It's stunning how little evidence there is in our daily lives that the nation is at war. I believe this is be entirely by design - the nation's success is now measured wholly in economic terms. There is more talk in daily conversation about the losses in the stock market over the past week than the numbers of wounded and dead that are added each day to the tally. We are urged to calculate as consumers than to reflect upon any forms of sacrifice. What would have been seen as necessary military virtues have been replaced by commercial vices. When I say that this transformation has taken place by design, it is a design deep in the heart of modern thought itself. As argued by Bernard de Mandeville, private vices needed to replace private virtues. Public virtue would result from our collective pursuit of private vices.
One result of this has been a decline in the honor that is accorded to soldiers. This fact was brought home to me in a recent article in the Wall Street journal. I've also been emailing with a friend who is now in the Iraq theater. His somewhat bitter thoughts: he expects little from people on the Left, but he notes that even so-called conservatives are largely unwilling to step up to participate in some material way in the war. He speaks of growing numbers of officers and enlisted men who are becoming increasingly disgusted at the "cheap patriotism" of the Right. The divide between the military and the broader society seems wider than ever. This is not only bad for the moral resources of the nation at large; it is also an ill omen for the future of military-civilian affairs. For the sake of the republic, there needs to be a renewed willingness to cultivate the martial virtues. In the wake of the Iraq debacle, however, this seems not only implausible; it would be political suicide, and no one seems particularly willing to - forgive the metaphor - fall on their sword.