The World Turned Upside Down: you read it first here
In our current fevered times, there is much anxious discussion about the west’s all-too obvious existential crisis – the erosion of its fundamental moral and cultural values; its repudiation of national identity and attachment; its consequent embrace of mass immigration and Islamisation; the hollowing out of conservatism and the eruption of shameless antisemitism.
I have been writing about all these things for many years. I’m pleased that others are now finally discussing them. In today’s debates, I hear in particular many echoes of what I wrote in my 2010 book The World Turned Upside Down: the Global Battle over God, Truth and Power. In that book, I argued that all these developments were the result of a profound cultural, moral and spiritual sickness in the west which had substituted numerous ideologies for its bedrock values and had thus replaced truth and reason by the abuse of power. I also argued that the onslaught upon Israel and the Jewish people could only be properly understood as an integral part of that broader western existential crisis.
You can obtain the book from Amazon here and here. Meanwhile, as a contribution to our current debates, here is the last section of the book’s last chapter.
The Soft Bigotry of the Enlightened
In the Islamist onslaught upon the free world, the West is confronting an ideology that hijacks evidence and distorts and falsifies it for its own ends. The disconcerting fact, as we have seen in the preceding pages, is that the West has been doing precisely the same thing. From manmade global warming to Israel, from Iraq to the origin of the universe, the West has replaced truth with ideology. Faced with an enemy that has declared war upon reason, the West has left the citadel undefended.
The correspondences between Western progressives and Islamists are really quite remarkable. Both are attempting to create utopias in order to redeem past sins; both permit no dissent from the one revealed truth; both demonize and seek to suppress their opponents; both project their own bad behavior onto others; both are consumed by paranoid conspiracy theories. Both are giving expression to a totalitarian instinct that involves a wholesale repudiation of reason.
The West has gone down this road in order to allow the full and unimpeded flowering of the autonomous individual and the fulfillment of his needs and desires. The Islamists have gone down this road to subjugate the individual and snuff out his needs and desires. Both have ended up suppressing freedom and imposing a tyranny of the mind.
What they also have in common is hostility to Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people. The genocidal hatred of Israel and the Jews that drives the Islamic jihad against the West is not acknowledged or countered by the West because its most high-minded citizens share at least some of that prejudice.
Both Western liberals and Islamists believe in utopias to which the Jews are an obstacle. The State of Israel is an obstacle to both the rule of Islam over the earth and a world where there are no divisions based on religion or creed. The Jews are an obstacle to the unconstrained individualism of Western libertines and to the Islamist attack on individual human dignity and freedom. Both the liberal utopias of a world without prejudice, divisions or war and the Islamist utopia of a world without unbelievers are universalist ideologies. The people who are always in the way of universalizing utopias are the Jews.
The great Victorian novelist and passionate Christian Zionist George Eliot understood this very well. In 1879, she wrote that while liberal progressives were free of the kind of antisemitism that held Jews guilty of the Crucifixion, these rationalists who had won full citizenship for Jews, Dissenters and Catholics nevertheless condemned the Jews for not having discarded their Jewishness and become completely assimilated. Such liberals, she wrote, had reverted to “medieval types of thinking,” complaining of the Jewish spirit of “universal alienism” and “cosmopolitanism” because the Jews were “holding the world’s money bag.”
How contemporary she sounds. Christian Europe despised the Jews because they were an obstacle to the universalizing doctrine of the redemption of mankind by Jesus. Now the progressives who are intent upon destroying the Christian West despise those Jews who do not subscribe to the universalizing dogma of the brotherhood of man but obdurately insist on asserting their particular claim to heritage and history. If universalism is the dogma, Zionists and Israelis are the contemporary heretics to be burned.
As George Eliot understood only too well, it is those who claim to be the very acme of enlightened opinion who are often among the most prejudiced. The power of reason offers no protection against bigotry: quite the reverse. And today it is once again among the most progressive and enlightened people in Britain, Europe and America, the secular rationalists and the most liberal Christians, who march behind the banners of human rights and high-minded conscience, that one finds the most virulent hatred of Israel and medieval prejudice against the Jews.
One wonders, though, whether the pathology is yet deeper and more devastating. As has been noted, all the utopias of the West involve at some level a repudiation of Jewish precepts. But it was the Jews who gave the world the concepts of an orderly universe, reason and progress—the keys to science and our modern age. And the State of Israel is the front line of the defense of the free world against the Islamist assault on modernity.
In repudiating Jewish teaching and its moral codes, the West has turned upon the modern world itself. In turning upon the State of Israel, the West is undermining its defense against the enemies of modernity and the Western civilization that produced it. The great question is whether it actually wants to defend reason and modernity anymore, or whether Western civilization has now reached a point where it has stopped trying to survive.