I’m off to Vienna later this week; it seems timely.
After the Turks were driven back from the heart of Europe, progressive modernism gradually expanded its range. The Sublime Porte’s senescence deepened — the shrinking Ottoman Empire began to be known as “the sick man of Europe” — and finally the unthinkable happened: the last of the Ottoman sultans, Mehmed VI, fled Turkey in 1922, bringing to an end an Islamic imperium that had lasted over six centuries, and that at its height stretched from Algiers to the Persian Gulf, from Budapest to the Horn of Africa, and that girdled most of the Mediterranean and all of the Black Sea. Once, Islam’s scimitars had cut a bloody path all the way to Vienna; now Europe, at least in the form of secular modernization, had taken Byzantium once again.
It was always a fragile conquest, though. Islam, even when it appears subdued, is a sullen and resentful subject that chafes and grumbles under secular rule. The ascendant empire of progressive Westernizing modernity seemed for some time, however, to be consolidating its hold on its newly conquered territory: if you look at pictures from Tehran or Kabul from the 1960’s — particularly photographs with young women in them — you might think you were looking at any European city.
But that veneer of modernity was only held in place by the pressure of power — in Iran, by the power of the U.S.-backed Shah, and in Turkey, by the power of the Kemalist military, who in the second half of the twentieth century staged repeated coups to preserve the artificial secular order against the relentless organic force of Islam.
Now it is universalist Western progressivism that is the “sick man”. It is dying of what I have called ACIDS — Acquired Cultural Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. The disease has rendered it unable to make the necessary discriminations — between food and poison, friend and foe, and Self and Other — that any living system must make in order to survive.
The collapse of empires is centripetal, and so the empire of modernity began to fail at its edges. There could never have been a secular Turkey without a strong secular West to act as the seat of empire, but now progressive Europe itself is dying of its inability to maintain its external membrane — which has led, quite naturally and predictably, to an opportunistic infection by alien pathogens.
As secular universalism dies in Europe and Turkey, it will be replaced — as we see already beginning to happen — by the older, organic order that it, for a time, so successfully overwhelmed. This weekend’s events in Turkey will mark, I think, the end of Europe’s century-long ideological occupation of what was once the heart of the Muslim world. That ideology will not even occupy Europe, I think, for much longer — though whether it will be succeeded there by a resurgent and virile identitarianism, or by exhaustion and dhimmitude, remains to be seen.
Expansion, contraction, rise and fall, back and forth — from Suleiman the Magnificent at the gates of Vienna, to miniskirts in Kabul; from Mehmet to Ataturk to Erdogan — where will the pendulum swing to now?