Most of What You Know About the Modern World is Wrong

The things that make good headlines attract our attention because they are on the surface of the stream of life, and they distract our attention from the slower, impalpable, imponderable movements that work below the surface and penetrate to the depths. But of course it is really these deeper, slower movements that, in the end, make history, and it is they that stand out huge in retrospect, when the sensational passing events have dwindled, in perspective, to their true proportions. — Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial (Longman, Foreword)

Do you remember the alarmist forecasts and doomsday scares of the 1970s? Global cooling, overpopulation, food, water and energy shortages, the limit of resources, global famine. They were exemplified by the Club of Rome’s famous 1972 book The Limits to Growth, and by the 1968 worldwide best seller The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich. Ehrlich and his associate John Holdren, President Obama’s advisor and “Czar” on Science and Technology, were leading advocates of population control and forced fertility decline and both are still considered “experts” despite the fact that they have been consistently wrong in their forecasts (see Simon-Ehrlich wager).

It appears that the ideas introduced by experts and pundits, and accepted as true by the public —what John Kenneth Galbraith called “conventional wisdom”— remain at the forefront, unexamined and unchallenged, long after they have been proved wrong. As recently as last week, Nicholas Kristof was calling in the New York Times for a global “birth control solution” to the problem of overpopulation because, I guess, he has spent his entire life looking at the left side of the graph below (Goldman, 18).

Fertility and Religion

Ben Wattenberg was not a demographer, but he became a pioneer in the mid-1980s when he discovered a glitch in the UN’s biennial demographic report, World Population Prospects. At the time, the total fertility rate (TFR) of the developed world had sunk to 1.8 children per woman, about 14% below the 2.1 replacement value. And it had been falling steadily for thirty-five years. In Europe and Japan, their 1.8 children per woman in the 1980s dropped to 1.3 in 2005, that is, in a single generation. No serious demographer would plausibly have predicted such a sharp decline even a decade earlier. But almost as important, Wattenberg noted that the TFR in the Third World had dropped from 6 children in the 1960s to 4 in the early 1980s and then had fallen dramatically to 2.9 children in the 1990s. That’s a drop of about 85% of the way toward replacement-level fertility. Meanwhile, the UN Population Division was projecting that “European and Japanese TFR would drift back up to replacement level over the course of the next half century. This projection was based on absolutely no evidence” (Wattenberg, 8-11, my emphases). Similarly, the shallow recovery beginning in 2040 in the graph above is pure UN wishful thinking based on zero evidence; in fact, the evidence points to an even more precipitous decline.

The fall of fertility rates operates in the entire world: among countries and within countries, cultures, and religions. The more secular societies have the lowest fertility rates; the more religious societies have the highest fertility rates. There is only one exception to the general fall in fertility: Israel. Alone among the modern world, Israel’s TFR is above 3, with modern Orthodox Jews raising three or four children per family, and the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), seven or eight.

The rationalistic causes of low fertility are: modernization of traditional societies, urbanization, education for women, abortion, contraception and divorce. But rationalism can’t explain the permanence of religion in the modern world. For example, Jews have a common gene pool by reason of intermarriage, but they are either very secular or very religious, and the very fertile Mormons are wealthier and more educated than the average American.

“Mortal existence is intolerable without the promise of immortality. Animals breed and foster their young out of instinct; humankind does so in the hope that something of our mortal existence will survive us in the continuation of our culture and the remembrance of our children. Religion in the broad sense means hope of immortality. By reducing culture to a hedonist’s shopping basket of amusements, modernity destroys the individual’s hope for immortality, and with it his incentive to create a new generation of humans” (Spengler). “To talk of ‘man’s search for meaning’ trivializes the problem. What humankind requires is meaning that transcends death. This explains a great deal of human behavior that otherwise might seem irrational” (Goldman, xv-xx). “The weakest link in the secular account of human nature is that it fails to account for people’s powerful desire to seek immortality for themselves and their loved ones” (Kaufmann, 19).

Cultural and Political Wars

Seattle and San Francisco have been called “childless cities.” A correspondent proclaims New York the “one-child-family capital of the United States.” “In secular Seattle there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In conservative, Mormon Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs” (Kaufmann, 99). “Liberalism’s demographic contradiction —individualism leading to the choice not to reproduce— may well be the agent that destroys it” (Kaufmann, xx). “Demographics is destiny, said August Comte, and the demographics of ‘blue’ America closely resemble those of Europe, with which the ‘blues’ identify. ‘Red’ America, characterized first of all by evangelical Christianity, is thriving.”

What this means is that the difference in fertility rates between the secular and the religious in the United States will be immensely important in the future, because the opposite sides are becoming solid blocks, and because changes in fertility over several generations are nothing short of revolutionary:

“Ideology is now nearly as stable an attitude as partisanship. So, political demographers can credibly speak of liberal and conservative ‘populations’, each with their own demography … The combination of ideological mobilisation, growing partisanship and residential segregation locks in political stasis. In a polarized country, few are converted to the other side of the culture war, so the game becomes a demographic one of growing your own” (Kaufmann, 102-104). “In the 1970s, conservative women … had fewer children than liberal women. By the 1980s, however, conservative women had acquired a 13% fertility edge over liberals, increasing to 19% in the 1990s and 28% in the 2000s” (Kaufmann, 101).

“Even small fertility premiums can lead to impressive gains if maintained over generations. The Mormons should have been a shrinking minority in Utah by now. However, they increased their share of the state’s population from 60% in 1920 to 75% by the end of the century in the teeth of considerable non-Mormon immigration. Across the United States, the more numerous evangelicals grew from one-third to two-thirds of white Protestants during the twentieth century. In both cases, fundamentalists enjoyed no more than a one-child advantage over others, but maintained this over a century” (Kaufmann, xii).

“The National Survey of Family Growth discovered that evangelical Protestant women aged 35 to 49 averaged 2.5 children per couple in 2002, against 2 for mainline Protestants and 1.5 for those without religion … Based on these rates, in a population evenly divided between secular and evangelical Protestants, with no net conversions, the proportion of evangelicals would increase from 50 to 62.5% in one generation. The following generation would be 73.5% evangelical, rising to 99.4% by the tenth generation” (Kaufmann, 100). “Evangelicals could be 61% of the population of the USA one generation from now” (Spengler).

Consequences

The global geostrategic situation changes dramatically, and some consequences come to mind:

  • With falling fertility rates and population implosion, the welfare state in Europe and Japan becomes unsustainable. In the next 50 years, half of the population of Europe and two-thirds of Japan will be elderly dependents, and there will be very few young, productive people supporting them.
  • France, Germany, Italy and Spain will become theme parks and museums 200 years from now, just like Sparta became a theme park for Roman tourists. “If present fertility rates hold, the number of Germans will fall by 98% over the next two centuries” (Goldman, ix). “French and German will be spoken exclusively in Hell and, like it happens today with Pindar, “no one but bored schoolboys will read Goethe two centuries hence” (Spengler).
  • “Fertility rates are falling faster in the Middle East than anywhere else on Earth.” (Longman, 8). Muslims will stabilize at around a fifth of the West European population in 2100. They might be the last custodians of the European museums until they form part of it.
  • China will not replace the USA as the next superpower, no matter what almost every pundit tells you. In 1965, China had a TFR of 6.06 children per woman. It is now at 1.4, and the biggest Chinese cities are at 1.0 or just above. This is a free-fall compounded by China’s One-Child policy, a worse disaster for the country than Mao’s Great Leap Forward and perhaps the best example ever of the unintended consequences of social engineering, because of the colossal scale.
  • “Christianity is winning the battle for souls in Africa … and it is possible that China may become the world’s largest Christian nation” (Goldman, 224).
  • Russia, as well as Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus, are dying a rather quick demographic death. They will become empty lands ready for the taking. In the coming centuries the vast empty spaces of Eastern Europe and Asia will perhaps be colonized by African Christians, in a curious recurrence of the original “out of Africa” expansion of Homo Sapiens 100,000 years ago.
  • American liberals are winning Pyrrhic cultural and political battles but at the end they will lose the war. “Blue” states, like the Europe they love, are slowly dying, while “Red” states thrive. This is the result of the demographic contraction of secularism, liberal Christianity and liberal Judaism, and the demographic expansion of Mormonism, conservative Christianity, and Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
  • Liberalism’s promise of heaven on earth cannot and will not be fulfilled. Secularism can only give us superficial and immediate pleasures. When they are consumed, what’s left is emptiness, boredom and death.

Vladimir Dorta, 11/12/2011 (updated on 09/04/2016)

_______________

Wattenberg, Ben J., Fewer, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2004

Longman, Phillip, The Empty Cradle, Basic Books, New York, 2004

Kaufmann, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, Profile Books, London, 2010

Goldman, David P., How Civilizations Die, Regnery, Washington, D.C., 2011

David P. Goldman’s “Spengler” articles about demography in Asia Times.

Advertisements

No, You Can’t Have It All

Postmodern Americans look like teenagers who want everything without effort. But why not? During these happy times we are, at last, free and able to do and to have everything we want. Most of our desires have become rights given by governments we freely chose because they promised us exactly that. Is there any downside? Apparently we don’t think there is any. Obama promises us free goodies, he gives them to us, and nothing bad happens.

Equal freedom is the highest political, social, and moral principle, and its goal is to be able to do and get what we want, as much and as equally as possible.”

Anything we can imagine in rights and freedoms is equally achievable, with no downside.

That was the thinking of the Jacobins and we know how it all ended. But human nature is stubborn, blind and deaf. From 1789 on, France tried to get everything out of nothing; in modern times Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are trying it too. Of course we also know how it will end. But there is a bigger contradiction we don’t see: we, the supposedly capitalist United States of America, blind to the lessons of history, are now following socialist Europe.

In 1791, for the first time in history, the American Constitution proposed what are now called “negative” rights. Shortly after, the French révolutionnaires, with the direct influence of our radical Ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson, proposed the better-sounding “positive” rights. A century later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made positive rights the basis of progressive thinking in the so-called Second Bill of Rights, a corrosive idea that has lasted up to our days. In fact, President Obama recently called the Constitution —disparagingly— “a charter of negative rights,” emphasizing his dislike for the bad-sounding adjective —and insisting on an ideological demarcation. Against these modern collectivist, ignorant fools, the Founders were wise in defending negative rights as the only ones belonging in the fundamental laws of a free country.

The underrated liberal thinker Isaiah Berlin wrote Four Essays on Liberty in 1969. In the third essay of that collection, titled Two Concepts of Liberty, Berlin explains the difference between negative and positive liberty and expands on how these concepts gave birth to their respective rights. It is only now when Berlin can be fully seen as a prescient thinker.

According to Berlin, negative liberty or “freedom from” is individual freedom of choice devoid of coercion and exercised under adequate conditions. Therefore, the negative rights it gives birth to are passive and have no legal “power of encroachment” upon other individuals’ rights. They are defensive shields that citizens wield against government encroachment, levees against government oppression. There is no coercion in negative rights. But this is not all. Negative rights are innate and thus predate government. Whether one thinks of them as God-given, originating in natural law or flowing out of tradition or history, they are certainly not given by government.

On the other hand, positive liberty or “freedom to” gives birth to positive, active, assertive rights that occupy “legal space” and thus encroach upon other peoples’ rights, because a positive right is an entitlement taken out of society’s pool of resources. Positive rights are offensive swords that each citizen wields against every other citizen, because they are nothing but desires for goods that have to be coercively taken out of a common pool by the force of government, thus forcefully depriving some citizens for the benefit of others in a zero-sum game in which what a citizen wins as entitlement has first to be taken away from all other citizens. There is an essential, primeval coercion about positive rights, and this coercion has existed since the beginning of time but came into historical knowledge only during the French Revolution. It’s easy to see that generalized positive rights would necessarily mean a fight of everyone against everyone else, in a new Hobbesian state of nature managed by the government. Positive “rights” are given by government, they are part of the modern fight-to-the-finish between government as defined by 1900’s liberal theory and individual citizens as defined by the Constitution.

But there is an even bigger and more fundamental contradiction in positive rights: Liberals claim them as rights but they don’t bring children to the world, either by voluntarily not reproducing or by aborting the babies who accidentally bypass their established stops. Therefore, liberals are destroying the very basis of the system they claim to defend: the less offspring they have, the more they guarantee the end of liberalism. You can see this developing right now in Europe and you can preview its following episodes in a few years in the United States of America.

Vladimir Dorta, 07/15/2015

The Other Churchill

Most conservatives would agree that Western civilization owes an unpayable debt to Winston Churchill — President Obama clearly doesn’t, as his very first act in the White House was to return Winston Churchill’s bust to Great Britain — but that is another story.

We know about Churchill’s almost superhuman efforts to stop Hitler’s killing machine virtually alone, when even his place at the top of the British government wasn’t assured. It can be shown that, had Hitler won his personal duel against Churchill in 1940, the USA wouldn’t have entered the war at the critical moment, Germany would have made Great Britain a vassal state and would have beaten the Soviet Union, it would have built the atom bomb before the Manhattan Project and, together with Japan, would have attacked the continental USA from the Azores islands in Europe and from islands in the Pacific. The world would certainly be much different today.

But perhaps some of us don’t know that Winston is not our only debtor in the Churchill family. The other one is his ancestor, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722).

In the 13th century, budding English individualism in its small towns would eventually allow England to be the engine of capitalism and the cradle of Parliamentary democracy. But this development wasn’t predetermined at all.

Marlborough helped secure the modern Anglosphere by these actions:

  • He served the English Catholic King James II, but his defection to the Protestant William of Orange was one of the key factors in the success of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. An even more important factor was the defection to William of the Protestant Princess Anne, later Queen Anne, daughter of and successor to James II.  Princess Anne acted under the influence of John Churchill and his wife Sarah.
  • The Glorious Revolution, by ending the dynasty of James II and his son James Francis Edward, stopped any possibility of England becoming an absolutist Catholic nation subordinate to France; it also established the English Bill of Rights that led to a constitutional monarchy in England and began modern English parliamentary democracy.
  • As if this weren’t enought, a few years later, in the War of the Spanish Succession, Marlborough stopped Louis XIV’s goal of building a new Holy Roman Empire in all of Europe, by defeating the French armies in the battles of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet.

There is a clear path from Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, the colonist charters in America, and to our Constitution.

Our world would be very different if this hadn’t occurred.

02/06/2011

America, the Exceptional

President George W. Bush once said “the desire for freedom lives in every human heart.” In reality, we find that tyranny is everywhere and its temptation lurks deep within us. History teaches that liberty is rare, fragile and fleeting, while tyranny is common, strong and enduring. The quest for control —of others, as much as of things— has always been a sign of the human condition. But America is different. It is exceptional because in its very essence and since its founding, the American experiment, with its love of freedom, individuality, religion, equality of opportunity and free enterprise, is a good fight against human nature.

Near the end of the 18th century two developments changed the world forever. The first one was the American Revolution, the second the French Revolution. Both occurred within 13 years of each other, both were inspired by the Enlightenment, both overthrew their respective Ancien Régime, and both created new political realities. That is where their similarities end. Their differences are much more important.

While the American Revolution is not generally recognized as a revolution, it was a total success: “The sad truth of the matter is that the French Revolution, which ended in disaster, has made world history, while the American Revolution, so triumphantly successful, has remained an event of little more than local importance.” Multiple copies of the French Revolution have appeared throughout Europe, Russia, China and Latin America. In fact, it gives birth to equally failed children, every year, somewhere in the world. The American Revolution is still unique. Why?

The key to understand why a revolution succeeds or fails in founding “a nation of laws and not of men,” is the way it handles three crucial problems:

The first problem is the source of power and of law: “Hence, the framers of American constitutions, although they knew they had to establish a new source of law and to devise a new system of power, were never even tempted to derive law and power from the same origin. The seat of power to them was the people, but the source of law was to become the Constitution, a written document, an endurable objective thing” … which in turn was based on “promises, covenants, and mutual pledges” between equal and free men “in a country articulated from top to bottom into duly constituted bodies,” with “representatives freely chosen by the consent of loving friends and neighbours.”

In the French Revolution, the source of both power and law was the people: “Law is the free and solemn expression of the general will.” (Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, Article 4). This “deification of the people” has enormously negative consequences. It makes the revolution a law unto itself, a cosmic force that sweeps away everything and everybody and which, without mediating institutions that can check its power, is prone to be led by demagogues and dictators. Blinded by democracy, the people has replaced one oppression with another.

The second problem, one that can be seen today in every Third World revolution, is the difference between liberation and liberty: “Liberation may be the condition of freedom but by no means leads automatically to it.” Liberation is freedom from want, from abject poverty, from crude oppression. On the other hand, liberty is a rare gift that up to then only ancient Greeks, English freemen after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and 18th century Americans enjoyed, because they wanted to bind themselves in freely chosen laws.

The third problem is that of economic means and ends or, in the felicitous words of Hannah Arendt, “trying to solve the social question by political means.” After so many examples of socialist disasters, we understand what this means. America, from its very beginnings, let the social problem solve itself in the economic realm by embracing democratic capitalism. Everywhere else, from the French Revolution to today in so many parts of the world, collectivist thinking has led politicians to enact laws to “end poverty.” Socialists try it time and time again, with the same dire results. Sadly, they are also doing it now here in America.

(The inspiration and all quotes except for the first one, come from Hannah Arendt’s wonderful little book, On Revolution, The Viking Press, Compass Book Edition, 1965)

03/13/2011

They Have Learned Nothing and Forgotten Nothing

“Ils n’ont rien appris, ni rien oublié.” Talleyrand

Talleyrand was criticizing the House of Bourbon and in particular the restored kingdom of Charles X that lasted only six years from 1824 and signaled the end of the monarchy in France. Charles X did not understand the immense changes brought about by the French Revolution and Napoleon and went back to absolute rule as if those changes had been mere deviations in the normal course of history.

Just like the Bourbons, Obama, Hillary, Kerry, the Neocons and the string of experts and pundits haven’t forgotten their previous positions and haven’t learned anything as events pass them by. With these leaders we are living in bubbles inside of bubbles, in fantasy worlds inside of fantasy worlds. “Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind.”

Postmodernism creates its own reality, a gaseous virtual world in which truth is subjective, conflicts don’t exist, biological differences are social impositions, and the ideas of Woodstock 1969 are as vivid now as they were then.

In this ethereal world Obama sings Kumbaya with peaceful Muslims, the remains of the old Neocon group become Marco Rubio’s foreign policy advisors and together with John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham and John McCain they push for a no-fly zone in Syria, to confront Putin and fight ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, Assad, Iran and Russia at the same time. Hillary imitates Charles X by acting as if her many mistakes haven’t occurred. Hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and migrants, and trillions of dollars wasted don’t mean a thing to them. If they haven’t forgotten the hippie mirages of eternal peace and the brotherhood of man, neither have they learned that democracy is a concept foreign to Islam or —if things keep going the way they are— the European Armageddon is as near as a couple of decades, and the American one not much later than that.

Meanwhile and trying to stay planted on the real world, our problem with ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or Boko Haram is not that we can’t defeat them, but that we don’t understand and don’t want to understand because political correctness blinds us.

The Fantasy World of the Religion of Peace

Islam is not a religion in the sense we Americans think of religion. Otherwise one can’t explain, for example, why Imams plot attacks and hide weapons in mosques (World Trade Center, France), or why Muslim women can be just as dangerous as Muslim men. Islam is a political, social and religious system all in one. Worship is only part of Islam because there is no separation between mosque and state in Islam. The Koran, Hadith and Sunnah are indisputably political as well as religious documents and Sharia is their legal underpinning. When seen this way, Islam is clearly incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and with Western democracy in general.

Our ideological response to Islamism is to explain it away by the use of words. Going from perverted to hijacked to un-Islamic, the latest escape-from-reality word is radicalized, a clever passive-aggressive way of saying that Muslims are victims of circumstances and external evil forces. As Obama says: “we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.” The truth is very different. The more pious and devout a Muslim becomes, the more desire and incentive he or she has to fully live the religious and political parts of Islam as one and the same. And this development does not need external, forced or abnormal circumstances to appear.

Muslims are in conflict with themselves and with their neighbors everywhere in the world. An indirect proof of this is that there isn’t much Islamic terrorism in East Asia or Latin America because there aren’t many Muslims there, but where Sunni and Shia Muslims live together or where Muslims live within or close to other civilizations, there is always religious and civil war, conflict, violence and terrorism. And this is nothing new, as Islamic invasions have been constants in Middle Eastern, North African and European history since the 7th century. Islam was temporarily stopped in the 17th century but it is again in motion with the destabilization brought about by the Iraq invasion, the forced change of regimes in Egypt and Libya, the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria. The resulting mass migration into Europe has morphed into an invasion that will extend for years and many millions of people. But we don’t want to know.

In this context, “the majority of Muslims are peaceful” is an irrelevant assertion. Most of the time in history resolute minorities, sometimes a few people, at times even one person, have led important movements that changed the world. Nazis and Communists were tiny minorities in Germany and Russia but led passive majorities to unimaginable suffering on a worldwide scale.

The Fantasy World of Postmodern War

Postmodernism seals the fate of the West because it impedes democratic countries from winning any war. Just compare World War II General Curtis LeMay’s decisive“I’ll tell you what war is about: you’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough, they stop fighting” with Obama’s restraint on bombing ISIS for fear of civilian casualties and environmental damage.

The postmodern argument regarding war in general and Islam in particular is of the type “if we react after Pearl Harbor the Japanese will get even angrier at us.” Our leaders use several variants of this sissy argument to establish the postmodern approach to war: Rules of engagement that care more for the enemy than for our troops. Efforts to have minimal casualties and zero collateral damage and to make sure there are more lawyers than lieutenants on the front lines. The tactical goal of post-modern war is not to win battles but to develop “counter-insurgency.” The political objective is not to defeat the enemy and impose our peace but “to win their hearts and minds.” This means that the permanence of conflict is built into the premises, by not allowing war to decide (Edward Luttwak). The saddest example of postmodern war is the way the UN and Europe criticize, stop and punish Israel in each and every Arab-Israeli conflict, with “proportionality” and “restraint” as the only responses allowed to Israel when Arab countries or Hamas or Hezbollah terrorists attack it.

The Fantasy World of Postmodern Security

Profiling everybody when looking for terrorists or weapons doesn’t work because it is extremely inefficient. And it is inefficient by design. Profiling everybody means we’re not profiling any group or individuals in particular, therefore our politically correct conscience is saved but the problem persists and the danger is ever more present. The NSA and TSA, typically inefficient government bureaucracies, go after everybody and catch nobody. We want to believe that profiling doesn’t work, although it does in Israel. We don’t want to see that any policeman worth his salt instinctively, correctly, profiles: if the suspect is a young man, the policeman isn’t going to look for 80-year-old ladies. The NSA spies on everybody’s messages and calls but didn’t catch the Boston bombers or the San Bernardino shooters. The TSA only gets one in four when looking for weapons at airports, and just recently it was discovered that seventy-two TSA employees were on a terrorist watch list. This is Keystone Cops territory, but our leaders pretend we’re safe and we sheepishly accept it.

As I said before, you don’t have to choose your enemies because it’s enough for them to choose you, and your unwillingness to hit them hard doesn’t matter because they will certainly hit you with everything they have or will have. After all, they are the ones who live in the real world.

Vladimir Dorta, 12/22/2015

On Defining Our Enemies

Iran? Shiite militias? After months of focusing on our new and exclusive enemy ISIS, the Western leadership and media are shocked, shocked! to discover that the conflict in Iraq and Syria has allowed an Iranian advance almost to the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. The front lines of the Muslim religious and civil war have dramatically changed, but our surprise is entirely self-inflicted.

Robert W. Merry, a “longtime Washington political reporter and publishing executive” writes:

Back in October 2006, the National Security Editor at Congressional Quarterly, Jeff Stein, took to asking national security officials and members of Congress if they knew the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East. He wasn’t looking for arcane doctrinal disquisitions, merely if they could say who was on which side and what each wanted. He discovered a sump of ignorance in Washington officialdom on the subject, hardly one of only limited significance to the country at the time.

Our “expert” Merry goes on to clobber Senator Marco Rubio for his supposed ignorance regarding the Middle East; he then talks about “the Shiite nations of Iran, Iraq and Syria” (notwithstanding the fact that the latter is about 60% Sunni and 13% Shia), and ends up saying that we should help Iran against ISIS. This is what passes for knowledge of the Middle East in America and the West, where we project our ideas on the Middle East and see conflict there either as lack of democracy (nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan), or dictator versus people (Saddam Hussein vs the Iraqi people, Muammar Gaddafi vs the Libyan people, Bashar Assad vs the Syrian people), or we see only one enemy: a terrorist, jihadist or radical group (then Al-Qaeda, now ISIS).

It is funnily absurd that when religion is disappearing in the West, our atheist leaders have suddenly become theologians and purport to know what Islam is, who are real Muslims, and who have hijacked what they call “the religion of peace.” These self-anointed Islamic experts have the gall to define as “not Islamic” someone like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s Caliph, who apparently has a PhD in Islamic Studies. Talk about hijacking, or about Disney cartoons.

Topping off this wholesale stupidity, some of our pundits believe they have discovered a correct definition: radical Islam, the reason being that if Obama and Kerry don’t want to mention it, then it should be the correct name. But their discovery is nearly worthless as a basis for strategy. What should be clear is that there is Sunni Islamism and there is Shia Islamism, that they are fighting each other to the death in the entire Middle East, and that both of them see the West as their enemy. Talking about a foggy “radical Islam” and focusing on ISIS and forgetting Iran is not only erroneous but dangerous.

Besides the extreme complexity of the Middle East, its cast of medieval culture and characters, of Islam as a political religion that has no limiting principle, and the constantly changing alliances and enmities, one more factor complicates the explosive mix: our postmodern reluctance to confront reality. Therefore our desperation for a semantic escape: “war on terror,” “contingency overseas operations,” “violent extremism,” “radical Islam.”

The underlying reality is this: the Muslim civilization is in a state of religious and civil war that we in the West haven’t seen for almost four hundred years, a war similar to the Thirty Years’ War between two religious sects and two groups of countries led by Saudi Arabia and Iran. The only difference is, the main forces on both sides are also waging war against the West in a way that will increasingly include Muslims who live in the West.

If we don’t recognize this, we can’t understand why Muslims are killing each other from Egypt to Pakistan, or the rise of Iran together with its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist proxies, or Iran’s quest for domination of Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, or Saudi Arabia’s historical support of the most extreme forms of Sunni Islam such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, or the confluence of thousands of young American and European Sunni Muslims in Syria to fight for ISIS, or the reluctance of the Sunni monarchies and Turkey to confront ISIS because in doing so they would be helping Iran, their main Shia enemy, when it already has its eyes on Jordan!

At this very moment, the battle for the territorial division of the artificial states of Iraq and Syria is entering its final phases:

In Iraq, on one side is the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS) and on the other are the Iraqi Shia army, the Iraqi Shia militia, and the Iranian Shia military contingent, all led by the Iranian hero General Qasem Soleimani.

In Syria, hundreds of thousands of fanatical Iranian Shia Revolutionary Guards and Shia-Alawite fighters led by Bashar Al-Assad face equally fanatical Sunnis of the Islamic State. If Iran wins the battle for Iraq and Syria, it will not only have a common border with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel, it will also be the hegemonic power in the Middle East. This unprecedented fact can only get much worse: Obama is making a deal with Iran so that this new Middle-Eastern hegemon, the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism, will also be a nuclear power.

Obama is telling this to Israel and the Sunni monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Qatar, and Kuwait: you are on your own.

ISIS is not a terrorist entity, and neither are the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Iraqi Shia militias or the Yemeni Houthi Shia militias. Or, if you prefer, they are all terrorists because in a civil and religious war every fighter is a terrorist. ISIS is just the most radical expression of Sunni warmaking, and the same applies to Shia warriors on the other side. They all see themselves as jihadis or holy warriors.

But what if radicals are a tiny minority within Islam? What if Islam is really a “religion of peace”? That is not the case either. The Muslim world is in social and political turmoil. There have been more than 25,000 Islamic attacks in the world since 9/11. Just in the month of January 2015, there were 266 Muslim attacks in 28 countries, from Afghanistan to Algeria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Dagestan, France, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, and Yemen. There are now more than 18 million Muslim refugees in the Middle East, and there could be up to 10,000 European Muslims fighting in Syria and Iraq by the end of the year.

Just try to understand Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against writer Salman Rushdie, who at the time was living in Great Britain, as a document of a religion of peace:

“I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled ‘Satanic Verses’ … as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, are hereby sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Moslems to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.”

Vladimir Dorta, 03/24/2015

Don’t Believe Your Lying Eyes

I recently wrote about the West’s unwillingness to confront reality. Our times are marked by postmodernism, a philosophical movement that appeared as a reaction to early modernity’s scientific certainties and quickly became the basis of Western culture. It considers reality as “socially constructed,” that is, we create reality ourselves and there are no objective truths, only our own interpretations, narratives, and feelings. And since all subjective “truths” are equal, we should be tolerant, inclusive and non-judgmental of everything under the sun. Post-modernism is the mark of late Western liberalism and therefore all kinds of political, social, economic and international relations fall within its huge house of mirrors. It is also the mark of passiveness, as modern liberalism is eons away from its Whig origins and no longer believes in anything worth fighting and dying for.

Just as progress is real, unidirectional and unavoidable, under the light of postmodernism liberalism is the final universal culture that overcame human nature and can mold it any way it wants. On the other hand, subjectivism, self-absorption and self-delusion are powerful weapons we give our enemies for free and the mirage extends across the board with Europeans, Americans, liberals and conservatives being similarly deceived. It is extremely grave when self-delusion (a form of madness that makes incorrect inferences about external reality) becomes the norm of conduct of entire societies.

I believe that postmodernism is no passing vogue or fashion but rather the last phase in the decadence and death of the West. As we are beginning to see, it passively accepts its future defeat brought by the arcane forces of human nature it refuses to recognize. This may be difficult to believe in these technological times, but it is totally in accord with history for human hubris to be the agent of its own destruction. It is also the way the young in the developed world —our future leaders— are taught. Decadence in the oven, so to speak.

There is, says Obama, “less war and less violence in the world today” and “America is again the most respected country on Earth” under his watch. He is reciting the liberal postmodernist Bible, Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, an anti-human nature treatise that tells us we shouldn’t believe our own lying eyes because the modern centralizing tendencies have conquered the worst of our nature, notwithstanding Hitler, Stalin and Mao, or the Jewish, Ukrainian, Armenian and Cambodian genocides, or the more than 250 million total deaths in the 20th century that in unison cry out to us that Pinker is wrong. The truth is the world progresses and regresses and, human nature being what it is, the world certainly does not get better when the hegemonic power withdraws from it. Barack Obama is the worst possible leader of his country at this time: a shallowly educated but deeply indoctrinated postmodern, a barbarian at the head of the late Roman Empire. There is also the warning of the return of geopolitics —human nature in toto— as Walter Russell Mead tells us:

The United States and the EU, at least, find such trends disturbing. Both would rather move past geopolitical questions of territory and military power and focus instead on ones of world order and global governance: trade liberalization, nuclear nonproliferation, human rights, the rule of law, climate change, and so on. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the most important objective of U.S. and EU foreign policy has been to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues toward win-win ones.

Self-delusion is to think that Somali Muslim war refugees in Minnesota will suddenly forget their cultural and religious beliefs just because they stepped on US territory by chance or by necessity. Or that Muslims living in Europe would not hear the call of their Middle East brothers in this —as their interpretation of Islam sees it— apocalyptic moment, only because they happen to live in France or England. Or that Muslims need to be “radicalized” in order for them to fight for the Muslim Caliphate. Secular post-moderns don’t understand the power of religion, therefore any individual acceptance of jihad will be understood as part of a “distorted” view of Islam.

All the while, Muslim children in Europe play ISIS beheading games in preschool!

In this race to the societal cliff, the German Bishops are trying to force the coming Roman synod to accept their policies, that is, they want the rest of the world to follow the European Catholic Church to the tomb. As the German Father Eberhard Schockenhoff says, “moral theology must be liberated from the natural law, and conscience should be based on the life experience of the faithful.” The gift of subjectivism from Catholic Europe, when its churches are empty of parishioners, to the rest of the world. A sign of the times indeed.

The small cluster of countries that conform the West want to lead the world with platitudes and “soft power” while at the same time the illiberal powers Russia, China and Iran — plus several other rogue nations — plot to upend the global order. Obama pushes an ethereal war against climate change while the Islamic State advances and North Korea miniaturizes nuclear weapons it will eventually share with Iran and whoever else pays them well. What more proofs of living in an illusory world do we need?

During its colonialist past the West didn’t hear the call of nationalism in places like Algeria or Vietnam; pari passu, in its modern atheistic and hedonistic form it understands even less the powerful call of religious faith allied to nationalism. Therefore the stupid calls for “job opportunities” for jihadists, for countering the “radicalization” and for reinforcing the “civic duties” of the “disenfranchised youth” of Europe. As Pat Buchanan argues, unquestionably:

Historically, as the faith dies, the culture and civilization to which it gave birth die, and then the people die. And a new tribe with its own gods comes to occupy the emptying land.

As there is nothing new under the sun, the future will again be conquered by faith and belief. Nobody knows who will win but the outcome is not difficult to predict: the strongest believers, therefore also the most fertile, will be the winners. Imagine how far apart from postmodern liberal thinking this is.

06/10/2015