Belmont Club

The excluded middle

Israel has been described as the “canary in the coalmine” — a reference to an actual canary who was kept by miners to serve as an early warning system against the buildup of toxic gases because the canary would sicken before the larger men would — because it is an example of a liberal Western society facing an existential threat.  One of the questions the Israeli canary can be used to answer is what happens when a society becomes culturally polarized so that each part of it conceives of a different duty to a different nation. Caroline Glick describes the growing threat of a ‘Jewish Army’ in Israel.

Religious Zionists today make up about seven percent of the total population of the country. But their sons comprise twenty percent of IDF combat soldiers, nearly a quarter of the IDF’s junior officer corps, and fifty percent of its company commanders.

The growing prominence of religious Zionists in all combat arms of the IDF is a consequence of a now two-decade trend among religious Zionists in Israel to serve in combat units – the more elite, the better. A contrary trend among upper middle class secular youth not to serve in the IDF at all renders the contribution of the religious youth all the more noticeable to the general public and all the more crucial for the IDF.

One writer described the problem succinctly: “Is the dominance of the religious Zionist sector in command positions – for now in the junior echelons, but in time, in more senior levels – a problem? Is there a danger that the IDF will be mobilized one day to serve a specific ideology? Is there liable to be a problem someday with giving the army certain duties, if they don’t suit the religious Zionist ideology and the values of most of the chain of command?”

But if we substituted the words “liberal” for “Zionist” in the paragraph above, would there be a problem? Therein lies the rub. Nobody minds being in charge. It’s when the other side is in charge that a difficulty occurs. Israel is a case study of what happens when a liberal Western society divides into distinct sides. When the one side adopts an dogmatic position and refuses to budge, the non-ideological camp will often resignedly let itself be led thinking it not worth the candle to destroy the nation to advance the party. The problem will not occur to the side which places the party above the nation, and who may in fact, hate the nation. In the case of Israel, where the Left meets Zionism, the situation isn’t between ideological and non-ideological; it is between the immovable object and the irresistible force. Whoever wins, it won’t be “Israel”, unless it the word is spelled with qualifers.

The historian Paul Johnson talks about the “deep, self-inflicted wound” in Western society. Although the context of his essay is the financial meltdown, he raises issues similar to the ones discussed in this post. Johnson’s main thesis is that in order to survive, the West must overcome a “moral crisis”, not just a financial one.

The financial crisis, detonated by greed and recklessness on Wall Street and in the City of London, is for the West a deep, self-inflicted wound. The beneficiary won’t be Russia, which, with its fragile, energy-based economy, is likely to suffer more than we shall; it will be India and China. They will move into any power vacuum left by the collapse of Western self-confidence.

If we seriously wish to repair the damage, we need to accept that this is fundamentally a moral crisis, not a financial one. It is the product of the self-indulgence and complacency born of our ultraliberal societies, which have substituted such pseudo-religions as political correctness and saving the planet for genuine distinctions between right and wrong and the cultivation of real virtues. India and China are progress-loving yet morally old-fashioned societies. They cannot afford liberalism. …

We are traveling along the high road to incompetence and poverty, led by a farcical coalition of fashionably liberal academics on the make, assorted eco-crackpots and media wiseacres. This strain of liberalism is highly infectious. The Indians and Chinese have yet to be infected. They’re still healthy, hard at work and going places, full speed ahead.

But if the polls are any indicator, the answer to Johnson’s question has already been supplied. Can we continue to afford liberalism? “Yes we can”.

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