In the debate over a proposed Jihad-sedition law — a law at once designating the threat of sedition on principles of Jihad a threat of highest gravity, and giving legal teeth to that designation — one response commonly heard, though more whispered than shouted, is that, “it will never pass.” I have written about this proposal several times over a period of over a year, but the impermanence of the Web medium makes it as though each proposal is quite novel and shocking — so I have some sense for how this thing strikes readers. A sizeable group, even at a place like Redstate, are inclined react with predictable antagonism to the proposal; some are even thrown into unreason by their shock; but others merely react with what we might call a conjecture of impotence, a preemptive prediction of failure.
Curiously enough, the conjecture is very often attached to some comment along lines of: “it would be great,” or even, “it would be just and righteous.” The statement amounts to this: I support your proposal, but give it up, man, ‘cause there aint no chance. Now my question is this: if indeed the proposal is favored, why answer it with such a declarative prediction of failure? Why answer in the negative on the speculation that it will fail, if you believe it should justly succeed? What purpose does this serve?
There are other examples of this preemptive conjecture of failure, even in a debate right next door, as it were. Men of high stature, men who have done well and bravely exposing the threat of the Jihad, still state flatly that unless we democratize or otherwise civilize the Islamic world, we are doomed. They teach men to have hope only in revolutionary democracy, and no other. They dismiss all other proposals for a domestic strategy with bombastic gestures [scroll down to "Islamophpbia"]. What madness is this? It would be as if the Federalists, fearful of the French Revolutionaries (a wise fear, considering that that mob set the world on fire), had told us there could be no escape from them save by answering their revolt with an even more thorough and martial one of our own; and then spent time and resources sneering at anyone who said maybe less spectacular measures are sufficient.
For of course, as I have explained at length, sedition is not something terribly novel to our Republic. The Jihad is novel as a domestic threat (we have engaged it in foreign hostilities before); but our mechanisms for addressing this category of thing — organized internal sedition and subversion — are ample and tested. We have fought and bested revolutionary movements before with these mechanisms. Let us take them up again boldly as tools of war against this wicked movement of men, this newest anticipated revolution to destroy our beloved Republic and replace it with something far, far less noble and free.
It is a fact that in postwar America most of the real successes of Conservative legislation were first greeted, as proposals, with derision and hostility — enough, indeed, to persuade the excitable than they “will never pass.” A study of Reagan’s tax cuts, and the economic theory behind them, will show abundant derision and predictions of failure. A study of his missile defense proposals will show even more of the same. Theorizing on welfare reform began among certain right-wing social scientists almost before the War on Poverty had been fully implemented, and was predictably sneered at; until it was passed, and signed into law (by a Democrat). Other examples abound. I think it was Milton Friedman who said that any innovative reform proposal will require about thirty years from proposal to enactment. This latest round of controversy over the sedition law began when I suggested that Conservatives ought to get behind this the Jihad-sedition law, because it is right, it is wise, and it is our tradition as Americans.
So why these conjectures of impotence? My worry is that their roots lie in the sterile soil of despair. Despair is a state of mind characterized by a want of hope; but there is always hope. I offer this, that hope is in our domestic tradition of dealing with sedition. But despair, I fear, is also what lurks behind all our braggadocio about democracy and the American destiny to bring it to the world. A cold terror lingers on the possibly that this dream could be removed, this illusion dispelled. Retreat from despair my friends! It is leading you astray. We do not need to transform a civilization and a religion to subdue the Jihad. We are not so impotent as that. We have other tools, and those substantially less ambitious and precarious; and more than that, less likely ignite horrifying consequences. No American sedition law has threatened to extinguish a whole people, as our democratic idealism is threatening to extinguish Iraqi Christians. We should use these tools, and not dishonor them because there are smaller and humbler than Revolution.