Thursday, July 30, 2015

The question all lefties should answer

A friend of mine, with whom I don't usually discuss politics, recently explained her view on some current issue by saying, "Of course, I'm a leftie."

There were a couple of things I felt like saying in response. The first was to express a complete lack of surprise. She is an attractive, educated woman with a nice house, a husband who makes plenty of money and a beautiful young family - what else would such a self-satisfied creature be but a leftie? The second was to question her moral compass, given that lefties were responsible for far more murders of their political opponents than 'righties' over the course of the last hundred years. In fairness to my friend, I assumed her views were more a product of intellectual laziness than immorality and I didn't say any of these things to her because I didn't want to spoil what was a very pleasant lunch date at an outdoor café on a sunny afternoon.

The moral challenge I felt like posing to my leftie friend is similar to that posed by American historian Eugene Genovese in his essay, The Question. Genovese was a notorious Marxist who changed his views later in life because he reflexively posed the question that is the subject of his essay - the same question that was asked of Germans in respect of the Holocaust after World War II - "What did you know, and when did you know it?" Genovese, perhaps uniquely amongst left-wingers, poses the question to Marxists and their fellow-travellers, "democratic socialists" and "radical democrats" (and he applies the parentheses to those terms), in respect of the tens or hundreds of millions of people who have been killed by left-wing regimes that Western lefties have supported. I raised a similar question in my blog post from Cambodia earlier this year on Western support for Pol Pot.

Genovese challenges the inevitable excuse of the left-wing apologists for genocidal regimes by saying, "the horrors did not arise from perversions of radical ideology but from the ideology itself." The excuse that every instance of radical socialism in practice is not a true manifestation of Marx's philosophy is what I find to be the most pathetic and dishonest of all of the left's multitudinous examples of self-delusion. Genocide is not an aberration of Marxism, it is the sine qua non of it.

I recall having an argument with my political science tutor at university, a proud Marxist (which, again, is hardly a surprise) who stressed Marx's theory that the dictatorship of the proletariat would dissolve upon achievement of the egalitarian aims of the revolution. In other words, the existence of Marxism was not dependent on a dictatorial state other than in its early stages. I pointed out the obvious logical inconsistency with the theory - that a system that requires violent repression of human rights during its gestation cannot endure in the absence of that violent repression. Once the state has been dissolved, there is nothing to enforce the artificially-constructed egalitarianism of Marxist ideals.

Human rights are, by definition, about allowing humans to pursue their own self-interest, i.e. what the American founding fathers called "the pursuit of happiness", and socialism is about subjugating self-interest in the interests of the collective. So, logically, the only way of maintaining the socialist nirvana is to retain the necessarily violent suppression of human rights that imposed it in the first place. I also pointed out to my tutor the logical inconsistency that any system that is reliant on an elite who have the guns can hardly be called egalitarian. I don't think he had ever had anyone challenge his beliefs in such a manner as he seemed quite crushed by the encounter with logic.

I guess it comes down to whether you think you can separate the means from the ends, and this is the moral problem I have always had with Marxist philosophy. I believe that any system that requires its adherents to justify murder in pursuit of its goals cannot be moral. She would be outraged were I to point it out, but there is a terrible moral equivalence between genocidal maniacs like Stalin and my friend sipping her latte in a café on a sunny day. They differ only in the extent to which they would stomach the logical outcomes of their beliefs.

[A hat-tip to Tom Woods who brought my attention to Genovese's essay in a recent episode of his excellent podcast.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fascinating Insight into US-Israel Relationship

It has been a while since I last posted. The main reason I have been so remiss is that I've been busy with business, but it's also because I've been doing a lot of reading recently. Most of the books I have read are non-fiction, ranging the gamut of my eclectic interests including music, politics, economics, science and particularly biography. One of the most interesting books in the last category is the autobiography of the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

American-born and raised, Oren became a avowed Zionist as a teenager when he met Yitzhak Rabin during the latter's term in the diplomatic job that was eventually to become Oren's own. Rabin was, of course, later to become the Prime Minister of Israel who signed the Oslo Peace Accord with Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasir Arafat, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize (together with Arafat and Shimon Peres). Oren fell in love with Israel on his first visit there as a seventeen year-old and was determined to become its ambassador to his country of birth, but before being selected for the role by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he had a distinguished career as an Israeli paratrooper, a history professor and a novelist. 

Oren served as ambassador from 2009 until 2013, one of the most turbulent periods in the often fractious Israel-US alliance. He had to smooth the stormy relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at a time when Israel became increasingly cast (most unfairly in my view) as the villain in the Middle East. He managed to gain the respect of the Washington political and diplomatic establishment and constantly provided Israel with a professional, objective voice in America, in spite of the fact that his own family back in Israel was often under threat of terrorist attack and Hamas missiles. He was there during the build-up to the recent Iran nuclear agreement and had to personally manage the relationship between a Prime Minister who saw the deal as the ultimate existential threat to his nation and a US President who seemed to be only too willing to trade an ally's security for his own political legacy. Michael Oren retired before the dreaded Iran deal was completed and I imagine Netanyahu acutely feels his loss.

Whatever you think of Israel (and I make no apology for the fact that I am an admirer), Oren's book, Ally, is a fascinating insight into that country's politics, as well as into the explosive Middle East and the personalities and games of Washington politics.