The 20th, worst of centuries — if you reckon such things by as blunt an instrument as the number of civilians murdered by their own governments — was bloodied by that deadliest of things: bad philosophy. The intellectual errors of previous centuries had festered slowly in thick French and German books, still restrained by the accumulated inertia of
The war also discredited the old political and intellectual order. Suddenly, such ideological nostrums as
Perhaps worst of all, the war coated the old ideals of the West with a thick layer of toxic cynicism that may soon, in our own lifetimes, kill it. After learning of the French and British generals who sent wave after wave of young men through poison gas to catch bullets from German machine guns, in the hope that sooner or later the guns might overheat, no one could argue with Wilfrid Owen when he sneered at pleas for patriotic self-sacrifice:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
A fitting response to the crassness of the ruling classes that launched the First World War, the traumatized pacifism of those who survived would cripple them when it came time to deal with Stalin and Hitler. Those who still broke down sobbing on Armistice Day, mourning (as Tolkien and Lewis did)
Surely not. It must be a misunderstanding, a cultural miscommunication that could be assuaged by appeasement. So French and British politicians told themselves, inhaling a pink, anaesthetic cloud, craving the peace that suppresseth all understanding.
Two weeks ago, I pointed out how our leadership today is addling its wits and soothing its nerves when it comes to the non-negotiable agenda of orthodox Islam: an intolerant, theocratic state where non-Muslims are systematically humiliated, women are forever fixed in the status they attained in seventh-century Arabia, and other faiths are treated like venereal diseases — which must be firmly controlled if they cannot be eradicated. No, not every Muslim in the world knows his faith well enough, or practices it so devoutly, that he strives to achieve Islamic domination. There are millions who covertly drink wine, neglect to fast, and spend their money not on funding jihad but on belly-dancers . . . thank God! For us folks outside the umma, the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim, which tells me that the Holy See should drop its ecumenical outreach to Islamic clerics and instead strike up partnerships with the black marketeers who smuggle vodka into
All this thinking about what Islam really wants, and good Muslims ought to want, brings me back to the question of what good
I have been there myself. How many toasts to Francisco Franco I once offered at brunches after Latin Mass . . . how many blurry pamphlets denouncing the separation of church and state have I taken from the tapered claws of anti-Masonic matrons! I’m reminded of the slogan of French right-wing
What soured the joke for me was realizing that Veuillot’s quip could be used, word for word, by today’s Muslim supremacists. They want tolerance for their intolerance, until they are strong enough to squash us. And when you think of it that way, you realize that the sentiment is contemptible. Those who aspire to intolerance do not deserve tolerance, and if they exploit the weakness of a free society to undermine it, they ought to be systematically repressed.
It was this realization that inspired the
It is not the job of the state to repress religious error, defend the integrity of the gospel, or protect its “helpless” citizens from injurious ideas. In teaching this, the
No one, I think, has claimed that any of those previous
On the other hand, the minimalistic libertarian state is a rare and fragile thing, no sooner achieved than it is abused. Secularists are no better — and are frequently worse — than true believers when it comes to asking for liberty while they are weak, then seizing the power of the state to become (in Stalin’s phrase) the “engineer of human souls.” There is something in fallen human nature that will not be content with defending one’s rights, practicing charity, and otherwise minding one’s business.