X Close

Israel’s true border crisis The nation's universalism remain a vulnerability

Israeli soldiers on the border near Sderot (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Israeli soldiers on the border near Sderot (Amir Levy/Getty Images)


November 14, 2023   5 mins

Of all the lessons to be learned following Hamas’s brutal incursion into Israel, one is so glaringly obvious that it runs the risk of going unnoticed: the attack was a failure not just of Israel’s border security systems, but of the country’s concept of a border itself. In its desire to believe that the rulers of Gaza share their motivations, and even a piece of their worldview, Israeli leaders lost sight of the fact that the border — left scandalously unguarded — is not a territorial nicety but an element vital to the sovereignty of every nation.

This slackening did not occur in a vacuum. Over the past decade, the West has witnessed a gradual, systematic breakdown of its borders: from the chaos unfolding on America’s southern border to the failure of the UK and France to clamp down on cross-Channel migration. But this is as much a political and moral phenomenon as a physical one. Where borders were once sacrosanct — the very definition of where sovereignty begins and ends — today they are cast by many as a form of fascism that, by definition, strips migrants of basic rights.

With regard to its state borders, Israel doesn’t have this luxury. The borders of the tiny country are hard boundaries, designed with the specific intent of keeping others out. Though Israel briefly allowed for tens of thousands of migrants to enter, via Egypt, from Eritrea and Sudan, it promptly shut the door. It too has struggled with the question of how to repatriate those migrants, some of whom took part in internecine political riots that overran parts of Tel Aviv this past September. But in all other regards, Israel’s border crisis — in terms of its ability to clamp down on unlawful migration — is behind it.

There is, however, another aspect of Israel’s approach to its national boundaries that has proven to be more serious — and more vital to the notion of sovereignty itself. One of the most profound and devastating symbols of Hamas’s attack on Israel is the music festival that was targeted. It was there, amid a celebration of peace and love, and all the accordant values of liberal universalism — empathy, diversity, and (in the words of the festival goers) “infinite freedom”— that Hamas exercised a barbarous particularism, a tightly bound tribalism that put the needs of a single group above even their own humanity. This was not only an attack on Israel or Israelis — it was an assault on the spirit of universalism itself.

One of the strongest — and, perhaps, healthiest — tensions within the Jewish state is the tension between particularism and universalism. Among his recent interviews with international media, Israel’s head of state Isaac Herzog frequently speaks about the experience of his father, the statesman Chaim Herzog, liberating the death camps of Europe. But he speaks less of his uncle, the great Irish-Israeli statesman, diplomat and philosopher Yaakov Herzog, who argued in A People That Dwells Alone that Israel is a particular nation set apart from other nations. As a worldly man — the son of Israel’s chief rabbi who earned a degree in international law from McGill — Herzog balanced his religious and national particularism against his universalist instinct. The tension made him, and the nation he represented as Israel’s envoy to the Vatican and, later, ambassador to Canada, stronger and sturdier.

In Israel today, we have seen the rise of a new force of particularism in the form of a rising ultra-Orthodox population. But this is a relatively fresh phenomenon. Far more entrenched in Israeli culture is its strong current of universalism, its roots stretching back to the early Zionist movement that emerged from a strain of internationalist socialism. The kibbutz project inspired volunteers from around the world, but particularly from northern Europe, because of this vision of a borderless utopia.

Since those early days, Israeli universalism flowered in many forms, including in the kind of music-festival togetherness that was so soullessly desecrated by Hamas. A primary driver of Israel’s universalist culture is the belief that closeness, connection and union with others — and especially the other — are among the highest aims of human existence. The Israeli sub-cultures that embrace this view — see the diverse flora of Israeli-activist NGOs — have sought to engage Palestinians not merely as a way to solve a longstanding geopolitical crisis or to ensure domestic security, but for the sake of connection itself. For them, Palestinians are our brothers and only on account of the corruption of governing powers are we separated from our natural state of togetherness.

Within Israel, this ethic plays a powerful role. Its advocates successfully kept Arabic as a semi-official state language. It integrated Sharia law into the national legal framework, with Sharia courts active to this day. It permitted the activity of internationalist NGOs, defeating at the court level government attempts to curb their power. It has ensured broad diversity at schools and universities and advanced the cause of LGBT rights not only because they believed it was good, but because they believed it was essential to the health of citizen and state.

But the countervailing warning is that universalism is also a vulnerability. That might be part of its benefit: its empathy allows us to understand ourselves and our world better. We see ourselves differently, and more fully, by seeing the other. But there also has to be a limit — a border.

One thing we learned about the atrocities of October 7 is that one of the reasons Israel was caught unaware was because its security apparatus believed Hamas had changed its ways. Contrary to all the evidence afforded by a long history and a painful present, a belief emerged that its leaders are at least somewhat like us — they want the same things, they act the same way. Israel watched Hamas train for October 7 believing that the training for the real thing was itself the deception.

This was not a failure of imagination. It was a profound success of the imagination. Israeli universalism extended so far that, like the fairy dust from a child’s story, it settled over a genocidal regime in Gaza, cloaking it in a mystical quality of quasi-benevolence. It made the most serious and commonplace category error of the Western mind: believing that others around the world are just like us, that the differences are skin deep, related to cuisine and clothing rather than beliefs and values. In effect, this not only widened Israel’s moral border but nearly dissolved its physical one. All of the country’s formidable military technology meant nothing for the simple reason that — despite decades filled with thousands upon thousands of Hamas-directed attacks and kidnappings — they believed there was nothing on the other side of that fence to be overly alert to.

What so many miss in the debate on the various overlapping border crises is that borders aren’t only, or even primarily, about keeping others out. They’re about keeping yourself — your identity — in. This was demonstrated in the particularism exhibited by ghetto Jews for millennia, which kept their communities intact despite intense external pressure. By contrast, what we’re seeing today is that a pendulum that swings too far will, eventually, topple its own structure. Universalism is good and healthy, and particularism is necessary, but they must be balanced. Just as importantly, the physical, political and moral borders that demarcate where a state’s realities begin and end are there not to further immiserate millions of people already enduring unspeakably hard lives, but to keep a society intact.

There are many lessons to learn from the past few weeks, most of them branded by searing pain. One of them will be that the role of empathy, of seeing ourselves in others, is a noble product at the individual level. But when, on a national level, empathy is taken to its extremes and becomes a means of seeing ourselves through the eyes of the other, what Rousseau called amour propre, we end up creating a danger not only to ourselves but to the other we aim to protect.

For when borders have no consequences, sooner or later consequences forge borders. By failing to recognise this, by failing to put its moral might behind its boundaries, Israel’s government has created unimaginable suffering for its citizens.


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

72 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Samuel Ross
SR
Samuel Ross
5 months ago

Nicely said. Borders are the hard shell of the nation, they define the breathing, pulsating organism that is a state, they enclose the being that is a country. A nation without borders is a Nothing, not a Nation.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
5 months ago

This article mentions a lot of true things, but erroneously mashes them together into a mess.
It is true that there is a very strong Israeli utopian universalist sub-culture. From here came the Oslo accords. However, the political expression of this movement in modern Israeli culture is in the super-activist high court and a plethora of NGOs that create a constant tension with the ruling right wing coalitions. The political echelon and certainly the government cannot be accused of complacency through lack of belief in borders.
It should also be noted that the sharia courts are not a result of progressive ideology. They like the rabbinic courts are a throw-back to the Ottoman rule where each community was given freedom to run its own courts for “personal status” (marriage and divorce) matters.
So what did happen. I think that the article does touch on the roots of the issue but it mistakenly conflates them the western librerality that the writer wishes higjhlight and misses the real issues.
In Hebrew we say that the conseptsia (conception, theory-of-everything-idea) has been broken. I see two conceptions, and both have been broken.
The first was a belief that Hamas was in the end pragmatic and wanted the best for its citizens. We wanted to believe in the doctrine of “economic peace” that Netanyahu has made his brand and pushed for the last decade. This is very different from the peace and brotherhood vision of the Israeli left, embodied in the Oslo accords of the 90s. Much has been said of the pragmatic rightwards shift of Israeli public opinion and politics in the last decade+. However we believed instead in a cold economic peace, the idea that the conflict could be managed indefinitely and would eventually go away from lack of interest – and this has been shattered.
The second is that we can rely on borders – not that we don’t believe in them. The false idea that we can erect a wall and “we are here, and they will be there” will in itself work. This is a conception that has been promoted on both left and right for years. We built a hi-tech wall (we are the “start-up nation”) and believed that a combination of concrete and electronics would separate us from those who want to kill us. We wrote missile shelters into the building code and built a world-class cutting edge missile interception system that beats anything anywhere else in the whole world. They were there, we were here, and we would keep them out. It didn’t work.
Deep down below these conceptions lies the old Israeli malaise of yihye beseder (“it will be alright”). No-one wanted a war, no-one wanted dead soldiers, no-one wanted dead Palestinians and world condemnation, no-one wanted to have to think about what will happen in Gaza after the war. And so we fought many rounds of unfinished wars because no-one wanted to take it to the conclusion. We supported a brutal Jihadi regime in Gaza, because we keep the flames low indefinitely. We ran away from the problems. Yihye beseder.
And now it is not beseder and we are doing what should have been done years ago instead of running away from Gaza, and now everyone is paying with compound interest.

Last edited 5 months ago by Rafi Stern
Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

Unfortunately, and I am pro Israel, there is no serious doubt that parts of the Israeli state actually helped to create the Hamas problem, in order to weaken Fatah

Paul Curtis
PC
Paul Curtis
5 months ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

A good response to an interesting article. Israel and its history (both modern and ancient) are complex. Israelis are complex. Israeli mothers want their children to live and thrive. They do not want them to have to fight, and kill and to die. As many thousands of western protesters demonstrate for Palestinians “rights” and “freedoms”, quite ignoring any “rights” Israelis might claim, I am quite convinced that the post massacre Israel, will be far less universalist than it has ever been.

Alan Osband
AO
Alan Osband
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul Curtis

It’s Britain , not Israel, that’s suffers from a Blue Peter view of cultural difference . That’s why the BBC revels in a north London school wherein the pupils speak 70 different languages . They think cultural difference lies in the different foods mummy makes to celebrate holidays and holy days . In addition to ignoring the very different values other cultures often have the BBC and other liberal institutions exacerbate resentments of incomers by teaching a tendentious and biased view of British history , especially with regard to the British Empire .

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
5 months ago

This article is both poignant and very much to the point. What is said doesn’t just apply to Israel but to most of the West, and especially the woke do-gooders, virtue signalers in the Anglosphere. Unfortunately, the latter fail to realize that not all cultures and all peoples think like them or are accepting of the Enlightenment. And hence, not surprisingly, immigration from non-western countries, has given rise to huge problems as those communities do not wish to assimilate or integrate. The US has seen the complete collapse of its southern border. In the UK, London is no longer remotely English and one can barely find an English person there. In Israel, there is Hamas in the South, Hezbollah in the north and the PLO in the West Bank whose sole aim has been and always has been to seek the complete destruction of Israel, and it’s not like the make a secret of their intentions. It’s time for not only Israel but for the West, and the Anglosphere in particular, to wake up, get real and go back to their roots that made them the greatest force for progress and scientific advancement the world has ever seen.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Says a xenophobic westerner.

Last edited 5 months ago by UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Preserving borders, language and culture is hardly xenophobic. Just ask the Chinese.

Peter G
Peter G
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Xenophobia suggests a non-specific fear of outsiders. A fear of or defense against those who have stated a clear and persistent determination to destroy your nation and exterminate its citizens is both practical and prudent, not xenophobia.

Jim M
JM
Jim M
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

There is a good reason for xenophobia d_mmy! I guess you have nothing to care about that you want to protect. Just saying, “xenophobia” does not invalidate it. If the left is against it, then it’s something that the West needs to have to preserve itself.

Chipoko
C
Chipoko
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Your bigoted sarcasm contributes zero in response to a valid and reasonable point made by Jonathan Strauss.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I’m not sure I would describe any of the cultures and peoples of Central America and South America as ‘non-western’. Most are Catholic, and last I checked that’s still a ‘western’ religion. While Europeans did not migrate to these regions to the extent they did the US and Canada, there were enough immigrants that almost everybody from those regions has a mix of European and native ancestry. It can be said they’re non-white, but even that claim is highly arbitrary and entirely invented for political reasons. Every round of immigration in American history has produced some level of anti-immigration sentiment in proportion to how ‘different’ the immigrants are. It lasts until whatever current wave ends, sometimes as a result of government action, sometimes not, and then Americans move on and pretend it never happened.

The chaos, the strain on facilities, the lack of any controls on who gets in and who doesn’t, the human and drug smuggling that goes on, that is the real problem. Most Americans would probably be satisfied if they simply assigned sufficient government resources to screen all these people to sort out who is legitimately a refugee from people who are criminals taking advantage of the chaos, terrorists, or who are layabouts trying to sponge off social services. I suspect these latter three categories are constitute a very small percentage of the total, but again, since our government won’t do anything, nobody really knows. Immigration should also favor the educated and those who work in areas with labor shortages rather than importing too many people for not enough jobs, but here again, the government has failed to replace the chaos with anything like a sensible policy. The southern border has been a problem since at least the 80’s. Both political parties have proven completely unwilling or unable to adequately address the problem and until recently even acknowledge the problem exists, so now a problem that should have been solved decades ago has morphed into a minor crisis.

The southern border is certainly a political and economic problem, but I
don’t think these people pose an existential threat to the culture like the jihadists scattered across Europe. I doubt even American leaders would have been so stupid as to let massive numbers of Muslims into the country.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Very well stated. There seems to be a growing tendency to conflate the real, undeniable threat (which some still dare to deny) from expansionist jihadism with anything that is foreign in any way. That is xenophobic in the way that Peter G defines it above.
I hope more of us can put aside the competing idiocies of “better borders are The Answer” vs. “borders are Evil”. There has to be some kind of a DMZ between those two ludicrous formulations. (I recognize that I’ve made a reductive caricature, but I think it’s a little too close to accurate where some competing extremists are concerned).
The real threats posed by zealots, criminals, and even “spongers” don’t make all immigrants into a class of “lesser others” one has good reason to fear and denounce en masse.
And, the fact that most immigrants from any nation are law abiding, decent people doesn’t render borders–or diligent screening and actual enforcement of immigration law–somehow unnecessary or backward.
I have to hope there are more middle-grounders than it would seem when we hear the loud opposing voices that shout across a simplistic ideological divide.

Last edited 5 months ago by AJ Mac
Wyatt W
Wyatt W
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Few people who want stronger borders are against legal immigration in my experience. The “middle ground” you described is the position of most conservatives (at least here in America).

Last edited 5 months ago by Wyatt W
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Wyatt W

Perhaps. But in this forum and elsewhere there are more and more people that are openly opposed to the the increased presence of “non-western” and sometimes of non-white people, whom they variously slur as terrorists, peasants, socially backward, etc.
I agree that it a decided minority who express such views, just as it is a real minority who endorse the chaotic free-for-all of no border enforcement. But how few?
The most extreme voices on either side are taking up so much of the available air and airwaves, so to speak, in our country now. I just returned from a short trip to the Calgary area, where I was born. It is far from perfect there and and more conservative on average than my moderate-liberal overall perspective. But what a comparatively sane society!
I’m an American citizen too, through my America-born mother, and I’ve lived in California since I was 7, in 1978. Right now is the most divided, hostile, and dangerous America I’ve experienced. 1966-1973 probably matches or outdoes the current zeitgeist–I can’t say from a first-hand point of view. I hope we don’t see it get much worse–in terms of mutual misunderstanding, anger, ill-will, and actual violence–before it gets better.
The reciprocal vilification across red-blue, progressive/populist divides is deep and widespread. The mostly counterproductive squabbling over border policy is just one key example of that (guns, abortion, and trans-activism are three others).
In my view, extreme “MAGA” people are usually not truly conservative–because they are willing to burn it all down rather than conserve much of anything, figuratively and sometimes literally speaking. And hardline progressives are not liberal in a true sense, because they attempt to demand that people speak and even think in a certain way.
We need more contributions from outspoken or engaged moderates–left, right and dead center–in our “national conversation”.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m British so probably a different perspective, I do however fitfully follow US/California politics (or I should say social trends, which inform politics). Your point about MAGA ppl not being truly conservative: I can imagine why, and why traditional Anglo or American conservatives might well fade away. If for example you visit London (or increasingly any British city); or listen to our largely progressive (which you are right to distinguish from liberal) public ‘debate’; or observe our public institutions; it’s easy to conclude there’s not much (traditionally British) left to conserve.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m of the opinion that much of this is driven by corporate interests and base greed at this point. They want a world that can be freely exploited for profit without borders, tariffs, environmental regulations, or other inconveniences, and they’ll say most anything to get their way. Whatever keeps the people under foot and allows the exploiters to keep on exploiting is the name of the game. Don’t like the high wage demands of Americans. Build your factory in China where the people can’t unionize or Bangladesh where you can pay people for a day what Americans make in an hour. Want to save money by dumping toxic wastes anywhere you please? There’s probably a country corrupt enough to be bribed to look the other way, and then the free trade orthodoxy ‘rules-based’ order allows you to price out anyone who might be more scrupulous. That, to my mind, is the obstacle we must overcome in order to bring some sanity back to politics. The disgruntled left and the disgruntled right are really both struggling against the same forces for very similar reasons, but as long as they buy into the stupid media narratives about rampant racism or fascism or whatever other ism, they’ll remain suspicious, divided, and vulnerable to exploitation and unable to overthrow the tyrants of multinational corporations and international finance. .

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Jolly
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Immigrants don’t have to be “bad” but are simply in many cases very unlike us!. It is an extraordinary failure to understand how national cohesion arises to downplay this point to the extent it has been in much of the West. This is not an error Japan, China, Saudi Arabia or many other countries are making by the way

Muslims for example have radically different views from the native majority, for example on homosexuality (they think it should be illegal). They are of course entitled to have their views, but let’s not kid ourselves over this.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew Fisher
AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I don’t fully disagree. But the Muslims who come to the US, for example, tend to self-select for relatively tolerant views.
And it’s a bit too late in the history of this world to make mere difference a “deal breaker”. However, pace and scale matter. Letting in tens or hundreds of thousands of foreigners–even if they were to share Western Values–within a short span is very disruptive and expensive for any society and should be avoided, often prevented. Nations should better cooperate to absorb such when when necessary. Because saying “go home” to a Syrian or El Salvadoran, let’s say, doesn’t acknowledge reality.
But not every disadvantaged, oppressed, or refuge-seeking soul can decide that That the US, UK, France, or Germany (some such short list) is now home. And when they do get admitted, more citizenship and assimilation should be expected–and to an extent required.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Liberals think it’s only being fair to assume everyone is basically like them , combining narcissism with wishful thinking ,

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well said to you as well. In a single word, I’d say the American people want competence. They want the government to exercise reasonable controls on who gets in and who doesn’t and to take economic realities into account. Much of the anti-immigration rhetoric is based on hostility to businesses large and small that hire immigrants to dodge taxes and/or prevent their employees unionizing. The accusations of race and xenophobia are a desperate attempt to demonize and dismiss opponents rather than engage them, because they know very well they’d come out worse in the exchange. Globalism is a political loser at this point. It’s supporters have to rely on distraction, diversion, and division because they know they’ve already lost all the real arguments in the eyes of the people. They’re postponing the inevitable, as expected from those who hold power. They rarely give it up easily or cheerfully.

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

There are many things that are political losers in one region or voting district but not another, such as: abortion access, better gun control, or sensible limits on corporate air, water, and soil pollution.
But Globalism, like Isolationism, is an abstraction that thrives best in a kind of untested fairyland. Total non-engagement with the wider as well as less-affluent world is not possible or desirable long-term, but we cannot fast forward to a never-was globe of full cooperation and reciprocal understanding or let our respective national “guards” down. Still, the move toward illiberal populism–a big, attention-getting political winner in nations like Hungary, Italy, Israel, the Philippines, and the United States–does not strike me as an actual winner, but more of a cynical demagoguery or rabble-rousing. The movements tap into legitimate grievances for sure, both cultural and economic. But the prevailing tactics are fear-and-rage-mongering.
I fully agree about corporate profiteering and straight-up individual avarice: “I’m of the opinion that much of this is driven by corporate interests and base greed at this point. They want a world that can be freely exploited for profit without borders, tariffs, environmental regulations, or other inconveniences, and they’ll say most anything to get their way. Whatever keeps the people under foot and allows the exploiters to keep on exploiting is the name of the game”. Amen to all of that.
With a few individual exceptions, I don’t think sensible, effective governance is modelled by the incumbents in either party, nor their sponsoring political machines, nor their core constituents, who tend to be pretty extreme on both the left and right. Hardcore progressives and MAGA Trumpkins are both in the way of competence and reasonable controls and competence as a central virtue, and not just on border policy.
As I’ve said before and believe more than ever, we need a strengthening of the broad political center, a coalition movement that draws from the moderate left, moderate right, and dead center–and even a few wingers whose heads and pants aren’t on fire. Viable third party please.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m not sure there’s enough of the political ‘center’ left for what you’re describing. Further, what’s to stop the corporate money from dominating a new party the same way they did the old ones?
Historically, revolutions and change movements almost always come from the fringe because fringe movements who have no power will embrace policies that ordinary political parties won’t consider. The ‘center’ establishes political norms which keep politics within certain guardrails. In a proper democracy, these guardrails are important for establishing some level of normalcy and acceptability. However, these guardrails can be co-opted and used by the powerful to entrench themselves within an existing system and suppress change that is both needed and wanted by the people.
This is the situation we are in now. Corporate interests are suppressing the general will of the people to curb the power of international institutions, economic players, and non-elected multinational corporations. There is a need to reverse the trend of increasing inequality in our system, but the policies that need to be changed are guarded by entrenched interests and a new aristocrat class. Fringe movements break the stalemate by advocating policies outside the guardrails, such as Trump’s build the wall. They do this because they don’t have any existing power base to protect. Fringe movements may sound bonkers on some issues, just listen to RFK Jr., but they also are willing to challenge the policies that people want to see changed. To the extent that they’re successful, fringe movements move the guardrails in various ways. Consider how Trump’s trade war with China became official policy even under Biden. Even those who want to avoid war like myself probably would not simply let things go back to how they were in 2015. Anyone who tried now would face political consequences. No centrist movement can accomplish these things.
In better times, I’d say you’re absolutely right, but politics is a nasty business at the best of times, and this isn’t the best of times. When times are good and the government is functioning well and responsive to the will of the people, the center is where power should be concentrated and drawn from. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such times. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it is said. It could also be said this maxim represents an element of human nature. People gravitate towards fringe movements when ordinary political movements fail. The popularity of fringe movements isn’t the cause of our problems. It’s just a symptom. Sensible people can understand that many fringe characters are undesirable and possibly mentally unstable, (MTG, looking at you), but also understand that they serve a broader purpose. I have no love for Trump himself. I think he’s an odious, womanizing, buffoon with a dangerous penchant for holding grudges and inciting unnecessary conflict. Nevertheless, I support many aspects of the Trump movement, because I view them as necessary. I know what the MAGA people look like to sensible folk, but I also know some of them personally, and they wouldn’t be supporting Trump if they felt they had another outlet. They feel the system has failed, and will support any alternative. That in itself is dangerous and whether we like it or not, that’s the reality we face. The challenge is to get to a point where we can have needed change and a more responsive government without it turning into something like Nazism or fascism or isolationism.
One cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and to my mind, the eccentricities and questionable tactics employed by the fringes are a response to the domination of the system by an aristocrat class that cannot be dislodged from power by conventional means. Ideally, what will happen is not that one fringe group or another will attain absolute power. That would be nigh impossible under the American system anyway. What I’m hoping is that their presence and popularity will force mainstream politicians to adjust their policies and move the guardrails until a new normal is established.
Sometimes my loathing of money, greed, and corporations makes me sound like a bit of a revolutionary, and some of it is rhetorical flourish. I use terms like globalism to denote a set of policies that has brought us to where we are. It has been pursued dogmatically as an ideology for decades now, and as you point out, extreme idealism is rarely conducive to good governance. The pendulum must swing back the other way, but it will likely not be as pleasant or smooth a process as ordinary peace loving folk would prefer. I’d love a third party to somehow pop up from nowhere with a platform that emphasizes the middle class, pursues sensible border policies, and focuses on making America better rather than running the whole planet. Most Americans would love that, but how would that happen? When has that ever happened in history? That simply isn’t how things generally work. That, to me, is the unrealistic fantasy. What we’re likely to get is more popular fringe movements that emphasize one or another issue and force the guardrails to change until they’ve moved enough to satisfy most of the people who only reluctantly supported fringe movements. Then the fringe is once again the fringe.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I think there very much is a lot of such a center although it is hollowed out in mind and spirit. And centrists are by nature less energized and engaged, as a rule–with many exceptions. But there is such a thing as an “extreme moderate” and I consider myself one.
I have some views that are quite traditional or conservationist (I value and spend some of my time with very old books and music; want to protect cultural legacies and the natural world), and some that are quite reformist (down with oligarchy and corporatocracy; keep aiming for transformative compassion and forgiveness). And I am not a consistently calm or sensible person–not yet at least, at age 52– but think I “average out” toward the middle of the sociopolitical spectrum. (Not that my self-assessment means much or holds any great claim to reliability).
“Extreme idealism is rarely conducive to good governance”: I’d change “rarely” to never, at least not for long, and not without a net negative effect. The pursuit of Ends with a disregard for or attempt to justify invidious Means is a devil’s bargain. When they are too volatile or inhumane, the means always infect–and even halfway become–the ends.
Hitching ones aspirational chariot to a self-absorbed firestarter seems far more naive or fantasy-driven than hoping to re-energize the fundamentally moderate and/or sensible majority–or at least plurality–of the electorate. Give voters dreadful choices and they’ll make one though.
To me, MTG is no more useful in any good way than AOC. Let alone Trump. They are all egoists of the first, let’s say lowest order. And Trump is cruel and a really big liar, even according to his own just-deceased sister. Inward and public character do matter some in a leader, especially the Leader of the Free World. That’s one reason I disliked Bill Clinton, though Trump is on another level of hollowness and sleaze, in my opinion. Also, he will not destroy the oligarchical kleptocracy. He embodies it.
I’m an incremental revolutionary. Just kidding, sort of. I temper my revolutionary impulses with a heavy dose of historically informed restraint. The “morning after” of violent uprisings or revolutionary movements goes on and on. The losers do not simply go home to stay and they are rarely conclusively defeated. Sudden victories (on such a scale) are an illusion.
Every party that now exists was once a non-entity. And several Western nations have more than two electable parties, at least at the state or provincial level, sometimes nationally. The history of the U.S–and of any modern democracy (loosely defined)–is not a long one. But within our lifetimes both Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders made significant independent runs (Sanders was/is not an institutional Democrat) that had an actual chance of success, for quite a while. It can’t be done? That was “true” of electing a black president until 15 years ago.
Sometimes war and violent revolution need to, and in any case will happen. But, in a true and enduring sense, burning things down and dispatching enemies doesn’t work as well as courageous nonviolence. I could make a short list of peaceful revolutionaries who made a lasting impact but I’ll just begin and end with the greatest we know by name: Jesus of Nazareth.
For now, if I have to lean one way or the other I’ll choose naive hopefulness over cynical nihilism.
I’ve enjoyed this exchange and I guess I’ll see you on another comment board. Please have the last word, for now, if you’re so inclined.
*I’ll just add that several terms I’ve used, like “cynical nihilism”, are meant to express my general perspective, not directed at you in particular.

Last edited 5 months ago by AJ Mac
Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m inspired by your optimism even if I can’t say I share it. I will never overcome my own cynicism and inherent distrust of humanity, especially in its collective form. I’m not quite a nihilist but I’m long past the point of believing anything I do has any impact whatsoever on the wider world. Trump is not a populist, he’s a con-artist. He’s always been a con-man jumping from one con to the next, and this is just his boldest, most outrageous con, trying to put himself up as some kind of modern day Julius Caesar. That said, the movement he started doesn’t have to always be defined by him. He didn’t conjure the populism. He harnessed it. One hopes the anger and the disillusionment of the people might be turned to a better purpose in more capable hands, but I’m not holding my breath.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

And I don’t think you would exactly describe most of the countries of central and South America as 1st world either. Not third world for sure, other than a few, but not 1st world. Nobody with any sense objects to legal immigration. And nobody with any sense would object to a system such as that in Canada which favors people who will bring skills into the country, wherever they come from. What people do object to is having people come across the southern border who can barely read or write and allowed to basically stay in low paying jobs where they are exploited as cheap labor, while highly educated individuals with higher degrees who try and come to the US legally have an incredibly tough time (especially those coming from India and China).

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Agreed. I think that’s where most of us are, but accusations of racism and xenophobia have accomplished their basic purpose of causing immigration reformers of different stripes to look suspiciously at one another and doubt one another’s motives. It’s a classic tactic to divide opponents and shift the issue from hard realities into the realm of emotions and motives, which works to the favor of those who benefit from the status quo. You, me, and AJ would probably all agree on the actual policies needed, or at least be close enough to arrive at some sort of compromise, Instead, we’re sniping at each other over who might be a racist. Does it matter who’s a racist if the policy is acceptable? No, but here we are. THIS is why I hate the uniparty, the elite class, the establishment, the globalist blob, the neoliberal consensus. Whatever one calls it, it needs to be done away with and tossed into the rubbish bin of history, and the sooner the better. We need to stop worrying about motivations and start dealing with hard facts. Ignore the attempts to inflame emotion and remain calm and focused on the actual facts of the matter, not focusing on possibly questionable motivations.

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Jolly
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree in the main. I think there is some real and valid disagreement between you, Meister Strauss, and me on the scale and nature of the problems and solutions, but also a lot of agreement and, as you note, enough calmness and agreement for a compromise.
Mutual respect for the good intentions and non-stupidity of one’s interlocutors, even opponents–a term I don’t apply here–is a good thing.
Many extreme views deserve to be ignored whenever and for as long as possible. Some must be opposed with focused intensity–but I keep trying to learn that that’s rarely worthwhile. It tends to just fan the flames or “feed the trolls”.

Last edited 5 months ago by AJ Mac
Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Aye, reasoned arguments based on honest disagreements should be met with civility and other reasoned arguments. If one cannot argue for one’s opinions in a civilized and reasonable way, one should remain quiet and leave the task to those who can. Better to stay silent and be suspected a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
I’m glad to see you’ve realized the futility of arguing with extreme views. Extreme views, as a general rule, tend to be either A.) a result of a poor and shallow understanding of the topic, or more commonly, B.) driven by devotion to a particular ideological dogma. In either case, there’s no point in ‘opposing with focused intensity’ because it’s the equivalent of punching a pillow. It might make you feel a momentary sense of satisfaction, but it doesn’t affect the pillow in any way, and it makes one look aggressive and antagonistic to anyone else who might be watching. And aggression begets more aggression, escalating until a solvable problem becomes a conflict that can only be resolved when one side or the other is utterly defeated.
There’s a reason MLK chose passive resistance over violence and quiet protest to oppose racism. He understood human dynamics better than most and knew that if his movement was perceived as being aggressive and threatening, it would fail because too many whites would feel threatened and fearful, and less likely to actually listen and maybe feel some sympathy. As much as we honor him, I think we still underestimate the man and fail to fully appreciate his deep understanding of humanity.
For whatever reason, and I’ve already stated what I believe the reason is, our political discourse has descended into name-calling and endless ad hominem attacks. It needs to be better, and in a few places it is. It’s why I pay the subscription fee. There’s more intelligent debate here than 9/10 of the internet and the entirety of the MSM as far as I’m concerned.

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Amen. I meant to highlight the difference between the Gandhi-Thich Nhat Hahn-MLK approach and the Malcolm X-Black Panthers way, but I’d already chewed up a lot of screen space.
I maintain that some extreme movements–such as metastasized identitarianism and blood-and-soil jingoism–must be vocally and publicly opposed, (“with focused intensity”, indefatigable determination, etc.). But my estimated threshold for when that seems worthwhile has been raised, and the allowable frequency of engagement lowered, by a lot. Maybe I’m just ageing out of some of my hotheadedness.

Last edited 5 months ago by AJ Mac
Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree the European situation is worse, but the Latin Americans are Christian but they are not from liberal self governing entrepreneurial
cultures. There has been a very big difference over hundreds of years between the Latin and North American experiences.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew Fisher
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

You cast a very narrow net and seem to use “difference” as a near synonym for “hostility” or some form of bone-deep incompatibility. Many Brits and Yanks are not practicing Christians and have little to no understanding of their own putative cultural heritage. A much greater percentage of Latin Americans are practicing Christians, though perhaps of a type that is too sincere or old-fashioned for your taste. And quite a few are university graduates–though not so much not in the recent “migrant waves–steeped in more and deeper Western learning than most American university graduates (an admittedly low bar).
If we allow difference to scare or annoy us too easily, even some neighbors who look rather similar to us may start to seem “foreign”.

Eriol 0
Eriol 0
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I don’t know why two of your comments were disliked. They seem perfectly reasonable and intelligent to me. I’ve been reading your exchanges with Steve Jolly and enjoyed them very much. Temperamentally though, I side with Steve, I’m not holding my breath for humanity to save itself.

Frederick Dixon
FD
Frederick Dixon
5 months ago

“Universalism” – bah humbug! Remember the old saying: “strong fences make good neighbours”

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
5 months ago

I think it’s a human trait not to think the worst of each other. But the brutality of Islamic State shocked the world and Israel might have applied that to their evolving enemy.
I think the core psychology at play is recognition that history is always written by the winners. Hamas and their supporters know that Saudi and her other partners will eventually be back around the table to develop the Abraham Accords and manage a corresponding 1-state solution.
Even Iran can do little about this slow march of history and they indeed may be the motivatimg factor for change. For the moment, however, the regional Islamists can still opt for bloodshed and the support of the international Left.

A D Kent
A D Kent
5 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

I think all the talk of the Abrahm Accords has been overdone – we’re talking about a small handful of Arab states ‘normalising’ relations – there are many more Arab states not taking part. Far more significant is the recent rapproachment between Iran & the Saudis – shepherded by the Chinese and supported by the BRICS. With the Iranians have come the Syrians – the Arab states may find these new relations to be a much more significant ‘accord’ to nurture – especially given the less than effall progress the US inspired alternatives have given them.

As for military responses – the Iranians may well be playing a long game here. Hezbolah are upping the ante slowly. Israel’s economy is going to be under pressure from loss of earnings (tourisms, investment etc) and 300K+ people out of the workforce. Add to that constant air-raid threats at far greater range than Hamas can manage and things could start to get rather costly for their Western donors, especially as they’ve just wasted hundreds of billions proping up Ukraine.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

The test will be whether any other Islamic states directly intervene. It’s telling that the loudest critics of Israel so far have been the two nations with the least ability to engage Israel in direct conflict.
While these are the two most powerful military states in that region, neither shares a land border with Israel so any intervention would be limited to air and missile strikes, which Israel could probably handle given these resources aren’t likely to be strained by the Gaza operation. Further, either Iran or Turkey would have to fly over other nations’ sovereign airspace, some of whom they are on less than friendly terms with, and those countries might not want to risk a direct conflict themselves by ceding such rights. The most Iran could do is use Hezbollah to open a northern front, but even Hezbollah and Hamas together could not hope to defeat Israel and an Israel under siege from all sides paints a much more sympathetic picture.
I think ultimately nothing comes of this. Most Middle Eastern governments don’t want anything to do with terrorism anymore after they saw what happened to Mubarak, Qaddafi, and Assad. They’ll rain condemnations and demands upon the Israelis to satisfy their populations but they won’t risk their own legitimacy and power fighting Israel.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

One must ask why did Israel evacuate Gaza in 2005 in the first place? Did they expect the inhabitants to instantaneously change into peace loving responsible citizens? Did they expect their God to perform yet another miracle akin to those of the Old Testament?
No, they did it in the mistaken belief it would be cheaper in blood and treasure.

What they should have done is ‘bite the bullet’ and permanently occupy the place. This would off course have meant fighting a very nasty little counter insurgency war was such they waged against us in the period 1940-1948 and we in our turn waged in Northern Ireland between 1971 -1997.

There is no doubt that fighting a low intensity war in the ‘Gaza ulcer’ would have been frustrating and debilitating , perhaps costing the IDF about 100 dead per annum and all sorts of odious publicity, but surely after say five to years they would have triumphed? And thus reduced it to the state we achieved in Northern Ireland in 1997, ie: “an acceptable level of violence “.

There are other similarities with Northern Ireland, not too dissimilar population numbers, 1.6 million to say 2 million, an embittered demos with much to complain about, and a classic confrontation of passion versus professionalism.

Where the big difference lies is the relative size of both, Gaza being about 140 square miles (the size of the Isle of Wight) with no escape routes, whilst Northern Ireland is 5,000 square miles with a long border with the all too ‘friendly’ Irish Republic to run to.

When the dust settles on this present fracas the IDF must reoccupy the place and do what it should have done in 2005. It may not be cheap but it will certainly be worthwhile.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

As far as I know this was one of the ‘deals’. They also withdrew settlers who left their agricultural businesses behind… they now lie in rack and ruin.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

Rather like Zimbabwe?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Not really. Four thousand white farmers in Zimbabwe stayed long after independence in 1980. They were ultimately forced out during the 2000s after Robert Mugabe and his thugs seized their land and gave it to those who had little experience with agriculture. Those farms failed due to government corruption and incompetence. Gaza’s farms and greenhouses were destroyed because they were constructed by Jews.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
5 months ago

Together with the re-occupation of Gaza, Israel must demand the end of UNWRA, transfer of all the refugees and historical refugee families to the auspices of UNHCR and an end to the enforced eternal victimhood.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

You mean “eternal victimhood” by the filthy rich Jews?

Helen E
Helen E
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

“Filthy rich Jews” — interesting turn of phrase you have chosen there.

Peter G
Peter G
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Those “filthy rich Jews” arrived with the clothes on their backs and built a modern, economically strong, technologically advance nation. The Palestinians could have done the same – with Israeli cooperation – had they chosen to live in peace with their neighbors instead of devoting themselves to terrorism. Israel left Gaza almost 20 years ago. What has their government accomplished in the meantime while devoting all of their resources to terrorist infrastructure.

Jim M
Jim M
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Racism *and* envy! You are really the complete package!

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago

Agreed. I think Sharon was of the mind that Israel could play defense for a few decades, and simply let terrorism and violence die a natural death once enough Palestinians accepted the futility of their position, accepted the lot history had delivered them, and established their state in Gaza and the West Bank. The violence would remain but slowly peter out on its own, and it would result in fewer Israeli deaths and a lot less money spent. In a vacuum, that might have been the result. Iran interfered though, giving the Palestinians the resources to continue the conflict indefinitely, weapons, missiles, etc. There’s no way Hamas or Hezbollah could keep shooting missiles at Israel without somebody helpfully supplying them with missiles.
Iran is, IMHO, the ultimate driver of the current conflict. What I don’t understand is what they think they can accomplish. They can’t defeat Israel through Hamas and Hezbollah, and if they attack Israel directly they risk provoking a US response that would, at minimum, decimate their military capability and cost billions of dollars. They must really really hate the Jews.

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Jolly
Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Hole in one sir! Well done.

Yes Iran must be bonkers, and should be disciplined not only for Israel’s sake but for its own.
I know the place reasonably well, and most of the ‘young’ population are exasperated by the present regime of elderly, misogynistic nutters.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago

Thanks. If they escalate the conflict, all its going to do is get a bunch more people killed to no ultimate purpose. They can’t hope to actually fight the US. The US wouldn’t invade Iran. There’s no reason. They’d just bomb the crap out of them and hope to destabilize their regime, because Iran is basically an opposite of the rest of the Middle East. Most of the Middle East is dictatorial strongman governments suppressing radical Islamic populations who would be even worse than their authoritarian masters. Taking out the dictator basically opens a Pandora’s box of worse characters to deal with. In Iran it’s the opposite. The religious crazies are already in charge, so whoever replaces them is unlikely to be any more hostile, and given the nature of Persian culture historically speaking, likely to be much more reasonable.

Doug Mccaully
DM
Doug Mccaully
5 months ago

Is this article the triumph of rhetoric over reality? What is this ‘concept of border itself ?’ Israel’s law of Jewish return states that any Jew anywhere on the planet can come to Israel and become an Israeli citizen but Palestinians driven [ or scared away ] from their land have no right of return. This is the underlying reality and no amount of mood music about a natural state of togetherness will change that. Sorting this mess out will be difficult [maybe impossible] but syrupy talk isn’t going to cut it. None of this is anti Semetic by the way, merely stating the obvious.

Last edited 5 months ago by Doug Mccaully
Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

And about the same number of Jews from long lasting communities in the Middle East were driven from their homes at the same time in numerous Arab countries, with nary a peep from any progressive or indeed anyone else over this!

The great great grandchildren of refugees in the late 1940s are not going back to their forefathers homes, any more than are Indian and Pakistani descendents of the Partition or the many millions of European refugees of the same period. Should millions of Germans now be allowed to settle in western Poland?

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I think you miss my point. I’ve said that it may be impossible to sort this mess out and there can be no going back to pre six day war demographics, but my point is the lack of fairness in the current settlement. Jews can ‘return’ but Palestinians who were born in Israel can’t. I don’t think excusing injustice on the grounds that there are other injustices around the world makes a morally respectable argument. Indian and Pakistani refugees have their own state by the way, where is the Palestinian’s state?

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
5 months ago

I have a bit more cynical view of the Western attitude: “We are soooo wonderful, that the natives of other cultures have no choice but to admire us. Look how wonderful we are, see, we are holding sings ‘Refugees Welcome’ in one hand and a rainbow flag in the other.”

It is cultural narcissism, in the past it was overt and imperialistic, (“white man’s burden” etc) but by now it has deteriorated into suicidal virtue signaling.

Jim M
Jim M
5 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

It is sort of a “White Savior” ideology. The whites did do some good for the natives in North America by ending their internecine wars with each other. We also brought technology and western medicine, which by the 20th century was better than the natives’ medicine.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
5 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

It’s so inane and such false, easy morality. I don’t think most non-Western immigrants would have the foggiest about what they are or want. And why should the expectation be that anyone give up their culture and identity just because they move elsewhere (especially if that elsewhere seems to have given up on its own culture). Also hubristic and strangely provincial (progressives seem to think they represent ‘humanity at it’s best’, in fact they have very limited perspectives, and seem to never have much depth of understanding of say theology, history, traditional cultures, psychology). The ‘white man’s burden’ stuff was a progressive, reforming moral idea of it’s time (though it did eg end the slave trade), the more traditional British colonial idea was about pragmatic trade. ‘Moral superpower’ Sweden progressive nivarna until they have finally (pride before a fall) started to realise they’ve permanently f-ed up what had once been a high-performing (but naive then hubristic) society.

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

The concept may have been reformist or proto-progressive in an extended sense but the Kipling poem “The White Man’s Burden” was quite contemptuous of conquered or colonized peoples, especially the Filipinos, whom Kipling exhorts the US to conquer in the name of noblesse oblige, as it were. Sample lines: “Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half Devil and half child” and later…
“Take up the White Man’s burden—
    In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
    And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
    An hundred times made plain.
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain”.
Later still in the poem: “And when your goal is nearest / The end for others sought, / Watch Sloth and heathen Folly, / Bring all your hopes to nought”. Quite anti-native and pro-colonial project. The burden is considered both noble and thankless.
To some extent, the interfering hubris and moral ventriloquism that progressives tend to indulge in can be a “white-man’s-burden” complex too, so I think I get what you mean there. Just wanted to highlight some of Kipling’s original lines.

Last edited 5 months ago by AJ Mac
Jon Barrow
JB
Jon Barrow
5 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thanks for that. Yes I meant in a wider sense eg missionary work etc. I’d forgotten about Kipling’s poem.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago

The concept of the “other” the author employs should first be considered on an individual level, i.e. each of us seeks to reach out beyond ourselves, to others, in order to understand that we’re not alone, within the confines of our own skin and psyches. We like – need – to think that we’re understood, appreciated, loved. In reaching out, we make ourselves vulnerable; a necessary element with the hope of reciprocation. If that reaching out, that vulnerability is abused, we react badly.

This concept is employed at the level of the nation state by the author to describe how Israel found itself vulnerable to attack from forces which have no intention of understanding. I think it’s a useful way of thinking about what’s happening, and how we might negotiate our responses, both as nations and as individuals.

It’s also becoming a feature of discourse around the use of technology that young people, “internet natives”, just aren’t reaching out in the way previous generations needed to do to maintain a social life and start a family. I wonder if we’re beginning to see the results of this phenomenon being played out at an international level now too?

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Murray
Jim M
Jim M
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Why do I need love from strangers?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim M

Where does Mr. Murray say that you do? But if you consider everyone outside of your own head or maybe immediate family to be a stranger then you’ve got genuine problems of narrowness and isolation.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
5 months ago

I agree with this author. When any civilization achieves a position of regional or global dominance, it exports its culture and values, and few nations in the history of the world, arguably none, have achieved a level comparable to America between 1991 and 2016. There is something distinctly American about universalism, particularly the positive perceptions towards migration, free trade, and individualism.
America, after all, built basically its entire population and culture (such as it is) through the process of migration. America began by throwing off the traditional limitations of nationhood through revolution, and a significant part of the motivation for the revolution was the desire to trade and engage with other nations freely without burdensome taxes that were levied as part and parcel of the balance of power between European states. The roots of globalism were already growing even in 1776.
Borders were always nebulous, subject to change, and only rarely respected in American history. The western border was a fuzzy concept denoted more by the edge of settled land rather than by a treaty or a river. The area of the Louisiana Purchase was largely defined by the area drained by the Missouri River. Neither buyer nor seller had a precise idea what that even was, being largely unexplored. The maps we see in history books were made with the benefit of hindsight. When colonists moved into the area now known as Texas it was part of Mexico. When they began to outnumber the Mexicans, they rebelled and formed their own nation, which eventually joined the US. California has a similar story. The Pacific Northwest was hotly disputed between the British and America until settled by negotiation. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that America’s southern and northern borders were set where they are today and clearly defined.
Unfortunately, America’s unique history simply isn’t applicable elsewhere. It’s model of a society built from nothing, expanded through migration and free movement with little respect or need for hard borders, then changed through successive waves of immigration, is and was almost completely novel. No other nation’s history is analogous to the USA on any timescale relevant to today.
Given these realities, it seems obvious that exporting Americanism would fail spectacularly, which it has. It has found some purchase in Europe, from whence the core of America first sprung, but very little elsewhere. Europe is already paying a heavy price for embracing globalism and open borders, and the backlash is still growing. In hindsight, the evidence though was there all along, shown by America’s abnormally high levels of crime and violence, constant regional political feuding, dysfunctional government, etc. Multiculturalism was not all rainbows and sunshine. Now the world is everywhere rejecting globalism and to some extent, the people pushing it. Ironically, it has even begun to fall out of favor in America itself, though it remains entrenched in the urbanized coastal regions. America is going to have a tough century in terms of culture and values. While the nation itself will remain powerful and dynamic by virtue of its resources, population, and military might, Americans will have to come to terms that they are, like everybody else, just one of many cultures and civilizations. Eventually America will be forced to accept hard borders around the world because that’s the way the pendulum is swinging. For many, it will be a bitter pill to swallow.

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Jolly
Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Good comment. The only thing I’d add is that the USA model worked because it had almost permanent economic growth (a lot of this resulting from it’s vast raw material assets) and no powerful neighbouring enemies. I don’t think it will fare at all well in an extended period of impoverishment or strife – there’s not enough glue. When all is said and done ideas (the Constitution etc.) are very culturally specific and easily jettisoned, unlike say a (tribal type) bond made of a distinct ethnicity, language and religion.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Great points

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
5 months ago

Greatly appreciated this not only as an analysis of Israel-Hamas, but for the generally applicable insight of the author’s reflections on borders. That “most serious and commonplace category error of the Western mind: believing that others around the world are just like us,” teamed with a failure to understand that borders are not just exclusionary but protect a country’s identity, has had grave consequences for Western nations.  National borders are no less crucial than personal boundaries to individual/national health and personal/international relations.

A D Kent
A D Kent
5 months ago

interesting article, but seems rather odd in that it portrays the Israelis as a unified bunch. I’d have thought that prior to October the the evidence for this was rather scant. I’ve been following ex-diplomat Alastair Crooke’s analysis of the internal issues in Israel – you can find them in al-Mayadeen and his weekly discussions with Judge Napolitano’s (US Libertarian) ‘Judging Freedom’ podcast. he makes a great deal of the marked division of interests and polices of the Ashkenazi Jews and the (until recently) rather more downtrodden Mizrahi who form the bulk of Netanyahu’s base. The latter were the ones who, with the IDF looking on, stormed and desecrated the Al-Aqsas mosque a few weeks before the Hamas atrocities.

All that stuff seems like quite a big deal to me, but it seems not to be part of the general discussion now – certainly around here it isn’t.

Paul Sandelson
Paul Sandelson
5 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

.

Last edited 5 months ago by Paul Sandelson
Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
5 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

“Stormed and desecrated the Al-Aqsa mosque”. What the?
I assume you are talking about the daily hour when infidels are allowed onto the Temple Mount to walk silently on a predetermined path while the Waqf and Murabitat look on to ensure no one mumbles a prayer or any unclean Jewish foot steps on holy Muslim ground.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
5 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

And BTW there sure are lots of ashkenazim there too.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
5 months ago

There is a very good backgrounder on YouTube, 1948: Creation & Catastrophe. It’s a full length documentary and well worth watching – at least I found it so. It has film and interviews from both sides, including Irgun and Stern Gang members, talking freely and frankly about that period.

angusmckscunjwhich
angusmckscunjwhich
5 months ago

Are you joking?! The leading country in border security technology in the world. Gaza is a laboratory for Israel that exports it’s knowledge as cutting edge in population control to most Western governments. It’s also weird to talk about universalism in a country that practices apartheid.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago

I’m very pro Israel, but this piece is a piece of dubious waffly philosophical fluff. Israel has actually constructed one of the toughest hard borders anywhere in the world.

Firstly, Hamas and Hamas alone are responsible for the 7 October atrocities. Not even Iran. Secondly, Israel has been undoubtedly caught off guard. But it is worse than that – or certainly should be – for Netanyahu himself and his government. There is little doubt that they have actively supported these would be genocidal maniacs as a counter weight to Fatah. Stoking tension in the West Bank further drew the IDF’s attention away from Gaza. Surely those cynical games must now come to an end, as should with any justice Netanyahu’s career

Duane M
Duane M
5 months ago

The thrust of this essay seems to be, “The only shortcoming of the Israelis is that they are too nice and too kind; they are generous to a fault.”
Once upon a time, that fairy tale might have been credible. Perhaps to those in the West who were too young to know about the Balfour Declaration of 1917 or the Palestine civil war of 1947-1948. To those too misinformed to notice the steady displacement and herding into ghettos of Palestinian Arabs from 1948 to the present.
But not any more. It’s very clear now that Israel has no regard for Palestinian Arabs, and now it is full-on ethnic cleansing to remove them all from Zion. Beginning with Gaza, but not ending until all the Palestinians have been expelled.
Is that what you would call “universalism”?