Michael Barone discusses the reflexive treason of the American intellectual clerisy.
In our war against Islamo-fascist terrorism, we face enemies both overt and covert. The overt enemies are, of course, the terrorists themselves. Their motives are clear: They hate our society because of its freedoms and liberties, and want to make us all submit to their totalitarian form of Islam. They are busy trying to wreak harm on us in any way they can. Against them we can fight back, as we did when British authorities arrested the men and women who were plotting to blow up a dozen airliners over the Atlantic.
Our covert enemies are harder to identify, for they live in large numbers within our midst. And in terms of intentions, they are not enemies in the sense that they consciously wish to destroy our society. On the contrary, they enjoy our freedoms and often call for their expansion. But they have also been working, over many years, to undermine faith in our society and confidence in its goodness. These covert enemies are those among our elites who have promoted the ideas labeled as multiculturalism, moral relativism and (the term is Professor Samuel Huntington’s) transnationalism.
At the center of their thinking is a notion of moral relativism. No idea is morally superior to another. Hitler had his way, we have ours — who’s to say who is right? No ideas should be “privileged,” especially those that have been the guiding forces in the development and improvement of Western civilization. Rich white men have imposed their ideas because of their wealth and through the use of force. Rich white nations imposed their rule on benighted people of color around the world. For this sin of imperialism they must forever be regarded as morally stained and presumptively wrong. Our covert enemies go quickly from the notion that all societies are morally equal to the notion that all societies are morally equal except ours, which is worse.
These are the ideas that have been transmitted over a long generation by the elites who run our universities and our schools, and who dominate our mainstream media. They teach an American history with the good parts left out and the bad parts emphasized. We are taught that some of the Founding Fathers were slaveholders — and are left ignorant of their proclamations of universal liberties and human rights. We are taught that Japanese-Americans were interned in World War II — and not that American military forces liberated millions from tyranny. To be sure, the great mass of Americans tend to resist these teachings. By the millions they buy and read serious biographies of the Founders and accounts of the Greatest Generation. But the teachings of our covert enemies have their effect.
Of course, this distorts history. We are taught that American slavery was the most evil institution in human history. But every society in history has had slavery. Only one society set out to and did abolish it. The movement to abolish first the slave trade and then slavery was not started by the reason-guided philosophies of 18th century France. It was started, as Adam Hochschild documents in his admirable book “Bury the Chains,” by Quakers and Evangelical Christians in Britain, followed in time by similar men and women in America. The slave trade was ended not by Africans, but by the Royal Navy, with aid from the U.S. Navy even before the Civil War.
Nevertheless, the default assumption of our covert enemies is that in any conflict between the West and the Rest, the West is wrong. That assumption can be rebutted by overwhelming fact: Few argued for the Taliban after Sept. 11. But in our continuing struggles, our covert enemies portray our work in Iraq through the lens of Abu Ghraib and consider Israel’s self-defense against Hezbollah as the oppression of virtuous victims by evil men. In World War II, our elites understood that we were the forces of good and that victory was essential. Today, many of our elites subject our military and intelligence actions to fine-tooth-comb analysis and find that they are morally repugnant.
We have always had our covert enemies, but their numbers were few until the 1960s. But then the elite young men who declined to serve in the military during the Vietnam War set out to write a narrative in which they, rather than those who obeyed the call to duty, were the heroes. They have propagated their ideas through the universities, the schools and mainstream media to the point that they are the default assumptions of millions. Our covert enemies don’t want the Islamo-fascists to win. But in some corner of their hearts, they would like us to lose.