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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘nationalism’

In Praise of Nationalism

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Recently, I wrote about universalizing the Holocaust and how it obscures an important lesson for the Jewish people: that we cannot place the responsibility for our defense in other hands.

A reader has pointed me to another piece which made a similar point, but expressed in in more general terms. Daniel Greenfield (‘Sultan Knish’) wrote this (but read the whole article):

The Jewish response to the Holocaust fell into these two categories. Never Again and Teach Tolerance. And the two responses were segmented by population. Never Again became the credo of Israel and Teach Tolerance became the credo of the Western Diaspora.

There were many Israelis who believed in teaching tolerance and many Western Jews who believed in self-defense, but for the most part the responses were structural because the divide between Nationalists and Universalists predated the Holocaust. …

Never Again made the Holocaust a teachable moment for Jews. Teach Tolerance made it a teachable moment for all mankind. The Nationalist and the Universalist draw two opposite lessons from the Holocaust. The Nationalists focus on resistance while the Universalists focus on persecution. The Nationalist aspires to be a ghetto fighter while the Universalist aspires to be a good German. …

The Holocaust did not heal the divide between the Universalists and the Nationalists; it deepened it. The Universalists still insisted that a better world was coming and that the Holocaust made it more urgent for us to work toward it, while the Nationalists saw the world as a cycle of civilizations that had to be survived, with no respite, except for the religious who awaited a final transformation of the world and everything in it.

The nationalist/universalist distinction is a good one, much more illuminating of today’s war between the Jews than the more usual ones of Right vs. Left or Conservative vs. Liberal.

As Greenfield notes, the universalist believes in progress — he sees human society as perfectible, and indeed, moving in the direction of a better, more humane world. He often believes that the main obstacles to progress are barriers to communication; all humans are at bottom similar with similar wants and needs (mostly economic), and if we only understood each other we could work together for the common good. He prefers to avoid making moral judgments on other cultures.

The nationalist understands several things that the universalist does not:

  1. Cultures may have very different ideas of what a desirable world looks like — it isn’t just a communications problem.
  2. It’s irrational to make unilateral concessions to an adversary with opposing objectives (the universalist doesn’t believe that others really have opposing objectives)
  3. History tends to be cyclical. The idea of continuous progress is a myth.
  4. It’s hard enough to perfect one’s own society; it’s foolhardy to try to do it for the rest of the world.

If we compare Western and Islamic cultures, we find that universalist attitudes are common in the former and rare in the latter. But of course there are plenty of nationalists among westerners. Compare the nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu with the universalist Shimon Peres.

I think this distinction is more fundamental than the right/left divide. It is also very firmly ensconced in our psyches, and it is not easy to change. How else can you explain the so-called “architects of Oslo” who — after several wars and thousands of lives lost to terrorism — continue to think that a two-state agreement with the PLO will bring peace? Or the 100 American Jewish “leaders” who signed a recent letter calling for Israel to make ‘painful’ concessions?

Other things being equal, a struggle between universalists and nationalists will favor the nationalists, because they understand that their goals are different from those of their adversaries. Israel’s enemies are ‘nationalists’ in this sense, even if they are Islamists. They are happy to pocket concessions, give back nothing, and make further demands.

The universalist is easy prey to doubts. After all, he thinks, if the other side believes in its position so strongly, maybe there’s something to it? So Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf comments on Amira Hass’ controversial article which applauds Arab stone-throwers with one of the most craven statements I’ve heard in a long time:

…it’s not for Israelis to set the rules for the ways Palestinians should challenge our oppression, especially at times when Israeli society clearly lacks any interest in changing the status quo. Our role is to end the occupation.[my emphasis]

A perfect example of a universalist trying so hard to ‘understand’ that he more or less accepts his enemies’ ‘right’ to bash his brains out!

Outside the Territory of Reason

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

As the edge of the fiscal cliff approaches and then recedes, like an imagined desert isle appearing and disappearing admit the waves, the process that has brought America into the tyranny of debt goes on. The national debt, like our annual deficits, is a symptom of the true problem.

Irresponsible behavior is a symptom of irresponsible thinking. Bad choices come from the failure to understand consequences. Power is not just an aphrodisiac, it numbs one to the understanding that there even are consequences.

The centers of people in a nation are the last to feel the cold and their decisions are insulated from their consequences by power and comfort. Even as they warn about the danger, they are too far away from it to truly feel it. It is a shadow to them. An idea. Not a reality.

To the powerful, power is the only reality. And the limits of their own power are unknown to them. The possession of power is a constraint that prevents the possessor from seeing its limits.

We live in a world that has lost touch with the very idea of hard choices. That even in the richest and most prosperous country in the world, you still have to choose one or the other. That you can’t have you cake and eat it too. But as the hard edges of reason have blurred into the haze of wishful thinking, the idea of mutually incompatible choices also fades away. Soon there are no choices, only options.

Our government has vanished into that haze. A haze in which our leaders actually believe that we can be tough and kind, strong and beloved and spending as much as we want without worrying about where it’s coming from. The haze extends to our policies which assume that we can win wars without offending anyone, and spend as much money as we want without recouping it in some way. In a system built on two party stalemates usually broken by compromises, it’s all too easy to believe that you can give and take, without ever having to choose. One or the other.

A country whose leadership does not understand the concept of mutually incompatible choices is doomed to have its political structure decay into tyranny and its economy stagnate and finally collapse. Without the understanding that some choices are hard and fast things, success becomes impossible. When you think that you can do everything, you end up being unable to do anything. When every option is on the table, then no option is on the table. And if the political leadership cannot make those choices, then it will be replaced by another form of leadership that will solve the problem with tyranny. This has happened before. And it will happen again.

The Middle East presents us with the troubling sight of an entire region run by people who are unable to make such absolute distinctions. Princes, sheiks and prime ministers pursue mutually incompatible policies at the same time, make contradictory assertions and often remain unaware that their actions are contradictory. In a region that is outside the territory of reason, everything is always on the table. There is no truth, only layers of lies. Push far enough down and you come away with nothing but hot air. The popularity of Islam as a political solution is due in part to the perception that it represents an absolute certainty. An anchor in a turbulent sandy sea. Not an intellectual anchor of reason, but of fanatical force. The comfort of the thoughtless tyranny of power.

But the West has been headed out of the territory of reason for some time now. Its truths have become ideological beliefs. Its goals have become the self-worship of its own symbols, size for the sake of size, and centralization for the sake of centralization. There is a mingled horror and longing for the savage and the barbaric, as civilization appears to have lost its meaning. The leadership cries “Onward to a united world” on the one hand, and “Back to the caves” on the other. That confused melange boils down to a cultural intelligence which has lost the awareness of its own contradictions. High tech environmentalism, soft wars and valueless money are all symptoms of that same intellectual degeneracy.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/outside-the-territory-of-reason/2013/01/03/

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