Tuesday, April 08, 2008

David Solway: Recommended Reading

There are a lot of interesting interviews at Front Page Magazine. I just came across one, from February, which features an unusually skilled writer, David Solway:
If we are to have any chance of surviving this “war of the worlds,” we must also learn to know ourselves. While Islam is and will continue to be a major problem for the West—to put it mildly—far more dangerous than our misunderstanding of Islam is the pervasive ignorance and misprision of our own civilization, which I fear may be undergoing its precipitous denouement as it prepares for terminal breakup.

And let us not deceive ourselves, the peril is great indeed. In a time of moral inversion, one might say, if I can put it this way, that a vacuum abhors nature, and the vacuum of the Western intellect in the reductive era in which we live refuses to be filled by facts, by the logic of events, by palpable realities, by common sense or by the obvious nature of things.

On the contrary, the spiritual vacancy which has become our home is replete with phantoms and delusions that substitute for the genuine values that have sustained the best part of our civilization: for pragmatic and laborious national progress, the chimera of transnational supremacy which implies a new kind of statist imperium; for negotiating the Hobbesian world in which we must somehow find our way, Martha Nussbaum’s utopian fantasy of the “community of human beings in the entire world”; for the inalienable rights of man, a multicultural solicitude for barbaric ideas and backward practices; for the concept of truth, the acid of postmodern relativity; for authentic faith, crude ideologies; for meaningful civil arbitration, an activist judiciary which strives to supersede the legislative branch of government; for the belief in institutional probity, the corrupt United Nations and the politically-motivated International Court of Justice in the Hague; for the free marketplace of ideas, the decadent, agenda-driven modern university; for an impartial press, a largely bigoted media network with a distinct political mission; for candid and scrupulous language, the lip-salve of political correctness; for the manly virtues of heroism and steadfastness, cowardice masking as reasonable accommodation; for schooled thought, febrile emotionalism, and for stoic maturity, indulgent sentimentality; for entrepreneurial innovation, the dead hand of bureaucratic stagnation; for the patient study of history, the figments of received opinion; for men and women of real substance and courage, a jaundiced and appeasement-prone crowd of politicians, artists and intellectuals; and for the ideal of tolerance, a rampant and never-dying antisemitism.
FP: The title of your political work-in-progress Living in the Valley of Shmoon prompts the obvious question about what "shmoon" could possibly signify. And this is central to our understanding of the terror war. Please explain.

Solway: Reflecting on our post-Enlightenment condition, I recalled the cartoonist Al Capp, creator of the L’il Abner comic strip and inventor of a species of roly-poly, pure-minded, eleemosynary critters called shmoos, denizens of the Valley of Shmoon, who were able and willing to transform themselves into chicken dinners and other delectables to satisfy the appetites of the hungry folk around them. Shmoos, unfortunately, do not constitute a finite resource set, but proliferate in such numbers as to undermine the welfare of society, rendering hard work unnecessary and the reality principle obsolete. They are not, strictly speaking, bad, but as one of the comic strip’s characters, Ol’ Man Mose, warned, they are bad for humanity “because they are so good.”

They recognize no enemies and, even as they are about to be exterminated, offer no resistance. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” as Edmund Burke is reputed to have said. One recalls, too, C. S. Lewis’ remark in Mere Christianity: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep…but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” So much for the Nanny state! But the current situation has been infernally compounded, for the ideological shmoos of the day seem determined to feed a hungry and insatiable enemy. When “good men” actively conspire with those who would undo them, when the missionaries eagerly jump into the bubbling pot, the end is surely in the offing.

According to our contemporary shmoos, there are two cognate approaches for dealing with the Islamic terrorists at the door. The first is to run down our culture and assume the blame for what has been inflicted on us—maybe the killers will forgive us. The second is to talk to our assailants, to respect their motives, to understand their resentments and to improve their economic prospects: fine words, empathy and a flow of dollars will do the trick. Although this strategy has failed miserably with Western-style dictatorships and terror regimes, and although many of the terrorists and their supporters hail from backgrounds of affluence and privilege, the Left insists against all the evidence that its policies and recommendations will succeed with the jihadis and their host governments, who must be relishing the free pass they have been given. Be nice, the theory goes, and they will be nice back.

Show understanding, and they will respond, not with violence but with gratitude. One remembers Einstein’s definition of insanity as repeating the same experiments and expecting different results. And, of course, as we extend the hand of supplication, we must not forget to keep inveighing against the moral cretinism and venality of the West, in the hope of gaining the respect of our adversaries while fumigating our own history. We must enrol our students in Peace Studies programs and teach them the subtleties of the “deep culture” approach, enabling them to see that our “enemies” are only expressing the fundamental traditions and postulates of their cultures, which are generally understood to be benign or at least neutral. For the professional temporizers of the Left, it is our own culture which is warped and depraved and therefore a licit object of the rest of the world’s hatred. Terrorism is not terrorism but justified vengeance. Plainly, this is not a good time for sense and substance as the rhetoric of vacancy gusts to windy velocities.

And that is where we find ourselves today. Not in the Valley of Kidron where idols are burned, but in the Valley of Shmoon where they are worshipped. Not in the Valley of Salt where King David won great victories, but in the Valley of Shmoon where we will suffer great losses.
The whole thing is a worth a read.

Who is David Solway. According to the editorial review, of his recent book, at Amazon:
On the morning of September 12, 2001, David Solway was enjoying breakfast in a café on the idyllic Greek island of Tilos. At first believing that the mayhem flickering on the TV screen was a rerun of a B war movie, he soon realized he was viewing the opening stages of the next world war. "From that moment on," he writes, "nothing was the same."

In the coming weeks, Solway relentlessly scrutinized the values and beliefs he accepted as gospel. As a member of the approved Left, educated in the roiling universities of the Student Revolution in the utopian Sixties, Solway was duly anti-colonialist, anti-corporatist, anti-Zionist, and postmodern. But his stance, he admits, was founded in "ignorance and laziness" and was no longer tenable. A fresh point of view was necessary.

The "fresh point of view" evolved into this book. Using Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform and his own long-neglected Jewish roots as his starting points, Solway’s investigation leads him to today’s central predicament: the onslaught of theologically inspired terrorist movements that thrive parasitically on the left-liberal belief system that dominates the sensibility of the West.

We must recognize, Solway insists, that terror and antisemitism are intimately related; that our very civilization is under prolonged attack; and that, for too many years, we have evaded the truth, craving asylum in conciliation, sophistry, and equivocation....David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. David Solway lives in Montreal.

1 comment:

reliable sources said...

This was interesting. And Solway is such a good writer too: "fumigating our own history" is a good image.