Thursday, May 5, 2011

American Primitivism, European Sophistication

Leave it to primitive Americans to ruin a perfectly good kinetic military operation by taking too much enjoyment, too visibly, in its success. If you believe German political scientist Herfried Münkler, Europeans find the spectacle of ordinary Americans spontaneously celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden a “somewhat embarrassing” display of “unthinking naïveté.”

Well what did he expect? If there’s one thing a European sophisticate can count on Americans for, it’s regular displays of unthinking naïveté. But why should American moral primitivism embarrass sophisticated Europeans? It can only be that their alignment of convenience with Americans in the fight against Al Qaeda assaults Europeans’ sense of self-esteem.

According to Münkler, American politicians aren’t making things any easier for Europeans by joining the unwashed masses (to whom they're supposed to be dispensing moral instruction) in the empty-headed celebration:

“‘Two thousand years ago, a Roman politician would have been able to publicly express his pleasure at getting his revenge. The crucial difference is that Western politicians today are people who are influenced by Christianity, people who are bound to the idea of mercy. Only someone who believes in the existence of 'evil' and who does not explain 'evil' in terms of an unhappy childhood, someone who upholds the Old Testament principle of an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth, is justified in publicly expressing their joy at the death of an enemy and their satisfaction at getting revenge. The Americans' reactions to bin Laden's death therefore mainly reflect the fact that they have different values (from Europeans).’”
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. An American politician who “express[es] . . . pleasure at getting his revenge” against bin Laden is acting less like the merciful Christian he invariably purports to be than like a Roman pagan. And why is that? It's because he subscribes to the Old Testament ideas about the reality of evil and justice being essentially a matter of proportionate retribution. Mindful of my own lack of sophistication, I’ll leave aside the fact that believing in the Old Testament is about as unpagan as you can get. The point, I gather, is that exacting revenge against bin Laden (as opposed merely to disabling him from committing future terrorist acts) is a strange thing for someone who believes in Christian mercy to do.

So the problem with American politicians is that they aren’t as good Christians as the European politicians they're embarrassing who think of “evil” merely as a symptom of the "evil-doer's" unhappy childhood? Well no, that can’t be it. European politicians, even Christian Democrats, aren’t very big on bringing religion into the public sphere and the last time I looked real Christians believe in both the reality of evil and that the Old Testament is the record of divine revelation. And, when you think about it, if purportedly evil acts are just symptoms of family dysfunction, the idea of “Christian mercy” doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway because therapy rather than forgiveness is the appropriate response.

I’m going to stop here to keep my head from spinning any more. If you ask me, it's "somewhat embarrassing" to be on Münkler’s side in the fight against Al Qaeda.  I’ve written my share about the moral incoherence of the way we tend think about counterterrorism. But when it comes to moral incoherence, as in so many other things, we Americans are babes in the woods next to Europeans.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'll start listening to the Euro-trash when those whiny, sissy, useless exquisites grow a pair and start being useful in the struggle to defend western civilization. Until then they can piss and moan all they want-they remain irrelevant

Anonymous said...

Lets hear it from the wonderful folks who gave us WWI, WWII, Auschwitz and .....

Barry Dauphin said...

OK, vengeance is involved, but, good gracious (as Rumsfeld might say), bin Laden was still in the terrorist business. He remained dangerous. He was not yet an ex-parrot. Whatever else al Qaeda can do, they cannot get more ideas or support from OBL. Even a German intellectual ought to be able to understand that.

Matt said...

And the success of David Hasselhoff's singing career in Europe is not a “somewhat embarrassing” display of “unthinking naïveté"? (One might not see any justification for the modifier "somewhat". )

Anonymous said...

Ha, good one Matt!

Anonymous said...

Mom, can we get the troops out of Germany now?
It's been like a hundred years!

Anonymous said...

After 9/11 there were street celebrations in Palestine, Syria and other places celebrating the murder of innocent civilians in America. In addition, there was a video of Bin Laden celebrating the 9/11 event.

Turnabout is fair play.

Shane said...

What would the Germans know? They haven't had a morally acceptable military victory since 1815.

Anonymous said...

American celebrations were ugly? Oh yeah? I have one response. Soccer fans.

SH said...

"Mindful of my own lack of sophistication, I’ll leave aside the fact that believing in the Old Testament is about as unpagan as you can get:"

Yeah, he is contradicting himself but he also does not understand the religious issue he is talking about. An eye for an eye is not about revenge. If taken in context; it is about compensation... instead of taking revenge...

Anonymous said...

America sent a message to the Middle East; perhaps subconsciously; that we will celebrate when one of those who caused you; (the middle east)to celebrate is brought down. We sent a message to the knuckledraggers in a form they can understand. Harm us and we will go to the ends of the earth to find and eliminate you. And party when we succeed.