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In Reply to Beckeld: What Is “the West” Nowadays?

A pro-Palestine rally in New York City (Jason Beeferman/POLITICO)

Where I may disagree most emphatically with Beckeld is in his idealization of the ‘West,’ which is supposedly currently at war with barbarous ‘non-Western enemies.’ From my perspective, much of what we see in the impassioned pro-Hamas protests represents where Western civilization has moved in the last hundred years or more.”

Benedict Beckeld has written for Merion West over the weekend a provocative defense of the Israelis in their present struggle against Hamas, with which I essentially agree. That he begins his defense by citing one of my favorite political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes, renders me even more well-disposed toward what Beckeld tells us in his elegantly phrased essay. I was further impressed by his willingness to bring up a cultural and moral distinction that most commentators may be too cowed by the enforcers of political correctness to mention: Jews, guided by the moral teachings of Hebrew Scripture and Rabbinic law, have no ethical scruples about visiting destruction on those who inflict violence upon them. The Christian teaching about turning “the other cheek” to one’s enemy is foreign to the Jewish religious tradition, as it is to Islamic Sharia. We may, therefore, assume that Jewish pacifist sentiments, unlike those that are found in the Christian community, have less of an ancestral or divine validation.

But we may, nevertheless, feel inclined to ask why Christians have so rarely been pacifists until the modern era. We may also note that despite sound biblical instruction, Jews have been among the most enthusiastic backers of filling Western countries with their Muslim enemies. Such disastrous political decisions have contributed to recent eruptions of Muslim anti-Semitism, a phenomenon on which Beckeld properly dwells in his commentary. This course, as I have noted in my own recent discussions, has been based not on religious principle but on the lunatic assumption that an enhanced Third World presence will help protect Jews against Christian anti-Semitism.

Of more immediate interest for me is why Beckeld believes Palestinians have no right to the territory they are claiming. Ilan Pappé, among many other Israeli historians, has proved in painful detail that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes, mostly in the North of Israel in 1948. From what historians have shown, this act was done by Jewish armies. Moreover, these provable expulsions did not take place accidentally but were part of a Zionist plan to replace Arab inhabitants with Jewish settlers. It is entirely to the credit of the Israelis that they tolerate such critics. Would our establishment opposition to the Left, as typified by The Wall Street Journal, display a similar open-mindedness about Middle Eastern history? 

I agree with Beckeld that not all ethnic groups have shown the capacity to build peaceful states, and I see absolutely no evidence that the Palestinians, on the basis of their existing record, would offer us something better than a corrupt, terrorist-run government, if and when they achieve statehood. I have also observed while visiting Israel that the Palestinians who are living there enjoy most of the same amenities as the Jewish majority and Christian minority. I could not imagine that Jews, even if they were allowed to live in an Arab state, would be vouchsafed comparable living or political conditions.

Let me state my point explicitly: Even if injustices were committed against certain groups in the past, that does not justify giving them political power. Being the victims of expulsion at some point in the past does not mean that self-identified peoples are capable of ruling themselves or others. I would make the same judgment about African decolonization, though in that case the money and manpower that European countries needed to maintain their relatively civilized rule in places like Southern Rhodesia or South Africa were too high to justify a continued and increasingly bloody presence there. Anyhow in those cases there were relatively small European minorities settled among large African populations. In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a well-organized, lawfully-run constitutional state with about seven million Jews. 

Where I may disagree most emphatically with Beckeld is in his idealization of the “West,” which is supposedly currently at war with barbarous “non-Western enemies.” From my perspective, much of what we see in the impassioned pro-Hamas protests represents where Western civilization has moved in the last hundred years or more. Wokeness, multiculturalism, anti-Christianity, anti-whiteness (in which the Israelis suffer as collateral damage) are all recognizably Western in the sense in which most progressive Westerners now understand themselves. 

Hungary, which looks like a post-World War Two Western Christian Democratic country, is under steady attack from the Western media for being anti-Western and even fascist. LGBTQ instruction in schools, government support in the struggle against the “patriarchy,” and implacable hostility toward colonialism and whiteness are all part of our dominant Western culture. All the while, some Eastern European who do not subscribe to this agenda are being pushed out of the West. Supporting Arab revolutionaries against a colonial settler state in the Middle East makes perfectly good sense from the standpoint of the now dominant Western ideology. Why aren’t those who exemplify this ideology the true Westerners at this point in time?

I have the distinct impression that Beckeld is using the term “West,” as Commentary did in the 1980s, to describe a progressive welfare state, pro-Israeli regime, with a neoconservative foreign policy. My own preferred West is the 19th century liberal bourgeois form, though I am willing to allow others to privilege their own favorite version of Western civilization. In an earlier form, the “West” executed homosexuals, which is what Beckeld and like-minded commentators on Fox News now attack Muslims for doing. Now, we glorify gay marriage as a crowning achievement of (mirabile dictu!) the “West.” Was “the West” “the West” in its previous incarnations, or did it become “the West” only when it came to resemble what it is right now?.

Paul Gottfried is the editor-in-chief of Chronicles, the author of 14 books, and a regular contributor at American Greatness and The American Conservative. He served as the Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College for over two decades. 

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