Nihilism and the War Against Western Civilization

by | Sep 23, 2001 | POLITICS

The attack of September 11, 2001 was only one incident in a concerted war on western civilization. The attackers are united not by any organized conspiracy, but by a common hatred, and a common desire. Their hatred is of life and their desire is death. The attack takes many forms. Islamic fundamentalists proclaim the superiority […]

The attack of September 11, 2001 was only one incident in a concerted war on western civilization. The attackers are united not by any organized conspiracy, but by a common hatred, and a common desire. Their hatred is of life and their desire is death.

The attack takes many forms. Islamic fundamentalists proclaim the superiority of mystical insights and strap dynamite to their bodies. Radical environmentalists rely on “non-anthropomorphic” intuitions to justify the deaths of millions from malaria that result from the ban on DDT. Anti-capitalist anarchists know, somehow, that successful corporations must be destroyed. These people all target the same enemies: productive work, and the means to defend it. Each follows today’s accepted philosophical tenets: nothing is certain, except that western civilization is evil. Each eagerly anticipates the same end: death.

Some people claim that these movements are caused by economic oppression and envy. But the facts are otherwise. The Arab states are swimming in oil revenues produced by western companies, and their leaders are rich. Anti-capitalist terrorists from the American middle-class are apparently wealthy enough to avoid working for a living. Even the arch-environmentalist unabomber Ted Kaczynski approached his ascetic ideal, a shack in the woods, by way of graduate study at Harvard.

These people use wealth to fund their campaigns-Bin Laden has inherited millions in oil money-but they do not value it. Prosperity and achievement run counter the core values of every one of these movements. Each of them wanted the World Trade Center to sink into muck. Their desire was not to take the wealth created there, but to destroy it. This is the fact that the West must grasp fully.

They have the same attitude towards political freedom. The fundamentalist middle-Eastern nations have never revolted against warlord rule in favor of individual rights and constitutional rule. Environmentalists want man shackled to government regulations on behalf of animals, trees and rocks. The aim of the anti-capitalist protesters is self-evident: a socialist-anarchist state anchored in rubble. They do not want freedom; they want freedom destroyed.

To be jealous of the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by others would be understandable. This would be at least a recognition of the value of the western achievements, even if a mis-identification of their source. But the truth is far worse.

They hate America because it is free and prosperous, and because its citizens are focused on freely chosen, productive achievement. They want the magnificent towers of New York to fall because they are magnificent. They want DDT banned because it saved human lives. Make no mistake, they don’t want your freedom or your wealth. They want you to lose yours. They are nihilists in the pure sense of the word.

Nihilism, destruction for the sake of destruction, is their guiding creed. Death is what they call success. The terrorist is consistent: he rides with his victims into the nirvana of a jet-fuel inferno. The radical environmentalist rather exempts himself for the moment while awaiting the demise of millions. “Until such time as homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along,” claimed one famously, his prayers answered by the malaria that resurged after DDT was banned. The unabomber was more specific, personally addressing his victims, but also sparing himself momentarily to continue his rampage. As to the anarchists, the front page of the Wall Street Journal of September 11 is particularly poignant. In a story about anticipated anti-trade protests in Washington D.C., an official pledged: “D.C. is not going to burn.”

Ultimately the nihilist wishes to bring the world back to pre-civilization. Radical Islamics want a medieval religious state in which wealth is denied, art is destroyed, heretics are killed, and all are subordinated to Allah’s spokesmen. The anarchists want to destroy the technology needed to feed millions and to return to subsistence farming.

But even these are too advanced for the radical environmentalists. “The search for a postmodern ecological cultural paradigm,” claims one professor, “leads to the recultivation of Paleolithic consciousness.” In the Paleolithic period, however, man did not yet even farm. He chipped stone tools, finding and grabbing what he needed. He death by age 30 was his contribution to a beautiful world. In Afghanistan, the life expectancy is now 42-to an environmentalist, almost heaven, and to an anarchist, blissfully devoid of evil businesses.

If America has not yet faced nuclear terrorism is it because terrorists lack the ideas needed to justify their use of the bomb? If radical environmentalists have not yet bombed major dams is it because they disagree, in any fundamental way, with fundamentalist Islamic clerics? If no towers have yet collapsed due to radical anti-capitalists is it because they have smashed only their plate glass windows?

It is long past the time to cut the moral rug out from under today’s nihilists. The justification for America’s self-defense can be found in a single statement: that Western civilization is moral, that its purpose and motive is life, and that its opponents desire death. Ours is the morality of life and theirs is the morality of death, as philosopher Ayn Rand understood. With this statement we affirm the values that make life possible. Now, with full understanding of the righteousness of our cause, we can proudly defend our lives, morally and physically, from the death-seekers.

John David Lewis (website) is a Visiting Professor of Political Science, Duke University. He has been a Senior Research Scholar in History and Classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and an Anthem Fellow.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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