The day after news broke that ISIS had brutally beheaded American journalist James Foley, President Obama gave a statement. Much of it was good. Most all of it sounded like things his predecessor in office might have said. In it, he said:
"One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century." —President Obama
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 20, 2014
1) What does this even mean? Just at the most obvious and basic level, if “we can all agree” with this statement, then … what? What do we do if we agree that this group must not exist in our general space-time continuum? Does this mean we have a foreign policy objective of exterminating ISIS? Breaking its will? Killing off just its leaders? Not really doing anything? Sort of bombing some strategic locations but trying not to get too involved? Mass conversion attempts away from ISIS ideology? What? What’s the specific thing we’re all agreeing to?
But on a deeper level, the statement suggests 2) some serious problems with this administration’s understanding of man’s nature and propensity for evil. Let’s look at a few tweets that get at this:
What does this mean, exactly? MT @WhiteHouse: "One thing we can all agree on is group like ISIL has no place in 21st century." — Pres. Obama
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) August 20, 2014
@MZHemingway But in the 19th century it’s all good. Have at it.
— Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) August 20, 2014
@MZHemingway Murdering people was sort of ok-ish in other centuries?
— Barton Swaim (@BartonSwaim) August 20, 2014
@MZHemingway the strongest moral condemnation that a progressive can deliver is "you're on the wrong side of history"
— Shrill (@ShrillCosby) August 20, 2014
— Michael J. Altman (@MichaelJAltman) August 20, 2014
— Alex Wilgus (@Awilgus) August 20, 2014
In this sense, the statement from the White House, along with this one below, tells us something about the administration’s misunderstanding of man’s nature:
"People like this fail…because the future is always won by those who build, not destroy." —President Obama on ISIL #Iraq
— White House Live (@WHLive) August 20, 2014
See, there are conflicting ways of looking at man’s nature — the distinguishing characteristics we all have. The Founding Fathers of this country were part of a long line of people who acknowledged that, well, evil exists and that men are tempted toward it. This is an important part of understanding why they set up a government of checks and balances. Progressives, as their self-given label suggests, believe that human nature can change, if we can speak of nature at all. And not just change but be perfected. They frequently see government as the means to such transformation into a perfect society.
That’s why they say 3) unbelievably inane things such as, “you’re on the wrong side of history.” Or “The future is always won by those who build, not destroy.” That is literally Mickey Mouse philosophy. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
President Obama’s utopian fantasy of “the future” “always” being “won by those who build, not destroy” is just obviously and resoundingly false, for better or worse. I mean, define “future.” And define “winning” and “building vs. destroying.” Tamerlane had tremendous success destroying and slaughtering his enemies — for most of a century. And World War II didn’t end by building up Nagasaki. There are good winners and bad winners littered throughout history.
What’s more, this “wrong side of history” nonsense is nothing more than a religious belief in supernatural causality. It implies that history isn’t shaped by men but, instead, by outside inevitable forces that can always be counted on. If this were so, we wouldn’t need to work so hard to raise up good children and fight the evils all around us.
Man has a nature, obviously, but man’s nature doesn’t have a history. That’s the whole point. We must always be on guard against tyranny, be it the kind we see in ISIS or the kind we see in our own hearts. That line from Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, a book about the horrors of the Soviet forced labor camp system, comes in handy. Describing the basic error in another well-known form of progressivism’s thinking — that some men are good and some men are bad — he wrote:
If only that were true! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
By no means does this suggest that therefore we should be cool with the Hitlers, ISISes and Kim Jong Ils and Uns of the world. It does mean, however, that believing in right and wrong sides of history and the perfectability of men is absolute madness if we want to fight against tyranny at home, wrought by the sinful passions in our own hearts, and abroad, springing from the sins of our fellow man.