chapter  3
A war on terror?
Pages 14

By launching so forcefully a global ‘war on terror’, President Bush has challenged head-on a long-cherished tenet of Western progressives. This has been that insurgency is the authentic voice of the oppressed; and the more adamant its leadership, the more this truth is confirmed. Shades here of the dozens of medieval ballads that created the Robin Hood legend. Shades, too, of a modern disposition to write indulgently of outlaws, gangland bosses and their ilk – Jesse James, Ned Kelly, Reggie Kray, Rob Roy …

On the more overtly political plane, the literati tend to give ultra-Left revolutionaries (Mazzini, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Gerry Adams …) extensive and often empathetic press coverage compared with more moderate reformers or, of course, the anciens régimes. Moreover, the more dismal the status quo ante, the more these tendencies prevail, the underlying assumption being that anything must be an improvement. Alas, the materials of history suggest that unyielding repression is very liable to be replaced, through revolutionary upheaval, by brutality more uncompromising, albeit in a new guise. Robespierre was far more vicious than Louis XVI. Stalin was much worse than the Tsars. Nor does the current dearth of political thought, especially in the developing countries, inspire confidence that future revolutionists would be any better.