We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Somewhat to my surprise…

I am not a huge fan of Steven Den Beste’s blog USS Clueless, as I dislike the style and content on so many levels. I frankly regard his understanding of history, geopolitics and in particular anything beyond the shore of his home country as generally underpinned by misleading stereotypes and ‘Hollywoodized’ history. In particular I dislike his frequent risible saccharine paeans to the transcendent superiority of an imagined United States of America in which in one would scarcely believe Waco, Ruby Ridge, civil forfeiture and Ted Kennedy would even be conceivable, let alone a reality. Such ‘feelgood’ writing is undoubtedly very good for the hit rate but then the Mirror, Sun and Daily Mail will always outsell the Times, Telegraph and Guardian for much the same reason. In short, I regard USS Clueless as a prime example of American neo-conservative thought at its most blinkered and parochial.

And so it is somewhat of a surprise to me to find myself in fairly robust broad agreement with Steven’s article about the fact the war against Iraq is in reality a manifestation of a cultural war. To me that is such a self evident truth that I am astonished that so many people find Den Beste’s essay so controversial.

Now as a libertarian, I am highly critical of the way western nation states are structured. In fact I would say that Continental European and, to a slightly lesser extent, Anglosphere civil society has a deep rooted sickness brought on by a century of creeping statism. And yes, that includes the United States. The degree to which freedoms taken for granted by our grandparents are regulated and circumscribed grows almost daily. As I have often written, the state is not your friend.

Of course the views I have just expressed would not come as any surprise to anyone who has read Samizdata.net for more than a few days: so far, so ‘typically libertarian’.

However the idea that as the state (meaning for me, the British state, and for many of our readers, the American state (USA or Canada)) and the aspects of civil culture which support it, is something to be resisted and undermined until the state has been cut down to size and the culture put back in touch with the classical liberal roots from which it sprang, does not mean that I think therefore ‘western’ culture is not better than the alternatives. I am constantly threatened by the state which makes me its subject and constantly robbed by it under threat of violence. Yet it is not the British or American states which threatens to set off nuclear weapons in London or spread smallpox through the public transport system in New York.

We are indeed threatened by the Islamic culture that is expressed by Wahhabism and Den Beste is entirely correct that we need to understand that what happened on September 11th was just a very visible expression of the kulturkampf that has already been going on for a long time. I strongly suspect it is because Islam is so clearly losing this ‘war’ that Al Qaeda was motivated to do the things it did. For much the same reason that this ‘war’ is so evidently real, I find myself grudgingly supportive of Israel on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is (sometimes) my friend, and also that Zionism is an entirely parochial -ism that will pose no threat to me either now or at any time in the future.

So is Den Beste correct that the entire ‘Islamosphere’ needs to be destabilized as part of this kulturkampf? Yes, but that does not need to be done entirely by force of arms, not even primarily so. We do indeed have to make sure that the short/medium term threat of our literal destruction that springs from the ‘Islamosphere’ is dealt with forcefully by the equally literal destruction of Ba’athist Socialism and eventually (let us not kid ourselves) radical Wahhabism. Once that is done, there is no need to turn the Islamic world into an American province, even if that was possible… in the long run the comfortable banalities and sheer material success of the Western secular capitalist way will destroy the cultural underpinnings of the threat that became impossible to ignore on September 11th 2001.

11 comments to Somewhat to my surprise…

  • Richard Cook

    Saccharin it may be but there is a reason that thousands want to leave their country and come to the hated West. We do have our problems but we are superior to the other available products. Yes, yes I know we aren’t Libertarian.

  • Julian Morrison

    You can fight a cultural (memetic) war with bullets, but you have to work to the schema devised by the Catholics in the middle ages: kill them all, men women children and babies, kill all the relatives, kill or demonize everyone who might even sympathize, burn their books, and terrify everyone else into silent submission for at least one whole lifetime. This won’t destroy the meme entirely, but it will strip off 99% of its complexity, destroy its cultural tradition, and pad it with superstition and romantic myth.

    Short of that, persecution just pushes ideas underground and grants them martyr’s mystique.

  • Rene

    The part about this being a culture war is, as you say, self evident. I am still amazed at the supposedly intelligent people who fail to comprehend that one simple obvious fact.

    Opinions are quite mixed, as to how one best goes about fighting a culture war. I suspect that what may have worked for the Roman Church in the middle ages, may not be acceptible in modern times.

    Den Beste is a pretty bright guy, whatever one may think about his style and subject matter. His approach is only one out of many.

    Personally, I think that the very act of toppling Saddam, very very quickly–so quickly as to stun–would do wonders, and prevent much subsequent loss of life.

  • Richard Cook: that is pretty much the same point I was making… the ‘west’ may have major problems (I certainly think so) but what it offers is manifestly superior to what is on offer elsewhere, hence the floods of people trying to move to Britain, Europe and North America.

  • In one of my earliest blogs I made this statement:

    “Peace will come to the Middle East when the Middle East wants it, and as long as totalitarian dictators call the shots it won’t…I’m not saying that we should declare war on the entire Arab world (unless it should ever openly declare war on us). There’s three ways to take out a government: hot war, cold war, and diplomacy. It’s going to take some combination of all three to get the Arab world on the side of representative government and individual liberty.”

    Spelling out basic principles is easy; coming up with detailed plans is not. Which of the three strategies – hot war, cold war, and diplomacy – will work on which nations, and what specific measures must be undertaken?

    Many would no doubt turn to the Turkish example to root out clues as to how to bring an Islamic state to become a representative republic. This brings two thoughts to mind. First, Turkish culture is not Arabic or Persian culture. Each culture has a unique set of ingredients, and will react uniquely to cultural initiatives – democratization efforts included. Second, we must learn from both successes and failures; look at Turkey, but also look at Pakistan and Indonesia.

  • Clive

    Den Beste is a prick but credit where credit is due, he is kinda right about this. Credit to you too dude as you judge his words by their merit.

  • Richard Cook

    Y’all may have an interesting experience if a proposed bridge (Saw plans of it and an explanation of the concept on the Discovery Channel) gets built across the Straights of Gibralter.

    Perry: don’t get me wrong, I agree with many positions on the Lib side, however I do not see widespread acceptance on the Libs only because 1. People do not like to suffer for their bad decisions.
    2. The electorate will not stand for the government protecting them in the Lib way. They will also want protection against downturning markets, bad crops, etc.
    3. The electorate will also want to take advantage of the system to procure benefits for themselves (the Farm bill for example)
    4. Repeat three but to infringe on the rights of other groups (helmet laws for example and the current leper group smokers).
    5. I think the largest group simply does not give a damn and doesn’t care what happens as long as they have the feeling government is leaving them alone (and procuring benefits for them either cash or services).

    Yes I am a little along the John Calvin absolute depravity line.

  • Richard Cook

    Concerning the bridge. It directly links Europe and Africa. Imagine the possibilities for immagration.

  • Richard: yes of course you are correct… of course such ‘protection’ (number 2) is a complete delusion. Why do you think I am so anti-democratic? That is I do not give a fuck what ‘the electorate’ thinks and try to oranise my life and assets so that they remain out of the reach of democratically sanctified theft.

    Not really pro-monarchist but rather anti-political

    A toast to the ‘anti-democratic’ and pleasingly powerless Monarchy

  • Molly

    Yes it is a culture war… but then we have one going on right here in Britain too. The people who are selling us to Brussels in return for their own power are a very different culture too. Just as some of what we need to do to resist islam will involve violence, it may well be that the same will be true of resisting the people who want to make us subject to the Code Napolean. We fought to stop that in 1815 and maybe we will need to do so again.

  • myron

    Yes, the USA has compromised itself into a state dominated region. And yes, I vote for any libertarian on the ticket, but they don’t win many seats. So we must pin our hopes on the defection of Democrats to the Greenjeans party, with the effect of splitting the liberals in two. This is the latest fad-politic of those with a bad case of the Absolution Complex. They know that everyone knows how corruppt the Dmocratic party is, so they seek the same obscure purity that the Libertarians do. Lets hope they get a good handle on their high-minded ideals at the expense of their hold on power.