Dear Spengler,
Considering the historical passivity of European attitudes (e.g. their reaction to Nazi imperialism, Soviet communism, the recent Spanish election/appeasement in reaction to a terrorist attack or their impotence to even reproduce) do you believe that if Israel began destroying neighborhood threats – Egypt, Syria, Jordan, among others – they would be left to take care of business and solve a long-festering problem for good?

Dear JBO,
At first glance I mistook your name for “Job,” given your tone of desperation. I would not have given a second glance at your sad daydreams of vengeance except for the far more interesting question of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Egypt and Jordan offer little threat to Israel, and Syria is a danger insofar as it is allied to Iran, for example in its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. On March 29, Iran’s atomic energy agency announced that it would resume enrichment of uranium at its Isfahan nuclear facility, abandoning previous commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran well may have deliverable nuclear weapons in a year or so.

What will Israel do in response to the Iranian challenge? Israel cannot simply reenact its 1981 raid upon Iraq’s Osirak reactor. Iran’s nuclear fuel processing facilities are harder to get at, perhaps beyond the capacity of non-nuclear weapons. Suppose Israel were to attack Iranian nuclear capabilities with nuclear weapons? What would Europe do then? Israel would be condemned from the Bosphorus to Bantry Bay, but what would anyone actually do about it? I doubt that the Americans would mind at all. A mushroom cloud over Isfahan might represent a minor inconvenience during the presidential election campaign, but in all likelihood the incumbent administration would benefit from a heightened sense of risk.

The use of nuclear weapons, to be sure, is something of a taboo, but like many taboos, no one really cares after they are broken. Israel is in a position analogous to that of Germany in 1914, when its General Staff argued that Russia must be attacked straight away, before it built enough railways to mobilize its huge army at speed. The logic is inescapable. Therefore I believe Israel will indeed conduct a nuclear strike against Iran’s processing capacity, and I am as curious as you are to find out what the Europeans will do about it – I should think not much of anything besides noise.

Dear Spengler,
Are the terrorists beatable, or should I just resign myself to the fact that Bush’s “war on terror” is going to last for a long long time? Awaiting your wisdom,
Martin Leon King

Dear Martin,
You may find it tiresome to await the end of the “war on terror,” and even more tiresome to await my wisdom. I do not think there is anything special about the present “war on terror” though; on many past occasions some change in the world landscape has left some group desperate enough to fight to the death (More killing, please! June 12, 2003). Hostilities continue until everyone who wishes to fight to the death has had the chance to do so. America’s “war on crime” of the 1970s and 1980s succeeded to the extent that the phrase has disappeared from political parlance. New York City’s murder rate reportedly has fallen to the lowest level in 40 years. A generation ago, experts warned that it did not help to put criminals in jail, because if criminal activity were profitable, another criminal would take the place of the one just apprehended. It did not occur to such experts that the rate of incarceration and violent death could exhaust the manpower resources of a whole generation of potential criminals. A frequently quoted statistic puts one out of three young black men in America either in jail or on parole. The point, Martin, is that you can kill or imprison enough of them. For quicker ways to accomplish the same results see my answer above to JBO.

Dear Spengler,
Given that colleges and universities in the United States and Europe are, these days, more akin to trade schools than centers of higher learning, concentrating on what the Greeks call techne as opposed to sophia; and given that the only reason people in the West go to university these days is to “get a job”; and the only reason given for going to an elite college is to “get a better job”: Is there, in your opinion, a correlation between the cultural decline of the West and the fact that schools no longer instruct on the fundamental philosophical principles underlying Western civilization and obligations of citizenship, concentrating, instead, on “raising self-esteem” and promoting “diversity” to the point of civilizational suicide?
Peter Taber

Dear Peter,
Waning interest in the Athenian philosophers surely must correlate with the cultural decline of the West, and I share your enthusiasm for classical liberal, as opposed to merely functional, education. But the problem is intractable. Twentieth century philosophy stood under the spell of Martin Heidegger, who looked back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. There was nothing new in Heidegger’s choice of the Ionians over the Athenians. What we now call modernism, namely self-conscious abandonment of the classic ideal of harmony, was present in mature form even before Luther’s Reformation, and Heraclitus was its hero. At the turn of the 15th century the crypto-Judaic Spanish playwright Fernando de Rojas prefaced his great satire La Celestina with these words: “It is the saying of that great and wise philosopher Heraclitus that all things are created in manner of a contention or battle.” Battle and contention rather than harmony and stability: the poison was in the veins of the West from the beginning, long before Richard Wagner made it a cult (The Ring and the remnants of the West, Jan 11, 2003).

In the United States, the followers of Leo Strauss continue to promote the study of Plato, but with a Heraclitan twist. Classical philosophy superficially promotes civic virtue in the Straussian reading, but at a deeper level promulgates a subversive critique (The secret that Leo Strauss never revealed, May 13, 2003). Who will rescue the Athenians from the Babylonian exile of the Heidegger school? Where could such a person even find the appropriate training among today’s universities?

America never, in my surmise, offered fertile soil for the propagation of Western civilization. The founders of Massachusetts came to America because they rejected Western civilization as hopelessly corrupt, and conceived of a New Jerusalem. The Virginians, with their mock-classic temples and slave-based culture of leisure, identified with the Greco-Roman classics. We know who won that argument. America, such as it is, is not really a continuation of Western civilization at all, but a strange throwback to Hebraic rather than Greek origins.

Western civilization has become a wanderer, like the god Wotan in Wagner’s music drama Siegfried, present as an observer, understanding but unable to act.

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