Friday, April 29, 2005

Problematic Dissent

Every time I delve into the world of the Chomskyites, I thank God for Dissent Magazine, if only because it reminds me that an intelligent, non-Chomskyite Left does exist, albeit on the margins of the ideological map. Had I remained a Leftist, I would likely be in their camp. However, reading this article by Michael Walzer on the Bush victory and how to deal with it reminds me of why I did not and could not do so.

I've always had an ambivalent opinion of Mr. Walzer. Personally, I much prefer Paul Berman, who is a better writer and a more courageous thinker, in my opinion. Walzer's position on Vietnam was, to my mind, utterly immoral and indefensible; and his writings on just war theory strike me as, at best, the naivete of a sheltered intellectual. I think he is an intelligent man who remains, unfortunately, mired in an inchoate nostalgia for the iconography of the Old Left, and for the aesthetic pleasures of revolution and revolt for its own sake. His musings on the state of the left today serve only to confirm that opinion. The piece is long, so I will confine myself to a few essential quotes:

The experts have apparently agreed that it wasn't values that lost us the last election. It was passion, and above all, it was the passion of fear. But maybe frightened people look for strong leaders, whose strength is revealed in their firm commitment to a set of values. Fear politics and value politics may turn out to be closely related.
Now, I understand why this is a popular theory for people who simply can't understand how anyone could vote for George Bush, but it nonetheless remains a fairly obvious rationalization. Yes, people are afraid of terrorism, and they should be, but in my view Bush represented more than fear to the people who voted for him, myself among them; he represented defiance, resoluteness, anger, and the belief that America is worth fighting for because it is fundamentally better than an ideology of theocratic totalitarianism and mass murder. At its most basic level, this represented a certain elementary courage; one which is, I believe, rooted in the very human desire to stand up and defend oneself when attacked. One can debate all of these things, but the manner in which Walzer reduces them down to "fear politics and value politics" trivializes something profound and important to a great many, perhaps a majority, of Americans; which is both shallow and never a smart thing to do if one is seeking a viable political platform.

Questions about just and unjust, right and wrong, goodness and evil...for the right today, the market takes care of such matters, or God takes care of them; the common good arises out of the competition for private goods-in obedience, amazingly, to God's word. On the left, however, we have to take care of moral matters by ourselves, without the help of history, the invisible hand, or divine revelation.

Maybe the struggle against Islamic radicalism and religious zeal is a world-historical struggle, as the struggle against communist totalitarianism was. I doubt that Islamic radicalism has the expansionist potential that communism had, but . . . maybe.
The first statement being made here, that the left is less moralistically extreme than the right, is simply categorically untrue. If anything, the left has become even more moralistic, even more fanatical, and even more extreme since 9/11 and the war in Iraq. They may not evoke God as much as the right, but the fervor with which they regularly compare Bush to Hitler was certainly religious in nature, and Hitler is, after all, merely a secular word for Satan. Moreover, even the mainstream organs of the left have proven willing to defer to these pathologies to a disturbing extent, even to the point of embracing political unpopularity (witness the rise of third-place loser Howard Dean to DNC chair). The problem is not that the left is uncertain of itself, but that its certainty has coalesced around an illusory and frankly psychotic worldview which perceives its own country and president as a manifestation of cosmic evil and refuses to acknowledge the reality of such other possible evils as, say, Islamic radicalism and its attendant terrorist acts. Walzer, in denying this phenomenon, is, like most well-meaning leftists, both in denial and setting himself up to reach all the wrong conclusions about the left's current impasse.

The essence of that impasse lies in two statements which say a great deal more than Walzer likely intended them to; his concept of "the common good", and his assessment of the threat posed by radical Islam. As to the latter, it is obvious to me and to many others that a theocratic totalitarianism which has political momentum, widespread popularity, access to sophisticated weaponry, and a demonstrated willingness to use said weaponry to cause wanton death and destruction is, to put it mildly, a major threat, and in the age of nuclear proliferation, perhaps even an apocalyptic one. At any rate, the question of whether radical Islam is the equal to communism in its danger is an irrelevancy; Islamic terror has proven that it can massively damage, upset, derange, and traumatize the United States, not to mention cause massive loss of innocent life. Its declared intention is to continue doing so until it is victorious or stopped by armed force. Walzer dismisses all this with a "but...maybe" which pretty much tells the whole story.

But it is the former which is really the heart of the matter, since it goes to explain the long term decline of the left, and not merely that which followed 9/11; since it makes it abundantly clear that Walzer simply doesn't understand modern conservatism in any way shape or form. And that, moreover, this lack of understanding is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of human freedom. Like most leftists, Walzer is obsessed with the economic-political realm, or rather, he believes that the economic-political realm encompasses all of human society. As a result, he cannot grasp the fact that conservatism does not desire "the market" to "take care of such matters"; but rather for people, autonomous human beings, to regulate themselves without the interference of the state. For the conservative, there is no "common good" per se, because society is too complex for there to be a single good to be held in common by all; there is only the interaction of free individuals self-regulated by culture, morality, and, yes, religion, all of which exist independent and autonomous of politics. In truth, beyond all questions of war, peace, morality and values, this is the quintessential failure of the left today: its inability and conscious refusal to recognize the limits of politics and the very existence of the free individual. In the leftist mind, we are all merely pawns in the "common good". This is why they can see the War on Terror as a product of politics (i.e. the wicked Bush administration and/or the past machinations of the wicked United States) and also see the solution to the War on Terror as political (i.e. the election of a benign Kerry administration and/or overthrow of the existing political order by riot and street theater). The idea that religious, cultural, or moral forces at work in the world - such as radical Islam and its incompatibility with modern secular democracy - may create immovable realities is simply inconceivable to the left; and thus the possibility that politics means nothing in this struggle and that secular democracy, with all its flaws, may have to be fought for with blood and treasure, no matter who occupies the White House, becomes a fundamental threat to the entirety of their worldview, and must be denied out of existence. Michael Walzer is one of the smartest and most sober leftists writing today; and the fact that even he cannot begin to look beyond the impasse that is his and his movement's is, for me at least, as someone who hopes for an intelligent and engaged opposition, very disheartening indeed.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Definately Not in Kansas Anymore

Ok, this is very off topic, but I can't help it. The other day I woke up and heard this bizarre noise, like a cat hacking up phlegm in a very low register. I go outside with the morning coffee and cigarette, and I see my neighbors across the street feeding this big furry thing on their porch (my street is really an alley, so they're only about five feet away). And I ask them if they got a new dog. They beckon me over, and there's this goddam sheep, the size of a freakin' Great Dane tied up on their porch. They told me they just bought it at the local market and were going to slaughter it for the Passover seder. Apparently, they do it every year. I think I now know the true meaning of the phrase "culture gap". Only in Israel...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Monsters of Virtue

Its rare that one gets to witness such displays of left wing anti-semitism as this extraordinary recent atrocity at UC Berkeley (to say where else? is too tempting a cliche) involving none other than erstwhile faux-indian and professional slanderer of mass murder victims Ward Churchill. There's really nothing new here except for the fact that white-guy-desperate-for-an-oppressed-past Churchill gives his opinion regarding my own people and our oppressed past. Perhaps Churchill's idiocy is motivated by envy (although I could tell him personally that living with the blood of history isn't all its cracked up to be; and suffering real racism isn't nearly as edifying as he imagines it), but judging from this, its based more on total ignorance and a toweringly fanatical belief in his own virtue.
This leads us to the situation in a certain sense of settler colonialism and the cruel order of a particular type in the area of Palestine, which results not from something Jewish but from something particularly anti-Jewish, which is Zionism. [Audience applause.] Zionists return that [with the significance] of Judaism they have not even the sanction of their own rabbinical councils at the time they undertook the project of conquest and colonization in the area they now call Israel. Never did and ultimately they never will.
Like his admirer Chomsky, Churchill has an unfortunate tendency to pontificate on subjects about which he knows nothing. If Churchill knew something about Judaism or Zionism, he would know that the desire to return to the Land of Israel and reestablish the Jewish state is not only less than anti-Jewish but one of the essential tenants of the Jewish faith. He should read 12th century poet and philosopher Judah Halevi, whose work cannot be described as anything other than proto-Zionism. Nor, apparently, is he aware of the involvement of many religious Jews in the Zionist movement, including several Zionists such as Kalishcher who predate even Theodore Herzl and the Zionist Congress, and such eminent religious Zionists as Rabbi Avraham Kook, who believed Zionism essential to Judaism in the modern world. I will not try to decipher Churchill's mangling of the past and present tense, but his claim that Zionism did not have or does not have sanction from "rabbinical councils" is transparently ludicrous. Judaism is not Catholicism, we have no Pope and no central authority. Yes, there are "rabbinical councils" who reject Zionism (though as early as the 1930s they were already a minority), and there are those who embrace it; the notion, however, that this proves anything in regards to the relationship between Zionism and the Jewish religion, which is a complex and long one, if it is even possible to completely separate the two; is simply the ranting of a man who has directed his inchoate resentments upon things he neither understands nor wants to understand, since to do so would render his murderous fanaticism impossible.

But there is something even more important at work here. It is simply this: Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement; as such, Churchill, were he consistent with his expressed principles, would be forced to acknowledge its essential legitimacy. The fact that this man and his fellow travelers, who base their entire sense of their own overweening virtue on their support of the right of oppressed peoples to rise up against their oppression, can see nothing in Zionism but "settler colonialism", a process of "conquest and colonization", a "cruel order" which is "particularly anti-Jewish", speaks of nothing more than a double standard with is fundamentally and self-evidently racist. What we are looking at here is nothing less than a pure and unvarnished expression of left wing anti-semitism. And this is from the man who invokes Eichmann with alacrity and vomits the words Nazi and racist upon any and everyone who dares to threaten his hermetic Manicheanism.

There can be no mistaking what we are dealing with here, and it is no less horrifying than this: Churchill and those who stand with him are the little Eichmanns of our time; it is they who espouse a totalitarian ideology of hate and slaughter, it is they who believe the devil bears the face of the Jew, it is they who desire to spill oceans of blood in the name of justice, it is they who have made virtue into an ideology of murder. In looking at them, I can only think of Nietzsche's words on the virtuous:
Alas, how ill the word "virtue" sounds in their mouths! And when they say: "I am just", it sounds always like "I am revenged!"

They want to scratch out the eyes of their enemies with their virtue; and they raise themselves only in order to lower others.
If this be virtue, I want no part of it.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Comments Provisionally Discontinued

I've always considered it a point of pride that I have never censored my comments, but I've had a lot of recent complaints that they have more or less become a message board for Chomskyites and anti-Chomskyites to hurl insults at each other; which, needless to say, was not what I had in mind when I started this blog. So, for the moment, I am discontinuing the comments section. If any of you have passionate opinions on this or any other matter relating to this blog, feel free to email me at