The Magazine

Fighting Fanaticism

The young Churchill's war in the Sudan.

Oct 29, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 07 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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They were all wiped out. Churchill observed: "The valour of their deed has been discounted by those who have told their tale. 'Mad fanaticism' is the depreciating comment of their conquerers. I hold this to be a cruel injustice. Nor can he be a very brave man who will not credit them with a nobler motive. . . . Why should we regard as madness in the savage what would be sublime in civilized men?" What follows is the most remarkable passage of the entire book: "For I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some--even in these modern days--who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster." This was not mere bravado. In the late summer of 1940, when a German invasion was expected imminently, Churchill prepared a speech that he ended up not having to give, entitled "You Can Take One With You." But he also understood why bravery was not enough without all the other virtues. The Dervishes had finally only ferocity to offer the world. Churchill's description of democracy aroused shows his central insight at work: "No terms but fight or death were offered. No reparation or apology could be made. . . . The red light of retribution played on the bayonets and the lances, and civilization--elsewhere sympathetic, merciful, tolerant, ready to discuss or to argue, eager to avoid violence, to submit to law, to effect a compromise--here advanced with an expression of inexorable sternness, and rejecting all other courses, offered only the arbitration of the sword." Churchill understood that Western culture and civilization embody an idea of justice based on reason and inclined toward moderation, while barbarism lacks any reasoned principle of justice or progress or moderation.

This is why the most important question of the present moment is not so much the practical difficulties of military action or intelligence gathering techniques, but the question of whether we are clear and confident of why we must fight. The fever swamps of the multicultural left in America today, besotted with a postmodern theory that rejects the ideas of both reason and progress, cannot escape the "moral equivalence" between America and its terrorist enemies. Such people, as Churchill once put it in another context, are unable to choose between the fire brigade and the fire. OLDER LIBERALS, who still have faith in reason and progress as it came down from the progressive era, recognize this for the repugnant nihilist nonsense it is. Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow, not known for ferocious or spirited pronouncements, had it right when he writes: "Anyone who does not loathe the people who did these things, and the people who cheer them on, is too philosophical for decent company." The great unintended consequence of September 11 may turn out to be a reforging of the American consensus that was shattered during the Cold War, and a marginalization of the multicultural left. As Churchill might put it, it is a chance for the New World to display its newness once again. Steven Hayward is senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, and the author of "The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980." October 29, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 7