Violence: Unpleasant Facts and Favored Illusions

Duly Noted

What the fans of fiction deny because it is politically incorrect is a fact.

So far, we have been spared the last century’s general wars. Instead, we are plagued by conflicts that make the criteria that determines whether an event is a “war” irrelevant. This suggests that our personal point of reference but also the international community’s principles became unrelated to reality. This can be amended: today’s conflicts, while limited in their geographic scope, are regardless of the combatants’ technological limitations, as intense as anything known to us is. This high intensity arises from the conflict parties’ racial, secular ideological, or religious agendas.

Earlier, such conflicts were peripheral for our readers even if, through their proxies, global powers were involved. In the Seventies, these clashes spread like weeds into the garden of the advanced world. The early plane hijackings (Black September) and native terrorism (German and Japanese “Red Armies”, Weather Underground) mark a change. Since then, even in democratic societies, politically and religiously justified actions and common crime have grown in frequency and in intensity. 

This is not accidental. Our systems reflect values expressed through formal laws and informal practices. In their aggregate, these now hinder society’s self-defense against actors that reject, often invoking minority rights, the consensual order that manifests itself in the above ways. This helplessness has clearly identifiable sources. 

To some influential parties, crime –whether “political” or not- is a reaction to “oppression” and the “inadequacies of our society”. By implication, this excuses the perpetrator and accuses the victim. Especially so, if he dares to defend himself. An example is Secretary of State Kerry’s May 18 comment about the Nigerian offensive against Boko Haram. While condemning Islamist violence, the effort to root them out also earned disapproval. Pray tell, how is Lagos to protect its population? With pepper spray?

Behind the leniency towards terrorism is the assumption that it is a Third World response to “colonialism”. The PC crowd’s sense of retroactive guilt does more than to endorse violence if the perpetrator and the victim fit a profile. Terrorism benefits from this restraint exerted by the West’s political class. Thereby the risks, in relation to the expected gain, add up to a tempting price-earnings ratio.

In its beginnings, emerging democracy reacted to its European context and so it developed a matching philosophy and structural order. Although effective in its intended and unintended economic results, the tenets of western democracy express a cultural prejudice. Some of these canons are being exploited. While democratic theory has universal assumptions, recent events reveal that not all men want to be free, wish to pursue their happiness, and not every society regards tolerance as a virtue. 

Similar considerations apply to the function of government. The concept that shaped democratic institutions assumed that the threat to freedom comes from government. Foreign powers, harnessing the sentiment of frustrated locals that intend to impose a vision of salvation, played a peripheral role. Fanaticism in its Christian aberration was dealt with by separating church and state. The anticipation of a popular Sharia seemed to be an unlikely and therefore useless speculation. All men were thought to crave the freedom to unfold their individuality within the limits of legitimately enacted laws. The resulting diversity was to satisfy a natural craving and was guaranteed by “limited government”. Protecting liberty thereby became an effort to check “big government”. 

National Socialism in Germany, Fascism in Italy and Soviet “national Communism” demonstrated that, even in the West, dictatorships could be popular. Furthermore, the “iron rice-bowl” guaranteed by a big government by robbing the “rich”, may be preferred to the risks of “rugged individualism”. Additionally, these systems have demonstrated that equality, as in equal poverty, is attractive. Similarly unanticipated was the surrender of individual rights to a Leader who, utilizing “confidence from below”, would assert the collective primacy of the “Weltanschauung’s” chosen people.

Events confirm that the notion that freedom is not the natural condition of mankind. Regardless of their concept’s repeated failure, collectivists can prescribe more government even if the state has contributed to the existing blight. Beyond and within our borders, an Islam personified by its extremists commands mass obedience.  Note here that most movements and nations are defined to outsiders through the deeds of their lowliest members. The river of the “Arab Spring”, once hailed for toppling tyrants, is petering out in the desert of desiccated theocratic dictatorships. These are democratic only in that they represents more the “general will” than has the old system. Their assurance of not a new larger cake, but a larger slice of the one already baked by the expropriated, is a bribe of security. The picture is completed by a pledge of combat and ultimate triumph guaranteed by God’s mandate. This over unbelievers whose envied success insults the pride of those that fail while their faith predestines them to prevail.  

Some components of our political culture hinder the defense of its achievements. The fiction of multiculturalism makes it is difficult to accept that our “self evident” truths are invalid in some social and political contexts. It is equally against the grain that the politically correct demeanor of atonement not only fails to pacify democracy’s enemies but also serves their cause. 

Regardless of the cuddling attractiveness of our fictions, the realities of the world-as-it-is must replace them. The wishful visions need to be abandoned once they imperil our existence. In doing so, it must be admitted that, while everything must be open to debate, survival and incremental negotiated suicide remains non-negotiable. It is a natural right of every political organization to want to replace the government when it is in opposition. However, this right to contest does not apply when the principle is abused to protect those that prefer to take power not by the consent of the governed but by the might of arms. Tolerance is an ethical and practical “must”. At the same time, if it is systematically not reciprocated, then “disagreements” are transferred from the level of disputation to that of subversion. 

Democracies that have spread beyond the boundaries of Europe and those of race need to admit that there is an ongoing conflict with open society’s global enemies. In this, they hold the advantage of the better technological and economic instruments. However, the fictions of public life need to be adjusted to global realities. Without an assertive moral rearmament, the material means of defense will fail because of the ambivalent signal from the spirit that commands the arm.