The historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote – in what has become a cliché – that “Civilizations die as a result of suicide, rather than murder.” Toynbee was obviously referring to self-inflicted wounds – moral breakdown, loss of confidence. Alas, that can now be observed across the western civilization landscape. The irrational attacks on the First Amendment by students at Yale and University of Missouri and the metastizing spread of hateful and divisive diatribes in institutions of so-called higher learning point to a desire to destroy western civilization.
It appears to be working. The cowardice of those who should resist the loud and defiant is also on display. The White House is conspicuously absent from this assault on basic freedom. Fear seems to have locked the lips of sensible voices. And mainstream media rationalize the mindless and bullying behavior of soi disant campus revolutionaries. It is a magisterial failure that warrants attention as a civilizational affliction.
At the risk of seeming prescient, I predicted this episode in The Futurist (1987) called “Death of the University.” It was already clear decades ago that the foundational principle of university life – the free and open exchange of opinion – was being rejected by a revolutionary class seeking sanctuary in the university to transform American life and western civilization as a whole. Anyone in the university, not captured by the fevers of the time, could have predicted this catastrophe.
On this matter, Toynbee was right. First principles are being assaulted. Confidence is shaken. The history that lends a level of romantic commitment to the nation is ignored. A dumbing down has been engendered. Seventy percent of Americans believe we are moving in the wrong direction, but since the nation is divided and relativism is on the rise, it is not clear how consensus is achieved in the right direction.
Where I believe Toynbee was wrong is in the questioning of “murder” from without. Scores of dead bodies in Paris, hostages taken at a concert, follow the path of death and destruction organized by militant Islamists, the contemporary version of the hordes that overran the Roman Empire. For these contemporary barbarians who behead and kill innocent people, terror is imposed as an alien medieval ideal. The goal is conversion. Islam exists, for these fanatical believers, as the only ideal and war must be declared against all others. Hence “Allahu Akbar” is not simply Allah is great, as many interpret the words of the murderers, but Allah is greater than the God of the West. “We will kill to demonstrate that to you.”
This war is a global war that the West will not identify or challenge, in part because of the loss of confidence in our own institutions and because of the fear of reprisals. As a consequence, the response to threats and death is language warfare, e.g. “degrade and destroy,” but not the strategic steps or vision necessary to defeat the enemy. In fact, in the Middle East, evenhandedness is the policy in which terrorists are equated with their victims.
Western civilization is at the brink. A beast has entered the door of compassion and is showing his true colors. This isn’t a lone wolf – a rather odd conception – since there aren’t lone wolves. These madmen are inspired by an ideology that is 1400 years old. Jihadism was confronted by President Thomas Jefferson in his war with the Barbary Pirates. Jihadism was the threat in the Sudan when Winston Churchill fought for the British Army in the late 19th century. And Jihadism is the enemy of the moment.
Some have naively contended Islamic militancy is due to a lack of jobs or opportunity in Muslim dominated societies. Others argue it is Israel’s reluctance to create a Palestinian state in its post ’67 borders. These arguments ignore history and repudiate the truth. Churchill noted in his book River Fever that Mohammedanism or Jihadism is like a rabid dog, relentless, pathological, sanguinic.
The war we are in is a war for civilizational survival against an enemy that has a commitment to an imperial ideology. As I see it, Toynbee is half right. Our destruction is fostered from within. But it is also threatened from without. Therefore we must fight a two front war to restore confidence in what the West stands for and to actually degrade and destroy the enemies who want it kill us.