In recent weeks, we have been treated to an intellectual discussion on the nature of our enemy that, frankly, is long overdue. More often in his public appearances, President Bush has referred to them as “Islamic fascists”, setting aside at least momentarily the characterization of our conflict as a “war on terror”, a term which I believe has been a mischaracterization from the outset, referring to a tactic, not to the essence of the enemy. So what is a fascist regime? Any objective reading of the usually reliable dictionary sources and popular historical usage reveals common threads of definition—totalitarian, imperialistic, strict ideological control, xenophobic, dictatorial, typically racist, and belligerently nationalistic. Are these traits recognizable in any current movements? Now, for those such as the Saudi government or the Council on American-Islamic Relations who have objected to the connection of the religion of Islam with movements so characterized, let’s add additional context. One of the widely read and still ardently followed founders of modern jihadism was the Egyptian radical and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, whose writings clearly indicate the linkages of radical jihadist Islam with the intellectual roots of fascism as practiced by the Nazis in the 1930’s. Qutb roundly denounced all secular law as blasphemous and considered Sharia law the only legitimate ordering of society. Have we heard any leading moderate or mainstream Muslims denounce the widespread teaching of this ideology or deny its fascistic tendencies? Do we see evidence of any meaningful introspection on these points at all? If so, it hasn’t been very often or very loud.In his book, Salt of the Earth, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) includes some very candid comments about Islam: “……..the interplay of society, politics, and religion has a completely different structure in Islam as a whole…..which simply does not have the separation of the political and the religious sphere which Christianity has had from the beginning. The Koran is a total religious law……….Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything…….One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society.” Not much room for the Western ideal of liberty of conscience here and, although he doesn’t use the word, it is clear that the term totalitarian fits rather well with the Pope’s description. In this characterization, President Bush has been very clear since the attack of 9/11—“we have seen their kind before”. The first essential of successful warfare is moral clarity, but a close second is to know your enemy and call it by its proper name.
Last month I posed the question—what will it take to convince the West that the war on Islamofascism is World War III and every bit the equivalent of the global conflicts, including the Cold War, that preceded it? Here’s hoping that the recent disruption of the plot to arm as many as ten commercial airlines as WMDs on America can be the tipping point for the skeptics, the appeasers, and those who still have lingering doubts about the nature and intentions of the enemy.
Two divergent quotes from a Labor Day report card for American workers, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:“There’s no doubt that relative to the growth rate of the economy over the last five years, the state of the American worker is in pretty sorry shape.”—Lawrence Katz, Harvard University and chief economist during the Clinton administration.
“Times are good for workers. They’ve got high consumption, high income, really low unemployment, a fairly secure environment—it’s a great market to be a worker.”—Kevin Hassett, American Enterprise Institute.
Which of these perspectives is correct? Truth to tell, some of both. In the five years ended May 2006, adjusted for inflation, wages grew 0.7%, total compensation including benefits grew 7.4%, and median household net worth grew 6.3%. Compare these with -1.5%, +2.0%, and +2.5%, respectively, for the five heralded boom years of 1990-1995. Pretty good news.
What’s the bad news? Wage growth hasn’t nearly kept pace with the growth in corporate earnings, worker productivity, or executive compensation, and this problem transcends any one administration. Why? Is this a problem of outsourcing or one that demands soaking the rich with higher taxes for redistribution? No. This is primarily the problem of a large and growing “education gap” with our international competitors and our failure to reform public education to make it much more productive so that it provides the skills and proficiency for our kids to be more successful in higher education and the global 21st century workplace.
Kevin Hassett has an interesting take on U. S. consumption data compiled by professors at the Universities of California and Hawaii. It seems that total consumption increases dramatically with age, so that a 25-year old spends about $26K per annum and an 80-year old $40K. Why the big difference? Mostly because of government spending on health care, which for a 25-year old is zero and for the 80-year olds averages $11K! Now do the math on life expectancy and we learn that in 2050, 8% of us will be 80, compared to 3.6% today. Further, among people 75 years and older, 66% voted in the 2004 election. Hassett’s challenge is that, unless voting patterns and the relative political strength of the age groups shift, which is unlikely unless the AARP surrenders, Tocqueville’s predicted threat of the “tyranny of democracy” may play out as the dictatorship of the grandmothers financed by taxing their grandchildren.
Michael Barone is my pick as the most perceptive national political analyst on the scene today. Here is his take on the Ned Lamont primary win over Joe Lieberman in Connecticut: “The center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved from the lunch bucket working class that was the dominant constituency up through the 1960’s to the secular transnational professional class. The working class Democrats of the mid-20th century voted their interests, and knew that one of their interests was protecting the nation in which they were proud to live. The professional class Democrats of today vote their ideology and, living a life in which they are insulated from adversity, feel free to imagine that America cannot be threatened by implacable enemies. They can vote to validate their lifestyle choices and their transnational attitudes.”And Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy are spinning in their graves.
For a variety of reasons, religious issues were dominant in my books of the summer just passed, possibly because our religious heritage informs so much of our thinking about the conflicting issues of the day.
I was drawn to Against the World for the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion, by an article in the magazine First Things by one of its co-editors, Richard John Neuhaus. The Appeal is essentially the manifesto of January 1975, written as a series of essays by prominent theologians and lay leaders from across the ideological spectrum, intended to counter the then fashionable “secular Christianity” and “death of God” thinkers, and send out a call for theological affirmation. In so doing, it poses thirteen themes that are consistent with the sentiments of these thinkers and proceeds to counter each with reasoned rebuttal. Substantially all of these themes remain with us today in their various manifestations, and this treatment of them is every bit as relevant and controversial as it was then.
American Gospel, by Jon Meacham. This is an excellent treatment of the role of religion in the founding and history of our country, written in “user friendly” style, but heavily footnoted and referenced. At a time when we are a nation full of seekers of meaning for our country and ourselves, this book is a well-balanced explanation of how our unique experiment in liberty of conscience in tension with a religiously informed moral order came to be the miracle of exceptionalism that it is.
Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in an interview conducted in 1996 with Peter Seewald. In this book length interview, the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI comments on a wide ranging spectrum of issues confronting the world and the future of his church, as well as Christendom itself. The issues range from the problems of the Catholic Church to its many mistakes to current controversies in theology and practice to world religions to world affairs. He is very open about all of this and this is a much more candid treatment of these issues than I would have expected.
Nature and History in American Political Development, by James W. Ceaser. This may be the best overview of the development of American political philosophy from the founding to the present that I have ever read. The author, who is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a frequent contributor to several periodicals, couches his narrative in the context of the search for “foundational”, as opposed to “non-foundational” grounding in American political philosophy, and I found it to be a fascinating approach. The book is a spinoff of a lecture series and includes penetrating responses and rebuttals to Ceaser’s points by several equally qualified political scientists.