Modernity's End?

Here's a challenging essay by Michael Vlahos in the American Conservative, a magazine that for all its troubling underbelly, is taking intellectual risks not seen in more established venues like the Weekly Standard or National Review. I'm not sure what to make entirely of this long, rambling piece. But it stimulates, and has echoes of D'Souza's call for a grand alliance between American social conservatives and Muslim anti-secularists. Money quote:

Modernity's greatest failure is spiritualneon-lit in Europe, where old piety has crashed and burned. But among the global other scorched by modernity's 'creative destruction,' it is not that people have abandoned piety but that it has abandoned them. In globalization's mixing bowl, the meditative power of old ethos has been lost. Yet American modernity offers nothing to take its place: just ask an Afghani or an Iraqi.

Piety is a cry for meaning in a stripped world. Two movements stand out: the Pentecostalist and the Islamist. Both share a deep repudiation of the Western nation state as the supreme human ideal not because they are intrinsically anti-Western but because they see modernity as antithetical to what people need. If this seems harsh, just feel the fervor and the fulfillment they offer.

Calling them throwbacks from a primitive past denies what we need to see: that modernity itself has been stripping, not giving. Denial robs us of insight into what people need, while calling their piety 'primitive' encourages us to see the global other as a lesser humanity. We have after all declared that the lowest bar we will accept for Muslims is 'moderate Islam,' where we will ratify what is correct.

These themes - what globalization has done to the human soul, how fundamentalism has filled the vacuum of meaning in the West and in the developing world, the parallels between Christianism and Islamism - are at the center of my own attempt to think through conservatism again. But Vlahos goes further, seeing in 9/11 an end to America's global modernity-project; and in the war he argues that we have begun an intensification of our undoing. As I said, I need to think this essay over some more. But it provoked in all the right ways.