Category Archives: Western Civilization

Is Islamism a Totalitarian System Like Nazism and Communism?

The concept of a totalitarian state was an invention of the twentieth century. The notion of a state or nation whose government could control virtually all aspects of its citizens’ lives was not conceivable in prior times. It is certainly true that in monarchies throughout history, the average subject had little capability to individually alter his finances, geographical mobility or political status. But the monarch’s reach into the personal life of his subjects was largely restricted to the upper aristocratic coterie that surrounded him. Tradition, religion, ethnic constraints and geographical proximity were far more influential in determining the beliefs and behavior of the average subject than were the machinations of the king.

However, in a modern totalitarian state, technology, advanced communications and sophisticated surveillance techniques endow a relatively small ruling class with much more extensive powers. In the totalitarian state, the government completely controls the political, economic, social and cultural life of almost all its citizens. Such a level of control has actually only been achieved in two twentieth century nations: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Although strongly authoritarian, heavily centralized and equally war-like, Imperial Japan wasn’t really a totalitarian state in the same sense as the other two. The lives of its citizens were determined more by rigid cultural and “religious” rules than by the exhortations of the Emperor and his court. There were also a few mini totalitarian states in the last century – for example: Albania, perhaps Burma and a few wannabees (Nicaragua, Belarus). But Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are really the only examples of major nations that qualify as totalitarian states.

As is well-known, the rulers of such nations have an appetite for control that cannot be sated only by its own citizens. The urge to conquer other nations is overwhelming. And, alas, the history of the two twentieth century totalitarian regimes is replete with invasion, mass murder, concentration camps, gulags, occupations and unimaginable barbarism. It is to the eternal credit of the United States that it refused to be cowed by these murderous regimes, led international coalitions to combat them and – in the words of Ronald Reagan – dispatched them to the ash heap of history.

But, to the sorrow of the civilized world, the twenty first century seems to have coughed up a third major totalitarian system – Islamism or radical Islam. There is absolutely no question that the sponsors of this ideology have in mind a totalitarian system for all regions in which that ideology will rule. It may be that the prime motivating factor in this third case is religion – unlike Nazism, in which it was race or volk; or Communism, in which it was economic or class. Nevertheless, according to the self-professed intentions of the Jihadists who espouse Islamism, the goal is to create a society ruled absolutely by Sharia Law. Based on prior experience in Afghanistan and those few despoiled spots in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria) and Africa (Sudan, parts of Mali) where rule by Sharia Law has been implemented, one must conclude that it is a political system, which seeks to control all aspects of the lives of those under its domain. Ergo, a totalitarian system.

However, there is a major difference between radical Islam as it is developing and Nazism and Communism as they existed. While in all three cases, the goal was/is worldwide domination; in the twentieth century variety, the focal point for the system and the font from which all the branches were directed, was a single nation state. That is far from the case with radical Islam. For the latter, we are witnessing far-flung eruptions – like pimples on an ugly face – all over Africa and Asia (with tentacles all over the world). Although they are only loosely aligned with each other, each is guided by the same ideology and employs the same tactics. All seek to create a worldwide totalitarian system based on radical Islam that would totally dominate the lives of all who live under it.

Here is a partial list of the blemishes: Al Qaeda (AQ), AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), AQ in the Maghreb (AQIM), Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Boko Haram, Abbu Sayyaf, Al Shabaab, Jabhat al Nusra, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban. Breathtaking! The cancer is metastasizing all over the world and new mutations spring up regularly. Incidentally, some would add the state of Iran to the list.

The West in general and the Unites States in particular are now confronted by a lethal threat from this metastasizing totalitarian system. The system’s adherents – in every case – have declared that the West and the US are indeed the mortal enemies of Islam and that the peoples of those entities must be converted or killed. That is not a negotiating position on their part. It is their hardcore belief – one on which they have acted and on which they promise to continue acting. We in the US (and in the West) do not have the luxury of dismissing their intentions as ludicrous and not worthy of our attention. They have declared war on us and even if we pretend it is not so, it does not change the fact that we are in their crosshairs.

Part of the reason that we have not taken the threat with the seriousness that it warrants is indeed the diffuse nature of the enemy. There is no single nation state that is its chief sponsor and upon which we might concentrate any ire that we could work up. (Again, some consider Iran to be a candidate, although we are extremely reluctant to confront them as such.) Another reason is the fatigue we feel – first from our two heroic struggles to overcome the twentieth century totalitarian systems; and second, from our halting and unsuccessful efforts to engage the Jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. But I think the main reason is that, since the threat emerged (roughly 20 years ago), all of our leaders (Clinton, Bush, Obama) have been loath to identify it for what it is. They tell us that Islam is a religion of peace and that the practitioners of Jihad are a small minority that has hijacked the religion. In fact there is no objective evidence for that claim and much to support its refutation. Moreover, I doubt that our leaders believe their own words. Instead, the emergence of the third totalitarian threat does not conform to their vision of the twenty first century as the West foresaw it developing following the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Another totalitarian monster? No way! Been there, done that. It’s so twentieth century.” The eruption of radical Islam just doesn’t square with the “end of history” theme to which they subscribe, and so Islamism must be a passing or insignificant trend that does not command the attention, resources and drive required of us that were needed to combat the evils of the twentieth century. The West just doesn’t want to go down that road again.

And so we call Jihad in Fort Hood “workplace violence”; we refer to terrorist actions against us in the homeland as “man-caused disasters”; and we label the limited sorties against the Jihadists that we have permitted ourselves “overseas contingency operations.” We strive mightily to fool ourselves so as not to recognize that, for a third time, a brutal and murderous totalitarian system has emerged to threaten the civilized world and that if we don’t confront and destroy it, the fate of mankind is bleak indeed.

But we are not fooling anyone. Islamism is indeed a totalitarian system. The way it has emerged and the nature of its existence differs from those of Nazism or Communism. That should not prevent us from a clear evaluation of its nature and the threat that it poses. We defeated Nazism by building and deploying a mighty military force that bludgeoned the Nazis into submission. We defeated Communism by building a mighty economy and social engine that exposed the hollow and false nature of Communist ideology – so that the Soviet Union collapsed on its own. We clearly have not settled on a strategy for confronting and defeating Islamism. It might be that we haven’t even begun looking for one. But we better get busy. The Islamists are coming for us. For them, it’s a fight to the death. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can get to work arranging for their death.

This essay also appeared in Canada Free Press as well as in The Intellectual Conservative

Obama: The Joke is on Us

Here is a joke, entitled “Looking for Work,” that has worked its way around the Internet:

An Israeli doctor says: “In Israel, medicine is so advanced that we cut off a man’s testicles, put them on another man and in 6 weeks, he is looking for work”.

The German doctor says: “that’s nothing, in Germany we take part of a brain, put it in another man, and in 4 weeks he is looking for work”.

The Russian doctor says: “gentlemen, we take half a heart from a man, put it in another’s chest and in 2 weeks he is looking for work”

The United States doctor laughs: “You all are behind us. Five years ago, we took a man with no brains, no heart and no balls and made him President. Now, the whole country is looking for work!”

How could the people of the United States perform such a reckless act: install the most manifestly unqualified presidential candidate as CEO of the US and leader of the free world? I will offer a brief and well-worn answer to that question and then attempt to answer two important follow up questions:

  1. What does the fact that we did elect – and re-elect – Obama say about America?
  2. Do the results of Obama’s presidency and the events of the last five years support the conclusions drawn in the answer to the first question?

Many theories have been advanced purporting to account for Obama’s election: he was exceedingly charming and intelligent; he represented a clear alternative to the style and policies of his unpopular predecessor; his competition was exceptionally weak; his organization ran an unusually innovative and technologically savvy campaign far beyond those of his opponent. But the most common explanation served up, and the one that I believe is the most accurate is the following. The country viewed his elevation to the presidency as an act of expiation that: was merited by the USA’s wicked history of slavery and segregation; would heal the deep wounds inflicted on our society by that bitter legacy; and would unify our country and cement our status as the most successful multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multicultural society in the history of the world. And it would grant us renewed moral authority to continue to pursue our American experiment to create the freest, most prosperous and most exceptional nation on the face of the earth.

It was impossible not to see that, in a formal sense, Obama was totally unqualified to stand for the job. He had no executive experience, no managerial experience, and he knew virtually nothing about business, economics, foreign policy or national defense. He had no military record, a meager congressional record, and what few positions he had were handed to him without his demonstrating any qualifications to justify them. It is truly correct to assert that by any objective measure, he was completely unqualified to be considered as a candidate for president. Moreover, that was totally obvious to anyone who paid the slightest attention.

Nevertheless, the people chose him to be their president. And the only explanation that makes any sense is the expiation one offered. Well, there is a second – namely, that the American people are overwhelmingly stupid, ignorant, myopic and self-destructive. I don’t buy that – although, sometimes I wonder.

Now let us deal with the two follow up questions. First, what does Obama’s election – and perhaps even more seriously, his re-election – say about America? Well, the expiation explanation certainly says that the stain of slavery and racial bigotry weighs heavily on our souls. We desperately wished to wash out the stain and the election of a black man to the presidency would go a very long way toward accomplishing that goal. But given that he was unqualified and that the likelihood of alternate possibilities arising in the near future were good (in fact, Colin Powell might very well have preceded Obama if he had had the courage to run), surely it occurred to many that the price of electing Obama might easily outweigh the benefit. If one allowed oneself to go beyond the atonement issue, it was also impossible not to see the radically left proclivities of the man, the sordid background of some of his closest associates and the intolerance and arrogance that characterized many of his attitudes. Yet America ignored these dreadful warning signs and installed him anyway. And then they re-installed him!

What that says about America is much more than that we were desperate to expunge our racial sins. It says that we were equally interested in expelling far more of our culture and character than just our racial biases. In short, it announced that the US is now infected with the same disease that has laid low our European cousins: the loss of faith in our own culture.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Europeans surveyed the wreckage of their twentieth century achievements: two world wars that killed tens of millions of people; a Holocaust that exceeded any genocide in history in its cold-blooded, meticulous planning and execution; and a legacy of corrupt and rapacious colonial regimes that they viewed as the cause of vast misery in Africa and Asia. The Europeans decided that their culture – more commonly known as Western Civilization – was to blame and resolved to cast it off. Finding little to replace it, the peoples of Western Europe have sunk into a motley group of centrally-governed, irreligious, amoral, meek, increasingly poor, social welfare states that bear little resemblance to the powerful and confident societies of the past (e.g., Spain and Holland in the 1600s, France in the 1700s, Germany in the late 1800s and England for roughly 300 years ending in the mid-1900s).

Despite the fact that the US had little to do with initiating any of the twentieth century misery created by the Europeans – indeed, we spent a good bit of blood and treasure cleaning it up, our country has, as of late, decided to join our European cousins in their march to oblivion. We too have seemingly lost faith in our own culture. That is the central meaning in the election and re-election of Barack Obama. Our dear president never manifests any love for or pride in the country that entrusted the oval office to him. He has made clear in his books and his utterances – and in the friends he keeps – not only that America has not been a force for good in the world, but rather its legacy of: slavery, discrimination against women and minorities, internment of Japanese-American citizens, military aggression in the Middle East, income inequality, and myriad other social evils are indelible stains that must be atoned for by redistributing American wealth, diluting America’s power and subjugating its will to that of the “international community.” He clearly holds in disdain: the Christian religion, middle American morality, success in business, the concept of American Exceptionalism, American military might and the Constitutional system upon which our society was founded. Therefore, by choosing him – and then re-anointing him, the American people have proclaimed a loss of faith in America’s traditional ideals and principles. The people are ready to cast them aside, or if not that, then not to resist as they are torn from our hands.

Now for the second question: Do the events of the last five years reinforce or subvert the allegations made above? The answer is unequivocally the former. For what are the signal events of the last five years? Let’s identify only those that can be tied in a significant way to the fact that Barack Obama has been president during that period:

  • Obamacare became the law of the land. One sixth of the US economy has been nationalized; tens of millions of people have had the cost and quality of their health care adversely affected; all to insure less than one-quarter of the 10% of the population that was previously uninsured.
  • The federal debt has exploded and has been set on a catastrophically unsustainable path that poses an existential threat to our nation.
  • America’s defenses have been eviscerated. At the same time, the nation has been repeatedly embarrassed and derided by its enemies; while our allies have lost faith in our ability to protect them.
  • The economy has as yet to recover in anything approaching a normal fashion from the economic tumult of 2007-2009.
  • Family structure is crumbling, religion is on the wane, smut and pornography saturate the entertainment media, but abortion and gay marriage are thriving.
  • We are witnessing the arrogant behavior of the most lawless administration, certainly since Nixon and perhaps ever.
  • Despite the discovery of new domestic energy resources, the administration is doing everything it can to cripple the domestic energy industry. In its stead, it seeks to put a green roof over every head and an efficient flush handle in every hand.

Moreover, with the exception of the first and fourth bullets above (Obamacare and the economy), the American public doesn’t seem to care very much. Obama and his henchmen are working as hard as they can to fundamentally transform America from a constitutional republic into a centrally-managed unexceptional, militarily weak, egalitarian, poor, social welfare state. The American people should be up in arms. Obama’s impeachment should be under serious consideration. But, as I said, with some exception, the public does not seem terribly disturbed about the coming fate to which Obama is leading us. Again, the only possible explanation is that a major percentage of the American people has lost faith in the classical American ideal and is content to see the country transformed.

The joke that opened this piece is very funny. But the real joke is on us.

This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative

Uninventing Freedom

Daniel Hannan, the famous Euro-skeptic, recently published a magnificent book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. In it he traces the history of the Anglosphere – the English-speaking countries of the world – from its origin in the British Isles to its greatest flowering on the soil of the USA. It is not my purpose here to formally review the book – two excellent reviews have already appeared. (See Mark Tooley’s essay in The American Spectator [Jan/Feb 2014] and Barton Swain’s piece in the Wall Street Journal [11/29/13], the latter of which is also featured on the Reviews page of this web site.) Instead, I will supply several trenchant  quotes from the book and then use them as a stepping stone to draw some conclusions pertinent to the political mess in which America finds itself. By the latter I mean the predicament emanating from the fact that the people of the US have recklessly elected – and re-elected – a president whose basic political beliefs run totally contrary to the fundamental axioms, which have formed the foundation upon which this nation was established and has been governed.

Elected parliaments, habeas corpus, free contract, equality before the law, open markets, an unrestricted press, the right to proselytize for any religion, jury trials: these things are not somehow the natural condition of an advanced society. They are specific products of a political ideology developed in the language in which you are reading these words. The fact that those ideas, and that language, have become so widespread can make us lose sight of how exceptional they were in origin… [Indeed] the three precepts that define Western civilization—the rule of law, democratic government, and individual liberty— are not equally valued across Europe. When they act collectively, the member states of the EU are quite ready to subordinate all three to political imperatives. The rule of law is regularly set aside when it stands in the way of what Brussels elites want.

Barack Obama’s view of America matches the EU premise. He sees the US as just another country among the nations of the world; its culture, political philosophy and economic system are of no more intrinsic merit than those of any other country. His goal is to meld us into world society as one among equals. He completely rejects the messianic idea, common to our Founders and all of our leaders from Washington to Lincoln and even to FDR, of American Exceptionalism – which posits that the American experiment is unique in the annals of history and that America is to be a beacon of freedom to the world.

What distinguishes the common law from the Roman law that predominates in Continental Europe and its colonial offshoots? Chiefly this. The Continental legal model is deductive. A law is written down from first principles, and then those principles are applied to a particular case. Common law, to the astonishment of those raised in the Roman or Napoleonic systems, does the reverse. It builds up, case by case, with each decision serving as the starting point for the next dispute. It applies a doctrine known to lawyers as stare decisis: previous judgments should stand unaltered, serving as precedent. Common law is thus empirical rather than conceptual: it concerns itself with actual judgments that have been handed down in real cases, and then asks whether they need to be modified in the light of different circumstances in a new case.

Our president cum law professor has little use for common law or stare decisis. This is evident in his increasingly lawless behavior. As his actions regarding Obamacare, the Dream Act, gay marriage, recess appointments and many, many other areas indicate, he is content to ignore the constraints imposed upon him by the Constitution and create law by fiat – that is, by executive order. He sees himself and his minions as wise beings who know what is best for America. The law is merely a vehicle to implement his vision. The opinions of the people on any particular matter are of little import.

Tenth-century England had undeniably started down the track to constitutional liberty. What might have happened had it continued on that path we’ll never know, because, in 1066, it was brutally wrenched out of the Nordic world and subjected to European feudalism. Harold Godwinson, an English nobleman with scant claim to the throne, but with the unequivocal backing of the Witan, was deposed by William of Normandy, who had his own ideas about the duties owed to a king. It was a calamitous defeat for England, for the Witan, and for the development of liberty. Indeed, the next six centuries can be seen in one sense—and were seen by many of the key protagonists—as an attempt to reverse the disaster of 1066.

This quote is included to highlight the effectiveness of the liberal brainwashing that is administered in America’s public schools. Long ago, I identified for myself the falsehoods that were drummed into my head in school: from the nonsense that FDR saved the nation from the Great Depression to the obscenity that Communism was an alternate – and in some ways more effective – economic system as opposed to capitalism. Well, it never dawned on me that the Norman conquest of Britain was a disaster that set back the cause of liberty for 600 years. In school and college, I learned that the conquest was a result of a more or less legitimate dispute over who should possess the British crown, and that its effect on English life was relatively minimal with the exception of hastening the end of slavery on the island. Hannan presents a compelling case that the Normans attempted – with some success – to replace the decentralized, rudimentarily free legal system in England a millennium ago with a centralized authoritarianism. Such a viewpoint is never presented in school. Well, this is perhaps a minor example, but it is representative of the distorted history that was taught, and is taught even more egregiously in today’s public schools.

In most of Europe, landownership was settled, with farms being treated as an inalienable patrimony. In England, by contrast, there was a lively land market from at least the thirteenth century (earlier records are harder to come by). In most of Europe, children would work on their parents’ farms, receiving board and lodging rather than wages. In England—to the surprise and occasional disgust of overseas visitors—children would generally have left the family home by their teens, either for apprenticeships or to work elsewhere. The farmwork would instead be done by hired hands for competitive pay. In most of Europe, the family was recognized as the primary unit, not just in custom but in law: parents generally could not disinherit their children, and the family plot was treated as a communal resource. In England, there was almost no notion of shared ownership. A boy who had reached legal maturity was, in the eyes of the law, a wholly free agent: his father had neither claims over him nor duties to him.

Barack Obama, July 13, 2012 in Roanoke, VA: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Perhaps George W. Bush’s single greatest foreign policy success was to draw India back into the alliance of English-speaking democracies when he accepted the nation’s nuclear status in 2006. That relationship has been vigorously cultivated by David Cameron but neglected by Barack Obama. Fortunately, Indians seem prepared to wait for a different attitude from Washington. They are a patient and courteous people.

Obama is working hard to separate the US from the Anglosphere. One of his first acts as president was to expel the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. He has denied that there is any special kinship between the US and the UK. He keeps Canada cooling its heels for five years waiting on the Keystone XL Pipeline. And I have never heard him utter a warm word about Australia or New Zealand. But perhaps this is unfair as he has been equally rough on America’s non-Anglo allies. His treatment of Israel has been an abomination. And while he bows to kings, hobnobs with Venezuela’s (now dead) Marxist leader, and is anxious to negotiate with Iran, Assad and the dear leader of North Korea, he gives the back of his hand to Poland, the Czech Republic and Honduras. His sense of American history and Western Civilization is … is … well, he doesn’t have any sense of them.

Americans take pride in being self-reliant, optimistic, ambitious. But these characteristics are not a by-product of Mississippi water or turkey meat, and neither are they some magical quality in the American genome. People respond to incentives; culture is shaped by institutions. If taxation, spending, and borrowing keep rising, if more and more Americans become dependent on the state, it won’t take long before they start behaving like the French, rioting and demonstrating in defense of their acquired entitlements… Margaret Thatcher’s political godfather, Sir Keith Joseph, used to remark that if you give people responsibility, they behave responsibly. What goes for individuals goes for entire nations.
There has been a general loss of confidence in the superiority of the Anglosphere model, which fended off every extremist challenge throughout the twentieth century. Cultural relativism feeds into hard policy. Once you reject the notion of exceptionalism as intrinsically chauvinistic, you quickly reject the institutions on which that exceptionalism rested: absolute property rights, free speech, devolved government, personal autonomy. Bit by bit, your country starts to look like everyone else’s. Its taxes rise; its legislature loses ground to the executive and to an activist judiciary; it accepts foreign law codes and charters as supreme; it drops the notion of free contract; it prescribes whom you may employ and on what terms; it expands its bureaucracy; it forgets its history

For Obama and today’s liberals, America’s decline is its just reward for its checkered history. For them, America has failed to live up to its promise. Moreover, that failure was ordained by America’s flawed founding. Its sins are numerous and great: slavery; segregation; abuse of Native Americans, women, gays and minorities; nuking Japan; corporate greed; international pillage; and the promotion of laissez-faire capitalism, States’ rights and gun rights. The fact that America has confronted its true failings (to be found among the previous list, which contains some bogus elements), and made enormous progress in correcting them is irrelevant. Only a fundamental transformation of America into a pliant, social welfare state can expiate its sins.

Hannan calls attention to these perverse views held by Obama and describes in detail how they violate the history and calling of the Anglosphere. Nevertheless, Hannan remains optimistic that the US can overthrow the tyranny of Obama’s fundamental transformation and restore the nation to its historic calling, to its rightful place as the leader of the Anglosphere and thereby guarantee freedom and prosperity to the American people for ages. His final words evoke an American patriot of whom Ronald Reagan was fond:

For we are not finished. We remain an inventive, quizzical, enterprising people. All we need to do is hold fast to the model that made us that way. Edmund Burke’s words about America in 1775 apply, mutatis mutandis, to the Anglosphere as a whole today. English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all it can be.”
[And in Burke’s time] at the other end of the Anglosphere, a young doctor in Boston named Joseph Warren—the man who sent Paul Revere on his ride—was seeking to rally his countrymen in defense of the same principles. His words ring down the ages: “You are to decide the question on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
You, reading these words in his language, are the heirs to a sublime tradition. A tradition that gave us liberty, property, and democracy, and that raised our species to a pinnacle of wealth and happiness hitherto unimaginable. Act worthy of yourselves.


This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative

Is Israel Turning Inward?

Two recent, significant events in Israel highlight a major change in the Israeli people’s attitude toward their nation’s role in Middle Eastern affairs. These events were the January elections for a new Knesset (Parliament) and the just-concluded state visit of President Obama. The outcome of the elections befuddled virtually all of the international political prognosticators. Moreover, the impact of Obama’s visit – with the possible exception of a tentative rapprochement with Turkey – will be essentially nil. These surprising developments reflect a sea change in the Israeli public’s perception of the major issues confronting their nation and, more importantly, how their tiny country should deal with these issues – both those that were formerly anointed as the most pressing as well as those now recognized by the people as truly the most urgent.

From the moment of its birth, Israel has been under attack. The assault has been broad (emanating from its Arab neighbors, the Muslim world, the Communist nations, the UN and even from Europe), sustained (65 years with no respite), vicious (the attackers employ terrorism, bigotry-motivated  boycotts, bloodthirsty calumny and of course conventional war) and existential. Regarding the latter, while Israel’s foes have sought its destruction from the beginning, their former discretion about expressing their true intentions has given way to blatant and transparent statements of their desire to obliterate the Jewish nation and its people.

Not surprisingly, in response to the ongoing dire threat, Israel’s main objective for the last two-thirds of a century has been to confront and repel the threat; but equally importantly, to pursue policies that – they mistakenly believed – might at least ameliorate, but more hopefully terminate the constant assault. Israel’s governments have considered their primary responsibility to be: the protection of the homeland through a perpetual vigilance against and preparation for the never-ending belligerence of her enemies – which, as indicated, comprised Arabs, and more generally, Muslims, aided and abetted by hostile forces throughout the world. The primary focus, therefore, of the government, and of the people in general, was on foreign affairs, military preparedness and homeland security. It is true that during her existence, Israel has also managed to create a robust democracy, a vibrant economy, a fair amount of social cohesion and arguably the most successful ethnic nation-state on Earth. But the efforts of the people to create these successful societal components  always had to take second place to the more urgent need to defend the nation. The latter was on the mind of almost every Israeli almost all of the time.

Well, the threat has not vanished. One could even argue that, in light of: the “Arab spring” – in particular, its manifestations in Egypt and Syria; the ominous machinations of the Iranian regime; the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe; and the perceived diminution of American power and will, the threat is actually greater than ever. Nevertheless, signs abound that the Israeli people are turning their attention inward. Those signs include:

·        The recent election in which the results made clear that the people are far more interested in: internal economic disparities; the role of the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) community; the role of Israel’s internal Arab population; the nature of the government’s structure; and the social composition of society than they are in Arab “democrats,” Iranian fanatics, European BDSers or J-Street morons in America.

·        The tepid response to Barack Obama. Many worried that Obama’s barely concealed disdain for Israel and its government would spark demonstrations or other manifestations of displeasure during his visit. Not only did that not occur, but much of the Israeli public simply ignored him.(One should not be confused by the enthusiastic response of the hand-picked leftist audience at his Jerusalem “student” speech.)

·        Israel’s perfunctory intervention in Gaza last fall. Rather than a massive ground incursion, Israel satisfied itself with the minimum effort required to stop Hamas’ rockets – temporarily, of course.

·        Israel’s failure to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. Apparently Israel has calculated that either: it does not possess the requisite firepower and/or the resultant Hezbollah/Hamas retaliation would be too painful and/or maybe the Americans will take care of the problem after all and/or even with nukes the Iranians won’t be suicidal enough to attack Israel and/or Israel just doesn’t have the moxie. Whatever the reason, despite the continued tough rhetoric from Netanyahu, it is increasingly clear that no Israeli attack is forthcoming.

·        The intense focus on the economy, technological development, energy exploration and trade. These pursuits absorb and energize the public and the government far more than does the “peace process.”

·        Indeed, the near total lack of interest in the so-called Israel-Palestinian peace process is striking. It is a topic that garners less attention than at any time since the Six Day War.

A combination of fatigue, boredom and reality has set in. Regarding Israel’s’ relationship with the Arab/Muslim world, there is nothing new to say or do. The Palestinians in particular and the Arab/Muslim world in general are irreconcilably opposed to the existence of a sovereign Jewish nation in the heart of the Umma. It has been so for more than a hundred years and will likely remain so for at least another hundred years. No Israeli attitude, policy or action will change that. So why bother?

Israel is a formidable military power. It has defended itself successfully since the War of Independence and indications are that it will continue to be able to do so for the foreseeable future. Why obsess about it? There are no “peace plans” to be concocted that will add anything to the equation. Just keep the guns oiled, the intelligence flowing and morale high. Bullets mayfly again – as they have so often in the past. When they cease to whistle, nothing will have changed.

Look around! Western Civilization is in decline. In addition, the Muslim world remains mired in bigotry, medievalism, tribalism,political barbarity and economic ignorance. China, India and other rising powers are a long way from dominance. In the short term at least, there is no conceivable correlation of forces that is going to alter Israel’s status in the Middle East.

Finally, there are pressing domestic issues that Israel has ignored for far too long because of its laser focus on external affairs. It’s time to turn attention to the home front.

Israel has had relatively brief periods in which it has been similarly inclined – in the early/mid 1960s, in the mid/late 1970s, in the mid1980s. But events always intervened to draw the focus back to the incessant conflict. Regarding the three periods mentioned, the signal events marking their close were, respectively, the Six Day War, Sadat’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the First Intifada – followed of course by Oslo. Time will tell if this new, conceivably more intense, internal focus proves to be more enduring.


This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at:

The Future of Israel and Western Civilization

Offering a prognosis for the future of Israel and Western Civilization, while reviewing two books and a Commentary magazine essay on them addressed to the same topic

The West is in retreat. The European Union is beset by seemingly insolvable economic problems, a burgeoning, indigestible Muslim population and a near total loss of confidence in its Christian foundation. The English-speaking countries (the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) are also plagued by pending fiscal calamities, bloated governments that sap individual liberty, moral decay and declining confidence in the merits of their traditional ‘English way of life.’ Latin America never really signed on to the program; the nations of the East – although some flirted with Western style societies – move increasingly to authoritarianism, and the Middle East and Africa are awash in a radical Islamism that abhors Western Civilization.

However, the principle subject of this essay is the future of the tiny outpost of Western Civilization known as Israel. Receiving increasingly tepid support from its allies in the West; ignored if not disdained by disinterested parties in Arica, Latin America and the East; reviled and marked for death by the Muslim world; the beleaguered state of Israel faces a daunting task in trying to preserve its independence, prosperity, indeed its life. Thus it is legitimate to ask: What is its prognosis?

Purported answers are offered in two timely books, Israel: The Will to Prevail, by Danny Danon and The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength, by Daniel Gordis. In addition, an extremely keen analysis of both books may be found in the December 2012 issue of Commentary Magazine, namely, Israel, the Will and {Promise, by Stephen Daisley. In these three venues, the prognosis for Israel is unrealistically optimistic in the two books and essentially avoided in the review. I will take a stab at a more realistic appraisal here.

As Daisley explains, Danon expresses a strong opinion on three major points: (i) the so-called Arab Spring does not represent the dawn of democracy in the Arab world, but rather the ‘eclipse of the forces of liberalism’ and the ascendance of Islamism; (ii) Israel is too subservient to American paternalism and must take a more independent, nationalistic stance; and (iii) the notion of a Palestinian state is anathema to Israel – the solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem must be found in a pre-1967 configuration, i.e., Gaza back to Egypt and the Arab peoples of the West Bank, but not the land, back to Jordan. So according to Danon:

‘In terms of dealing with Arab nations, many Israelis today have gone back to the warrior mentality of Ben-Gurion. We’re sick of hollow accords and grand ceremonies done for the camera’s sake. More of us are awakening every day to the fact that it takes more than a lovely ritual at the White House, with the accompanying smiles and handshakes and photo ops, to get anything real accomplished. Ben-Gurion was willing to pay a price for the security of Israel in international opprobrium, and so it is with a new generation of Israeli leaders. We also understand the necessity of shaping our fate by our own hands. If we have to pay a price with the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, so be it…What I am proposing here is a three-state solution. This would entail a regional agreement with Jordan, Egypt, and Israel that would give Palestinians land and other rights across these three areas — not land to form a distinct Palestinian state but land within the borders of these states as they exist now…A strong sense of Israeli nationalism must prevail if the state is to successfully overcome the current chaotic situation—even if that means contravening the wishes of U.S. administrations. Israel needs a new vision and direction; we need to take control of our own destiny and dictate our own history.’

Daisley assays Danon’s three opinions thus: he essentially agrees with (i); views (ii) as shortsighted and self-defeating; and (iii) as naïve and unrealistic. Turning to Gordis, Daisley correctly points out the vast difference in the nature of the two authors. While Danon is a politician and his book reads like that of one laying out a position paper in anticipation of the next election, Gordis is a philosopher and theologian who writes with penetrating insight, originality and eloquence. His book is elegantly crafted and cogently argued.

Gordis’ breathtakingly original idea is as follows: Inspired by the carnage that they inflicted upon themselves throughout the first half of the twentieth century, and reinforced by the omnipresent, menacing threat to safety posed by the Cold War, the Europeans (with the English-speaking nations eventually coming along) decided that the cause of the strife was to be found in the divisiveness inherent in the nation state structure of the continent. The separate entities, grounded in ethnic identification, religious particularism and capitalistic frenzy were inevitably in fierce competition with each other leading to conflict and war. The nation state concept had outlived its usefulness and a more comprehensive form of government (a more universal world order) needed to be established. Thus the European Union to start.

Alas, the Jews, based on their perceived self-impotence in the face of the Holocaust, decided exactly the opposite. They needed their own state in order to be able to live in safety and to pursue their own destiny. As time has progressed since the creation of Israel, the West has grown more fervent in its belief that the ethnic nation state must be superseded and tiny Israel flies in the face of that goal. It becomes an affront to the West and hence loses its support. But Gordis goes further – namely, the West is wrong and Israel is right. That is, without the ethnic nation state as the basis for organizing the world’s population, the world will lose its humanity, its people will lose their freedoms and human empathy and solidarity will evaporate in a haze of sameness. Thus, according to Gordis:

‘This book makes an audacious and seemingly odd claim. It suggests that what now divides Israel and the international community is an idea: the ethnic nation-state—a country created around a shared cultural heritage. This is what has the West so put out with Israel. Israel has lost its once-charmed status in the international arena, I argue, because of a “conflict over this very idea.

What is at stake in the current battle over Israel’s legitimacy is not merely the idea on which Israel is based, but, quite possibly, human freedom as we know it. The idea that human freedom might be at risk in today’s battles over Israel might seem far-fetched or hyperbolic. This book will argue that it is not, and that human beings everywhere thus have a great stake in what the world ultimately does with the Jewish state.”

Today’s infatuation with the notion that human difference ought to be papered over is not the first time that the world has embraced a dangerous and dead-end philosophical fad. In the past century alone, humanity has lived through infatuations with unfettered socialism, then with communism, and even with the belief in the nobility of imperialism. But Israel is a reminder to the world that there are moments when someone—be it a prophet in biblical times or a nation-state in today’s international community—has to speak truth to power and insist on what is right and true, regardless of how unpopular the idea is. Israel represents the argument that the nation-state is not a fad, but rather an ancient and still compelling vision for humanity.

Rather than pretend that all human beings were essentially the same, the Jews, thanks to their new country, would celebrate their differentness. In defiance of the world’s insistence on the denial of difference, Israelis chose … their own heritage over some imagined universal culture. Israel was a choice of difference over the ideal of sameness, a preference for the particular over the global, and for the Jews’ own story over some anemic panhuman narrative. But in making that choice to be different, the Jews—even though they could not then have fully anticipated how this might come back to haunt them and their young state—were embarking on a path that was destined to put them at odds with the prevailing ethos of Europe and much of the rest of the world.

In the inimitable words of Rabbi Sacks, ‘There is no road to human solidarity that does not begin with moral particularity—by coming to know what it means to be a child, a parent, a neighbor, a friend. We learn to love humanity by loving specific human beings. There is no short-cut. Identity and particularism are not obstacles to caring about others; they are the road to empathy, and from there they are the path to partnerships that labor for freedom.’

Daisley neither endorses nor rejects Gordis’ thesis. He is obviously impressed with the originality, scope and potential impact of what Gordis suggests. Daisley opines: ‘Gordis’ work is a small book with a big idea, and he should be commended for that. The public discourse is wanting for big ideas, particularly on Israel…Thus [according to Gordis] Zionism becomes not just a movement for Jewish national rights but a rear-guard action against cultural relativism and the self-immolation of the West.’ But while heaping praise on Gordis for his originality and depth of thought, Daisley offers no evaluation of the chance of success of implementing Gordis’ scheme, much less an opinion on its intrinsic merits. He just seems to be pleasantly surprised that anyone could have an original thought on the overworked ‘Israel problem.’

Western Civilization is in a battle for survival – a contest in which it doesn’t seem even to recognize that it is a combatant. Only Israel is aware of the contest – because its very survival is constantly and manifestly at stake. What has been its strategy to survive? What should it be? What is the prognosis?

Israel played offense from the end of the Second World War until the Six Day War in 1967. It girded itself to bring the State into existence, no matter the odds or the cost, then defended it vigorously in the aftermath and unabashedly expanded it when presented with the opportunity. But then it rested on its laurels and its game plan became more defense than offense. It announced to the world that in light of its historic victory, it should be clear – especially to the Arabs – that Israel was here to stay, that it would succeed and prosper, and that the Arabs, the Muslims, indeed the world should accept it as a permanent member of the community of nations. The Arabs/Muslims did no such thing – and the rest of the world (especially the West, for reasons explained by Gordis) is increasingly rejecting Israel’s assertion as well. Maybe it’s time to go back on offense.

And that is exactly what Danon and Gordis prescribe, although – as we have seen – with different strategies in mind. Now, Daisley obviously has no faith in Danon’s plans; and he takes a pass on the merit of Gordis’ strategy. Actually, there is an unmistakable undercurrent of disbelief, in Daisley’s essay, that anything worthwhile could come of Gordis’ ideas. Indeed, Daisley is correct. Both strategies – that of Danon and of Gordis – are unrealistic. Danon is correct that Israel’s acquiescence to a 23rd Arab State on the West Bank would be tantamount to suicide. It is totally obvious that the main objective of the Arabs who reside in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (and elsewhere) is the destruction of Israel and the murder or expulsion of its Jewish inhabitants. After that, whether those Arabs become an independent state or merge into a union with Jordan and/or Lebanon and/or Syria is of no consequence. The West does not care; it expects Israel to agree to the creation of such an entity. Even if this were not so, Danon’s plan requires the cooperation of Egypt and Jordan – and that is absolutely not forthcoming.

Gordis’ plan is even more ludicrous. It requires tiny Israel to convince the Western World that the ethnic nation state is a force for good in the world at exactly the moment that the West has reached precisely the opposite conclusion. This is beyond wishful thinking; it is hallucinatory. Talk about spitting into the wind. Were Israel to embark on a PR campaign along the lines suggested by Gordis, its standing among the western nations would plummet even further than it already has.

So what is Israel to do? If neither of the offensive strategies of Danon or Gordis is viable, should it continue to play defense? Well, one plays defense either to protect a lead – which is clearly not the case for Israel – or to bide one’s time until conditions change allowing one to go on offense. Israel has been and apparently remains committed to continue to wait for two things – only one of which it articulates to itself: (i) the Muslim world will accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East; (ii) the Western World will regain its footing and resume its leadership of the civilized world. Regarding (i), Vladimir and Estragon had a better chance of Godot showing up. There is absolutely no indication that such an occurrence could be expected in any remotely near time frame. As for (ii), it may be premature to write the final obituary for Western Civilization, but the trends of the last two generations have not been encouraging.

So Israel should perhaps jettison its defensive strategy and go on offense. How exactly? I wish I knew! Certainly if it believes that the West is not doomed, then Israel needs to work aggressively to convince the US and Europe that it is foolhardy and against their better interests not to back Israel 100%. Surely the West must come to the recognition that Israel is a kindred spirit, a bulkhead of freedom and a vital security asset. (As Alexander Haig once famously said: ‘Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.’) Israel should receive the West’s total backing against the reactionary, fundamentalist, anti-democratic and bigoted forces abreast in the Arab/Muslim world. Moreover, as the day draws near when the West will no longer rely on Middle Eastern oil, the incentive not to recognize Israel’s value decreases. Israel needs to be much more proactive in making its case along these lines. But if the West cannot see the validity of that reasoning, then it is a sign that Western Civilization is indeed doomed and Israel needs a Plan B.

If the West is in fact doomed, then what shall unfold in the world in the not too distant future is one of: (i) a new dark ages marked by anarchy, chaos, violence and poverty; or (ii) a balance of power between a small number of contending forces, like China, Islam, perhaps Russia or India or Brazil, and maybe the US – leading to some world stability, albeit without liberty or widespread prosperity; or (iii) Islamic domination of the planet; or (iv) something else.

Now how in the world can Israel plan for that? It would probably continue to play defense. But I suspect that to survive in any of these four unappetizing scenarios, some offense will be required. Its form at this moment is highly undetermined. But continuing to ‘lay back’ and expect the world to accommodate the most starkly ethnic nation state on Earth is perhaps the most unrealistic plan of all. So let us pray for America and the West to regain their footing. Israel can play a positive role in such a renaissance.

This essay/review also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at:
and in The Land of the Free at:
and finally in Think Israel at: