Streetwise Professor

July 9, 2017

Trump Throws Down the Civilizational Gauntlet In Warsaw

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 9:15 pm

Trump’s speech in Poland was like a political Rorschach Test, or a word-association exam. If you hear the word “will”, and think Leni Riefenstahl, you just might be a leftist! If you hear the phrase “Western civilization,” and think “white supremacism”, you just might be a leftist! If  you hear the word “God”, and think “Nazi”, you just just might be a leftist!

Trump uttered all these words, and people on the left responded in exactly these ways.

On the right, the reaction was much more favorable. Trump’s themes have been staples among many conservatives and some libertarians for decades, dating back to the Cold War. Now the main perceived threat is not the godless Soviet Union, but the hyper-militant strains of a religion. But most conservatives believe that an ideology inimical to the Western heritage and Western beliefs is on the march now as it was then. Further, there were serious doubts about the will of the West to resist, then as there are today. The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes, and Trump adapted an old tune to a new day.

Insofar as other issues that exercise some Republicans and allegedly many Democrats are concerned, Trump even criticized Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria. No, not as vigorously as John McCain and his ilk would like, but to McCain anything short of a nuclear first strike against Russia is lily livered appeasement so he can be discounted. Trump also forthrightly committed to Nato Article Five. So that should have put paid to, or at least represented a substantial down payment on, the soft-on-Russia narrative.

But those issues were largely drowned out by the shrieking on the left, and among many Europeans. And the reason why is straightforward. In reality, the left doesn’t care all that much about Russia or the Paris Accord or the like. What it is most heavily invested in, by far, is the culture war. And arguably the most important motivating belief driving the left in this war is the conviction that not only is there not anything special, valuable, or uniquely worth defending about the West, but that the West is actually a malign force that has been and continues to be the source of great evil in the world. The legacy of the West isn’t individual freedom, political democracy, the rule of law, economic and technological progress, and great works of art and literature: it is racism, sexism, colonialism, oppression, and cultural appropriation. It doesn’t need defending–it needs to be transformed past recognition, if not destroyed altogether.

About twenty years ago, a popular chant on college campuses was “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.” Ostensibly the chant was about mandatory classes in Western Civilization. But in reality, then and especially now, among many on the left it is Western civilization itself that has to go.

The seemingly strange affinity of the left for Islam, despite its diametrically opposed beliefs on women, gays, family, and the role of religion in society, is more readily understood when you grasp the left’s real enemy–the civilization that Trump stood up for. Islam is a useful ally in the war on that enemy. Given the utter incompatibility in beliefs it’s an insane alliance in the long run, but one can see the short term method in this madness. The enemy of my enemy. And this alliance reveals how the left prioritizes its enemies.

And in Warsaw Trump threw down the gauntlet and rejected all this. He not only refused to surrender, he vowed to fight, and said that there is something worth fighting for. All of which is an anathema to the left, hence the hyperbolic–and Pavlovian–response.

It’s also a very clarifying response. It shows just what the real fault line is. The supposed pressing issues of the day–Russia, climate change, trade–are really just stones that lie within easy grasp to be flung in the fight. What the fight is really about is a much deeper conflict of visions (to lift a phrase/title from Thomas Sowell) about the Western inheritance. Is it something to be conserved (recognizing that a crucial aspect of that inheritance is a capacity for great and rapid change), or is it something to be razed? Trump said the former: the frenzied reaction on the left tells you that they believe the latter.

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  1. Many years ago I was talking at a Cambridge dinner to the Canadian wife of a visiting scholar. She asked me about the decline in the teaching of classical languages in the schools. i replied that it was natural; once upon a time in the West the most impressive civilisations known, and the most impressive literatures, were the Greek and Roman. Naturally education concentrated on those. Now, however, the most impressive civilisation known was – and here she concentrated on what I was about to say – our own.

    She actually shrieked in horror. Our own? No, no, no.

    The stuff you learn at dinner, eh?

    Comment by dearieme — July 10, 2017 @ 4:40 am

  2. How can we get people to actually read the speech? I think it is excellent. Instead the media concentrate on other comments made during the visit and pick them apart ad nauseam.

    Comment by Margaret — July 10, 2017 @ 6:50 am

  3. @Margaret–The things you (and I) liked about the speech are exactly what drives the left around the bend. It would be good if more people were able to read it rather than learn about it through the media filter, because I think a healthy majority of Americans would in fact agree with it.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 10, 2017 @ 10:47 am

  4. Good speech. But it takes a bit more than speeches. This billboard in Hamburg was reportedly taken down before the contractually agreed time during the G20 summit:

    Would be interesting to know who thought it was not politically correct.

    Comment by Ivan — July 10, 2017 @ 11:14 pm

  5. Well, this European (and all of France, it would seem) emphatically do not see Islam or Russia as culturally superior, and have no desire to see the destruction of the system that protects us (well, mostly…) from extremists of all stripes…

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — July 11, 2017 @ 4:00 am

  6. As a matter of interest, two other bloggers who celebrate this speech:

    Up until last year the left kept its hatred for our civilisation somewhat under wraps. The left conducted an endless covert operation, elevating issue after issue that might weaken the West, but never really admitting to its true mission of civilisational overturn. The left’s adoption of open contempt is new territory.

    I sometimes wonder what will happen once the current crop of senior academics and politicians passes on. In my experience the people they have promoted to eventually take their place are not especially talented – in fact they appear to have been promoted more for their mindlessness than talent.

    I suspect the unwinding of the left has commenced. Hopefully the new political poles will be libertarianism vs statism, with statism belonging more to conservatism than the left. I suspect the left, in wealthy societies, lacks a useful mission. The left is appalled that democracy did not bring socialism. What can it do now?

    Comment by Mark — July 11, 2017 @ 5:16 am

  7. In related news, Siemens has announced it is suing a Russian company whose name starts with “Siemens” for installing Siemens gas turbines in Crimea – totally unbeknownst to Siemens, of course.

    Comment by Ivan — July 11, 2017 @ 11:09 am

  8. “shrieking on the left, and among many Europeans”. Eh? Can you not make your point without blasting at targets which are mostly indifferent to the US culture wars?

    The political landscape in Europe shares very little alignment with the two-party partisan US system. It’s amusing seeing the same mistake/projection from commentators from both sides of the US political spectrum when they drag Europe into their analysis. Krugman was notoriously unembarrassed to spout the most ignorant nonsense about Europe in his anti-“austerity” crusade until austerity (implemented by left and right parties) started working.

    Btw – most of the reaction to the speech in the European press – even the lefty ones – was at worst indifferent to cautiously positive from what I’ve seen. Reaffirming the commitment to NATO was obviously generally well received by those who commented.

    Comment by derriz — July 11, 2017 @ 1:33 pm

  9. @derriz-Um, look at the shitstorm that Macron unleashed by making un-PC comparisons between Europe and Africa and get back to me.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 11, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

  10. Come on, you’re better than that prof. What has that to do with your claim of a “shrieking” reaction to Trump’s speech among many in Europe?

    You’ve decided that “Europe” as a whole is with the other team and so often throw in little barbs like this.

    I had to google the Macron thing out of interest. I found that the Guardian had a hand-wringing opinion piece on it but I’d rather stab my eyes than peruse the Guardian regularly so that explains why I missed it. And that seems to be it for the European media; my go-to source for laughing at lefty-biased stories, the BBC, don’t mention it at all. Outside of that it seems there was a twitter storm about as reported in the non-European press – seemingly mainly involving schrieking Americans. Hardly qualifies as a shitstorm by my standards at least – I would have expected some (non-social) media coverage and maybe some public comment from the politcal classes.

    Comment by derriz — July 12, 2017 @ 2:21 am

  11. It was nice to see President Trump get the respect he deserves while he was in Poland.

    Comment by cnk guy — July 13, 2017 @ 8:02 pm

  12. March of last year I published “Progressivism is Hostile to Humanism” in the New English Review. Among other things, it pointed out that the real culture war in the West is between communalists versus individualists. Capitalism is really just free enterprise — the economic activity of free individuals, selling their productive effort to their own benefit.

    There actually is no such thing as capital-C Capitalism, in the sense of Socialism, just as there is no capital-A Atheism in the sense of Religion. Marx invented Capitalism to categorize those indisposed to believe his economic myth, just as religionists invented atheism to categorize those indisposed to believe their god-myth. To ensure their continued cultural existence, ideologies need demonized enemies to rally the faithful to the flag.

    In their attacks on a supposed Capitalism, Progressives and others of their communalist stripe are really attacking individualism. Capitalism is just a diversionary stalking horse. To destroy the free enterprise of individuals, one must first destroy the opportunity to be an individual. One must thus destroy individualism.

    Humans are the only known culturally obligate species. This evolutionary fact necessitates cultural speciation events. I believe the Enlightenment was exactly such an event. It heralded the emergence of facultative individualists in a prior culture composed mainly of obligate cummunalists.

    In tribal times, communal behavior was very likely a survival trait. But science and philosophical rationalism appeared in our culture and became both dominant and necessary to survival. Both of them require individualistic thinking. This involves free and personal intellectual exploration and a tolerance of free thought — social tolerance of what was once considered punishable heresy. Societies greatly benefited from the advent of these cultural innovations, and the clade of individuals expanded. Along with the facultative individualists, I believe we now have a population of obligate individualists. You’ll find them concentrated among the principled atheists and the non-partisan of politics.

    Western cultures and those further cultures adopting science and rationalism, have become obligately individualistic. Their survival as socities now depends on these traits. But there is still a very large population of communalists; progressives/communists on the “left,” traditional religious groups on the “right.”

    In western societies, most of the Christian and Jewish branches have adopted rationalism and are willing to negotiate their ethics in light of new knowledge. Their populations are fluid and they no longer enforce dogma. Most of modern Christianity is no longer communal, even though it is social.

    Some time ago, Sociologist David Riesman wrote “The Lonely Crowd,” in which he described “inner-directed” and “outer-directed” populations. Inner directed people govern and judge their behavior by way of internal personal ethics; outer-directed people by way of external culturally normative morals.

    His two categories can now be understood as describing the cultural clades of individualists and communalists, respectively; opposed, competing, and separate cultural species of humans. Sociologists are apparently completely blind to the idea of evolutionary cultural species.

    The culture wars we see today are these two cultural species fighting to the death for the same survival landscape: human society.

    The culture war is literally, literally, a biological phenomenon, taking place at the level of culture.

    All the political trappings are just diversionary window dressing to occupy the conscious mind and to provide identifying labels for the groups in opposition. We all know “social justice” is not about society nor about justice. It’s a vehicle to power for a biological group wishing to control its survival landscape. Nor is “god’s love” as an organizing idea actually about god or love.

    Both groups are communal and when they get into power, the opportunistic rhetoric is discarded and the tyrannical boom — their real goal — gets lowered on their opponents.

    And the cultural individualists, who have no ideological axe, must make transient alliances to forward their goal of of a society that cultures free thought, science, and negotiated ethics.

    Comment by Pat Frank — July 14, 2017 @ 9:17 pm

  13. @Pat. Thanks for that. I’ll read your article. Your thesis re communal behavior reminds me of Hayek, in particular his The Atavism of Social Justice which argues that our notions of distributive justice developed in a tribal setting and probably enhanced group survival odds in that setting, but were ill adapted to an extended open society.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 15, 2017 @ 10:57 am

  14. Not just the left. The Pope is concerned that Trumpism is infused with Manichean even apocalyptic thinking. What is sure is that there is way too much straw man argumentation. I mean, what the hell is this coming from the pen of a well-read, even erudite professor referring to Islam? – “diametrically opposed beliefs on women, gays, family, and the role of religion in society”

    As you well know, Islam is not organized in a monolithic hierarchy – unlike, say, Roman Catholicism or the Russian Orthodox Church. That basically means that anybody professing the faith can claim to be a valid member. There’s no procedure for excommunication (although in some countries apostasy will lose you your head). So there are many tendencies and sects, some are militantly reactionary and some deeply spiritual. But the same could be said of Christianity and Judaism.

    I don’t hold you or any Christian responsible for the antics of Westboro Baptist Church (aka Godhatesfags) though if I adopted Manichean thinking, I might be so inclined. Nor do feel myself beholden to certain co-religionists of mine whose idea of faith involves death to Arabs.

    I think we would all be better served if we went easy on the generalizations, no?

    Comment by Simple Simon — July 16, 2017 @ 8:56 am

  15. Virtually every single Islamic state has laws against apostasy and blasphemy. The laws are widely enforced. The more Islamic the state, the more likely the death penalty.

    Islam teaches that individual Muslims can personally enforce both laws. Death for apostasy is mandated in the Qur’an and the hadith. That makes it an indivisibly Islamic. That generalization is entirely warranted.

    At least one hadith has Muhammad approving death for blasphemy — in that case the blasphemy was insulting Muhammad.

    Muhammad’s example is the infallible guide to right action in Islam. He was ‘rightly guided’ by god and made no errors. So, burning out the eyes of the men from the Ukl tribe for the crime of hypocrisy (munafiq) was entirely just and appropriate, and can be carried out today by any Muslim or Islamic state.

    Just to place the context, murdering guards and stealing camels was honorable business-as-usual for 7th century Bedouin. The harsh punishment of the Ukl men was for repudiating their conversion to Islam; for defiance of Muhammad, in other words.

    The logic of Islam is toward relentless tyranny. Those groups that practice attenuated versions of Islam effectively repudiate the example of Muhammad, and are counted among Sunnis as blasphemers, apostates, or hypocrites. I offer as evidence the persecution of Baha’is, Ismailis, Ahmadis, and even Sufis, in Islamic states.

    Comment by Pat Frank — July 16, 2017 @ 3:22 pm

  16. @Pat-All that you point out illustrates the difficulty of attempting to impose a fundamentally atavistic belief system that did appear to have advantages in a nomadic tribal setting (after all, Mohammed and his followers did conquer much of the formerly Christian, Zoroastrian, and Hindu worlds) to a settled, extended order.

    Judaism largely succeeded in making the transition. Perhaps precisely because it remained the religion of a relatively small group subsumed in a larger, mainly hostile, world. So it did not have the pretensions of universality, and Jews had to make compromises with other belief systems and did not have the power to impose their beliefs on others–something that Islam rejected and was not forced to accept. Christianity also made the transition, even though it was eventually a majority belief system in its domain, and even though it made claims of universality.

    One key difference with Islam (as you’ve pointed out) is that “render unto Caesar” permitted a separation between church and state that Islam not only does not countenance, but utterly rejects. Moreover, the fragmented political nature of Christendom also created competition and rivalry that supported the rise of pluralism and tolerance (although often only after bitter strife, like the 30 Years War). This occurred through a variety of channels, including the Westphalian compromise between exhausted combatants who could not impose their will on their enemies, the need to expand political participation in order fund wars and man armies, and the ability of minority religious groups to threaten credibly their rulers because they could find allies in states controlled by co-religionists, or even in states controlled by the same church as their oppressor, but which were geopolitical rivals. (Think Catholic France supporting the Protestant cause in the 30 Years War because of the dynastic rivalry with the Empire.) In many ways, these other political and economic forces were what made “render unto Caesar” operative, rather than just another quote from the Bible that the devil could quote to his purpose. And none of that happened in the Islamic world.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 17, 2017 @ 7:59 pm

  17. I agree with your analysis, Professor, especially with respect to the critical role geopolitical rivalry in Europe played in the production of plurality in the opportunistic protection of religious rivals for the interest of subverting and tweaking enemies.

    One curious thing about Islam in that regard, is that there were rival Islamic states, but an analogous religious plurality never developed.

    The difference with Christianity may be because the Qur’an is very prescriptive in detail, unlike the Christian New Testament (but very similarly to the Torah) making Islam less open to interpretation and far more legalistic and more dogmatically homogeneous.

    This made heresy much more identifiable to local ulama, who, as we have seen today, readily indulge in purifying murder. The history of Islam is full of this. Object murder means Muslim populations learned to keep their heads down (again, just as they do today).

    That all said, I’m sure you’d enjoy knowing that in the writings surviving from the early 7th century, not one mentions Muhammad or Islam. None mention a war of conquest coming up out of Arabia, none mention any of the four Rashidun Caliphs, abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, or Ali. There are no stelae, monuments, tax records, coins, or anything else mentioning these rulers of empire.

    The surviving sources do mention Saracen raiders making life miserable after Persia collapsed and Byzantium became supine, following their war of attempted mutual annihilation. Byzantium could no longer control its borders, and Bedouin tribes raided freely from the south. Locals called them migrants, not Muslims.

    In short, there is no worthy historical evidence for the canonical history of the supposed first century of Islam.

    After no small amount of study, I’ve come to finally realize that the raison d’être of Islam is to make the world safe for Arab men. That’s the whole ball of wax. All the religious stuff is mere window-dressing. Islam is the vehicle for Arab racist triumphalism, and no more than that.

    The genius of Islam is that where Islam takes over a population the people indoctrinate themselves, thus preparing the way for their own colonization and extermination. The process is in progress, right before our eyes, across North Africa.

    Comment by Pat Frank — July 17, 2017 @ 11:57 pm

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