Magazine article The American Conservative

War of the Worlds

Magazine article The American Conservative

War of the Worlds

Article excerpt

The West doesn't have to choose between Huxley's dystopian future and Islam's medieval past.

THE DECONSTRUCTIONISTS are mistaken when they argue that in literature text is everything. When we come to the subject of grand strategy, however, it is correct to say that context is everything. Nothing illustrates the point better than the interventionists' habit of presenting every situation as a replay of Munich 1938. In reality, in a world where the state is losing its monopoly both on war and on social organization, worrying about another Munich is as useful as worrying about another Defenestration of Prague. The 21st-century context is radically different from the context of Europe in the 1930s.

Conservatives in particular now find ourselves confronting vast changes in the grand strategic context, changes many find emotionally difficult as well as intellectually challenging. We were brought up in a world where the grand strategic context was easy to grasp: our country, the United States of America, represented what was good, and our country's principal opponent, the Soviet Union, represented evil. "Us versus them" was a realistic and useful framework.

The new grand strategic context is much more complex, from a moral as well as a political perspective. And-here is where many conservatives choke -the United States, or at least its policymaking elites, no longer wear the white hats. Conservatives, especially cultural conservatives, face a 21st century where the landscape is dominated by two vast evil forces in collision. Sadly, one of those forces is largely defined and led by the United States.

Of these two baleful titans, one is easy for Americans to perceive and reject. It is the conglomeration of elements collected under the big tent of Fourth Generation war, a collection that includes al-Qaeda and terrorists generally.

The Fourth Generation of Modern War, warfare since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, is the greatest change in armed conflict since the modern era began. It is marked by the state's loss of the monopoly on war it established with Westphalia and the rise of non-state elements that can fight states and win. At its core is not a military but a political, social, and moral phenomenon, a crisis of legitimacy of the state itself. All over the world, people are withdrawing their primary loyally from the state and giving it to a wide variety of other things, of many different kinds: families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups and races, gangs, ideologies, causes such as environmentalism and animal rights, religions, and so on. Many people who would never fight for their state are willing, even eager, to fight for their new primary loyalty.

Further, just as the state was born from cannon, so Fourth Generation war is giving rise to new forms of social organization. It should not surprise us that al-Qaeda's goal is not taking power within states but abolishing the state altogether and replacing it with an ummah headed by a caliph, a pre-state form of social organization.

Critics of the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation say that they represent a return to the Dark Ages. That critique is valid. Where the Fourth Generation has prevailed, in places such as West Africa, Somalia, and, thanks to an American invasion, Iraq, life is once again nasty, brutish, and short. Just as the lamps went out all over Europe in 1914, so they will be extinguished, perhaps for centuries, wherever the state fails and Fourth Generation elements come to rule. This, again, is easy for Americans to grasp.

The hard and painful aspect of the new grand strategic context is that the principal opponent of the Fourth Generation is not the Christian West but Brave New World. Aldous Huxley's short novel by that title, published in the 1930s, is a chillingly accurate description of the soft totalitarianism that now sees itself within reach of unchallengeable world power.

Sadly, the march toward Brave New World is led by the United States. …

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