KLAVAN: We’ve Already Forgotten

Civilians flee as a tower of the World Trade Center collapses September 11, 2001 after two airplanes slammed into the twin towers in an alleged terrorist attack.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

It wasn’t September 11, 2001, that made me a political conservative—a believer, I mean, in the intentions and philosophy of the American founding. I had already seen into the lie of leftism by the time the Islamic terrorists hijacked our jets and attacked. But the reaction of our cultural elite to those acts of mass murder convinced me I could not keep my conservatism silent.

I had been living out of the country for years before that. I had not fully realized how drastically wrong our culture had gone. The first shock of realization came from comedian David Letterman, then the host of “The Late Show” on CBS. As I recall it, Letterman took a few days off after the atrocity. When he returned, he spoke about trying to come to terms with what had happened.

It was either then or soon after that he asked a question that would become common among left-leaning celebrities, academics, and commentators: Why do they hate us?

And I immediately thought: Who cares? The version of Islam that drove those butchers to action was a low, ugly, stupid, and wicked creed centered on an oppressive god who was not God. Asking why those skeevy creeps hated a free Judeo-Christian nation like the United States was like asking why Hitler or Stalin hated us. They hated us because their life philosophy had turned them into hateful little sidewalk stains worthy only to be scraped off the soles of our shoes.

That is what bad ideas do to you. They’re like roads leading into the dark: once you accept their premises and start walking, you will end up in a land of midnight evil.

This is where our national conversation—if you can flatter the current idiotic screamfest with such a name—so often goes off the rails. We’re so busy tweeting gotchas at each other’s human failings that we don’t argue the real issues: ideas. Ideas and the policies that ideas produce.

Marxism is not a bad idea because Bernie Sanders is evil, but Bernie Sanders, given the chance, will do evil because Marxism is a bad idea. It operates on the same principle as slavery: you do the work, little man, and we in the big house will decide how to spend the fruits of your labor. Critical Race Theory is not a bad idea because Black Lives Matter protestors are violent. Those thugs are violent because they are in thrall to a bad idea. Critical Race Theory is racism. That’s everything it is.

Multiculturalism is a bad idea too. It is a product of moral relativism, which is even worse. Of course some cultures are better than others. The freer they are, the more tolerant they are, the more structured around sound moral principles they are, the better they are. To make excuses for lesser cultures is to patronize wickedness. No one says, “Oh, the pre-war American South should not be judged for keeping slaves. That was their culture!” Why then would anyone say that Islamic nations should not be judged for oppressing women or making war on unbelievers?

And again, it is not the flaws of a people that should be our central concern. The stock phrase “we aren’t perfect,” is a waste of breath. Nothing on earth is perfect. The point is: Our ideas are good. They are better than anyone’s. And some of them are better than anyone will ever have. The idea of individual liberty (because there is no other kind of human liberty), the idea of government in service to that liberty, the idea of equality before the law—these are pinnacles of human thought. There is no progress from them. Once you leave a pinnacle, you’re headed down. There is only progress toward these ideas. You behave more in keeping with them or less. That’s it.

For a few days after 9-11, we understood all this. We bought flags. We remembered what we stood for. We knew that evil exists and can be embodied in the actions of human beings. We saw clearly that, despite our flaws, our ideas are right and the ideas of the Islamists are wrong.

Those days are over now. Our late night hosts are all Lettermans. Our journalists are corrupted by leftism. Leftism has turned too many of our academics into intellectual buffoons. The Marxists, the racists, the multiculturalists, and the relativists are setting our cities on fire, and our sports teams and our businessmen and even some within our various governments are bending the knee to their bad ideas.

We say “Never forget,” but too late, we’ve forgotten. The lessons of 9-11 are lost. We need to remember what, for a few moments on that day, we knew.

We need to buy more flags.

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