Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ruining the World's Consensus

The Guardian's Comment is Free section hosts the Agha-Malley column published in the New York Times yesterday (post above). (Their URL is called israel-palestine-two-state-solution, which may indicate someone wasn't paying attention).

The comments start off with some very edgy statements from the small pro-Israel team that tries, valiantly and futilely, to combat the poison which infests the comments part of Comment is Free. Their task is so hopeless and frustrating that one can appreciate why they're losing their own ability to think calmly. After their comments, however, the usual irrational animosity kicks in. Irrational and dripping with malice it may be, but not necessarily incoherent. I especially liked this comment:

Justice here - the implementation of instruments of international law and respect for UN institutions (to which Israel owes its 'existential' incarnation and survival) - is not an essentially contested concept relative to any particular world-view, but carries universal precepts grounding global peace and common jurisprudence since the world started putting itself back together in 1945. The frustration of the emergence of a Palestinian state is due almost entirely to the gross delinquency of successive Israel governments and the UN Security Council in honouring the obligations of the UN's founding principles. Defaulting to the failed and destabilising formulae of partition and recidivist nationalism would constitute acknowledgement that a member state has been rewarded for wrecking the post-1945 consensus ... and it is no surprise that Israel takes all the awards in public opinion polls concerning the biggest threat to global peace.
In English: The world healed itself in 1945 by creating a New World Order, based on justice, universal values and international law. Israel's existence contradicts all these. If the World Order doesn't fully work it's because Israel has been wrecking the consensus all this time. That's why Israel is so universally hated. You bet there shouldn't be a two state solution: that would mean the Israelis won.

There's no need to argue with this hallucinatory mishmash. We do need, however, to be aware of it, to understand that many people agree with it, and to accept that it's a worldview that regards itself as drawing on universal morality and a respectful reading of history, tied together in a rational system. It draws on the Enlightenment, in other words - as all of the world's worst monstrosities these past few centuries have.


GES said...


I am fascinated by your last line regarding the Englightenment? Why does the Enlightenment in your view deserve such opprobrium? Certainly some of those monstrosities you mention were anti-Enlightenment? What about the US, which was arguably established on Enlightenment principles?


A. Jay Adler said...

I don't think Yaacov's point (and he can correct me, of course, if I'm wrong) is that the Enlightenment heritage is essentially opprobrious, but that it can, and has been, misused for ill. As we see in the passage he quotes, ill ends can be argued, with all apparent reason, from good foundations. Few people who serve even evil believe that is what they are doing.

Yaacov said...

Jay is right. I'm a major fan of the Enlightenment; indeed, I'd probably rank it as the single most important phenomenon of the past 500 years.

And yet the dialectic of history is such that even the best things can spawn the worst. Just look at the French Revolution and its bloody excesses; at Communism which clearly had Enlightenment roots; at modern antisemitism which adapted Enlightened ideas to an ancient hatred; at the various strands of Fascism including even their worst form, Nazism, which drew in nefarious ways from Enlightened ideas....

Islamism, at first glance, doesn't draw from the Enlightenment, but I expect once someone gets past the political slogans it won't be hard to show how warped Enlightened ideas made their way into Islamism, too.

rashkov said...

GES: I think I have a good answer for where Yaacov is coming from. This references a very interesting interview posted here some time back. It is too long to quote but it is essential reading for an idea I haven't seen anywhere else.

Please see the bottom of page 3 which begins 'Oh, as Irving Howe said, "There is no heart so warm that it doesn't have a cold spot for the Jews."':

Anonymous said...

thanks for the link and not just for that, their podcast offer looks also great

as to the cold spot:
when you meet a person who is convinced (for very good reasons) that you have a cold spot in your heart for him inevitably this will alter ever so slightly your own behaviour even if that cold spot just didn't exist. Because as you well know there is no way you can prove that something doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

for rashkov again

I confess to being a very selfish person and when not in a rebellious state of mind due to some perceived injustice of the kind dear to my heart*) against which I have an opportunity to speak I tend to be rather easily scared.

Therefore I guess that in a real tight spot I would carefully look sucking up to which group would best help me. But I cannot imagine that I would ever join a smear campaign for what people are (instead of what they do unto others not believing what I am told but using my own criteria to evaluate the presented facts and the presenters and even then I prefer no matter how fired up I am to stick to friendly reasoning resorting to the language of paradoxycal interventions only if too many futile conversations have left me so frustrated I need to let off steam somehow)


*) to stick with Israel, first that comes to my mind are the people of Sderot and Israel's soldiers, whenever they are judged by criteria which would demand the superhuman angel-like behaviour even from social workers