June 17, 2010

The May 31st kerfuffle over Israel’s interception of ships headed to Gaza brought forth some predictable reactions from the paleo-Right: Pat Buchanan, Stephen Walt, Ron Paul, and many others.

Of this crop, Steve Sailer took the most defensible position—one that at least did not willfully distort reality, or demand that Israel practice a forbearance that no rational nation could practice:

I haven’t had anything to say previously about that fatal Israeli naval encounter with the Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31, 2010—because I don’t much care. Israel is not the 51st state; it’s one of a couple of hundred other countries. If Israel wants to push around the Palestinians, well, that’s their business much more than it is my business.

Even that strikes me as somewhat disingenuous, though. Does Steve really think like that? Does anyone?

Here’s Steve-1 tomorrow morning opening up his newspaper. Headline: Population of Israel Wiped Out by Mystery Virus.

Meanwhile here’s Steve-2 at the identical moment in an alternative universe. His newspaper headline reads: Population of Tajikistan Wiped Out by Mystery Virus.

Are Steve-1’s and Steve-2’s reactions to those different headlines precisely the same? I don’t believe it.

Each of us has a mental map of the world colored by partiality, some of it reasonable, some merely emotional. If we are patriotic, we will feel more warmly towards a nation that trades fairly with us, cooperates to some degree in international projects we undertake, and shares some commonality of history, culture, or values with us. Contrariwise, of course, if you believe, as a liberal once told me he actually did believe, that your country is the most evil that ever existed, you will feel affinity with foreign nations whose leaders share that view.

“It is also indisputably the case, as has often been said, that if Hamas, Hezbollah, and the rest were to lay down their arms, there would be peace in Palestine, while if Israel were to lay down her arms, the Israelis would be slaughtered.”

At a level below all that, there are sentimental attachments of the blood-and-soil type. Even third- and fourth-generation Americans who disdain to hyphenate themselves will, when reading of events in the Old Country, hear some faint echoes of grandma’s stories, see shadowy images of old photographs in the mind’s eye, recall a childhood visit to great-grandad’s home village.

Our attachments ripple out in overlapping chains of diminishing concentric circles: family, extended family, town, state, religion, ethny, nation. The ripples don’t, for most of us, stop at our nation’s borders.

I’ll speak for myself here. America’s my country, and the only one I’d be keen to fight and die for if the peril was great enough to need my sorry old hide set against it. I feel strong extranational attachments, though: attachments on behalf of which I’d be willing to give up money or time—or even, under conceivable circumstances, want to see my country commit warlike acts.

There’s the Anglosphere, that great collection of British-settler nations, together with Britain herself, in which I feel most at home, and which, in my opinion, have attained the fairest, freest, and least corrupt systems of government ever known to man.

Beyond the Anglosphere there is Western civilization—nations culturally descended from Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, Germania, Byzantium, medieval Christendom, and the Enlightenment.

Out beyond even that is civilization itself: human beings living in organized nations or empires under rational government, with schools and libraries, doctors and engineers, judges and policemen, commerce and scholarship. I believe I can imagine fairly well what life is like under barbarism. I don’t want any part of it. (Though I do understand that for some people, in some historical circumstances, barbarism can be the better choice.)

Sure, there is plenty to be argued about in this zone.

   * Should we give cash aid to Israel? (Me: No—I’m against foreign aid in almost all circumstances, and I don’t believe our aid does anything for Israel that Israel couldn’t do for herself. Many Israelis agree with me.)
   * Does the skill and wealth of pro-Israel lobbyists cause undesirable distortions in our foreign policy? (Me: Probably; though given constitutional protections for lobbying, it’s hard to see what can be done about this. America’s traditions of romantic optimism and missionary endeavor in any case generate far more and bigger distortions.)
   * Does the high proportion of Jewish Americans in the senior punditocracy distort the national discourse on geopolitical topics? (Me: Possibly, though a lot of them are leftists who wouldn’t sit on a diner stool next to Benjamin Netanyahu.)
   * Does Israel spy on us? (Me: Of course. Everybody spies on everybody. I hope we spy on them.)
   * Would Israel act against our interests, if they thought it was in their interests to do so? (Me: Duh.)

It remains the case that any fair-minded person must be an Israel sympathizer. A hundred years ago there were Jews and Arabs living in that part of the Ottoman Empire. After the Ottoman collapse both peoples had a right to set up their own ethnostates. It has been the furiously intransigent Arab denial of this fact, not anything Israelis have done, that has been the root cause of all subsequent troubles. It is also indisputably the case, as has often been said, that if Hamas, Hezbollah, and the rest were to lay down their arms, there would be peace in Palestine, while if Israel were to lay down her arms, the Israelis would be slaughtered.

At some level, I’ll agree, this is not our business. North of five million people have been slaughtered in the Congo this past twelve years, and nobody much (no, not me—how about you?) has lost a wink of sleep over it.

That just takes us back to Steve-1 and Steve-2, though. The Congo is nothing to me. Israel is something to me. It’s an outpost of my civilization, organized on principles I agree with, inhabited by people I could live at ease with. They defend themselves, their borders, their interests, with the kind of vigor and thick-skinned determination I’d like to see my nation display. (If only!) I admire them and wish them well.

There’s an affinity. In some tenuous sense, they are me, and I am them. The Gazans? I’ll care about them right after I start caring about the Congo.



Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!