Archive by Author

Operation Firm Cliff

31 Jul

Peter Cole, “On the Slaughter“:

On the night of July 7, the gates opened, even as they were being closed, when the Israel Defense Forces launched what it calls for export Operation Protective Edge. (A more literal translation of the operation’s catchy Hebrew name would be Firm Cliff—with “cliff,” according to the Hebrew equivalent of the OED, evoking in its primary definition the high place in the wilderness off of which a scapegoat is cast each year on the Day of Atonement. Words, as we know, have powers often lost on those who speak them.)

It’s On!

29 Jul

I just received the word from Norm: it’s on. Join me, Norm Finkelstein, Ben Kunkel, and many more, at noon today, at the Israeli mission to the UN, 800 Second Avenue (at 42nd Street), to protest and commit civil disobedience against the Israeli assault on Gaza.

I’m joining Norm Finkelstein tomorrow to commit civil disobedience in protest of Israel’s war on Gaza

28 Jul

Norman Finkelstein has put out a call for at least 100 people to commit civil disobedience tomorrow at the Israeli mission at the UN in New York City. If 100 people agree to do it, it will happen. After writing countless posts on Israel and what has been happening in Gaza, I believe it’s time to act. I’m going to join Norm. I hope you will, too. If you are in the New York area and plan to do this, please email Norm at normfinkelstein@gmail.com. If 100 people agree to do this, we will meet tomorrow, Tuesday, July 29, at noon, at the Israeli mission to the UN. 800 Second Avenue, right off 42nd Street. It will be announced tomorrow, at 9 am, whether we’ve reached the 100 mark. [Please note that in an earlier version of this post, I listed Norm's email incorrectly. The correct email is normfinkelstein@gmail.com.]

If you have any doubts about whether this is the right thing to do, watch this video.

The Higher Sociopathy

28 Jul

In the annals of moral casuistry, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the perils of moral reasoning than this defense, brought to you by The New Republic, of the slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza:

We can say that there is a principle worth fighting and dying for: Civilians cannot be used to make just wars impossible and morality will not be used as a tool to disarm. And once we have that principle, the proportionality calculation changes. The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve victory over those who try to fight morally. It is the protection of that world, one in which moral soldiers still have a fighting chance, that justifies Israel’s operations against Hamas today. And it is that greater cause that decisively outweighs the terrible toll in innocent life.

That’s the last paragraph of a piece that attempts to confront one of the many challenges of defending the Gaza war: namely, that on a critical principle of just war theory—the proportionality principle, which states that “the military value of a target must outweigh the anticipated harm to civilians”—Israel, as the author acknowledges, “may seem to fail the test.”

Can we confidently say that the anticipated harm to innocents is justified by Israel’s expected military gains? The degrading of Hamas’ rocket capabilities, and most of all the destruction of its terrifying network of offensive tunnels (fortified by the limited cement that Israel permitted into Gaza for humanitarian purposes) are valuable military goals. But as the Palestinian death count rises above 500 [editorial note: it's now over 1000]many of these civilianI find myself bewildered: Are these tunnels really worth the lives of all those children?

A normal person might be drawn up short by such a question. A normal person might answer that maybe, just maybe, the war isn’t worth it. But a normal person is not a philosopher of war.

Rather than confront reality, the philosopher of war resorts to reason. If the problem is the mismatch between the terrible grandeur of the means and the pedestrian poverty of the ends, don’t rethink your means, much less the war; simply inflate the ends.

There is, however, a way out of this paradox. And we find it at the moment we realize that Hamas’ actions have made this war about more than Israel or Palestine; it’s a war about future of morality in armed conflicts. For if Israel declines to fight, we live in a world where terror groups use their own civilians, and twist morality itself, to bind the hands of those who try to fight morally. In this world, cruelty is an advantage, and the moral are powerless in the face of aggression and indiscriminate attack. And make no mistake: The eyes of the world are on Hamas, and terrorist groups worldwide willas they have for generationslearn from the tactics of Gazan terrorists and the world’s reaction. So if Israel allows Hamas’ human shields to defeat it now, we will all reap the results in the years to come.

And that’s how we come to that gruesome last paragraph.

The Gaza war, you see, is not a war over tunnels. It’s not even a war in defense of Israel. It’s a war about…war, a war in defense of just war. Once upon a time, crackpots thought they were fighting a war to end all wars. That was its justice. Now they’re fighting a war in order to make just war possible. That is its justice.

The theory of just war is supposed to impose limits upon the launching and fighting of wars. It’s a condition of, a constraint upon, war. But here it becomes the end—both the aim and the justification—of war. Because that is the aim of Israel’s war, “civilians cannot be used” to make such a war “impossible.” They must instead be used to make it possible.

Hannah Arendt would have had a field day with this kind of reasoning: how it takes an action that it acknowledges to be dirty, puts it through the ideological rinse cycle, and makes it come out clean; and how it turns the manufacture of human corpses into the instrument of a higher law. It’s not, as the idealist would have it, that the law places a condition or constraint on the manufacture of corpses. Nor is it, as the cynic would have it, that the law provides an excuse or justification for the manufacture of corpses. It’s something stranger, more terrible: the law requires the manufacture of corpses.

A Gaza Breviary

27 Jul

1. One benefit of the carnage in Gaza is that it has given people who’ve never said a word about the carnage in Syria an impetus to say a word about the carnage in Syria.

2. On Friday night, there was a fundraiser for “Friends of the IDF” at a synagogue on the Upper West Side. On Shabbat. Which means cessation, stopping.

3. “It’s all but inevitable…that civilians will die.” A law professor defends Israel’s actions in Gaza.

4. Next time someone tells you that an academic boycott is a bad idea because Israeli universities are bastions of dissent against the Israeli state:

Tel Aviv University is giving students who serve in the attack on Gaza one year of free tuition.

“Tel Aviv University embraces and supports all the security forces who are working to restore quiet and security to Israel, including its students and employees called up to reserve duty,” the institution says in 24 July statement on its official website.

Meanwhile, a notice circulated at Hebrew University announces a collection for goods including hygiene products, snacks and cigarettes “for the soldiers at the front according to the demand reported by the IDF [Israeli army] units.”

The notice, signed by the university along with its academic staff committee and the official student union, says “we have opened collection centers on all four campuses.”

5. The world’s greatest expert on overdoing it says that Israel is overdoing it.

6. If only the Palestinians had revolted in April. Then everyone would be supporting this Arab Spring, amirite?

7. Fifty Israeli reservists write against the Israeli way of war:

To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means — it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.

8. An oldie but a goodie. Harvard scholar Ruth Wisse writes, “Palestinian Arabs, people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery.” Not for nothing is she the “Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature.”

9. All those liberal journos and commentators who are silent on Gaza: you can almost hear them praying for the GOP to launch a new war against Social Security so that we can all get back to business.

10. A group of Jews occupy the office of Friends of the IDF in NYC. Read a list of the Gaza dead killed by the Israelis. A counter-terror unit of the NYPD  shows up and arrests nine of these righteous men and women. There is balm in Gilead.

11. Say what you will about Mia Farrow, she’s been tweeting and retweeting messages like this: “Tell the U.S. to stop arming Israel.” And kudos to the seven other Hollywood celebrities who’ve spoken out on Gaza. Without retracting their statements, as Rihanna did.

12. James Baldwin in 1979, in response to Jimmy Carter’s firing of Andrew Young after Young met with the PLO at the UN:

But the state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews; it was created for the salvation of Western interests. This is what is becoming clear (I must say it was always clear to me). The Palestinians have been paying for the British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ and for Europe’s guilty Christian conscience for more than thirty years.

13. The literal othering of Palestine: Washington Post subhead reads, “13 Israeli soldiers, 70 others killed.”

14. If Netanyahu really believes that Hamas’s strategy is to amass “telegenically-dead Palestinians” and display them, why is he being so obliging in his cooperation?

15. The United Nations estimates that roughly 80 percent of the casualties are civilians, many of them children.” Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that the Israelis aren’t targeting civilians. If you’re getting numbers like these, does it really matter?

16. Nicholas Kristof writes, “Hamas sometimes seems to have more support on certain college campuses in America or Europe than within Gaza.” In support of his claim about support for Hamas on American college campuses, Kristof links to a Washington Post article about the American Studies Association vote for BDS. In which the word Hamas appears…never. Not even in the comments. In support of his claim about European support for Hamas, Kristof links to a New York Times article about Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott of Israel. In which the word Hamas appears…never.

17. When it comes to opposing Israel, everyone always has a better tactic. So many better tactics: it’s a wonder we haven’t won yet.

18. The Senate passes a unanimous resolution—100-0—in support of Israel. (Libertarian hero of the anti-imperialist right/left Rand Paul complains that the resolution isn’t strong enough.) Next time an opponent of BDS tells you that we should be focusing instead on cutting off US aid to Israel, ask them how they plan to scale that 100% wall.

19. I get an email from some religious Zionist group called American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate asking for a donation to support “the necessary funding for the religious needs of the combat soldiers.” After all the murder and mayhem those soldiers have committed in Gaza, I can see why their “religious needs” are great.

20. It’s July 18. First tweet I read this morning is from The New Republic: “‘Israel is acting strategically, not emotionally, in Gaza,’ writes Leon Wieseltier.” Second tweet I read this morning is from Alex Kane: “Israeli military analyst: Israeli tanks ‘received an order to open fire at anything that moved.'”

21. A reporter at Vox tweets this: “Israel-Palestine conflict has killed 14 times more Palestinians than Israelis since 2000.” David Frum responds thus: “Never enough dead Jews for some.”

22. Thirty-three Israeli academics condemn the bombing of Gaza. Thirty-three. That’s why we’re not supposed to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Because of these righteous 33. The logic is almost biblical.

23. It is not just the normal anxiety of airstrikes in a crowded city.” Imagine that phrase—the normal anxiety of airstrikes in a crowded city—applied to any urban center in the United States.

24. Gideon Levy on “our wretched Jewish state“:

The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe….The Jewish state, which Israel insists the Palestinians recognize, must first recognize itself.

25. Israeli artist Amir Schiby commemorates the Israeli killing of four Palestinian children playing on a beach in Gaza.

Four Boys on a Gaza Beach

 

An Archive For Buckley, Kristol, and Podhoretz Interviews?

16 Jul

In the summer and fall of 2000, I interviewed William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, and Norman Podhoretz for an article I was writing for Lingua Franca. The article where Buckley compared capitalism to sex (both boring), Kristol complained that there was no one on the right with the political imagination of Marx, and Podhoretz (who I never quoted) cited a list of resentments so long it would make the Underground Man blush.

I have four cassette tapes from those interviews that I would like to have transcribed and also converted to audio files that could be posted on the web. I’m hoping there’s an archive somewhere that might be interested, so I don’t have to pay for this. But I’m also prepared to pay someone if necessary.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Feel free to email me at corey.robin@gmail.com.

 

The Limits of Libertarianism

12 Jul

If you ever needed a better example of Fear, American Style—or a demonstration of the limits of libertarianism—here’s an illustrative story out of Washington State. For years, activists—including, to their credit, libertarians—have been pushing for the legalization of marijuana. In 2012, Washington did it. This ensued:

The first person to legally purchase marijuana in the state of Washington was fired from his job as a security worker after he was spotted on television making the purchase.

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Mike Boyer was the first person in the door of the Spokane Green Leaf marijuana dispensary. He was captured on video by KXLY yelling, “Go Washington!” as he legally purchased four grams of Sour Kush.

The network then followed him home and filmed him smoking his legally purchased marijuana.

Boyer told The New York Daily News that a client of the security firm he formerly worked for saw him on the KXLY report and contacted his employer, who then asked Boyer to submit to a urinalysis test within 24 hours.

The test came back positive for THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.

“I’ve worked for them on and off for 12 years and several years ago, I signed a document that said I wouldn’t have [THC] in my system,” he said.

For years, libertarians have fought for the decriminalization of drugs in the name of freedom. Now, with pot in Washington (and Colorado), we have it. So what are libertarians going to do about this kind of firing? They need to come clean: either they really care about freedom, in which case they need to support the rights of workers in the workplace, or they should just admit that their real agenda is to strip the state of all of its functions, good or bad.

Update (1:15 pm)

Turns out, after this story was publicized and went viral, the security company that fired Boyer decided to hire him back. Said it was all a misunderstanding. Mistakes were made.

Why Go After Women and Workers? The Reactionary Mind Explains It All For You.

30 Jun

On a day when the conservative majority on the Supreme Court takes direct aim at women and workers, I thought I’d quote these last lines from The Reactionary Mind:

Conservatism has dominated American politics for the past forty years….Consistent with this book’s argument about the private life of power, the most visible effort of the GOP since the 2010 midterm election has been to curtail the rights of employees and the rights of women. While the right’s success in these campaigns is by no means assured, the fact that the Republicans have taken aim at the last redoubt of the labor movement and the entirety of Planned Parenthood gives some indication of how far they’ve come. The end (in both senses of the word) of the right’s long march against the twentieth century may be in sight.

Also from The Reactionary Mind, on the private life of power:

One of the reasons the subordinate’s exercise of agency so agitates the conservative imagination is that it takes place in an intimate setting. Every great political blast—the storming of the Bastille, the taking of the Winter Palace, the March on Washington—is set off by a private fuse: the contest for rights and standing in the family, the factory, and the field. Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power. “Here is the secret of the opposition to woman’s equality in the state,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote. “Men are not ready to recognize it in the home.” Behind the riot in the street or debate in Parliament is the maid talking back to her mistress, the worker disobeying her boss. That is why our political arguments—not only about the family but also the welfare state, civil rights, and much else—can be so explosive: they touch upon the most personal relations of power.

Still, the more profound and prophetic stance on the right has been Adams’s: cede the field of the public, if you must, stand fast in the private. Allow men and women to become democratic citizens of the state; make sure they remain feudal subjects in the family, the factory, and the field. The priority of conservative political argument has been the maintenance of private regimes of power—even at the cost of the strength and integrity of the state….

Conservatism, then, is not a commitment to limited government and liberty—or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue. These may be the byproducts of conservatism, one or more of its historically specific and ever changing modes of expression. But they are not its animating purpose.

Neither is conservatism a makeshift fusion of capitalists, Christians, and warriors, for that fusion is impelled by a more elemental force—the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere. Such a view might seem miles away from the libertarian defense of the free market, with its celebration of the atomistic and autonomous individual. But it is not. When the libertarian looks out upon society, he does not see isolated individuals; he sees private, often hierarchical, groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.

A Reader’s Guide to Hobby Lobby

30 Jun

I haven’t had time to read much beyond the basics about today’s Hobby Lobby decision, but here are a few posts I’ve written over the years that should help put the Supreme Court’s decision in theoretical and historical perspective:

1. First, a general primer on neoliberalism, which makes the point—contra many on the left and the right—that at the heart of our contemporary capitalist economy are not individualistic choosers but men and women, in semi-“private” institutions, in thrall and subjugation to their superiors. It’s the Feudalism, Stupid!

2. Second, two posts on free-market types and birth control, how even the most libertarian-ish free-wheeler seeks to control women’s bodies: Love For Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises and Probing Tyler Cowen: When Libertarians Get Medieval on Your Vagina.

3. Last, a post that brings it all together—the private life of power; fear, American Style; and freedom, oh freedom—in one place: Birth Control McCarthyism.

In the coming days, I hope to have something more on the decision.

The Disappointment of Hannah Arendt (the film)

28 Jun

So I finally saw Hannah Arendt this weekend.

As entertainment, it was fine. I enjoyed the tender portrayal of Arendt’s marriage to Heinrich Blücher (though the rendition of her relationship to Mary McCarthy was painful to watch). I loved the  scenes in their apartment. Even though the depiction of its style and decor was more Mad Men than Morningside Heights, and the roominess, airiness, and light of the apartment gave little suggestion of the thick and heavy German hospitality for which Arendt and Blücher were famous. And, yes, a lot of the dialogue was painfully wooden and transparently devoted to narrative exposition, but I didn’t mind that so much.

My real problem with the film is that I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why it was made. As my wife pointed out to me, it doesn’t shed any new light on the Eichmann controversy or Arendt. There’s nothing in it you wouldn’t know from Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography or those drive-by summations of the Eichmann controversy that you get in standard intellectual histories of the period. So why make the film?

Films of this nature are supposed to dramatize something you can’t see in—or understand from—other genres. But does Hannah Arendt do that? I know there was much talk when it came out of the way that it captures on screen the process of thinking, but frankly I found those to be some of the more embarrassing scenes in the film. It’s a Hollywood producer’s idea of thinking: resting on the sofa, eyes closed, smoking, an idea crosses the thinker’s mind, eyes open. That that may have been how Arendt in fact did think—parts of it fit with Arendt’s own descriptions (not the cheesy eyes opening bits)—doesn’t quite redeem it, for the simple reason that seeing it on the screen doesn’t add anything to reading about it on the page.

I suppose one could argue that the film brings this story of Arendt and the Eichmann controversy to viewers who didn’t know anything about it. And that’s not nothing. But Hannah Arendt—who managed not only to bring stories to readers who didn’t know anything about them, but to tell those stories in a new and distinctive way, in part by the pioneering nature of her genre-bending writing—deserves better than that.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,882 other followers