September 15, 2003


Bush's vision and the Democratic abyss (Diana West, September 15, 2003,

Something my brother said to me long ago about the ebb and flow of the war on Islamic terrorism -- not before 9/11, but well before a coalition of willing American and British forces liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein -- comes back to me from time to time. To be precise, his comment comes back to me not so much on the "ebb" of our military and political progress -- which, with patience and forbearance, will prevail -- as on the "flow" of the forces arrayed against that progress.

The United States' war on barbarism (for what else are terrorists, but barbarians?), which George W. Bush is determined to win, is not only a military and intelligence effort against desperate Ba'athist remnants in Iraq, mad jihadist terror cells the world over, and the hostile nation-states that support them. It is also a great political struggle against international and domestic forces -- from the United Nations, where plans are afloat to expand the Security Council, to the Democratic Party, which finally found in the president's $87 billion budget for Iraq a federal spending program too rich for its blood -- that act to restrain and limit America's execution of and, therefore, victory in that war.

In some ways, this political battle may be trickier than the military campaign. It may even be more costly in terms of loss of life -- if, that is, we are defeated, or if we defeat ourselves.

Which brings me back to what my brother said one crummy day, maybe when the humanitarians of Europe were giving then-dictator Saddam Hussein something to cheer about by marching behind banners proclaiming "Bush=Hitler" and the like. Or maybe it was during one of those periodic Democratic jabs at the president's credibility -- for instance, Sen. Hillary Clinton's short-lived "what did the president know about 9/11 and when did he know it?" campaign. Or maybe his remark came during a day (or a week, or a month, or two months) of political purgatory at the United Nations Security Council. Whenever it was exactly, the pressure was mounting on the president to be "moderate": to falter, that is, to pull back to a supposedly safer, more sensible position. Only he didn't. So my brother was moved to note, somewhat dramatically but strictly on the level, "All that stands between us and the abyss is George W. Bush."

Just finished reading the Correspondence of Albert Camus and Jean Grenier, a great review of which you'll find here.
There's been some attempt over the years to claim Camus as a conservative or even an incipient Christian--see here for example: Camus as Conservative: A post 9/11 reassessment of the work of Albert Camus (Murray Soupcoffm, Iconoclast)--a task made easier because his later anti-Communism made him reviled by old friends on the French Left. But what comes across most in these letters is that he--and his mentor, Grenier--were lost men. They recognized that something had gone seriously wrong in their culture, that it was no longer decent and had no basis from which its decency could be restored, but the possibility of returning to a religious basis was further than they were willing to go. So Camus must be seen as a devastating critic of modernity, rather than as someone who offered an alternative. Here he is though on Europe in 1958:
The direction the world is taking distresses me at this time. In the long run, every continent (yellow, black, and brown) will topple onto the old Europe. They are hundreds and hundreds of millions. They are hungry and they are not afraid of dying. As for us, we no longer know how to die or to kill. We need not preach, but Europe does not believe in anything. So we must wait for the millennium, or the miracle. As for me, I am finding it more and more difficult to live facing a wall. And difficult for artists to work, alone, without being supported by anything.

That sense of being unsupported in a culture that no longer believes in anything, is the product of lurching towards the abyss. Thus far, the West has been stopped from falling completely into the abyss by the residual effects of a culture that did believe in something and by leaders like George W. Bush and Tony Blair whose faith remains rooted in that culture. Fortunately, this faith has proven a pretty durable bulwark, but too many choose to either face the wall or even court the abyss for us to be complacent about the future.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Nobel Lecture (Nobel Lecture in Literature 1970)

Our Twentieth Century has proved to be more cruel than preceding centuries, and the first fifty years have not erased all its horrors. Our world is rent asunder by those same old cave-age emotions of greed, envy, lack of control, mutual hostility which have picked up in passing respectable pseudonyms like class struggle, racial conflict, struggle of the masses, trade-union disputes. The primeval refusal to accept a compromise has been turned into a theoretical principle and is considered the virtue of orthodoxy. It demands millions of sacrifices in ceaseless civil wars, it drums into our souls that there is no such thing as unchanging, universal concepts of goodness and justice, that they are all fluctuating and inconstant. Therefore the rule - always do what's most profitable to your party. Any professional group no sooner sees a convenient opportunity to BREAK OFF A PIECE, even if it be unearned, even if it be superfluous, than it breaks it off there and then and no matter if the whole of society comes tumbling down. As seen from the outside, the amplitude of the tossings of western society is approaching that point beyond which the system becomes metastable and must fall. Violence, less and less embarrassed by the limits imposed by centuries of lawfulness, is brazenly and victoriously striding across the whole world, unconcerned that its infertility has been demonstrated and proved many times in history. What is more, it is not simply crude power that triumphs abroad, but its exultant justification. The world is being inundated by the brazen conviction that power can do anything, justice nothing. Dostoevsky's DEVILS - apparently a provincial nightmare fantasy of the last century - are crawling across the whole world in front of our very eyes, infesting countries where they could not have been dreamed of; and by means of the hijackings, kidnappings, explosions and fires of recent years they are announcing their determination to shake and destroy civilization! And they may well succeed. The young, at an age when they have not yet any experience other than sexual, when they do not yet have years of personal suffering and personal understanding behind them, are jubilantly repeating our depraved Russian blunders of the Nineteenth Century, under the impression that they are discovering something new. They acclaim the latest wretched degradation on the part of the Chinese Red Guards as a joyous example. In shallow lack of understanding of the age-old essence of mankind, in the naive confidence of inexperienced hearts they cry: let us drive away THOSE cruel, greedy oppressors, governments, and the new ones (we!), having laid aside grenades and rifles, will be just and understanding. Far from it! . . . But of those who have lived more and understand, those who could oppose these young - many do not dare oppose, they even suck up, anything not to appear "conservative". Another Russian phenomenon of the Nineteenth Century which Dostoevsky called SLAVERY TO PROGRESSIVE QUIRKS.

The spirit of Munich has by no means retreated into the past; it was not merely a brief episode. I even venture to say that the spirit of Munich prevails in the Twentieth Century. The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity, other than concessions and smiles. The spirit of Munich is a sickness of the will of successful people, it is the daily condition of those who have given themselves up to the thirst after prosperity at any price, to material well-being as the chief goal of earthly existence. Such people - and there are many in today's world - elect passivity and retreat, just so as their accustomed life might drag on a bit longer, just so as not to step over the threshold of hardship today - and tomorrow, you'll see, it will all be all right. (But it will never be all right! The price of cowardice will only be evil; we shall reap courage and victory only when we dare to make sacrifices.)

And on top of this we are threatened by destruction in the fact that the physically compressed, strained world is not allowed to blend spiritually; the molecules of knowledge and sympathy are not allowed to jump over from one half to the other. This presents a rampant danger: THE SUPPRESSION OF INFORMATION between the parts of the planet. Contemporary science knows that suppression of information leads to entropy and total destruction. Suppression of information renders international signatures and agreements illusory; within a muffled zone it costs nothing to reinterpret any agreement, even simpler - to forget it, as though it had never really existed. (Orwell understood this supremely.) A muffled zone is, as it were, populated not by inhabitants of the Earth, but by an expeditionary corps from Mars; the people know nothing intelligent about the rest of the Earth and are prepared to go and trample it down in the holy conviction that they come as "liberators".

A quarter of a century ago, in the great hopes of mankind, the United Nations Organization was born. Alas, in an immoral world, this too grew up to be immoral. It is not a United Nations Organization but a United Governments Organization where all governments stand equal; those which are freely elected, those imposed forcibly, and those which have seized power with weapons. Relying on the mercenary partiality of the majority UNO jealously guards the freedom of some nations and neglects the freedom of others. As a result of an obedient vote it declined to undertake the investigation of private appeals - the groans, screams and beseechings of humble individual PLAIN PEOPLE - not large enough a catch for such a great organization. UNO made no effort to make the Declaration of Human Rights, its best document in twenty-five years, into an OBLIGATORY condition of membership confronting the governments. Thus it betrayed those humble people into the will of the governments which they had not chosen.

It would seem that the appearance of the contemporary world rests solely in the hands of the scientists; all mankind's technical steps are determined by them. It would seem that it is precisely on the international goodwill of scientists, and not of politicians, that the direction of the world should depend. All the more so since the example of the few shows how much could be achieved were they all to pull together. But no; scientists have not manifested any clear attempt to become an important, independently active force of mankind. They spend entire congresses in renouncing the sufferings of others; better to stay safely within the precincts of science. That same spirit of Munich has spread above them its enfeebling wings.

What then is the place and role of the writer in this cruel, dynamic, split world on the brink of its ten destructions? After all we have nothing to do with letting off rockets, we do not even push the lowliest of hand-carts, we are quite scorned by those who respect only material power. Is it not natural for us too to step back, to lose faith in the steadfastness of goodness, in the indivisibility of truth, and to just impart to the world our bitter, detached observations: how mankind has become hopelessly corrupt, how men have degenerated, and how difficult it is for the few beautiful and refined souls to live amongst them?

But we have not even recourse to this flight. Anyone who has once taken up the WORD can never again evade it; a writer is not the detached judge of his compatriots and contemporaries, he is an accomplice to all the evil committed in his native land or by his countrymen. And if the tanks of his fatherland have flooded the asphalt of a foreign capital with blood, then the brown spots have slapped against the face of the writer forever. And if one fatal night they suffocated his sleeping, trusting Friend, then the palms of the writer bear the bruises from that rope. And if his young fellow citizens breezily declare the superiority of depravity over honest work, if they give themselves over to drugs or seize hostages, then their stink mingles with the breath of the writer.

Shall we have the temerity to declare that we are not responsible for the sores of the present-day world?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2003 9:37 AM

Concluded to polite applause from the Scandinavians and honored guests (how odd to hear 19th century ravings in our enlightened age) .

Posted by: ed at September 15, 2003 11:55 AM

Prophesy from Camus and truth from the great Jeremiah of our age. Outstanding. Posts like this are why your site has become one of my favorites.

Posted by: R.W. at September 15, 2003 12:34 PM

Jacob Burckhardt was correct when he predicted that any lasting creative effort in the Modern Age would require a heroic act of self-denial.

Posted by: Paul Cella at September 16, 2003 9:47 AM