In the Shadows of Terrorism
Tibor R. Machan
London, UK. The little hotel, The Sanctuary House, where I stayed this
time was located, unbeknownst to me, just the other side of the New
Scotland Yard, so when I got there on July 21st after my flight from JFK,
I felt some relief. Terrorists probably will not do their vicious deeds in
the backyard of the cops. I was invited to give a talk on ?The Free Market
and Its Moral Foundation? at a small classical liberal-conservative
institute, Civitas, by my friend and fellow philosopher David Conway.
It was ironic?the very day I was laying out the moral case for a
society, four new attempted bombings occurred in London, based, in part,
on the terrorists? conviction that nothing about Western Societies is of
any moral worth at all. Of course, the big question is what is to count
as moral. They believe duty to tribe is, whereas in fact self-perfection
as human beings is our true moral purpose in life.
As I left Civitas and did some walking about London while
plenty of jitters, I recalled some similar feelings from when Budapest was
being bombed in my very early youth. I reflected on why these terrorists
have such a warped view of human morality. (I also stopped to call my
mother who brought up that very thing, about how living in Budapest during
World War II felt much like it feels living in the shadows of terrorism
I was also assisted in my reflections by a novel I was reading, by
Silva, The Prince of Fire, which is all about terrorist doings throughout
Europe, all in the name of their warped sense of morality.
The bottom line is that terrorists believe in the virtue of tribal
loyalty. It is, for most of them, a matter of us against them, as a group.
No, it?s even worse?as a bee hive or ant colony. For these terrorists a
baby is not some innocent individual human being but something that?s part
of the evil body, the body that?s those infidels who are not with us. It
is all ?we,? ?we,? and ?we? again, or ?us,? and ?us,? and ?us? again.
Individuals do not matter. Even parents and siblings are just part of the
tribe?if they are hurt or killed it is because this was an act against the
tribe that it is a bad thing, never mind them as individual persons. That
is why revenge needs to be carried out against anyone deemed as part of
those bad others?children, neighbors, relatives, people who look like
them, who eat the same kind of food, what have you.
What is so outrageous as well as frightening about this is that
the world has viewed human affairs along such lines throughout human
history. Individualism, while far more true than tribalism, has not been
fully appreciated by people. Even in much of Europe, the idea of the Serbs
versus the Croats or the Irish versus the English, the Jews versus the
Christians, or the immigrants versus natives is still very prevalent, even
It is no wonder that so many Europeans feel more ?understanding?
the terrorists! The distinctive American view of individualism, wherein
it?s the individual?s actions that establish who someone is, not where
someone comes from, what tribe one belongs to, is novel, unfamiliar. Even
in America it is mostly a matter of the gut, not of the mind?too many
people are philosophical collectivists or communitarians, not
Yet, of course, it is individualism that is truer about us and it
this viewpoint that encourages more peace and harmony among people. With
any individual there lies only a tiny bit of power, whereas tribes, even
small ones, pack quite a punch. So if individuals within some tribe get
crazy angry about something, chances are considerable that major damage
will be done. An individual is relatively impotent in these matters and
the risk of angry outbursts and barbaric temper tantrums are thus
In the end, of course, tribes are mainly disguised ways for some
of them to gain and keep power. They are nasty fictions behind which the
few who are privileged and unjustly favored hide their vested interests.
They are the ones who are most threatened with the idea of individualism,
of a rejection of collective duty and guilt. So they will carry on with
their terrorism seeing that without it, they have really nothing left and
nothing of value to fake.