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

Why It’s Important for American Christians to Care about Israel

The following is a transcript of a lecture given at the McHenry, Maryland United Methodist Church on October 7, 2014. It is similar, but not identical, to the lecture (with a somewhat similar title) given on June 12, 2014 to another group. For the latter, go here.

I’ll begin with a few words about America and its historical ideals, which, of course, most Christians treasure and seek to preserve; and then I’ll discuss where Israel fits into the scene.

America is the unique nation in world history founded upon an idea. All other nations, current and in the past, came into existence because of one or more of: language, religion, ethnic or racial identity, geographical proximity, population transfer, colonial boundaries, etc. But the US was established based upon an idea – that human beings are meant to live free and the structure of society should be organized so as to foster, protect and maximize individual liberty.

Sadly, at this moment in our nation’s history, liberty in America is under assault – and with an effectiveness that is without precedent. This is a topic with which everyone here is quite familiar. Indeed, it is the reason why many people in the United States are so agitated these days. We are literally bearing witness to a startling deterioration in our freedoms and it has us worried, fearful and struggling to reverse the trend. However, that is not the topic that I wish to address today.

But before addressing my topic, let me point out that one of our freedoms that is clearly under assault is our religious freedom — that is, the right to live our lives, run our businesses and raise our children according to the precepts of the religion that we espouse. This too should be a familiar refrain to all present here today. The increasing secularization of American society and its growing manifestations of intolerance toward and lack of accommodation for people of faith – especially Christians – is deeply disturbing. However, once again, that is not the specific topic that I wish to address here today.

In order to motivate my topic, let me observe that part of the American gestalt regarding liberty is that we not only treasure our own, but we see it as our duty to promote and protect it outside of our borders as well. That obligation is a key part of what we understand as American Exceptionalism. It helps to explain why we fought so vigorously to defeat Nazism and Communism – two of the greatest tyrannical forces ever to menace the planet. In fact, those two were the paramount threats to freedom in the twentieth century and it is to America’s eternal credit that we led the fight to consign them to the ash heap of history. The great menace of Islamism appears to be an analogous threat in the twenty-first century and – so far at least – America’s role in the battle against it has been inconsistent and uncertain, especially in comparison to its previous two heroic struggles – but that too is a topic for another day.

Instead, I come to the main point – Israel. In fact, the tiny nation of Israel is another bastion of freedom in the world – indeed in a part of the world where people have rarely if ever tasted the sweet flavor of human freedom. There was a period, roughly three decades ago, when freedom was on the march around the globe. Countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, even Africa were casting off the yoke of tyranny and establishing free societies. Alas, it was a temporary phenomenon, as many have reverted to their former modes. Moreover, even in Western Europe, due to the growing tyranny of a pan continental government, freedom is in retreat. And, as I have observed, the US has not been immune. But Israel, on the other hand, has bucked the trend.

In principle, Israel at its founding was a free country. Of course, the rationale for its existence was very different from that of the US. Its primary raison d’etre is to serve as the revived nation state of the Jewish people – an ethnic nation state, which, ironically, is a concept that has lost favor in the western world. Nevertheless, Israeli society is one that operates under the rule of law, with regular elections, a free press, independent judiciary, and many of the guarantees of individual rights found in our Bill of Rights. It took Israel thirty years to cast off one party rule and another twenty years to abandon its socialist economy. In fact, one can legitimately argue that Israeli society today is more conducive to individual liberty than it has ever been, and it certainly compares favorably to any other democratic state you might cite – including any in Western Europe and even the United States.

But whoa, you might object; what about the matter of its Arab population? That is a legitimate objection, but it is also true that the Arabs of Israel enjoy more individual freedom than is experienced by any citizen in any of the 22 Arab states anywhere in the Middle East.

Well, Japan is a free country and the US is bound by treaty to protect it. The 28 nations of NATO are free countries (more or less to varying degrees) and we are treaty bound to protect them. Since the time of the Monroe Doctrine, we have felt obliged to protect the nations of Latin America – and many of them are not free. You would have to go thousands of miles from Jerusalem into Africa or Asia to find another group of free people. Israel is a precious island of freedom in a sea of tyranny, chaos and bloodshed. If we are to remain true to the idea that America is a beacon of freedom to mankind and that we are devoted to nurturing it where it exists or where it is struggling to come into existence, then we have a holy obligation to help the Israelis keep alive the freedoms they enjoy in such a dangerous neighborhood – an obligation, incidentally, on which the current administration gags and seeks to shirk at every opportunity.

The next point may be self-evident, but it is worth making. The threat to freedom in America today comes from within, not from without. We are in no danger of being conquered by Soviet communists or the Chinese military or Islamic Jihadists. The grave danger we face arises from the traitorous intentions of some of our fellow citizens, compounded by the simple-minded ignorance of so many of their neighbors. Unimaginably, the radical left has managed to overrun the cultural institutions of the nation; they now control virtually all of the opinion-molding organs of American society: the media, universities, public education, libraries, the legal profession – and even the seminaries. It took them a century to accomplish this, but they did it. And as is well-known, the flow runs downhill from culture to politics, so it is not surprising that the cultural putsch has resulted in a political revolution – including the capture of the presidency.

Israel struggles to some extent with the same kind of sinister internal forces. But the main threat – indeed an existential threat – to Israel is external. It has two components: Islamic rejection and European anti-Semitism. Regarding the first, from the birth of the Zionist movement a century and a half ago until this day, the Arab world – indeed, the Muslim world – has been and remains unalterably opposed to any kind of Jewish homeland, much less a sovereign Jewish State in the Middle East. Some of this stems from historical anti-Jewish bias in the Muslim world, but the main impetus comes from the Muslim concept of the Ummah: the lands of the Middle East constitute an Ummah, sacred Muslim soil on which no independent, non-Muslim entity may exist. Incidentally, like the deceased Soviet Empire, the Ummah is a constantly expanding, never contracting entity. Thus, Spain was absorbed into the Ummah over a millennium ago; it is a blasphemy against Allah that it escaped, and the Spanish State is viewed by Muslims – when they think about it – as nearly as illegitimate as Israel. In any event, in the Arab/Muslim world, Israel is not only illegitimate; it is an abomination, a violation of the sanctity of the Ummah, a cancer “populated by the descendants of apes and pigs” – if I may cite the words of Obama’s good friend, Mohamed Morsi, former president of Egypt. Israel will never be accepted and like any cancer it must be destroyed.

How’s that for an attitude common to all your neighbors! Alas, that is only one-half of the threat. The other half is that of European-inspired, albeit world-wide anti-Semitism; good old-fashioned Jew hatred. Tomes have been written about the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, its origins, its causes, its manifestations. Let me just remark sorrowfully that, less than 70 years since European anti-Semitism led to the horror of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of one-third of world Jewry; less than 70 years since the liberation of the last death camp, this deadly virus is back and, as before, has its headquarters in the societies of Western Europe. Sad to say, the recent Israel-Hamas conflict instigated a further flare-up in Europe – and even in the US to some extent.

However, whereas in the past the Jewish people were dispersed around the globe, today 80% of world Jewry is found in two places: Israel and the United States. For the moment, the attention of the world’s anti-Semites is focused almost exclusively on Israel. Its manifestations include: vile accusations, biased journalism, incipient boycotts and disinvestment movements, occasional small-scale deadly attacks on Jews or Israelis in Europe (as has happened recently in Bulgaria, France and Belgium), and finally rampant support for Arab/Muslim efforts to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish State. From a purely physical standpoint, Israel is able to defend itself against European anti-Semitism – I venture that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) could defeat a NATO force that lacked American participation. But when combined with the threat from Iran and the rest of the Muslim world, European anti-Semitism does magnify significantly the danger level that Israel confronts.

Therefore, in summary, although the nature of the threat to freedom in Israel is different from the type of threat that faces us, the threat to Israel’s freedom is very real. Once again, if the US is to be true to its values and its history, then we are duty bound to come to the aid of the beleaguered Jewish State.

I will next present two sets of points addressed specifically to the title of the talk, and then conclude with a perhaps unusual comparison of a key aspect of Israeli and American societies. The two sets are: (i) Why the issue of American defense of Israel is particularly an American Christian issue; and (ii) what specific steps America can take in defense of Israel.

First, why should American Christians care about Israel and its threatened freedom? For some Christians, usually of the evangelical variety, the answer is couched in terms of scripture. I will attempt a more secular and non-sectarian response. But before I list the reasons, I should mention that in forthcoming language, I tend to conflate American conservatives and American Christians on the right side of the political/cultural ledger; and equivalently liberals/progressives and secular Americans on the left. Of course this is an oversimplification. There are certainly many examples of secular conservatives, as well as people of faith whose political outlook steers to the left. But these tend to be more the exception rather than the rule. I believe that, generally speaking, the groupings implicit in the reasoning that follows are typically on target, albeit not universally valid.

  1. As we’ve seen, the left in America cares far more about equality than liberty. Well if the left is not troubled by the loss of freedom in America, do you really expect it to care about the liberty of a bunch of Middle Eastern Jews? And in fact, we have seen increasing hostility toward Israel expressed by America’s leftists. That hostility is generally shared by secularists for whom the ethnic nation state of Israel holds no attraction. Obama is exhibit 1 in this regard. The responsibility passes to conservatives in the US – especially of the religious variety – to uphold the ideal of American Exceptionalism in general and the support of free countries, like Israel, in particular.
  2. Another historical aspect of American society that finds little favor on the left is traditional culture, including strong morals infused by a religious foundation. The notion of an ethnic nation state founded as a haven for a tiny religious community doesn’t really rank high on the left’s list of important ideals. Ditto for secularists. Once again, it falls to American Christians to uphold the Jewish State – i.e., the state one of whose key components is the religion that gave birth to the religion that does – or at least did – undergird much of the morals that guide (or guided) our country.
  3. Christians often refer to the miraculous nature of the founding of America. This was perhaps expressed most eloquently by President Reagan when he said: “I’ve always believed that this land was placed here between the two great oceans by some divine plan. That it was placed here to be found by a special kind of people – people who had a special love for freedom and who had the courage to uproot themselves and leave hearth and homeland, and come to what, in the beginning, was the most undeveloped wilderness possible.” Indeed the miracles implicit in Reagan’s words were and have been concrete: for example, that we won the Revolutionary War – a dicey proposition that; that we were able to overcome the crippling monetary problems that followed independence and establish the Constitution; that we survived the Civil War; that we were able to defeat 20th century totalitarianism; that we have managed to create arguably the most robust, tolerant and peaceful multi-ethnic nation in the history of the world. All of this is miraculous. But perhaps not as miraculous as the reconstitution of an ancient people, homeless and persecuted for two thousand years, said reincarnation being accompanied by the rebirth of its ancient language, essentially not spoken for two millennia, and involving the absorption of millions of destitute immigrant brethren from around the world – all of it resulting in a free, strong and prosperous modern nation – Israel. Now that’s a miracle. As people of faith, American Christians should identify with this miraculous story and help to see that it retains its storybook vitality.
  4. Finally, we often bemoan the irresponsible behavior of our European cousins – behavior that is usually encouraged by our liberal/secular siblings in America. We rue their unwillingness to defend themselves and how they often cuddle up to unsavory characters who threaten their freedom (Vladimir Putin, for example). By actively supporting Israel, we send the Europeans a clear message that their anti-Semitism is unacceptable and their overall irresponsible behavior is self-defeating and dangerous to liberty. American liberals won’t send that message; once again, it falls to conservatives to do so.

Next, I would like to outline just a few concrete steps America could take to help defend Israel. American Christians should be advocating these steps.

  1. First and most obvious, political support in world forums. These include combatting anti-Israel UN resolutions, warnings to states that threaten Israel, agreements with Israel on bilateral issues, and enabling closer cooperation between Israel and America and its allies.
  2. Military support. No one is suggesting that American troops need be deployed to Israel, but America should ensure that Israel is supplied with the most advanced weaponry and that it maintains its qualitative edge over its Arab enemies. Unfortunately, there are unconfirmed reports that the Obama administration actually withheld military supplies from Israel during this summer’s conflict.
  3. Maintain American vigilance in the long battle against jihadism and radical Islam.
  4. Drop the even-handed nonsense and give Israel the full-blown political support that it deserves. The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are not democrats, not free marketeers, not lovers of liberty. We should put our mouth where our values are and cut out the politically correct phony evenhandedness.
  5. Move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
  6. Regarding the futile and never-ending so-called Middle East Peace Process, support the resolution of it that is advocated by Caroline Glick in her new book: “The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.” Any further words here on the book and its ideas would take us too far astray, but listeners are recommended strongly to read Glick’s book. It contains a trenchant analysis of how America, in its pursuit and sponsorship of the fatally flawed Middle East Peace Process, is basically repeating the exact same mistakes that Britain made in trying to administer the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.
  7. Fight anti-Semitism in all its manifestations in all locales where it rears its ugly head.
  8. Our dependence on Middle Eastern oil is declining. We should adjust our Middle East policies accordingly.
  9. At least consider the idea of a defense treaty with Israel. This is admittedly a tricky proposition. But we are treaty bound to defend Formosa. Is that island more important to us than Israel?
  10. Finally, get rid of Obama and all the other leftists – whose back-stabbing of Israel is only one of the many harms that they are perpetrating on the United States of America.

Here is my final idea – the one, which I suggested earlier, that you might find a bit unusual. The US and Israel are both what I would call “biblical societies” – in the following sense. The Bible, specifically the Old Testament, represents a deal that the ancient Israelis made with God more than three thousand years ago – a deal which, incidentally, they viewed as binding on their descendants. The Jews would obey all of God’s mitzvot, i.e., commandments and in so doing bring holiness to the world and be a light unto the nations, thus serving God’s purpose of having mankind perfect the world. In return God would make the Jews a great nation that would enjoy peace and prosperity. Arguably, neither side has kept his end of the bargain very well.

America has trod a similar path. Namely, a quarter millennium ago, the young Americans made a deal with themselves – a deal that they also viewed as binding on their descendants. The Bible in this case was the Constitution. The people pledged to live according to the rules set forth in the sacred document. In return they would receive lives of peace, freedom, prosperity and moral honor. They and their children would continue to know the blessing of freedom. We did a fairly good job of honoring the deal for a long time. But now we are in the process of abrogating it.

There is a theory that in spite of the fact that most Jews throughout history have failed to keep up their end of the bargain with God, there has always been a saving remnant (usually found among so-called Orthodox Jews) that followed the rules. It is because of the saving remnant that, in spite of repeated severe punishments, which He has allowed to befall the Jewish people, God still considers the deal to be in force. That explains why He has permitted the Jews to continue to exist for lo these many millennia.

Well, American Christians are the United States’ saving remnant. It is your job to remain faithful to the deal, to uphold the rules in the Constitution and to lead America back to the biblical arrangement made by our Founders.

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

Patriot Games

In the spring of 2014, the conservative firebrand, Steve Deace, published a book entitled Rules for Patriots. Deace is a take no prisoners kind of guy. He is well-known in the conservative circuit, but rather controversial. One might even say that he tends toward the extreme. He has no truck whatsoever with so-called establishment Republicans, or Republicrats as he calls them. He believes that they are as guilty as the Democrats for leading our country astray into the swamp of progressivism under which we are slowly sinking. Deace agonizes over whether true conservative patriots should either seek to take over the Republican Party (as the progressives have captured the Democratic Party) or form a new third party. He recognizes that the latter step has a very low chance of succeeding, but he also acknowledges how entrenched in command of the GOP are the “establishment types.” In any event, the point of the book is to lay out some rules that patriots, that is, true conservatives should adhere to as they go about the business of recapturing the country from the progressives and Republicrats.

This essay is not intended to be a review of the book. The interested reader may find ample reviews – both kind and unkind – e.g., by following these links: Regnery, Chocola, McDurmon,  Therein you will find various assessments of the worth of Deace’s playbook.

What I wish to do here is focus on four points that Deace makes as he develops his rule book. Although they are in some sense just “supporting evidence” for his arguments, they struck me as particularly insightful, occasionally unique and eventually helpful for crystallizing the thoughts of a conservative. Moreover, he writes with a certain flamboyant style – which you will encounter in a few quotes below. Deace’s first point is not new, but it is well-formulated and concentrates one’s thoughts on the precise foundation of the progressive opposition. The remaining three points may not be totally novel, but I have rarely seen them stated as forcefully as they are in Deace’s book and I think that they are worth highlighting.

1. The four pillars of progressivism. The liberal/progressive world has many components, some more prominent or powerful than others. Deace argues that there are four fundamental pillars – without any one of which, the progressive movement would be far weaker and less effective. These pillars are, as stated exactly in Deace’s words:

    1. The child-killing Industry
    2. The homosexual lobby
    3. Government education
    4. Government sector employee unions.

You can see from (a) that Deace is a flame-thrower as his appellation for the pro-choice coterie has rather more flavor than the usual term. Along the same lines, while describing the pernicious effect of each pillar, Deace asserts:

We don’t trust the leadership of the Republican Party any more than we trust the Democrats, but are pragmatically willing to use the GOP’s infrastructure as the most convenient vehicle to engage the political system to fight for our freedom and liberty…We do not believe there is any such thing as a “fiscal conservative” but there are only conservatives. “Fiscal conservatives” and “pro-life Democrats” are like unicorns—figments of our imagination. A fiscal conservative is code language for a materialist who just wants more mammon…Not to mention the more immoral a people become the bigger the government always gets, because the first thing an immoral people want to avoid is paying for their own mistakes. A welfare state profits off the basis of bad behavior, and then cost shifts the bill to do those who make sound decisions…We do not romanticize the Republicans as the good guys and the Democrats as the bad, but see the leadership of both parties as part of a ruling class (thank you Anthony Codevilla) that is more concerned with maintaining their own gravy train than honoring their sworn oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of these United States.

Like I said, a flame-thrower. But Deace has identified quite succinctly what is the heart of the progressive movement. If the conservative viewpoint is ever to prevail again in the United States, then the abortion industry, gay rights crowd, left-wing educational establishment and public sector unions must be defanged. It took a century for the four to grow long claws and plunge them into the soul of American society. I doubt that we have anywhere near that much time to extract the claws and tame the beasts.

2. We are the counter-culture. In 1950, a person who espoused the cultural views, political ideas and economic policies of Barack Obama would have been considered counter-cultural. Such a person had a self-appointed job to overthrow the prevailing conservative cultural/political/economic system and replace it by his leftist substitute. Well, it is painful to admit this, but they did it! Today, readers of Deace’s book – and likely the readers of this journal – are the counterculture. Now it is our job to overthrow the counterculture that has become the culture. As Deace says:

We’re now the counter-culture and the Left is now “the man keeping them down.” It’s becoming passé to have sex with anything you want short of a car battery, get stoned every day that ends in “y,” and know nothing. That used to be cool, and considered some existential statement about refusing to be a cog in the machine, but now it’s a cliché. Even raunchy comedy movies like Knocked Up have an underlying theme paying homage to some vestige of the Judeo-Christian moral ethic. If you want to challenge the status quo in this era you get and keep a job, pay your own way, stay married to the same person from the opposite gender until one or both of you die, have a lot of kids, and go to church. In other words, the 1950s is now considered edgy.

3. Ignorance of conservatism. According to Deace, today’s youth have not rejected conservatism. They have not even encountered it. They cannot reject what they don’t know exists. The brainwashing to which the youth of America are subjected in the K-12 educational system is pervasive and penetrating. The liberal/progressive view of history, government, economics, etc. is all that is taught from kindergarten through graduate school. If conservative thought is presented at all it is to highlight it as a formerly acceptable, reactionary, racist, sexist, homophobic, and economically biased point of view over which our enlightened age has triumphed.

Conservatives often fret about the youth vote – how Obama captured it so thoroughly and easily. Patriots worry about honing and refining their message so as to break through the misconceptions. Well, the youth are not paying attention. They’ve already been programmed. As Deace says:

Since conservatives have spent a generation retreating from the arena of ideas to form holy huddles in our own little enclaves of the already-initiated, we have forsaken an entire generation to be indoctrinated by anti-American/anti-Christian Leftists who clearly know what they’re doing. The emerging generation hasn’t rejected the American way. It hasn’t even considered it. We’ve stopped competing in the arena of ideas, so we’ve left them with no choice but to accept the synthesized narrative (Hegelian Dialectic) they’ve been sold in government school. Thus, they believe the Constitution calls for the separation of church and state, there is no such thing as transcendent truth, and moral absolutes don’t exist. So if we’re going to engage this emerging generation, we’re going to have to define our terms and ourselves clearly and explicitly.

4. Misplaced nostalgia. Republicans – even of the establishment variety – pine for Reagan and long for the second coming. GOP presidential candidates are examined for their ability to channel Reagan, both in style and substance. If we can only find the right candidate who can replicate Reagan’s devotion to conservative principles, infectious optimism, and ability to explain his ideas clearly, then we’ll reclaim the high ground.

Well, says Deace, get over it. It ain’t happening. Most young people have no memory of Reagan, and even among the middle aged, there is little recognition of who he was and what he stood for. Says Deace:

There is a fine line between tradition and nostalgia. Tradition is the assurance that you have the right ethics and institutions to be successful again based on what was done in the past, provided you have the right people in place to exploit them. Tradition spurs action and innovation to build upon a foundation of success. On the other hand, nostalgia is a paralyzing force because it tempts you to keep trying to recreate the precise conditions that led to a specific past success. Often that specific success was a moment in time, and the attempt to repeat it creates a myopic inflation of that success to the point it stalls progress towards a new era of success. Instead of moving forward, you keep trying to go back to the good old days. Right now we are mired in nostalgia at the expense of our tradition. We are mired in nostalgia because our entire movement has been defined by one man’s success, as opposed to the timeless traditions he fought for. As a result, every sort of Republican now claims Ronald Reagan as their legacy, even the absolute worst ones that might as well be Democrats. A pretty good rule of thumb is that if everybody can claim something, then nobody can. Yes, Reagan was a gifted man, and I’ve used several examples of that giftedness in this book. But that giftedness doesn’t matter to us if it’s not used to advance the principles we hold dear. There have been gifted people throughout history that used their gifts to do wicked and awful things. Why don’t we celebrate them? Because what they stood for was wrong or evil, that’s why. In other words, what they stood for overshadowed their giftedness. The same should be true of Reagan’s positive legacy as well. While it’s a testimony to his legacy that we still play clips of Reagan to defend our values today, it’s also an indictment of how stale we are. At the time I was writing this book I just turned 40 years old. When Reagan first ran for president in 1976 I was still eating paste and my boogers.

We may wish for a second coming. But even if it happened, a substantial portion of the electorate wouldn’t recognize the messiah or understand his message.

There is no question that these are challenging and dangerous times for the United States of America. The progressive movement, which rejects virtually all of the principles that animated our Founders, aspires to recreate America as a Euro-style social welfare state. It seeks to refashion our nation into one that values equality over liberty, that favors socialism over capitalism, that places appeasement, disarmament and multilateralism above a robust national defense, that shuns the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic of our forefathers in favor of a squishy multiculturalism and that thinks the only thing exceptional about the US is that it is marked indelibly by racism, sexism and homophobia. It has taken them a hundred years to achieve, but their view now seems to command the allegiance of a majority of Americans. If American conservatives cannot reverse this horrific pattern, then the USA as we know (or knew) it is doomed. Deace is not the first to espouse this view – nor the most articulate. But he does have a few poignant observations to his credit – specifically the four that I have highlighted above.

This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative


Is the Professoriate Committing Suicide?

Much has been written about the declining number of tenure/tenure-track faculty (TTF) when considered as a percentage of the total instructional faculty on the nation’s campuses. This phenomenon began a few decades ago, but it is only in the last five years that it has become pronounced and widely commented upon. For example, it is now generally accepted that while said percentage was likely more than 75% several decades ago, it is now in the neighborhood of 30%. (It depends upon whether one computes the percentage based on bodies or instructional hours.) The reasons for this development are well-known. In this essay, I will do three things:

  1. Quickly review the reasons;
  2. Describe why, unlike some, I view this development as a serious problem for the cause of higher education; and
  3. Explain how – against their better interests – TTF are actually complicit in the creation and perpetuation of this problem.

It is, of course, item 3 that is the novel contribution to the national conversation on this topic.

The first reason that is usually cited when the declining TTF issue is explained is cost. If we use the term adjunct faculty (which is widely employed, albeit not universally accepted) to describe the non-TTF on the nation’s campuses, then it is an indisputable fact that TTF salaries far outstrip those of adjunct faculty. At a time when the average TTF salary is approaching six figures – and when “star” faculty often earn more than a quarter million dollars annually, the average adjunct faculty salary is a mere fraction of that, often below $25,000. University administrators are under enormous pressure to keep costs down. Faculty salaries are a huge part of the university budget. Replacing TTF by adjuncts is a tactic that is almost impossible to resist.

A close second among the reasons for the disappearing TTF instructor is the intense competition among the nation’s universities to be seen as “one of the best.” Universities are judged on the quality of their students and on the quality of their faculty. Regarding the latter, for better or worse, the evaluation is routinely made on the basis of faculty research. Campuses compete to hire and retain the best research faculty and a prime weapon in that competition is the offer of reduced teaching loads. Guess who picks up the slack.

There are a few lesser reasons that reinforce the teaching imbalance between TTF and adjuncts:

  • Sad to say, but many adjuncts are better teachers than TTF, who, too often, shirk their teaching duties in favor of their research activities. Furthermore, most research faculty experienced little in the way of teacher training in graduate school, whereas many adjuncts do have such preparation in their backgrounds.
  • University administrators find adjuncts much easier to manage than TTF; adjuncts are more docile, less demanding and far less likely to question campus initiatives that muck with academic programs.
  • Many parents have lost faith in American higher education – because of outrageously high costs, worthless degrees awarded to their children and drivel driven into those children’s heads by radical (and not so radical) professors. Parents hold the TTF responsible and are not disturbed by their disappearance from the classroom.
  • The pool of candidates for TTF careers has plateaued as many American youngsters see the requisite credentials as too difficult to obtain and, furthermore, foresee life in a corporate enterprise, small or individually-owned business, or government environment as more accessible and rewarding.

Because of these reasons, some view the declining presence of TTF in university classrooms as not necessarily a bad thing. I disagree. If the trend continues, and the indications are that it will, then the percentage of instructional faculty that are TTF might go as low as 10%. Even at its current low level, it has weakened the faculty as the main branch of the American university. Classically, it was the faculty that ran the university. That is no longer true. The campus agenda – academic and fiscal – is set by university administrators. I discussed this at length in a prior essayin this journal, to which the reader is referred. Therein I outlined all the negative consequences: polarization of the campus, loosening of academic standards, prohibitive costs, and a major contributor to the next, horrible, fiscal bubble (student debt). Another deleterious consequence (inadvertently omitted in loc. cit.) is that one of the prime objectives of higher education – namely, fostering interaction between creative faculty and inquisitive students – is drastically undercut.

So the surrender of control of the campus by the faculty to university administrators is both a cause and an effect of the declining TTF percentage. It is a shocking and dangerous development. But what is doubly shocking – and this is alluded to by the use of the word ‘surrender’ above – is that the faculty is complicit in the diminution of the TTF as the instructional arm of the university.

How so? Well, it’s not like faculty all over the country woke up one morning and decided to engineer a major change in their job description. No, the process was more nebulous. In mid twentieth century, the campuses of America exploded with huge numbers of new students, new programs, new facilities and of course new personnel. The youth of America saw the good life and good works of university faculty and decided they wanted a piece of that action. The ranks of the TTF grew enormously and for the most part the paradigms of university faculty life remained intact – for a while. But the societal forces that rocked the country in the 60s and 70s had a profound effect on the academy. No tradition was safe. Especially not the traditional mode for the conduct of university life (cf. Columbia, 1968 or Cornell, 1970). And here is where the dereliction of duty by the faculty enters the picture. Most faculty were preoccupied with one of two complementary behaviors. Either they were in the vanguard of the cultural and educational revolution that overthrew the ancien regime. More commonly, they were consumed with keeping their heads down and trying to run their academic lives in a traditional way in an attempt to be impervious to the sweeping changes swirling about them. In so doing they missed the revolution and never appreciated that control of the university had been swept away from them. More specifically:

  • Most faculty were content with rising academic salaries – especially those who really cashed in; faculty paid no heed to the increasing use of low-paid adjuncts to staff courses.
  • In addition, they welcomed reduced teaching loads and so – to reemphasize – they ignored the campus’ compensating action of staffing courses with adjuncts.
  • Faculty were also happy to emphasize their research at the expense of their teaching. Naturally, they did little to increase their teaching prowess.
  • Finally, faculty seemed blissfully ignorant of the increasing dissatisfaction among parents, students and politicians regarding the quality of the “product” their “company” was putting out.

In short, far too many faculty were either totally unaware of the changes that were sweeping the campus; or if they were aware, they made no attempt to resist the changes – either because of ignorance or a misguided sense that the changes were redounding to their benefit. They offered little or no resistance to the coup being perpetrated by university administrators. A big part of the coup program was to turn over much of university instruction to adjunct faculty. The TTF was complicit in the coup in that either it completely misunderstood the plans of the revolutionaries or if it understood them, it raised no objection. In the end, the university has been injured, and in the long run the TTF will suffer.

Can that fate be avoided? I think the only chance is if American institutions of higher education accept a national challenge to restore the percentage of TTF in the classroom to at least 50%. This would ameliorate, and hopefully reverse, some of the negative consequences that I outlined above. But what about the two primary drivers of this phenomenon? Well, if the restorative process was universally adopted, then there would be no effect on universities’ ability to recruit and retain exceptional faculty since all institutions would be living with the same constraints. On the other hand, the renewal process would definitely entail increased costs. Where will the money come from? The traditional sources of campus revenue – tuition, endowments, state support, federal and corporate grants – are largely tapped out. The answer: all those scores of administrators (deans, deanlets, program directors, diversity officers and the multitudes of support staff) would have to go. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! A university that values the people who do the teaching and learning rather than those who push papers, issue meaningless reports and set rules that injure the academic enterprise.

This essay also appeared in a slightly abridged form in Minding the Campus.

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