A society defines itself by what it thinks is worth debating. The intellectual class, for whom the debate is all, gets a free ride. They get to indulge moral relativism because they won't have to pay any of the consequences. Harvard makes the wars, as one red-state philosopher once put it, and Central High School fights the wars. It's the belief in God and country that enables Middle America to send its sons and daughters to strike at the evil that the intellectual classes often can't even recognize as evil.
That's what the culture wars are all about. Men and women will sometimes die for an abstract idea, but it's usually the specific way of life they love and their love for it that drives them resolutely into harm's way.
"The intelligentsia," writes Lee Harris in Policy Review, "has no idea of the consequences that would ensue if Middle America lost its simple faith in God and its equally simple trust in its fellow men. Their plain virtues and homespun beliefs are the bedrock of decency and integrity in our nation and in the world."
Whether you agree with the president's policy to take democracy to the Middle East or not, it's about defending a way of life, so our children and grandchildren can build their futures on what we cherish. Like it or not, the threat of distorted Islam is a threat similar to the Nazi menace of the 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the menace of Nazism, but he was unable to persuade the American people to go to war against Germany until Pearl Harbor. Hitler declared war on us the next day. December 7, 1941, was the date that united us all.
Our generation got the wake-up call on September 11, but the enemy was not nearly as clearly defined, and the war against the new enemy requires new tactics. We're still figuring out how to wage it, but George W. Bush was on the money last week in Texas when he reminded us that we're at war with an enemy that gave us a new date to live in infamy: "We're at war against an enemy that since that day has continued to kill."
Few scholars defend the Crusades, but one mistake the intellectual critics of the Iraq war make, here and in Europe, is to suggest that our war is the equivalent of those medieval religious clashes. With an incredible twist of logic, they argue that it's the West, not the radical Muslims, who are on a religious mission today. Daniel Johnson, in an essay titled "How to Think About the Crusades," points out how many intellectuals, being irreligious themselves, are unable to recognize religious distinctions, and create a moral equivalence of very different religions that makes it difficult if not impossible to identify the threat.
Holy war in Islamic theology, for example, is a "religious duty"; no Christian church or Jewish synagogue teaches anything like that. "For the fact is that whereas the Crusades were a temporary phenomenon that flourished for some two centuries and had quite limited purposes, jihad is and has been a permanent and ubiquitous fact of Islamic life," writes Daniel Johnson in Commentary magazine. "Islamists know exactly how to exploit post-imperial, post-Christian guilt -- the West's Achilles' heel." In this scenario, jihad is offered as a justifiable response to aggression, both in ancient times and today.
When Saddam Hussein was toppled, Gunter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning German novelist, blamed America's "religious fundamentalism" and "organized madness" for disarming Iraq. V.S. Naipaul, another prize-winning novelist, sees it differently. In an interview with The New York Times, he scorns the glib, nonsensical British "who don't understand that holy war for Muslims is a religious war, and a religious war is something you never stop fighting."
If we believe as V.S. Naipaul does -- and I do -- avoiding the fight against the terrorists is to abandon our obligation to the next generation. Any society or culture reproducing itself must take care to pass on the ingredients for survival. "It's not enough to pass on the good china," writes Lee Harris. "You must also pass on the family recipe for making the pot roast."
We went to war to save the world 65 years ago yearning for Mom's apple pie, symbolizing what we were fighting for. The farther our intellectuals insulate themselves from the plain virtues and homespun beliefs of Middle America, pushing themselves away from the dinner table and the pot roast and apple pie, they rob succeeding generations of the appetite for what's great about America. Theirs is a recipe for starvation.