What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

The conjecture of impotence.

In the debate over a proposed Jihad-sedition law — a law at once designating the threat of sedition on principles of Jihad a threat of highest gravity, and giving legal teeth to that designation — one response commonly heard, though more whispered than shouted, is that, “it will never pass.” I have written about this proposal several times over a period of over a year, but the impermanence of the Web medium makes it as though each proposal is quite novel and shocking — so I have some sense for how this thing strikes readers. A sizeable group, even at a place like Redstate, are inclined react with predictable antagonism to the proposal; some are even thrown into unreason by their shock; but others merely react with what we might call a conjecture of impotence, a preemptive prediction of failure.

Curiously enough, the conjecture is very often attached to some comment along lines of: “it would be great,” or even, “it would be just and righteous.” The statement amounts to this: I support your proposal, but give it up, man, ‘cause there aint no chance. Now my question is this: if indeed the proposal is favored, why answer it with such a declarative prediction of failure? Why answer in the negative on the speculation that it will fail, if you believe it should justly succeed? What purpose does this serve?

There are other examples of this preemptive conjecture of failure, even in a debate right next door, as it were. Men of high stature, men who have done well and bravely exposing the threat of the Jihad, still state flatly that unless we democratize or otherwise civilize the Islamic world, we are doomed. They teach men to have hope only in revolutionary democracy, and no other. They dismiss all other proposals for a domestic strategy with bombastic gestures [scroll down to "Islamophpbia"]. What madness is this? It would be as if the Federalists, fearful of the French Revolutionaries (a wise fear, considering that that mob set the world on fire), had told us there could be no escape from them save by answering their revolt with an even more thorough and martial one of our own; and then spent time and resources sneering at anyone who said maybe less spectacular measures are sufficient.

For of course, as I have explained at length, sedition is not something terribly novel to our Republic. The Jihad is novel as a domestic threat (we have engaged it in foreign hostilities before); but our mechanisms for addressing this category of thing — organized internal sedition and subversion — are ample and tested. We have fought and bested revolutionary movements before with these mechanisms. Let us take them up again boldly as tools of war against this wicked movement of men, this newest anticipated revolution to destroy our beloved Republic and replace it with something far, far less noble and free.

It is a fact that in postwar America most of the real successes of Conservative legislation were first greeted, as proposals, with derision and hostility — enough, indeed, to persuade the excitable than they “will never pass.” A study of Reagan’s tax cuts, and the economic theory behind them, will show abundant derision and predictions of failure. A study of his missile defense proposals will show even more of the same. Theorizing on welfare reform began among certain right-wing social scientists almost before the War on Poverty had been fully implemented, and was predictably sneered at; until it was passed, and signed into law (by a Democrat). Other examples abound. I think it was Milton Friedman who said that any innovative reform proposal will require about thirty years from proposal to enactment. This latest round of controversy over the sedition law began when I suggested that Conservatives ought to get behind this the Jihad-sedition law, because it is right, it is wise, and it is our tradition as Americans.

So why these conjectures of impotence? My worry is that their roots lie in the sterile soil of despair. Despair is a state of mind characterized by a want of hope; but there is always hope. I offer this, that hope is in our domestic tradition of dealing with sedition. But despair, I fear, is also what lurks behind all our braggadocio about democracy and the American destiny to bring it to the world. A cold terror lingers on the possibly that this dream could be removed, this illusion dispelled. Retreat from despair my friends! It is leading you astray. We do not need to transform a civilization and a religion to subdue the Jihad. We are not so impotent as that. We have other tools, and those substantially less ambitious and precarious; and more than that, less likely ignite horrifying consequences. No American sedition law has threatened to extinguish a whole people, as our democratic idealism is threatening to extinguish Iraqi Christians. We should use these tools, and not dishonor them because there are smaller and humbler than Revolution.

Comments (16)

There are two counsels of despair couched within the objections to this proposal. The first derives from the pretense, informed by a thousand brackish sources, but none so potent for Americans as certain misreadings of the Declaration, that our ideals are applicable universally, that they somehow transcend, yet revolutionize all cultures, and that all men are destined to embrace them. The terror, leading to despair, arises with the thought that, were we to define the promotion of jihad and its end, sharia, as seditious, we would be conceding the particularity of our ideals and traditions; and with this concession there would come crashing down, to a ruin of Biblical proportions, an entire edifice of myth and self-understanding, not to mention the more material interests bound together with these ideals. American idealism, to be certain, is always inextricably connected with the idea of America as the linchpin of global order, at once the exemplar and primary beneficiary of an integrated, global order, the benefactor of mankind and the dominant power: benevolent global hegemony. So, to concede the intractability of difference in so bold a fashion would be both to abandon an ideal, and to acknowledge the impossibility of that global status; it would be acknowledge that America is a nation among nations, and not the First Universal Nation. This is a terror of disillusionment, of alienation, of a loss of faith - literally, if one takes David Gelerntner with even a modicum of seriousness; one could liken this to the loss of faith among intellectuals in late Victorian Britain. A people under duress will cling to any scrap of hope to avoid relinquishing something which is, for them, a solace.

The second counsel of despair is perhaps more mundane, but no less pernicious for all that. It appears in the comment of a critic, who appears to believe that defining a certain body of dogma as incompatible with American civilization will actually undermine that civilization. In his own words, "If we regulate seditious speech, it won't go away, it'll go underground, into cells of the sort that are actually dangerous." And, "If you think about it for 2 minutes, you'll see that strapping a bomb to yourself and blowing up your enemies along with you is the preferred form of speech for those who have no real hope of being heard any other way. People will die in order to be heard. We should think hard about enacting legislation that might make it a requirement." To advance such arguments is to ignore the fact that, by Islamist practice, the preaching of these doctrines does separate the sympathizers from the activists, and thus does, in fact, of itself, produce the very cells and underground organizations he fears. Moreover, he imagines that forbidding seditious speech would involve clamping down upon legitimate communication; this is the presupposition of the bits about suicide bombing becoming the only communications medium left to the poor, poor Islamists. But such individuals have nothing legitimate to communicate; this is not merely an objective fact, there being nothing worthwhile to take from the doctrines of jihad and sharia, but a prerequisite of self-government: if we, as a republican people, cannot define certain things as beyond the pale of our society - things which are, by every lesson of history, beyond its pale - then in what sense do we really govern ourselves?

The despair in this, then, is that we are impotent save insofar as we enter into dialogue with these ghouls, and persuade them - somehow - to become more like us. This counsel may fold back into the first, but I consider it separately because it is a more micro-level objection than the former. The former dreads the loss of an entire world-image; the latter quibbles over the means by which we either sustain or undermine that image. In sum, we cannot define jihad as sedition, because this would undermine an image of America on the one hand, and because it would compel us to do illiberal things, and our enemies to assail us all the more, on the other: we must convert the world, or else die trying.

But enough of this ideological despair. We do not purpose to convert, or rule, the world; and, consequently, we purpose to live.

Retreat from despair my friends! It is leading you astray. You've got me pegged, don't you? But I still have enough of that other thing, hope, to support you in this.

Good stuff by Jeff, too, especially: ...we would be conceding the particularity of our ideals and traditions. The failure to do this is what is killing us at the moment. Re that Redstate commenter: "strapping a bomb to yourself and blowing up your enemies along with you is the preferred form of speech for those who have no real hope of being heard any other way."

Did it never occur to the fellow that the boom of that bomb is the way in which he wants to be heard?

Did it never occur to the fellow that the boom of that bomb is the way in which he wants to be heard?

Quite possibly not; that would constitute wrongthought, the thought of irreducible difference.

I want to read this more carefully and say something more thoughtful later, but for now I'll just briefly react to one thing Maximos said. He said that too many people don't want to admit that we're just a nation among nations.

It wd. seem to me that we could say that we _are_ a nation among nations, in the sense that it's probably both hopeless and a bad idea (these not being the same thing) to try to lead the whole world to be like us. _But_ one could consistently add that it would be a good thing if other nations would in fact give up, say, sharia, tribalism, and Islam and adopt alternatives exemplified in the West. But they won't. That means we should give up global ambitions. But it doesn't mean that we should say, "Hey, our way is just one way among many. Each country's way of doing things is right for them," etc.

Not that I'm attributing this sort of soft relativism to Maximos. I'm just heading off a possible interpretation of the phrase "a nation among nations."

I don't think he's doing that. In referring to "the particularity of our ideals and traditions," I assume he means our preference for those things, our love for them, and our reason to defend them against (rather than impose them on) all comers. Which would include those things you abhor - sharia, tribalism, and Islam.

In a way we *are* the First Universal Nation, exerting an influence by example (not always to our credit) unseen in the history of the world. We just need to make sure that influence is wielded with due respect to others, and with contempt where merited. Right Jeff?

Yes, I'd say it's an influence by example rather than in almost any other way, though even refusal to have to do with this nation or that (e.g. through trade embargos and the like, enacted in some cases for reasons of disapproval of the nation's behavior) can be a powerful weapon though a passive and non-violent one.

Bill, I was certainly not trying to "peg" you. What despair you have, you never take counsel of. But I doubt there is, really, much despair at all in Bill Luse.

Your summary of "nation among nations" is right by my lights.


I think one advantage of this proposed law, proscribing the doctrine of Jihad, is precisely the example it would mean we are prepared to lead by. America says jihad is intolerable. The media will be our ally if we have the nerve to do this thing: for the media hoopla with not be misinterpreted by the enemy. He will know the whole Republic is against him, Liberal opinion be damned.

I've no objection to your summary, Bill. I just don't envision the sort of "influence of arms" that we've been practicing. The entire "dying to make men free" thing might be potent rhetoric, but it is pretty sordid in practice. Though this might be portrayed as making the personal the political, I ask myself whether I would be willing to die for the sorts of policies our government promotes, or whether I'd be willing for my sons to die for such policies. I cannot answer in the affirmative. To lay one's life on the line for family and friends and homeland is one thing; to do so for abstractions such as "democracy" and "democratic capitalism", "freedom" and "human rights", quite another.

Paul, I think that when I say things like "it'll never happen" I'm simply referring to the fact that our politicians are as a simple matter of fact unlikely to take such a stand. G.W. Bush was elected by the extremely hard work of the most conservative sector of our society--the real conservative grass roots. They slaved for him in both elections. Yet he is addicted to the "religion of peace" rhetoric and would certainly veto any bill at all along the lines you have described. Nor would Congress be likely to get a veto-proof majority for it. Is any other presidential candidate who is likely to win going to take a more clear-headed stance than Bush's? Is a Democrat president more likely to do so? It seems to me improbable, unless of course Hilary were to decide that it was to her political advantage (which is not impossible).

A more worriesome scenario in realpolitik would be that any such law would start out good but then would be morphed in the amendment process and the conference committee process into something very bad indeed--some sort of weird hate-speech law that would actually be used against critics of Islam, something diametrically opposed to its original intention. This is far more plausible than you might think, as various bells and whistles to prove that this "really isn't about hating Muslims" might well be added as part of a compromise to get it passed. That, of course, would be worse than nothing at all.

I _hope_ this isn't despair but rather just looking at the real political situation. Sometimes those can be hard to distinguish!

Perfectly legitimate concerns, Lydia. I've thought about that too -- especially the latter usurpation you mention.

But here is another thing to consider: who can doubt that the Jihad will continue its bloody work? Public opinion will turn harder and harder against Islam with every Cartoon Jihad or Pope Jihad or what-have-you. Another attack (God forbid) will only accelerate this.

I think I am on solid ground in doubting that time will improve stature and reputation of Islam in America. We are (fortunately) not like Europe in immediate threat of a rapidly growing, hostile Muslim population. It is growing in America too, but far more slowly, and upon a much smaller base.

When nature meets delusion on the field of battle we can be assured that nature will eventually win. But at what cost? That is really the only question over which the modern West has any control: how much will we pay for our delusions? What difference does it make how potent or impotent we are, if we can save just a penny of our treasure? Pleading impotence is just haggling over the price. Worse, it is haggling over the price with the meter running.

An America in which a university student can be arrested for placing a Koran in a toilet, an act which, while vulgar, is hardly worthy of the attentions of the law, is an America likely to transmogrify a proposed sedition law into a general hate-crimes bill. And such a law, if ever enacted, would surely be enforced against the, ahem, native population more assiduously than against frothing imams urging their easily-commanded followers on to atrocity. That, alas, is the America we are.

But not for the indefinite future. Our adversaries may have their taqqiya, but they will not restrain themselves - because they cannot - forever. Sea changes in policy and public opinion of the magnitude required to ensure passage of a sedition act normally take a generation or two; reckon on 20 - 30 years unless, God forbid, something should transpire.

I'm glad Maximos brought up the Shmulevich case. What happened there is instructive: New York State apparently really does have an explicit "hate crimes" law on the book that allows extremely minor property damage (with no minimum amount named) to be transformed into a state _felony_ charge if the act was carried out with a "hateful" motive. About the only hope the student's legal team has is to argue that the "victim" of the crime was the university that owned the Koran, and that as this "victim" cannot have a race, sex, or gender, the hate crimes bill does not apply. The wording of the law is a bit ambiguous at this point, though I think the legislative intent is fairly clear and would be on the side of such an argument.

But what were the legislators of New York State thinking when they passed such a law in the first place? Didn't anybody say, "Do you realize that this could transform the most minor act of vandalism--say, writing with a pencil on a wall--into a felony charge? Stop right there"? And did anybody listen? The law shouldn't be on the books in the first place.

What worries me is the very real possibility that America will respond to further acts of terrorism in the way that Europe does--by cracking down on those naming the terrorists. In the wake of the most recent plot, Prime Minister Brown forbade his government to use the word "Muslim" to describe those perpetrating the act! Europe runs in exactly the opposite of any sane direction whenever some new act of violence comes down. It's beyond even appeasement to the point of insanity. And there's all too much of that in our government, too--CAIR tours of airport security to prove that no profiling is going on, God forbid, 9/11 memorials that are disgustingly PC, and so forth.

So I can't be convinced that even further reality checks will act _as_ reality checks. I wish that they would.

Apparently, though, from what I've heard (On the Dennis Prager radio program), Pace University has been rather desultory in its pursuit of alleged cases of anti-Semitic intimidation. Though perhaps I misunderstood through partial attentiveness.

I've long advanced the argument in conversations with similarly-minded coworkers that, were the US to suffer another mass-casualty attack, or an outbreak of sudden jihad syndrome style attacks, and were ordinary Americans to mass in protest to demand that official policies be altered, the organs of authority would act against Americans on the supposition that we are a threat to the Other. This is a legitimate threat, though I have to imagine that there will come a tipping point; a government can only maintain the forms of popular consent while declaring itself illegitimate in its acts (as on immigration, for example) for a limited engagement before something gives.

Yes, quite right. My recollection (which I haven't double checked recently) is that there were swastikas painted on walls and no prosecution. By Muslims, naturally.

This is probably a matter of both Pace and the police. The policeman who charged the Koran dunker was a Muslim and a member of some sort of Muslim policeman's association. Pace claims it was the police who decided to charge him with a "hate crime." This may be true, though it may also be true that Pace didn't even call them in on the swastikas in the first place. My gloomy suspicion is that the police forces there have "hate crimes divisions" whose job it is to sniff out violations that can be charged in this way--which will be done selectively along PC lines, of course.

I have the melancholy fear that we are following the path blazed by the UK in these matters. All of that cultural Marxist claptrap about the Other being incapable of racism, because racism is a matter of structural power relationships, has its consequences.

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