Monday, April 30, 2007

Back At Scratch

Well, I drew a lot more attention with my little outburst the other day than I normally do ... Always the way with the stuff you put the least amount of thought into, I guess.

Jay Currie thought it worthy of note--and I get the impression there was a lot of avuncular chuckling at my expense from him as he did so--and so did Michael at Hogtown Front. Kevin Grace thought my tantrum surpassed only by Frank Middlemass in his exquisitely spluttering performance as Sir Charles Lyndon in that redoubtable cinematic tome, Barry Lyndon. Which pleased me very much as comparisons go, though I think he was being too generous.

In any case, I stand by my words. Well, by their gist anyway; the words themselves aren't worth quite so much. And while it's all very depressing, it's only made me the more driven to find something like a strain of real conservatism (so neither neocon nor pseudocon) that might still exist in the Western consciousness, that I might cling onto it until such time as my various other consolations have poisoned me into release.

Here's a beginning. Taken from the aforementioned Kevin Grace's archive: an admirable review (by KMG, if that isn't clear) of Roger Scruton's even more admirable book The West and the Rest, which I've just finished reading myself. (I include Kevin's preamble to the piece--originally printed in The Report--as I think it particularly fine and succinct.)
... Yes, I believe there exists a "clash of civilizations," that the Muslim world constitutes a grave threat to the West in general and to Canada in particular—and that strong, perhaps even Draconian, measures are necessary to protect us from this threat. But I also believe that informed self-interest, in preference to mere jingoism and chauvinism, is necessary if we are to prevail. Knowledge, not mere prejudice, is essential to the restoration of civilization and to ensure the West remains something worth fighting to preserve.

The preceding is an introduction to my review of Roger Scruton’s book The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terror Threat, which appeared originally in the September 23, 2002, issue of The Report.

When George W. Bush was asked to name the philosopher "who has most influenced his life," he responded, "Christ, because he changed my heart." This puzzling remark is even more so after reading Roger Scruton. For it is exactly the type of remark a Muslim would make—without any possible cynical calculations.

Scruton is twice rare. First, because he is one of the few philosophers anyone outside the academy is likely to have heard of. Second, because he argues as if truth exists. (He quotes Nietzsche, "There are no truths, only interpretations," and comments, "Now, either what Nietzsche said is true—in which case it is not true, since there are no truths—or it is false.")

The West and the Rest is a short book (just over 40,000 words) but an invaluable one. Scruton is surely correct that a sane response to the events of September 11, 2001, is possible only if the West understands Islam and how Islam understands the West. Indeed, possible only if the West understands itself, not as it would like to be seen but as it really is.

As Scruton demonstrates, the worldview of Muslims is radically different from our own. If a Muslim were asked which political philosophy most influenced him, he would reply, "The Koran." Why? "Because there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet," he would explain. (When Bush was asked why, he responded, "Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain.") To Muslims, there are no independent politics outside religion. Everything one needs to know about governance (and everything else) is contained within the Koran and its commentaries. To Muslims, religion is the world—all of it.

The West separates Church and State, a decision Scruton traces to the pronouncement of Jesus Christ, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Later,

This Christian approach was developed by St. Augustine in The City of God and endorsed by the fifth-century Pastoral Rule of St. Gregory, which imposed the duty of civil obedience on the clergy. The fifth-century Pope Gelasius I made the separation of church and state into doctrinal orthodoxy, arguing that God granted "two swords" for earthly government: that of the Church for the government of men's souls, and that of the imperial power for the regulation of temporal affairs.

Politics, and its modern concomitant, the nation-state, are almost wholly illegitimate in the Muslim world. The only Muslim polity that has managed to create a nation-state (the polity Scruton views as the best guarantor of order, liberty and toleration, both domestic and foreign) is Turkey, and Turkey's secularism is purchased at the cost of continual, ruthless suppression and "sever[ance] from its past and its classical culture by social and linguistic reforms that have made the traditional literature of the country unreadable to all except the specialist scholar."

Perhaps worse still,

In the ensuing search for a modern identity, [Turkey's] young people are repeatedly attracted to radical and destabilizing ideologies, both Islamist and utopian.

The conditions for democracy simply do not exist in the Muslim world.. Scruton would doubtless agree with Henry Kissinger that President Bush and his neoconservative allies had better think long and hard about the long-term consequences of "regime change" in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. And while Scruton has great sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, he is honest enough to admit that a Palestinian state would be a contradiction in terms and that Yasser Arafat, even as president (dictator, of course) of such a state, could not be expected to stop terrorist attacks on Israel, even if he wanted to.

Brutal politics are just one of the aspects of the Muslim world that we in the West find repellent, but Scruton points out that there are many aspects to be commended. Many aspects of the same stone, one might say. Lex orandi, lex credendi—how we pray is what we believe—and the world of Islam is a world of believers bound by frequent prayer. This submission to the will of God imparts to Muslims a confidence and a sense of community that have almost disappeared in the West.

Western society, Scruton contends, has become bleakly contractual. The ideals of the Enlightenment have been perverted, resulting in a destruction of community and a "culture of negation." Westerners pray not to God but worship instead the Moloch of consumerism. The West's loyalty to the nation-state is attenuated by immigration, multiculturalism and by globalism, which, in turn, breed vipers in its own bosom and foists on Islam what it so scathingly derides as the "Great Satan."

In this month of September 2002, one year after the conflagrations that announced The Return of History, we in the West will drown in a sea of pious pronouncements about "what we are fighting for" in this "war against terrorism."

"Politicians," Scruton reminds us, "will always say freedom." He issues a stern warning.

Taken by itself, freedom means the emancipation from constraints, including those constraints that might be needed if a civilization is to endure. If all that Western civilization offers is freedom, then it is a civilization bent on its own destruction. Moreover, freedom flaunted in the face of religious prohibitions is an act of aggression, inviting retribution from those whose piety it offends.

The West and the Rest is an essential book.