The talk of the past week or so in political circles has been Barack Obama’s tour of Europe — in particular his non-political political speech in Berlin. Two of the better commentaries you will find on the event are the devastating critique by John Bolton, and the more humorous, but equally effective demolition by
James Lileks. I recommend you take a few minutes to digest these gems.
Now, I cannot hope to match the insight and wit of such as these — but nevertheless I hope to toss a few ideas and impressions into the arena of discussion on this subject. I rarely touch on politics on this blog, as others far more passionate and adept at such commentary abound. But there were some undercurrents in the speech which I found very emblematic of our current age, and very troubling, and perhaps I may offer a few insights of value.
First, the purely political: isn’t this man running for President of the United States? So, why on earth is he giving political speeches to the Europeans? I suppose it is a feeble attempt to burnish his anemic foreign-policy credentials — although I strain to understand why shaking a few foreign hands and giving a too-slick speech to our Germanic übermeisters somehow augments one’s foreign policy portfolio. Having your picture taken with a cow does not a dairy farmer make.
Then there was the heady libation of contemporary liberalism: the obligatory apologies to the rest of the world for America’s great failures. Shortcomings we have an abundance — but, apologizing to the Germans? To the Germans? The same Germans, who spent the first half of the 20th century — and no small part of the previous century — conquering Europe, slaughtering millions and wreaking untold havoc on an entire continent? The same Germans, who killed millions of our soldiers, 6 million Jews, and countless other political and social outcasts in their concentration camps and euthanasia centers? The same Germans for whom we, having crushed them at enormous cost of life and treasure, then rebuilt their country and defended them from another 40 years of horror under totalitarian communism?
Could someone please explain to me why, in any just and rational world, an American politician should apologize for our behavior, to the Germans?
I just had to get that off my chest. There, I feel better now.
But on to larger things: large swaths of the speech spoke in vaunted and eloquent terms of the hope and desire for world united, a world without walls. We heard repeatedly about how such walls — both actual and metaphorical — must be torn down, removing all divisions which confront and challenge us:
That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.
The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.
Now color me a contrarian, but I am not entirely convinced of the wisdom of this wall-breaching braggadocio. As Robert Frost once wisely said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Should we really be about tearing down every barrier which divides us? Aren’t some of these fences, some divisions, critically important to our safety and integrity? After all, prison walls divide us from the criminals — should we not, if we want to live in peace, harmony, and new age oneness, tear these walls down as well? Is every division, whether existing between nations, or races, or tribes, or religions, by its very nature a candidate for dismantling?
Some divisions, it seems, exist for our protection: the division between freedom and tyranny; the division between nations which oppress and those who liberate; the division between good and evil itself. But to uphold and defend these necessary walls, there needs to be a conviction of the absolutes which form their ramparts. You cannot defend good from evil if “good” and “evil” are but fungible and flexible preferences, made near-meaningless with endless shades of gray obscuring their sharp contrasts and muting their colored brilliance. If right and wrong are detached from their transcendent mooring in absolute truth, and made mere preference or personal piety, then there is nothing left to defend. The walls which have kept the barbarians at bay now become broad promenades welcoming in regal splendor the very forces which will enslave us.
Our modern secular utopians, like their brethren throughout the ages, ignore the differences which matter while elevating the differences which do not. Hence the Christian who stands against the slaughter of the unborn innocents and the Muslim who slaughters the innocent through self-immolation become indistinguishable — both “extremists”, both “divisive” — and we must tear down these walls to live at peace. Such distinctions between religions and philosophies run to the core of their very nature: to dismantle the division is to destroy their unique character, to render meaningless any judgment about which worldview is better for the well-being of man and society. Be hot or be cold, as someone once said — but the lukewarm will be expectorated, with extreme prejudice.
And what of destroying the “division” between rich and poor, the West and East? Is not one more wealthy, more free, more successful, more propitious to its citizens exactly because of the differences which divide us — specifically, respect for human life and property, for rule of law, for individuality, for a spirit of generosity and sacrifice arising out of Judeo-Christian principles instilled at its founding? Shall we instead denigrate a nation which, for all its flaws, has sacrificed countless lives and expended endless lucre throughout its history to free the enslaved and crush the tyrant; shall we become the object of self-loathing and shame which must grovel for its sins before the sinister, the enslaver, and the slothful? Is this the price of such world unity? We have seemingly arrived at a place where we are unable to proclaim the good without the ridicule of the glib; we cannot call an act evil but to the catcalls of the cynics.
In our utopian zealotry, we attack the divisions of substance while elevating the divisions of appearance. The unity which is our strength — a common culture, and language, and shared set of moral values — must now give way to the triumph of the superficial: we categorize by color rather than by character; we talk of freedom while enforcing speech codes and pursuing thought crimes. Religion is our enemy while conformity becomes our religion. Science becomes truth and truth becomes myth; We are overcome by evil because we refuse to call it by name.
The gnostic hubris which is our modern foolishness boasts in what it knows, while knowing not what it does not know. Our ignorance of human nature cripples us; we believe that if we reason with evil, evil will change, charmed by the magic of our words and soothed by the sincerity of our childish desires. Like some love-maddened missionary, we sleep with the strumpet to save her soul, then find ourselves amazed when we become as lost as she.
There is, in truth, but two ways to unity: the way of inner submission, and the way of outer coercion. Within the limits of the frailty of our fallen nature, we achieve a measure of unity by common compliance to inner morals, arising from the recognition of a transcending set of absolutes which dictates such standards for both the individual and the common good. We acknowledge a standard of behavior and restraint which arises from the divine — though we often fall short of this standard, and may differ in some measure on its particulars. We become one — imperfectly to be sure — because we submit to and follow One, whose perfect moral standards and ethical precepts are held as the highest ideal and a noble pursuit.
When such an overarching absolute standard is rejected — as it has been by aggressive secularism, atheistic, reductionist, and materialistic to the core — we can only enforce a form of unity through coercion and power. Inner moral dictates must be subjugated to coerced conformity. It is “acceptable” to hold “values” which are at odds with the secular societal standard — as long as these “values” are never acted upon in speech or behavior. We may believe abortion to be morally abhorrent — but must never act to restrain it; we may hold homosexuality to be morally wrong and believe gay marriage to be a threat to a core foundational institution of society — but to verbalize thus is “hate speech”, and “intolerance”, and “ignorance.” Our unity is the unity of the gag, a multicultural muzzle which celebrates the superficial, elevates the insignificant, tolerates the intolerable — and punishes the moral. Our unity is the unity of relativism, a superficial solidarity where everything is acceptable but absolutes, where anything is tolerated but truth. Such unity strives for the lowest common denominator, maintaining its forced cohesion by the will to power, destroying in its enslaving solidarity the very soul of freedom and the heart of true human harmony.
It is no small irony that Obama proclaimed his utopian tome to the Hun — they of the fertile ground which brought forth Nietzsche and Hegel, and a National Socialism which crushed the dividing walls of Old Europe with an iron fist and a broken cross. Our modern nihilism is far more appealing, wrapped in soothing bromides of hope and change — but no less corrupt and empty at its core.
Beware the man who brings unity at the cost of individuality. Beneath the sheep’s clothing lies something far more ominous than smooth words and glib promises betray.