By Jack Kerwick,
At long last, the conservative movement is taking a long, hard look at itself. Meanwhile, Barack Obama and his fellow ideologues barrel full steam ahead in their quest to “fundamentally transform” the country.
The time is now to read to Ilana Mercer’s, Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa.
Mercer, the daughter of a rabbi and former anti-apartheid activist, was raised, first in Israel, and then South Africa. Though this classical liberal and self-professed “paleo-libertarian” has never been any sort of friend to either apartheid or any other racially-based institutional arrangement, Mercer is at great pains to note the ugly fact that, by any standard, life in “the New South Africa” is dramatically worse than was life in the old.
And this is why she fled her home to forge a new existence in America.
The first chapter of Cannibal is a gripping—and grisly—account of the scourge that crime has become in post-apartheid South Africa. Refusing to reduce the victims of barbarism to a bunch of bloodless statistics, Mercer introduces readers to people like twelve year-old Emily Williams, who was shot to death when she stumbled upon an armed robbery in progress at a friend’s house while walking to school. Her heart broken parents subsequently decided that their country had become an intolerable place to remain. They have since relocated to the United Kingdom.
The reader is also acquainted with the likes of Rene Burger, a young and promising medical student who was kidnapped and gang-raped at knife-point by three degenerates at a “well-patrolled” hospital where she was taking classes, and Sheldon Cohen, who died in front of his young son after being gunned down by three predators.
Mercer identifies others—including a not inconsiderable number of her own relatives—who have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of South African thugs. She also definitively establishes that to no slight measure, this crime epidemic is motivated by an animus toward whites, a deep seated racial hatred that is both encouraged and, particularly in the case of the legions of white Afrikaner farmers who have been forced from their lands, sanctioned by the African National Congress.
But it would be a grave mistake to think that Cannibal is only about South Africa. It is not. As its author describes it, and as its subtitle makes clear, it is a “labor of love” to her homelands old and new. Mercer is determined to spare America the same fate that befell South Africa. Furthermore, it would be as equally egregious a mistake to think that Cannibal is only, or even primarily, about race. There are larger issues to which Mercer speaks, issues with which conservatives have grappled from at least the time that their “patron saint,” Edmund Burke, first articulated them.
Though Mercer insists that she is no conservative, there are similarities, striking similarities, between her and Burke. The latter made an impassioned defense of his 18th century England against the radicalism of the French Revolution that he feared would soon enough ravage his country. It was in response to these ideological excesses that conservatism first emerged as a distinctive tradition of thought. Mercer carries on this estimable tradition inasmuch as she seeks to defend her new country, America, against the ravenous radicalisms that threaten it.
The forces that imperiled France and England in Burke’s day are the same forces that consumed South Africa and that imperil America in our own. These forces boil down to a lust, an insatiable lust, for revolutionary change and the ideological abstractions that inspire it.
As the conservative theorist Michael Oakeshott memorably remarked, change is emblematic of death. Thus, conservatives have always preferred changes that are slight to those that are vast, changes that are necessary to those that are not, and changes that are gradual to those that are radical. Changes that are “fundamentally transformative” siphon the life out of a society by severing its present from its past.
Unlike most of us, Mercer knows all too well how an agenda to “fundamentally transform” a society, pursued with all of the recklessness with which such agendas are inevitably pursued, is guaranteed to destroy that society—however beautiful-sounding the abstract ideals in the names of which it is executed.
However, it isn’t just the usual suspects—leftists or Democrats—who have an ardent affection for radical change and abstract ideals. The GOP and “the conservative press” have had more than their share of true believers as well.
It was, after all, “conservatives”—or, more accurately, neoconservatives—that most rigorously supported George W. Bush’s campaign to “fundamentally transform” the Middle East into an oasis of “Democracy.” Noting that abstract ideals like Democracy are not timeless principles written in “human nature” but the hard-earned gains of a civilization that has been millennia in the making, Mercer was among those who argued mightily against this fool’s errand from the outset. Though she fell out of favor with some notable “conservative” media personalities for doing so, time has vindicated her while indicting her critics.
Like Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, Ilana Mercer’s Into the Cannibal’s Pot is at once timeless and all so timely.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.