Watching Obama’s speech Sunday night, it occurred to me that we are watching the death of a bad idea. The idea that there is no moral truth — and that therefore no one culture is better than any other — and that therefore any dominant culture must have become dominant through injustice — and that therefore the dominant west is to blame for the rest of the world’s ills — follows from a certain strain of western thought, call it the Nietzschean strain. It is incorrect and it has failed and now it’s crumbling.
Under the duress of mounting evidence, the president was forced to abandon his euphemisms and denials, to admit that we were under attack from terrorists, and that the ideas and motivations of those terrorists arose from Islam. To be sure, there were the usual hemmings and hawings, but the very fact that he was forced to drop these few little crumbs of truth to a populace hungry for moral leadership is proof that his underlying philosophy — the underlying philosophy of his administration and of his political party — is in ruins.
This doesn’t mean Obama will abandon that philosophy. He can’t. It has given him everything he has. It’s the reason he was promoted so far above his competence, the reason he was elevated to a power he does not have the first idea how to use effectively. Rather than abandon that source of his strength, he will continue to do what he has done up to now: engage in dubious battle with make-believe enemies like the climate while appeasing and hiding from real enemies like the makers of worldwide jihad. No one now living will ever know if the actions he takes in his ever-so-brave battle with the weather have any effect. You can’t lose if you don’t keep score. The president will no doubt give himself a trophy for participating and go off to make his millions in speaking engagements, peddling the fantasy of his greatness to the sort of suckers who are born every minute.
But we don’t have to join him in that fantasy. We don’t have to be those suckers. In fact, whatever his practical power for the moment, when it comes to working out our ideas, we can pretty much ignore him. We shouldn’t allow him to distract us or goad us into the sort of impotent rage that might cause us to waste our time in endless ranting, or waste our votes on a petty tyrannical clown like Donald Trump.
Rather we need to form — and support leaders who can form — a new idea for a new future. What is our vision of the good? What is our vision of government? What is our vision of the national mission in a world like no world that has existed before?
I don’t know what the future holds politically. No one does. But the idea of moral relativism has a venerable pedigree, and if the jihadis have done us the favor of exposing its falsehood (for now), it’s possible we will look back and see this as a turning point in the history of western thought.
It would be nice if we turned in the right direction.