The Real Culture Clash

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Real Culture Clash


Byline: William Hawkins, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

John Garth in his biography of J.R.R. Tolkien recounts a meeting between the future author of "The Lord of the Rings" and an Oxford professor at the outbreak of World War I. As a student, Tolkien took part in debates over the looming German threat, but was still dismayed at the turn of events. According to Garth, "The Catholic professor responded that this war was no aberration: On the contrary, for the human race it was merely 'back to normal.' "

The rejection of this concept of normality in human affairs is at the core of liberalism. Classical liberalism flowered in the early 19th century, following the quarter-century of global warfare spawned by the French Revolution and Napoleon. Writing in 1821, James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, claimed, "There is, in the present advanced state of the civilized world .. so little chance of civil war or foreign invasion, that, in contriving the means of national felicity, but little allowance can be rationally required of it." Any problems remaining, Mill would refer to an international court of arbitration.

International and revolutionary violence increased in the second half of the 19th century, and liberal notions lost their credibility completely in the world wars of the 20th century. The end of the Cold War, however, seemed to give liberalism a new chance. In 1999, President Bill Clinton proclaimed: "Perhaps for the first time in history, the world's leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory. The world clearly is coming together." It is because the events of the last few years have reminded us that the world is still a dangerous place that there is so much angst on the left.

British historian Jeremy Black, looking at Europe in the 16th century, described a "bellicose society." One in which "killing was generally accepted as necessary, both for civil society against crime, heresy and disorder and in international relations. War itself seemed necessary. .. it was natural as the best means by which to defend interests and achieve goals." This Europe was expanding across the globe and would dominate world affairs for 500 years. It would also produce the United States as the offspring of imperial ambitions.

It is against these values that liberals have struggled for centuries. Historian Heinz Gollwitzer, looking at the 19th century, found, "Left-wing liberalism, in so far as it was doctrinaire, put up a strong fight against armaments and power policies, the acquisition of non-European territories, the establishment of naval bases and, above all, the retreat from its economic principles. …

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