The aurora borealis and the illusions of the West
By Roberto de Mattei | 8 November 2023
The Wall Street Journal of 1 November published an interesting article by Jakub Grygiel, a professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. The article entitled “Three foreign-policy illusions” shows how the errors made by the West in the face of the Russian war in Ukraine, the aggression of Hamas and Iran against Israel and the threats of China in the Pacific region are based on three illusions, deeply rooted in the American and European mentality.
The first illusion is that:
“[L]eaders are responsible for wars and these countries are our rivals only because of their bad leaders. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the Ukraine invasion at the United Nations Security Council in September 2022, ‘One man chose this war. And one man can end it.’
“But the war isn’t only Vladimir Putin’s; it is Russia’s war. In a June 2022 poll, 75% of Russians either definitely or mostly supported the actions of Russia’s military forces. … The Russian Orthodox Church is an instigator of the war and has formed a deep culture of Russian nationalism and imperial entitlement that extends beyond the Kremlin. … The hostility of Russia, Iran, China and even Hamas can have deep cultural roots and popular support that allows these actors to engage in lengthy and devastating conflicts. Removing a bad leader or regime doesn’t necessarily turn an enemy into a responsible actor.”
The second illusion cultivated by the West is that:
“[I]nternational organisations and global governance can overcome contentious national and regional politics. Because these institutions are the sources of international order for many Western policy makers, the primary objective of their diplomacy is to bring more states, democracies or not, under their pacifying umbrella. President Franklin D Roosevelt hoped the Soviet Union would behave better once it joined the United Nations, and was willing to postpone hard negotiations with Moscow to have it participate in the founding of the UN. Western leaders hoped China would become a responsible stakeholder in the global order once a member of institutions such as the World Trade Organisation.
“But like Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China hasn’t become a benign geopolitical actor after participating for more than two decades in the WTO. The formative power of international institutions has been greatly exaggerated, and the grand strategy based on it has left the West unprepared for the hard competition, including war, in front of us.”
The third illusion of the West is that:
“[G]reater trade and wealth produce peace. For decades German foreign policy has followed the principle of ‘change through trade’. Berlin thought trading with Russia, China and other bad actors would ease their hostility and turn them into reliable partners. The U.S. thought that trade with China would gradually alter Beijing’s incentives by creating a peace-loving middle class and deeper diplomatic ties.
“The Western bet that expanding trade would overcome ideological differences and political rivalries was wrong. States engage in trade to become wealthy and competitive, not peaceful. Often they want to be wealthy so they can attack their enemies and dominate others. …
“Military might, not interdependence, gives states the ability to act in their best interests without constraints imposed by other powers. Our rivals have been arming while the West, Europe especially, hoped that trade would render military capabilities useless.
“Deep enmities can’t be transcended through leadership changes, international organisations or trade. They can be checked, and when necessary defeated, only through military power.”
To the incisive analysis of Prof Grygiel, we add a fourth illusion of the West: the rejection by many intellectuals and political leaders of any idea of a “clash of civilisations”. Samuel P Huntington (1927–2008), who launched this thesis in his article, “The Clash of Civilizations?” published in 1993, was never a “supremacist”, but could indeed be defined as a historical relativist. Yet it cannot be denied that his theory, thirty years later, has been confirmed by the facts. The “war of civilisations” against the West is in fact proclaimed by Putin, Xi Jinping and many exponents of the Islamic world, which has internal divisions but is united in the fight against the common enemy.
The sophism to which the West is victim is the idea that admitting the existence of a clash of civilisations is equivalent to desiring or provoking it. The thesis according to which one must not speak of a war of civilisations — because it means evoking the possibility of global war, and a global war has its logical conclusion in nuclear war — is the propaganda tool used by those who want to disarm us. When, in the face of threats from their assailants, those who are attacked forgo defending themselves, they have already lost the war. He who rejects the political and moral suicide of the West becomes complicit in this suicide if he thinks that, by remaining silent, he can avert the clash that the enemy proclaims. He who denies the existence of a war of civilisations denies not only the existence of an enemy, but the very identity of the community of destiny to which he belongs. Those conservatives and traditionalists who sympathise with Russia or the Muslim Brotherhood, and are prepared to justify the invasion of Taiwan in order to avert a “global war”, are the “brother-enemies” of that same cancel culture which constitutes the most radical expression of the post-modern left.
Cancel culture has unfortunately penetrated within the Catholic Church, whose highest representatives, starting with Pope Francis, limit themselves to deploring the war, without realising that the peace to which they aspire is not the Augustinian tranquility of order, but chronic instability in disorder. Yet the whole game is played out with the cards showing. Yunis Al-Astal, a preacher and Hamas MP in the Palestinian Legislative Council, addressed the Muslim faithful in a Friday sermon:
“Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was and as was prophesied by our Prophet Muhammad. … Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the capital of the Crusaders, which has declared its hostility to Islam. This capital of theirs will be an outpost for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through all of Europe and then move on to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe.”
An impossible goal? But what would happen if Russia were to prevail in Ukraine, if Hamas, supported by Islam, were to destroy Israel, and if China were to invade Taiwan? This would be a debacle that would confirm the thesis of those who believe that the West is experiencing not its decline, as Oswald Spengler announced one hundred years ago, but its death throes, immersed in profound darkness.
But history is never irreversible, above all when God decides to intervene. On 5 November, an unexpected aurora borealis lit up the skies of Europe and of Italy, where it was seen from the Alps to Puglia. Astronomers have offered the scientific explanations of the optical phenomenon, but one who has a supernatural spirit turns a thoughtful gaze to heaven and wonders if this event might not be connected with the aurora borealis of 1938 and 1939, which according to Sister Lucia of Fatima announced the Second World War. An apocalyptic sign? An aurora borealis can also be a luminous sign of hope, inviting us to judge the things of earth with the eyes of Heaven and reminding us that all the causes and all the effects of what happens in the world have their first principle and their ultimate end in God, the only one who can give peace on earth to men of good will who seek his glory.