Irving Kristol pointed out that Lionel Trilling believed, “the liberal state of mind is reformist and humanitarian; a state of mind whose basis is snobbery, self-satisfaction, unimaginativeness. . . . The liberal flatters himself upon his intentions, ‘and prefers not to know that the good will generate its own problems, that the love of humanity has its own vices and the love of truth its own insensibilities.’ [Italics mine]
Honesty from a leading Neoconservative
Contrary to the title, this debate had nothing to do with Western values. Those on stage (and political) right succeeded in twisting the debate parameters into a battle between all which is good – the burden of which they took on – versus all that’s bad. Defending Enlightenment values against the depravity of cultural relativism, of which radical Islam – with all the chauvinism, hanging, stoning and sadism that goes along with it – is the greatest benefactor. A disingenuous tactic, but a shift that the audience accepted.
It’s disingenuous because:
- Tolerance, liberty and civil protections are not Western values, they’re human values. See the United Nations’ Charter
- When, can it be said, did the West honestly export these values?
There’s something about the jingoism of the middle-class that niggles at me more than the common, tad more raucous kind. It takes work: the liberal-interventionists/neo-conservatives (this political labeling could do with a bit of a clean-up) of the Baby Boomer generation have to first suppress the knowledge of 1 and 2. (A mental prerequisite that the rank and ranker of the EDL need not bother themselves with.) Pretend they never attended those rallies against British complicity in Indochina’s incineration, the formation of Latin American death squads and African apartheid, before they embark the Patriot bus.
Over Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pinot
Did I just conflate a metropolitan state of mind with that gutter impulse? You must forgive me. No, the militant middle-class is not merely nationalistic, it constitutes a broad bulwark against barbaric hoards the world over. This war, championed by armchair generals Middle England over, recognises no borders.
With the way these neo-libs and neo-cons and neo-atheists proudly state their alignment with “Civilisation” against the savages, you’d think they hooked this herring all by themselves. But in fact it’s the oldest lie in the book, holding back even the God myth in consequential misery.
While lambasting cultural relativists they themselves commit the logical sin of cultural determinism. Believing that religious texts (which in the next breath they claim the sheep fuckers can’t read) modify the brain, replacing empathy with a fetish for suicide-murder, and reasoned deliberation with screeching Ackbars.
If they do wrong, well what do you expect? That’s what they are. If we do it (a word employed by both sides in the debate linked above and difficult to abandon) those for the motion would plea good, enlightened intentions. “Oh, we blew up your school, sending little arms and little legs up to the Heavens? Well, rest assured, we like Galileo.”
This is almost certainly against the point but this sort of thing, but this profaning of that most profaning of projects – the Enlightenment – bothers me. The brilliance of Hume, Paine, Humboldt and the first scientists worthy of the name, is lessened, muddied, in the speeches of them, Kipling’s heirs. (It pains me to compare this sorry lot to the author of the Jungle Book and Recessional, the old reactionary at least had some panache – and compassion.)
Iraq – Laboratory of Neo-Cons
When their parallel Universe merges:
The Iraqi leader seen as a grave threat in 1963 was Abdel Karim Kassem, a general who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. Washington’s role in the coup went unreported at the time and has been little noted since. America’s anti-Kassem intrigue has been widely substantiated, however, in disclosures by the Senate Committee on Intelligence and in the work of journalists and historians like David Wise, an authority on the C.I.A.
From 1958 to 1960, despite Kassem’s harsh repression, the Eisenhower administration abided him as a counter to Washington’s Arab nemesis of the era, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, much as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush would aid Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s against the common foe of Iran.
But by 1961, the Kassem regime had grown more assertive. Seeking new arms rivaling Israel’s arsenal, threatening Western oil interests, resuming his country’s old quarrel with Kuwait, talking openly of challenging the dominance of America in the Middle East. All steps Saddam Hussein was to repeat in some form. Kassem was regarded by Washington as a dangerous leader who must be removed.
According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup [against Kassem] was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the C.I.A., the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq’s educated elite. Killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. No one knows the exact toll, but accounts agree that the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures.
The United States also sent arms to the new regime, weapons later used against the same Kurdish insurgents the United States had backed against Kassem and then abandoned. Soon, Western corporations like Mobil, Bechtel and British Petroleum were doing business with Baghdad. For American firms, this was their first major involvement in Iraq.
But it wasn’t long before there was infighting among Iraq’s new rulers. In 1968, after yet another coup, the Baathist general Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr seized control, bringing to the threshold of power his kinsman, Saddam Hussein. Again, this coup, amid more factional violence, came with C.I.A. backing. Serving on the staff of the National Security Council under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the late 1960’s, I often heard C.I.A. officers including Archibald Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a ranking C.I.A. official for the Near East and Africa at the time, speak openly about their close relations with the Iraqi Baathists.
I remind readers of the neo-conservative’s long and fraught love affair with the harsher side of Ba’athism not to exonerate Saddam nor his gang. Only to say that the Arab appears to have a better recall of “our” recent misdeeds in Mesopotamia than we allow ourselves. How could anyone blame them for shooting a skeptical eye westward – toward a people so blinded by the glow emitted by long-gone epochs? (A gaze which the Arab has been trained to steer clear of Islam.)
And this is the crux. We, “the West”, can certainly talk the talk when needed. We point to the examples of Thomas Paine, of Bertrand Russell and George Orwell – great men all – while, during the very same exertion, pissing on their legacy. Civilian slaughter, torture and mass deception are the evils they fought against when they raised the pool of Western thought. But, we’re told by Nick Cohen, Douglas Murray, Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch, these are temporary hiccups, required in the short-term so that we may maintain our lofty principles to History’s terminus. They may not be philosophers but, don’t be fooled, these men know that principles can’t take a day – or decade – off. They’re either held aloft persistently and consistently, a la Lady Liberty’s torch, or not at all.
So what are they really for?