[This review was published in the Winter 2005 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 524-531.]


Book Review


The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?

Tony Blankley

Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005


            This book is important because it illustrates so well a genre that is almost certain to become common, and perhaps increasingly popular, as the West becomes ever more terrifyingly beseiged within a world of anger and resentment.  We can expect many strident “calls to action” by individuals of magisterial personality to whom a “power ahead to victory” strategy seems intuitively right for its directness, but who see only part of the challenges facing the West and whose acceptance of the conventional wisdom on many things imposes conceptual limitations.  We might well call this the “testosterone genre.” 

            It is natural enough when a mortal threat is perceived to flay away at it, and to suppose that if the flaying is done with enough will and strength the threat will crumble before it.  This will work against some threats, and will always appeal to the “man of action,” which is why books predicated on this psychology will be instinctively attractive to many.  The problem, however, is that flaying away is no solution if one is tramping around in a colony of fire ants or sinking in quicksand.  Something more thoughtful is needed.

            Tony Blankley is the editorial page editor for The Washington Times, was a speech writer and senior policy analyst for President Ronald Reagan, and was for seven years press secretary to U. S. congressman Newt Gingrich while the latter was Speaker of the House. His book is of the “action” genre.  Its merit is that it sees well—and will help to raise consciousness about—the demographic threat to Europe arising from Islamic immigration and increasing radicalism, and more broadly the conundrum posed by the interface between a West that has lost energy and confidence and an Islam in turmoil that is overflowing with fervor, resentment, pride and energy.  These are important strengths. The book’s weakness is in its intellectual limitations, which lead to an arguably disastrous strategy.

            Blankley points to the fact that a Europe that has long been experiencing a below-replacement birthrate has allowed an on-going Muslim immigration that has by now brought the Islamic population in Europe to over twenty million.  Many of the newcomers, he observes, do not favor integrating into European society, but even go so far recently as to demand that Islamic law—sharia—be applied to them.  It has gotten to a point where some Islamic sectors in European cities are “no-go zones” for native Europeans.  Beyond the problem of assimilation is the added ingredient that the Muslim population is increasingly infected by Islamist extremism.  So far, there has been little effective opposition to this demographic invasion: “Europe as a whole—but particularly its leadership class—has been in the deepest possible denial.”

            Nevertheless, Blankley is optimistic.  He sees that in the dialectic of push-and-shove that one might well expect in such a situation, the provocations from the extremism itself are already producing some awakening among Europeans.  “Anti-Islamist fear and anger” has begun “to break through the surface calm perpetuated by the European elite….”  Blankley casts this in a context broader even than Europe when he writes that “in the strangest possible irony, the threat of radical Islam is giving the West a second chance to regain its faith in itself.”

            His perception of danger is not limited, of course, to Europe’s internal problem.  He sees that in the world at large “today’s Islamist insurgency is something different from anything we have experienced before.”  Within the world Muslim population of 1.3 billion people, there are the insurgents themselves, who are “murdering large numbers of people in what they feel is their religious duty”; there is a broader circle of those who are “supportive or protective of these killers”; and then there is “a yet larger number of Muslims, while not supportive of such tactics, [who] share many of the terrorists’ religious convictions and perceptions.”  With the advent of Internet communication, the philosophy and techniques of terrorism have spread broadly to individuals within the Islamic world .  “The idea of individual jihad is a particularly critical innovation.”

            All of this is occurring, he says, at a time when the West’s “survival instinct” has been lowered by the regnant ideology of multiculturalism and political correctness, and when the West has lost spiritual vigor through “the average European’s fading faith in God and religion.”  To illustrate the first of these, Blankley tells how “because of a false sense of tolerance and an almost inexplicable ignorance, prison authorities in both America and Europe permit radical Wahhabist mullahs to work inside prisons,” resulting in the enlistment of “a criminal legion into the ranks of Islamic terrorists.”

            Much of his discussion centers on what should be done to counter the existing threats.  Seeing that public concern is rising in Europe and could lead to vigilantism, he calls for Europe’s governments themselves to take the lead in adopting protective measures.  This is largely a matter of much more extensive police work  He agrees with a jurist who says there will have to be “heavier policing of the Muslim community similar to the heavier policing of the Irish community during the period of attacks by the IRA in the UK.”  Sedition laws must be applied to radical Islamists.  To these ends, “some liberal principles of equal protection and the right of free speech will have to be curtailed.”  Blankley sees the vastly extended powers of an executive such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II as a model of what even a free society must do during a time of total war. He calls for wartime powers of propaganda, censorship, domestic surveillance, wiretaps, internment of some non-citizens, biometric national identification cards, and “ethnic profiling.”  He acknowledges the concerns of those who are worried about the effects if such police powers are of long duration, but argues that the presence of such powers, as during the World Wars, must be “for as long as it takes.”  For his part, he doesn’t allow the concern about domestic liberty to cause him to question the wisdom of a strategy of total war.

            It is significant that Blankley doesn’t take the additional step of pressing for a cessation of Islamic immigration into Europe and a deportation of substantial numbers of Muslims already there.  In some things, he is willing to buck “politically correct” thinking, but here he holds fast to sensitivity about a possible charge of “racism”:  Europe’s actions, he argues, must be against “ideas and conduct,” not against the influx of large numbers of Muslims.  He limits himself to urging a strict policing of radical elements within the Islamic population and to “securing borders” by keeping firebrands out.  In this, he manifests both strength and weakness: strength, in that his book evokes consciousness of the Islamic problem; weakness, in that its proposed solution is so palpably inadequate to the purpose.

            On the world scene, the undertaking must be, he says, “to defeat the insurgency on the battlefield and in the war of ideas for the mind of the Muslim world.”  The West must engage in all-out war.  “We must be prepared to be just as ruthless and rational as the Great Generation was in defeating fascism.”  He cites with favor a quote that says that during World War II “it was the peace-loving Americans—once their blood lust was up—who proved to be utterly implacable in dealing destruction and death to the homes, wives and children of the men they faced in battle.”  He wants a Congressional declaration of war against the jihadists, calls for a larger American military, and makes the pregnant suggestion (without being specific) that “additional American military action might be necessary in the Middle East.” 

            A premise behind Blankley’s thinking is necessarily that the insurgency is finite and defeatable (and will stay finite and defeatable) if enough force is applied.  Significantly, he doesn’t ask himself precisely how it is that the insurgency is to be kept from growing ever larger—through the hatreds generated within a population of a billion and a third people—as the United States inflicts “ruthless,” “implacable” and widespread  violence.  If he writes a second book, he might well consider the effects of an expanding worldwide insurgency in the context of asymmetrical warfare that potentially will use nuclear, biological, chemical, cybernetic or other weapons of mass destruction.

            Given a strategy of massive attack, it is hard to see how the solution could come from another aspect to which he gives passing—but only passing—reference.  And that is to quarantine the insurgents, separating them from the great majority of Muslims.  He says that “ultimately… it will be the decent, civilized, non-jihadist Muslims who must reclaim their religion from those who would hijack it.”  But he doesn’t elaborate on what this implies for American policy.  Nor does Blankley explore the important implications in his statement that “American foreign policy has played a part in inspiring the Islamist jihad against us” or in his acknowledgment that it will be well to “keep some distance between the West and Islam.”  Instead of building on these insights, he brushes aside as “isolationist” those who, like Patrick Buchanan, urge that the United States “disengage, end our imperial presence in the Middle East, [and] tell these peoples their form of government is their own business so long as they do not attack our interests.”   And, saying without discussion that “our historic support for Israel remains a moral obligation that is strategically justified,” Blankley indicates his “strong disagreement” with Michael Scheuer’s position in Imperial Hubris that Blankley summarizes as being that “we stop supporting Israel and… keep out of the Middle East pretty much altogether.”  With no suggestions to implement his passing acknowledgments of the possible benefit of a different strategy, Blankley leaves the reader with the message that “we must fight and win.”  In effect, he would have the United States press ever further into a confrontation that will, unless wisely pursued, almost certainly be even more intractable than those seen in the twentieth century against Nazism and then Communism.

            We commented earlier that Blankley’s position, although valuable in the attention it directs to certain threats, is severely limited by conceptual shortcomings.  We have already pointed to some of his blind spots.  Others that deserve discussion include:

            1.  It is surprising how facilely people can justify mass killing.  This reviewer talked with a young “Yeltsin scholar” not long ago whose father had been a KGB agent and who excused Stalin’s killing of millions by a quiet observation that “they were enemies of the regime.”  How many Americans think back to World War II and question the fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, much less the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  If you can hit somebody hard, and expect not to be hit back, it is amazingly easy to talk about (and carry out) the “ruthless and implacable” killing of civilians. 

            This deserves the deepest reflection on both moral and practical grounds.  If being strong and “well-intentioned” justifies such enormities, that is a principle that can have universal application, especially if we substitute “justified by past grievances” or “acting according to the will of God” for “well-intentioned.”  What makes it appear plausible is a double standard based on the hubris of assuming ones own exclusive purity-of-purpose.  The idea that “there is not a moral equivalency between democratic, free societies and their enemies” can only be taken so far.  There are peoples everywhere who are quite prepared to assert their moral or cultural equivalency with (or even superiority over) the United States, and to whom a double standard on the question of life and death must (and does) seem outrageous.  The principle of justified mass slaughter stands Kant’s categorical imperative and the Golden Rule on their heads, and does so in a way that points only to horror.  A reader of The West’s Last Chance can only hope that Blankley will give it some thought.  If, as Michael Scheuer says, Osama bin Laden is seeking to persuade the Islamic masses that a wholesale slaughter of Americans is acceptable, we can hope he doesn’t point to Blankley’s book as ammunition in his effort.

            2.  Even a person who is extremely well read will only have scratched the surface of books and other sources that are pertinent to understanding the world.  No author can be expected to have an exhaustive background on the subject he is exploring, which makes the matter of preparation relative.  Even with that caveat by way of mitigation, however, Blankley seems to come up short in his background knowledge.  It is hard to imagine that someone writing about Europe’s demographic threat and who is also a friend, as he says, of Patrick Buchanan would be oblivious to Buchanan’s much more detailed treatment of the subject in The Death of the West.  (Blankley refers to that book only in a footnote, and that relates simply to the differences in birthrates.)   When Blankley speaks of the suicidal malaise within Europe, particularly among the elite, vis-à-vis the demographic invasion, he would do well to direct the readers’ attention to Jean Raspail’s haunting novel Camp of the Saints, which so vividly described Europe’s paralysis when confronted with a flotilla of a million souls from India.  Nor would Blankley, when he observes that “political correctness” is less insisted upon in Europe than in America, seem aware of Europe’s several “hate speech laws” that could very well cause Blankley himself to be criminally charged for “inciting hatred against Muslims.”  As to seditious speech within the United States, he points out that sixty years ago if someone “spoke in favor of violence against the government or of violently overthrowing the government,” the “American public and the Supreme Court were perfectly prepared to put them in prison.”  It would seem natural, then, that Blankley would make express his disagreement with the Warren Court’s Yates decision, which emasculated the prosecution of Communists by holding that there was a Constitutional right protecting “the abstract advocacy of violent revolution.”  Knowing of that decision and discussing its merits (or lack thereof) would add depth to Blankley’s discussion and cause him to grapple more tangibly with the complexities of his subject.

            3.  Blankley praises “the sensible middle” at the same time he attempts to awaken people in the West from their complacency.  His self-perception as “in the middle” is fully consistent with his acceptance without reflection of conventional views on so many things.  He says, for example, that “when we go into Iraq and try to give Iraqis democracy” the United States is on a “mission of mercy”; and he hopes through globalization to “achieve in the Islamic world what Kemal Ataturk achieved in Turkey—a relatively stable, pro-Western model for Islamic societies.”  This, of course, is directly out of neoconservative doctrine now fashionable in some major Washington think tanks and in the George W. Bush administration, to which it does not seem in the least presumptuous to attempt to remold all the world’s cultures.   And after so much that’s factual has been brought out showing that it’s a myth born out of alienated ideology, it is surprising to find Blankley  repeating the conventional wisdom about how the United States “interned” many thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II.   These are just two examples.  Contemporary shibboleths frame his thinking on a good many subjects.

            4.  Blankley is “sounding the alarm,” but seems unaware of major parts of the predicament the West is in.  He devotes some pages to the United States’ economic problems, such as the rising cost of Medicare, but has nothing to say about the trade imbalances accumulated over recent decades, the deindustrialization of the American economy, the exporting of jobs at all levels of competency, and the loss of capital ownership.  Instead, “the United States is the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth.”   He speaks of “the need to secure our borders” [against terrorists] and sees the threat from “multiculturalism and political correctness,” but never mentions the vast Hispanic immigration invasion, both legal and illegal, into the United States.

            The “bottom line” is that The West’s Last Chance is a very mixed book.  A good many criticisms have been made in this review.  The book and the criticisms are, together, grist for thought.  They should be considered together.  Too often, it seems the varying views on how the West ought best to meet its current predicaments are like ships that pass each other in the night, each unaware of the other’s presence.


                                                                              Dwight D. Murphey