The end of ideology?

The ever-useful Keith Windshuttle has collected a remarkable collection of stupid, wrong-headed, and sometimes downright evil responses from intellectuals to September 11. To my mind the most outrageous case he recounts (pointed out by PC Watch) is the following:

There were some academics who, in the heat of the moment, overlooked the prevailing politically correct speech codes and paid the price. One of these was Charles H. Fairbanks, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. During a panel discussion about September 11, Fairbanks, a well-known conservative, said he favoured the United States retaliating against governments who supported the terrorists. He also said the US would not be able to find bin Laden himself. He added: “I’ll bet anyone here a Koran on that.” A woman in the audience then accused Fairbanks of making “a pathetic attempt at stand-up comedy” and of “innuendos intended to encourage and to assist people in conducting hate crimes toward Muslims.” Fairbanks then apologised for the comment about the Koran. The following day, the Dean of the School of Advanced International studies asked him to write a letter of regret, which he did. The day after that, Fairbanks received a letter from the Dean telling him he was sacked.

What bothers me about the Fairbanks case is that it’s not simply a comment from some thinker who’s pursuing a line of thought, although perhaps far beyond the bounds of good sense, but an institutional decision from within the academic bureaucracy that should provide the intellectual background for American foreign policy.

The overall point of Windshuttle’s article, which he entitles “September 11 and the end of ideology,” is that the cumulative effect of the terrorist attacks could be to widen the split between pro-Western liberals and the radical left, and so ultimately lead to the latter’s collapse:

And if this particular ideology does collapse completely, this may well be momentous. For once the postmodern, multicultural, postcolonial mode of thought has gone, there is no alternative anti-Western ideology waiting in the wings to replace it. If all this comes to pass, we may be witnessing the often predicted, but yet to be realised, “end of ideology” in the West.

I think he’s wrong. The problem is that as it stands now the “West” is radically defective. In order to become geographically universal, and to satisfy fully its longstanding impulse toward rationality, clarity and control, it has jettisoned the particularities of place, people, history, faith and now even family that enabled it to deal adequately with life as a whole and constitute something other than a huge machine of power and indulgence. For that reason, it is increasingly showing itself unable to offer a self-sustaining way of life that people find satisfying—especially people who make demands, like intellectuals. To my mind the answer to the problem is orthodox Christianity. That answer makes demands though, and it appears that it’s not given to everyone. So I’m confident we’ll continue to see substitutes in the form of irrational and destructive anti-Western ideologies. The neoconservative/managerial liberal end of ideology and of history will, I think, remain a perpetually receding will o’ the wisp.

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