The Monolithic State of America
November 27, 2001
Many of my
favorite books are books that shook me up, even angered me, when I first
read them. One of these is The Present Age, by the late Robert
I knew Bob Nisbet slightly, and he was kind to
me, especially considering what a young fool I was. He had the wisdom to know
that a young fool can often be transformed by time alone. Or, as the poet William
Blake put it, If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become
Nisbet, a distinguished sociologist and
conservative philosopher, published The Present Age in 1988. Though
he hated Communism, he harbored a profound skepticism about the Cold War. In
1988 I still didnt see how a man could hold both attitudes at the same
time. Yet I respected Bob Nisbet enough to listen when he said things I
didnt want to hear.
Chief among those things was this: If the
Founders of the American Republic could come back today, they would be most
astounded, among all the vast changes that time has wrought, by the militarization
of the United States. Since World War I, this country has been totally transformed
by war and constant preparation for war.
American militarism has been the chief force
in changing a decentralized federal republic into a centralized, bureaucratic
monolith. During World War I the United States underwent an amazingly swift
metamorphosis. World War II accelerated the alteration. The Cold War completed
the transformation from isolated republic to global empire. We became inured to
limitless government in the name of defense and national
didnt live to see it, but the new war on terrorism has, in
just a few weeks, further compounded the constitutional evolution he warned
against. The shock of September 11 has disposed countless Americans to accept,
without demurral or reservation, the claim of new powers by the Federal
Government particularly by the executive branch.
But this disposition was made possible by a
new tradition of equating patriotism with militarism, and militarism with
defense. Most of us no longer recognize the new tradition as a break
with our original tradition. So we beg the Federal Government to protect us from
terrorism, even if that means letting it usurp powers never assigned or allowed to
Instead of asking ourselves the pragmatic
question, How can we defeat terrorism? we should be asking
ourselves the more basic question, Is this the kind of situation we should
let ourselves be maneuvered into? How did a country that was once
determined to remain aloof from the endless conflicts of the Old World manage to
get itself embroiled in, of all things, the medieval Crusades?
But the original Crusaders were at least
fighting for something defined and definite: the Cross of Christ. They agreed that
Christianity was right and Islam wrong. President Bush would never say such an
atavistic thing. He insists (in effect) that we are fighting for Islam itself,
because terrorism is a perversion of true Islam,
which is a religion of peace. In other words, this is a war for
liberalism and tolerance, which Mr. Bush equates with true Islam.
Such nonsense is too much for the
distinguished Zionist scholar of Islam Daniel Pipes, who reasonably asks by what
authority a Texan Methodist can decide what is orthodox or heretical for Islam. In
a purely secular sense, Islam is as Islam does.
Its no concern of mine, in other words,
whether Osama bin Laden speaks with the voice of authentic Islam (whatever that
may be) or as a crank who happens to have a lot of followers who have the means
and determination to kill people I love. Either way, I want him stopped. The sooner
But and heres the rub
stopping him may also create more like him. No doubt the U.S. military campaign
will deter countless people from trying to emulate him, but it will also have the
opposite effect on a few. And a few terrorists or guerrillas are enough to make a
lot of trouble, as we have already seen.
The state of Israel has been cracking down on
terrorism, hard, for thirty years. Has it worked? The problem is worse than ever.
And thats what we can expect over the next few decades if our own
government follows Israels example. If we persist in our folly, will we