rudman and Hart allude to in their report, and the jury on the final resolution of these anxieties will be out for a long time. The urgency of these points has been insufficiently explained to the American people, and if an when they finally resonate there is sure to follow the mother of all national political debates about the future of this country. So we had better put a halt to the nonsense and begin the process of rediscovering who we are.