Compulsion And Virtue

What really makes the historic American dream and the nature of the country and society it has nurtured different from the goals of Islam and the nature of the countries and societies it has spawned? This is an important issue facing America, indeed all Western societies, as they deal with the radical Islamic terrorist threat now facing them.

What I see at the heart of the differences between these two fundamentally different systems is the nature of virtue and whether compulsion is a means to achieve it. I take a large view perspective when examining this subject, informed by my Christian faith, and I have to admit that there has been a change in my opinion as I have grown in my life as a Christian. I started out being very much on the side of compulsion, but over the years experience has tempered my view. My current thinking is reflected in the words of Dinesh Souza, an immigrant who arrived at the age seventeen from India, who said in a recent book about America (What’s So Great About America?), “Compulsion cannot produce virtue; it can only produce the outward semblance of virtue.”

This premise is at the heart of how American democracy and its root, the historic Judeo/Christian worldview, works. This central tenant effects all of our decisions about how to direct or change the nature and course of our country and culture, as well as our response to things like the radical Islamic terrorism or European anti-Americanism we now face.

You might rightfully remind me that compulsion is often necessary, which is clearly demonstrated by the enduring institutions of courts, police, armed forces, and even government itself. You would be right, but you would miss the point. While those are the accoutrements of all functional societies, within American democracy (as different say from communism or European socialism), they only constrain the outward edges of our behavioral boundaries.

Historically, police kept general public order, the courts enforced the minimum laws necessary to make the society work, which citizen government passed only as they were needed, and armed forces were primarily defensive in nature. Traditionally, America has been governed primarily by its social mores, agreed upon morality, and the community norms that generally determined the extent of our compulsive efforts, in short its virtue. American experiments with more draconian efforts of compulsion have proved destructive to our society and did little, if anything, to change the behavior of most of us. The criminalization of alcohol and drugs did not prevent their use. We gave up our efforts to stop the consumption of alcohol, but not until it had succeeded in creating an entrenched criminal class, financed by profits from illegal booze sales, which also ended up corrupting everything else, including those very institutions which were supposed to be enforcing the compulsion. The same destructive cycle has repeated itself with drugs, building not just an expanded American criminal class, but a worldwide criminal underworld financed by the sale of illicit substances that compulsion cannot eradicate.

That said, how are we different from Islam and its means of compulsion, Sharia law? As I said, American democratic principals, formulated from Roman common law and tempered by basic Judeo/Christian theology, touched only the edges of compulsion, while Islam seeks to control, with the compulsive force of intrusive law, every aspect of human existence. It not only sets the outer boundaries of behavior, but it defines everything inside those boundaries. In addition, since in true Islam there is no separation between church and state, Islamic societies are at their heart radical theocracies. But they are not theocracies in the sense of the Holy Roman Empire or early Israelite government, in which mercy and forgiveness played a fundamental part. No, in Islam there is no mercy because no man can forgive another’s sin or pay another’s debt, which also extends to government, law, and the courts. At the heart of America and its Judeo/Christian heritage is the extension of mercy and forgiveness, of atonement and freeing of those held by the bonds of their failure. It is no accident that slavery was abolished in the Judeo/Christian West and America, while it is still practiced to this day within Islam in the subcontinent of Africa and in some sense generally encouraged when you consider what Islam says about the women of conquered enemies. This has been seen recently in Islamic religious opinions, as well as in material taken from school textbooks in Islamic countries that argue that conquered Jewish woman will become Arab sex slaves.

The all encompassing, absolute demands of Islamic law, embodied in the state and untempered by mercy, causes an ongoing progression that when taken to its logical extreme states that the law is absolute and not just proscriptive, but prescriptive, invading even such common physical actions as which side to sleep on and how to wash upon arising. As fatwa is added to fatwa, the prescriptive nature of Islam eventually leads to the extremes of the Taliban, which far from being an aberration of Islam is the natural progression and expression of its fundamental requirements.

We Americans, still holding the memory of our Judeo/Christian heritage within our national soul, want to forgive Islam for its excesses, to extend mercy and redemption to our enemy. We seek to change them, not to compel them, only doing so as a last resort. We want to reason with them, meeting them with reasonableness and mercy. However, they will not and cannot return the favor. There is no forgiveness for us. They cannot offer it, for they do not posses it. They only have compulsive judgment available for them to offer us as fitting expressions of Sharia law, which by fundamental belief they must extend where ever they place their foot, and that foot is coming. A dread Armageddon calls from the Islamic heart of darkness and no forgiveness can be offered to those who reject it, which includes all Jews and Christians, as well as Hindus, Buddhists, and any other non-Islamic faith. The only options for us are conversion or judgment, slavery, and death.

So, how do we, who touch only the edges of compulsion and by nature offer forgiveness even to the worst of enemies, deal with what seeks to overwhelm us? Knowing from experience the limits of compulsion, how do we deal with those who would use our forgiveness and freedoms to destroy us? In the past we would have called upon the virtue of the nation to step forward and fill the gap that compulsion cannot cross. It now appears that the well of virtue is nearly dry, as corruption upon corruption appears to be the order of the day.

We are stuck, caught between the rock of increasing, but ineffective compulsion to deal with the threat, which we know from experience will eventually fail, and the hard place of the loss of fundamental virtue, which in the past would have bridged the gap. We are desperate and in need of revival, of a resurgence of faith and the virtue it engenders. Not only our survival, but our national soul is at stake, for if we lose that would survival even have any meaning? It is time to pray and to pray earnestly for I believe that we are at a historical nexus point, at a point of choice that will seal our fate.

This I pray. God have mercy. Remember Sodom and your promise to Abraham. You needed only ten to avert the coming destruction. We offer millions, many millions of hearts bowed to your will, asking for your mercy. Hear us, O Lord, and restore in us the virtue we need to meet the coming threat. By your grace give us the wisdom to choose rightly and act justly, with mercy and compassion tempering our justice and retribution. Do not abandon us, O Lord, to our sin and weakness, but empower us to change the heart of our nation so that its virtue will reflect your goodness and our actions your will. Amen.

  2 comments for “Compulsion And Virtue

  1. August 18, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    Alexis de Toqueville said the same thing, which is where, I suppose, Dinesh is drawing his assesment from. When most of the people in America were Christians of one sort or another, we policed ourselves. As time goes on and less of us are morally constrained from the inside, we are going to need more external compulsion. American society has been coasting on the drive created by that former inward constraint, but I think about half of that inertia is gone, and we’re starting to need that external compulsion to keep our society going. In the long run, it won’t help us. We are doomed as a society in the long-run if we don’t recapture that inward constraint.

    When you read what Cato the Elder wrote about Roman “virtues”, they are exactly what early American virtues were: industry, modesty, humility, etc. Such inward behavior always results in long-term success. But, the Romans success led them to shed that inward behavior, and the same thing has happened to us.

    The problem with Islam is that it is completely externally enforced. But, that attracts a lot of people. In fact, members of cults and otherwise behaviorally difficult religions generally have a much more committed base of believers, than Christianity does, because straightjacketing one’s behavior is much more of a challenge than Christianity, which isn’t about that.

  2. August 18, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    When your rules are all eternal, you don’t have to think very much and the struggles become simple and direct. To some people that is appealing.

Comments are closed.