Friday, February 13, 2009

Forgiveness and Irony

This essay in City Journal by Roger Scruton ambitiously attempts to right the course of civilization. But first we need to accept that the good guys have deviated in some fatal way.

The jihadist with a Western passport is a troubling development in the United States, the U.K., and continental Europe. Here we were, undertaking to impart the triumphs of our inclusive style all over the world, and beneficiaries of that style are talking about destroying it. It's not limited to religious fundamentalism. The malaise is more pervasive. Children are shooting up their schools all the time now. "Ideas of liberty, equality, or historical right have no influence on their thinking," writes Scruton. So it's no use picking a bone with them, since they haven't yet articulated an itinerary beyond mayhem.

The "evildoers" are not Scruton's target. He diagnoses a "culture of repudiation," widespread in our polis and abetted by multiculturalism. According to Scruton, the West has lost its mission civilisatrice and is foundering in a relativistic swamp. This generation has shucked the obligations of "citizenship," and we're well on our way to a moribund society, dangerously open to violent extremists.

I don't think anyone has to choose between multiculturalism and forgiveness. Scruton's disavowal of multiculturalism contains a repudiation of tolerance, which is the greatest weapon the West has. As I argued in my Huntington critique, a society need not march in lockstep to be powerful--quite the contrary.

This is why Scruton signals a crisis. He thinks we've fallen out of touch with our roles as citizens. But this is a natural development in a democracy: we can't be great citizens if everyone agrees that we're great citizens. Revolt and patricide are also important ingredients. Not to mention hesitation and empathy. All this makes us better defended against terror, not worse.

The Judeo-Christian"forgiveness" that Scruton calls for is really just multiculturalism in action, or what I prefer to call toleration. He fails to see the key irony of this policy: that it is a weapon in an asymmetrical cultural war. We tolerate creationists because to censor them would only strengthen them. We have faith in the free exchange of ideas.

Scruton's call to better citizenship is laudable, but he opposes multiculturalism for the wrong reasons. (Here are some better reasons).