GayandRight

My name is Fred and I am a gay conservative living in Ottawa. This blog supports limited government, the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security, and tries to expose the threat to us all from cultural relativism, post-modernism, and radical Islam. I am also the founder of the Free Thinking Film Society in Ottawa (www.freethinkingfilms.com)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Interview with Paul Berman...

Paul Berman is a formidable intellectual - his book "Terror and Liberalism" is a must read...here's an excerpt from a recent interview...
During the Gaza conflict, there were several anti-Israel protests where Israel was routinely demonized as a Nazi or Apartheid state. Why do you think so many activists, especially on the left, demonize Israel? Is it a sign of antisemitism?

Oh, as Irving Howe said, "There is no heart so warm that it doesn't have a cold spot for the Jews." We like to think of hatred of the Jews as a low, base sentiment that is entertained by nasty, ignorant people, wallowing in their own hatefulness. But normally it's not like that. Hatred for the Jews has generally taken the form of a lofty sentiment, instead of a lowly one - a noble feeling embraced by people who believe they stand for the highest and most admirable of moral views.

In the Middle Ages, Christians felt they were upholding the principles of universal redemption, and they looked on the Jews as terrible people because the Jews had refused the word of God - had insisted on remaining Jews. And so, the loftiest of religious sentiments led to hatred of the Jews.

In the 18th century, the Enlightenment philosophers looked on the Enlightenment itself as the loftiest form of thought - the truest of all possible guides to universal justice and happiness. The Enlightenment philosophers detested Christianity because it was a font of superstition and oppression. But this only led them to despise the Jews even more - no longer because the Jews had refused the message of Christianity, but because the Jews had engendered the message of Christianity. And the damnable Jews insisted on remaining Jews, instead of repudiating religion altogether.

The religious wars wreaked all kinds of damage on Europe. But the Treaty of Westphalia came along in 1648 and put an end to religious wars by establishing a system of states with recognized borders, each state with its own religion. The new Westphalian system embodied yet another Enlightenment idea of lofty ideals - the grandest guarantee of universal peace and justice. But the Jews were scattered throughout Europe, instead of being gathered together in a single state. The new state system was supposed to be a comfortable shoe, and the Jews were a pebble. And they insisted on remaining Jews, instead of helpfully disappearing. So one hated the Jews for failing to conform to the new system of states.

Today we have arrived at yet another idea about how to bring about universal peace and justice - the loftiest, most advanced idea of our own time. Instead of looking on well-established states with solid borders to keep the peace, Westphalia-style, we look on states as a formula for oppression and war. Lofty opinion nowadays calls for post-state political systems, like the European Union. Unfortunately, nowadays the Jews possess a state. Thus one hates the Jews in the name of lofty opinion, no longer because the Jews lack a state but because, on the contrary, they have a state. They seem keen on keeping their state. And once again the Jews are seen to be affirming a principle that high-minded people used to uphold but have now rejected as antiquated.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people with advanced ideas began to look on Christian hatred of the Jews as a retrograde prejudice - and the advanced thinkers embraced, instead, the pseudo-science of racism. They no longer hated the Jews on religious grounds - they hated the Jews on racial grounds. The word "racism" originally applied to hatred of the Jews. Racial hatred seemed up to date. Today, however, racism itself has come to seem like a retrograde prejudice. And so, people with advanced opinions hate the Jews on anti-racist grounds, and they regard the Jews as the world's leading racists.

And so forth. The unstated assumption is always the same. To wit: the universal system for man's happiness has already arrived (namely, Christianity, or else Enlightenment anti-Christianity; the Westphalian state system, or else the post-modern system of international institutions; racial theory, or else the anti-racist doctrine in a certain interpretation). And the universal system for man's happiness would right now have achieved perfection - were it not for the Jews. The Jews are always standing in the way. The higher one's opinion of oneself, the more one detests the Jews.

The political left has always been of two minds on these matters. An opposition to anti-Semitism (and to all kinds of bigotry) did use to be one of the pillars of the modern left. But the left has always rested on more than one pillar, and some of those pillars are a little wobbly. And there is the left-wing conceit that, today at last, the system for universal justice and happiness has been discovered, and should be embraced by all advanced thinkers. The cosmopolitan abolition of states, let us say. And here are the Jews resisting it. In short, nothing leads more quickly to a disdain for the Jews than a feeling of smug loftiness.

To be sure, lofty disdain comes in different versions. In its respectable version, lofty disdain right now adopts a position of long-faced sadness over Israel for being such a reprehensible place, for existing at a moment when states ought to fade away, for being racist, for perpetuating religion, for being an example of European imperialism, and so forth. One shakes one's head in sorrowful regret that the Israelis are the way they are.

But the disdain takes another shape, too, which is cruder, though it follows more or less from the first version. In the cruder version, the Jews are not just regrettable for being retrograde. Much worse: the Jews have done something really terrible. By forming their state and standing by it, they have set out actively to oppose the principle of universal justice and happiness - the principle that decrees that a people like the Jews should not have a state.

So, yes, the comparisons to apartheid - or, more radically and these days more typically, to the Nazis. The comparison to the Nazis began to emerge in the 1970s in Western Europe and also in the Arab world, and by now it is pretty much everywhere you look.

It's a remarkable comparison in all kinds of ways, but I'll point out just one aspect. The Nazis are generally regarded as the worst, most evil political movement in all of history - a political movement that not only committed crimes but stood for the principle of crime. By comparing Israel to the Nazis, people mean to suggest that Israel is likewise one of the worst, most evil political institutions that could possibly exist. The accusation is cosmically huge. And the cosmically huge accusation makes perfect sense - if you keep in mind the venerable idea that the Jews stand in the way of mankind's achievement of a perfected system of universal justice and happiness.

From the standpoint of the venerable idea, Israel's problems with its borders and its neighbors do not resemble the difficulties that other states have with their own borders and neighbors. There is no point in making statistical comparisons - the comparisons that might show how many people have been killed in Israel's wars, or how many people have been displaced from their homes by Israel, compared to the number of people killed and displaced by other wars and other states around the world. The statistics, if you looked at them, would reflect the fact that Israel is a small place, and its borders none too large, and its wars and disasters are not among the hugest that have taken place in the last sixty years, or even the last six years.

But the statistics, as I say, are irrelevant, given the peculiar philosophical light that people shine on Israel. Israel's struggle puts it at odds with the entire principle of universal justice and happiness, as people imagine it - no matter how they choose to define the principle. Other countries commit relative crimes, which can be measured and compared. But Israel commits an absolute crime. In the end, it is the grand accusation against the Jews, in ever newer versions: the Jews as cosmic enemy of the universal good.

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