David Habakkuk sends us this:
You are I think absolutely right about opportunism of the enthusiasm of people like Krauthammer for alliance with the Armageddonites — and also its incautiousness.
An old limerick goes:
There was a young lady of Riga
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
Moreover, one perhaps neglected effect of neocon strategy is that it puts Jews in America and Europe whose political affiliations are with one variety or another of the heritage of the Enlightenment in an increasingly impossible position. Commonly, they are tied to Israel by a complex mixture of emotions — among them residual fear and that very deep loyalty people often have to the dead. But one cannot in the end combine identification with liberal or leftist principles in an American or British context with a commitment to what is essentially an ideology of ‘Blut und Boden’ in the Middle East. And in terms of pure political expediency the neocons’ choice of political allies may very well turn out to be peculiarly shortsighted.. Up until recently, the political alliances of Jews in the United States or Britain were largely either with secularists — be they liberal, leftist, or pragmatic conservative — or with the kind of Christians who had no desire to put ideas of ‘crucifixion denial’ at the heart of their faith. To abandon such alliances in favour of an alliance with people for whom conceptions of ‘crucifixion denial’ — with their strong historical relation to antisemitism — are central to their conception of Christianity seems a risky strategy, to put it mildly.
One can see the tensions being worked out in the writings of a number of interesting Jewish intellectuals. Tony Judt is an obviously example, so too the Time correspondent Tony Karon — whose blog is called ‘Rootless Cosmopolitan’. There is also an interesting article by Philip Weiss in The American Conservative, (at http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_06_04/feature.html. And Norman Birnbaum’s article last year in ‘The Nation’ confronts the problems head on (at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060814/is_israel_good_for_the_jews).
Duncan Kinder and Sid3,
Thanks for the references to James Billington, Dostoevsky, and also the Justin Raimondo piece.
It worries me however that Billington is rather too keen to make a hard and fast division between a ‘good’ France, characterised by ‘critical rationalism’ and a ‘bad’ Germany, characterised by ‘occultism and proto-romanticism’.
Were the armies of revolutionary and Napoleonic France, which rampaged over Europe (in the process, precipitating, in reaction, both German and Russian nationalism) entirely characterised by ‘critical rationalism’?
Certainly in the Russian case, you have different elements mixing in complex ways. Bolshevism is partly a secularisation of millenarian undercurrents within Orthodox Christianity, and also carries over features from dissent within Orthodoxy. (So the name Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, alludes to the Raskol, the ‘Old Believers’ who refused to accept the changes introduced by the Patriarch Nikon — see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raskol.) Certainly there is a German inheritance — not simply through Marx, as Lenin also studied Hegel closely. But then — you also have the impact of the fashionable ‘Enlightenment’ ideas of the time. For example, the Bolsheviks in the Twenties were confronted by a peasant Russia whose agriculture was organised on an essentially medieval lines. What more natural than to dream of a brave new world of vast industrially-organised farms, the basis for a Russia which would have put what Trotsky called the world of the ‘icon and cockroach ‘ behind it for good? As we know, it turned into an utter disaster.
But then fast forward to the end of communism. It turned out that the ‘best and brightest’ of Cambridge, Massachussets believed that if one simply desconstructed the communist system, somehow the atoms would reassemble themselves into a well-functioning liberal political and economic order. There were isolated critics among economists. In his 1992 paper Conservative Political Philosophy and the Strategy of Economic Transition, Peter Murrell of the University of Maryland invoked the polemics of Edmund Burke against the ‘tabula rasa’ approach of the French Revolutionaries, and of Sir Karl Popper against the ‘utopian social engineering’ of the Bolsheviks. (The paper, and Murrell’s later analyses of the outcomes of and lessons from the utopian project of ‘shock therapy’, are at http://www.econ.umd.edu/~murrell/Reform.html.) But such cautions were largely in vain — the Jacobin virus had taken firm hold!
No doubt when Lawrence Summers back in 1994 described ‘a striking degree of unanimity’ among economists on the wisdom of ‘shock therapy’ he thought, as the original Enlightenment theorists did, that this was because those endowed with superior rationality could only come to one conclusion. But in fact, the underlying premise was that there was some ‘normal’ path of historical development, and deviations from it could only explained either by evil will or by ignorance. So if one got rid of the evil people, and instructed the ignorant in the truth, utopia would naturally materialise! But this conception of a ‘normal’ path of historical development is not an empirical notion — but rather a secularisation of Christian conceptions of God’s will as active in history. That quasi-religious element was made much more explicit in the dotty Hegelianism of Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ paper, but was also there, lurking beneath the surface, in people who appeared to be talking the lan guage of ‘critical rationalism’.
It is the same perverse secularisation of Christian concepts which underlies, and has found its nemesis in, the invasion of Iraq." David Habakkuk.