Why does the Left so often abstain from defending not only American interests but, after September 11th, the United States itself? During the Cold War, one could always suspect that democratic socialists lusted in their hearts for Leninism, and might have given themselves over had the balance of power shifted eastward. This was at least a plausible explanation for their opposition to virtually any measure of Western defense, and their perpetual horror of anti-Communism. But no force, it would seem, should be capable of transforming even a lifetime of socialist ardor into sympathy for absolutist mullahs, 10th-century tribal warriors, decapitators, and circumcisors of women.
It would make no sense. And yet as the immense plumes of smoke and dust still were rising in strength from the ruins of the World Trade Center, and not a single shot had been fired or a single soldier sacrificed in what was to become the War on Terrorism, the worldwide Left mobilized instantaneously to assert that such a war—the particulars and extent of which it could not know—would be unjust.
It is true that since then many opponents and proponents of the war, despite being not even decimally aware of pertinent facts or relations, have managed to enlarge their unexamined notions into either complex and disconnected conspiracy theories involving oil, or manic crusader-atavistic visions of remaking the Arab and Muslim worlds, and that the dust from these ignorant armies as they debate with the finesse of English football hooligans rises into a plume of its own. But, like a mammoth perfectly preserved in ice and uncomplicated by subsequent infections, the Left's purely reflexive impulses immediately following September 11 are worthy of attention.
Most remarkable is the initial and continuing indifference both to those who perished and to the country itself as it came under attack. On a political level, the Left could summon no indignation after assaults upon America's capital, defense headquarters, civil aviation, embassies, warships, and chief city, any one of which would be a classic and unambiguous casus belli, while in strange contrast it seemed to regard the mere presence of Americans in Saudi Arabia, the trade in oil, and the Arab world's exposure to American popular culture as unpardonable aggressions.
Irrationality on a political level from these quarters has never been a shock. On a personal level, however, the predominant response of the intellectual Left was a mystery. It was as if the thousands of crushed and incinerated men, women, and children—those who threw themselves into a quarter-mile abyss rather than have the flesh seared off their bones as they stood in the wind at glassless walls, the small children who died in terror after watching hysterical fanatics slit the throats of screaming stewardesses, and so on, for there are almost three thousand stories—simply did not exist. How does one explain such an egregious absence of sympathy (much less assertions that "they" deserved it, or that it was a work of art) among endlessly self-proclaiming empathetics whose stock in trade is to milk compassion even from the Rock of Gibraltar? This is a real rather than a rhetorical question, because it is significant of a great division.
The nature of one's reaction to aggression against one's country will often be determined by whether one sees the polity primarily as individuals who must struggle with the imperfection of being bound into a collective, or as a collective that must overcome the circumstantial imperfection that it comprises individuals. For wildebeest thundering across a plain in Africa, it takes a village. The herd defends itself by sacrificing a minuscule proportion of its number and moving on. If the herd were to turn upon the jackals preying upon it, the jackals would be pulverized almost instantly. Nonetheless, if the price for the escape of ten thousand is the sacrifice of only a few, that is how it is done when the collective is paramount.
But animals like bears, tigers, and lions, that wander individually or in small groups, know that their survival depends upon how they fight, and their willingness to fight is so well understood that they are seldom attacked, whereas to a predator a herd in flight is a living contradiction of the maxim that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Mankind is not a genetic set piece, divided into lone wolves and lemmings, but rather the division is a reflection of habituation to the collective—indeed, worship of it—as opposed to a habitual resistance to it. Capitulation and appeasement may sometimes be merely subcategories of a controlling impulse that produces both. When the Left bends to America's enemies it may not be a result of cowardice or betrayal, but of loyalty to the omelette so single-minded that it precludes consideration of the eggs.
At times, of course, the collective should take precedence. It is a matter of finding the appropriate balance for impulses that contend eternally because man was created as an individual and yet there is more than one of him. And, depending upon the wind, one must occasionally tack to port even if one's preference is to tack to starboard. But by its hostility to virtually every part of the War on Terrorism, and its continuing assertion that in this war almost every step America has taken is an unnecessary and wasteful overreaction, the Left implicitly makes the argument that the dead of September 11 represent only one one-hundred-thousandth of the American population, and that although intelligent people understand the implications of this, the impatient jingoes who "control" the country do not.
After all, a herd of 100,000 wildebeest would neither miss just one of its number, nor even pause to reflect. But where the Left in all its wisdom gravely miscalculates is that the dead of September 11th were not wildebeest, and neither are we. That is why America, for all its failings and sins, has not gone down, and will not go down, on bended knee.