Friday, May 28, 2010

If you think you are a liberal choose Israel

An emotionally charged debate (or more accurately an exchange of bristling internet commentaries) is under way over "Liberal" support for Israel.

Peter Beinart is the author of an article in the New York Review of Books that attacks the Israeli government and the American Jews who support its policies. Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic. So his public denouncement has received a great deal of attention, though according to some critics out of all proportion to the originality of his charges. Noah Pollak  and Ted Bromund are two authors who have provided trenchant criticisms of Beinart's article - also see the summary by Paul Mirengoff.

These are worth reading if you have the time and inclination. I won't attempt to summarize them. I want only to add here a few observations that I believe capture the essence of the matter - not new, I and others have been harping on this for some time, but it is becoming more obvious at an accelerating rate.

At the heart of it is a semantic issue. The word "liberal" has been appropriated by people who are not liberals.

As a philosophy or ideology Liberalism originally referred to
  • individual freedom from coercion - the idea that all individuals have the same procedural rights under the law
  • the desirability of a system governed by the rule of law rather than the rule of men - all men (people) are subject to the same law form the pauper to the president; and the law should not discriminate according to whether someone is poor or (equally) because someone is rich - individuals are equal in the eyes of the law.
  • the idea that adult individuals are responsible for their actions and will reap the rewards of profitable actions and pay the price of unprofitable ones
  • the idea that all individuals can own property and their property rights should receive equal protection under the law
In short, it referred to a system in which all men (people) are considered equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty and property; such rights enabling them to engage in the pursuit of happiness the best way they know how. From these basic rights flow other derivative rights, like freedom of speech on one's property and within one's publications and private gatherings; freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. But, for freedom to apply equally it can be extended only up to the point that it begins to deprive others of the same or other freedoms. Thus, freedom of religion does not permit one to impose one's beliefs on others. Violence is justified only in defense of freedom (though this potentially opens a wide space of interpretation concerning action to preempt the threats to freedom, requiring great attention to the burden of proof).

This Classical Liberal system can be defended on the basis of a moral appeal to individual human rights and/or by observing that, as a practical matter, its implementation, in sufficient degree, has been responsible for the only period in human history of general prosperity. Never before in human history have so many lived so long and so well. And material well-being has been more than matched by breathtaking advances in technology and spectacular explosions of artistic and literary expression. It is no accident. Modernity and its aftermath is directly attributable to that system of "natural liberty" that has spurred and rewarded individual achievement to the betterment of all. That half of the world still remains mired in premodern poverty is attributable to the one thing its inhabitants have in common - the absence of individual liberty.

A Classical Liberal system is one in which individuals, because of differences in luck or labor, will experience different outcomes. The advent of general prosperity implies and requires individual differences. There will be gaps in income. This is not a cause for alarm. Inequality, in and of itself, is a non-issue. To be equally poor is worse that to be unequally prosperous. By focusing on inequality of outcome, these so-called "liberals" legitimize the base emotions of envy and resentment and elevate them to the level of respectable social policy. To be sure, a Classical Liberal system does not denigrate a concern for the less-fortunate. As an historical matter, charitable giving and the incidence of other charitable actions rises with general prosperity - more than in proportion to earnings and wealth. Voluntarily giving to the poor is to be admired. But harnessing the state to plunder the earnings of the "rich" to (ostensibly) redistribute it to the "poor" is nothing else but organized robbery.

Modern "liberals" are not liberals. A better term for them would be Narcissistic Egalitarians. They do not consistently defend individual rights, they do not respect individual property, they do not consider individual adults responsible for their actions. Their prime goal is the removal of social inequality and difference. They refuse to believe in any essential differences between people - in ability and in moral capacity. They avert their gaze from evil and turn to "social conditions." They are social engineers, desirous of smoothing out the the unsightly gaps in social position and they extend this to the world at large and the differences between countries.

When the Israelis were victims they were the darlings of the modern liberals - especially since the early Zionists embraced various brands of socialism. But when the Israelis refused to remain victims, when they embraced modernity, affluence and the ability to defend themselves, they became the arch villains of the world. And the Palestinians, the hapless victims of their leaders' venality and greed, are conspicuous by contrast in their poverty. Ergo, the Israelis are to blame.

American Jews are predominantly modern "liberals" for reasons that defy simple explanation, but that have been the subject of much recent discussion. Whatever the reasons they now find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to either abandon their "liberalism" or their support of Israel (the arch anti-"liberal" state). Their choice would be greatly simplified if they understood what liberalism really meant.

PS. Clarifying note: In Europe the term "liberal" is closer to its original meaning and the Social Democrats are closer to what we in America call "Liberals."

Friday, May 21, 2010

What's a little ranting between friends?

Many of my "Liberal" friends think that budget deficits and the size of government are irrelevant. They just don't believe, deep down, that these things really matter. In the end the American economy will work fine no matter what the increased size of government, and will grow its way out of the deficits.

Their smug ignorance exasperates me. They should know better. Intelligent people should think hard about things like this. They don't. They are impatient with the detail and the subtlety of issues. The eyes glaze quickly.

Instead they are swept by the emotion of the righteousness of "doing good." This makes them feel "good" in spite of their riches - about which there is a nagging guilt, since there are, after all, so many people who have so little. With Obama as their acting angel to right the world they can sleep better.

And, of course, they are bolstered in their ignorance by those who should know better - qualified experts, like Paul Krugman and others, who write in the New York Times and appear monotonously on National Public Radio, the BBC and the TV talk shows, to extol the virtues of the new Messiah and poo poo the naysayers who, after all, have their own nefarious agendas.

They would not run their businesses or their families the way the Obami are running the government - it would make them very uncomfortable and very nervous. Multiply this a few million times and that is what they should feel about the rapidly shrinking size of the private sector. The little people they care so much about will be the ones to suffer most in the end and the "Liberals" will have some responsibility for that. But that's ok because they won't realize it.

Its not the climate that is a problem, its the economy stupid. Wake up!