Civilization and Savagery
Pursuing national interests is rational, but in an American political context it is just a lot of paradoxes and propaganda.
As noted in last night’s open-ended comments, the mainstream media-state’s support of Israel in America currently seems artificial and hesitant, due to myriad internal conflicts with prevailing narratives, enough to fill a booklet. A few specific, active incoherencies were proposed in that post.
Exceptions to this awkward lack-of-narrative lie in a few niche sects of the American mainstream, either against Israel or for it. When the left1 applies “decolonialist” logic to the situation to essentially applaud raping and slaughtering (Jewish) whites, this reflects philosophical consistency. They understand what they are saying today, because they understood what they were saying yesterday.
In the pro-Israel side, there are two exceptions to the lack-of-narrative, though they are replete with more covert contradictions. On the vestigial mainstream American right, the strident defense of Israel’s interests seems to be an outburst of psychological transference — to say anything of America and America’s dwindling and taboo anglo-white cultural norms that they say of Israel and Jewish culture, would out them as “racists,” and promptly result in their burning at the stake. They leap at the chance to say about America’s “ally” what they may not say about their own nation.
In the vestigial “classical liberal” media party (still normally called “the left,” inaccurately), which no longer speaks for the PMC at large, but still conceives itself as defending the establishment from its own authoritarian turn, the spectacular pillage of Israel has awakened a lurking confident hawkish instinct, a sort of red temper that is as easily unlocked by the right news story as a night of alcohol might unveil an abusive husband.
Israel should crush Hamas for good (read: raze Gaza), Alex Berenson says, while laying out what is, really, a perfectly acceptable and (almost-) unsentimental argument for the same view.
Any conciliatory course — anything short of total destruction — will only incentivize further humiliations on the part of Hamas. There is meanwhile nothing existential about the fact that inflaming the Arab Street will make Israel-Saudi reconciliation unpalatable for the latter nation for another few decades; normalization has waited this long, and it can wait some more. There is likewise no reason that Israel’s global reputation should stand in the way of pursuing the interest of security for her citizens, because everyone is going to hate Israel whatever her response.
These are good arguments. Not because of mistaking the Jewish nation for a victim in this conflict, I think that Berenson has essentially described what makes sense in terms of Israel’s own self-interest. One might disagree with the argument in terms of some broader idea of “international law;” one might hold that religious or moral ethics demands that Israel’s interests be subsumed to higher principles; or one might resort to divining the “legitimacy” of Israel’s self-interest by weighing the historical claims of the Jews and Palestinians against each other; but within its own terms, the argument is sound.
The only problem — the only contradiction — is the covert one.
The one that becomes clear when you ask, in ever so sheepish a voice, how is this different from an argument that Hi***r’s Th**d Re**h was, at the end of the day, just being rational?
Justifying Hamas (accidentally)
Thus Berenson’s argument isn’t flawed in any meaningful sense, except perhaps by its own implicit framing. In other words the contradictions, as said, are subtle — or even external. When the American media party lapses into these fugues of hawkish realpolitik — in the modern era, especially against the Islamic menace — it suddenly speaks in terms that it would obviously denounce if the roles were slightly modified. To point out this hypocritical cherry-picking, as I do in this post, is merely to hold a mirror to something that is intrinsically unprincipled and soulless in the modern American political salon. A dearth of spirit and conviction.
So then let us (partially) compare Berenson’s casus belli with another one not usually reviewed in the WWII chapter of high school history. Again, this isn’t to provoke anything but a clear view of the emptiness and spiritlessness of American political rhetoric. I will leave out the part of Berenson’s argument about Hamas professing an intention to eradicate Jews. Firstly because I do not consider it substantiative to his case; secondly because I do not wish to suggest an equivalence between the ethnic conflicts in question.
What I wish to draw attention to is the question of national survival as a justification for war — who decides when it is? On what objective basis?
Emphasis (bold) added:
So what seems like a stark choice for Israel is really no choice at all.
The world will hate Israel no matter what it does.
As Hamas showed yet again on Saturday, the world is not a friendly place for Jews who can’t defend themselves.
All the peace treaties in the world don’t mean anything unless Israel can guarantee its own security. […]
No, the real threat to Israel these days comes from Hamas - and Iran. For 15 years, Israel has tried to manage Hamas, precisely because it does not want to have to invade Gaza. But Hamas cannot be managed. […]
But they need to kill and destroy so many that Hamas ceases to exist as a threat. Israel must prove it has not lost its will to fight.
The comparative quote:
And we, for our part, will now do what this provocateur has been trying to do so much for years. Not only because we are the ally of Japan, but also because Germany and Italy have enough insight and strength to comprehend that, in these historic times, the existence or non-existence of the nations, is being decided perhaps for ever. We clearly see the intention of the rest of the world towards us. They reduced Democratic Germany to hunger. They would exterminate our social things of today.[…]
As for the German nation, it needs charity neither from Mr. Churchill nor from Mr. Roosevelt, let alone from Mr. Eden. It wants only its rights! It will secure for itself this right to life even if thousands of Churchills and Roosevelts conspire against it. […]
In this way the sincere efforts of Germany and Italy to prevent an extension of the war and to maintain relations with the U.S.A. in spite of the unbearable provocations which have been carried on for years by President Roosevelt, have been frustrated. Germany and Italy have been finally compelled, in view of this, and in loyalty to the Tri-Partite act, to carry on the struggle against the U.S.A. and England jointly and side by side with Japan for the defense and thus for the maintenance of the liberty and independence of their nations and empires.2
I will not claim that an advocate for the present “fight” could not invent some post-hoc reason why the other, historical “struggle” was illegitimate, or evil, etc. But such justifications, up to and including the validity of the exterior ethnic “threat,” would ultimately be mere contrivance. The arguments are obviously identical: We’ve tried peace. It didn’t work. The enemy seeks nothing less than to repudiate our right to exist as a nation. Therefore: We now do what the “provocateur” has sought to do to us, and destroy them.
I do not say this to invalidate Berenson’s argument, or to condemn or undermine Israel. I have no stake in the conflict; but the mirror works whichever way you turn it. Beyond morals, all that separates Hamas’s attack from Israel’s passive apartheid of Gaza’s Palestinians is an asymmetry in available modes of denying the other party their “social things” and “right to life.” Israeli citizens, if unable to go through daily life without expectation of sudden murder and kidnapping, are living in a failed state. Palestinian citizens, regardless of anything, are living in a failed state. Hamas’s attack mirrors the condition of the Palestinian onto Israel; and for this, per Berenson, Hamas must be destroyed. And so if Hamas could eliminate Israel, wouldn’t that (from their end alone, at all rates) be justified as well?
Some forms of war are more easily defensible than others; but only because their atrocities befall as convenient “accidents.” When (and if) Israel sets out to destroy Hamas for good, it will likely prove impossible without the (accidental) wholesale eradication of the Palestinian in Gaza, and likewise without devolving into a paramilitary if not wholly civilian conflict much like the 1948 war that drove the Palestinians out of the new Jewish nation.
No country for old men
The final “grotesque reflection” within the American political mindset appears if we turn the mirror of self-interest and survival within our own borders.
Here again we may remark upon the psychological transference at work in the mainstream right’s enthusiasm for America’s far-away “ally.” Likewise, any post-hoc justifications that one might invent for precisely why Berenson’s realist logic doesn’t apply to, for example, the ongoing invasion of the West at large by the global South, are just superficial contrivances. What makes Hamas’s rockets, pillage, and rape different from Europe’s refugee riots, knife attacks, and rapes? Scheduling? What makes one thing an existential threat worthy of tears on television and the other just a barely-noticed tabloid headline?
American political thought has no answer.
The hawkish instinct that emerges in the media party from time to time thus reveals itself as pure, if un-self-aware advantageousness. The notion of an “us” and “them,” and a corresponding moral binary, thanks to some memetically shocking act, briefly becomes legible despite all the modern liberalist taboos about race and nation. A dementia-like alienation from the natural human sense of people, culture, tribe, briefly evaporates, and a frenzy of jingoism clamors across the airwaves.
Or so it was this way in 2001. The dissonance and artificiality of the present media response suggests we are in a new stage, where even such hypocritical moments of unity and purpose as these are beyond reach. Berenson is merely the relic of a bygone era.
If you derived value from this post, please drop a few coins in your fact-barista’s tip jar.
One of the few contexts where I will use “the left.”
From Hitler’s speech declaring war against the United States. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hitler-s-speech-declaring-war-against-the-united-states