Modernity’s Flagship Surrenders
To lose the most, you must have the most. America was modernity’s great winner, it once seemed; but that turns out to have been a shortsighted perspective. For insofar as America was the modern age’s exemplary case, its practical proof, we must concede that modernity’s conclusion, which we are privileged to be witnessing firsthand at this moment, may be most accurately described as the voluntary, absolute surrender of all the boons of modernity.
In other words, the modern age, five centuries of youthful exuberance and profound effort bursting with confused but ennobling images of freedom and prosperity, is ending in a completely unnecessary and purposeless suicide.
The current events in Afghanistan are an apt metaphor — or rather a symbolic representation — of this suicide.
For twenty years, Afghanistan was rebuilt and held together as a semi-plausible nation by American will and vigilance. The forces of senseless destruction and nihilistic slaughter were always there, hiding out in the caves and hills, occasionally causing a moment of pain or anxiety, but effectively neutralized as a serious existential threat by the physical, tangible presence of the modern age, in the form of American military might and political assurance. There was never, not for one moment, any threat that the Taliban, a wretched band of muckrakers and hellions, could ever overwhelm the stabilizing, moderating presence of American willpower. The thugs would not disappear, but they would never hold sway, let alone hold cities, as long as the Americans were simply prepared to maintain order by maintaining a presence.
Suddenly, during the Trump administration, memory loss and the lust for shortsighted comfort overtook the American soul. The Biden administration, as one would expect, picked up on that unprincipled, pragmatic Trumpian theme of “Why bother?” and took it to its logical extreme (which Trump, never one to give up credit, has praised highly, in order to make sure everyone knows it was his idea): They gave up. They walked away. They told the fragile government and the largely defenseless people to whom they had pledged stability, “We don’t care anymore, we’re bored.” They abandoned the Afghan nation summarily, arbitrarily, knowing full well that doing so would be tantamount to cutting off their heads.
Every man has demons inside him, nihilistic and destructive forces that he holds in check with reason and a spirited will to defend the boons of moderate and sensible living. Those demons will have their moments, catch the spirit unaware here and there, and thereby rouse the decent man to self-correction and the quelling of further threats.
If, however, the man tires of remaining vigilant over his own soul, or becomes mentally lazy through comfort and security until he simply forgets why vigilance was necessary, the demons will swarm over his territory, seize his cities, and destroy his landmarks so quickly that one might easily overlook just how relatively little exertion was actually needed to prevent this catastrophe. In other words, the man, in his moment of ruin, will take to wondering how the forces waylaying him grew so great — but this is merely an all-too-human psychological defense against the shameful truth: the forces did not grow so great at all, but rather his reason and willpower grew so weak that they were no longer able to mount a defense against even the most containable of threats.
And as goes Afghanistan under American abandonment, so goes America herself today at the hands of an equally containable band of anti-modern thugs and nihilists within her own territory — a country more than capable of defending itself with reason and strength, but simply no longer emotionally invested in doing so.
And so the modern world’s flagship achievement, its closest thing to a definitive statement, ends with a whimper of mindless, superfluous surrender on a global scale. Those people around the “advanced world” cheering this national surrender today, in the name of an envy-induced self-righteousness they call “progress,” are going to learn — too late of course — that when America falls, modernity falls.