Allister Heath on the Fall of the American Empire

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Allister Heath of the British Telegraph newspapers has recently published two compelling – to me, anyway – commentaries in the Daily Telegraph, one on Aug. 4, 2021 on the American “woke” crisis, and one on Aug 18, 2021 drawing conclusions from the chaotic fall of Afghanistan. Because these articles are behind a paywall, here are a few excerpts which seem to summarize his main points.
 
Despite my growing conviction that the stance most compatible with the New Testament is Christian pacifism, I have nothing but gratitude for the role of America in defeating the Nazi regime and providing Marshall Plan aid to rebuild Germany and Austria, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we lived in Texas. So I regard the current situation not with “Schadenfreude”, but with sadness and a heavy heart.
 
(Italic emphasis is mine; “liberal” and “liberalism” does not carry the derogatory meaning in which the terms are used by American conservatives and Evangelicals.)
 
«America’s elites, led by younger graduates, have abandoned their post-1960s liberalism and embraced instead what Wesley Yang has described as its “successor ideology”: the sinister “woke” secular religion of so-called “social justice warriors” who see the world through the distorted prism of “intersectionality”, oppression, identity politics and the catch-all of “white supremacy”. These people say they want to fight racism but, in reality, are Balkanising America and have no interest in a truly meritocratic, colour-blind society finally at peace with itself, the original liberal ideal.»
 
«In the authoritarian, anti-democratic worldview which now dominates universities, big business, government and cultural institutions, free speech is dismissed as violence, conservatism as fascism and differences of opinion as “micro-aggressions”. Capitalism is loathed, as is free enquiry. The old elite – whether Left-liberal or Reaganite – tried to help the poor: the new elite dislikes the working class and seeks to deploy “cancel culture” to stamp out dissent. It attacks selective state schooling and campaigns to defund the police, moves that have led to an explosion of crime and are hitting minorities especially badly.»
 
«The Right, for its part, has also gone mad: too many Republicans have ditched their old principles – be it free markets, limited government or social conservatism – and instead embraced a dumbed-down, populist demagoguery on a long list of issues. Many Republican voters still believe, against all facts and evidence, that the election was rigged; on Covid, conspiracies have been rife. Trumpism could be the death of the Republican party. Left and Right hate each other: they refuse to talk, to live together, and they don’t want their children to marry one another. Race relations are also deteriorating again after years of gradual progress, according to polling.»
 
«No empire is eternal: all eventually fall amid hubris and humiliation. The heart-wrenching, humanitarian calamity that is the botched Afghan retreat is merely the latest sign that the American era is ending: Washington is no longer the world’s policeman, and an unsettling future of clashes between expansionist, authoritarian regional powers beckons.»
 
«In the late 1980s–early 1990s America’s global clout peaked.»
 
«Twenty years on, America’s global plan lies in ruins, its elites confounded on almost every issue, the stupidity and incompetence on display over the Afghan withdrawal confirming that they don’t understand the rest of the world, and aren’t fit to govern their own country, let alone the globe. Blinded by a simplistic universalism, they no longer understand religion, tribalism, history, national differences or why countries want to govern themselves.»
 
«America’s internal problems are immense: its constitution is broken, its predilection for second-rate gerontocrats such as Biden unrivalled. Racked with self-doubt, its elites in the grip of a bizarre “awakening” centred around a nihilistic, ungrateful self-loathing, it no longer has values to sell, neither capitalism nor democracy nor the American dream. How can people who live in terror of “micro-aggressions” find it in themselves to defeat real evils? As to the public, it doesn’t want to know about the rest of the world: how, under such circumstances, can the US empire not be in terminal decline?»
 
«The West has lost control: there will be mass population movements, currency wars and battles over natural resources. The American empire at least believed in freedom and democracy; what replaces it won’t even pretend to be liberal.»
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Lived Experience Trumps Open Debate – Should It?

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Let’s get this out of the way first: I am so sorry for the Trump reference in the title of this post—it does not refer to the former POTUS but is a quote from one of the articles I refer to in this post.

In an opinion column in today’s Daily Telegraph (unfortunately behind a pay wall for many) spiked columnist Ella Whelan comments on The Twitter mauling of Joe Rogan in the wake of the US comedian and podcast host suggesting that «the trajectory of “woke” culture is such that eventually “straight, white men won’t be able to talk”».

Her article illustrates and confirms something American theologian Voddie Baucham said in a recent interview (text summaryvideo) with Church Leadership Magazine and in his book, Fault Lines.

Here is the section from Ella Whelan’s column in the Telegraph:

According to some Black Lives Matter activists, white people need to “sit down” and stop talking about race. Feminists have long argued that men need to “lean out” or “shut up” and listen to women when it comes to issues relating to women. Transgender activists claim that any non-trans person deviating from the repetition of their “trans women are women” mantra must be a bigot, and therefore should be silenced. Teenage climate activists tell us we should be quiet and “listen to the science” rather than debating the best way to tackle environmental challenges.

In a recent online debate on intimacy during lockdown, I was told I couldn’t possibly comment on the benefits of dating apps for sexual exploration because I am married. In almost all aspects of contemporary politics, lived experience has trumped open debate, meaning that unless you fit into whichever identity or experience is being discussed, your views are deemed less valid.

In the interview in Church Leadership Magazine, Dr. Baucham discusses Critical Race Theory (CRT) which underpins the current social justice movement. He says it isn’t just a pseudo-religion but is rather its own religious movement. It has all the trappings of religion, a point which even atheists have made. The movement has its own cosmology, its own saints, its own liturgy, and its own law.

And here is the section where it meshes perfectly with what Ella Whelan says in her column:

What we have in our culture is not an objective truth, but we have a cultural hegemony that is designed for the purpose of oppression. Because of this we have to look at other ways of knowing. This is where narrative becomes very important, story telling becomes important, it’s one of the central tenets of Critical Race Theory. So in Critical Race Theory, if you want to know the truth when it comes to race and racism, you have to elevate black voices, you have to listen to the voice of the marginalized. And this is what people are talking about in church today, right: We have to listen to black voices, we have to elevate the voice of the marginalized. Well, in Critical Race Theory we do this because that’s the way you know truth—not through knowing God, not through knowing God’s Words, but through listening to the voices and the experiences of  the people who we determine to be marginalized.

So, even when we talk about having the conversation—and people will say, “You’re just trying to shut down The Conversation About Racism!”—that’s rooted in principles of Critical Race Theory, that’s saying that storytelling is the way we find knowledge and not through pursuing objective truth.

Since narrative, story telling, are the ways to find true knowledge, when folks tell their story they must be believed, their story must be taken at face value, however much it flies in the face of your own experience, of objective—even scientific—knowledge, or revealed truth.

But because it is only the narrative and the stories of the oppressed and marginalized, whether it be people of color, women, or those who identify with “alternative sexualities”, only their stories are worth listening to, and others, especially privileged white males, need to shut up rather than contribute their own experiences or opinions.

And finally, even those who belong to the oppressed and marginalized groups are only welcome to tell their stories and experiences if they fit into the grans narrative of Critical Race Theory. A black man, like Dr. Baucham, who tells a different story is dismissed as having “internalized racism.”

This edict, that all who are not fully supportive of the narratives and stories considered authentic voices of the oppressed need to be silenced, is at the root of what has come to be called the “cancel culture”, with the “de-platforming” of speakers who represent contrary views.

One of my own observations, and which all this bears out, is that it is typically those who call for tolerance and even affirmation of their own views and positions end up most intolerant of other views and positions. Even Christians are guilty of this: demanding freedom of religion for Christians in places like Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, etc., while at the same time discriminating against followers of visibly foreign religions in our own countries. It seems to be part of our sinful human nature.

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Is Austria’s Solidarity With Israel Unconstitutional?

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When two days ago (Friday, 15th May 2021) the Austrian government expressed solidarity with Israel by flying the Israeli flag on the Chancellery and Foreign Ministry buildings, several particularly intelligent individuals (i.e. FPÖ chair Hofer as well as Facebook commenters) have opined that this expression of solidarity contravenes the consitutionally mandated perpetual neutrality of Austria.
 
 
But Austria’s neutrality has always been understood in military terms, not in terms of ideology or world view: The Austrian constitution itself just mentions neutrality but doesn’t define it, while the Neutrality Act of 1955 (which is considered part of the constitution) clearly defines it in military terms—no membership in alliances, no foreign military bases in Austria (see the attached screenshot).
 
During the talks which produced the Austrian State Treaty which in turn terminated Austria’s occupation by the WWII Allies, Austria’s negotiators in Moscow used the expression neutrality on the Swiss pattern to make clear that this was not a moral or ideological neutrality—hence Austria, while not a NATO member, was nevertheless always a western country, and today cannot be morally neutral vis-á-vis terrorist organizations such as Hamas.
 
It is this same Hamas which for a number of days has relentlessly been firing rockets at the Israeli civilian population; and they do this using bases and launchpads located in the midst of civilian residential areas, often next to hospitals and school—so that the inevitable and justified Israeli counter strikes will produce a high civilian death toll, including children, which can then be exploited for propaganda purposes.
 
In the face of this situation the demonstration of solidarity by the flying of the Israeli flag is clearly not unconstitutional or in contravention of Austria’s perpetual neutrality; rather, this solidarity is entirely appropriate especially given Austria’s history.  We should not forget that when Austria’s anthem waxes poetic about being “home to great sons” this includes the likes of Adolf Hitler and not a few of his henchmen—great, of course, in terms of their tragic impact on world history, not in the sense of moral greatness.
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Empowering the Culturally Conservative Majority?

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Allister Heath writes in The Daily Telegraph (May 13, 2021),

«What is wrong with France, a wonderful country relentlessly let down by its politicians? There is an unmistakable whiff of panic in the Parisian air, a growing sense among sections of the ruling class that France, riven by culture wars, its economy and society in never-ending decline, its housing estates in the banlieues permanently on the brink, is nearing a tipping point.

For all the sneers, Boris Johnson’s latest electoral triumph did not go unnoticed. What, the more far-sighted intellos ask themselves, will be France’s equivalent of Brexit, if, or rather when, it finally comes? Will it be another 1961 (a failed putsch), 1968 (hard-Left student insurrection), 1981 (communists in government), 1789 (proper revolution) or, hopefully, something milder, more constructive? 

The gilets jaunes two years ago were a false alarm, but how will the rage of la France profonde manifest itself next time? Emmanuel Macron has admitted that “Leave” would win a vote on Frexit, though nobody will want to risk one. It’s a great shame: France, the country in which I grew up, needs a cathartic reset like Brexit, a political earthquake that is neither hard-Left nor hard-Right but which finally empowers the culturally conservative majority.»

Here are my non-expert thoughts on this:

The problem is that, increasingly, even the “moderate left” view themselves as the elite, superior to cultural conservatives whom they view as “hard-Right”[1]. Therefore they will not easily countenance anything that empowers these “deplorables“, to use Hillary Clinton‘s deplorable diction. This is true not just in France but all over the West.

It will be interesting to see how things continue in the UK. As much as I regret Brexit, it seems to have brought about or at least started just such a “reset”. But while these larger countries (Britain, France, even Germany) might go through a Brexit or Frexit or Gexit without too much damage to their economies, for all the EU’s shortcomings leaving it, or its complete break-up, would have disastrous consequences for smaller countries and even Italy or Spain. Among other things it would mean the total domination of our economies by the US and China, without any counterbalance.

__________
  1. for example when they insist on the reality and immutability of biological sex, marriage only between a man and a woman, or the protection of unborn life[]
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Persecution for Christ’s Sake?

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Increasingly there are reports of Christians getting into trouble with police for publicly preaching against homosexuality and gay marriage, most recently this report on the site churchleaders.com. The verdict of “Incitement” against Pastor Olaf Latzel in Bremen is another example.

Here are my thoughts on this:

Of course Christians, like everyone else, should have the right to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of opinion and speech, and the fact that this right is increasingly eroded by labelling some opinions “hate speech” is a problem and politically concerning.

BUT: From a spiritual perspective our task as Christians and as the church is NOT to preach Christian morality to an unbelieving world, but to preach Jesus Christ as Lord and only Saviour.

When people come to Jesus and are born again then the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth, and He cannot be arrested by police.

Of course, as Christians we will be increasingly discriminated against when we express our convictions on various topics, or when we refuse to participate in certain activities (i.e. abortions, same-sex weddings), and this is a deplorable development in countries that boast of their liberal society because it is the very people who most vocally demand tolerance for their views who are most intolerant of others.

But I warn against claiming persecution for our faith, even obliquely, as long as we are permitted to preach Jesus as Lord, as the crucified and risen Christ and Saviour.

The problem is this: if we call the discrimination which we experience on certain subjects here in Europe and other western countries, “persecution for Christ’s sake,” when Christians in countries like China, North Korea, or India experience violent oppression and persecution including imprisonment and even death, or while Christian refugees in refugee camps here in Europe experience violent persecution from Muslim fellow refugees, we are effectively risk minimizing the suffering of these persecuted Christians as we focus on our own discomfort. If we complain of being persecuted right now, how will we cope if we ever are faced with real persecution?

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A Growing Tide of Antisemitism

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In an article on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Eichmann trial in Israel Holocaust historian Deborah E. Lipstadt writes,

«Today, amid a rising tide of antisemitism, I am troubled that so many people only see this scourge among their political enemies and never among their compatriots. This happens at both ends of the political spectrum.

But … the evil of antisemitism must be fought irrespective of its source. Even as I fight those with whom I have nothing in common and whose views are a complete anathema to me, so too must I call to account those whose views on other matters I share.»

This is an important thought, not only but especially in the context of antisemitism, and nowhere more so than in the countries directly responsible for the Shoah, including my country of Austria.

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The Most Common Cause of Divisions?

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The Good Friday sermon by P. Raniero Cantalamess O.F.M.Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household, is of course addressed to Catholics. However, as Evangelical Christians, parts of what he says is applicable to us as well and should make us reflect on how we deal with each other, especially where differences of opinion on worldly matters are concerned: 

What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.

In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.

I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).

We need to learn from Jesus’ example and the Gospel. He lived at a time of strong political polarization. Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other. The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it. Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’. The Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

This problem, that a political ideology or opinion becomes so important in some Christians’ minds that they forget or neglect charity and brotherliness in the way they relate to other Christians, is by no means limited to Catholics but is alive and well among us Evangelicals.

In our communities, too, the shepherds (and that is what “pastor” means) need to care for the whole flock and should therefore, as much as possible, steer clear of political controversy; in our communities, too, as Christians and citizens it is our task to translate the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different ways, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

That we need to be reminded of this became especially clear during the four years of the Trump presidency, in the context of Brexit and similar controversies in other countries, as well as in our response to the Covid pandemic and the restrictions in response to it.

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What does “FTP” stand for?

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In my reading in recent months I have come across a lot of new acronyms such as, for example, “BLM“. One that recently caught my attention, because I use it a lot, is “FTP“. This is, apparently, a ruder and more comprehensive variant of “Defund the Police“, being shorthand for “f*ck the police“.

This puts me in a quandary, because, as I said, I use this acronym a lot, in its original meaning of “file transfer protocol“, a venerable part of the standard UNIX/Linux networking tools.

So I wish to make it very clear, lest anyone misunderstands:

Whenever I use the acronym “FTP” in a neutral or approving manner, I am referring to the File Transfer Protocol, its various implementations across different operating systems, and the action of using such implementations to transfer files. Sometimes, because there are actually more convenient ways of transferring files, I may even use the acronym in a negative or disapproving manner to refer to the file transfer protocol and the apps implementing it.

Only very rarely will I use the acronym FTP in its contemporary “political” sense because I am opposed to abusing words in this fashion, and I am opposed to abusing the police. When acts of police brutality or other illegal actions by police officers happen (and I have no doubt that they do because policing involves the exercise of power and that attracts people with a pathological desire for dominating others), there are more effective and suitable means of dealing with it than the obscene suggestion implied by “FTP”.

 

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