I’ve been going through the online course offered by Hillsdale College called Public Policy from a Constitutional Viewpoint. Last week was week six. The lecture, given by Will Morrisey, professor emeritus of politics at Hillsdale, was on “Terrorism and Foreign Policy.”
|Professor Will Morrisey|
What caught my attention was how he defined terrorism, using the concepts of tyranny and civilization. There are three interrelated ideas: political freedom versus tyranny, economic freedom versus coerced or controlled economy, and civilization versus savagery. That sounds like we’re describing the Spherical Model.
The half-hour lecture is coherent, so it’s hard to pull out quotes without missing some of the flow of the argument (which is why I spent the day transcribing the whole thing, as a starting point, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything). So I recommend the entirety. [It may require signing up for the class in order to view, but there is no fee.]
Here’s a key: as it says in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” and “they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Morrisey uses the word regime to mean, “the most authoritative form of ruling in a political community.” He calls the type of regime we have in America a democratic republic—democratic because it is not based on any right by birth to rule, but all citizens are equal; republic because, rather than directly ruling ourselves, we elect representatives. He also calls us a commercial republic, a term I hadn’t heard before:
In addition to being a Democratic Republic, we’re also a Commercial Republic. And on the same natural rights foundation. Commerce, or trade, is the practice of self-government in the realm of economic life. Commerce and trade operate by persuasion, not command and coercion. In both our political life and our political economy, Americans rule themselves by consent.
Consent isn’t mere assent, or acquiescence. Consent means reasoned assent. Whether it comes to selecting a congressman or buying a house, either way we’re comparing and contrasting; we’re thinking about the choice we’re about to make.
A regime consisting of a tyrant or of an oligarchy, commanding a military and a secret police, enforcing edicts on who is to rule us and on what we buy and sell, with most of the profits going to the tyrant or the oligarchs, would leave a people with very different habits of mind and heart than a people that had established a democratic and commercial Republic.
To live in a tyranny or an oligarchy is to have a different mental and moral environment. And the founders of tyrannical and oligarchical regimes know that.
Both political and economic freedom require consent, as opposed to coercion. This is background to the “what is terrorism” question. Here’s the simple definition:
Terrorism is savagery deployed as a technique by rulers or would-be rulers.
He adds more detail later, in describing the definition that has been with us since the Declaration of Independence.
Terrorism, a form of warfare and of ruling that refuses to distinguish ages, sexes, and conditions, aims at ruling not by reason, but by fear. Terrorists attack civilians. This is true of terrorist organizations that don’t control territory—the old Irish Republican Army, Al-Qaeda, for example—and those that do control territory, and indeed control sovereign states—the Nazis in Germany, the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, the Maoists in China.
But more than that, terrorism is anti-civilian in a much deeper sense; terrorism attacks civility itself, the habits of self-government by reasons persuasion. It seeks command with no backtalk. And it does so because, whether it’s deployed against civilians and against civility, by the Nazis and Communists of yesterday, or the jihadis of today, it denies the principle of the American founding that “all men are created equal.”
Alternatively, it may deny that all those we call men are really men, really human at all.
His definition is broader than I would have used. I would have called the Nazi and Soviet regimes unjust wars, but their attempt at gaining territory was mostly military. However, where they purposely targeted civilians, including people living in their own countries, Morrisey and I agree on definition.
So, terrorism, committed by either a state or a group, is a war crime; it attacks all ages, sexes, and conditions. It is savage, not civilized. It intends to rule, not according to the will of the people, but by coercion. It intends to impose and enforce tyranny, both political and economic tyranny.
He notes that those who claim “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” are usually Americans—and they are Americans who fail to remember what their regime is: a way of protecting life, liberty, and property. More than that, terrorists who claim to be freedom fighters or soldiers of God are nevertheless terrorists if they fail to value life—and fail, even to view all humans as human.
He tells this story from shortly after 9/11.
An Arab television station aired a film in which a three-year-old girl was asked, “What are the Jews?” “The Jews,” she answered dutifully, “are apes and pigs.”
Such a catechism of contempt flows from the rejection of natural right. It forms habits of mind and heart consistent with the regime of tyranny. Tyranny enshrines not the natural rights to life, but the right to kill.
The Islamic version of terrorism is new, but tyranny—and its refusal to value all lives as equally human—has been around all along.
Either you value all lives equally, or you don’t. In America we do. One example Morrisey shares is about the natives of the continent:
When fighting the American Indian nations during and after the Revolutionary War, George Washington and the other founders distinguished between what they understood as the savage nations and the civilized ones. For example, they referred to the Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, the Creek, and Seminole Nations as the five civilized tribes. Civilized Indian nations that were not allied with the British Empire against us were not the enemy. Some of them even fought on our side.
The early Americans settled land for these civilized tribes, gave them farming implements, and intended to live peaceably together. Morrisey acknowledged, later in the lecture, that there were unfortunately times the nation failed to follow its own policies, as in the Trail of Tears. It isn’t, of course, a matter of race the determines who is savage, but the behavior.
Early on, during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he faced, not terrorism, but piracy, sponsored by the Muslim states of Morroco, Algiers, and Tripoli. Jefferson was no isolationist when it came to keeping our trade lanes clear.
But Jefferson fought, not all Muslims, but those whose savage behavior was intended to ruin the democratic and commercial republic that was the fledgling United States of America.
While there were very few Muslims in America early on, we can see how the founders treated various religions in general.
There were few if any Muslims in the United States in the 1790s when he was president. But we do know the way Washington thought about religious congregations generally. Among his first acts as president were his letters to the major American religious congregations, his own Episcopalians, but also Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Quakers, and perhaps most importantly Jewish congregations in Newport, Rhode Island.
Although European regimes had reestablished one or several types of Christianity as politically privileged, Washington’s America was having none of that. The government of the United States, he told all of them, “welcomes members of any religious confession insofar as they conduct themselves as good citizens of the United States.” [from “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation,” August 18, 1790]
Although many American protestants had looked with asperity at Catholics, and peoples around the world had persecuted Jews, Washington and the other founders cared only that citizens act like citizens, obeying the laws respecting the civil and natural rights of their fellow citizens. “No set of religious practices consistent with American constitutional law will be grounds for denial of civil rights by the American federal government.”
The simple way was the best way—don’t judge the religious people on their beliefs, but look at whether they live as good citizens. They need to support our laws, and value and respect the natural rights of their fellow citizens.
The lecture was, on the whole, about developing policy, so it ends with this:
Any American foreign policy must first understand what America is, what we stand for. Confusion on that basic point can only yield confused policy.
After clarifying who we are, the next priority for American citizens who think about our foreign policy must be to identify the primary enemies of our regime and rank them in order of danger…. In dealing with the terrorists we must take care not to exhaust ourselves, leaving our country vulnerable to more formidable powers.
The third and last priority is the strategic one. Setting a strategy, choosing allies, calibrating diplomatic, economic, and military actions to weaken and eventually defeat the terrorists. No simple rule can guide us in that strategy, because it’s a matter of practical judgment on the spot.
In such judgments we should take care to guard our sovereignty, our self-government, by recurring to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which can and should both animate our actions and restrain.
So, to summarize, we need to have confidence in who we are: the people who believe in freedom, free enterprise, and civilization—because we have God-given rights to life, liberty, and property. We live in peace with those who believe those same things. Those who want to impose some other regime on us must be resisted to the fullest extent.