The underlying concept of the essay “The Three Conjectures,” which argues that the West will respond with whatever force is necessary to protect itself once it is attacked by weapons of mass destruction, springs from this single insight: need knows no law.
A liberal will bay for blood once radioactive glass fragments from his window are embedded in his face. People only want to buy the world a Coke when they feel safe. The idea of apologizing to radical Islamists for historical sins can only occur to people contemplating it over nachos and iced tea on a pleasant autumn afternoon. Deprive the same man of food, leave him confronted with the ruins of his home and the bodies of his family — and you may well marvel at the transformation.
Of course the inconveniences in New York are temporary. Give it a few weeks and things will be back to normal. Then we can be our old generous and humane selves again. But before we entirely forget a few unpleasant days of deprivation, let’s spare a moment to reflect on how fragile is our civilization. How fleeting are our scruples.
Humanity and civilization are a privilege we earn by having a design margin. An overmatch of power is the luxury whose possessor can spend on such things as mercy, truth, and love. Surfeit is not always evil. Like Sherlock once said, “our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers.”
All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.
When it’s down to live or die, when its down to a world without flowers, when you come to a universe where there’s just one piece of moldy bread for two hungry and desperate men, then the old law returns: do unto others before they do unto you.
The United States has presided over the longest peace in modern history. It did not achieve this on the back of “moral superiority.” It attained this because it had sufficient strength and wealth to plant the flowers. We ought not to let people persuade us that weakness is good; that poverty is virtuous; that a dull sameness is all we must aspire to. We ought not to think that to disarm ourselves before evil is virtue. It is folly. We will all learn that lesson at one time or another in our lives. Only some will learn it too late.
Preserve the peace by keeping the ship in trim. And never, never willingly let it get away from you.
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