The human race's prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves. -- Arnold Toynbee
The eminent British historian Arnold Toynbee didn't live long enough to see it, but he might have been talking about the peculiar sense of helplessness of the Western world, circa 2000. We easily subdue tigers, but we cannot control our own impulse for weakness in the face of challenge by a determined hunter. We've surrendered to the temptation to believe the tiger has no teeth, and besides, we can tame a predator by merely making nice.
Since it's not nice to think ill of others, even of the others who yearn to behead us, we become increasingly defenseless against enemies determined to destroy our civilization. The yearning to be regarded as nice is surely the point of the growing opposition to the war in Iraq, which is morphing into opposition to doing anything about terrorists, those abroad and those among us. If we think nice thoughts, maybe they will go away.
We "make nice" when we make excuses for the tiger's violent behavior, seduced by the idea that we should correct the "root causes" of his search for dinner at our expense. We think we can change the nature of the enemy if only we understand what makes the enemy violent, foolishly imagining that we can repeal the law of the jungle with our own good intentions. We can afford to make nice once we get the tiger in a cage, but in the wild he's a predator, and we have to be aware that he's stalking us.
"Civilizations," Toynbee reminded us, "die from suicide, not murder." We've been seduced by lavish social welfare spending, prey to the blandishments of secularism and multiculturalism, and undermined by low birth rates (abetted by abortion on demand) that threaten survival. All these things have contributed to making us soft and selfish, shifting our focus to the good life that will come to a bloody end in the tiger's supper dish. Mark Steyn, in a remarkably trenchant essay in The New Criterion magazine, calls this the suicide bomb in the belly of our civilization.
These are the unintended consequences of well-meaning liberal attitudinizing. We've given priority to the secondary impulse for a comfortable cradle-to-grave security over the really important things like national defense, the concerns of family, the strengths of faith and the need to reproduce ourselves as the guarantee of survival.
Secularism is a cherished principle if it means keeping the responsibilities of the state separate from the church's responsibility for nurturing the soul, but the term and the principle have been distorted to mean hostility to the faith that sustained and inspired the founding fathers. Multiculturalism is noble if it means respect for the immigrant cultures that came together to form America, but multiculturalism will be lethal to our civilization if it means we must regard all cultures as equally valuable, equally worthy of emulation. Such phony "tolerance" deprives us of self-preservation. The head-hunters of New Guinea no doubt have something to teach us, but we have no need of the skill for shrinking heads.
When I offered thanks in a New Year's column for living in "the greatest country in the world," some readers scolded me for indulging in the "triumphalism" that makes residents of certain other countries hate us. Such innocent gratitude was once regarded as American as apple pie. America is not utopia, but there must be a reason why it's the most popular immigration destination in the world.
The birth dearth puts us at a growing disadvantage because the most intolerant cultures usually engage in a riot of reproduction. Between 1970 and 2000, the Muslim world accounted for 26 percent of the increase in the world's population while the Western countries accounted for under 9 percent. During those same years, the developed world -- the euphemism for the West -- declined from just under 30 percent of the world's population to just over 20 percent, while the Islamic world grew from 15 to 20 percent. The implication of these statistics is clear. We argue over whether America was founded on the ideals of our Judeo-Christian faiths; we think it's at least impolite even to think so. Muslims, even the peaceful Muslims, work for the day when their progeny will live in an Islamic world. Neither secularism nor multiculturalism is an Islamic ideal, a fact important to keep before us.
Civilization, as Toynbee reminded us, is not an organism, but "a product of wills."