The disastrous first World War—what was once called “the Great War” until an even bigger one 25 years later—gutted Europe and made the tyranny of Communism and Fascism possible in the 1920s and 1930s.
The terrible second World War left the Soviet Union in command of huge portions of Central and Eastern Europe. These nations would have to suffer for a half century to finally recover their national freedoms when the Soviet Union and its economy imploded (By the way, this was just as the often unappreciated economist Ludwig von Mises had predicted that in the 1920s. Back then he had warned that, without markets, trying to run an economy with central planning would lead the “communist” Soviet Union to inevitable misery and impoverishment. That was a brilliant analysis that later became apparent in a nation with some of the richest land on earth, yet unable to feed itself).
Today, and for the foreseeable future, we face a problem as profound as Communism or Fascism; the seeming ubiquitous danger of Islamic-Terrorism. And that could bring to Europe, and the rest of the world, the same horrors of both world wars.
The Western world, and even many other nations, are at war, even if many people don’t see it or understand it. Indeed, Western nations, to show their seriousness, should formally declare war on ISIS. That’s because it has publicly declared that it intends to kill not only as many of us as it can behead or blow up or shoot down in the streets of Paris, but destroy our way of life, which is based on centuries of history.
A Danger as Grave as the One Faced in the 1930s
We in the West face a threat every bit as profound and threatening as the threat of fascism in the 1930s and communism through the 1980s: The challenge to Western values. What are our values?
Not every Western nation has exactly the same traditions. However, they all share values that include private property, the rule of law—most especially laws holding governments accountable—the rights of minorities, free elections (many of which are a joke, but that doesn’t negate the concept), independent courts along with bills of rights that limit governments.
All these values and more are now under attack by Islamic-Terrorism.
And these values—-which unite Germans with French people, unite Americans with Italian, English and Irish people as well as countless nations where Western values have spread—are precious. They must be physically and intellectually defended. The former is a tremendous fear because many Western countries, elated over the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in the 1990s, have been letting the quantity and quality of their armed forces go down for over a generation.
Let the Americans Do It
They have been over depending on NATO—and that basically means the United States, now over committed, through an imperial foreign policy, to defending almost everywhere in the world. This leaves the United States in a position similar to the British Empire in the late 1930s. It was an empire with too many commitments and not nearly enough ships and soldiers to go around. This over commitment made some of the British ruling class vulnerable to the blandishments of a Hitler at Munich.
But the intellectual defense of liberty is also very important. We must reaffirm what and why we defend these ideas, which cross borders and are the heritage of centuries of thought. They were often won with the blood of our fathers, mothers, grandparents and of people we should never forget. That’s even though the teaching of politically correct history in our public schools has made many young people unacquainted with the ideas of liberty under law; the ideas of Runnymede, of Coke and the principles of the American and French Revolutions.
Lest We Forget
Without this intellectual capital, the physical might of armies, navies and all the advanced technology in the world aren’t worth much. There will be nothing to sustain people; to justify their sacrifices. It is critically important that men and women of all faiths, of all political points of view, embrace, indeed celebrate, the Western values that are under attack seemingly everywhere today.
What is so precious and so timeless that men and women have died to establish, nourish and defend it?
The classic liberty of the West—-developed not in one place or nations, but in many places and over many historical eras including the best ideas of ancient Greece and Rome— is a way of life. It holds that power must be controlled and subdivided. The latter is a principle that is the heart of the original U.S. Constitution and defended many times by the great Lord Acton, who believed the subdivision of power was one of the great protections of liberty.
Only a people who understand how dear our freedoms are can successfully defend them. It is a truism of life that, when you take something for granted, you often lose it. Are we taking our Western traditions for granted?
Over the next few years, we will learn the answer to that question.