Chapter 1

 

                                    OUT OF THE ASHES: AMERICA'S RENEWAL?

                                                    Post-September 11 Essay

                                                                             

 

            For those of us who remain loyal to the ideals of the American past, there is much that is disturbing about American life today.  The ideas that informed the American tradition have been under attack for several generations, and for forty years there has been a "culture war" (to use a description shared by both sides) that has changed our way of life and undermined the norms by which we used to live.  I have traced the history and discussed the particulars of that conflict in my other writings.  The present book will have a more limited purpose.

            In this chapter, a "post-September 11 essay," I will discuss three issues that before the atrocities of that day made me fatalistic, though by no means indifferent, about America's future.  I didn't see any way the United States could survive as a nation, given three forces that seemed irresistible and that were driving Americans toward national suicide.  The title "Out of the Ashes: America's Renewal?" expresses the hope that the shock Americans have experienced will open the door to some soul searching and, perhaps, redirection.  The reasons for fatalism are not so clearly present now, even though redirection is still highly improbable.

            The rest of the book will set out, with little change, what is in effect the book I had written about one of those three issues – the conceptual flaws that guide and the dangers of America's global meliorism – several months before September 11.

 

First, "multiculturalism" and balkanization

            The first of these was the extent of the demographic invasion Americans have permitted since 1965 and were continuing to allow.  "Multiculturalism" had become the regnant ideology, forced on the people as a whole by the opinion-forming class that holds the society so much in its grip.

            The United States would clearly become a Yugoslavia of discordant ethnicities, with little memory of the meaning this country has had for past generations. 

            Racial and ethnic militancy and separatism would grow as a source of internal conflict, not just because that would be the tendency of diverse, self-contained groups, but because the militancy would be encouraged by an ideology of alienation that, seated in the intelligentsia and its attendant elites, has for the several decades since World War II made ethnicity its primary weapon.  The United States was no longer a melting-pot of European peoples, but in the name of the recently engrafted ideology of "multiculturalism" was allowing itself to become a reflection of the world at large.

            Under the conditions before September 11, the trajectory in this direction was irreversible.  Why?  Because the American elite in business, politics, the media, the entertainment culture, and academia willed it so.  Because the great majority of Americans with college educations have long conformed their opinions spontaneously to whatever ideas have been fashionable among that elite.  And, finally, because the rest of the society, preoccupied with the concerns of daily life, has been politically and culturally ineffectual.  Dissenting voices have virtually no outlets, readership or audience.

            Thus, the demise of America "as we have known it," and most likely even as an intact political entity, was merely a matter of time.  By the middle of this century (and probably well before then because demographic changes can be expected to accelerate after they catch hold), Americans of European origin would be a minority.  It is likely they would have fled into enclaves of their own – walled-off communities and activities that only they attended – while becoming islands within a sea of other peoples.  Even political unity would be shattered as separatist impulses emerged.

            Countless of those other peoples would be splendid, taken either as individuals or as ethnic groups.  They would be human beings, to be valued as such.  But the United States would have changed in the most fundamental ways.  American society would hardly be recognizable by earlier generations.

            So profound has been the ideological attack upon the American past that many of our contemporaries would have been inclined to say "good riddance."  Our school children are told that Americans of the nineteenth century and, before that, of the eighteenth, were racist and exclusionary, seizing a continent by a long series of depredations against a worthy indigenous population.  The Constitution revered by those Americans was antiquated and not given to the egalitarianism that today is the moral imperative by which all, past and present, is judged.  The economy was one of sweatshops and wage slavery.  Women were held down and blacks, even after slavery was ended, survived on the bare margin of society.  This is today's conventional wisdom.

            Nor, they are told, need we limit such befoulment to those earlier centuries: the baseball of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was tainted by the absence of minorities; the United States before the Civil Rights Revolution and the feminist movement would hardly have been worthy of the respect of later Americans.  And even now, the great mass of (white) Americans remain "unconsciously racist and sexist," with their "racial profiling" and "glass ceilings."

            Thus, the meaning of American history has been inverted.  The inversion amounts to a loss of societal memory, with the substitution of self-hatred in its place.

           

Second, the unfathomable dangers of global meliorism

            The second reason the United States seemed destined for the ashbin of history was that over a century ago (in 1898) Americans had abandoned their historic policy of minding their own business, serving as a beacon of liberty but leaving it to other peoples to run their own affairs.  Americans, with some dissent, had come to see their role as an international power.  They adopted an ethos of global meliorism (i.e., of taking it upon themselves to make the world a better place). For many years after World War II they became the leader in the containment of Communism, which in my opinion was a necessary defense of civilization and of themselves; but the Wilsonian outlook of setting things right throughout the world was much broader than that, and reasserted itself with the "globalism" that followed the end of the Cold War. 

            So long as the interventions spawned by meliorism went along well, or at least without producing major disasters for Americans, few people questioned it.  But think about it: the peoples of the world are vast in number, differ from each other culturally, religiously and politically in unimaginable ways, and are full of the "prideful self-assertiveness" that all self-respecting peoples must feel.  The social historian Samuel Huntington speaks of nine distinct civilizations.

            Do they want us telling them who's good and who's bad within their own societies, and picking sides in their struggles?  Do they necessarily welcome the subversion of their own cultures through the invasion that commodities, communications, entertainments, and services within the global economy entail? 

            With every meliorist intervention, the American people make enemies.  Even those whose side we pick, and whom we make our friends as we seek to wind up a particular conflict, often come to hate us, as they see that Americans aren't really ready to acknowledge their right to self-determination.  These erstwhile friends see the United States as inconstant, undependable, forever judgmental, presumptuous in its assumption of superiority, and dangerously powerful.  Are they wrong?  We wouldn't think so if we were in their position. 

            And therein lies enormous danger.  It was an illusion prior to September 11 to suppose that these peoples are weak and pliable in the hands of our good intentions.  (And that was the unspoken assumption that justified both the policy and the complacency that supported it.)  September 11 shattered that illusion.  We are now acutely aware of the endless possibilities of "asymmetrical warfare," with its biological, chemical, nuclear and cyber dimensions.  We have entered a time when even such a thing as an airliner full of passengers can be turned into a guided missile and when a bomb can be hidden in a shoe.  

            Virtually every aspect of a free and open society provides the "soft underbelly" for attack.  None of us like this; the whole prospect makes us ill.  Within the minds of people today, there is a palpitating knowledge that Americans are in danger far beyond what is evident from the atrocities of September 11 or from the anthrax mailings in the weeks that followed.  Those atrocities are limited compared to what can happen.

 

Third, an increasingly dangerous world of economic displacement

            Even these two factors don't paint the entire picture.  Four years ago, I wrote a book-length manuscript about the implications of the revolution in world technology.  Unless conflict reverses or retards its progress, this revolution is introducing an age unlike any humanity has experienced.  The on-rush of computers, robotics, biotechnology, genetic engineering, materials sciences, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and more will go far beyond the Industrial Revolution, with implications in every area of life.  Achievement and well-being will become possible beyond anything we have known before.

            But one of its implications is shattering.  The new technology is all non-labor-intensive.  Its development requires much well-trained work by people today, and gives rise to many new industries; but as the technology proceeds, it will need fewer and fewer people to do its work.  Up to now, billions of the world's people have depended upon remunerated work as the source of their livelihood.  That work will, however, become more and more obsolete and unrewarded, including even farming of all sorts as cheaper and better products go onto the world market from computerized, robotically-operated factory farms.

            True, this looks ahead just far enough to make the prospect seem "futuristic," and, accordingly, fanciful.  This especially seemed so in the late 1990s as the economic boom in the United States pushed the unemployment rate to the lowest possible levels.  Even after September 11, with layoffs and "downsizing" raging through the economy, the long-term trend is obscured by the "noise" of temporary factors, since many of those layoffs are the result of what may be short-term conditions.

            Just the same, the long-term, secular trend is there.  Sooner or later we will face the reality of a world in which billions of people are desperate for lack of income-producing potential, and in which the polarity of wealth and poverty will grow beyond anything that is acceptable to a free, essentially middle-class society such as has existed in the United States. (The well-being of the great run of people within a context of individual striving has been a central ideal of the market system.)  The polarity and displacement will occur even within the advanced economies, but they will be especially marked, first, within the societies that are not in the forefront of the technology.               

            Many peoples are in that condition already.  Unemployment is even now exceedingly high in several countries. Americans don't see it, both because of their own preoccupations and because there are reasons to discount conditions in other societies, which in fact are often stewing in juices of their own making. But the stark fact remains that there are hundreds of millions of desperate people in the world. 

            That is a terrible fact, taken just by itself, of course.  But what is most pertinent to my discussion here is that it is extremely dangerous for those in the "fully developed countries."  The immigration of desperate peoples floods Europe and America; and their desperation fuels hatred.  Rightly regarded, hatred from this source stems not from a petty "envy," or from "evil" that lurks within those peoples, but from their very desperation.  (Envy is certainly part of it; but it is not "petty," it is profound.)  Millions of those peoples yearn to be among us and to share our prosperity; but if they cannot, they feel the disparity with the most deeply-rooted anger.  And again, anger, in an age of weapons of mass killing, is deadly.

            The reason I count the displacement of work and the growing economic polarity among the forces leading to national suicide is that it is likely that Americans will interpret that force through the lens of an inadequate closed-system "free market ideology" (which relates closely to what I as a classical liberal have supported all my life, but which is by no means identical to my own understanding of the appropriate theory for a free society).  Poorly-armed conceptually, they will be inclined first to deny that displacement is a real problem (since, as I am told over and over again, "wants are infinitely expandable and there can be no long-term shortage of demand for labor if wage rates are flexible") and, beyond that, to accept the polarity and displacement as just the normal inequalities of the marketplace, at least until well beyond the time when it will still be possible to formulate and implement a sound new theory for a society founded on individual liberty.  Ironically, it is the friends of a market system, historically one of the pillars of a free society, who most lock the system into eventual self-destruction.  

 

Shocked out of these trajectories?

            From all this, it was apparent that Americans were in a bind from which I could see no way out.  They weren't going to reverse the demographic invasion; nothing was likely to persuade them how unwise it is to apply the Social Gospel globally; and there was a high probability that they were going to rationalize the growing polarity of wealth and incomes – relying, in fact, on the very philosophy of an unimpeded market that I myself have always embraced.

            It was hardly possible to foretell that a shock would occur that could shake us out of so many complacencies.

            September 11 has that potential.  And the paradox is that the worse things become after September 11, the more that potential grows.  The most immediate prospect for renewal comes in the area of Americans' national identity. Is it possible or even thinkable, now, that Americans are going to continue to accept an influx of tens of millions of people from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East?  Will they remain stolidly conformist as their elite celebrates what a good thing "multiculturalism" is and packages it in glowing ideological language?

            If not, there is a chance that the majority of Americans will reassert themselves as against that elite.  That will mean that new leaders and new ideas will come forward.  Nothing could be more conducive to the well-being of American society than the overthrow of that elite.  The "alienation of the intellectual" against the mainstream society has been a major fact in American life since the early nineteenth century, touching issues of all sorts.  All along, there has been a great unsatisfied need for that mainstream culture to have an intellectual subculture of artists, academics and literary figures appropriate to itself.  The new world of post-September 11 may, at long last, make that possible by waking up the giant and causing it to see where its interests really lie.

            It will be harder to reverse the ethos of global intervention.  A reversal seemed impossible before, and now the events of September 11 have necessarily pushed the United States into more, not less, intervention.[1]  Any reversal of the interventionist policy will look like a surrender to our enemies, as though we will have been driven off the field by their violence.  No people with any pride, such as Americans feel so rightly and so strongly today, will let that happen.  It is precisely our most patriotic citizens who will most insist on sustained action.  And, at least in the short-term, that is as it should be. It would be intolerable to accept passively the slaughter of our fellow citizens and to await being led to slaughter ourselves.

            As the weeks pass following September 11, we see not so much a needed questioning of the premises of American interventionism as we do an abundance of expansive analyses that call on the United States to go to war against much, if not all, of the Islamic world.  President Bush has tried hard to differentiate between radical Islamist terrorism and Islam in general, but there are many who at the very least want the United States to fight all of Israel's enemies, and others who take an even more expansive view. In a column on October 1, 2001, Patrick Buchanan  says "the shot across Bush's bow came in an ‘Open Letter' co-signed by 41 foreign-policy scholars, including William Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the publisher of The Weekly Standard and the editor in chief of The New Republic – essentially, the entire neoconservative establishment.  What must Bush do to retain their support?  Target Hezbollah for destruction and retaliate against Syria and Iran if they refuse to cut all ties to Hezbollah and move militarily to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein.  Failure to attack Iraq, the neocons warn Bush, ‘will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism...' Among the signers is Richard Perle, chairman of Bush's own Defense Policy Board, a key advisory group."

            As we will see in my later discussion, there are other authors who want the United States to assume the role of permanent adversary to China, delimiting its coming "domination" of Asia.

 

The need, also, for transcendence

            It would fly too much in the face of human nature to counsel that Americans should not presently seek vengeance for the attack upon them.  Despite the denial made by so much modern thought, retribution is an essential part of justice. 

            Nevertheless, a blind spot that has so much plagued humanity in the past has been a failure to see that war must be accompanied eventually by transcendence.  As the carnage proceeds, it is disastrous if no one takes a larger view of it and develops a vision of how it can be resolved into peace and mutually-satisfactory reconciliation. 

            This is precisely what was not done in World War I.  No one could give any intelligible explanation for why the Leviathans of Europe were at each others' throats.  Millions died, and a civilization was mortally wounded.  It is likely that the war would have ended in a stalemate of disgust and exhaustion if Americans (influenced profoundly by atrocity propaganda) had not decided that they knew how to choose sides between the good and the bad and had not intervened to "fight the war to make the world safe for democracy."  The result was Versailles, and all that followed it.  If only, instead, the leaders of Europe, backed by their peoples, had asked themselves, at some time in 1915 or 1916, what it was really all for; had acknowledged and truly felt the humanity of the enemies they had demonized so thoroughly; and had called for an end.

            Without transcendence, carnage leads on to more carnage.  If that was true of World War I, think just how true it will be of the war Americans are engaged in today, with its unseen enemy that may well grow and mutate with each new horror, armed with the means of mass killing.

            If civilization is to have a chance, we Americans must come to see that transcendence is imperative – even if it seems to be a giving-in to our enemies and even if it seems to be doing what the "America is always wrong" crowd in the universities wants us to do.  Americans must brush all that aside and seek a reconciliation on their own initiative, knowing that that is the only way to bring the mess of terrorism to a conclusion.

            This means Americans' reaffirming their historic traditions.  One of those was minding our own business.  The United States can be an enormously valuable world citizen, as it was before 1898, without presuming to determine what is best for peoples everywhere.  Then, if our domestic example is a good one, as we would expect a free society's to be, people elsewhere can emulate it if they wish.  It also means reestablishing our identity and integrity as a people, through at most a selective and limited immigration.  It means insisting that the American people have an effective voice in their own government and in their own thought processes.  The elite will denounce this as "populism," but we must not let the denigration fool us: it will be nothing other than the self-government our ideals envision.

 

Becoming an "honest broker" between the Israelis and Palestinians

            On the world scene, it will not be enough to refrain from global meliorism.  America's backing of Israel, if that backing continues as an unqualified commitment, will be enough in itself to nourish the hatreds that led to the carnage of September 11.  The extent of that support is illustrated by the fact that Israel received about $700 million in economic aid, and $2.1 billion in military assistance, from the United States in 2001 alone.  This is just over $450 per Israeli.[2]  On October 5, 2001, Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleisher assured Israel that "Israel has no stronger friend and ally in the world than the United States.  President Bush is an especially close friend of Israel."[3]  It is essential that the United States truly become an "honest  broker" between the Israelis and the Arabs.  The charge that it is "anti-Semitism" to criticize anything about Israel or about the Zionist project for a Jewish homeland that began with Theodor Herzl more than a century ago is nonsense.  We can fully see the humanity of the Jews and empathize with their long suffering while at the same time recognizing that it was insane to have established a Jewish national home in Palestine without first obtaining the blessings of the population that was already there and without the goodwill of the Arab world in general. 

            There is a broader context, too, within which this must be understood.  It isn't enough to point out that a national home for the Jews was established in the face of adament objections from the Arabs.  It is important, as well, to place the hostility toward Israel's creation in the context of the post-World War II self-assertion of many peoples in the world, including the Arabs and other Muslims, in the wake of the collapse of the Western colonial system.  It was the wrong time in history to expect those peoples to accept the matter passively.

            There were commentators who, without the slightest ill-will toward the Jews, predicted endless war if it were done.  According to historian Paul Johnson, a warning was made shortly after World War I that "a Jewish state in Palestine will mean a permanent danger to a lasting peace in the Near East."  And Johnson says that at the end of World War II "neither the American State Department nor the British Foreign Office wanted a Jewish state.  They foresaw disaster for the West if one were created" (my emphasis).[4]

            Despite that initial insanity, we cannot now "dis-establish" Israel.  Israel exists.  That and the moral capital that Israel has in the West are givens, and there is no alternative but to act now on the basis of them.  But it is necessary to see, as until now most Americans have not, the Palestinian side of the issue.  The Palestinians need a place to live and prosper, and they are as deserving of self-determination as any other people on earth.  Jerusalem is the fount of three major world religions, and as such should be an international city, open to all.  The demographic invasion of the area by unending Jewish immigration from all over the world, and by the expansion of settlements, can and must stop.  With these desiderata in mind, and with one eye on the justice of the case and the other on our own safety, it is time the United States demanded a settlement that, while affirming Israel's existence, will place the Palestinians in a situation that is satisfactory to them and to the Arab world in general. 

            Such an effort is inconsistent with the overall policy of "minding our own business" that I am advocating, but our past interventions have gotten us into the Israeli-Palestinian morass (it was President Harry Truman who insisted on Israel's creation) – with the "tarbaby" of hatred that now refuses to let us go –, and by necessity we are going to have to be involved still further to get it resolved.

            It is one thing to call for becoming an honest broker; it is another to accomplish it.  It means a veritable revolution in American politics and ideology.  No American politician has dared question the partisanship on behalf of Israel – and for good reason, since the charge of "anti-Semitism" has meant political death.  This will end only when Americans come to see such a promiscuous labeling for what it is: as something that is essentially vicious and manipulative.  This understanding can come with a reassertion of the American mainstream, but is impossible without it. 

            The voices, including many within American "conservatism," that are calling for the United States to go to war against all of Israel's enemies are pulling in the opposite direction.  Rush Limbaugh, famous as a conservative talk-show host, is an example.  He calls for Israel (and by clear implication the United States, since we are the guarantors of Israel) to undertake a war of "total annihilation of its enemies... meaning the terrorists and, yes, their sponsors."  He mentions among these enemies Palestinians, wealthy Saudi Arabians, Iran, Sudan and Syria, speculating also that the United States may go to war against Somalia and Iraq.[5] 

            Since "victory" is out of the question in a struggle that would increasingly pit the United States against a civilization with more than a billion people, this is a formula for disaster.  There are steps that can be taken that are both much less dangerous and amenable to a satisfactory conclusion.  One of them is to insist upon a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. 

 

Assisting through technology

            American survival will demand other steps, too.  It is foolish to think that the advanced economies can feed and clothe the world through direct aid.  The populations are just too immense for that, and are becoming ever larger, so that the world is a large sink.

            Nevertheless, given the nature of the new technologies, the global market will over time produce polarity of rich and poor, not a general well-being.  It will be essential to address the desperation, if for no other reason than that the desperation produces hatreds that can lead to a destruction of civilization. 

            What can be done is a sharing of capital and the vast new technological knowledge that is developing as it relates to supplying the essentials of life, so that each people can see to its own needs. If we meddle in how they accomplish that, we are back in the interventionist mess again; but we can be of major assistance without incurring hatred.     There are two caveats: First, consumer technology-sharing offers no panacea.  It doesn't guarantee an end to desperation; and therefore it doesn't assure an end to the desire for massive demographic invasion of Europe and America, or an end to hatred, with its immense dangers.

            Second, this imperative to share consumer-oriented technology isn't entirely consistent, unfortunately, with the need (also an imperative for American survival) for the United States to maintain a clear lead in military technologies.  They are not in separate universes.  It will be a challenge to future policy-makers to accomplish both objectives.

 

The most intelligent defense

            Because a world without dangers is not guaranteed, America will always have to see to its own defense.  For this defense to fail is not an option.  Does this mean the United States will need, in perpetuity, to expect to fight wars everywhere, against peoples throughout the world?

            Not if the defensive policy is wise.  Bombing and open warfare will be necessary when immediate reprisal is called for, but fighting the haters who arise out of a mass of desperate people will be like dealing with the hornets from a hornets' nest without being able to remove the nest itself.  As we look back over history, many the more merciless wars have been those fought against irregular troops supported by an indigenous population.  Such wars are both exceedingly brutal and almost impossible to win.  They defy victory in a setting such as the one the United States faces today (if we take, say, the Islamic world, and not just Afghanistan, into account).

            What can be most efficacious in the long run is excellent intelligence, and covert operations to confront committed enemies as they arise.  If that succeeds, head-to-head conflict can be held to a minimum.  Warfare it is, to be sure; and there should be no confusion about that.  But it will be a different kind of warfare, much more selective and much less apparent.  There will, of course, be less occasion even for that sort of conflict if in all other ways we are allowing the world's peoples to tend to their own business.

            The on-going suppression of asymmetrical warfare will also be aided by the fact that there are major forces within each society whose interests are at odds with those of the nihilists.  (Here, I use the word "nihilist" as it applied to the nineteenth century Russian revolutionaries such as Nechayev: willing to tear down existing civilization in order to rebuild from the chaos according to their own peculiar idealistic vision.)  Most existing regimes are opposed to the al-Quida, and Muslims are by no means monolithic in their beliefs, loyalties and interests.  This suggests that the United States need not go to war against the billion-plus people of Islam, but rather can lead a coalition that will contain precisely the leading forces within Islam itself.  For this purpose, on-going diplomacy will be vital.

 

The remaining chapters: background on our "meliorist conceit"

            This first chapter is written after the events of September 11.  It is helpful for the reader to know that during the preceding winter I wrote what are now Chapters 2 through 8 as a book under the title The Meliorist Conceit: A Cautionary Analysis of American Global Intervention.

            Are those chapters still valuable?  I have left them almost entirely as I first wrote them because an understanding of the broader world context that led to September 11 is, if anything, even more essential today than it was earlier.  Serious readers will know that there is much more to consider than just what our current preoccupations would lead us to focus on. 

            The rest of this book will discuss the many dimensions of one of the three problems I have felt were conducive to American national suicide: the problem of America's world meliorist and interventionist policy. 

            An analysis made before September 11 includes valuable insights that an American would hardly be moved to consider under present circumstances. If at some point we are to transcend the conflict between ourselves and those who hate us, we need, despite September 11, to understand the illusions that have guided American policy since the great switch in 1898. 

 

 

 

                                                                   ENDNOTES

 

[1]  Before September 11, there was a marked disinclination toward "nation-building," especially in light of the miserable experience in Somalia.  This was especially felt by President George W. Bush.  Later, however, the question was forced on the United States of what to do with Afghanistan in light of the defeat of the Taliban there.  An editorial in the Wichita Eagle on October 18 2001, said that "Mr. Bush dislikes nation-building – and understandably so, given past U.S. failures.  But to his credit, he realizes that if he is to end the threat of terrorism, he must seek long-term solutions."  This illustrates how the response to terrorism will lead the United States into added intervention, not less.  (It is interesting that R. C. Longworth, a senior reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Wichita Eagle on December 9, 2001, in which he cited the Somalian experience to point out that there are situations, such as in both Somalia and Afghanistan, where there "is not a duel between two sides but a tournament of competing warlords."  He suggested that instead of setting up a new government, the United States and the United Nations should establish a U.N. protectorate, which would at least help assure a period of stability.)

[2].  Wichita Eagle, September 27, 2001, p. 2.

[3].  Wichita Eagle, October 6, 2001, p. 4A, report by Bennett Roth of the Houston Chronicle.

[4].  Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York: HarperPerennial, 1988), pp. 436, 525.

[5].  The statements by Limbaugh appear in his article "Unleash Israel and Win Peace" that was posted on his www.rushlimbaugh.com Web site on December 7, 2001.