If you weren't properly anti-communist, if you strayed from the orthodoxy of commie-killing to any degree, you were subject to being run out of town, or worse, by the GOP's McCarthy wing.
That wing of the party didn't die with Tail Gunner Joe. It didn't die when the John Birch Society was disavowed in the 1960s.
It was an essential element in the Nixon Thesis, and its validation under Ronald Reagan. Conservatives still celebrate Reagan as having "won" the Cold War, even if all he did was blow down a Potemkin Village.
Here is a fact that divides Americans still.
What won the Cold War was not our military but our values. Our social values of tolerance and individual liberty. Our economic values of free enterprise and entrepreneurship. Moore's Law won the Cold War, by accelerating change past the rate at which Communists could adapt a top-down economy. It was the power of the people, not the threats of the President or the weapons of his generals, that brought the Wall down. It's possible Reagan's words and actions accelerated that a little bit, but that's all.
Today we find ourselves in a very similar struggle, and Republicans are running the same playbook. Death to Al Qaeda quickly becomes Death to Islam. But while this idiocy was relatively benign in the context of the Cold War — all it gave us was Vietnam — it can be the death of us this time.
At least during the Cold War our avowed enemy — communism — was properly identified. This time the enemy is not Islam. It is, instead, medievalism, religious extremism, the human impulse to see our God's simple answers as absolute and proper not just for us but for everyone else as well.
There are religious medievalists within every faith. The Pope of Rome is essentially a medievalist. Orthodox Jews are medievalists. As are the jihadist mullahs of Islam and some figures within Hinduism. Shintoism backed what Japanese still call the Pacific War, and I have even heard tell of Buddhist Medievalists, although how you get that way I can't tell you.
Some medievalists are harmless, even fairly benign. The Amish are medievalists, but they keep to themselves. They don't go around blowing up electrical plants or dropping bombs in cars because they can't stand the modern world. They ignore it.
Even the Taliban in Afghanistan are relatively benign. If your primary interest is in keeping your own people down in the 12th century the fight is just a "civil" war. It's only when you try to drag me down to that level that I get my guard up.
The hardest thing America must do, in order to win this struggle, is to separate the harmless from the harmful medievalists among ourselves, and overthrow them. The 2008 election was merely a first step in this effort.
One thing that transformed the Administration of George W. Bush from merely ideological to truly evil was its embrace of medievalism. Politicizing chaplins, torturing Muslims, sending troops out to "convert the heathen" by force, that's doing the enemy's work for him. This happened in Iraq. It was done by Blackwater, and by regular military too. It was evil, and when the Administration tries to cover this up as "old news" or lets courts ignore it, we do ourselves no favors. When it repeats those mistakes in Afghanistan, it practices Bushism.
Medievalism is evil for two reasons.
First, it's oppressive, and its rejection of the modern world threatens the health of the planet. Ignorance can't manage a complex society. Trying to run the 21st century along medieval lines dooms our children and grandchildren.
Second, and more important, medievalism feeds on itself. Christian medievalists seek to eradicate Muslim medievalists, and vice versa. Never mind their similarities, in approach and in goals. They are sworn to war until only one "true faith" is left standing, as if the Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment never happened. Imagine the 11th century Crusades with 21st century weapons. That's what is going on, right now, all around us.
And now we come to the most difficult part of this essay. The only way to win this war is the defeat the Active Medievalists among us. We must win the war at home before we can win it abroad.
I distinguish here between Active and Passive Medievalists because our First Amendment protects the latter, and because oppressing all medievalism in our society would be counterproductive. People have a right to be stupid. It's when they try to foist that stupidity on me, or on my neighbors, or on my friends around the world, when they make government the instrument of their medievalism (as Bush did) that I have no choice but to engage.
What makes this difficult is that the border between Active and Passive Medievalism can be difficult to see, and the latter will protect the former reflexively, perceiving themselves to be allied. So an attack on Active Medievalism is seen by many, many religious people as an attack on religion, on attack on their faith, or the right to faith.
It's not. It is, in fact, merely a reassertion of the First Amendment's grand bargain. You have absolute liberty, but in return we demand a modicum of tolerance. You can have your absolute values, but others must be free to have theirs.
This grand bargain is not unlike the General Public License (GPL) I cover for ZDNet. It's absolute freedom, but with an obligation many even within the open source movement find difficult to accept, namely the obligation to share code, to give equal freedom to others. There are many contracts that reject what I call code's "fourth freedom," and others who try to fudge things.
This one can't be fudged. When it comes to the First Amendment, you either accept the premise or reject it, and in rejecting it I believe you should leave yourself open to rejection by the rest of us. If I'm not as free as you are, I have no obligation to recognize your freedom.
Sounds simple in principle, but try it in practice. America's streets are filled with people who implicitly reject this very simple idea. Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Evangelicals all proclaim themselves the One True Faith, and are committed to converting everyone else to it before Armageddon. If they do so peacefully, and act within this country, then I can't argue with them, and most do.
It's when we get into foreign missions that we find difficulty, even with Passive Medievalism — which remember props up the active kind. My own church has missionaries, active in some of the world's poorest nations. They preach the "word of God," and seek to convert, through good works and active faith, the people around them.
Where is the line? It depends on where you are. In China, any refusal by faith to accept the primacy of the party and government are subject to punishment. This is what the Falun Gong controversy was all about. In na
tions which practice their own form of Active Medievalism, however, and wherever in the Muslim world Mosque and State are one, this is a crime punishable by death.
Even Passive Medievalism, in other words, carries a political price, when it's conducted against an atmosphere of Active Medievalism.
This still leaves us the problem of identifying and running out the Active Medievalists among us. Those who would impose medieval values on the rest of us, rejecting sciences like evolution and global warming, represent one arm of this movement. Those who seek to impose this same type of religion on others, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, represent the other arm of this movement.
It's dangerous work. Just identifying these people can be hard. Rachel Maddow's reporting on "the Family," and its efforts supporting a "final solution for gays" in Uganda demonstrate just how deeply embedded these people are in our political establishment, and the group's efforts to disavow its own actions — such as this piece from Rick Warren — show that they're not beneath breaking a few commandments to keep their cover.
It's true that some Active Medievalists are happy to admit what they're up to, but even this group will be hard to deal with. Then we have people like Pastor Warren — the kindest thing I can call him is a Passive-Aggressive Medievalist — and those within the religious community to don't see the dangers even when presented to them, the Fellow Travelers.
What's the argument we can use against them?
Here it is. We are creating our own version of Al Qaeda in the United States. A Christian Al Qaeda, if you will. We have many Christian versions of Al Qaeda's Madrassas, we have Christianists among us not unlike the Taliban, and we have an immense political movement which aims to make America a mirror image of Saudi Arabia.
If medievalism is not to triumph, then we must confront what lies in our own hearts, our own minds, and in our own country, as well as what we see elsewhere. And in this fight, we are truly all soldiers.