In a comment to Surrendering to Army Ants, David Foster, the proprietor of Photon Courier linked to his post from last month, Sleeping with the Enemy. (His link was to an introduction to the post on his blog; I have linked to the full post at Chicago Boyz.) In his post, David discusses a forgotten novel:
Why has the western world shown such loss of will in defending itself from radical Islamic terrorism? Why, indeed, do substantial numbers of people–particularly those who view themselves as intellectuals–endlessly make excuses for dictatorships and terrorist movements whose values are completely at odds with their own stated values–and even romanticize these goons? I think some clues can be found in a forgotten novel by Arthur Koestler.
The Age of Longing (published in 1950) is set in Paris, “sometime in the 1950s,” in a world in which France–indeed all of western Europe–is facing the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion. Hydie Anderson, the protagonist, is a young American woman living in Paris with her father, a military attache. Hydie was a devout Catholic during her teens, but has lost her faith. She was briefly married, and has had several relationships with men, but in none of them has she found either physical or emotional satisfaction…she describes her life with a phrase from T S Eliot: “frigid purgatorial fires,” and she longs for a sense of connection:
David's essay is rich and deep, well worth your time. Koestler joined the Communist party in 1931, in his mid-20s, but became disillusioned with the evils of Communism by the end of the 1930s. In 1940 he published his devastating anti-totalitarian novel, Darkness at Noon.
As noted, The Age of Longing (which I have not read) was published 10 years later and did not achieve the acclaim of his earlier book. However, the excerpts David Foster quotes illustrate Koestler's facility with language and ideas and the artist's ability to penetrate to the soul. The story is complicated. The heroine, Hydie, rejects a man who is appropriate in favor of a committed Communist, Fedya. The characters are all awaiting the inevitable invasion of western Europe by the Russian army and Fedya is part of the Soviet vanguard:
At a diplomatic affair, Hydie meets Fedya, a committed Communist who works for the Soviet Embassy. She is powerfully attracted to him: things get physical very quickly and, from Hydie’s point of view, very satisfactorily. (Fedya is one of Koestler’s best-developed characters. His boyhood in Baku is vividly sketched, and Koestler–himself a former Communist–does a good job in showing how a political faith can become core to an individual’s whole personality.)
The affair blows up when Fedya humiliates Hydie sexually in a way that could only have occurred to a Dialectical Materialist–and, indeed, humiliation was not Fedya’s intent, he was “only” attempting the demonstrate to her the truth of Pavlovian conditioning as an explanation for human behavior. Hurt and furious, she pours out her heart to Julien…who now feels free to tell her the truth about Fedya, a truth he felt unable to divulge while Fedya was Hydie’s lover.
Fedya’s real job, underneath his diplomatic cover, is to collect lists of names–the names of the key people to be killed or imprisoned immediately after the Soviet invasion. Hydie is, of course, horrified, and is particularly appalled that so many people already knew about Fedya’s activities–and did nothing to stop them–while she was blissfully unaware.
Hydie is the epitome of the Western "useful idiot" but it is not her soft ideology that Koestler and David Foster emphasize but rather her reflection of the dissolution and dissipation of the Western idea. David quotes Koestler, and adds his summation:
“Listen, please,” he said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”
“I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…Of course many ugly things are happening in my country. Do you think I do not know about them?…And what difference will it make in a hundred years that there is a little ugliness now? It always existed. In a hundred years there will be no ugliness–only a classless world state of free people. There will be no more wars and no more children born in Black Towns with big bellies and flies crawling in their eyes. And also no more children of the bourgeoisie with crippled characters because they grew up in a decadent society…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…That is why I was not afraid of your little revolver, because you can’t have the courage to shoot me. To kill, one must believe in something.”
Nevertheless, Hydie pulls the trigger…
One one level, this book is sort of a romance novel, with the theme “chicks like self-confident guys.” This is no doubt true, but emphasizing this point wasn’t Koestler’s main reason for writing Age of Longing. Koestler’s deeper theme is that the decline in religious belief in the West (and Koestler himself was certainly no traditional religious believer) has created a hunger for faith which will likely be filled by those who carry their convictions with great certainty.
I could simply quote the entire essay but suggest you go to his post and read the whole thing. It has become trite to note the feminization of the West and the price we are paying for our insistence, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that all people are not just created with equal value (which is actually a fairly vapid idea once any reference to God is removed from societal discourse) but that the absence of equal outcomes must denote societal disrepair. These reflections of our commitment to Political Correctness are a measure of the soft collectivism that even the Republicans have adopted. It is possible that the overt collectivist policies that the current Democratic leadership is pressing will evoke enough of a reaction to stop our progress toward a 21st century quasi-Socialism, but what I find most interesting is that the "ground up" zeitgeist is increasingly at odds with the overt diminution of the rights and responsibilities of the individual.
Societies, as in Europe and parts of Asia, who transition from the potential of empowered individuals to a cheap narcissism risk demographic collapse. If there is nothing more important than the self, sacrifices for another (ie, offspring) are unthinkable and undone. They are then left with no ability or inclination to defend against the predations of more confident Collectives, an apt description of Islam in its current incarnation. A warrior wiling to die for his beliefs is always more appealing to a young woman, who owns the future after all, than an effete, dedicated narcissist.
Pre-industrial Collectivism was the norm. Tribes and ethnically homogeneous groupings were the rule. Individuals were subordinate to the group ethos. Gradually, as the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution matured, ie as increasing numbers of people became increasingly empowered, Collectivist solutions diminished. In reaction to the excesses of Capitalism, Karl Marx introduced a new structure that leveraged the foundations of tribalism (deprivation and envy.) Communism showed itself to be a monumental and monstrous failure in the most human terms; more people were murdered by Communism in the 20th century than in all the religious (ie, tribal) wars before it. If we add in the other 20th century Collectivist ideology, Nazism, a tribal ideology based on race, he deaths attributed to our primitive tribalism in modern guise, numbered in the hundreds of millions. the left was thoroughly discredited by its failures but the collectivist urge, based as it is on the twin human banes of deprivation and envy, can never disappear. No matter how wealthy a society becomes, there will always be some who have less than others, and always some who have less than they desire. Yet, in the 21st century, there is a growing tension between the individual and the collective that is moving powerfully against the collective.
Our technology, in its accelerating acceleration, is making each of us potentially more powerful than individuals have ever been before. There will soon come a time when small communities, perhaps even individuals, will be able to live with all the accouterments of modern high tech existence, with minimal interaction with governing bodies and those who act in the name of the Collective.
It should not be a surprise that just at a pivotal moment when the rights, abilities, and responsibilities of the individual are set to make a quantum leap to a new level, we have a reaction form those who are most insecure about the future. The Left continues to think of itself as the vanguard (no longer of the proletariat perhaps, but of the future course of society.) They pride themselves on being progressives, keepers of the future, yet the most progressive ideas today all involve empowering the individual.
If we surrender to the siren call of pseudo-security, protected by a benevolent government from the vicissitudes of life, we will continue to descend into the morass of Civilizational Insecurity and will find ourselves less and less able to defend our liberties against those who would encroach upon them. Many of our institutions have already surrendered (as for example, our failing and fading Mainstream Media who will almost dare never utter a word that might offend our enemies.) It is likely that the next two election cycles will determine whether or not We, the People, are ready to follow.