Category Archives: Western Civilization

What’s the Difference Between a Gunman and a Terrorist?

Compare the following reports – the first from the Ottawa Sun describing the recent terrorist attack in Ottawa and the second from the Jerusalem Post detailing the also recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem:

Two people are dead after at least one gunman stormed Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning. One of the dead is a soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, a reservist with Argylls of Canada – 91st Canadian Highlanders in Hamilton, Ont., who was standing guard at the National War Memorial. The other is the gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, born in 1982, who opened fire in Centre Block across the street. Two U.S. officials said that U.S. agencies have been advised that Zehaf-Bibeau was a Canadian convert to Islam. One of the officials said that the man was from Quebec. Police continued to search vehicles in downtown Ottawa, where blocks of the city’s core were locked down all day. Gunfire exploded shortly before 10 a.m., just outside where the Conservative caucus was meeting. The shooter was met with return fire — dozens of shots were heard — and was killed outside the parliamentary library.

A three-month-old girl, identified by her grandfather as Chaya Zissel, was killed and several US citizens and Israelis were wounded Wednesday evening when a convicted Palestinian terrorist from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan rammed his vehicle into a crowd of people in the capital. The attack, which was captured by a security camera, took place at the Ammunition Hill light-rail stop a few hundred meters from Israel’s national police headquarters, situated across a densely traveled thoroughfare, shortly after 6 p.m., a senior police official said. The terrorist was shot by police and late Wednesday evening he died in hospital.

In both instances, a lone-wolf terrorist, motivated by his rabid Islamist ideology, committed an act of wanton and indiscriminate murder of an innocent person and then was killed by authorities. In the Canadian account, the perpetrator is identified as a gunman, as might be an armed intruder in a bank robbery. In the Israeli account the perpetrator is clearly identified as a terrorist. In the Canadian report, the murderer’s Islamist background is handled gently and nonjudgmentally. In the Israel report it is made clear that the murderer’s background included previous violent attempts. In the former, it is never stated explicitly that the gunman killed the victim; only that “two people are dead.” Whereas in the Israeli report, it is abundantly clear who killed whom.

The behavior of Muslim terrorists in the United States is treated even more gingerly by the American media than by the Canadian press. And in fact, the Israeli report is if anything on the more circumspect side than is usually seen in the Israeli press. All of us in the West are the object of a holy (in fact, unholy) war perpetrated by radical Islamists. Terror is the main weapon they deploy. If we cannot recognize that – as the Israelis do, then we are going to have a very difficult time galvanizing ourselves to fight and obliterate the Islamist menace that threatens our countries and our lives.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was not a gunman; he was a terrorist, on a mission to murder and maim in the name of his religion, or at least in some bloody interpretation of it that he had in his mind. Unfortunately, there are literally millions of his ilk out there. They have declared war on the US, on Canada, on Israel and on the entire West. The longer we try to pretend that this is not so, the longer and more costly will be our ultimate battle to defeat them.

This post also appeared in The American Thinker

Who is More Evil: Al Qaeda or Islamic State; and Which Poses the Greater Threat?

Whether you seek its definition as an adjective or noun, you will find in any reputable dictionary two identifying components of the term evil: morally reprehensible and causing immense harm. The problem is that the first component and, to a lesser extent, the second are both relative terms. Whether an action is morally reprehensible depends on the moral code used to judge the action. And too often, one man’s assessment of damage is another’s evaluation of progress. According to the centuries-old moral code of Western Civilization, the actions of both Al Qaeda and Islamic State are morally reprehensible. Moreover, their deeds have resulted in enormous harm to Americans, Europeans, Christians and other non-Muslim communities in the Middle East, and even to numerous Muslim groups in that troubled region. Ergo, to those of us residing in the West, both are evil organizations.

Now, although it is natural to ask the first question in the title – especially as the answer might inform the answer to the second – it is also a bit silly. It reminds me of a childhood game that I recall playing – namely, who was more evil: Hitler or Stalin? In an attempt at an answer, I and my boyhood friends would compare: the number of people each had killed, how many countries they conquered, and the nature of their butchery – gassing victims in a concentration camp versus purposeful mass starvation in an artificially induced famine. Suffice it to say that both Nazism and Communism were maniacally evil systems that unleashed unimaginable misery upon millions of people.

The same is true of Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Fortunately for mankind, the extent of the misery that their evil deeds have caused has nowhere near the scope of the Nazi or Communist Parties. But it has not been for lack of trying. The barbarism, savagery and cold-blooded ruthlessness exhibited by both organizations is more than enough to qualify them as evil – comparable to the standards, if not the scale of Nazism or Communism. I have no doubt that should either acquire the power that the Nazis or Commies had at their respective zeniths, the carnage would be comparable.

Which brings us to the second question in the title – which of these malevolent organizations poses the greater threat? To whom? I will consider the object of the threat to be the United States. In that case there are four types of threats that we must consider. Here they are in increasing order of severity:

  1. The conquest, domination or subversion of one or more states in the Middle East – or elsewhere – that causes severe damage to the economic or political interests of the US.
  2. Phenomenal growth in strength and adherents such that the organization becomes a force that can project power worldwide.
  3. Serous covert or overt attacks on the US homeland.
  4. A mortal threat to the existence of our country.

I find it very hard to believe that either Al Qaeda or Islamic State will rise in the future anywhere close to level 4 – however, see below. Al Qaeda has already proven that it has achieved level 3, and similarly Islamic State has demonstrated that it has reached level 1. Moreover, given the rapid and sweeping rise of Islamic State, it is not at all beyond the realm of possibility that it can reach level 2. If one accepts the threat levels as I have assayed them, then Al Qaeda remains the greater of the two threats. It does not have the safe haven that it had in Afghanistan to plot and prepare attacks on US soil. But it has established substantial cells in many other places – for example, Yemen – and the will and determination of members of Al Qaeda to hit us remain undiminished. They have not succeeded in the last decade because we are better prepared and because we’ve been lucky. We would be fools to assume that they won’t keep trying.

Islamic State seems more concerned with establishing its caliphate than with attacking the US. But they have announced their intention to strike us. If they should succeed in capturing and domineering sufficient territory to (temporarily) satisfy their lust for expansion, they may very well turn their sights on us.

Having answered the title’s questions, let me turn to America’s ambivalent attitude toward evil, to what extent that played a role in our struggles against Nazism and Communism in the last century, and what role it plays today in our confrontation with radical Islam. Our historical attitude can be summarized in the following points:

  • America tends to be slow in recognizing evil intent on the part of hostiles.
  • Even when acknowledged, the US is hesitant to label it as such. We persist in seeking alternate explanations for evil behavior. We question the reality of evil as it conflicts with our reflexively benign interpretations of the nature of mankind.
  • Even when accepted, we are hesitant to act against evil forces. We see their behavior as so contrary to the manner in which we expect humanity to behave that we irrationally expect it will peter out or run its course.
  • Finally, even when we decide to act, we couch our actions in logistic rather than moral terms. Our counterattack becomes just another routine military mission, carried out judiciously and somewhat reluctantly.

All of this was evident in our battles with Nazism and Communism. I would say more so in the latter than the former. It took us more than eight years from the inauguration of Hitler to enjoin the battle against Nazism. And if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor, who knows how much longer it would have taken. However, once we decided to fight, we fought ruthlessly and mercilessly to rid the world of fascism. In this case, we completely overcame our inherent reluctance and we smote the evil force with overwhelming firepower.

The delay in engaging Communism was substantially longer. Roughly 30 years passed from the Bolshevik Revolution until the Truman administration initiated the battle. Moreover, the battle was not fully engaged until another 25 years later when Reagan entered the scene. Furthermore, throughout the long struggle, a substantial portion of the country refused to acknowledge the evil nature of the Communist menace and attempted to temper the country’s actions against it. To this day, many refuse to label Communism as evil and question whether we needed to, or actually did, smite it.

Alas, our ambivalence in the face of evil seems to be growing. As I observed earlier, the Islamist menace is as evil as Nazism or Communism. Like them, it aspires to world domination and implementation of a totalitarian system. Furthermore, unlike Nazism or Communism, it does not have a central font from which the evil flows. Instead, lethal branches have spouted spontaneously all over Africa and Asia (Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, the Taliban and dozens more.) Yet the proportion of our population that recognizes this danger appears to be quite limited. From our leaders to our policy makers to the general public, the reluctance to engage this mortal enemy is palpable. In the past, had we not overcome the twin evils of Nazism and Communism, the consequences for us and the free world would have been cataclysmic. The consequences of defeat by this new twenty first century evil force would be just as dire. Will we wake up in time?


This essay also appeared in Canada Free Press and in The Intellectual Conservative

Is Islamism a Totalitarian System Like Nazism and Communism?

The concept of a totalitarian state was an invention of the twentieth century. The notion of a state or nation whose government could control virtually all aspects of its citizens’ lives was not conceivable in prior times. It is certainly true that in monarchies throughout history, the average subject had little capability to individually alter his finances, geographical mobility or political status. But the monarch’s reach into the personal life of his subjects was largely restricted to the upper aristocratic coterie that surrounded him. Tradition, religion, ethnic constraints and geographical proximity were far more influential in determining the beliefs and behavior of the average subject than were the machinations of the king.

However, in a modern totalitarian state, technology, advanced communications and sophisticated surveillance techniques endow a relatively small ruling class with much more extensive powers. In the totalitarian state, the government completely controls the political, economic, social and cultural life of almost all its citizens. Such a level of control has actually only been achieved in two twentieth century nations: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Although strongly authoritarian, heavily centralized and equally war-like, Imperial Japan wasn’t really a totalitarian state in the same sense as the other two. The lives of its citizens were determined more by rigid cultural and “religious” rules than by the exhortations of the Emperor and his court. There were also a few mini totalitarian states in the last century – for example: Albania, perhaps Burma and a few wannabees (Nicaragua, Belarus). But Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are really the only examples of major nations that qualify as totalitarian states.

As is well-known, the rulers of such nations have an appetite for control that cannot be sated only by its own citizens. The urge to conquer other nations is overwhelming. And, alas, the history of the two twentieth century totalitarian regimes is replete with invasion, mass murder, concentration camps, gulags, occupations and unimaginable barbarism. It is to the eternal credit of the United States that it refused to be cowed by these murderous regimes, led international coalitions to combat them and – in the words of Ronald Reagan – dispatched them to the ash heap of history.

But, to the sorrow of the civilized world, the twenty first century seems to have coughed up a third major totalitarian system – Islamism or radical Islam. There is absolutely no question that the sponsors of this ideology have in mind a totalitarian system for all regions in which that ideology will rule. It may be that the prime motivating factor in this third case is religion – unlike Nazism, in which it was race or volk; or Communism, in which it was economic or class. Nevertheless, according to the self-professed intentions of the Jihadists who espouse Islamism, the goal is to create a society ruled absolutely by Sharia Law. Based on prior experience in Afghanistan and those few despoiled spots in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria) and Africa (Sudan, parts of Mali) where rule by Sharia Law has been implemented, one must conclude that it is a political system, which seeks to control all aspects of the lives of those under its domain. Ergo, a totalitarian system.

However, there is a major difference between radical Islam as it is developing and Nazism and Communism as they existed. While in all three cases, the goal was/is worldwide domination; in the twentieth century variety, the focal point for the system and the font from which all the branches were directed, was a single nation state. That is far from the case with radical Islam. For the latter, we are witnessing far-flung eruptions – like pimples on an ugly face – all over Africa and Asia (with tentacles all over the world). Although they are only loosely aligned with each other, each is guided by the same ideology and employs the same tactics. All seek to create a worldwide totalitarian system based on radical Islam that would totally dominate the lives of all who live under it.

Here is a partial list of the blemishes: Al Qaeda (AQ), AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), AQ in the Maghreb (AQIM), Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Boko Haram, Abbu Sayyaf, Al Shabaab, Jabhat al Nusra, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban. Breathtaking! The cancer is metastasizing all over the world and new mutations spring up regularly. Incidentally, some would add the state of Iran to the list.

The West in general and the Unites States in particular are now confronted by a lethal threat from this metastasizing totalitarian system. The system’s adherents – in every case – have declared that the West and the US are indeed the mortal enemies of Islam and that the peoples of those entities must be converted or killed. That is not a negotiating position on their part. It is their hardcore belief – one on which they have acted and on which they promise to continue acting. We in the US (and in the West) do not have the luxury of dismissing their intentions as ludicrous and not worthy of our attention. They have declared war on us and even if we pretend it is not so, it does not change the fact that we are in their crosshairs.

Part of the reason that we have not taken the threat with the seriousness that it warrants is indeed the diffuse nature of the enemy. There is no single nation state that is its chief sponsor and upon which we might concentrate any ire that we could work up. (Again, some consider Iran to be a candidate, although we are extremely reluctant to confront them as such.) Another reason is the fatigue we feel – first from our two heroic struggles to overcome the twentieth century totalitarian systems; and second, from our halting and unsuccessful efforts to engage the Jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. But I think the main reason is that, since the threat emerged (roughly 20 years ago), all of our leaders (Clinton, Bush, Obama) have been loath to identify it for what it is. They tell us that Islam is a religion of peace and that the practitioners of Jihad are a small minority that has hijacked the religion. In fact there is no objective evidence for that claim and much to support its refutation. Moreover, I doubt that our leaders believe their own words. Instead, the emergence of the third totalitarian threat does not conform to their vision of the twenty first century as the West foresaw it developing following the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Another totalitarian monster? No way! Been there, done that. It’s so twentieth century.” The eruption of radical Islam just doesn’t square with the “end of history” theme to which they subscribe, and so Islamism must be a passing or insignificant trend that does not command the attention, resources and drive required of us that were needed to combat the evils of the twentieth century. The West just doesn’t want to go down that road again.

And so we call Jihad in Fort Hood “workplace violence”; we refer to terrorist actions against us in the homeland as “man-caused disasters”; and we label the limited sorties against the Jihadists that we have permitted ourselves “overseas contingency operations.” We strive mightily to fool ourselves so as not to recognize that, for a third time, a brutal and murderous totalitarian system has emerged to threaten the civilized world and that if we don’t confront and destroy it, the fate of mankind is bleak indeed.

But we are not fooling anyone. Islamism is indeed a totalitarian system. The way it has emerged and the nature of its existence differs from those of Nazism or Communism. That should not prevent us from a clear evaluation of its nature and the threat that it poses. We defeated Nazism by building and deploying a mighty military force that bludgeoned the Nazis into submission. We defeated Communism by building a mighty economy and social engine that exposed the hollow and false nature of Communist ideology – so that the Soviet Union collapsed on its own. We clearly have not settled on a strategy for confronting and defeating Islamism. It might be that we haven’t even begun looking for one. But we better get busy. The Islamists are coming for us. For them, it’s a fight to the death. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can get to work arranging for their death.

This essay also appeared in Canada Free Press as well as in The Intellectual Conservative

Obama: The Joke is on Us

Here is a joke, entitled “Looking for Work,” that has worked its way around the Internet:

An Israeli doctor says: “In Israel, medicine is so advanced that we cut off a man’s testicles, put them on another man and in 6 weeks, he is looking for work”.

The German doctor says: “that’s nothing, in Germany we take part of a brain, put it in another man, and in 4 weeks he is looking for work”.

The Russian doctor says: “gentlemen, we take half a heart from a man, put it in another’s chest and in 2 weeks he is looking for work”

The United States doctor laughs: “You all are behind us. Five years ago, we took a man with no brains, no heart and no balls and made him President. Now, the whole country is looking for work!”

How could the people of the United States perform such a reckless act: install the most manifestly unqualified presidential candidate as CEO of the US and leader of the free world? I will offer a brief and well-worn answer to that question and then attempt to answer two important follow up questions:

  1. What does the fact that we did elect – and re-elect – Obama say about America?
  2. Do the results of Obama’s presidency and the events of the last five years support the conclusions drawn in the answer to the first question?

Many theories have been advanced purporting to account for Obama’s election: he was exceedingly charming and intelligent; he represented a clear alternative to the style and policies of his unpopular predecessor; his competition was exceptionally weak; his organization ran an unusually innovative and technologically savvy campaign far beyond those of his opponent. But the most common explanation served up, and the one that I believe is the most accurate is the following. The country viewed his elevation to the presidency as an act of expiation that: was merited by the USA’s wicked history of slavery and segregation; would heal the deep wounds inflicted on our society by that bitter legacy; and would unify our country and cement our status as the most successful multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multicultural society in the history of the world. And it would grant us renewed moral authority to continue to pursue our American experiment to create the freest, most prosperous and most exceptional nation on the face of the earth.

It was impossible not to see that, in a formal sense, Obama was totally unqualified to stand for the job. He had no executive experience, no managerial experience, and he knew virtually nothing about business, economics, foreign policy or national defense. He had no military record, a meager congressional record, and what few positions he had were handed to him without his demonstrating any qualifications to justify them. It is truly correct to assert that by any objective measure, he was completely unqualified to be considered as a candidate for president. Moreover, that was totally obvious to anyone who paid the slightest attention.

Nevertheless, the people chose him to be their president. And the only explanation that makes any sense is the expiation one offered. Well, there is a second – namely, that the American people are overwhelmingly stupid, ignorant, myopic and self-destructive. I don’t buy that – although, sometimes I wonder.

Now let us deal with the two follow up questions. First, what does Obama’s election – and perhaps even more seriously, his re-election – say about America? Well, the expiation explanation certainly says that the stain of slavery and racial bigotry weighs heavily on our souls. We desperately wished to wash out the stain and the election of a black man to the presidency would go a very long way toward accomplishing that goal. But given that he was unqualified and that the likelihood of alternate possibilities arising in the near future were good (in fact, Colin Powell might very well have preceded Obama if he had had the courage to run), surely it occurred to many that the price of electing Obama might easily outweigh the benefit. If one allowed oneself to go beyond the atonement issue, it was also impossible not to see the radically left proclivities of the man, the sordid background of some of his closest associates and the intolerance and arrogance that characterized many of his attitudes. Yet America ignored these dreadful warning signs and installed him anyway. And then they re-installed him!

What that says about America is much more than that we were desperate to expunge our racial sins. It says that we were equally interested in expelling far more of our culture and character than just our racial biases. In short, it announced that the US is now infected with the same disease that has laid low our European cousins: the loss of faith in our own culture.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Europeans surveyed the wreckage of their twentieth century achievements: two world wars that killed tens of millions of people; a Holocaust that exceeded any genocide in history in its cold-blooded, meticulous planning and execution; and a legacy of corrupt and rapacious colonial regimes that they viewed as the cause of vast misery in Africa and Asia. The Europeans decided that their culture – more commonly known as Western Civilization – was to blame and resolved to cast it off. Finding little to replace it, the peoples of Western Europe have sunk into a motley group of centrally-governed, irreligious, amoral, meek, increasingly poor, social welfare states that bear little resemblance to the powerful and confident societies of the past (e.g., Spain and Holland in the 1600s, France in the 1700s, Germany in the late 1800s and England for roughly 300 years ending in the mid-1900s).

Despite the fact that the US had little to do with initiating any of the twentieth century misery created by the Europeans – indeed, we spent a good bit of blood and treasure cleaning it up, our country has, as of late, decided to join our European cousins in their march to oblivion. We too have seemingly lost faith in our own culture. That is the central meaning in the election and re-election of Barack Obama. Our dear president never manifests any love for or pride in the country that entrusted the oval office to him. He has made clear in his books and his utterances – and in the friends he keeps – not only that America has not been a force for good in the world, but rather its legacy of: slavery, discrimination against women and minorities, internment of Japanese-American citizens, military aggression in the Middle East, income inequality, and myriad other social evils are indelible stains that must be atoned for by redistributing American wealth, diluting America’s power and subjugating its will to that of the “international community.” He clearly holds in disdain: the Christian religion, middle American morality, success in business, the concept of American Exceptionalism, American military might and the Constitutional system upon which our society was founded. Therefore, by choosing him – and then re-anointing him, the American people have proclaimed a loss of faith in America’s traditional ideals and principles. The people are ready to cast them aside, or if not that, then not to resist as they are torn from our hands.

Now for the second question: Do the events of the last five years reinforce or subvert the allegations made above? The answer is unequivocally the former. For what are the signal events of the last five years? Let’s identify only those that can be tied in a significant way to the fact that Barack Obama has been president during that period:

  • Obamacare became the law of the land. One sixth of the US economy has been nationalized; tens of millions of people have had the cost and quality of their health care adversely affected; all to insure less than one-quarter of the 10% of the population that was previously uninsured.
  • The federal debt has exploded and has been set on a catastrophically unsustainable path that poses an existential threat to our nation.
  • America’s defenses have been eviscerated. At the same time, the nation has been repeatedly embarrassed and derided by its enemies; while our allies have lost faith in our ability to protect them.
  • The economy has as yet to recover in anything approaching a normal fashion from the economic tumult of 2007-2009.
  • Family structure is crumbling, religion is on the wane, smut and pornography saturate the entertainment media, but abortion and gay marriage are thriving.
  • We are witnessing the arrogant behavior of the most lawless administration, certainly since Nixon and perhaps ever.
  • Despite the discovery of new domestic energy resources, the administration is doing everything it can to cripple the domestic energy industry. In its stead, it seeks to put a green roof over every head and an efficient flush handle in every hand.

Moreover, with the exception of the first and fourth bullets above (Obamacare and the economy), the American public doesn’t seem to care very much. Obama and his henchmen are working as hard as they can to fundamentally transform America from a constitutional republic into a centrally-managed unexceptional, militarily weak, egalitarian, poor, social welfare state. The American people should be up in arms. Obama’s impeachment should be under serious consideration. But, as I said, with some exception, the public does not seem terribly disturbed about the coming fate to which Obama is leading us. Again, the only possible explanation is that a major percentage of the American people has lost faith in the classical American ideal and is content to see the country transformed.

The joke that opened this piece is very funny. But the real joke is on us.

This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative

Uninventing Freedom

Daniel Hannan, the famous Euro-skeptic, recently published a magnificent book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. In it he traces the history of the Anglosphere – the English-speaking countries of the world – from its origin in the British Isles to its greatest flowering on the soil of the USA. It is not my purpose here to formally review the book – two excellent reviews have already appeared. (See Mark Tooley’s essay in The American Spectator [Jan/Feb 2014] and Barton Swain’s piece in the Wall Street Journal [11/29/13], the latter of which is also featured on the Reviews page of this web site.) Instead, I will supply several trenchant  quotes from the book and then use them as a stepping stone to draw some conclusions pertinent to the political mess in which America finds itself. By the latter I mean the predicament emanating from the fact that the people of the US have recklessly elected – and re-elected – a president whose basic political beliefs run totally contrary to the fundamental axioms, which have formed the foundation upon which this nation was established and has been governed.

Elected parliaments, habeas corpus, free contract, equality before the law, open markets, an unrestricted press, the right to proselytize for any religion, jury trials: these things are not somehow the natural condition of an advanced society. They are specific products of a political ideology developed in the language in which you are reading these words. The fact that those ideas, and that language, have become so widespread can make us lose sight of how exceptional they were in origin… [Indeed] the three precepts that define Western civilization—the rule of law, democratic government, and individual liberty— are not equally valued across Europe. When they act collectively, the member states of the EU are quite ready to subordinate all three to political imperatives. The rule of law is regularly set aside when it stands in the way of what Brussels elites want.

Barack Obama’s view of America matches the EU premise. He sees the US as just another country among the nations of the world; its culture, political philosophy and economic system are of no more intrinsic merit than those of any other country. His goal is to meld us into world society as one among equals. He completely rejects the messianic idea, common to our Founders and all of our leaders from Washington to Lincoln and even to FDR, of American Exceptionalism – which posits that the American experiment is unique in the annals of history and that America is to be a beacon of freedom to the world.

What distinguishes the common law from the Roman law that predominates in Continental Europe and its colonial offshoots? Chiefly this. The Continental legal model is deductive. A law is written down from first principles, and then those principles are applied to a particular case. Common law, to the astonishment of those raised in the Roman or Napoleonic systems, does the reverse. It builds up, case by case, with each decision serving as the starting point for the next dispute. It applies a doctrine known to lawyers as stare decisis: previous judgments should stand unaltered, serving as precedent. Common law is thus empirical rather than conceptual: it concerns itself with actual judgments that have been handed down in real cases, and then asks whether they need to be modified in the light of different circumstances in a new case.

Our president cum law professor has little use for common law or stare decisis. This is evident in his increasingly lawless behavior. As his actions regarding Obamacare, the Dream Act, gay marriage, recess appointments and many, many other areas indicate, he is content to ignore the constraints imposed upon him by the Constitution and create law by fiat – that is, by executive order. He sees himself and his minions as wise beings who know what is best for America. The law is merely a vehicle to implement his vision. The opinions of the people on any particular matter are of little import.

Tenth-century England had undeniably started down the track to constitutional liberty. What might have happened had it continued on that path we’ll never know, because, in 1066, it was brutally wrenched out of the Nordic world and subjected to European feudalism. Harold Godwinson, an English nobleman with scant claim to the throne, but with the unequivocal backing of the Witan, was deposed by William of Normandy, who had his own ideas about the duties owed to a king. It was a calamitous defeat for England, for the Witan, and for the development of liberty. Indeed, the next six centuries can be seen in one sense—and were seen by many of the key protagonists—as an attempt to reverse the disaster of 1066.

This quote is included to highlight the effectiveness of the liberal brainwashing that is administered in America’s public schools. Long ago, I identified for myself the falsehoods that were drummed into my head in school: from the nonsense that FDR saved the nation from the Great Depression to the obscenity that Communism was an alternate – and in some ways more effective – economic system as opposed to capitalism. Well, it never dawned on me that the Norman conquest of Britain was a disaster that set back the cause of liberty for 600 years. In school and college, I learned that the conquest was a result of a more or less legitimate dispute over who should possess the British crown, and that its effect on English life was relatively minimal with the exception of hastening the end of slavery on the island. Hannan presents a compelling case that the Normans attempted – with some success – to replace the decentralized, rudimentarily free legal system in England a millennium ago with a centralized authoritarianism. Such a viewpoint is never presented in school. Well, this is perhaps a minor example, but it is representative of the distorted history that was taught, and is taught even more egregiously in today’s public schools.

In most of Europe, landownership was settled, with farms being treated as an inalienable patrimony. In England, by contrast, there was a lively land market from at least the thirteenth century (earlier records are harder to come by). In most of Europe, children would work on their parents’ farms, receiving board and lodging rather than wages. In England—to the surprise and occasional disgust of overseas visitors—children would generally have left the family home by their teens, either for apprenticeships or to work elsewhere. The farmwork would instead be done by hired hands for competitive pay. In most of Europe, the family was recognized as the primary unit, not just in custom but in law: parents generally could not disinherit their children, and the family plot was treated as a communal resource. In England, there was almost no notion of shared ownership. A boy who had reached legal maturity was, in the eyes of the law, a wholly free agent: his father had neither claims over him nor duties to him.

Barack Obama, July 13, 2012 in Roanoke, VA: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Perhaps George W. Bush’s single greatest foreign policy success was to draw India back into the alliance of English-speaking democracies when he accepted the nation’s nuclear status in 2006. That relationship has been vigorously cultivated by David Cameron but neglected by Barack Obama. Fortunately, Indians seem prepared to wait for a different attitude from Washington. They are a patient and courteous people.

Obama is working hard to separate the US from the Anglosphere. One of his first acts as president was to expel the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. He has denied that there is any special kinship between the US and the UK. He keeps Canada cooling its heels for five years waiting on the Keystone XL Pipeline. And I have never heard him utter a warm word about Australia or New Zealand. But perhaps this is unfair as he has been equally rough on America’s non-Anglo allies. His treatment of Israel has been an abomination. And while he bows to kings, hobnobs with Venezuela’s (now dead) Marxist leader, and is anxious to negotiate with Iran, Assad and the dear leader of North Korea, he gives the back of his hand to Poland, the Czech Republic and Honduras. His sense of American history and Western Civilization is … is … well, he doesn’t have any sense of them.

Americans take pride in being self-reliant, optimistic, ambitious. But these characteristics are not a by-product of Mississippi water or turkey meat, and neither are they some magical quality in the American genome. People respond to incentives; culture is shaped by institutions. If taxation, spending, and borrowing keep rising, if more and more Americans become dependent on the state, it won’t take long before they start behaving like the French, rioting and demonstrating in defense of their acquired entitlements… Margaret Thatcher’s political godfather, Sir Keith Joseph, used to remark that if you give people responsibility, they behave responsibly. What goes for individuals goes for entire nations.
There has been a general loss of confidence in the superiority of the Anglosphere model, which fended off every extremist challenge throughout the twentieth century. Cultural relativism feeds into hard policy. Once you reject the notion of exceptionalism as intrinsically chauvinistic, you quickly reject the institutions on which that exceptionalism rested: absolute property rights, free speech, devolved government, personal autonomy. Bit by bit, your country starts to look like everyone else’s. Its taxes rise; its legislature loses ground to the executive and to an activist judiciary; it accepts foreign law codes and charters as supreme; it drops the notion of free contract; it prescribes whom you may employ and on what terms; it expands its bureaucracy; it forgets its history

For Obama and today’s liberals, America’s decline is its just reward for its checkered history. For them, America has failed to live up to its promise. Moreover, that failure was ordained by America’s flawed founding. Its sins are numerous and great: slavery; segregation; abuse of Native Americans, women, gays and minorities; nuking Japan; corporate greed; international pillage; and the promotion of laissez-faire capitalism, States’ rights and gun rights. The fact that America has confronted its true failings (to be found among the previous list, which contains some bogus elements), and made enormous progress in correcting them is irrelevant. Only a fundamental transformation of America into a pliant, social welfare state can expiate its sins.

Hannan calls attention to these perverse views held by Obama and describes in detail how they violate the history and calling of the Anglosphere. Nevertheless, Hannan remains optimistic that the US can overthrow the tyranny of Obama’s fundamental transformation and restore the nation to its historic calling, to its rightful place as the leader of the Anglosphere and thereby guarantee freedom and prosperity to the American people for ages. His final words evoke an American patriot of whom Ronald Reagan was fond:

For we are not finished. We remain an inventive, quizzical, enterprising people. All we need to do is hold fast to the model that made us that way. Edmund Burke’s words about America in 1775 apply, mutatis mutandis, to the Anglosphere as a whole today. English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all it can be.”
[And in Burke’s time] at the other end of the Anglosphere, a young doctor in Boston named Joseph Warren—the man who sent Paul Revere on his ride—was seeking to rally his countrymen in defense of the same principles. His words ring down the ages: “You are to decide the question on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
You, reading these words in his language, are the heirs to a sublime tradition. A tradition that gave us liberty, property, and democracy, and that raised our species to a pinnacle of wealth and happiness hitherto unimaginable. Act worthy of yourselves.


This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative