Islamism, Nationalism, Puritanism


Mustela nivalis

The radical Islamists are undoubtedly puritans of a sort. And of a missionary kind as well, for whom the “sword” obviously plays a central role. It seems however that they are partly a mirror image of our own, Western secular “puritans”*). They too want their way of life and outlook universally accepted, and are prepared to use the sword to enforce it. It has of course already been noted by others that there is a not insignificant overlap between these two groups: Osama bin Laden e.g. was educated in the West. However I would like to add this thought: Compared to the PC brigade, the Islamists are the “better” puritans, in the sense that they are more radical and more ruthless than their counterpart. And therefore they are bound to lose – in the long run.

I see a certain parallel between today’s Puritanism and yesterday’s nationalism. The Germans in their day were by far the “best” nationalists. And yet they lost the wars born out of this sentiment. The nationalisms that led to WW I and II were in turn a consequence of the French Revolution. A nation ruling itself through a “contract”: this inspired people all over the continent. Just like both PC and Islamism are inspiring a great many people across the world. Another result, French continental imperialism, was pushed back only after the other rulers had tapped into this new faith, the belief in the nation. At the battle of Leipzig in 1813 the French forces, weakened by the defeat in Russia, were finally broken by a collection of armies which had been recruited by whipping up a wave of national fervour. Napoleon retreated behind the Rhine.

However, now the nationalist genie was out of the bottle all over the continent. And grew. And grew. Not least in Germany. The soil there was especially fertile for nationalism because of the ravages of the 30 years’ war in the 17th century. As the Germans saw it, they had been trampled on by their neighbours precisely because they had been a disunited, loose bunch of mini proto-state entities in the middle of a restless continent. “Germany” lost about one third of its population as a result of that earlier war.

200 years ago that conflagration was “only” 170 years in the past. No longer in living memory, but still reverberating very much in the soul of the people. Old bad memories were rekindled after they were subjugated, yet again, by a foreign invader, and had to ask, among others, the Russians to help kick him out. So it is no coincidence that at the end of the Napoleonic wars, while princes were dancing in Vienna as they re-carved up Europe, German students founded fraternities which had the expressed aim to forge a strong and united German nation.

Although the powers that be, or were at the time, hastily scrambled to put the nationalist genie they had released back into its bottle, it remained at large. Despite censorship and other crackdowns, it grew and in 1848/9 it managed to frighten the establishment sufficiently for it to be eventually forced into some sort of arrangement with the new movement. In Germany this resulted in the Second Reich of 1871, which was de facto a Prussian empire with ambitions to a place in the sun. And so a few decades later, nationalism came home to roost for a while, not least in France.

What has all this to do with ISIL and radical Islamism? Well, although their Puritanism is to a large part home grown, there are two outward influences that mirror the development of nationalism: One, they are/were both fed by the rise of secular, political correct, zealous “Puritanism”. The kind taught at Western universities with relish, lapped up with equal relish by students domestic and foreign. The latter of which proceed to carry the acquired self-righteousness into their home countries. Secondly the humiliation incurred by Muslims due to repeated foreign interventions over the past century or more. Which in the last few decades in particular have been fuelled in no small way by the mentioned Western self-righteousness.

This leads me to predict a third historical parallel: That the extreme Islamists will eventually lose their war. Precisely because they are “better” at being “politically correct”: by being stricter, more ruthless and vindictive than any Western secular zealot has dared to be for a long time, the Islamists are automatically “better” at destroying any stirrings and manifestations of individual freedom. This, in the end, will be the Islamists’ downfall. People are not automatons. Try turning them into that and they start failing in their unique functions as human beings, i.e. “thinking” and “being creative”. The freer people are, the better they are at making useful things, including things that can repel or destroy aggressors.

However, when I say the Islamists will lose, that does not mean to say that the West will win. The West is spiritually dead and so, despite its current technological edge, Puritanism (either Islamist or a worse kind of our own) may come home here to roost for a while, like nationalism did in France, before it in turn is defeated. Only it is difficult to see at present who will then do the defeating. I wouldn’t bet on the Americans, who are part of the West anyway and have their own puritan freedom-destroyers in their midst. Maybe the Russians again? Or the Chinese? If none of those come to our rescue, Puritanism will defeat itself – but that may then take a while or two.

===================

*) Hat tip for introducing that term in the libertarian discourse is owed to Ian B.

9 thoughts on “Islamism, Nationalism, Puritanism

  1. There are obvious examples which show state Puritanism to be self-defeating and nationalism to be equally self-defeating. What is more, history, thus far, has been cyclical in terms of politics. Libertarianism would break the cycle.

  2. “In the long run we are all dead”!
    I think you can compare PC and Islamism fruitfully, but not nationalism/patriotism with either in this way. Patriotism is a happy coincidence of nature and necessity: without it there is either chaos or tyranny. Smith’s book is entitled “The Wealth of Nations” for good reason. Just as the “invisible hand” turns self-interest to the general good, patriotism turns tribalism to the same end; a bit glib perhaps, but has there ever been a happier human circumstance than post-war Europe, before its lunatic abandonment of the nation-state?

  3. Thanks for the hat tip. 🙂

    Part of the Puritan Hypothesis (as I believe anyway) is that the USA is the strongest source of modern Puritanism (for historical reasons, and also as the world and Anglosphere Superpower) so that’s the last place to look for a saviour. Of course, it was also the source of the consumerism and rock’n’roll that took down the last wave, so it’s a complex picture. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, as I’ve said before I felt a profound despair on election night, or the morning after, or whatever. In that vein, it’s interesting to see that Peter Hitchens has declared himself to have thrown in the towel, considering the battle lost, also. He’s probably more of a loss to Conservatives than I will ever be to Libertarians, but really my conviction is that this is a battle between the Progressives (Puritan Marxists) and “everybody else”, and “everybody else” are too divided to fight back. And this, I believe, is because of a failure to properly recognise the enemy.

    Most conservative support Proggie elements like censorship and social controls and decry the liberalism of the 1960s. Most Libertarians support Proggie elements of PC, like open borders, multiculturalism, feminism and identity politics interpretations of gay rights, etc. Most nationalists seem to support economic protectionism, forms of environmentalism and so on. It seems everyone is half fighting and half helping the enemy. Most of the general population so far as I can tell are just baffled and frightened. No wonder we make no progress. What a mess.

    I am sure that there is a viable anti-Progressive platform that could be forged, if everyone would drop some of those red lines, but trying to persuade mainstream libertarians to drop open borders is as unlikely as getting Hitchens to drop his demands for a true war on drugs or the nationalists to support free trade. We say we’re trying to save Western Civilisation, but we can’t even agree what Western Civilisation is. I suspect there is little time left, if any, to get our shit together.

    • I don’t currently share your pessimism. The Internet remains open, and cannot easily be closed off. It seems that the present lunacy and its antidote came to maturity at around the same time. The antidote will probably work.

      As for politics, we are in the best of available worlds. We have a Tory Government, with a wafer thin majority, that is about to be bogged down in an argument over Europe that has no bearing on what we regard as fundamentals. There is a limit to the evils these people will have the time to commit. At the same time, the Labour Party has been smashed, perhaps for a generation. The purest strain of the Enemy is now to be found in the SNP. This has no power in England, either electoral or moral. Better still, the New Geneva it is building north of the border will be most instructive to us all.

      I know it’s awful for us as individuals. We’re getting older and not richer. Our teeth are going, probably our hips and less vital organs too. I spent a quarter of an hour earlier, rehearsing how I shall collapse when I have my fatal heart attack or stroke. At the same time, there are signs that the lunacy is reaching its height.

      • Start a vitamin regime. Work your way into exercising, take up a martial art, extend your political positive thinking into the personal realm. Rabbi Ben Ezra has it:

        “Grow old along with me,
        The Best is yet to be,”

  4. Perhaps the Puritan streak in Man’s psyche is the real one, and the liberalising developments of the last millennium or so, mostly emanating from England, are the time-glitch or aberration. Perhaps puritanism has been normal for the entire lifetime of modern Homo sapiens, and it’s liberals that are a one-off oddity…Let me explain.

    Temporary creation of a sort of slowly increasing “liberty” might well have been accidentally-driven, again accidentally, by outside factors like the character of the people that came here after Rome fell, the climate, the circumstances that drove them here, and the accident of the era in which this took place.

    Maybe “liberty” as we mean it is never going to be self-sustaining, once it gets to where nobody can agree on what “is allowed” or not. By contrast, the Puritans have _one objective_. This has always been constant; “do as _everyone says_ or you shall die” (usually in some ritual fashion; notice that one then?). This has been so for as long as we can read the remnants of the writings and scratchings of civilisations. All seem to have shed defenceless blood on industrial scales. All invented slavery. (But one…one only….abolished it. Then had to “apologise for it”.)

    In 18,000 BC, the 14-y-o adult Hominid male that was reluctant to join the slaughter-party going to ambush “the next door tribe”, take its breeding females and animals, and kill/eat all its males, would at the very least not have been give a captured 12-y-o woman to impregnate upon the victorious return of his clan ( …”72 sultanas”…). He also would quite probably have been butchered and eaten along with the stolen animals, in the subsequent gluttonous shagfest. (“The penalty for apostasy is death”…)

    Perhaps libertarians are the historical aberration in the History Of Man, and all else that goes on round us s “normal”. Perhaps that’s why “The Drake Equation” – and observation of the cosmos – reveal no extra-terrestrial civilisations, which might have “got out”.

    Perhaps nobody gets to “get out”, and perhaps this is Hell, and then afterwards There Is Nothing..

  5. So often I’ve found on this site, that every contribution has helped to illuminate the space and fill out a once blank canvas. It often paints a picture that I might not have noticed otherwise. Thank you one and all.

    However, the comment I’d like to read now, will concern itself with oil money. Free money – one might say. Put in the ground by God, or nature, or just luck pure and simple. Good luck for Islam anyway.

    It seems to lubricate every engine of every persuasion currently turning. Can someone enlighten me in this regard. For instance, had the West not opened up oil wells in the Middle East, would the cancer that is Islam still have escaped its bottle?

    • You are absolutely spot on John Pate.

      Numbers don’t lie in other directions too. Money is the root of all evil, so they say and I’m beginning to think it might be true. Oil money is a crucial part of all this but is seldom mentioned for what it is and the crucial part it plays. What may or may not have happened hundreds of years ago was important then but a load of old bollocks when trying to resolve today’s far more complex problems.

      We’ve all been stitched up by the money men. You, me and even the cuckoo in the frickin wooden clock. They’ve done for us for certain and the only regular contributor to this site that recognises that is IanB. Sean is living in cloud cuckoo land when he says we should all be optimists.

      I’m better off than most financially speaking but have nevertheless been ripped off over and over by this government. A government that is desperately in need of ever more cash. Bankers lie more than do politicians and politicians are absolutely brilliant at spinning a yarn or two. It’s the only thing they ever do well.

      I’m not into supporting my arguments by giving out statistics. Statistics are for accountants and I’m not one of those. My trousers hardly remained still long enough to develop a shine on the arse part. But here’s a statistic that everyone ought to know but few do – thanks to bankers and their politicians:

      Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE-DB), the bankers that Berlin keep hinting will save the EU, have $575 billion stashed away in liquid assets. It sounds pretty good until noting that they have $55.8 trillion (some experts say 70) derivatives exposure. Between Sept 2008 and March 2009 the bank’s shares fell be 64.5%. And that’s nothing compared to what they’ll fall this time around.

      It’s so bad in fact, that just a few days several leading executives quietly slipped away from the bank, taking with them plump bonuses all of which came out of the Bank’s liquid assets. Of course.

      So, what do they know that we don’t and why are they so shit scared that they walked before waiting for their pensions pots to ripen? And why do people believe that Berlin will be interested in sticking its neck out again?

      Don’t bury you head in the sand lads, be less optimistic and start planning for your families survival. George Osborne – the saviour – don’t make me laugh. A boy simply playing at being a Chancellor and getting applause for his dreadful, predictable, second-rate performance. His mother will love him well enough however, I guess.

      We are under attack from several sides but most people believe everything is going to work out. It was just the same in the late 30s according to my dear old dad. Long dead now bless him.

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