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Children of Light By: David Solway
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 14, 2008

It never fails to amaze how an educated mind can live with a debilitated soul. A recent article in Books in Canada, where I am an associate editor, shows just how pervasive this condition has become. In a review of Elizabeth Young-Bruel’s Why Arendt Matters, Canadian writer George Fetherling takes for granted the popular cliché of American turpitude, wondering what Arendt  “would make of the current United States with its torture policies, secret trials, and secret prisons” and of “a world in which Russia and China would often seem to be the voices of moderation.” I am not talking about a little-known Canadian intellectual. This is standard fare in current intellectual converse—the imperceptive, thoughtless, rote-inspired and thoroughly misguided parroting of received ideas, the refusal to see there is a terrorist war going on, and the coronary inclination to collapse into the arms of those who succor the enemy as the “voices of moderation.”

The Russian voice of moderation, we might recall, colluded with Saddam Hussein on the future construction of an oil pipeline, practices spigot diplomacy to the detriment of both Western and Eastern Europe, builds and supplies Iran’s nuclear installations, demolishes Chechnya and bombs civilian centers in Georgia, sells advanced weapons to Syria, boasts of its new FAE (Fuel Air Explosive) bomb which is said to be four times as powerful as the U.S. MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast) bomb, and, as we know, murders journalists who dig too deeply into affairs of state—over a dozen since 2000.

The Chinese voice of moderation obstructs relief efforts in Darfur in order to preserve its oil contracts with the Sudanese regime, keeps North Korea’s ruling clique afloat, invades and colonizes Tibet, sends arms to the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe and preens itself on building the world’s largest navy. A foreign policy laced with melamine is swallowed whole by the gulls of the Left. Meanwhile, China is now the world’s leading emitter of CO2 (as reported by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in 2007) and, of course, regularly imprisons and executes its own dissidents. In fact, China executes three times as many political prisoners as the rest of the world put together. Let us also recall that it was that venerable duet, the Russian and Chinese voices of moderation, which vetoed a UN Security Council embargo resolution against Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Were our obeisant intellectuals living in Russia, China, Iran or any of the Arab despotisms, and speaking then of their own countries, they would learn very quickly all about “torture policies, secret trials, and secret prisons,” not as epithets they can fling at the one nation that garrisons their right to the exercise of frivolous denunciation but as the kind of real-life experience from which they have been blessedly spared. Indeed, their righteousness derives from what we may call paper experience, that is, from ingesting neurotic productions like Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (obviously intended as a refutation of Dinesh D’Souza’s Letters to a Young Conservative), with its shrill and dire warning of a “fascist shift” (i.e., a neoconservative turn) in American life and politics, its dredging up of Nazi and Communist parallels, and its mania about the construction of “secret prisons.”

A book just published by another Canadian, retired civil servant Robert Rapley, provides this thesis with an American-style pseudo-historical foundation. In Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantanamo Bay, Rapley argues that the witch has today mutated into the Islamic terrorist, and that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are only the latest versions of the infamous witch trials carried out in Salem. Never mind that the activities of some American prison guards at Abu Ghraib were an anomaly and that they were severely punished—it was Saddam who murdered thousands of innocents there—or that Guantanamo Bay is a detention center for Islamic terrorists and Taliban fighters with blood on their hands. These facts are immaterial for the “liberal” mindset that has already submitted to the enemy. Rapley’s Believe It or Not should alert us to the valence of the “not,” as in the current American joke formula.

It seems we simply do not want to make the connection between Islam and the religiously ordained violence of the jihadists. Recognizing that such a copula exists would bring our doting sensibilities and vacuity of judgment before the bar of honesty and reason. Acting from a queer amalgam of self-loathing and self-love, we resist acceding to the obvious in order to avoid facing down the consequences, namely, that we have a real war on our doorstep and that our reflex sympathies for the Islamic Other—which means as well contempt for the Jew and suspicion of American power—are in large measure responsible for our dilemma. These home-truths are incompatible with our falsely humble yet egocentric vision of ourselves as advanced social thinkers at variance with our own past and begging pardon for assumed historical guilt, in short, as Children of Light come to redeem both ourselves and a fallen world. But we are not Children of Light; we are merely children.

This is the fallout from the Academy and “lifeworld” of the carnival 1960s—“that great spurt of narcissistic eccentricity,” in Martin Amis’ wonderful phrase. What that period encouraged was a state of protracted adolescence, that is, a mainly patronizing identification with the oppressed and marginalized, an idolizing of third-world revolutionaries and dictators, anarcho-socialist pipe dreams, a flabby self-election along with a cheaply-bought sense of inordinate sensitivity, and a pseudo-magical journey into Sergeant Pepper land at the expense of our own culture and history. American poet Chase Twichell reflects upon her childhood spent wandering in and out of amusement parks, Santa’s Workshops and Lands of Makebelieve, concluding

                        I don’t stay too long.

                        I don’t want to end up

                        trapped in a place where

                        childhood never ends.

But this is where so many of us, who wandered in and out of the universities, demonstrations, Woodstocks, peace marches, revolutionary septs, psychotropic festivals, oriental sojourns and love-ins of the Sixties, floating on the carousel of our indulgences, appear to have remained. This soft-focus, Utopian attitude is true not only of Europe but seems to be gaining considerable ground in the United States as well, which, under a new Democratic administration, appears poised to follow the European social-democratic model of dirigiste economics and regulatory egalitarianism. We products of the Sixties may have come of age and moved into positions of authority and influence, but maturity has only solidified our delusions about the world while decking them out in the garments of later sobriety. We have “stayed too long” and seen to it that the intellectual development and critical independence of our students, offspring and successors have also been cropped and stunted.

But children cannot hope to navigate the treacherous pitfalls of a cruel and merciless world. As the inheritors of an emaciated paideia, the generation now in place will prove largely inadequate to the layered complexity of global politics and the irrefrangible nature of the conflicts that confront them. With few exceptions, they can be expected to make all the wrong decisions, driven by sentimentality, lack of historical awareness and simplistic diagnoses of the world’s ills. Buckle your seat belt. We’re in for a rough ride.

David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity. A new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, will be released by CanadianValuesPress this fall.

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