By the standards of contemporary atrocity, Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner’s striking Andreas Ias in the face with the butt of his M-16 was a trifle. Eisner was the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade of the Israeli army, and Ias was a Dane on a bicycle who supported the Palestinians. The video of the incident depicts Eisner screaming in Hebrew to a group that does not understand Hebrew to go home, and holding his rifle horizontally, like an instrument of crowd control.
Thirty years ago I wrote a tiny book in defense of nuclear deterrence. Against the nuclear freezers and the nuclear war-fighters, deterrence was not hard to defend: my argument was drearily sensible. But I was nervously aware that I was urging good sense about a strategic situation that was senseless, because it was premised upon the credibility of a threat of holocaust. I was careful to note my discomfort in my book: deterrence, I said, may be supported but not celebrated, because it is another term for an unprecedentedly lethal danger, which it elects to manage rather than to abolish.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the other day I read Rachel Maddow’s new book. It is called Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, and it is an anthropologically useful document of the new American disaffection with American force.
The oldest book in my library was published in 1538. It is Sefer Hasidim, or The Book of the Pious, the first edition, from Bologna, of the vast trove of precepts and stories, at once severe and wild, of the Jewish pietists of Germany in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Next to it, and towering over it, which is as it should be, stands Moreh Nevuchim, or The Guide of the Perplexed, the handsome Bragadin edition from Venice in 1551.
When the sordid Sergey Lavrov demanded to know “the endgame” of the Security Council’s attempt to interfere with Bashar Assad’s atrocities against his people, Hillary Clinton replied that “the endgame in the absence of us acting together as the international community, I fear, is civil war.” According to many press accounts, there is already a civil war in Syria.
“The list of controversies grows weekly,” Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, filing from Jerusalem, write in The New York Times.
In a country as injured as ours, there is something unseemly about all this sagacious talk of creative destruction. A concept that was designed to suggest the ironic cruelty of innovation has been twisted into an extenuation of economic misery—into capitalism’s theodicy. Where there are winners, there are losers: praise the Lord and pass the Kindle.
Democratization is not an event in the life of a society, it is an era: a protracted turbulence. There is no other way. Dictatorships are more easily established. But if strong nerves are required for the birth of a liberal order, so, too, are open eyes. In the interval between the fall of a tyranny and the rise of a democracy, a lot can go wrong. Every saga of democratization includes adversaries of democracy, whose objection to the tyranny that fell was that it repressed society for the wrong reason.
When it was suggested, on an uncommonly busy day, that I could be absolved of my regular visit to the market, because a friend was on her way there and could pick up what I needed, I would have been mad to decline the help. But I did decline it, and I was not mad. The outcome would have been the same: the food would have made it to my table. But I am interested in more than outcomes. I am wary of finding myself in the middle of an existence too busy, too arrogantly busy, for elementary things.