Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Confessions of a geo-con 

I have a confession to make: in the past, I used to be a lot more interested in economic and social policy, but after September 11 I have become pretty much a geo-con. Not that I don't believe that having robust growth or strong families is not important - I do - but unless we can successfully face the enemies of liberal democracy on the international stage, all the domestic concerns will become somewhat abstract (at this point I'll pre-empt - no pun intended - some commenters and acknowledge that having a healthy economy and a healthy society will in turn help you pursue a strong foreign policy).

In this context, there has been an interesting debate going on the pages of the British "Spectator" (I won't bother with links, since most of the content is now available only via registration or subscription).

It all started when a Conservative MP John Hayes published an article in the August 6 issue, titled "Muslims are right about Britain". In it, Hayes essentially agreed with the socially conservative Muslim critique of the British society as decadent and failing to provide young generation with clear rules and good examples. Hayes' stance has been supported by five newly elected Conservative MPs in the current issue of the magazine.

Overall, it was a much milder and more reasoned contribution that Jerry Fallwell's stupid post 9/11 remark that the terror attacks were a quasi-divine punishment for tolerating homosexuals and abortionists. It's interesting how rare such outbursts actually have been. Quite the opposite - as Ron Liddle writes elsewhere in the current issue of "The Spectator":
Those people who share with the mullahs a distaste for the spiritual decadence of the West - for homosexuality, feminism, godlessness, a lack of respect for one'’s elders, the false idolatry of television celebrities and general sexual licentiousness and drunkenness -– are the very people who have been most vocal in questioning the basic tenets of Islam.
What Liddle is saying is that - counter intuitively, from his point of view - it has been the conservatives, including of course social conservatives, who have been the strongest critics of radical Islam. Counter intuitively, because according to Liddle there is much agreement between Christian conservatives and Muslim conservatives about the state of our society. Liddle doesn't mention this, but I recall very well the close cooperation engineered by Vatican in the pre-9/11 world between Catholic and Muslim states to thwart some of the progressive agendas of many a United Nations conference.

But the apparent post-9/11 split between Western and Islamic conservatives is only surprising if one truly ascribes to the view of domestic religious right as being no more and no less than just the American (or British) Taliban. Contra leftists caricatures, Western social conservatives do not want to introduce Sharia. The opposition to gay marriage does not equal the support for stoning homosexuals to death. Arguing against the excesses of modern feminism does not make one a proponent of segregated swimming pools and burquas for all.

Secondly, there is more to life than just the social issues, and I would venture a guess that most conservatives, while not enamoured with the current state of our Western society and culture, do appreciate that other aspects of the West, all also to various extent despised by Islamic radicals - such as democracy, pluralism, openness, liberty, equality, human right, free markets - are just as important and worth fighting for.

As an aside, it's the hard left, rather than hard (socially conservative) right, that the radical Islam is finding itself increasingly in alliance with. As Douglas Davis wrote recently (again in "The Spectator", though free link here):
Points of potential disagreement between the hard Left and radical Islam -— democracy, human rights, xenophobia, free-expression, feminism, homosexuality, abortion, among many others -— would seem to pose insuperable barriers to the union. Not so. The hurdles have been neatly vaulted in the interest of mutual hatreds: America, Israel, globalisation, capitalism and imperialism. Anti-Semitism is never far from the surface.
Which, I guess, shows that just as for the conservatives social issues will not be as important in the overall scheme of things, so it won't be for the leftists.
One of the "Speccie" readers called John Hayes' article "a prime example of the half-baked authoritarianism that characterises the statist Right." Hayes, the reader opined, "talks of the need for a 'moral and cultural renaissance', yet does not have the courage to spell out how it would be implemented. Would he ban homosexuality, screenings of 'Big Brother', and all the other things he - subjectively - finds so abhorrent?"
A few weeks ago I commented on David Brooks' piece in which he commented on the unexpected - and largely unheralded - improvement in most social indicators over the past 10 or 15 years. These positive changes have been taken place largely in spite of progressive cultural and education establishments, and can only partly be explained by helpful legislative initiatives. So, at the risk of sounding like a member of the "authoritarian" "statist Right", I don't discount the possibility that in certain circumstances one can successfully legislate morality, but I believe there is a lot more to it than just making laws. I believe in people, and I also believe in freedom, and that particular combination cannot be underestimated as a force for social good.


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