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Monday, May 24, 2010

Liberalism and Zionism

Benjamin Kerstein explains Joel Beinart's problems with Zionism (Hat Tip: Instapundit).
It is worth asking what, one hundred or so years after Herzl, the verdict of history has been in regard to liberalism and the Jews. Despite the fervent belief of many Jewish liberals that liberalism is the one thing standing between them and the abyss, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that liberalism’s actual legacy is decidedly mixed. More than anything else, liberalism has said much and done little at the moments when it really mattered. It failed to save Dreyfuss until a very belated and largely meaningless exoneration; it failed completely to stop the rise of anti-Semitism, Nazism, and the Holocaust; it took an equally belated stance on behalf of the Jews of the Soviet Union; it has tended to regard Israel with, at best, ambivalence (even pre-1967 democratic socialism, ironically, had a better record); and during the most recent outbreak of anti-Semitism it took two equally disreputable stances—first, that it wasn’t happening at all; and second, even it was happening, it was the Jews’ fault.

One could theorize for days about the reasons for this, and it may simply come down to the fact that liberalism, in the end, is essentially an ideology of ineffectiveness. But there is no doubt that it is the case, and those who subscribe to it do not like being forced to admit it. To admit that Zionism is a viable and just ideology would mean admitting that its critique of liberalism is, to some extent, true; and this would in turn require the kind of self-reflection at which liberalism has never excelled. It is easier, then, to see Zionism as the problem, to tell oneself that Zionism is “uncomfortable,” rather than admit that it is, to a great extent, an answer, and not a bad one, to liberalism’s own inherent failures.

And this, I think, cuts to the quick of Beinart’s argument. He claims, no doubt sincerely, that Zionism today lacks “a human connection to the other side” (although it is liberalism, I think, that finds it far more difficult to accept anything that is not itself). He is speaking, of course, about the Palestinians; but he could quite easily be speaking about liberalism’s own relationship with Zionism. Indeed, liberalism’s most glaring flaw is its inability to grasp the nature of “human connection.” Put simply, it cannot accept that a human connection is impossible if it is not reciprocated.

It is this reciprocity, and thus this human connection, which appears to be of no interest to Beinart. He refuses to even admit to the possibility of an uncomfortable liberalism. His article pontificates at length on the deference Zionism owes to liberalism, but nowhere mentions the deference liberalism owes to Zionism. A deference that is, I think, the simple recognition of liberalism’s own inadequacies. Without this basic reciprocity, no genuine human connection, and no genuine humanism, is possible. What we have instead is, as is far too often the case with liberalism, mere narcissistic hypocrisy.
Hmmm. Read it all.


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