Hobbesian Fear – Richard Sale

Pat: I thought you might want to use this on the blog.

One of the tragic elements of the Arab-Israeli dispute is that it is being staged as a melodrama — pure good against the embodiment of the world’s wockedness. Because each side is so intensely conscious of its own rectitude, so enraged with the other for leaving it without any alternative but war, they have eyes only for each others crimes.

Hobbes In other words, both parties fall into what is known as the Hobbesian fear –you may vividly feel the terrible fear you have of the other party, but you cannot enter into the other man’s counter-fear that he has of you. You can’t even understand why he should be nervous since your intentions are so good and your heart so pure. You know that you mean him no harm, and that you want nothing from him but guarantees for your own safety; and it is never possible for you to realize or remember properly that since he cannot see the inside of your mind, he can never have the same assurance of our intentions that you have.

Thus neither party sees the nature of the predicament he is in, for each only imagines that the other party is hostile and unreaonable.

That is what we are seeing now in Lebanon and it is heartbreaking for all.

Richard Sale

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7 Responses to Hobbesian Fear – Richard Sale

  1. jonst says:

    Excellent post Richard! I must admit that my attention is being drawn, increasingly, away from events in the ME. As desperate, and emerging, as the problems in that region are. Instead, I’m focusing on DC. Given the structural weaknesses of the American political system (hey ya take the good with the bad) it seems the best one can hope for is some kind of political (and therefore legal) coup here. Baker and Scrowcroft are too old. Well, maybe Baker in the short term to the White House. Perhaps Nunn or Rudman to DOD. Danforth at State?. And then start cleaning house. First stop: the JCS. Next stop, the NSC. Then on to DOJ. And when all ducks are in row, last stop Negroponte. Bush, for obvious reasons, has to stay. Cheney? I don’t know. Perhaps he could be persuaded, for health reasons.
    Short of something along these lines I really don’t see how the coming cataclysm can be avoid. And how much of pipe dream this kind of thinking may be……I suspect it is going to be the only way out. And it by no means a sure thing if I got all I wished for. Extraordinary times, and extraordinary defeats, require extraordinary reactions. Nothing is going to get better with this team in place.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Nunn, not Rudman. pl

  3. confusedponderer says:

    I see that inability not only in Israel vs the Arab World, but also in the US in reference to the so-called ‘benevolent empire’.
    Varying degrees of irritation and outrage have been a common reaction when I suggested to Americans here and there that America’s interests when doing politics, say in Central Asia, were not so much, as the rhetoric suggested, about spreading democracy, but about the more palpable side-benefits of a colour-coded regime change — ‘rolling back Russia’ and ‘pre-empting China’, geostrategy and oil interests in general.
    ‘How dare you doubt in our benevolence! We are the most benevolent people on earth, no doubt!’ *sniff*
    If you feel that way, there is little inclination to try to comprehend (mind I’m not talking about accepting, let alone endorsing), say, Islamist talk, or the somewhat annoyed Russian reminder that Bush the elder iirc promised the US to stay out of Russia’s front- and backyard.
    (With a grain of salt) I see a nearly complete inability, in face of the own utter goodness, to consider that others might legitimately and rightly understand US politics as threatening.
    In the end that means you end up speaking to yourself. That’s exactly what we see in Bush’s foreign policy, and hear in his public babbling. Insofar, he leads America to follow Israel right in their tracks.

  4. Matthew says:

    A friend made this comment to me today: What Bush has done is strip us of our ambiguity. And now we can’t pretend that we are not egging the Israelis on, we are not sabotaging a ceasefire, and we are not arming Israel so the IDF can collapse Lebanon’s infrastructure. Each Israeli atrocity becomes our atrocity. I am reminded of a comment a famous American writer made after listening to Wolfowitz talk about the Middle East: “What side is he on.” Well, can’t the same be said for Condy and Bush?

  5. confusedponderer says:

    I want to add: … Which is a pity.

  6. Montag says:

    In 1927 the Soviet Union and Poland almost went to war over Soviet fears that were genuine, but completely groundless. A series of random events convinced the Soviet leadership that the capitalist nations, spearheaded by Poland, were about to attack them. When the Soviet Ambassador to Poland was assassinated by a White Russian emigre the tipping point was reached. But the Poles at first failed to understand just how paranoid the Politbureau had become. The Poles did everything possible to placate them, but each attempt only led to more extreme accusations and humiliating demands. Finally, with both countries on the brink of war, the strongman of Poland, Marshal Pilsudski, realized what he was dealing with and transmitted a personal message to the Kremlin:
    “In attempting to humiliate Poland you only incur the risk of humiliating yourself, since you have not sufficient force behind your threats, which you know as well as we do. We have done everything that is reasonable to give you satisfaction, and now we must courteously urge you to let the matter drop, because if regrettable incidents follow, you alone will be responsible.”
    Pilsudski’s Dutch Uncle ploy worked, throwing cold water on the frightened Bolsheviks. It was obvious that Poland didn’t want war, but would respond if pushed too far. They eventually realized that the string of random acts were just that, and in 1929 the two nations signed a non-aggression pact. But it had been very, very scary.

  7. farmergiles says:

    Isn’t this how we and the Russians wound up with a gun to each other’s heads for 50 years?
    What a waste.

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