About the time the Western world produced headlines claiming “God is dead” three or four decades ago, a funny thing happened: it lost its ability to call something evil. No matter what the outrage, the focus now is on psychoanalyzing and justifying what might have caused someone or some nation to act in that way, and less so on condemning behavior that should unanimously be deemed beyond the pale or severely punishing those who engage in it. In such an environment, with a lack of strong response, evil–ever present–simply grows:
Evil is ancient, unchanging, and with us always. The more postmodern the West becomes — affluent, leisured, nursed on moral equivalence, utopian pacifism, and multicultural relativism — the more premodern the evil among us seems to arise in nihilistic response, whether it is from the primordial Tsarnaev brothers or Jihadi John. We have invented dozens of new ways to explain away our indifference, our enemies hundreds of new ways of reminding us of our impotence. I suppose we who enjoy the good life don’t want to lose any of it for anything — and will understandably do any amount of appeasing, explaining, and contextualizing to avoid an existential war against the beheaders and mutilators, a fact well-known to our enemies.
The Europeans are shrugging that Ukraine is lost and will soon sigh that the Baltic states are a far-off place not worth risking the coffee shops of Amsterdam to defend. Westerners lament beheadings but then privately mutter that journalists know just what they are getting into when they visit the Middle East. Murdering and abusing a U.S. ambassador on video is not such a big deal anymore and is worth only a second or so mention on Google News.
So we wait behind our suburban Maginot Lines, arguing over our quarter- and half-measure responses, refighting Iraq and Afghanistan as if they were the Somme and Verdun, assured that we can distract ourselves from the horrors abroad with psychodramas about Ferguson, the president’s golfing, his lectures on fairness, and which naked celebrity photo was hacked on the Internet.
Meanwhile the orcs are busy and growing and nearing the ramparts…
I happen to like Victor Davis Hanson’s use of Tolkien to illustrate the point. To take it a step further, the response of the West to the newly refreshed challenge of violent Islam seems akin to that of the King of Rohan, while still under the influence of Wormtongue (and oh, how many of those poisonous snakes we have loose in our culture today!). With ISIS beheading Americans at will and generally throwing down the gauntlet, where is the voice to awaken us, to remind us that “open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not?” We weren’t always so squeamish about confronting such barbarism.
Regular readers of this site know that I’m highly suspicious of overseas adventurism. As the saying goes, war has ever been the health of the State, and I believe the modern State to be too large and powerful as it is. And yet, said powerful State refuses to control its borders, meaning a free flow of people here from parts of the world where evil has open sway. So at the same time we show no serious, deliberate, credible response to the murder of our people abroad, we also show no willingness to keep our enemies from coming here as well.
What message do we think this sends?
If we are to avoid catastrophic war both at home and abroad in this generation, there has to be a willingness to confront evil, and defend right against wrong. Another reason I’m wary of foreign adventurism is that we aren’t serious about it when we engage in it — we do enough to stir trouble, but not to address the underlying causes that allegedly generated our response to begin with. (I say allegedly because there are always multiple hidden agendas behind the public rallying cry.) Given the latitude evil has been given for some time, I’m not sure the tides in the world today can be turned short of massive violence at this point. But to even attempt to do so means recognizing there *are* such things as evil, right and wrong.
I’m not sure the West is up to that anymore. Thus to use the analogy Hanson does, we have the spectacle of trying to figure out which orcs to support, which to publicly tsk-tsk, and a border wide open to any that choose to simply walk in. This generation of leaders bears responsibility for what I fear will be a frightful legacy.
At least Helm’s Deep had a stout wall (border) and men who knew what they were defending, even when it came to open war.
We lack even that.