GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

April 30, 2016

Israel as Model

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:35 am

I’ve mentioned a couple of times before that one of the favorite tropes of the alt-right is the use of Israel, partly enviously, partly mocking, always with some degree of resentment, as a model for what the US should do but is not “allowed” to do. The rich argumentative possibilities of this trope make it worth returning to in more detail, while the trope itself serves as a kind of model for the comparative mode of discourse in which political discussions (maybe all discussions) seem to be trapped. Is it possible to argue, evaluate, distinguish, praise and condemn, without comparison? Maybe, but we hardly ever see it—on the left, the entire discourse of “equality” is, of course, one extended comparison: if you say men can do this, why can’t women do it; you say this about blacks, but what about when whites…; if one form of sexuality is natural, why not other forms, etc. Noam Chomsky’s entire method of political critique is based on juxtaposing a statement made endorsing some American action with a statement made by the same or similarly positioned (there’s a comparison right there, already) person and pointing out that the same values are “hypocritically” applied differently to the respective actors. “If a Soviet leader said this about the USSR’s relation to Hungary we would be disgusted,” etc. But the right, especially in fighting back against the left, has adopted the same kind of attack on “double standards” and “hypocrisy” (you call use racists but look at black communities under Democratic control; you say we wage war on women but you say nothing about Muslim misogyny, etc.), without realizing that it locks in the very discourse of equality and anti-discrimination that can, ultimately, only ratchet up one way. The arc of emergent margins of discrimination is infinite and points left.

My theorizations of discipline and civilization have been intended, in part, to forge a path out of these resentful thickets. For example, David Horowitz is currently sponsoring the display of posters on San Diego State University campus that highlight connections between BDS activists and Palestinian terrorism. I have no quarrel with that, of course—it’s a courageous and effective strategy, because it forces people who would prefer to represent themselves as human rights activists defending the powerless to explain their relation to organizations that strap explosives on desperate teenage girls and send them to self-detonate on busses filled with civilians. What I think ultimately limits the effectiveness of such moves is the use of terms like “racist” or “hate speech” or “hate group” to identify the enemy. This is a perfect example of a kind of political jiu jitsu that only flips oneself—the terms are simply not reversible. Even the charges of “antisemitism” are attempts to draw upon some latent social consensus that would automatically de-legitimate the other side. You can’t, on one side, hollow out the charges of “racism,” “hate speech,” and so one by holding up leftist abuses of these terms to obloquy and ridicule and then assume they retain their old power when using them oneself. It’s better to transform the discourse altogether. The problem with the war on Israel that BDS helps wage is not that it is racist, hateful, or antisemitic but that it is a war of barbarism and savagery against civilization, with all the lies and lowering of inhibitions such a war entails. A young person asked me a very good, and, in retrospect, very obvious question recently: is it racist if it’s true? Once one realizes that the categories of hate, racist, sexist, antisemitic, etc., are not necessarily co-extensive with the category of “false,” the entire victimary edifice collapses—what we really should be objecting to is lying, “dyscivic” categories and indiscipline. Now, much of this comes out in Horowitz’s polemics—I’m not really arguing against him in particular. My point is that any civilizational politics must be interested, above all, in a social order immune to the extent possible to the left, and recycling to exploit essentially leftist categories weakens the immune system. To put it another way, rather than competing over who has most thoroughly repudiated firstness, firstness is to be systematically promoted.

So, if my response to someone who thinks that the economy of North Carolina should be destroyed because they want to keep delusional men who think they’re women out of women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, and so on, is that you’re waging war on normal people who commonsensically and correctly believe in the irreducibility of sexual difference and that you’re doing so in the name of the principle that the abnormal should trump the normal and incontinent the self-controlled, I don’t have to worry about juxtaposing what the SJWs say about women there with what they say about women here. Indeed, since “anti-racist” politics has become little more than the defense of the right of blacks to spread violence, feminist politics little more than the defense of absolute sexual freedom for women and absolute sexual restriction for men, LGBT politics little more than the imperative to reverse every natural, biological category possible, Palestinian and, more broadly, anti-“Islamophobic” politics nothing more than a defense of the rights of jihadists to go about their business unscrutinized and unhindered, and pro-immigration politics the global entitlement of non-Western peoples to reside in and transform the US, my civilizational, disciplinary approach seems like the intuitively obvious one.

So, why not toss the “Israel as model” approach as well? I’ve spoken before about how it works: American Jews supported unlimited immigration here and tightly controlled immigration into Israel; American Jews object to an ethnically based state elsewhere but support an unqualifiedly ethnic state in Israel; Israel builds a wall to keep out terrorists but any suggestion of a wall on the Southern border to stop illegal immigration (and drug and human trafficking—and, at some point, terrorism and other forms of violence) is deemed racist and fascist. It’s easy to counter-argue—well, what about the history of the Jews and the therefore special significance of Israel, isn’t Israel far more endangered than the US or other Western countries, what about the various, albeit more subtle ways Western states maintain a basic ethnic identity (apparently Germany, as I have learned from such arguments, has its own equivalent of Israel’s Law of Return, offering expedited citizenship to ethnic Germans who are citizens of other countries—presumably enacted to facilitate the repatriation of German “colonists” in Eastern Europe and Russia), etc. But this is all so tiresome and subjectivizing—who is to say how threatened by unlimited immigration Americans (let alone Europeans) should feel; who is to say that a white or Euro-American identity can’t be as authentic and worth preserving as a Jewish (or any other) one? If you accept the basic terms of the discourse and presuppose the argumentative unacceptability of “double standards” and “hypocrisy,” then you can’t endorse when it comes to Israel what you denounce when it comes to the US. What happens, though, if we reject those terms?

I think we best find that out by pursuing, not eschewing, the Israel as model trope. The very prevalence of this trope indicates that we are not, in fact, dealing with pure equivalences. Israel seems to be an untranscendable term in contemporary political logics. I’m never more pleased and grateful when I come across someone who is simply indifferent to Israel, because it seems so unlikely. Moreover, I think it is quite likely that the secular Jews who bore the main brunt, at least ideologically, of Nazi antisemitism, are fading into irrelevance and will hardly be worth worrying about within a few decades: they really only exist in any number in the US, where they are becoming fewer, more diffuse, less powerful, and less distinct from other Americans. Such transitions contain their own dangers, of course, but no one is, or will be, speaking of American Jews as a model to be either ironically resented or emulated. Only Israel will have that privilege. The victimary era opened with the racialization and extermination of the assimilating, subversive and vulnerable Jew and has come full circle with the Nazification of the self-differentiating, self-defending, traditional-modern Jew. As with any hermeneutic circle, it is a question of entering it the right way, and ultimately abolishing it by maximizing its presuppositions.

What Israel is most fundamentally a model of is the confrontation on the borderline between civilization and its others. As I have written before (without giving due credit to Lee Harris, who slipped out of my mind, as it had been years since I had read or, indeed, heard anything of him, but was still the one who got me thinking along these lines), constitutive of civilization is a dedicated forgetting of the emergence of civilization. No civilized person wants to think of the application of commercial and technological cunning to violence (to both other and self) that enables emergent civilizations to resist and subdue the often far more numerous barbarians and savages in the midst of whom the civilized first carve out a space. But this forgetting renders civilizations helpless against both external barbarians and savages and the barbarisms initiated internally by the various forms of decadence that are inevitable concomitants of civilization. Discipline is relaxed precisely when new modes and increments are needed. Israel was long ago identified by the Left as one of the “borderline” states (along with South Africa, Taiwan, South Korea, and a couple of others) in what it considered a conflict between the colonizers and the decolonized; that analysis can be embraced wholeheartedly with completely reversed valuations, along with the “pessoptimist” (I’m referencing an old novel by an Israeli Arab, Emile Habiby) assumption that this borderline is coming soon to a country near you.

I would suggest that in its politics, economic, culture, manners, attitudes, Israel is above all a country aware of the need to construct and defend civilization continuously. Violence is ever present, and one’s own violent men must be given free, but not too free, reign to suppress it. Sentimentalities like human rights and ever expanding equality are constant temptations, but never allowed to override brute realities. Ethnic cohesion is maintained, along with respect for more traditional religious forms, even when those forms are rejected and often disdained by the majority—there is an intuitive sense that such “reversions” provide a necessary ingredient of preparedness to act in concert in times of emergency. The Left, like some kind of chronic after-effect of a childhood disease, is always there, always painful and debilitating, but it can be pointed to as such, keeping the immune system working. The Supreme Court, the media, the academy and education systems in Israel are even further left and more arrogant than our own, and even the higher levels of the military and secret police are politically corrupted—the lure of international approval and even celebrity for exhibitionist dissidents is very hard to resist. But anyone following contemporary Israeli politics knows that empowered political actors attack this corruption, unapologetically and maybe eventually effectively, in tune with majority sentiment. The possible applications to the politics of other Western countries are fairly obvious.

So, Israel is a model for us insofar as it is one or two steps ahead of where we need to be very shortly, more, perhaps, as an object of study than one of emulation (but a bit of emulation may be warranted, as well), as test case of the problematics of defending against external threats and rehabilitating from internal disorders of civilization at the same time. The model can be turned, in very different ways, toward both left and alt-right—it would be a fascinating paradox if Israel were to become the first genuinely alt-right (i.e., post-victimary) country. There would be no need to insist upon an Israeli “exceptionalism”—one could hope for the end of Israel as model once what it is modeling becomes more widely distributed, while doubting the likelihood that such dissolution is imminent. But we would have moved beyond the resentful comparative discourses of double standards and hypocrisy insofar as we proceed to do (and learn from others) what the defense of civilization requires, rather than continually asking permission from some phantom authority to do what we fantasize some privileged other is allowed to do.

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