The other night I was watching Judgment at Nuremberg, a really wonderful movie that explores the process through which civilized men do uncivilized things. At the heart of Rolfe’s defense — played by Maximilian Schell — is the idea that the survival of the tribe is the highest value. He argued the Nazis did what they did to survive, as would anyone, and therefore their main mistake was in losing the war. In his view, the only judgment Americans could deliver at Nuremberg was the revenge of the victor.
Although the Nazis lost the war, ironically the West bought the Nazi point of view. Have not the sophisticates rejected Spencer Tracy’s argument that the defense of civilization begins with the sanctity of the individual “because once you sacrifice the first innocent man then the rest are an inevitable consequence”? That smacks too much of the sacred, and we don’t do the sacred anymore.
But we do abortion and eugenics. We follow orders. And, most importantly, we do suicide, whether of the individual or civilizational kind.
The lesson Europe appears to have learned from the Nazis is that Western civilization is irredeemably possessed by a moral devil, which will return unless the culture is crippled. Therefore all spirits are viewed askance. It’s fascinating to contrast the world of Judgment at Nuremberg, where the only defense against the death of millions is morality, with the world of the Boardwalk Empire, where no morality is possible, as if the world recently emerged from the shadow of death understood its value more than we do now after 70 years of safety.
The man who hacked off the British soldier’s head waited for the bullet. And though I despise what he stands for, it is undeniable that he stood for something. However misguided his beliefs, there was something he believed in.
What do we believe in? Insofar as I can see, we solemnly believe in nothing. How proudly we — the sophisticates in the media and academy — proclaim that we are empty of convictions, bereft of patriotism, devoid of faith. We are a civilization compelled to shout from the housetops, “I am excrement because I walked with myself.”
That is our conviction, our creed, our profession of unfaith. But if we continue to adhere to it, we shall lose to the Islamists, who at least are willing to fight their corner. We will lose and we will deserve to lose.