Friday, February 20, 2015
David Brooks is Right That Religious Extremists Seek Glory, But Mostly Wrong That Nationalism Is the Best Cure
David Brooks has a sensible column about religious extremists. What they want, he says, is not the mundane bourgeois solutions of the settled ruling classes - better education and more jobs. Brooks is right that they have the "thymotic urge" for a glorious, heroic life. This is an anti-Enlightenment urge that we still see in all cultures, especially among gangs of young men.
Brooks writes "You can't counter a heroic impulse with a mundane bourgeois response. You can only counter it with a more compelling heroic vision." This is correct.
However, Brooks goes on to say that the best available heroic vision is nationalism. Here I think he errs.
Nationalism is the religion of the modern masses. It is better than nothing. But nationalism has the great drawback of producing nation-state wars, which are even worse than terrorism. The Islamic State is trying to create a Sunni Arab nation-state precisely to mobilize that nationalist impulse. In that they are trying to go Al Qaedi and its imitators one better, to create a more enduring, modern structure.
But nationalism is not a great religion. It falls far short of the beatific vision. It is a very limited god. It may be a help in countering gang-level visions of the heroic impulse, but it is itself a dangerous prescription.