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We are better than them. When all the other arguments for why we can’t fight back have been exhausted this is the one that remains in the background presenting our moral exceptionalism as the reason we shouldn’t fight to protect ourselves.
“Fight back? But then we’d be no better than them?” If we waterboard then we are no better than the headchoppers and mutilators. If we profile then we are no better than the genocidal jihadists. If we treat our friendly Pakistani and Saudi visitors the way they would have been treated a century ago– then we would be guilty of being un-American.
But is that really the difference between us, that we treat everyone equally even when they are cutting our throats, and the moment we deviate from the standards of the Trial Lawyers Association then we’re no better than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda? Does our exceptionalism derive from our laws, in which case if we compromise our laws then we give up the only worthwhile thing about us and there is nothing more to fight for– or are our laws the means by which we protect our individual and national exceptionalism?
We are better than they are, is the argument put forward so often by those who do not truly believe that we are, and even when they do they don’t understand why we are. The Bill of Rights did not spring full-grown out of a barbaric culture, nor did any of the same judicial rulings and quotes so often used by advocates of the 10 percent defense plan.
We are not better than they are because we guarantee civil rights to our enemies– we are better than they are because of Michelangelo, the microchip and universal education. We are better than they are because of Shakespeare, the space shuttle and the World Trade Center. We are better for all the reasons around us, the accomplishments, the achievements, the knowledge we have gained and the society we have built.
Our laws were crafted to protect these achievements, the exceptionalism of the individual from the government, and that of the nation from internal and external enemies. The laws have no individual life apart from the culture of the nation that created them and maintains them. It would be possible to transpose the United States Constitution to Indonesia, Libya or Pakistan and it wouldn’t last a single day there. No mere document can safeguard rights and freedoms that a culture does not value, and no culture that does not value them is deserving of their protection if such protection has the cumulative effect of destroying those same rights and freedoms.
Freedom isn’t just defended on the battlefield, by the time things get that bad then the damage will be hard to contain. We defend it every day by defending the culture that makes it possible. Against external enemies there is the war of armed conflict, economic competition and geographic positioning. Against the internal enemy there is the culture war, the war of ideas and institutions.
Who we are is seen in the connections that define our culture and those connections tell us who we are. Rewire the human brain so that its connections are no longer streamlined and identity breaks down into fragments of things that no longer make sense. The same is true of a culture, lose the connections and you end up celebrating holidays you don’t understand and fighting for things that feel intuitively right, but no longer seem to fit into the new order of things. It is the task of the culture warriors to rebuild those connections so that the culture understands itself.
Connections don’t just store information, they define priorities by reminding us which thing is dependent on the other. They remind us that governments sre instituted to keep laws and laws are implemented to keep the people. Governments serve the law, but the law serves the people.
And the people are not some random mass, they are not defined by passports and identity cards or place of birth– the people are the keepers of the flame of their culture. This need not be a matter of birth, immigrants can be among the greatest heroes and natives among the greatest traitors. But no one who is committed to the destruction of the culture, in concrete or abstract terms, in the immediate present or the indefinite future, can enjoy the protection of legal codes that exist to protect the freedom of the individual within the integrity of a free culture.
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