“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” wrote the poet W.B. Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Now, assembled in almost two hundred armed tribal camps politely called nation-states, all peoples – not only the people of Israel – coexist insecurely on a plainly anarchic planet. The core origins of this anarchy lie in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which put a codified end to the Thirty Years War.
In time, even with the United Nations, there will be no safety in arms, no rescues from political authority, and no reassuring answers from science. New wars may rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and until all things human are leveled in a vast and utterly primal disorder.
In history and world politics, anarchy is an old story. Chaos is not. There is a meaningful distinction.
Chaos and anarchy represent opposite end points of the same continuum. Perversely, mere anarchy, or the absence of a central world authority, is normal. Chaos, however, is sui generis. It is thoroughly abnormal.
Since the seventeenth century, our anarchic world is best described as a system. What happens in any one part of this world necessarily affects what happens in some or all of the other parts. When deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the corrosive effects can undermine regional and international stability. When this deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the associated effects would be correspondingly immediate and overwhelming. These effects would be chaotic.
Aware that even an incremental collapse of remaining world authority structures will impact its friends as well as its enemies, leaders of the Jewish state will need to advance certain precise and plausible premonitions of collapse in order to chart durable paths to survival. Such indispensable considerations are likely not yet underway. Ironically, the principal paths under serious consideration still seem to be the badly potholed highways of a “road map.”
Israel’s leaders are wasting precious time with their polite considerations of twisted and clichéd cartographies. Soon, they will need to look beyond Iran, and consider how best to respond to international life in a global state of nature. The specific triggering mechanism of our disordered world’s precipitous descent into genuine chaos could originate from a variety of different mass-casualty attacks against Israel, or perhaps from similar attacks against other western democracies. Even the United States would not be immune to this starkly remorseless vulnerability.
Chaotic disintegration of the world system would transform the Israeli system. Such a transformation could involve reciprocal forms of destruction. In anticipation, Israel should orient its strategic planning to an assortment of utterly worst-case prospects, now focusing much more deliberately on a wide range of self-help security options.
This is an idea I have considered before here in The Jewish Press. It suggests that, however counter-intuitive, “thinking the worst” can offer both individuals and states their best path to survival.
Truth may sometimes emerge through paradox. Realistic imaginations of collective national immortality – imaginations generally encouraged by false hopes and delusional surrenders of personal responsibility – can actually discourage Israeli steps to enduring self-preservation.
To be sure, it is very difficult to ask Israelis to reject American-style positive thinking and instead to imagine the worst. Yet, as Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt says, incontestably: “The worst does sometime happen.” Now, however ironically, it would be better for Israel to err on the side of excessive pessimism. Then, literally at the eleventh-hour, spurred on by the most conspicuously dreadful visions of catastrophe, the people of Israel could begin to ward off the genuinely intolerable interstices between Palestinian statehood, Iranian nuclearization, and regional war.
Israel’s persistently one-sided surrender of territories, its mistaken reluctance to accept certain still-timely preemption imperatives and its periodic terrorist “exchanges” may never bring about direct defeat. Taken together, however, these inter-penetrating policy errors will have a cumulatively weakening effect on Israel. Whether the principal effect here will be one that “merely” impairs the Jewish state’s commitment to endure, or one that also opens it up to a devastating missile attack and/or to major acts of terror, is unclear.
For Israel, anarchy and disorder are inevitable. What might still be avoided, are chaos and mega-destruction. What must first be understood, are the differences between rationality, irrationality, and madness.