Day By Day

Monday, July 09, 2007

Dark Ages?

Judith Apter Klinghoffer worries about the onset of a new "dark age" -- one on a global scale. She identifies three great enemies with the potential to bring it about. She writes:

[L]iberty, hence, civilization is currently under a three prong attack.

One prong consists of Islamist barbarians, Al Qaeda types, who, like barbarians from time immemorial, excel in exploiting the military and institutional weakness of civilized democracies.

The second prong consists of Fascist/Communist/Islamist tyrannies such as China, North Korea or Iran who feel threatened by the success of democracies. They enjoy sitting back, watching the barbarians soften up the democracies despite knowing that they are bound to be the barbarians' next victims.

The third prong consists of transnational elites who assume that the Islamist barbarians do not pose a real threat. Their goal is to bring about a world run by international institutions not directly accountable to the “uninformed masses.” Indeed, as they consider powerful civilized democracies, most especially the US, to be their most formidable opponent, these transnational elites do not shy from cooperating with Islamists and tyrannies by legitimizing their demands that free speech, i.e., thought be circumscribed.

She notes that in similarly threatening times the only appropriate response has been sustained military action to defeat those who would threaten freedom.

Read the whole thing here.

My, my! What to say about this? Prof. Klinghoffer's sketch makes little sense as history. Dark ages are essentially a literary conceit, based in a restricted and biased view of western society, but the warning it embodies is quite real.

Modern Western culture and the liberties we enjoy are under siege, from both external and internal enemies, and she has identified the most potent of those foes. And she is quite right that the only appropriate response to at least two of these threats involves sustained application of military force in association with political, diplomatic, and economic actions. But in such times as these can such clarity of purpose be maintained?

Prof. Klinghoffer is not optimistic.

I still hold on to the belief that the American people love liberty too much to give it up and, as they have done before, they will snatch victory from the jaws of current defeats. So, why can't I be happy? Because with each and every passing day the price for defeating the forces of darkness is getting higher and higher and ultimate victory less and less certain.

I'm not so pessimistic as Prof. Klinghoffer. There are real sources of strength in our collective Western societies, even if the current elites are undergoing something of a well-deserved crisis of confidence. By a wide range of measures things have never been as good as they are now. The current military crisis is nothing new. We have not enjoyed a clear-cut military victory in a major confrontation since WWII. Korea was a Godawful mess, so was Vietnam. Gulf War One started promisingly, just as the current one did, but we withdrew before securing victory. Yet, through this whole six decades of defeat and indecision, Western, and particularly American, power and influence reached its greatest extent. Nor are the current political conflicts unprecedented. We have seen worse before and survived.

I suspect that we will sort out our present political difficulties both in America and in Europe, and that the inherent power of Western liberalism and capitalism will ultimately prevail over our common adversaries. The end is not yet nigh.