"The Most American Thing That's Ever Happened"
I've been pretty busy doing podcasts recently. See one I did with the guys at Secular Foxhole, which includes a preview of a very interesting piece that goes up tomorrow (or so I've been told) at Discourse.
Then see one I did with the Atlas Society, in which the host reminds me that some years ago I cast Joe Biden in the role of Mr. Thompson, the Head of the State in Atlas Shrugged, and asks me to reflect on that now that he really is the head of the state. It was a good discussion, and there's a lot more there, including what I think the Objectivist movement really needs and my grounds for optimism.
Also, if you don't already get updates from Symposium, check out a podcast in which I interview Erec Smith of the Journal of Free Black Thought, in which we talk about "integration shock" and its effect on both blacks and whites in America.
Enlightenment Is Everywhere
The most interesting response I geot from the Free Black Thought podcast was a listener who pointed me to Enlightenment-style ideas that came from a 17th-Century Ethiopian philosopher named Zera Yacob. By way of the Roman Empire, Ethiopia was surprisingly connected to the intellectual strains of the Classical world, a connection maintained by its encounter with Medieval Islamic thought, which was very friendly toward falsafa, and later through contact with the Catholic Church during the Renaissance.
The link above is to a fascinating article, though I don't like the implication that it's the fault of Western thinkers that Yacob is not well known. Ethiopia is a long way away from Europe, and Yacob wrote in his local language, so that to this day translations are extremely rare.
Moreover, after giving his main work a once-over, I don't think ithas the depth or thoroughness to displace contemporary European works like Descartes's Meditations, much less the works of Bacon and Locke.
Yet the themes of the Enlightenment are definitely there, including the natural equality of man, women's rights, the unnaturalness of slavery, and above all the idea that if God gave us the faculty of reason, he must have intended us to use it—and a resulting willingness to subject moral and religious arguments to rational analysis.
I view this as a reminder that just as capitalism is ancient and keeps bursting through as a necessity of human life, so the ideals of the Enlightenment are going to have a tendency to emerge and to keep emerging, sometimes in unexpected places, simply because the human mind needs to be free. That's why viewing these ideas through the category of race and viewing them as fundamentally "European" and not "African" is so absurd.
The Age of Rebellion
Everyone has been talking about another blockbuster dissection of the new woke puritanism by Anne Applebaum. This was followed up by similar observations by one of the victims of cancellation about how contemporary conformity is rooted in the "Protestant Ethic," along with some interesting observations on how this is a war of the young versus the old in America's institutions.
I'll have a more to say about these articles soon in Symposium, so I'll hold my fire. But I just wanted to point out that this sort of article has now become a genre, and while you can definitely say that this is an era of increasing pressure for ideological conformity, it is also becoming a vibrant time for intellectual defenses of freedom of thought—the side that I am confident will eventually win out.
Whoever Fights Monsters
I am glad to see a flourishing opposition to the current orthodoxy. But I've noticed over the years that too single-minded a focus on this one issue can sometime distort its defenders. As Nietzsche warned, "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster."
There is plenty that is monstrous in the new orthodoxy, such as the return of school segregation in Georgia under the guise of "antiracism."
But one of the people who makes a job of exposing these stories, Chris Rufo, also offers something of a cautionary tale. See Cathy Young's takedown of how Rufo thinks that the real reason we lost in Afghanistan is because we promoted women's rights. There are many, many things you can criticize in our Afghanistan strategy, but that's not one of them. Yet it fits a conservative narrative in which wokism is the one answer to every question about anything that goes wrong. And so conservatives are tending toward a weird sympathy with the Taliban because, hey, at least they're not Politically Correct.
That may be going a bit too far, but then you see the latest step of China's Great Leap Backward crackdown, in which the regime has banned effeminate men on television in the name of promoting "revolutionary culture"—and then you see the usual suspects on the right, Tucker Carlson in the lead, eager to praise a genocidal dictatorship for defending manliness.
Who Won the War in Afghanistan?
At any rate, this bring us back to our disastrous retreat from Afghanistan. It's clear that we lost, but I've been asking: Who won? Now the answer is becoming crystal clear: Pakistan. The intelligence services of Pakistan are becoming increasingly open about being the state sponsors behind the Taliban and calling the shots on the ground, with reports that Pakistan has provided air support and special forces to crush the last resistance to the Taliban in Panjshir, leading to protests in Afghanistan about what the Afghans now regard as a Pakistani occupation.
It's revealing how, when we say we are "ending" a war, it just means that the war continues, but with someone else using military means to impose their will, whatever it is.
But Pakistan's victory in Afghanistan may prove to be a Pyrrhic one.
"The Taliban's dramatic victory not only has galvanized terrorist groups waging a bloody insurgency inside Pakistan, but it has also buoyed hard-line religious parties that seek to reshape Pakistan in a more fundamentalist Islamist image.
"The result, say analysts and current and former Pakistani and U.S. officials, is a renewed dilemma for a Pakistani military establishment that has sought since the late 1970s to strategically harness—but also carefully contain—the combustible rise of religious fervor in the country....
"Pakistani officials say their most immediate concern is the resurgence of a coalition of militant groups known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban, which is allied with the Afghan Taliban and has conducted nearly 1,800 attacks on Pakistani state and civilian targets in the past decade. After hailing the Taliban's 'blessed victory' in Afghanistan, the TTP claimed another attack last week in which gunmen crossed from Afghanistan and killed two soldiers in northern Pakistan's tribal region.
"A UN Security Council report in July estimated the TTP had 6,000 trained fighters on the Afghan side of the border. A June report said the Taliban and TTP have maintained their relationship. As it swept across Afghanistan last month, the Taliban released hundred of militants, including senior TTP leaders, from prisons....
"Pakistan's generals are frequently accused of covertly cultivating radical Islamists for their foreign policy objectives, particularly against India—a charge they deny. But they have also voiced unease about the trend of deepening religious sentiment at home."
Pakistan created the Taliban, but it is turning out to be the Frankenstein monster they can't control.
"The Most American Thing That's Ever Happened"
Like a lot of you, I am still smarting from the national humiliation of our withdrawal from Afghanistan—and the humiliation is not quite over yet.
The Taliban are already, predictably, murdering people and holding Americans hostage. You can tell this by the fact that our Secretary of State has to go out of his way to declare that evacuees held back by the Taliban are totally, definitely not "hostages." It's one of those things where if you feel the need to deny that it's happening, it probably is.
But there are some parts of this story we should be much prouder of. All along, this was a war won by the soldiers in the field and lost by the politicians—and our troops haven't stopped doing their jobs even as Afghanistan has collapsed. Veterans and volunteers have banded together under names like Team America, Digital Dunkirk, and Task Force Pineapple in Underground Railroad-style efforts to help Afghan allies make it out of the country and to be able to evacuate with their families.
Bernard-Henri Levy gushes about how this has helped America restore our honor. Partially—but there's still not a lot of honor at the very top.
Here, for example, is how one of the veterans behind this effort describes how he feels about President Biden acknowledging their efforts in one of his speeches.
"With the president's comments, it stings almost as much as the announcement that the evacuation was complete, because the US government has all the resources in the world to devote to this if they so choose to. For the president to then ask us to continue working instead of saying, 'What do you need? I will get you whatever you need to make this work'—we don't need kind words. We need resources. We need aircraft. We need action."
When the interviewer notes the effort is mostly led by enlisted men, he adds:
"[T]o be honest, the last thing we need in here are generals. If you want to get stuff done, you go find some enlisted folks and some junior officers, and that's who actually gets things done in the military. If you want things to get broken and you want to create bureaucracy, go find colonels and above. That's pretty much the problem with America's military today."
I could add that this is the problem with our politics, too. We seem unable to choose political leaders who are not completely useless—and I am afraid, since this is actually under our control, that it is our fault.
Then again, one of the great strengths of America, part of our "exceptionalism," is that from the very beginning we haven't been content to be dependent on leaders to come down from on high and save us. We're a nation that is used to banding together in precisely this kind of spontaneous association of ordinary citizens to get things done and to deal with a crisis.
That's why the last word on this belong to another organizer of the evacuation effort.
"'This is the most American thing that's ever happened,' VanDiver said. 'A bunch of well-meaning Americans who have some connection to Afghanistan banded together to help save lives, and they had a real impact on getting people through the gate. That's amazing.'"
This attitude has already saved the lives of many of our Afghan allies, and in the long run, it just might save us, too.