Bret Stephens: People who believe in nothing will ultimately submit to anything.

NOT TRUE what Stephens says in his WSJ piece, Is Europe Helpless?

Stephens assumes that Europe, as now embodied in the so-called European Union is in decline, with the greatest evidence of that decline being the seeming helplessness of the two EU leaders, France and Germany, to mount an effective defense against terrorism.

Stephens is writing in the aftermath of the rampage effected by a single terrorist behind the wheel of a moving van careening widely from side to side while plowing down pedestrians celebrating the 14th. of July along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France.

Stephens clearly implies that Europe is weak, has no backbone, and in spite of huge expenditures on arms, is unable to defeat ISIS. His words resemble those of Donald Trump when Trump speaks of the “disaster” that is Barack Obama’s America. In fact, Stephens may very well have been thinking of the America of Barack Obama as he was writing about the France of Hollande and Valls.

So Stephens assumes the decline of European civilization and then asks can it be stopped. Only, he says, if the “political mythologies” on which Europe was built are dismantled.

Stephen’s mythologies are: that the European Union is the result of a postwar moral commitment to peace; that Christianity is of merely historical importance to European identity; that there’s no such thing as a military solution; that one’s country isn’t worth fighting for; that honor is atavistic and tolerance is the supreme value.

Two of these “mythologies,” the moral commitment to peace and the supreme importance of tolerance, are not for many of us mythologies at all, but rather fundamental tenants of our own civilization.

Would Stephens substitute a commitment to war, as in most tribal societies, for the much later and much fought for, civilization’s commitment to peace? Furthermore, while tolerance may not be the supreme value of our own multi-ethnic society it’s right up there at the top, along with commitments to the rule of law, to civil rights, to human rights, to protecting the freedom of the individual from an all too powerful state.

The other “mythologies” he mentions are clearly misreadings, misinterpretations of what goes under the name of European civilization. Take away the word “merely” and it’s true that for most of us Christianity is of merely historical importance to European identity. Think of Chartres Cathedral, of Mont St. Michel et al. While no longer the structures in which we live and work they and the thousands of others like them continue to have huge “historical” importance in our lives.

Regarding his statement that “there is no such thing as a military solution,” this is a misreading of both Europe and America. Stephens is aware of the huge defense budgets in both Europe and America, but does he really believe that these expenditures should be thought of as “military solutions” to our problems? Are there military solutions to any of our problems?

Yes, as the followers of Donald Trump might say, “nuke them,” but is that what Stephens believes? Solutions when they do come, as they in fact continue to come, mostly since the birth of modern science and the enlightenment in Europe, do not come from the size of our armed forces but from man’s intellectual powers of invention, imagination and above all reason.

Now who ever says, in Europe or America, that one’s country is not worth fighting for? That’s another serious misreading on Stephens’ part of both European and American civilizations. Or just a misinterpretation, because there are an infinite number of ways to interpret the phrase “worth fighting for.” What is worth fighting for? And how will one fight? Important questions that Stephens neglects to address.

Finally, there is “honor.” Evidently a favorite of Stephens, unlike tolerance which he  belittles in the last of his listing of “mythologies.” Does Stephens really think that words like honor and tolerance, not to mention loyalty, courage, and all the rest have only one meaning?  Honor is good, tolerance is bad?

Of course not, Bret. And even you couldn’t possibly think that could you? All these so-called qualities, virtues even, can become their opposites, become failings, or shortcomings in any number of given situations. Tolerance can become an excessive acceptance of things and behaviors that clearly ought to be universally rejected. Honor can result in a woman’s death by stoning for having dishonored her family in her choice of a husband. Courage can be recklessness. Loyalty can be blindness to reality etc.

All this to say that Stephens has fashioned a straw man that he then goes on to pummel. Or rather a straw people. When he says that “people who believe in nothing, including themselves, will ultimately submit to anything,” one would like to ask who are these “people,” Europeans, Americans?

Have you ever met a member of the European Union Assembly or a representative from the Congress of the United States who believes in nothing? I haven’t. I would say that Europeans and Americans, are rather held back, prisoners in fact, by their belief-filled minds, not crippled by their believing in nothing at all.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people about you would stop putting up their beliefs as walls between you, preventing you from becoming friends and neighbors as you might have been in a belief-free world. When a belief separates you from your fellows, that’s the time to discard it.

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