Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hitchens on Hirsi Ali as an "Enlightenment Absolutist"

Remember back in college when your agnostic professors used to intone against the backwardness of medieval religious civilization and then exalt the glories of the Enlightenment, a narrative which brushed aside centuries of Church-dominated "superstition and obscurantism?" That was the prevailing doctrine at the University of Michigan in the late sixties.

But in a classic case of Giambattista Vico's ricorso, Christoper Hitchens has discovered the beginning of an ultimate betrayal of the Enlightenment we were all taught in graduate school to revere. [Actually, as a reconverted Catholic, I now believe the Enlightenment more than a bit oversold, to say the very least.]

Hitchens cites one of my favorite poems, September 1, 1939, W.H. Auden's gloomy meditation on how all the s**t in the world is hitting the fan one more time, only now even worse than ever, as the planet slides into World War II. [Pardon my indulgence]
"Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analyzed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again."
I'm now reading Victor Davis Hanson' book A War Like No Other based on Thucydides wonderful history concerning The Pelopponesian War [431-411 B.C.] Back in the day, I studied Attic Greek and read several authors in their original flowing language [unfortunately, not Thucydides before my Attic faded]. Hanson brilliantly shows the insanity of the jealous and hopelessly reactionary Spartans attack on the rich, globalizing [the contemporaneous term was attikizo]arrogant Athenians, busy enticing the entire Mediterranean with its seductive democracy, a democratic ethos that was seducing the poor in many Greek city-states into calling for Athenian home-grown models. More importantly to the Spartan ephors, the economic and artistic growth concomitant with democracy was undermining the tough oligarchic semi-serf dictatorship of the militarist Spartans. So the Spartans rashly decided in 432 BC to strike at Athenian democracy and prosperity in order to undermine the growing seductions of globalization just as Al Qaeda struck at the WTC and the Pentagon, a pre-emptive blow to an overwhelmingly powerful hegemon.

Of course, the Auden poem is correct that Thucydides saw all the ironies of a rich democratic power attacked by a benighted reactionary militarist ethos. Substitute religious for militarist, and the parallelism with Al Qaeda is uncanny.

And today, Hitchens points out the incomprehensible irony of the two great reactionary forces in constraining human freedom, atheistic socialists and violent religious reactionaries, seeking common cause in tearing down Enlightenment values and replacing them with, on the one hand, a semi-totalitarian elitist nannified dirigiste guardian state and on the other, a hateful and violent religious imperialism employing terrorism and immigrant communities as their beachhead into democracies based on Enlightenment values.

As Hitchens notes in his article, these two opposing ideologies, like Stalin and Hitler before September 1, 1939, have become allies of convenience to attack globalization and democratic values from two fronts. Internally, the ultra-left socialists employ progressive moles to advance their attacks on economic free markets and religious/volunteer organizations and private education. Externally, the Islamists ally with these leftist dupes to wreak slaughter and havoc in London, Madrid, and a couple of failed attempts in Germany and the US, knowing that the leftist media will downplay their nefarious agenda and cover up their crimes with MSM counterattacks on the GWOT.

Hitchens has recovered his sanity after decades of railing against capitalism and zionism. We can only hope that the media elites in academia, newsprint and TV, Hollyweird, and the moles in the US public educational establishment eventually awaken and avoid the catastrophes that ensue when jealous militant reactionaries meet rich democratic globalizers.

That already happened, as Hitchens, W.H. Auden, and Victor Davis Hanson all know. I am going to see the movie 300 this weekend to get a good fix on the event at Thermopylae [which I have visited in Greece] in 490 B.C. that began the incredible century of Greek cultural glory. Like the French holding back the German Army in 1914, Thermopylae began a century of conflicts and cultural efflorescence and worldwide prosperity and again, a final conflict. As the Greek example indicates, all the remarkable gains of the twentieth century could implode as Thucydides delineates in his magnificent history, which is more exactly a work of moral philosophy.

Unfortunately, Thucydides recounted a century that ended in the Greeks tearing themselves apart in an insane civil war.

Omne Exemplum Clauditur, [every metaphor limps], but Ayaan Hirsi Ali's cry for freedom from religious oppression is a canary in a coal mine for all of our values.

Hitchens does well to put the contending forces into context.

1 comment :

crush41 said...

Hanson brilliantly shows the insanity of the jealous and hopelessly reactionary Spartans attack on the rich, globalizing [the contemporaneous term was attikizo]arrogant Athenians, busy enticing the entire Mediterranean with its seductive democracy, a democratic ethos that was seducing the poor in many Greek city-states into calling for Athenian home-grown models.

Dave,

Have you read Amy Chua's 'World on Fire'? It does quite a job citing several examples of the contemporary reincarnation of this.