Required Reading

Austin Bay says the current clash of civilizations is about setting “the terms of modernity.”


The terms of modernity in the free societies Bin Laden and his successors despise have historical roots; the Enlightenment and the Treaty of Westphalia are two significant examples. Enlightenment skepticism spurred scientific inquiry and technological success that spurred economic development.

After the disaster of the 30 Years War, Westphalia attempted to separate religion and politics. Catholic princes would tolerate Protestant subjects, and vice versa. It took a couple of centuries, but Europe and North America began producing societies that were experiments in “liberating reform”; they were political experiments permitting individual freedom of expression, which would include free expression of religious faith.

In contrast, violent Islamist utopian idealists only permit their expression of religious faith.

Democracy, as a vehicle for freedom, is never perfected. Because they hold regular and meaningful elections — which produce peaceful changes in power — democracies structurally deny the possibility of human perfection, at least on Earth. Like communists, violent Islamists are peculiar utopians, convinced they create a perfect society that, once created, will remain perfect.

And, as with Stalin’s purges and labor camps, anything “imperfect” must be removed or otherwise stamped out.

You may quibble with Austin’s selection of the word “modernity,” but look at how backwards even post-Soviet Russia is to the West. Or how backwards the Islamic world is to pretty much anywhere else.

There’s perfect and there’s progress, but you can’t have them both.