All Commentary
Friday, August 1, 1980

International Terrorism: The Deadliest Plague

Ben Barker, M.D., of Oxnard, California is a specialist in psychiatry and contemporary therapeutic techniques.

Governments around the globe today shudder in the grip of a violent force as ancient as that which took the life of biblical Abel. One after another, nations are shutting down normal channels of international diplomacy and replacing them with the brutal tactics of terrorism and war. Both advanced and primitive social orders lurch from crisis to crisis, eventually being wrenched asunder by rebellious forces who sprout humanistic rhetoric while slaughtering all who oppose them.

These forces are often terrorists and they speak with the voice of guns. They claim to be advance cadres of liberation armies but their intent appears to be to liberate humanity from any trace of the veneer of civilization which still exists.

What are the roots of terrorism? Why have terrorist tactics so thoroughly saturated modern political behavior? Is there any possibility of restoration of less violent modes of persuasion or is our time destined to sink beneath a morass of mutual slaughter? These questions hang in the wind, haunting our era. Unless answers are found, and soon, the fire of terrorism may decimate the entire civilized world.

Epidemics race through susceptible populations, leaving death and disability in their wake. If the epidemic is virulent enough or host resistance low enough, entire nations may fall and in restrospect only is it then labeled a plague. The historical record acknowledges plagues caused by infectious microorganisms but mistakes those caused by infectious ideas for other things. They are called wars, or crusades, or invasions, or migrations, or a host of other names which disguise the infectious origin of the ideas which precipitated the events considered.

Virulent, destructive ideas resemble infectious micro-organisms in that they do not disappear—the host organisms merely develop resistance. The original Black Plague bacillus is still with humanity, waiting for the conditions to recur which once allowed it to run amuck. So is the polio virus, the syphilis spirochete and the tuberculosis bacterium. In a similar way, Hitler’s ideas on racial superiority are still around and still causing problems.

Ideas Have Consequences

The epidemic of terrorism now with us is the natural and inevitable consequence of ideologies almost universally endorsed and supported by existing governments and domi nant institutions. This is especially true of institutions of higher education. The more these ideologies proliferate and the more complete their societal implementation, the more likely are they to result in the destruction of all existing governments, social orders and institutions. This includes, but is not limited to, institutions of higher education.

The apparently diverse mix of ideas which have linked to spawn terrorism appear more similar in what they deny than in what they advocate. Marxism, hedonism and determinism all agree that man or his creations (the state or social order) are the ultimate arbiters of individual behavior. In so doing they deny the existence and preeminence of a source of behavioral standards external to the mind of man. That could be a suicidal mistake.

The significance of this denial of an external primary source of morality is that morality must then spring from subjective sources. Social orders which take this first step seal their own fate, only the manner of death is in question, for the First Rule of government is thereby abandoned. That rule is that government must serve the common good. If this rule of right is lost in a culture it is but a matter of time before all traces of that culture sink into the abyss of timeless anonymity.

When confusion and subjectivity enter a social order and the common good is no longer self-evident, then that society is in danger of extinction. But what is the common good? Merely that which has stood the test of time as being fair and equitable. This also defines justice, and for justice to serve its function properly it should be a concrete, recognizable and objective principle. The appropriate implementation of justice, then, is based upon the common acceptance of objective principles of behavior—or upon morality.

As is obvious, searching for a definition of morality, justice or the common good becomes an exercise in circuitous logic unless a reality which precedes and is independent of man’s mind is acknowledged. Such a reality, whether it is labeled God, Tao, the natural order or whatever, is precisely what modern man-centered ideologies deny. This denial has helped to bring on the current plague of terrorism, and until this truth is recognized by enough thinking men we will remain infected by this virulent force.

The Rule of Expedience

When the rule of right is abandoned, it is most often replaced by the rule of expedience. Whose expedience? If the expedience of the wealthy few, then we have oligarchy, if the state bureaucracy itself, then we have socialism. In any case, the rule of right is defunct and replaced by a subjective code implemented through the use of coer cive tactics. This is the rule of force and the rule of force is lawlessness: it says that you may do whatever you please to your neighbor, provided your weapons are more numerous and deadlier than his.

In such circumstances any force that works will receive societal sanction, for standards of morality are no longer applicable. Can it be true that even the U.S., born of the Constitution and nurtured on the principles of the Bible, has succumbed to the rule of force? Let us examine the evidence.

In her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged, author Ayn Rand defined appropriate government as follows, “The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.”

This is a definition that appears to resemble the ideal that the U.S. founding fathers had in mind when the Constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted and implemented. It endorses a concept of limited government intervention in the affairs of citizens. In the same work quoted above, Rand goes on to describe her version of a government gone berserk.

“But a government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one . . . is a nightmare infernal machine designed to annihilate morality. Such a government reverses its only moral purpose and switches from the role of protector to the role of man’s deadliest enemy, from the role of policeman to the role of a criminal vested with the right to the wielding of violence against victims deprived of the right of self-defense.”

Violation of Property

It is especially inimical to liberty and justice if government fails to respect private property. So it follows that if government uses coercion to extract private property or wealth from one citizen in order to distribute it to another it has abandoned the rule of right in favor of the rule of force. The victims are the inventive, productive, thinking minority who have been hoodwinked into accepting an ideology which betrays their minds.

All property and all forms of wealth are produced by man’s mind and his directed, purposeful labor. In a free society, each productive person has the right to determine the disposition of his own property (wealth, products, services). Totalitarian societies, on the other hand, often forcefully take property away from individuals and dispense it as the government sees fit.

It does not make the government any less evil or totalitarian if it dispenses such forcefully looted property to other needy citizens, other needy countries, or simply retains it within its own coffers. The common good has been breached, for coercion was used to take private property from a productive citizen. The basic premise of the ideology of Marxist socialism is, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This premise thus appears to fly in the face of the rule of justice.

A state which implements this socialist premise will use force if necessary to take assets from the productive and distribute them to the indolent. Do the income tax and welfare systems accomplish this end? Does my neighbor’s need entitle him to use a gun to remove food from my table? Does handing the gun to an agent of the state make the actual act of armed robbery less evil?

Forms of Lawlessness

The use of force to accomplish ends not in the interest of the common good is lawlessness, whether done in the name of a national government or a so-called Liberation Front. The use of the process of education to inculcate abandonment of morality endorses lawlessness whether accomplished with government funds in modern colleges or in jungle huts in Africa. The use of public funds to purchase murder is lawlessness whether it buys the firing squads of Ayatollah Khomeini or the suction catheters of the abor tionists.

When enough Americans learn to recognize identities, we will understand why terrorism is sweeping the globe. The Marxist ideology which saturates the halls of higher education both here and abroad endorses the rule of force and abandons the rule of justice when it disavows private property. It places the mythical state in the place of God, and in so doing replaces the rule of objective morality with the rule of subjective expedience. Such a system denies something very basic to the human being and results in destruction and dissolution, not love and sharing.

The something basic that is crushed is very likely the spirit within, which requires a moral environment in order to achieve expression. Individualists are compelled to flee or rebel against a social system which demands conformity, for mindless conformity is alien to their personalities. Some, the terrorists, are fascinated by and drawn to violent rebellion. They are the lawless breed spawned by governments which have abandoned the rule of right in favor of the rule of force.

So that is quite possibly why onlookers experience ambivalence to terrorist scenarios. When two lawless gangs engage in combat the result is entertainment, not a moral conflict. From the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics to the current stalemate in Iran, one glaring theme prevails: terrorism is theater. It seems just and fitting that an era so hypnotized by the myopic, numbing gaze of television should bring into being outlaws who gauge their effectiveness by the amount of prime-time coverage they garner.

A Barrage of Violence

Day after day, sacraments of violence are flashed into our homes to outrage, thrill, titillate and amaze us. Tourists are shot down or blown apart in airports, children as saulted, executives and politicians snatched or slain. And with each escalation of violence our sensation-saturated culture grows more indifferent and jaded. The passive acceptance of these heinous events may in itself be as dangerous an omen as the terrorist acts themselves, for it suggests a culture insensitive to evil.

Often, in fact, the perpetrators of these violent assaults are accorded a glamorous notoriety akin to that given motion picture idols. The bold, reckless and flamboyant nature of their deeds appears to excite admiration and the antisocial, destructive aspect of their actions is nearly overlooked. Such, then, have become the heroes in this age of decadence: nihilistic malcontents who lay down the lives of others at random in the guise of a noble cause.

To heap adulation upon such individuals is but one more symptom of the demise of morality in our social order. An element in producing this state of affairs has been the misconception that absolute, unrestricted personal freedom was not only possible but desirable in a social setting. The perverse effect which follows from this concept is that the ultimate good is pleasure, and that full gratification of the appetites and passions is a worthwhile individual aim.

This philosophy of hedonism has also been cultivated by our institutions and commercial enterprises. Such an ideology compels the believer to view the social order with its restrictions, rules and regulations as an inhibiting influence upon his behavior. Thus, this is also a philosophy of lawlessness.

By contrast, in a society in which moral precepts function as a guide to the equity of human and property rights, internal individual controls function as powerful tools of behavioral restraint. If the majority of citizens truly believe that stealing is wrong, then they will choose not to steal and the job of guarding property will be relatively easy. Repeated reiteration of the moral code, especially to the young, will serve to inculcate within them the capacity for shame. Shame is, in such cases, a painful emotion caused by the consciousness of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety. The susceptibility to this emotion will be especially marked in those families in which the parents appear to function by the same moral code they teach their children.

So, we see another ideology which is an obvious invitation to social disaster. Hedonists place sensual enjoyment at the pinnacle of their preference code, and the end justifies the means. The Marxist places the mythical proletariat at his pinnacle, and again the ends justify any means. Likewise, the Machiavellian power brokers playing the game of control and dominance in all the capitals of the world worship ends and rationalize all means as acceptable.

Blaming the Environment

The individual capacity for shame is diminished by yet another prevalent modern idea, that is the concept that man is no more then the final result of the forces acting upon him. In this ideology, man cannot be guilty of wrongdoing. The blame is cast upon the environment and hence evaded by transference and projection. The terrorist, it would propose, is not an evil, angry man acting on his own destructive impulses, he is merely another victim of society. He has been passively infected, so to speak.

Man, thus, is not responsible for his own lawlessness—it is hereditary or due to any number of external forces. The blame must belong to the non-criminal who has somehow fostered the repugnant chain of reactions we call crime. Intrinsic to this ideology of determinism is that the personality of an individual is almost solely a consequence of social interactions, especially his early infantile relationships.

But is that true? Anyone who has watched newborn infants in a nursery knows that these squirming, screaming miniature humans are not inert lumps of clay. Each one is different somehow from all the rest and from all who have gone before or who will follow. Determinists credit differing intrauterine environments or differing chromosomal make-up for these inherent differences in response patterns. Perhaps they are correct.

Perhaps, though, what we see in newborn infants is the initial expression of free will. Within each there may be a spirit beyond man’s intellectual comprehension which modifies and shapes the individualistic responses to identical external stimuli. Perhaps, too, this undefinable spirit within possesses both the capacity for moral behavior and for wrongdoing, and the direction in which it moves is influenced by the free will of the organism.

Free Will

Free will is, always has been, and always will be a major causative element underlying specific individual behavior. It cannot be ignored merely because it cannot be quantified by behavioral scientists. People who will themselves toward success tend to enjoy full, stimulating lives and tend to minimize dullness and repetition in their career choices. Is it not possible that terrorists and major criminals of other types engage a similar motivational mechanism into their personality and will themselves toward crime?

The drive to achieve power, notoriety and excitement can be expressed in ways very harmful to society, and that appears to be what happens in the case of the unrepentant criminal. Any number of legendary lawbreakers in published biographies and autobiographies refer to the stimulating challenges they found in their calling. Malcolm X, in his ghost-written autobiography was specific and particularly graphic in describing the thrills associated with his life of crime and debauchery. His conversion to the Muslim religion and to an accompanying life style of evangelistic fervor and self-denial speak strongly for the role of free-will in modifying behavior.

What is missing in the ideology of determinism is any absolute standard of moral conduct. Neither justice nor a viable social order may be possible without such standards—and it is this truth that the voice of guns is spelling out to us all.

So, the plague of terrorism sweeps the globe, invading host nations whose resistances are impeded by ideologies which either foster or forgive terrorist acts. As long as hedonistic and Marxist ideologies dominate the intellectual climate of our colleges and universities these institutions will turn out products who will serve the rule of expedience rather than the rule of morality.

As long as governments and the criminal justice system endorse and implement an ideology which defines the lawbreaker as the passive victim of external forces we will breed more lawbreakers. When lawbreakers are coddled, not punished, then the rule of justice is extinct.

It is possible that the deadly plague of terrorism now loose in the world is but a warning of worse times to come. Perhaps if men of thought and action take steps to restore the rule of morality to government our drift into lawless chaos may be reversed. Liberty, private property and objective standards of moral behavior are inextricably linked in a free society. One cannot be sacrificed without the others eventually tumbling away.

Unless we take warning, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” may sound the death knell to civilization. The terrorists may merely be one of many deadly plagues that we may soon face.

  • Ban Barker, M.D., is a specialist in psychiatry and contemporary therapeutic techniques and is Director of the Crisis Advisory Canter, Simi Valley, California.