Apocalyptic Apoplexy

"People understand that the threats facing the West are serious, whether or not politicians choose to take them seriously."

Daniel Johnson

This is the first new issue of Standpoint to appear this year. We apologise to our readers for the hiatus; we hope we have been missed. Since 2008 the magazine has appeared regularly, ten times a year. This is the first time that we have been obliged by circumstances beyond our control to keep our subscribers waiting. Readers may also notice that this month’s issue has a different feel. It is also slimmer. However, we hope we have maintained the quality of our content. Most of the familiar faces are still here, plus a few new ones. There is still no other magazine dedicated to the defence of Western civilisation anywhere in, well, Western civilisation.

Much has happened since we last appeared in December, but the same subjects keep cropping up, at least in London: Trump, Brexit, Islam, Putin, Trump, Theresa May, Trump, Angela Merkel, Islam, Trump, Brexit. So we make no apology for reflecting these abiding preoccupations in this issue — and including dissonant voices.

Some of them sound a note of deep anxiety; hence our cover theme of war and peace in the age of Trump and Brexit. People understand that the threats facing the West are serious, whether or not politicians choose to take them seriously. Only a tiny proportion of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims live as minorities in the West. Yet a new Chatham House survey finds that on average, 55 per cent of Europeans — and just under half of Britons — oppose all further immigration from Muslim majority countries. Such anxieties are dismissed as Islamophobic by Tariq Ramadan, the Oxford professor and leading intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the new Pelican Introduction to Islam (Penguin £8.99). But there have been no mass expulsions of Muslims from Europe or America — unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, which has only just deported nearly 40,000 Pakistanis because of their country’s terrorist links. The Trump administration’s limited migration ban may have been temporarily halted by the courts, but this only shows how the rights of Muslims in the West are protected by secular law far better than they are by sharia law in Islamic countries. Professor Ramadan defends sharia as “so inclusive” that it “can almost be likened to Islam itself”. But the cumulative effect of importing Islam — even with an “inclusive” interpretation of sharia — into Western societies has been to make the latter wary of large-scale Muslim immigration. Such public attitudes are unpalatable to the elites.

Indeed, after Brexit and Trump, a critique of the West is gaining traction suggesting that the disaffected and uneducated majority is in danger of succumbing to fascist demagogues. A widely praised example of this narrative is The Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra (Allen Lane, £20). Mishra’s rhetorical device is to identify Trump and Brexit with white supremacists on the one hand and Islamist movements on the other. He glosses over the fact that the American presidential election and the British EU referendum were both examples of Western democracy in action — the antithesis of Nazism or Islamofascism. For him, those who voted for Trump or Brexit are not democrats exercising their rights, but “uprooted masses” who “recoil into cultural supremacism, populism and rancorous brutality”. “Trump and his supporters in the world’s richest country are no less the dramatic symptom of a general crisis of legitimacy than those terrorists who plan and inspire mass violence by exploiting the channels of global integration.” (My italics.)

Mishra’s contempt for the plebeians of the West is intended to remind us that he too belongs in the company of intellectual prophets such as Nietzsche, who warned against the malaise we now witness. Mishra is no conservative, but a guru of the Left who advocates “truly transformative thinking” as the antidote to anarchy. Evidently he considers his own ideas superior to those of the “baby-faced millennials” of Silicon Valley, whom Mishra blames for our “Age of Anger”. Are we any angrier than our ancestors, though?

In the first few weeks of the new US administration, Iran and North Korea have both engaged in provocations by firing off new missiles: not so much weapons-testing as Trump-testing. In response to these two rogue states the President has promised a US military build-up “on a scale we have not seen in generations”. This will be easier said than done, given the dire state of public finances, but a Republican-controlled Congress will hardly try to thwart the White House on defence. At least this martial message indicates that the Trump era may not, after all, spell the end of exceptionalism, even though Alexander Woolfson argues that there is continuity with Obama in the retreat from Pax Americana. The resignation of General Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor showed that Mr Trump would be wise to keep his distance from Mr Putin.

More doom-mongering is imminent: George Osborne’s forthcoming book The Age of Unreason, for instance. Here at Standpoint we have more confidence in the future. The West has not taken collective leave of its senses. This year’s anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution evokes the vast human tragedy that began a century ago; its consequences are still with us, not least in Russia and China. But 2017 is not another 1917, just as the much-lamented year 2016 was not 1933. While we hope for the best, we must also prepare for the worst. But the West need not adopt a tone of apocalyptic apoplexy.

However much President Trump may be inclined to isolationism, events will surely force him to embrace the Bush Doctrine: specifically, the right to intervene pre-emptively in order to protect the US and its allies from attack. Nigel Biggar is right to assign a key role to Theresa May. If it suits her to play a Venusian role at present, she must be prepared to awaken her Mars if he dozes off.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"