ISIS and Liberalism's Existential Crisis


One of the things that has contributed to the freak out against ISIS is that it is attracting recruits from the West


. Many commentators worry that these Westerners are a product of liberalism's spiritual weakness – its inability to provide a "transcendental" purpose, a cause to die for. And if ISIS is not defeated decisively, they fear, liberalism will only look weaker, producing a loss of confidence and an existential crisis in the liberal West.

ISIS does indeed deserve to die. But I note in my column at The Week, if anything bespeaks a loss of confidence, it is what counts as an "existential crisis" now.

There is nothing new about a small number of Americans bolting to join foreign armies fighting for anti-liberal causes. Over 2,800 Americans enlisted on the communist side in the Spanish Civil War, despite America's official policy of neutrality (because, as in many current conflicts, there were no clear good guys). What's more, in the first eight months of 1931, when Stalin's atrocities were approaching their zenith, more than 100,000 Americans applied to emigrate to the Soviet Union, several thousand of them successfully.

Go here to read the whole thing.

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  1. Some Westerners are idiots. I think that explains why they’d go join ISIS…same as it explains why John Walker Lindh joined al-Qaeda.

    I have no desire for our country to be involved in another war because some people are terrified by idiots.

    1. They’ve also got to be naive, right? I mean take a look at this clip (yeah, Fox News I know):…

      If these chicks ever go to Syria, they won’t be dressing like this or posting on FB.

      1. LOL

        Mike Baker…

        That guy is a laugh a minute.

        He makes me think that he’s a guy who was able to somehow parley his “Yeah, I was in the CIA once”-bar-stories into being an “expert analyst” for Fox News… where he still basically just says, “yeah, i was in the CIA.. learned to kill a man with a pen…fortunately never had to use it..but you never know..”… and then waffles unintelligently about whatever the specifics of the conversation are.

        “Kids! They’re crazy. when I was in the CIA, we had a kid who was great with computers… couldn’t carry a gun of course… I’m an HK man myself….”

        He really looks uncomfortable without a beer.

  2. I still think we can fight most of these people with XBoxes – if you look at just about any scenes of unrest you’re going to see an awful lot of young males, poisoned with testosterone and poverty and given a gun and told it’s fun to go kill people. You’ll notice those who are older and wiser and have jobs and money and wives and kids aren’t too damn anxious to be on the front lines, they’ve already got their XBoxes.

    1. A lot of these guys have X Boxes. I think John is correct when he says what they are looking for is a cause that will change the world and give their lives meaning.

      1. War looks like a lot of fun when it resembles Call of Duty and you’re running a blitzkrieg to the outskirts of Baghdad. It becomes less so when you’re trying to hold on to critical infrastructure against the Peshmerga who can actually fight back.

        1. Boergeois western liberalism will win in the end again, because transcendent missions to change the world generally fail.

          But between point A and point B may lie a lot of dead bodies.

      2. I wonder how many of those guys actually earned their Xboxes, though? A lot of people find meaning and a sense of self-respect through a vocation. Maybe it’s not liberalism but lack of (real) employment that is the issue.

  3. And if ISIS is not defeated decisively, they fear, liberalism will only look weaker, producing a loss of confidence and an existential crisis in the liberal West.

    I don’t have a problem with this.

    1. Broaden your definition of liberalism here, guy.

  4. “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they’ll like the strong horse” -Osama bin Laden

    There is a perception that Islamism is a strong horse. Not that it’s militarily or economically more powerful (it isn’t), but that it has a stronger will. And I think there is something to that. The fascinations of the modern progressive West are not particularly attractive animating principles.

    1. This could have something to do with progressivism not really being an ethos as much as an impulse. The last time the left had an animating ethos or principle was, oh, December 8, 1991. Since then it’s just been ad-hoc egalitarian impulses and attempts to hold onto power.

      Conservatism is not much better off.

      There is not a particularly strong sense of ethos in the West from any ideological camp except perhaps libertarians, Objectivists, and some socialists for whom hope spring eternal.

  5. I’m not sure the American immigration to the USSR in 1931 is a good comparison. Few Americans were aware of the atrocities taking place in the USSR and the time. Furthermore, those Americans were migrating for employment not to join the Soviet military.

    1. *Few Americans were aware of the atrocities taking place in the USSR and the time. *

      Because the leftist media refused to publicize them.

      Sound familiar?

  6. You know who else were a lost generation looking for a cause to fight for and give their lives meaning?

    1. The guys in fight club?

    2. Raiders fans since 2003?

      1. Did you know that Al Davis died on the day of my wedding, thereby cursing it to not work out? True story.

    3. Early Roman Christians?

    4. The cast of Rock of Love, season 1?

  7. Millennials?

  8. in the first eight months of 1931, when Stalin’s atrocities were approaching their zenith

    Um, no. He had barely gotten started. The Ukraine famine and the purges were still in the future.

  9. That picture clearly demonstrates that Islam is a nefarious feline plot.

  10. Opening Now! Nominations for transcendent purposes!

    I nominate:
    1. Space colonization
    2. Extending the healthy human lifespan over 100 years
    3. Developing trans-humanist technologies like telepathy

    1. Who are you going to ask to die for #2?

      1. Good point.
        But why do we have to DIE for our causes? Why can’t we LIVE for them?

        I suppose if someone wanted to ban human life-extension technologies, some people might be willing to risk death for THAT cause.

        1. It was really just a lame joke. I agree that such causes as you list (especially colonization of space) are more worthy of.concerted action than things like nation building or religious conversion of the heathen.

    2. Those are hard. Grabbing a Koran and an AK47 isn’t nearly as hard.

  11. *Over 2,800 Americans enlisted on the communist side in the Spanish Civil War*

    Nearly all of them were crappy authors.

    *What’s more, in the first eight months of 1931…more than 100,000 Americans applied to emigrate to the Soviet Union*

    Upon their return, they became Democrat Party Commissars.

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