Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fight of the Intellectuals

Out from all the whinging surrounding the ethics of the Bin Laden raid and the American response to it, Paul Berman's is a voice of clarity. Contrary to those who claim the event as insignificant, the slaying of so infamous and effective a monster is a symbolic triumph of the secular, liberal-democratic vision over its detestable opposite. We can be glad that Bin Laden is dead, and we can be so guiltlessly.
Berman, on why it matters, in TNR:
“Relentlessness is good. Relentlessness has a philosophical resonance, which everyone intuitively understands. The war between Al Qaeda and the United States has always rested on a dispute over the meaning of history. Al Qaeda has always believed that God wishes the resurrection of the ancient Islamic caliphate. And Al Qaeda has always regarded America, with its Christian origins, as the ultimate obstacle to the resurrection of the caliphate. Al Qaeda’s militants have always believed that, as the representative of God’s will, they will ultimately win. Al Qaeda has therefore called for a stubborn and even eternal struggle—the kind of struggle that might lead earnest and idealistic people to agree to commit suicide on Al Qaeda’s behalf.

America, however, has also been stubborn. Ten years, compared to eternity, is nothing. Still, relative to the lifetime of a human being, ten years is not, in fact, nothing. For ten years the United States has been relentless. And now that America can boast of its achievement, the American relentlessness has suddenly become eloquent, and this is more than good. It is crucial.
The United States adheres, after all, to its own theory of history, even if most of us do not like to acknowledge anything of the sort. In our own liberal and democratic theory of history, doctrines like Al Qaeda’s are doomed to defeat. In our estimation, the mad and fantastical doctrine about resurrecting an ancient caliphate is comparable to other doctrines that we have encountered over the last century—the doctrine about resurrecting the Roman Reich in an Aryan version or the doctrine about resurrecting the ancient Russian peasant communes in the form of a proletarian Soviet civilization. We liberals and democrats look on doctrines of that sort as reactionary protests against the authentic march of progress, and as nothing more than reactionary protests. And we believe that, if we struggle sufficiently, if we are relentless enough, the reactionary protests will go down to defeat.”
Which brings to mind this reflection from another fight-not-flight intellectual, who, upon the towers' fall, thought:
“Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that."

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