We are witnessing the dawn of an illiberal age, in which anti- democratic, group-obsessed voices shape public discussion in the US and Europe. Any who doubt this I invite to read Paul Berman’s brilliant Flight of the Intellectuals.
In previous posts on the subject, I tried to describe and understand the retreat from liberal democratic principles by intellectuals who claim to embody such principles. My opinions, while easy to detect, were implicit.
Here I want to make them explicit. I want to say what I think about this brave new age in which I find myself. For what it’s worth, I offer three personal judgments on the new illiberalism and the multicultural ideology out of which it arises.
ONE: The system is even worse than its output. Multiculturalism rests on two pillars. One is decision-making by an intellectual vanguard in disregard of public opinion. The other is attaching moral standing, and thus civil rights, to groups rather than individuals.
Now, I don’t like many of the causes churned out by this ideology: anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, and so forth. Other bits of advocacy, like special rights for gays, leave me mostly indifferent. But it should be clear that the danger isn’t from this or that doctrine, but rather from an ideological structure which rejects the moral autonomy of the individual and the political sovereignty of the people.
By definition, illiberalism sweeps aside every barrier to the application of power. The illiberal regimes of the twentieth century saw their ruling vanguards, variously justified, slaughter without mercy the designated enemy groups – kulaks, deviationists, Mensheviks, Jews, gypsies, communists, many more. Murdering individuals for the good of the whole seems inevitable: a moral necessity to the survival of the system. Once the vanguard has imposed its calculus of good and evil, the killing fields must follow.
Nothing like this is on the horizon in the US or Europe. But the system now embraced by intellectuals – the doctrines which command the highest degree of respect in the public sphere – these share a common ancestry with the Khmer Rouge and the master race. And there is today a longing for arbitrary power and dictated solutions, voiced by the most unlikely thinkers and pontificators, which betrays a willful ignorance of the rivers of blood spilled by illiberalism in power.
TWO: Islamist terrorists are the storm troopers of multi-culturalism. Every illiberal movement needs the threat of force. Well-meaning democrats must be intimidated into negotiating away their rights and protections, while those who ponder the “root causes” of violence must be given the chance to see, in a killer, a victim. The vanguard’s first claim to power is that it alone has the legitimacy and wisdom to stop the killing. In places like Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, a fearful electorate acquiesced.
Multiculturalists have market-tested other intimidation options. They preached climate doomsday, for example. This failed to resonate or have much impact on the public.
Terror works. The public is willing to yield on many points to regain a sense of security. The would-be intellectual vanguard – as Berman shows – understands the political dynamic of terror, and has given primacy, among its many causes, to Muslim victimhood. We should not be surprised to find, in tolerant Amsterdam, Muslim zealots beating up gays, or to see Western intellectuals trample Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights, in their rush to embrace Tariq Ramadan, who only reluctantly would stone adulterous women to death.
During the 2006 controversy whether to republish the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Jack Straw, then Britain’s foreign minister, remarked: “There is freedom of speech, we all know that, but there is no obligation to be gratuitously insulting or inflammatory.” In the streets of London at that time Islamist thugs carried signs which read BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT ISLAM.
Straw maintained, in sum, that free speech is only valid when it does not offend those who wish to destroy free speech. This is a paradox only to the most naïve defenders of liberal democracy.
THREE: Reality enrages the illiberal mind. The most repulsive intellectual trait shared by multiculturalists is their quarrel with reality. They can’t describe what they see, or say what they think. They stammer and mumble until the sacred formulas are mouthed. They censor their own minds as a prelude to criminalizing the thoughts of others.
Ideology, for them, is truth. In this ideologically correct universe, Israelis are always imperialistic, destructive, and murderous – even if it takes a little Photoshop to prove it. Conversely, in the paradise of diversity of the multiculturalist mind, Islamist terror has nothing to do with Islam.
Attorney General Eric Holder was asked a simple question by Rep. Lamar Smith, pertaining to the Fort Hood murderer and the failed bomber of Times Square: “Do you feel that these individuals might have been incited to take the actions that they did because of radical Islam?” The attorney general responded with a masterpiece of evasion.
“Because of … ?”
“Radical Islam,” repeated Smith.
“There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions,” replied Eric Holder noncommittally. “I think you have to look at each individual case.”
The congressman tried again. “Yes, but radical Islam could have been one of the reasons?”
“There are a variety of reasons why people … .”
“But was radical Islam one of them?”
“There are a variety of reasons why people do things,” the attorney general said again. “Some of them are potentially religious … .”
And so on. A few weeks after that congressional hearing, Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty to attempting a massacre of innocents at Times Square. He was proud to confess, and offered the following explanation for his actions: “I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people.” When the judge wondered about his willingness to kill even children, Shahzad elaborated: “One has to understand where I’m coming from. I consider myself… a Muslim soldier.”
The denial of reality is a pathology, not an ideology. Anger at brute facts is a sign of cognitive inadequacy and moral infantilism. Political groups infected by this syndrome have, in the past, struck out barbarically against those who would insist on truth, then dwelled sullenly amid the wreckage of their ideological kingdom of lies.
Faisal Shahzad, Islamist destroyer, would take us there, while Eric Holder, in a multicultural trance, does nothing and looks the other way.