Postmodern Conservative

Against Denialism in the Wake of the Latest Islamist Attack

The Present Need for Pierre Manent's Thought

Alas, what can one say?  Our prayers, for one, which are for the victims’ families.  For France.  For wisdom among French leaders.  And yes, for a decisive repudiation of the denialist mindset about Islam and Islamism that pervades the West.  

I don’t have much to offer here on the strategic wisdom. There’s the fine post by Tom Rogan on NRO’s main-page about what France and the West ought to do, and I sketched some very general policy ideas in a long comment made over at Rod Dreher’s blog.  But for a non-frivolous discussion of what France, America, and Europe ought to do, you have to also get at the reasons for that denialist mindset having persisted for all these years, and no-one does this better than the preeminent political philosopher of our time, the Frenchman Pierre Manent. His latest work, on the very brink of being published here thanks to the translation work of pomocon’s Ralph Hancock, is Beyond Radical Secularism: How France and the Christian West Should Respond to the Islamic Challenge.

I know many will bristle at the mention of the “Christian West” in his subtitle.  But he is most careful in indicating what he means by that, and it ultimately points to a France in which its Muslim citizens will have more freedom and even encouragement to really be Muslim: 

To find their place in a France alive to its Christian center, Muslims must want to participate actively in the life of a political body that does not and will not belong to the umma; they must therefore accept a degree of separation from the umma. For the nation to accept them as Muslims without reducing their religious mark to a private particularity with no relevance to the political body, it is necessary that they accept this particular nation, the French nation, as the site of their civic activity and, more generally, of their education. A certain “communitarianism” is inevitable. Muslims will inevitably form a visible and distinct community. This will lead to difficulties, on one side or the other. But this is desirable to the degree that it prevents the ideological lie of the new secularism, which obligates us to pretend to be nothing but citizen-individuals who are permitted common action only for the sake of “humanity.”

That preview of the book is from Manent’s essay in First Things, “Repurposing Europe,”  and hopefully Ralph will weigh in soon on all of this here.  I can do no better than to simply leave you with Manent’s own words, which again, go the heart of the West’s widespread denialism:

In a post-political world in which there exist only individuals and legal machinery to guarantee rights, human associations—that is, nations and churches—are no longer social realities. They are, according to ruling opinion, pretended realities that recalcitrant “reactionaries” invoke only to block newcomers. Treating old nations or the old religion as legitimate realities that must be accounted for in political judgments about the common good is now regarded as attacking Islam.

Because only the individual and the human race are legitimate, intermediate communities in which human beings actually live, such as nations and churches, have no legitimacy of their own and in fact bear the stigma of rupturing human unity. However, to be consistent, this delegitimation of communities should include or implicate the Islamic community. But this does not happen. European political elites speak of Islam and the Islamic community in a way they would never speak of Christianity and the church. In our public discourse, there are Muslims and there are Europeans. Why is it that only one form of living communal identity, the Muslim form, receives the unreserved recognition of ruling opinion?

The most decisive reason, I think, is the following. Those who decide what we have the right to say and do, do not engage Islam as a social reality. It is not considered in itself. Instead, “Islam” becomes a test of our post-political resolve. It must be accepted without either reservation or question in order to verify that Europe is indeed empty of any national or religious substance that might get in the way of human universality. The refusal to treat Islam as a social or, more generally, a human reality therefore has nothing to do with Islam but instead with Europe’s self-image.

Obviously, something similar if less immediately suicidal, occurs with respect to the self-image progressives want to push upon America.  Rogan gives you the counter-terrorism strategy, in the familiar key of intelligence, policing, and foreign policy.  But don’t neglect the counter-Western-suicide strategy that Manent gives you, in his unique philosophic, historical, and religion-considering key.

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