Monday, July 16, 2007

Historical Analogue

I hope Philip Jenkins is right in his guarded optimism about the European capacity to retain its Christian identity. I don't know his analysis in detail (my stack of chores does not allow the luxury of a closer inspection), but what I have read of it in the press leaves the impression that his assessment is overly dependent on demographic aggregations and a naive majoritarian notion about cultural shifts. Even if this is not so for Jenkins, it is often the case with those who see cheerier prospects for the troubled heart of Western civilization. Moreover, the optimists often take some solace in the belief that European secularization can be counted on to rectify any troubling demographic asymmetry by secularizing Islam in the same manner that it secularized Christianity. That position overlooks the fact that it was Christianity's divided loyalties -- God and Caesar -- that gave rise to political secularization (not ideological secularism), whereas orthodox Islam (however problematic that term is) knows of no such division.

Be that as it may, here is a reminder that a small but committed minority, when faced with a feckless and morally confused majority, can bring about massive cultural shifts far faster than we usually think possible. It's from the historian Edward King, :
... the triumph of Bolshevism was not a triumph of the popular will over Tsarist tyranny, or of revolutionary enthusiasm over conservative order. ... [I]t was the victory of a few men who knew what they wanted and allowed nothing to stand in their way over a vast majority that was driven to and fro by the uncertainty of the politicians and the passions of the mob. It was, above all, the victory of one man -- Lenin ... [who] differed from the average Socialist leader, both among the Bolsheviks and outside the party, in his insistence on the philosophical absolutism of the Communist creed. ... Thus the Communist system, as planned and largely created by Lenin, was a kind of theocracy, a spiritual order of the most rigid and exclusive type ... The state was not an end in itself, it was an instrument, or, as Lenin himself put it, ... "a special sort of bludgeon, nothing more."
The numerical disadvantage of a minority can be more than compensated for by the ideological absolutism, theocratic zeal, and will to power of its determined exponents.

Apropos of which: It is in the nature of Islamic sharia law that it is imposed on an obstreperous humanity, whose recalcitrance can only be overcome by enforced submission. The idea that sharia would result from a democratic plebiscite is quite contrary to the premises on which the whole concept of sharia is based.

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