Saturday, June 24, 2006

Declare Victory and Leave

The total failure of one's life's work is a terrible thing for an old man to contemplate. For Noam Chomsky, who has spent a lifetime advocating the annihilation of the American political and economic system, it must be especially galling to contemplate a United State which is simultaneously farther than it has ever been from his vaguely articulated but nonetheless passionately held visions of leftist utopia and the most powerful political-military-economic entity in human history. The fact that this situation is unlikely to change anytime in the near future must be even more sobering a topic for the good professor's incontinent musings. The Roman empire, after all, lasted some eight hundred years, and the United States has already proven itself superior to the ancient hegemon in terms of both political stability and capacity for adaptation. Chomsky's response to this rather depressing existential state of affairs, namely that the United States and not Noam Chomsky has won the battle for history rather decisively, has resulted in what may be the most spectactular of Chomsky's long series of leaps off the deep end. He has, apparently, now dedicated himself to expounding the thesis that the United States is, in fact, a "failed state." The fact that this assertion is an absurdity of Biblical proportions does not make it any less fascinating. It seems to be a manifestation of that not particularly constructive suggestion made by certain moderate opponents of the Vietnam War back in Chomsky's heyday: declare victory and leave. An edifying solution, no doubt, but not one likely to have much effect on reality, historical or otherwise.

Chomsky articulates his dissent from the real world in a lengthy but fascinating interview with Amy Goodman of the publicly funded radio program Democracy Now!. Miss Goodman appears to be a combination of the worst features of the bad journalist and the psychopath. Which, of course, makes her the perfect choice for a Chomskyite interviewer. Chomsky would, of course, never allow himself to be interviewed by anyone else, such is the measure of his moral courage. The title of Miss Goodman's program must be taken as a subtle attempt at satire, since democracy would of course, demand that Miss Goodman cease robbing the American taxpayer at proverbial gunpoint in order to enrich herself making a program which, in a free market system, would not be capable of existence itself, let alone profitability for its authors. Miss Goodman is, after all, despite her ostensible concerns for social justice, a very unjustly wealthy woman.

The interview is, of course, less an interview than a glorified version of what is called the "teach-in." That is, it is several passionately uncritical adolescent minds contemplating the visage of their all-knowing guru from a rather low vantage point - that is to say, his feet. The less said about such exercises, the better. Suffice it to say, they are unconducive to critical thought, or anything else for that matter. Nonetheless, they do serve to stroke the ego of failed intellectuals.

Chomsky explains his basic assertion with his usual attempts at the rhetorical invocation of self-evidence:
The U.S. increasingly has taken on the characteristics of what we describe as failed states. In the respects that one mentioned, and also, another critical respect, namely the -- what is sometimes called a democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion. So those suggestions that you just read off, Amy, those are actually not mine. Those are pretty conservative suggestions. They are the opinion of the majority of the American population, in fact, an overwhelming majority. And to propose those suggestions is to simply take democracy seriously. It's interesting that on these examples that you've read and many others, there is an enormous gap between public policy and public opinion. The proposals, the general attitudes of the public, which are pretty well studied, are -- both political parties are, on most of these issues, well to the right of the population...Their policies are strongly opposed by most of the population. How do they carry this off? Well, that's been through an intriguing mixture of deceit, lying, fabrication, public relations.
This is indicative of a leftist mythos which I have written about before - namely, that of the Silent Leftist Majority. Since Chomsky cites absolutely nothing in regards to evidence as to what the "opinion of the majority of the American population" actually is, we can only assume that it consists of his own assertion. Leftists who invoke the SLM mythos usually try and mention one or two polls taken by highly biased organizations and/or a study claiming that Americans want socialized health care without mentioning that the same study shows that Americans also don't want their taxes raised to pay for it. Chomsky apparently believes that his reputation is enough for his audience (which it is) or that his genius gives him the telepathic ability to read the secret mind of the American public. Neither of these excuses, however, makes his assertion any less comic. What the SLM mythos really is, of course, is an expression of contempt for the very idea of representative democracy. To avoid unnecessary repitition, I will adopt one of Chomsky's more famous methods and quote myself:
What we are really seeing here, of course, is not so much a commentary on the recent election but yet another asinine display of Chomsky's hopelessly narcississtic contempt for democracy and the intellectual and moral capacities of his fellow citizens. He is unwilling to accept the possibility of a real and meaningful election or a real and meaningful democracy should it fail to enshrine his pseudo-prophetic blubberings into official policy. Thus the system which fails to enshrine becomes a farce and the people who fail to heed become easily manipulated dupes incapable of forming or expressing their own opinions and values through a representative system.
Contempt for those one claims to be respresenting is, of course, a well-known characteristic of radicals on all sides of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, the ubiquity of the phenomenon hardly makes it less frightening. The negation of democracy in the name of democracy, or rather, in the name of the people, is the first step towards totalitarianism: the destruction of the people in the name of the people. Generally, one can spot a totalitarian mind by the extent to which it refuses to accept the existence of any politics except its own. Chomsky's version of the SLM mythos essentially makes the case that everyone actually agrees with him. Turning this from a clumsy attempt to salve one's wounded ego into the basis of dictatorial rule is, of course, only a matter of guns. And, for Chomsky, the gun - from a comfortable distance, of course - has always been the final measure of political legitimacy.

It should be noted that throughout this extensive lecture Chomsky rants at length on the US as a terrorist nation, the violations of various human rights, etc...but says, in fact, very little about why the US is, as he puts it a "failed state". Beyond the "democracy deficit", which is only a fanciful term for the old SLM mythos, Chomsky remains resolutely silent on why the most powerful economic, military, and political force in the history of civilization ought to be considered a failure.

We must presume that Chomsky believes his word is enough in this matter, but we should look to that certain desperation which, as I have said, strikes the elderly upon the approach of death. Particularly upon those who have set their ambitions to the changing of the world. With the exception of Alexander the Great (who died, after all, at the advantageous age of 33) and a handful of other figures, almost no one can claim success in this regard. By this reckoning, it is hardly a surprise that Chomsky has been a failure. But the height of such ambitions must make their undoing a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

The solution, of course, is simple fantasy. Chomsky declares victory and leaves. The US is a failure, the revolution is around the corner, the "world" is on his side. There is nothing left to worry about. Either the fall of the United States or the end of the world (it is normal for frustrated intellectuals to declare victory and apocalypse simultaneously) are imminent. Such appears to be the dialogue of irrelevancy. It would be pitiable, of course, had Chomsky not spent much of his lengthy sojourn on earth slandering men better himself and attempting to undermine the country which has made him both famous and rich. His declaration of victory is farce, of course, as is his departure. Were he a better and smarter man, it might have been tragedy. Unfortunately for Chomsky, even his tiresome extrapolations before fawning sycophants cannot alter the unmistakeable rejection of everything he stands for at the hands of history and the American people he claims to aggrandize. The voice of history is the voice of God, one imagines. Even upon a misspent life.

New Blog

A friend of mine, also a student at BGU, has an interesting new group blog called Kishkushim. Its a nearly untranslatable Hebrew word for chatting up a storm about something, more or less. They're a bit to the left of yours truly, but we all have our vices. Check it out.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Mythology and Its Masters

The fracas over the recently published polemic - “study” would be a criminally inaccurate term - on the Israel lobby at Harvard University has revealed, unsurprisingly, very little about the Israel lobby, but quite a bit about the mythology of antisemitism on today’s left. Tropes of Jewish control, power, and influence are as old as antisemitism itself, which is to say, they are very, very old, and no more accurate now than they were then. The mythos of antisemitism, however, has clearly undergone a sea change, and a large one, which is what makes the plethora of nonsensical lies being foisted on us by the polemic’s supporters all the more fascinating.

Tony Judt, the last man on earth who thinks a federated Europe is going to work, sees fit to proclaim for all the world that a dialogue may finally be opened about Jewish power and influence in America. He has hit on something, presumably without realizing it, since Judt strikes me as neither particularly insightful or intelligent. What he explicates, albeit indirectly, is the metamorphosis of the mythology of antisemitism.
The essay and the issues it raises for American foreign policy have been prominently dissected and discussed overseas. In America, however, it's been another story: virtual silence in the mainstream media. Why? There are several plausible explanations. One is that a relatively obscure academic paper is of little concern to general-interest readers. Another is that claims about disproportionate Jewish public influence are hardly original - and debate over them inevitably attracts interest from the political extremes. And then there is the view that Washington is anyway awash in "lobbies" of this sort, pressuring policymakers and distorting their choices.

Each of these considerations might reasonably account for the mainstream press's initial indifference to the Mearsheimer-Walt essay. But they don't convincingly explain the continued silence even after the article aroused stormy debate in the academy, within the Jewish community, among the opinion magazines and Web sites, and in the rest of the world. I think there is another element in play: fear. Fear of being thought to legitimize talk of a "Jewish conspiracy"; fear of being thought anti-Israel; and thus, in the end, fear of licensing the expression of anti-Semitism.
This mythology is based on an old idea: the mythos of Jewish power. But its form is entirely new: the mythos of Jewish power as a weapon of oppression. Whereas the Jews were once assaulted as a disease, now they are denounced as tyrants. How humanity has progressed in fifty short years.

The fact of this mythology as a mythology is evident because it is so evidently a lie. Like its predecessors, the lie is essential to the new metamorphosis. And it is a lie as large as it is simple. This is its genius. The lie is this: we are silenced. The entire charge against the Jews is one based on the mythos of rebellion. That those who speak lies about the Jews are, in fact, speaking truth to power. A power which endlessly seeks to silence them.

In fact, there is almost no issue today which is more talked about. Far from silence, we have a limitless chorus of denunciations, all carefully composed to include the obligatory exhortations to break the silence that does not exist. As far back as its origins, the widespread support for Zionism among American Jews has been the target of opprobrium and sanctimony. Far from being suppressed, the “dialogue” on the Israel lobby, and on Jewish power, such as it is imagined, is inescapable. Edward Said, for instance, a sacred cow of Judt's, published his assault on Zionism, including its influence in America, called "Zionism From the Standpoint of Its Victims", in 1979. They Dare to Speak Out, a book length attack on the Israel lobby, was published in 1989 by a former congressman. Hardly new and hardly original. Nightline broadcast a special in 2002 on the conflict in the Middle East in which Ted Koppel asked Newt Gingrinch about "the mystique of the Jewish lobby". Koppel, the great liberal journalist, seemed unfazed by the fact that the man he no doubt considered the great spokesman of conservative intolerance considered the question vaguely suspect. Said himself spent much of the 1990s and beyond spitting rhetorical poison (Said was not particularly good at anything else) at American Zionism and its varied establishments. Noam Chomsky's Peace in the Middle East?, which contains an entire chapter denouncing American supporters for Israel and their supposedly dominating influence, was published in 1974. This is not even to mention Russell Kirk and Pat Buchanan, who made much of the Israel lobby and its supporters as a wedge against neoconservatism during the '80s and '90s. Is it even necessary to mention that the New Left's denunciation of Israel and its American supporters was one of the primary motivating factors for the defection of such leftist luminaries as Norman Podhoretz to the other side? Or that even Chomsky himself and others, such as Tikkun's Michael Lerner, have been denounced by their own comrades for aiding and abetting the cause of Zionist suppression? The "silence" regarding Israel and its American supporters is, in fact, a shrieking cacophony of rage that permeates discussion to the point where it is no longer noticed. It is so ubiquitous that the only defense against cliché is the claim of revolt. Revolt, in fact, against the brute weight of history itself. A Judt puts it:
In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that an Israeli soldier's great-grandmother died in Treblinka will not excuse his own misbehavior.
This is, of course, the real enemy. Not the supposed terrors of totalitarian Zionism nor the necessity of beginning a debate which has been raging for over twenty years. It is the need to negate, to fundamentally annihilate, the fact of Jewish history. A history which is, of course, among other things, a series of catastrophes for which a reckoning must be made by the world which is overwhelmingly not Jewish. David Ben-Gurion once said that Zionism was not merely a case of Jews confronting the Arabs, but the Jews confronting the world. Against this, the inescapable mountain of wreckage upon which the Jewish people have built an improbable but nonetheless undeniable survival, and ultimate triumph, the only weapons are denial, reversal, and righteous condemnation. The accusors of Israel are in revolt against history itself.

Revolt, of course, is not new for antisemitism. It has been the cornerstone of leftist antisemitism since the days of Prudhon, the great revolutionary and prophet of man's liberation who declared that by fire or fusion the Jew must cease to exist. Replayed again, history, as the notable antisemite Karl Marx put it, becomes farce. From the depths of the establishment, Harvard University, we hear a self-described voice in the wilderness proclaiming war on the establishment, that is, upon the Jews. Whether Jewish influence outstrips that of Harvard is left an issue of speculation. Suffice it to say, it is not even necessary to ask the question. The ease with which the new mythology has been accepted is proof enough.