September 6, 2008 1 Comment
I recommend Anthony Pagden’s Worlds at War, not necessarily for Pagden’s pro-Western antireligious thesis (at least, not in any particulars) but as an excellent historical and cultural review of what the book’s subtitle calls "the 2500-Year Struggle Between East and West" — where "East" is used in the ancient sense of western Asia (Troy, Phoenicia, Persia) and northeastern Africa (Egypt, Phoenician Carthage), and in the modern sense of Islam.
In a recent personal correspondence with my favorite conservative Rothbardian about Robert Spencer’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), my comrade wrote, "The fact that U.S. foreign policy is stupid and evil doesn’t make Islam any less illiberal."
I think that’s right, and I think that it’s a point that’s missed by many modern liberals, for whom all cultures and religions are equal and compatible a priori. If you don’t treat this supposed equality as axiomatic, its falseness is quickly evident.
Pagden does not, however, find Christianity superior to Islam in any intrinsic sense. His thesis in Worlds at War seems to be that Christianity was too weak and contained too many inner contradictions to provide the basis for a lasting theocracy, and that Christianity’s weakness was the basis of the West’s great strength. Our individualism, our traditions of tolerance, and our less-hampered markets (and therefore our industrial and technological superiority) are all the result of our secularism, Pagden contends. Three cheers for atheism. I’m a pro-Western atheist myself (as Murray Rothbard is reported to have said to Father Robert Sirico, "I don’t believe in God, but I believe that Mary was His mother."), and I agree with Pagden that the essential ingredient in the history of Western civilization was the separation of Church and State, but Pagden somehow manages to lay all the blame for illiberalism at the feet of monotheism. Not only does that implicitly let the State itself off the hook, but it fails to account for the importance of the checks and balances provided by the ongoing struggle between the two. In the Western contest between Church and State, the State has won, and the ever-weakening power of the Church has been accompanied by ever-growing power of the illiberal State.