January 17, 2005

Quakes, Waves and Spiritual Awakenings

A recent installment of The Belmont Club on a "colonial corps" had a reference to Sam Huntington's speech on a "great awakening" in the US, and his thesis that the greatest ideological force in the world today is God. This, from a Harvard professor. His perspective, however, isn't as a religionist but as a sociologist and political scientist. I wrote a piece several years ago, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attack, about a "tidal wave" of totalitarianism in the Middle East traveling, mostly unnoticed, toward landfall. It's somewhat ironic to think about that wave analogy now. The term "tidal wave" is slightly misleading, because it really has nothing to do with the lunar tides, but is "tidal" in the sense of being a sudden change in sea level as a result of a shift in the earth itself. One might call it an "earth tide," or a "quake wave." I therefore reasoned that it was a good analogy to what had happened to the Middle East where subterranean pressures had built up over centuries and had finally resulted in a paradigmatic shift in the culture. And I reasoned that the only way to deal with the consequences of that shift, analogous to the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s, was to create a "counter-wave." In terms of the jihadist movement a liberal/democratic vanguard to counter their Qutbist vanguard.

The issue isn't WMD, it's ideology and "political paranoia" in the Middle East. That has far more potential for harm than physical weapons, though the weapons are certainly a "force multiplier." (Most people think it's the other way around.)

The thesis of Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations was that any counter-wave we generate will clash with the wave of belief and sentiment in the Middle East, resulting in an ongoing and massively destructive conflict. The way I see it is that the special characteristics of the counter-wave are all-important and that those could be adjusted to largely cancel the wave of Totalitarianism rather than add to it. That's the hope, anyway. It optimistically argues for smaller localized wars and a political transformation to forestall a larger, and otherwise almost inevitable, general clash. So I'm seeing a somewhat different phenomenon than Huntington. But this interview, which outlines a thesis he raises in a new book, Who Are We?, appears to demonstrate an evolution on the part of Huntington's thinking (in spite of the title of the article): the gradual realization of the possibility of a cancellation rather than a monstrous clash. Anyway, here's an excerpt:

In an interview with Kyodo News on postelection America and the world, Huntington, a professor at Harvard University, said the United States is now going through a period of religious "Great Awakening." ... We have gone through several religious revivals. They are called "Great Awakenings." We had one before the (American) revolution, which many historians say created the basis for the revolution, another in the early 19th century, which generated all sorts of reforms, including the abolitionist movement to abolish slavery. I think we are going through such a period of Great Awakening now. The movement is in a way meeting a great concern of the American people about the decline of morality and traditional values.

The first Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s coincided with the intensification of the wars between the British and the French, which were fought in part here in North America. It certainly played a major role in promoting the development of an American sense of nationality. ... The current (Great Awakening), with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the U.S. as the only superpower, it seems to me, has reinforced the sense of confidence in ability to go out and change the world in ways in which we think it should be changed. That is very notable in the policies of the Bush administration.

The model of a spiritual "awakening," as used by Huntington to describe a response to an epochal social challenge implies that such a phenomenon has some measure of utility enabling and conditioning the society to meet that challenge. I think Huntington would agree that it's not simply a matter of building empty confidence, but of conditioning certain capabilities, skills, and resolve. Although we know the nature of past "awakenings" that fit this model we don't yet know the precise nature of this one, or what it could prepare us to accomplish. But concerning what some have called "the dirty job of changing the world:" If not us, who? If not now, when?

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at January 17, 2005 11:11 AM | TrackBack

Very perceptive. I have always held the belief that one of the greatest problems we face is an apparent lack of confidence in our institutions and the underpinnings of Western Civilization by our "elites." To me, it is obvious that we face a grave crisis in the form of Islamofascism, yet many in our universities, the elite media, etc. are more concerned with the dangers of having a creche in the town square and a lack of universal health insurance coverage. There was an interesting history book written several years ago about the attitudes of the French intelligenisa on the eve of the German attack in 1940 (I don't recall the name of the book or who wrote it). The author argues that many in France were so consumed with petty internal squabbles that they ignored the Nazi menace, much to their nation's sorrow. I fear that we may be headed down that path if our elites do not experience an attitude shift and start focusing on the people who are trying to kill all of us. "If we don't hang together, we'll all hang separately."

Posted by: Ben at January 18, 2005 10:42 PM

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