Monday, August 07, 2006

Moral Madness

Last week in the National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson wrote an article titled The Brink of Madness -- A familiar place. (Thanks to Douglas Groothius for pointing me to the article.) Hanson suggests that the state of moral judgment in the Western world today regarding Islamic terrorism is much the same as the situation before WWII toward Germany. His thoughts raised some pointed questions in my mind.

Hanson states his thesis this way;

Our present generation too is on the brink of moral insanity. That has never
been more evident than in the last three weeks, as the West has proven utterly
unable to distinguish between an attacked democracy that seeks to strike back at
terrorist combatants, and terrorist aggressors who seek to kill civilians.

He points out that the methods of the Hezbollah and Iraqi insurgents both are to use civilians (and the UN and, I might add, Muslim shrines) as shields to either (a) protect them from more civilized societies that would prefer not to kill civilians (or freedom fighters or holy shrines of anyone's religion); or (b) allow them to claim moral superiority (or at least ambiguity) if they are attacked and the innocent shields they are hiding behind are damaged.

Hanson highlights the general difference between the Islamic terrorists and the Israeli and Western forces by an observation. European cartoonists, he says, are afraid to display Islam disparagingly, but "they now portray the Jews as Nazis, secure that no offended Israeli terrorist might chop off their heads."

He builds up to this statement: "the amoral Westerner cannot exercise moral judgment because he no longer has any."

In his summary, Hanson makes some other claims of causes of our "moral insanity", particularly in the Middle East.

He argues that the West is a "corrupt world" that, among other things, "is largely anti-Semitic" and "finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress".

Is the West largely anti-Semitic? I don't see evidence of this in the people that surround me, but that is admittedly a very small slice of "the West". I don't see it in the public statements of political leaders or influential people. I'm sure anti-Semitism exists... but is it fair to characterize the world as "largely" anti-Semitic?

Does the West in general find "psychic enjoyment" in the demise of its own success? This I can believe more readily, and I found Hanson's way of putting it quite insightful. It explains for me what has been one of the great conundrums of the age... the same people who fight hardest against conservative values in Christianity, fight nearly as hard to empower (or at least enable) the far-more-strident and violent conservativism of Islamic fundamentalism. As quick as they are to make claims of fundamentalism and theocracy and ignorance and ignominy toward Christians in the West, they are just as quick to contest such claims made toward Islamic radicals. Possibly Hanson's suggestion of a deep desire to see successful Western society come on hard times has some merit.

Thoughts, either on the points I brought out or other things that Hanson has to say?



Mark Congdon said...

Regarding the anti-Semitism question I raised... I came across evidence today that anti-Semitism does still exist.

Mark Daniels links to some research and commentary by Lanny Davis about the Lieberman/Lamont primary race in Connecticut. Some of the comments he references are troubling, to say the least. And, as he says, I was able to do a quick search and turn up other examples.

I'm sure anti-Semitism is equally prevalent among insane conservatives as among insane liberals... I was just surprised that it was still strong enough at all to find a voice.


Douglas_Coombs said...

Anti-semitism exists in the west, but it seems to me that it is far more common in Europe than in the US. This seems to be partly attributable to the tremendous growth of Islam on the European continent and partly due to the more open political expressions of anti-semitism by fringe groups.

At least that's my bird's eye view from occasional news articles. I'm certainly not an expert.


Kevin said...

I'm not sure how to interpret "psychic enjoyment". Mental enjoyment? Perhaps he actually meant "psychotic enjoyment"?

"Yes, perhaps Israel should have hit more quickly, harder, and on the ground; yes, it has run an inept public relations campaign; yes, to these criticisms and more. But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds [psychotic] enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress."

If we interpret "corrupt world" to be the entire West that is "largely anti-Semitic", meaning a majority, then I agree that Hanson has not sufficiently supported that claim. Even though I don't have statistics concerning anti-Semitism (which, I imagine, is difficult to measure), I'm disinclined to believe that interpretation, and I wonder if Hanson really intended it.

If we instead contextually limit his notion of a "corrupt world" to those who are opposed to Israel in this war (instead of the entire West), his claim of majority anti-Semitism may be more believable. But perhaps I'm bending his words too much?

Europe does seem more opposed to Israel. Perhaps they are more anti-Semitic as well, which I find somewhat remarkable since I thought that many nations in Europe have stricter laws against anti-Semitism or, e.g., denying the Holocaust. Alas, perhaps that is because they are in greater need of such laws.

Does the "corrupt world" enjoy "seeing successful Western societies under duress"? There does seem to be a hatred of the U.S. which has apparently grown over time. We can chalk it up to envy, as Hanson may be implying, though the jeerers themselves would no doubt appeal to a variety of additional causes for their justification.

However, I agree with you that simple hatred of the U.S., perhaps as a superpower, does seem to be a common factor in ideologies which are otherwise opposed, suggesting that they may be bending their morality around that central precept.


Sis said...

I was curious... if we use Hollywood, the media, and the other "elites," do we get a more anti-semitic slice of America? I've noticed that some types tend to characterize America in general based on the mood of above-mentioned folks, who, in my experience, tend to be pretty anti-Israel.

Mark Congdon said...

Welcome, Sis! And thanks for your comment...

I may be wrong about this... but it seems to me that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel are not quite the same thing. It is quite possible for someone to be opposed to the particular actions Israel is taking in regard to its neighbors, while still thinking Jews are perfectly acceptable people as a whole.

Hollywood and most of the major media outlets do tend to oppose Israel politically, it seems to me. But, I don't see a prevailing anti-Semitism in those groups. Jews hold many prominent positions of leadership in Hollywood and the major media organizations, Jewish characters are regularly presented in a positive light in movies and TV, etc.

I have a feeling that most American elites (particularly in Hollywood and the media) distrust political Israel because they view it as a sub-entity of political America... and they distrust both political entities because they are powerful and idealistic. In one of the most famous quotes from The Da Vinci Code, "history is always written by the winners", and therefore the hidden story of the losers is probably more poignant and more important. Besides, we know that power corrupts... and if the stories/news we hear comes from those in power, it's going to be corrupted, right? Whereas, if we get stories/news from the losers (relabeled the weak and oppressed), we'll get the real scoop, right?

The recent difficulties in getting non-fudged and non-staged news reports from the locals in Lebanon shows that this isn't necessarily the case... but I think the underlying distrust of those in power and the impulsive desire to trust those who are not in power colors much of the commentary coming out of Hollywood and most of the major media outlets.