Conservative is a misnomer for extremists
There is nothing more annoying than when commentators refer to radicals and militants as “conservative”. By definition radicals are not conservative. They throw away the lessons built up over centuries and go back to the root. So the Islamic radical rejects the wisdom of ages in Muslim thinking, that has taken on board Aristotle, living amongst Christians and Jews and accommodated real human-nature. In the same way the political radical, whether Bolshevist or Jacobin, rejects the institutions that have evolved over the centuries, in the hope of reverting to some ideal original state of nature.
Islamic extremism has been in the public eye recently with the trial of the two murderers of Drummer Rigby, in a brutal and barbarous attack. It is the argument of this blog that what leads to extremist evil is a subjective approach to life that rejects the shared lessons of history. In effect the radical attempts to shake off shared values accumulated over time and assert their own opinion in the place of common values.
Thus the young Islamist extremist living in Britain attempts to define himself against the more moderate and conservative Islam of his parents. For the extremist the wisdom of the ancestors, the building up of knowledge and tradition, should be rejected in favour of the original, pure “truth”, which happens to be his own subjective view of the truth. In Mali the Islamist extremists set about destroying traditional Islamic art and historical artefacts.
Just because it's your opinion doesn’t mean you are right
The real danger to Western society is not dogmatism, but the rejection of shared dogma in favour of “my opinion”. People talk about their opinions as though because they own them they somehow possess a special validity. Actually it is only that person’s opinion and it cannot contain the experience of generations that exists in our traditions and inherited values. It is inevitably a partial and limited view.
It also commands no intrinsic legitimacy. For example, one of the late Drummer Rigby’s murderers claimed to be a soldier and justified his atrocious crime in this way. He did not really belong to an existing army it was just his own opinion that he was a soldier. There is no existing army that I know of, with commissions, paid salaries and a duty to serve a head of state that gave him such an order. I have not heard of such a State that would give this order, outside of the conventions of war, in violation of the Geneva Convention. There was no call from the established institutions of the Islamic faith for a crusade; only some madman in a cave in Afghanistan had unilaterally created his own violent creed. This so-called army has been set up without legitimacy and without authority. The murderer’s view that he belonged to an army was nothing more than his subjective viewpoint – it was only his opinion, with no authority. He is in fact a subject of Her Majesty protected by Her Majesty’s forces that he attacked and will now be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Whatever he thinks, that is what the case is in the real world.
Contrast this pretend “Islamist” soldier with Drummer Lee Rigby. He belonged to a real army that serves an actual head of state and works to defend a physical nation state, with real boundaries and a rule of law and a Parliament. This State is a signatory to international conventions on what its army will do and not do in war. When individuals violate these rules, they are prosecuted by the State they serve. Drummer Rigby’s real army is a vivid contrast to the imaginary army serving an imaginary nation that his murderer claimed to belong to.
The other extremists are just as subjective
This subjectivity and idolatry of one’s own opinion manifests itself in many other ways. We see it in the animal-rights extremists, who have set up their own warped, subjective moral code and demand that others adhere to it – a code that justifies abuse of their fellow human beings in the name of their own idea of what rights animals possess. We see it when traitors such as Edward Snowdon, who took the view that his own nation fell short in his own opinion and therefore acted in breach of the laws of his land to reveal secrets he was under a duty to keep. A particularly dreadful example of this subjectivity and vainglorious philosophy is of course Julian Assange, who would rather see the West’s enemies benefit and her allies suffer than put aside his own ego.
Well, the common trap that ensnares all these people together is the sanctity to which they grant their own opinions, regardless of common values and shared traditions. Whether in the name of religion, as with Drummer Rigby’s murderers or in pursuit of some skewed political ideology as with Juian Assange, these people share the same idolatry of their own opinions.
The danger of Liberalism leading to relativism
The danger is that the West, in attempting to remain true to its values of freedom and liberty is falling into the very same trap of accepting someone’s opinion is true simply because it is held – the danger of relativism and multiculturalism. Tolerance is the sacred value of the West, which stems from its Christian heritage. Tolerance means not persecuting that with which you disagree, it does not mean the values of society and our culture are neutral. Replace tolerance with relativism and the moral authority is lost.
For example, how can you argue with the Islamic extremists without any grounding in faith yourself? It is impossible to reject beliefs as false if you yourself do not believe in truth! The greatest disrespect to all religions is to say that they are all equally valid, which means in effect they are all nonsense and invalid; rather the truly tolerant outlook is to remain true to our Christian values and to tolerate and speak to other faiths on that basis. Not all beliefs are equally valid, many beliefs are wrong (as manifested on the Woolwich street)– but that cannot be said without we ourselves holding to a belief in something that is true.
Conservatism is the way to counter extremism
Conservatism is about accepting that our values are handed down to us and that we are shaped by that heritage. We are not able to reinvent a whole set of universal values ourselves as we can only have a partial view. Reject what is handed down to us and we lose the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors.
Now that does not mean accepting longstanding injustices, but continually comparing what is with what should be according to those inherited values. Thus William Wilberforce in light of his Christian faith opposed slavery and Emily Hobhouse fought against Lord Kitchener’s camps for the Boers. On the other hand, the Islamist extremist, the animal-rights extremist, the followers of Assange have all lost touch with their inherited values and turned their own, partial opinions into idols. Only conservatism, by recognising civilization is based on shared, tried and tested values, can resist this subjective relativism and act as a force for moderation and piecemeal reform.