Monday, December 11, 2006

The Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on numerous occasions!

I'm starting to think we might have to issue another apology.

As perhaps we've all heard by this point, Augusto Pinochet died on Sunday. It seems to me that the case of Pinochet, regarding his historical impact and the opinion one should have of him, is fairly straightforward: on the positive side of ledger, market reforms of the Chilean economy. On the negative side, the seizing of power in a military coup, the "disappearance" of over 3000 people and the torture of thousands more. This is, it seems to me, as good a spin as can be put on the general's reign. So one would hope that we wouldn't have to refight ridiculous old cold war battles over whether "our" sons-of-bitches were in fact swell guys after all.

One would reckon without reckoning on Canada's gift to the world, the king of intellectual dishonesty, Mr. Mark Steyn. I suppose it isn't surprising that a guy who sounds positively wistful for a revived European fascism mourns the dictator's passing, but it takes a truly breathtaking degree of chutzpah to make the argument that Pinochet was responsible for the creation of "a functioning democratic state" in Chile. No more so, I suppose, than making the case that "the General has done more for human rights and global democracy than the entire posturing body of international law," but it still momentarily lives me gibbering.

I think these guys make arguments like this strictly to slow us up in argument. Rather than actually engaging them on the merits of their ideas, we have to spend valuable clearing detritus like Pinochet-as-democratic-hero and so forth out of the way. By the time that's done, they'll have thrown up another idiotic distraction. Anything to avoid to discussing the disaster that is the neoconservative worldview or, in Steyn's case, the extremely poorly veiled fascism at the heart of his philosophy.

Pinochet was not the only hero of the Cold War neoconservative movement to die recently, of course. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, creator of the intellectual's "our-son-of-a-bitch" theory, also known as the authoritarian-totalitarian construct, died on Friday. Her shining moment, of course, was her support for Galtieri's junta in the Falklands War. Not only were right wing "authoritarian" regimes preferable to left wing "totalitarian" ones, they were also apparently preferable to democratic allies with indigenous support in the disputed territories. It's not as though I have any great affection for Margaret Thatcher here. But if you have to pick sides between her and a military junta, you shouldn't have to think very hard. Similarly, if you're looking for things to say about the passing of Augusto Pinochet, "architect of democracy" should ideally not spring immediately to mind.

That it does for guys like Steyn is simultaneously deeply weird and entirely unsurprising. Steyn has a remarkably pessimistic worldview: the last few outposts of "the West" sit besieged by the dark hordes of "Islamism" without and undermined from within by hedonistic leftists. Demography features prominently; like all cultural alarmists from the Yellow Peril forward, Steyn is extremely concerned that "they" are outbreeding "us." The immediate results of this concern are creepy columns like this one. The wider implication of his paranoia seems to be a willingness to jettison large sections of the West's culture, including, I would argue, the democratic process, in a hysterical effort to defeat the "Islamists." Steyn appears to believe that the takeover of Western countries by the Muslims is imminent; he darkly warns at the end of his creepy meditation on Scarlett Johansson's reproductive cycle that "Scarlett Johansson will end her days on an earth whose stewards regard being tested for HIV twice as a sign of many things, but not, on the whole, "social awareness."

This is a remarkable sentence. It is remarkable for its fatalistic acceptance than demography is determinative, and that the defeat of liberalism in the battle of ideas is a foregone conclusion. It is remarkable for its barely hidden satisfaction at the imagined comeuppance of an intelligent, independent, sexually liberated woman. It is remarkable for its passively aggressive tone towards Johansson and by extension people who agree with her. But the thing that is most striking about this sentence is the degree to which it is divorced from reality.

Scarlett Johansson is 22 right now. (To answer the obvious question, there is no premise too flimsy for us to link to web pages with pictures of her.) If we are to take Steyn seriously (as I have unaccountably been doing) he appears to believe that the world will be an all-encompassing caliphate in the next sixty years or so. This is, to be technical about it, droolingly stupid. Regardless of how frightened Steyn and his ilk are of "Islamists," they're not capable of taking over Luxembourg, let alone Johansson's United States.

It is telling that the most chest-thumping jingoists are simultaneously the people with the least faith in our ability to endure. This is because they lack faith in the power of liberty as an idea, rather than as a rhetoric club to bash their domestic political opponents. But if freedom is to survive as anything other than an Orwellian slogan, it's going to be because the idea of living in a pluralistic, free, democratic society appeals to the children of "Westerners" and "Islamists" alike. Paranoid nutjobs praising Augusto Pinochet's democratic legacy will not help.

And that's why we should send out our Minister of Columnists to apologize for Mark Steyn. Repeatedly.

For more Mark Steyn bashing (with a bonus photo of Scarlett Johansson!) go here for Tbogg's take on the Sun-Times thing.


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