Recently I listened to three lecture series, The Rise of Totalitarian Islam by Yaron Brook, Defensor Patriae: The Homeland Defense in History by John Lewis and Postmodernism by Robert Garmong. The three series can be thought of as a trilogy. The Rise of Totalitarian Islam describes the enemy with whom we are at war. Defensor Patriae instructs us on what we need to do to win the war. And Postmodernism shows us why we are not winning the war. It is an illuminating overview of our current crisis.
Since 2001, like many Americans, I have learned more about the Middle East than I wanted to know. Before the first Gulf War I think I could have spotted Mesopotamia on the map faster than Iraq. I would have been happy to remain ignorant about a backward region that makes women cover their faces. I would have been happy to ignore a culture with music that sounds like a cross between a squeaky door hinge and a cat in heat. Let them exist in their oriental strangeness; I have more important things to think about. However, this culture has forced itself upon our attention.
As much as I have learned in the last five years, nothing I have read has been as instructive as The Rise of Totalitarian Islam. You hear a lot of confusing BS on TV about why terrorists are attacking us: they’re poor, they’re angry about colonialism, they’re angry because we supported dictators, they’re angry because we take their oil, they’re angry about "Baywatch" and Madonna. They’re always angry about something. Dr. Brook shows that the fundamental reason they are at war with the west is the spread since the 1920’s of an ideology. Everything they do – suicide bombing, attacking the west to establish a caliphate, killing Americans and even killing innocent Muslims if necessary – has been urged on them in books written in large part by the Muslim Brotherhood. Understand their ideas and you understand the enemy.
Dr. Brook actually apologizes at the end for being so depressing. The lecture series is not called The Rise and Fall of Totalitarian Islam. The movement is still on the rise and things will get worse before they get better. For all of that, his talks inspired me with more optimism than anything I have heard lately because they show how quickly ideas can move history. Some mystic in an Egyptian jail cell would write an idiotic book and within decades the Middle East would be changed as Muslims set about putting ideas into action. In this lecture course you see in concrete, trucklike fashion how ideas move history. It’s not just an abstraction that happens over centuries, but a process that can be seen in the course of a lifetime. I believe that a rational philosophy, even one at odds with 2,000 years of mysticism and altruism, can spread rapidly and transform (and save) Western Civilization.
John Lewis’s Defensor Patriae uses four famous wars, the Persian War, the Peloponnesian War, the Second Punic War and the American Civil War to support in an inductive fashion his thesis that war must be won by destroying the enemy society’s will to wage it. As he shows, defeating an enemy’s army is not the end, but a means to the end of defeating the enemy. He is not afraid to take the controversial stand that a civilian society that supports a war cannot complain if the war is brought to it. Indeed, he shows quite convincingly that the only way to win a war is take the war to the civilians so that they too know defeat. If a people is not defeated and demoralized, then like the Germans after WWI and the Carthaginians after the First Punic War and the Spartans until Epaminondas of Thebes brought war to their gates, a people will long for another war against an enemy that has been merciful or inept in a previous war.
Robert Garmong’s Postmodernism takes on a philosophical movement that is maddeningly difficult to analyze and understand. Unlike Marxism for instance, Postmodernism does not have a grand, unified vision. Instead it is disintegrated and ad hoc. Worse, it is illogical, incoherent and inconsistent, so if you try to pin them down or abstract their principles, Postmodernists can always obfuscate, talk nonsense or just plain lie. And they have no problem lying; when there is no objective truth, only “narratives,” a lie is equal to the truth and even better if it serves the end of establishing power over evil capitalists. All the ideologies of the New Left – feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, animal rights, whatever – are species of Postmodernism.
As I heard Dr. Garmong explain this philosophy, I was struck by two things. First, there is not much to Postmodernism. It is flimsy and slight, like a cream puff that you bite into to find it is mostly air. (Well, to complete the analogy, it is a cream puff that tastes bad and lacks nutritional content – which makes no sense, but neither does the philosophy.) Take the idea that there is no truth. You respond, “Is that true?” As Aristotle showed, skepticism is self-refuting. Second, the philosophy is dishonest. Such a ramshackle house of contradictions has to be dishonest, otherwise no one would bother with it.
Postmodernism is a philosophy built on obscure jargon and arguments from intimidation. It is a movement that depends on students whose minds have been crippled by progressive education so that they cannot think independently and will respond to vague nonsense because those in authority glow with a smug air of moral superiority when they mouth it. Such a philosophy is, as Gary Hull put it, a black hole of nihilism. I don’t see how it can last. It should collapse quickly once a rational alternative spreads.
Unfortunately, this black hole dominates the west today and it has done tremendous damage in the last half century. It is the reason we have not confronted the enemy in our war with totalitarian Islam. In WWII we fought the enemy, defeated it and imposed our way of life upon it. Such a war depends on the confidence that America is moral and that we have a selfish right to exist and that our values are better than the enemy’s. Multiculturalism, a product of Postmodernism, undermines all those premises. America cannot fight a war if its predominant intellectuals do not think it deserves to win. Without moral confidence, no nation can wage a war.
If you want to understand today’s world with a clarity provided by no other movement, listen to the lectures by these three Objectivists, Yaron Brook, John Lewis and Robert Garmong. Listen to the future.