The worst of Steyn, redux

Posted at year’s end one year ago was my discussion of Mark Steyn’s explicit call for the destruction of Europe at the hands of Muslims (followed by a must-read discussion by VFR readers). Steyn wrote:

Some of us think an Islamic Europe will be easier for America to deal with than the present Europe of cynical, wily, duplicitous pseudo-allies. But getting there is certain to be messy, and violent.

Until the shape of the new Europe begins to emerge, there’s no point picking fights with the terminally ill.

From which I concluded:

… Steyn is not just a guy using a “trick” to gain personal success. On top of his relatively innocent, con-man aspect, there is his sinister, neocon aspect, in which he fools people into thinking that he’s standing up for the West, when in fact he’s doing just the opposite.

Some found this hard to take. VFR’s Swedish conservative reader wrote:

… I think you are too hard on him when saying that he’s doing the opposite of standing up for the West…. Still, the question that is bugging me is: Aren’t the neocons in general as empty as Steyn is? That the emptiness of Steyn is just expressed in a wittier and more bombastic way.

I replied:

Steyn said it: he WANTS your continent to be Islamized. He’s written off Europe. What more evidence do you need that he’s doing the opposite of standing up for the West?

Swedish conservative:


It’s just so hard to take it in that he’s really saying that. Incredibly hard. I still haven’t completed taking it in…. And I used to admire this man….

Jeff in England also objected to my attack on Steyn:

I can’t believe you’ve wasted all that time going on about Mark Steyn who at least has brought the problem of Islamic takeover and influence to the fore for the mainstream newspaper/blog readers and in an extremely entertaining way. It reminds me of my Weatherman days where we criticised everyone who wasn’t as radical as us (almost everyone) and therefore destroyed “The Movement.”

Well, Jeff has come a long way since then, emerging as the strongest voice at VFR advocating a straightforward challenge to the inadequate or (in Steyn’s case) phony Islam critics. The larger conservative scene, however, hardly presents an edifying picture in this regard. The utterly appalling fact is that the popularity and influence of this half-trickster, half-traitor has actually been increasing over the past year, with many “conservatives” treating him as a major intellectual figure and frequently speaking of him in the adoring terms that are normally reserved for one’s favorite pop star. This is a deeply sick phenomenon, reflecting an advanced degeneration in the Western soul, and we can only hope for more awakenings and turnabouts in the year to come.

By the way, regarding my criticisms of Steyn and others, Robert Spencer wrote to several people yesterday in an e-mail about me:

The bottom line is that this individual is bent on discrediting me, Steyn, Phillips, Pipes, etc. etc.—in short, everyone but himself, so that he will stand as the only trustworthy authority on Islamic and immigration issues. It is an unseemly exercise, embarrassing to watch. I am more interested in making common cause even with those with whom I do not agree on anything. In the larger struggle, we have few enough allies as it is—unless the struggle is to establish Austerism over the West.

Leaving aside Spencer’s more grandiose imaginings about me and my supposed motivations, let’s focus on the charge of “discrediting.” I plead innocent to the charge of seeking to discredit Spencer and Phillips; I have challenged them, hard, on a couple of particular and central points, mainly the inadequacy of their respective positions (or rather non-positions) on Muslim immigration in light of their hair-raising warnings about the dangers of Islam (see this and this); but that is all. I read Phillips with profit, and admire Spencer’s invaluable expertise and insights on Islam (notwithstanding his continued personal attacks on me), and have often recommended their writings. I plead partly guilty to the charge of seeking to discredit Pipes, or, rather, I seek to discredit one aspect of his work, his outrageously contradictory and incoherent treatment of the nature of Islam, which I have critiqued at great length, and which, if we lived in a culture with intellectual standards, would not continue to be published. (And by the way, does Spencer himself think that Pipes’s writings on the nature of Islam have been coherent?) Besides that, Pipes makes an important positive contribution, as I have often said. Also, Pipes’s intentions are not bad, he’s just hopelessly confused on the subject of whether Islam is good or bad, reformable or unreformable, as many people besides myself have come to see. Pipes’s real strength is not as a thinker about Islam, but as an activist against the radical Muslim groups, and in there he makes a tremendous contribution. To say what I’ve just said is not to try to discredit him, but to urge that he focus his efforts in the area where he has something positive and useful to offer, instead of the area where he offers only confusion. However, I do plead guilty to the charge of seeking to discredit Steyn, because he is, as his writings attest over and over again, a traitor to Western civilization.

- end of initial entry -

Jeff writes:

Even though I agree with many of your points about Steyn, I wouldn’t call him a “traitor” to Western civilisation…. that is going a “bit over the top” as the English would say. Plus he’s a funny great writer whom I enjoy reading even when he’s wrong. Oddly enough of all the Suspects, Steyn probably has the most impact in bringing the immigration/demographics issue to public attention as he is read by huge numbers of people.. Only yesterday in an Oxford bookstore my manager friend told me how Steyn’s book, America Alone, is flying off the shelves. While Horowitz and Spencer are not. By the way, we haven’t focused much on Horowitz…. is that for practical reasons?

Here in England the closest thing to traitor is the coach of the England cricket team which just lost five matches to zero in the “Ashes,” a humiliating defeat. Cricket criticism is far more vicious than immigration talk!

LA replies:

His repeated act of either saying with gleeful satisfaction and no sorrow that Europe is imminently doomed to Islamization or positively wishing for Europe to be Islamized, even as he poses as a conservative standing against Islamization, combined with his call for higher birth rates as the sole method of American defense (he doesn’t care about European defense), a method that would have no effect for a generation, even as he says not a word about the one means of American defense that could take effect immediately, immigration, all add up in my mind to the conclusion that he’s a traitor.

Again, in his statement quoted in this blog entry he activately wants Europe to be taken over by Islam, because an Islamic Europe would be “easier for America to deal with” than the current Europe. In the most casual terms, as though it were no big deal, he says an Islamic Europe would be preferable, though he notes ruefully that getting there will be messy and violent. Note that it’s not the Islamization of Europe he regrets, but the messiness and violence that will be required to Islamize it.

If that is not an expression of treason against the West, nothing is.

I’d be interested in hearing arguments showing that such a statement is not treason.

Bruce B. writes:

In displaying indifference to Europe’s fate isn’t Steyn just displaying the essence of neo-conservative/Republican chauvinism ? That is, the belief in American (proposition nation, of course) exceptionalism with the corresponding contempt for “old Europe.”

Spencer wrote: “he will stand as the only trustworthy authority on Islamic and immigration issues.”

I think you have written that there are others who know much more about Islam than you do. I’d bet you see HIM as more knowledgeable on Islam than you are, no? You have criticized him because he can’t finish his thoughts. Your criticisms are right on.

LA replies:

Spencer has an irrational animus against me, and it’s not fun to know there’s a person in the world who is against you that much that there’s nothing you can do about it. As Jeff has pointed out, Spencer turns the truth on its head with his scenario in which he has been nice to me and that I in return out of sheer nastiness or egotism have smeared him personally. Jeff says that because of Spencer’s prestige, he will get people to believe this crazy story, which will obviously have a harmful effect on me. The truth is that it is Spencer who has repeatedly made personal attacks against me, ranging from demeaning personal insults to his statement that I am a racist to whom it isn’t worth talking, to his repeated charge that my legitimate intellectual criticisms of him are “slurs,” “smears,” and “calumnies,” and those supposed “smears” by me then become his justification for his attacks.

As an indication of how wild is his present statement about me, does he actually think that I think that I have a better understanding of Islam than he, whom I consider the best and most authroritative writer on Islam and jihad in America? He had to accuse me (who am not an authority on Islam nor have I have claimed to be one) of wanting to be “the only trustworthy authority on Islamic and immigration issues,” rather than just “the only trustworthy authority on immigration issues,” because if he had written the latter, he would have gotten uncomfortably close to the unobjectionable truth about me, which is that I have a legitimate disagreement with him on the Muslim immigration issue, rather than that I am trying to eliminate him as an authority on Islam.

Indeed, I don’t think I have ever written a single word challenging anything Spencer has said about the nature and doctines of Islam. To the contrary, I have repeatedly cited him as an authority. Far from attacking him over the correctness of his knowledge of Islam, I have attacked him for shying away from the logical and practical implications of his correct knowledge of Islam, the implications being that Islam is inherently a threat to the West and that we must state that truth plainly and adopt immigration policies that reflect it.

Jeff writes:

The reason people don’t jump on Steyn is that he’s a very funny writer. Humour will get you far in this game. It is possible that some of his serious views are there simply to “stir” so to speak. I don’t think Steyn seriously wants Europe to be Islamisised, c’mon Larry! You are taking his words too literally. I’ve already said I agree with much of your criticism of Steyn but calling him a “traitor” just strikes me as a Steynian parody term. He’d love that description methinks. In reality, he is not very different from many other of the “suspects.” But he is far funnier that’s for sure. These other “suspects” are not known for their humor! What’s the use of being Jewish (several “suspects” are) if you’re not going to put forth your views with a sense of humour. Anyone for cricket?

Howard Sutherland writes:

I am not a Steyn fan, and really never have been. He is too glib, and his answers too pat. I think, though, you may be reading too much into:

“Some of us think an Islamic Europe will be easier for America to deal with than the present Europe of cynical, wily, duplicitous pseudo-allies. But getting there is certain to be messy, and violent.

“Until the shape of the new Europe begins to emerge, there’s no point picking fights with the terminally ill.”

I don’t read this as advocating an Islamized Europe. Steyn, to be sure in sly and cynical fashion, is looking for the admittedly dark bright side of a nasty fait-accompli (as he sees it), but I don’t think he is calling for Islam to take over Europe or would much welcome that. At worst, he is so scornful of modern Europeans that he doesn’t care if they succumb to the Moslems. That attitude is plenty bad enough, but it isn’t active treason. It is ennui. (By the by, I would love to know whom else he means when he says “us” in that quote.) My question is what, ultimately, is Steyn for? I don’t think he is any friend of Islam, but he doesn’t appear to have any wish to help preserve the civilization that, after all, produced him. He sounds like he is largely free from the delusory democratism of other neocons—a point in his favor. What is left? Economism and some illusory perfect free market? That is about as nourishing spiritually as the perfected atheism of the Church of Dawkins and Gould, and as unlikely to be realized.

LA replies:

I’m responding to his plain meaning. Mr. Sutherland is claiming that that meaning isn’t what Steyn really means. But if someone had written in 1940:

“Some of us think a Nazi Europe will be easier for America to deal with than the present Europe of cynical, wily, duplicitous pseudo ‘free countries.’ But getting there is certain to be messy, and violent. Until the shape of the new Europe begins to emerge, there’s no point in coming to the aid of the terminally ill,”

would there be any doubt that he was on the side of the Nazis and against Western civilization?

Mr. Sutherland writes:

Even with the 1940 paraphrase in mind, I think Steyn was just essaying what he thinks is realpolitik. It is cynicism, not treason. Enough defending Steyn, though. As I said, I’m not his fan anyway.

Gintas writes:

I think Jeff made a good point about Steyn’s humor. I read a biography of Hitler that talked about an unappreciated aspect of his success: his humor. If you can make people laugh it’s a lot easier to win them over, especially in our comedy-addled culture.

Steyn might not be actively treasonous, as in working for the overthrow of the West, but he is at least an anti-Patriot (passive treason?), because he appears to have given up on the West. He is not a man of any country as far as I can tell, but a man of the West, and I’d think that would be his locus of patriotism, if he had any. Maybe there’s a connection: if you don’t love your country, how can you love your civilization? Maybe he thinks that the West, having become so decadent, has lost its claim on him of his affection.

I don’t know if you read Joe Sobran’s column I linked to in an earlier email. He compares patriotism—love of country—with love of family. I think most people would agree that you can’t pick your family, but still you love them. A lot of Americans might _not_ agree that you can’t pick your country. Most of us trace back at some point to someone who changed countries. (Note: most of us haven’t, but the emphasis these days is on those who have. We’re a nation of immigrants and all that.) I think our natural affections, one of which is love of country, are greatly disordered. And Steyn is a fish that swims skillfully in that sea.

On another note, I recall Steyn living in New Hampshire and reporting on town hall meetings. We don’t know where he is really from, as far as his heart goes. Compare him with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived nextdoor in Vermont, but returned home to Russia when he was able. His little speech to the people of Cavendish on his departure is gracious:

Under the subject line “WHAT DRIVES HIM TO INSULT AUSTER IS WHAT DRIVES HIM INSANE” (paraphrased from the Bob Dylan song “Isis“), Jeff in England writes,

Steyn may be a “traitor” but he is a relatively good natured sane “traitor,” even if his opinions are way wrong. Spencer, however, sounds pathological when he talks about you. Can he really believe the personal comments he is saying about you? The answer is obviously yes. The things he is saying about you are really off the compass. Maybe the Muslim religion and culture he writes so insightfully about are affecting his brain!

LA replies to Jeff:

I saw Spencer last year on C-SPAN being interviewed and he seemed low-key and psychologically balanced as a person and effective as a spokesman. He’s dealing with some seriously bad people and he’s completely cool about it. Yet when I challenge him on a couple of his positions he becomes obsessed with me as though I threaten him more than the jihadists who have reportedly threatened his life.

And not to claim any fake innocence for myself, I have said some strong things about Spencer, such as this remark a few weeks ago:

So it’s exactly as Jeff has previously put it: The modus operandi of these unserious Islam critics is best described by sexual metaphors. They keep conspicuously flirting with something, acting as though they’re interested, but in the end they never want to “put out.” It is not an honorable or a manly way of dealing with the greatest challenge facing our civilization.

However, to say, “This is not a manly way of dealing with this urgent issue, these people should stop playing games and speak directly,” is not a personal attack. It is tough but legitimate criticism. The way Spencer reported this to several people in an e-mail the other day mail was that I had said that he, Spencer, is unmanly and dishonorable. This was not true. I was speaking of the way Spencer and others dealt with the Muslim immigration issue, not of Spencer as a person.

Jeff in England writes:

TO VFR READERS: Not in any way, shape, or form did I originally mention sexual metaphors to demean Spencer or any of the liberal conservative “usual suspects” in any personal sense. Nor did Lawrence Auster in his remarks about “not dealing with the issue in a manly way” etc. mean that in any personal sense apart from the issue.

But I can see how someone could think that, if that’s how his mindset was working. If anyone wants the remarks to seem like personal attacks then he could easily interpret it in that way.

However, Mr. Auster and I both know that the remarks criticising these “usual suspects,” especially Robert Spencer, were made to bring out the hypocrisy of the “suspects” in relation to the immigration issue at hand. If people think these remarks by either Mr. Auster or myself were personal attacks on Spencer or other liberal conservatives they are barking up the wrong tree. If we had really wanted to make personal attacks we would have done a better job of it for sure.

All we ever said is that it is ridiculous that after all that insightful writing by several “usual suspects” concerning the dangers of Islam and Muslim culture not to support the halt of immigration of Muslims to the West. That’s all Auster, myself and the huge majority of VFR readers have cared about. The sexual metaphors were put forth to explain the lack of a logical position by many “suspects.”

Turning it around and making it seem like Larry Auster (and myself) is interested in personally attacking Spencer or any other “suspect” is either a sincere misreading of the situation or a very clever tactic to deflect from the lack of a logical position regarding Muslim immigration. We want clarity and logic and have no interest in personal attacks on those who disagree with our position on Muslim immigration to the West.

LA writes:

Also on the question of personal attacks, I’ve indicated before that my relentless criticisms of Daniel Pipes are not just about attacking his work as an individual. He is an emblematic figure, dramatically embodying within himself the paralyzing contradictions toward Islam that characterize the West as a whole.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 04, 2007 06:14 PM | Send

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