Buchanan trumps Walzer in clarity of opposition to Libyan war

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments

Below are excerpts from two columns against intervention in Libya from nearly two weeks ago. One is by Michael Walzer, the just war theorist, and the second by Pat Buchanan. Read the pieces, then ask yourself, if you knew nothing else about the authors, which one of them you would conclude was the political thinker? Walzer comes across as a man of feeling with the most ad-lib notions of prudence, practical  possibility and the limits that history may set on the actions of a great power. Buchanan (It’s Their War, Not Ours) comes across as a no-nonsense judge of the situation. 

Why the disparity? (hardly a measure of the talents and qualities of the two  writers in other settings). Walzer has Israel on his mind. Buchanan does not.

Michael Walzer at Dissent, March 7:


The point of calling in an army would be to overthrow the dictator and help move Libya toward a democratic transformation. And that is just the kind of intervention that [John Stuart] Mill opposed and that international law rules out….

What if it looks as if Qaddafi is going to win? Would we be willing to go all the way with Mill and say that if the rebels lose, it’s because the country isn’t ready, isn’t “fit,” for democratic government? I don’t think I am tough enough for that. But if there is to be, somewhere down the road, a military intervention, let it not be an American intervention. Ideally, I suppose, it should be an Italian intervention. According to post-colonial theory, the Italians are responsible for everything bad that has happened in Libya since they left. But if they tried to fix things, it wouldn’t be a post-post-colonial effort; it would look very much like the old colonialism. In any case, they could act effectively only as part of a NATO force, and NATO is second-worst to the United States as a potential intervener. United Nations auspices would provide a little cover, but it would almost certainly be vetoed in the Security Council. So why not call in the Egyptian and Tunisian armies? A high-tech force isn’t necessary here; with logistical help, these two armies could do the job. And who knows? Promoting democracy in Libya might push them to do the same thing, a bit more eagerly than they are doing now, in their own countries.

When intervention is necessary, neighbors are the best substitute for insiders. But when does “necessity” kick in—when the rebels have been utterly defeated, or when they are on the brink of defeat, or when too many of them are being killed? I would like to say, we will know necessity when we see it—except that so many people see it too soon, and so many never see it. We should begin that argument right now.

2. Buchanan at antiwar.com, March 8:

Before the United States plunges into a third war in the Middle East, let us think this one through, as we did not the last two.

What would be the purpose of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya? According to advocates, to keep Moammar Gadhafi from using his air force to attack civilians…

What is the theme, where is the consistency in U.S. policy?

We backed the dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, who were as autocratic as Gadhafi, whom we demand be deposed.

We support the dictator in Yemen, the absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia, the king in Bahrain, the sultan in Oman, and the emir in Kuwait, but back pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, though there have been more elections in Iran than in all those other nations put together.

America has taken a terrible beating for what she has done and tried and failed to do in that region for a decade.

Let the “world community” take the lead on this one.

Tell them, this time, the Yanks are not coming.

11 Responses

  1. Miura
    March 20, 2011, 12:01 pm

    An Exception to the Rules
    Noam Chomsky

    Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer
    Basic Books, $15.00
    in Inquiry, 17 April 1978

    When is the resort to violence justified in international affairs? What acts
    are legitimate in the conduct of war? These questions raise difficult problems
    of ethical judgment and historical analysis. Michael Walzer insists, quite
    correctly, that beyond merely "describ[ing] the judgments and justifications
    that people commonly put forward, [we] can analyze these moral claims, seek
    out their coherence, lay bare the principles that they exemplify." His aim is
    to develop a certain conception of our "moral world," and draw from it both
    specific judgments on historical events and operative criteria for resolving
    future dilemmas.

    There are certain beliefs on these matters that are so widely held as to
    deserve to be called "standard." With regard to the question of resorting to
    violence, the standard doctrine holds that it is justified in self-defense or
    as a response to imminent armed attack, often construed in the words of Daniel
    Webster in the Caroline case, which Walzer quotes: "instant, overwhelming,
    leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation." This part of the
    standard doctrine Walzer calls "the legalist paradigm." With regard to the
    exercise of force, another part of the standard doctrine constitutes what
    Walzer calls "the war convention," consisting of such principles as, for
    instance, that prisoners should not be massacred and civilians should not be
    the direct objects of attack.

    The standard doctrine, which is codified in various international conventions,
    holds that both the resort to war and the means employed in warfare fall
    within the realm of moral discourse. There has been extensive discussion of
    these issues in the context of the Vietnam War, the conflict that prompted
    Walzer’s concern. While the standard doctrine is regularly violated, it
    remains a worthwhile endeavor to evaluate and refine it.

    Walzer argues that the legalist paradigm is too restrictive in certain
    respects. In other respects, however, he interprets it strictly, as he does
    the war convention. Walzer takes the anti-Axis effort in Europe in World War
    II to be "the paradigm…of a justified struggle"; Nazism, he believes, "lies at
    the outer limits of exigency, at a point where we are likely to find ourselves
    united in fear and abhorrence." Nevertheless, he condemns as illegitimate
    under the legalist paradigm Churchill’s decision to mine the territorial
    waters of neutral Norway in order to prevent ore shipments to Nazi Germany,
    and he considers the terror bombing of German cities to be a serious violation
    of the war convention. As these examples illustrate, he construes the standard
    doctrine strictly, even in the extreme case of the struggle against Nazism.

    Walzer points out that it is impossible within the confines of his study to
    present an elaborate historical argument, but to me, at least, the above
    conclusions seem reasonable. Furthermore, Walzer is right to challenge widely
    accepted views, for example with regard to terror bombing. It is enough to
    recall the fundamental moral flaw of the Nuremberg tribunal, graphically
    revealed by Telford Taylor’s observation in Nuremberg and Vietnam, that
    "there was no basis for criminal charges against German or Japanese" leaders
    for aerial bombardment because "both sides had played the terrible game of
    urban destruction — the Allies far more successfully." As it turns out, the
    operational definition of a "crime of war" is a criminal act of which the
    defeated enemies, but not the victors, are guilty. The consequences of this
    moral stance were soon to be seen in Korea and Vietnam. It would be naive to
    suppose that a serious moral critique would have prevented further criminal
    acts of the sort condoned (or ignored) under the Nuremberg principles.
    Nevertheless, the example illustrates the seriousness of the enterprise in
    which Walzer is engaged.

    Even the most profound justification of the standard doctrine would be of
    limited import, since it is in any case widely accepted in principle, if not
    in practice. Hence the major interest of Walzer’s study lies in the
    modifications and refinements he proposes, as in his restrictive
    interpretation of the war convention. Since the burden of justification rests
    on those who employ force, the still more significant part of his study lies
    in those departures from the standard doctrine which advocate its relaxation.
    These relate only to the legalist paradigm of the justified use of force.

    Walzer suggests four modifications that extend the legalist paradigm. Three of
    these revisions "have this form: States can be invaded and wars justly begun
    to assist secessionist movements (once they have demonstrated their
    representative character), to balance the prior interventions of other powers,
    and to rescue people threatened with massacre." These extensions are discussed
    under the heading of "humanitarian intervention." Walzer states that "clear
    examples of what is called ‘humanitarian intervention’ are very rare. Indeed,
    I have not found any, but only mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is
    one among several." He cites the Indian invasion of Bangladesh as a possible
    example (the only one cited), since "it was a rescue, strictly and narrowly
    defined," and the Indian troops "were in and out of the country…quickly."

    There then remains to be considered one serious proposal for relaxing the
    restrictions of the standard doctrine; and thus much of the significance of
    Walzer’s study lies in this crucial case. It is the case of "preemptive
    strikes." Walzer accepts "the moral necessity of rejecting any attack that is
    merely preventive in character, that does not wait upon and respond to the
    willful acts of an adversary" (hence his condemnation of the mining of
    Norwegian waters). But he feels that the Caroline doctrine is too narrow.
    Preemptive strikes are justified, he proposes, when there is "a manifest
    intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a
    positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything
    other than fighting, greatly magnifies the risk."

    A single example is offered: the Israeli preemptive strike of June 5, 1967.
    This, Walzer holds, is "a clear case of legitimate anticipation," the only one
    cited — in this review of 2500 years of history — to illustrate the point that
    states may use military force even prior to the direct use of military force
    against them. Israel was "the victim of aggression" in 1967, Walzer claims,
    even though no military action had been taken against it. What is more, we can
    have "no doubts" about this case, as Walzer states in the following
    extraordinary passage:

    Often enough, despite the cunning agents, the theory is readily
    applied. It is worth setting down some of the cases about which we
    have, I think, no doubts; the German attack on Belgium in 1914, the
    Italian conquest of Ethiopia, the Japanese attack on China, the German
    and Italian interventions in Spain, the Russian invasion of Finland,
    the Nazi conquests of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, and
    Holland, the Russian invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the
    Egyptian challenge to Israel in 1967 [my italics].

    The Egyptian "challenge" to Israel is thus a clear case of "aggression," on a
    par with the direct use of armed force in each of the other cases cited. The
    legalist paradigm fails, according to Walzer, because, given the Caroline
    doctrine, it does not condone Israel’s response to this "aggression."

    Note the crucial nature of this case for Walzer’s argument. In a review
    covering 2500 years, Egypt’s 1967 challenge is the single example cited of
    "aggression" involving no direct resort to force; nevertheless, it is not an
    ambiguous example, but one that raises "no doubts." Israel’s preemptive strike
    is the one historical example adduced to illustrate the need to modify the
    legalist paradigm to permit "anticipations." Furthermore, this is the only
    modification covering supposedly unambiguous historical examples that involves
    a relaxation of the standard doctrine. What Walzer is proposing here, as he
    notes, is a "major revision of the legalist paradigm. For it means that
    aggression can be made out not only in the absence of a military attack or
    invasion but in the (probable) absence of any immediate intention to launch
    such an attack or invasion." Given the burden carried by this example, a
    serious inquiry into the historical facts would certainly appear to be in
    order, but Walzer undertakes no such inquiry. He merely asserts that Israeli
    anxiety "seems an almost classical example of ‘just fear’ — first, because
    Israel really was in danger and second, because [Nasser's] military moves
    served no other, more limited goal."

    Israeli generals take a rather different view. The commander of the air force
    at the time, General Ezer Weizman, stated that he would

    accept the claim that there was no threat of destruction against the
    existence of the State of Israel. This does not mean, however, that
    one could have refrained from attacking the Egyptians, the Jordanians,
    and the Syrians. Had we not done that, the State of Israel would have
    ceased to exist according to the scale, spirit, and quality she now
    embodies…
    We entered the Six-Day War in order to secure a position
    in which we can manage our lives here according to our wishes without
    external pressures [my italics].

    The Israeli correspondent of Le Monde, Amnon Kapeliouk, citing corroboratory
    statements by General Matityahu Peled and former chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev,
    wrote that "no serious argument has been advanced to refute the thesis of the
    three generals." This assessment is confirmed by American intelligence
    sources, who found no evidence that Egypt was planning an attack and estimated
    that Israel would easily win no matter who struck the first blow. The chairman
    of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported to the President on May 26 that Israel
    could remain mobilized for two months without serious trouble. "In a military
    sense, then, time did not seem to be running out" (William Quandt, Decade of
    Decisions
    ).

    General Weizman’s justification for the preemptive strike bears comparison to
    the argument advanced by Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Chancellor, after the
    attack on Belgium in 1914:

    France stood ready for an invasion. France could wait, we could not. A
    French attack on our flank on the lower Rhine might have been
    disastrous. Thus we were forced to ignore the rightful protests of the
    Government of Belgium…He who is menaced as we are and is fighting for
    his highest possession can only consider how he is to hack his way
    through.

    Walzer properly dismisses this justification, pointing out that nonmilitary
    options had not all been foreclosed and deriding the reference to Germany’s
    "highest possession," which he takes to mean "honor and glory" (compare
    Weizman’s "scale, spirit and quality"). "The mere augmentation of power,"
    Walzer insists, "cannot be a warrant for war or even the beginning of
    warrant." No doubt one can find differences, possibly even decisive ones,
    between the Israeli and German attacks, or between the Israeli strike and the
    Russian invasion of Finland — another clear case of aggression, even though,
    as Walzer concedes, the defense of Leningrad from possible future German
    attack was at stake and Russia’s invasion after Finnish refusal of territorial
    exchange may have saved Leningrad from encirclement when the Nazis did attack.
    But two points deserve mention. First, Walzer does not seriously address the
    relevant historical background. This is a remarkable oversight given the
    crucial role of the Israeli strike in his argument, and given also his
    insistence that the Israeli attack on the one hand, and the German and Russian
    attacks on the other, are all "clear cases," falling on opposite sides of the
    moral divide. Second, a serious analysis of the 1967 case would quickly
    reveal that there are indeed doubts and ambiguities, contrary to Walzer’s
    claim.

    Walzer presents only the Israeli version of events leading to the 1967 war. He
    ignores not only the Arab version, but also the well-known analyses of
    commentators committed to neither side. He does not mention the Israeli attack
    on the Jordanian village of Es-Samu in November 1966, leaving 18 dead, a
    "reprisal" after terrorist attacks allegedly originating in Syria (censured by
    the UN, including the United States). Nor does he discuss the exchange of fire
    on April 7, 1967, which "gave rise to intervention first by Israeli and then
    by Syrian aircraft, [then to] the appearance of Israeli planes over the
    outskirts of Damascus and to the shooting down of six Syrian planes" with no
    Israeli losses (Charles Yost, Foreign Affairs, January 1968; Yost takes this
    to have been "the curtain-raiser to the Six-Day War").

    Walzer’s unqualified assertion that Nasser’s moves served no more limited goal
    than to endanger Israel is sharply at variance with the judgment of many other
    observers. Yost, for instance, notes various inflammatory Israeli statements
    that "may well have been the spark that ignited the long accumulating tinder"
    and discusses the problem that Nasser faced "for his failure to stir at the
    time of the Es-Samu and April 7 affairs." Walzer mentions that Egypt expelled
    the UN Emergency Force from the Sinai and Gaza and closed the Strait of Tiran
    to Israeli shipping. He fails to mention that Israel had never permitted UN
    forces on its side of the border and refused the request of the UN
    secretary-general to allow them to be stationed there after Egypt ordered
    partial evacuation of the UN forces from its territory. (Egypt did not order
    the UN forces out of Sharm el Sheikh.) As for the closing of the Strait of
    Tiran. if we apply the reasoning that Walzer feels is appropriate in the case
    of the German attack on Belgium, we see that there remained unexploited
    possibilities for peaceful settlement. For example, the matter might have been
    referred to the International Court of Justice, as Egypt had been requesting
    since 1957. This proposal was always rejected by Israel, possibly because it
    agreed with John Foster Dulles that "there is a certain amount of plausibility
    from the standpoint of international law, perhaps, to [the Arab] claims"
    (though the United States disagreed with this conclusion).

    It also seems that Nasser may have had some legitimate cause for concern when
    he heard Levi Eshkol, the Israeli Prime Minister, declare that "we shall hit
    when, where, and how we choose," or when he learned that the Israeli chief of
    intelligence, General Yariv, had informed the international press that "I
    think that the only sure and safe answer to the problem is a military
    operation of great size and strength" against Syria. Nasser alluded to these
    statements in his May 23 speech, in which he noted various Israeli threats
    against Syria. And his concern may have been augmented — quite
    understandably — by the memory of the surprise Israeli attack of 1956, at a
    time when Egypt was making serious efforts to quiet the border.

    My remarks here only scratch the surface of the issue. The point is that the
    historical record is far more complex and ambiguous than Walzer makes it out
    to be. His statement that Egypt’s "challenge" is a simple and indubitable case
    of "aggression," on a par with the Nazi conquests in Europe, can hardly be
    taken seriously. Furthermore, he ignores the aftermath of the Israeli attack.
    Quite unlike the case of Bangladesh, the Israeli army did not leave. Rather,
    it prepared for a continuing occupation, with a clearly stated policy aimed at
    the eventual annexation of some areas, the actual annexation of eastern
    Jerusalem, and a program of settlement and integration of the occupied
    territories — a program that continues in the face of nearly unanimous
    international condemnation.

    Some 200,000 West Bank Arabs fled during the Israeli attack in 1967, and about
    the same number fled or were forcibly expelled after the cease-fire. For many
    months afterward, UN Chief of Staff General Odd Bull reports, "The Israelis
    encouraged their departure by various means, just as they had in 1948." As
    late as the following November, he adds, "There can certainly be no doubt that
    many thousands of Arabs at this time fled across the Jordan to the East Bank,
    even though there may be no precise evidence of the methods that were employed
    to ensure their departure." Thus the land was "liberated" — freed of a large
    part of its population. The Israelis instituted a military regime in the
    conquered areas that differs from others of the same type primarily in the
    favorable press that it has enjoyed in the United States. All of these
    subsequent developments seem relevant to an evaluation of the Israeli attack,
    as Walzer would surely see the relevance of similar developments in other
    cases he discusses.

    I focus on this particular example of its crucial role in the structure of
    Walzer’s presentation of his "moral world." With this case removed, Walzer is
    left with no historical example of any substance to indicate that his
    recommended departures from the legalist paradigm are more than
    academic — that is, that they cover actual historical events. This is not to
    say that the discussion is worthless; even a purely abstract discussion of
    these issues is of some interest. But we no longer have "a moral argument with
    historical illustrations," as the book’s subtitle states, at least in the
    crucial case of relaxing the restrictions of the standard doctrine. Rather,
    what we have is a mere moral assertion lacking any connection to clear
    historical cases.

    Walzer’s analysis of "peacetime reprisals" might also be taken to imply a
    relaxation of the standard doctrine. He argues that "reprisals are clearly
    sanctioned by the practice of nations, and the (moral) reason behind the
    practice seems as strong as ever." The moral argument he presents seems weak;
    it barely goes beyond assertion. His single example of a "legitimate reprisal"
    again involves Israel: this time the 1968 Israeli raid on the Beirut airport
    in which 13 civilian planes were destroyed in retaliation for an attack on an
    Israeli plane by two terrorists in Athens. In fact, the reprisal was hardly
    efficacious: It "aroused considerable sympathy for the Palestinians in Lebanon
    and brought their activities more into the open" (John Cooley, Green March,
    Black September
    ), as could have been anticipated. Walzer might have
    strengthened his point by drawing some of the natural conclusions of his
    position: For example, that it would be quite proper for Cuban commandos to
    destroy commercial aircraft at Washington National Airport in reprisal for the
    acts of terrorists organized in the United States.

    Walzer also gives an example of an illegitimate Israeli reprisal, namely, the
    commando attack in which more than 40 villagers were killed in the Jordanian
    village of Qibya in 1953, in response to a terrorist murder in Israel that had
    no known connection to this village. Walzer concludes that in this case "the
    killings were criminal," but the strongest judgment he allows himself is that
    "particular Israel responses have in deed been questionable, for it is a hard
    matter to know what to do in such cases." Walzer never explains why his
    condemnation of terrorist acts against Israel is not similarly nuanced. For
    example, in March 1954, 11 Israelis were murdered in a bus in the Negev; it
    was the most serious Arab terrorist act since the establishment of the state.
    In response, the Israeli army attacked the Jordanian village of Nahaleen
    (which was in no way involved), killing nine villagers. Walzer regards the
    Israeli retaliation s merely "questionable." But then why was not the original
    Arab attack also just "questionable"? Or why not also describe the Israeli
    commandos as "thugs and fanatics," Walzer’s term for Arab terrorists (in the
    New Republic article from which this account of terrorism is drawn)? The
    actual perpetrators of the ambush-massacre of the people on the bus were, as
    was known at the time, from a Bedouin tribe that had been driven into the
    desert by Israeli troops. More than 7000 of these Bedouins were expelled from
    1949 to 1954, as Israel encroached on the demilitarized zones. Surely Walzer
    should grant that it is also a "hard matter to know what to do" when people
    are driven from their homes and their traditional grazing and watering
    grounds, and left destitute in the desert — as it is a "hard matter to know
    what to do" when thousands of peasants are expelled from their bulldozed
    villages in the same region in the past few years — actions that continue as I
    write, though the American press is silent.

    Walzer does discuss terrorism, but his account is deeply flawed. He makes the
    important point that the tendency to restrict the term "terrorism" to
    "revolutionary violence" is "a small victory for the champions of order, among
    whom the uses of terror are by no means unknown." It is indeed remarkable to
    see how the term has been restricted in recent years so as to exclude
    state-organized terrorism. Walzer asserts that "contemporary terrorist
    campaigns are most often focused on people whose national existence has been
    radically devalued: the Protestants of Northern Ireland, the Jews of Israel,
    and so on." He then develops the following "precise historical point: that
    terrorism in the strict sense, the random murder of innocent people emerged as
    a strategy only in the period after World War II."

    His "precise historical point," however, is precisely false, as a look at his
    favored example suffices to show. In just three weeks in July 1938, the Irgun
    Zvai Leumi, dedicated to the ideals of Menahem Begin’s mentor Ze’ev Jabotinsky
    and later headed by Begin himself, killed 76 Arabs in terrorist attacks on
    Arab markets and other public places. There were many similar pre-World War II
    examples: bombs placed in Arab movie theaters, sniping at Arab quarters and
    trains carrying Arabs, and so on. The propagandists of the Jewish terrorist
    groups gloried in these triumphs. One of the heroes of the Herut, the party of
    the current prime minister of Israel, is a man hanged by the British for
    firing on an Arab bus.

    (And while the main paramilitary force of the Jewish community in Palestine
    did not systematically resort to random terror, it did not disdain it
    entirely. To cite one case, the same page of the official history that
    describes the Haganah assassination of the orthodox Jewish poet Dr. Israel
    Jacob de Haan in 1924 goes on to describe how the Haganah destroyed the house
    of an Arab near the wailing wall in Jerusalem in retaliation for harassment of
    Jewish worshippers by Arab youths; the bomb caused no injuries "because by
    chance the inhabitants of the house were away" [Toldot Hahaganah, the
    official history of the Haganah].)

    Contrary to Walzer’s claim, random murder of innocent people, is no postwar
    invention of the Provisional IRA and the PLO. His point about "people whose
    national existence has been radically devalued" is very well-taken — but it
    applies to Palestinian Arabs no less than to "the Jews of Israel."

    The special place of Israel in Walzer’s "moral world" is also revealed in his
    discussion of the war convention — the set of principles that apply once war
    is under way. He contrasts the orders given at My Lai with those issued to
    Israeli troops entering Nablus during the June 1967 war, citing a book of
    conversations among Israeli soldiers. It is perhaps less obvious than he
    assumes that this is the most objective source of evidence concerning the
    humane practices of the Israeli army. But putting that question aside, he
    might have selected other examples from the same book, examples concerning,
    say, the village of Latrun, destroyed by Israeli troops, whose inhabitants
    were driven into exile. He might have even taken a further step and quoted the
    eyewitness account quoted by the Israeli journalist Amos Kenan, describing the
    bulldozing of Latrun and neighboring villages under the command of officers
    who told their troops, "Why worry about them, they’re only Arabs." He might
    have even quoted Kenan’s prophetic conclusion: "The fields were turned to
    desolation before our eyes, and the children who dragged themselves along the
    road that day, weeping bitterly, will be the fedayeen of 19 years hence."

    In another section of the book, Walzer comments briefly on the pacifist
    critique of the standard doctrine in an afterword, making the familiar point
    that nonviolent measures appeal to "the essential humanity of the enemy," in
    A. J. Muste’s phrase, and are therefore of doubtful relevance when the appeal
    will not be heeded. Much pacifist theory relies on a dual psychological
    doctrine: Nonviolence will strike a responsive chord, and violent resistance
    will so shape the character of those who choose it that the distinction
    between aggressor and resister will be erased. As Muste put it, "kindness
    provokes kindness" and "the problem after a war [even a just war] is with the
    victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now
    teach him a lesson?" Walzer does not directly address these basic premises of
    the theory of nonviolent resistance. To me it seems that they cannot be easily
    dismissed, though ultimately they cannot be sustained. I’ve written about this
    elsewhere (American Power and the New Mandarins) and will not pursue the
    question any further here.

    Many other difficult and important questions are raised in Walzer’s study, and
    much of the discussion is literate and richly textured. The examples I have
    focused on, however, reveal a crucial moral and intellectual flaw, which
    undermines much of the argument. No doubt Walzer expresses a broad consensus
    in American society when he assigns a special status to Israel and
    reconstructs the "moral world" accordingly, but this simply reflects the
    pathology of the times. Comparable judgments on the exceptional status of
    Soviet Russia would not have been unusual in an earlier period. Consensus is
    no criterion of truth or justice.

    • Miura
      March 20, 2011, 1:06 pm

      With three minor corrections:

      An Exception to the Rules
      Noam Chomsky

      Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer
      Basic Books, $15.00
      in Inquiry, 17 April 1978

      When is the resort to violence justified in international affairs? What acts
      are legitimate in the conduct of war? These questions raise difficult problems
      of ethical judgment and historical analysis. Michael Walzer insists, quite
      correctly, that beyond merely “describ[ing] the judgments and justifications
      that people commonly put forward, [we] can analyze these moral claims, seek
      out their coherence, lay bare the principles that they exemplify.” His aim is
      to develop a certain conception of our “moral world,” and draw from it both
      specific judgments on historical events and operative criteria for resolving
      future dilemmas.

      There are certain beliefs on these matters that are so widely held as to
      deserve to be called “standard.” With regard to the question of resorting to
      violence, the standard doctrine holds that it is justified in self-defense or
      as a response to imminent armed attack, often construed in the words of Daniel
      Webster in the Caroline case, which Walzer quotes: “instant, overwhelming,
      leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.” This part of the
      standard doctrine Walzer calls “the legalist paradigm.” With regard to the
      exercise of force, another part of the standard doctrine constitutes what
      Walzer calls “the war convention,” consisting of such principles as, for
      instance, that prisoners should not be massacred and civilians should not be
      the direct objects of attack.

      The standard doctrine, which is codified in various international conventions,
      holds that both the resort to war and the means employed in warfare fall
      within the realm of moral discourse. There has been extensive discussion of
      these issues in the context of the Vietnam War, the conflict that prompted
      Walzer’s concern. While the standard doctrine is regularly violated, it
      remains a worthwhile endeavor to evaluate and refine it.

      Walzer argues that the legalist paradigm is too restrictive in certain
      respects. In other respects, however, he interprets it strictly, as he does
      the war convention. Walzer takes the anti-Axis effort in Europe in World War
      II to be “the paradigm…of a justified struggle”; Nazism, he believes, “lies at
      the outer limits of exigency, at a point where we are likely to find ourselves
      united in fear and abhorrence.” Nevertheless, he condemns as illegitimate
      under the legalist paradigm Churchill’s decision to mine the territorial
      waters of neutral Norway in order to prevent ore shipments to Nazi Germany,
      and he considers the terror bombing of German cities to be a serious violation
      of the war convention. As these examples illustrate, he construes the standard
      doctrine strictly, even in the extreme case of the struggle against Nazism.

      Walzer points out that it is impossible within the confines of his study to
      present an elaborate historical argument, but to me, at least, the above
      conclusions seem reasonable. Furthermore, Walzer is right to challenge widely
      accepted views, for example with regard to terror bombing. It is enough to
      recall the fundamental moral flaw of the Nuremberg tribunal, graphically
      revealed by Telford Taylor’s observation in Nuremberg and Vietnam, that
      “there was no basis for criminal charges against German or Japanese” leaders
      for aerial bombardment because “both sides had played the terrible game of
      urban destruction — the Allies far more successfully.” As it turns out, the
      operational definition of a “crime of war” is a criminal act of which the
      defeated enemies, but not the victors, are guilty. The consequences of this
      moral stance were soon to be seen in Korea and Vietnam. It would be naive to
      suppose that a serious moral critique would have prevented further criminal
      acts of the sort condoned (or ignored) under the Nuremberg principles.
      Nevertheless, the example illustrates the seriousness of the enterprise in
      which Walzer is engaged.

      Even the most profound justification of the standard doctrine would be of
      limited import, since it is in any case widely accepted in principle, if not
      in practice. Hence the major interest of Walzer’s study lies in the
      modifications and refinements he proposes, as in his restrictive
      interpretation of the war convention. Since the burden of justification rests
      on those who employ force, the still more significant part of his study lies
      in those departures from the standard doctrine which advocate its relaxation.
      These relate only to the legalist paradigm of the justified use of force.

      Walzer suggests four modifications that extend the legalist paradigm. Three of
      these revisions “have this form: States can be invaded and wars justly begun
      to assist secessionist movements (once they have demonstrated their
      representative character), to balance the prior interventions of other powers,
      and to rescue people threatened with massacre.” These extensions are discussed
      under the heading of “humanitarian intervention.” Walzer states that “clear
      examples of what is called ‘humanitarian intervention’ are very rare. Indeed,
      I have not found any, but only mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is
      one among several.” He cites the Indian invasion of Bangladesh as a possible
      example (the only one cited), since “it was a rescue, strictly and narrowly
      defined,” and the Indian troops “were in and out of the country…quickly.”

      There then remains to be considered one serious proposal for relaxing the
      restrictions of the standard doctrine; and thus much of the significance of
      Walzer’s study lies in this crucial case. It is the case of “preemptive
      strikes.” Walzer accepts “the moral necessity of rejecting any attack that is
      merely preventive in character, that does not wait upon and respond to the
      willful acts of an adversary” (hence his condemnation of the mining of
      Norwegian waters). But he feels that the Caroline doctrine is too narrow.
      Preemptive strikes are justified, he proposes, when there is “a manifest
      intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a
      positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything
      other than fighting, greatly magnifies the risk.”

      A single example is offered: the Israeli preemptive strike of June 5, 1967.
      This, Walzer holds, is “a clear case of legitimate anticipation,” the only one
      cited — in this review of 2500 years of history — to illustrate the point that
      states may use military force even prior to the direct use of military force
      against them. Israel was “the victim of aggression” in 1967, Walzer claims,
      even though no military action had been taken against it. What is more, we can
      have “no doubts” about this case, as Walzer states in the following
      extraordinary passage:

      Often enough, despite the cunning agents, the theory is readily
      applied. It is worth setting down some of the cases about which we
      have, I think, no doubts; the German attack on Belgium in 1914, the
      Italian conquest of Ethiopia, the Japanese attack on China, the German
      and Italian interventions in Spain, the Russian invasion of Finland,
      the Nazi conquests of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, and
      Holland, the Russian invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the
      Egyptian challenge to Israel in 1967 [my italics].

      The Egyptian “challenge” to Israel is thus a clear case of “aggression,” on a
      par with the direct use of armed force in each of the other cases cited. The
      legalist paradigm fails, according to Walzer, because, given the Caroline
      doctrine, it does not condone Israel’s response to this “aggression.”

      Note the crucial nature of this case for Walzer’s argument. In a review
      covering 2500 years, Egypt’s 1967 challenge is the single example cited of
      “aggression” involving no direct resort to force; nevertheless, it is not an
      ambiguous example, but one that raises “no doubts.” Israel’s preemptive strike
      is the one historical example adduced to illustrate the need to modify the
      legalist paradigm to permit “anticipations.” Furthermore, this is the only
      modification covering supposedly unambiguous historical examples that involves
      a relaxation of the standard doctrine. What Walzer is proposing here, as he
      notes, is a “major revision of the legalist paradigm. For it means that
      aggression can be made out not only in the absence of a military attack or
      invasion but in the (probable) absence of any immediate intention to launch
      such an attack or invasion.” Given the burden carried by this example, a
      serious inquiry into the historical facts would certainly appear to be in
      order, but Walzer undertakes no such inquiry. He merely asserts that Israeli
      anxiety “seems an almost classical example of ‘just fear’ — first, because
      Israel really was in danger and second, because [Nasser's] military moves
      served no other, more limited goal.”

      Israeli generals take a rather different view. The commander of the air force
      at the time, General Ezer Weizman, stated that he would

      accept the claim that there was no threat of destruction against the
      existence of the State of Israel. This does not mean, however, that
      one could have refrained from attacking the Egyptians, the Jordanians,
      and the Syrians. Had we not done that, the State of Israel would have
      ceased to exist according to the scale, spirit, and quality she now
      embodies…
      We entered the Six-Day War in order to secure a position
      in which we can manage our lives here according to our wishes without
      external pressures [my italics].

      The Israeli correspondent of Le Monde, Amnon Kapeliouk, citing corroboratory
      statements by General Matityahu Peled and former chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev,
      wrote that “no serious argument has been advanced to refute the thesis of the
      three generals.” This assessment is confirmed by American intelligence
      sources, who found no evidence that Egypt was planning an attack and estimated
      that Israel would easily win no matter who struck the first blow. The chairman
      of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported to the President on May 26 that Israel
      could remain mobilized for two months without serious trouble. “In a military
      sense, then, time did not seem to be running out” (William Quandt, Decade of
      Decisions
      ).

      General Weizman’s justification for the preemptive strike bears comparison to
      the argument advanced by Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Chancellor, after the
      attack on Belgium in 1914:

      France stood ready for an invasion. France could wait, we could not. A
      French attack on our flank on the lower Rhine might have been
      disastrous. Thus we were forced to ignore the rightful protests of the
      Government of Belgium…He who is menaced as we are and is fighting for
      his highest possession can only consider how he is to hack his way
      through.

      Walzer properly dismisses this justification, pointing out that nonmilitary
      options had not all been foreclosed and deriding the reference to Germany’s
      “highest possession,” which he takes to mean “honor and glory” (compare
      Weizman’s “scale, spirit and quality”). “The mere augmentation of power,”
      Walzer insists, “cannot be a warrant for war or even the beginning of
      warrant.” No doubt one can find differences, possibly even decisive ones,
      between the Israeli and German attacks, or between the Israeli strike and the
      Russian invasion of Finland — another clear case of aggression, even though,
      as Walzer concedes, the defense of Leningrad from possible future German
      attack was at stake and Russia’s invasion after Finnish refusal of territorial
      exchange may have saved Leningrad from encirclement when the Nazis did attack.
      But two points deserve mention. First, Walzer does not seriously address the
      relevant historical background. This is a remarkable oversight given the
      crucial role of the Israeli strike in his argument, and given also his
      insistence that the Israeli attack on the one hand, and the German and Russian
      attacks on the other, are all “clear cases,” falling on opposite sides of the
      moral divide. Second, a serious analysis of the 1967 case would quickly
      reveal that there are indeed doubts and ambiguities, contrary to Walzer’s
      claim.

      Walzer presents only the Israeli version of events leading to the 1967 war. He
      ignores not only the Arab version, but also the well-known analyses of
      commentators committed to neither side. He does not mention the Israeli attack
      on the Jordanian village of Es-Samu in November 1966, leaving 18 dead, a
      “reprisal” after terrorist attacks allegedly originating in Syria (censured by
      the UN, including the United States). Nor does he discuss the exchange of fire
      on April 7, 1967, which “gave rise to intervention first by Israeli and then
      by Syrian aircraft, [then to] the appearance of Israeli planes over the
      outskirts of Damascus and to the shooting down of six Syrian planes” with no
      Israeli losses (Charles Yost, Foreign Affairs, January 1968; Yost takes this
      to have been “the curtain-raiser to the Six-Day War”).

      Walzer’s unqualified assertion that Nasser’s moves served no more limited goal
      than to endanger Israel is sharply at variance with the judgment of many other
      observers. Yost, for instance, notes various inflammatory Israeli statements
      that “may well have been the spark that ignited the long accumulating tinder”
      and discusses the problem that Nasser faced “for his failure to stir at the
      time of the Es-Samu and April 7 affairs.” Walzer mentions that Egypt expelled
      the UN Emergency Force from the Sinai and Gaza and closed the Strait of Tiran
      to Israeli shipping. He fails to mention that Israel had never permitted UN
      forces on its side of the border and refused the request of the UN
      secretary-general to allow them to be stationed there after Egypt ordered
      partial evacuation of the UN forces from its territory. (Egypt did not order
      the UN forces out of Sharm el Sheikh.) As for the closing of the Strait of
      Tiran, if we apply the reasoning that Walzer feels is appropriate in the case
      of the German attack on Belgium, we see that there remained unexploited
      possibilities for peaceful settlement. For example, the matter might have been
      referred to the International Court of Justice, as Egypt had been requesting
      since 1957. This proposal was always rejected by Israel, possibly because it
      agreed with John Foster Dulles that “there is a certain amount of plausibility
      from the standpoint of international law, perhaps, to [the Arab] claims”
      (though the United States disagreed with this conclusion).

      It also seems that Nasser may have had some legitimate cause for concern when
      he heard Levi Eshkol, the Israeli Prime Minister, declare that “we shall hit
      when, where, and how we choose,” or when he learned that the Israeli chief of
      intelligence, General Yariv, had informed the international press that “I
      think that the only sure and safe answer to the problem is a military
      operation of great size and strength” against Syria. Nasser alluded to these
      statements in his May 23 speech, in which he noted various Israeli threats
      against Syria. And his concern may have been augmented — quite
      understandably — by the memory of the surprise Israeli attack of 1956, at a
      time when Egypt was making serious efforts to quiet the border.

      My remarks here only scratch the surface of the issue. The point is that the
      historical record is far more complex and ambiguous than Walzer makes it out
      to be. His statement that Egypt’s “challenge” is a simple and indubitable case
      of “aggression,” on a par with the Nazi conquests in Europe, can hardly be
      taken seriously. Furthermore, he ignores the aftermath of the Israeli attack.
      Quite unlike the case of Bangladesh, the Israeli army did not leave. Rather,
      it prepared for a continuing occupation, with a clearly stated policy aimed at
      the eventual annexation of some areas, the actual annexation of eastern
      Jerusalem, and a program of settlement and integration of the occupied
      territories — a program that continues in the face of nearly unanimous
      international condemnation.

      Some 200,000 West Bank Arabs fled during the Israeli attack in 1967, and about
      the same number fled or were forcibly expelled after the cease-fire. For many
      months afterward, UN Chief of Staff General Odd Bull reports, “The Israelis
      encouraged their departure by various means, just as they had in 1948.” As
      late as the following November, he adds, “There can certainly be no doubt that
      many thousands of Arabs at this time fled across the Jordan to the East Bank,
      even though there may be no precise evidence of the methods that were employed
      to ensure their departure.” Thus the land was “liberated” — freed of a large
      part of its population. The Israelis instituted a military regime in the
      conquered areas that differs from others of the same type primarily in the
      favorable press that it has enjoyed in the United States. All of these
      subsequent developments seem relevant to an evaluation of the Israeli attack,
      as Walzer would surely see the relevance of similar developments in other
      cases he discusses.

      I focus on this particular example of its crucial role in the structure of
      Walzer’s presentation of his “moral world.” With this case removed, Walzer is
      left with no historical example of any substance to indicate that his
      recommended departures from the legalist paradigm are more than
      academic — that is, that they cover actual historical events. This is not to
      say that the discussion is worthless; even a purely abstract discussion of
      these issues is of some interest. But we no longer have “a moral argument with
      historical illustrations,” as the book’s subtitle states, at least in the
      crucial case of relaxing the restrictions of the standard doctrine. Rather,
      what we have is a mere moral assertion lacking any connection to clear
      historical cases.

      Walzer’s analysis of “peacetime reprisals” might also be taken to imply a
      relaxation of the standard doctrine. He argues that “reprisals are clearly
      sanctioned by the practice of nations, and the (moral) reason behind the
      practice seems as strong as ever.” The moral argument he presents seems weak;
      it barely goes beyond assertion. His single example of a “legitimate reprisal”
      again involves Israel: this time the 1968 Israeli raid on the Beirut airport
      in which 13 civilian planes were destroyed in retaliation for an attack on an
      Israeli plane by two terrorists in Athens. In fact, the reprisal was hardly
      efficacious: It “aroused considerable sympathy for the Palestinians in Lebanon
      and brought their activities more into the open” (John Cooley, Green March,
      Black September
      ), as could have been anticipated. Walzer might have
      strengthened his point by drawing some of the natural conclusions of his
      position: For example, that it would be quite proper for Cuban commandos to
      destroy commercial aircraft at Washington National Airport in reprisal for the
      acts of terrorists organized in the United States.

      Walzer also gives an example of an illegitimate Israeli reprisal, namely, the
      commando attack in which more than 40 villagers were killed in the Jordanian
      village of Qibya in 1953, in response to a terrorist murder in Israel that had
      no known connection to this village. Walzer concludes that in this case “the
      killings were criminal,” but the strongest judgment he allows himself is that
      “particular Israel responses have indeed been questionable, for it is a hard
      matter to know what to do in such cases.” Walzer never explains why his
      condemnation of terrorist acts against Israel is not similarly nuanced. For
      example, in March 1954, 11 Israelis were murdered in a bus in the Negev; it
      was the most serious Arab terrorist act since the establishment of the state.
      In response, the Israeli army attacked the Jordanian village of Nahaleen
      (which was in no way involved), killing nine villagers. Walzer regards the
      Israeli retaliation as merely “questionable.” But then why was not the original
      Arab attack also just “questionable”? Or why not also describe the Israeli
      commandos as “thugs and fanatics,” Walzer’s term for Arab terrorists (in the
      New Republic article from which this account of terrorism is drawn)? The
      actual perpetrators of the ambush-massacre of the people on the bus were, as
      was known at the time, from a Bedouin tribe that had been driven into the
      desert by Israeli troops. More than 7000 of these Bedouins were expelled from
      1949 to 1954, as Israel encroached on the demilitarized zones. Surely Walzer
      should grant that it is also a “hard matter to know what to do” when people
      are driven from their homes and their traditional grazing and watering
      grounds, and left destitute in the desert — as it is a “hard matter to know
      what to do” when thousands of peasants are expelled from their bulldozed
      villages in the same region in the past few years — actions that continue as I
      write, though the American press is silent.

      Walzer does discuss terrorism, but his account is deeply flawed. He makes the
      important point that the tendency to restrict the term “terrorism” to
      “revolutionary violence” is “a small victory for the champions of order, among
      whom the uses of terror are by no means unknown.” It is indeed remarkable to
      see how the term has been restricted in recent years so as to exclude
      state-organized terrorism. Walzer asserts that “contemporary terrorist
      campaigns are most often focused on people whose national existence has been
      radically devalued: the Protestants of Northern Ireland, the Jews of Israel,
      and so on.” He then develops the following “precise historical point: that
      terrorism in the strict sense, the random murder of innocent people emerged as
      a strategy only in the period after World War II.”

      His “precise historical point,” however, is precisely false, as a look at his
      favored example suffices to show. In just three weeks in July 1938, the Irgun
      Zvai Leumi, dedicated to the ideals of Menahem Begin’s mentor Ze’ev Jabotinsky
      and later headed by Begin himself, killed 76 Arabs in terrorist attacks on
      Arab markets and other public places. There were many similar pre-World War II
      examples: bombs placed in Arab movie theaters, sniping at Arab quarters and
      trains carrying Arabs, and so on. The propagandists of the Jewish terrorist
      groups gloried in these triumphs. One of the heroes of the Herut, the party of
      the current prime minister of Israel, is a man hanged by the British for
      firing on an Arab bus.

      (And while the main paramilitary force of the Jewish community in Palestine
      did not systematically resort to random terror, it did not disdain it
      entirely. To cite one case, the same page of the official history that
      describes the Haganah assassination of the orthodox Jewish poet Dr. Israel
      Jacob de Haan in 1924 goes on to describe how the Haganah destroyed the house
      of an Arab near the wailing wall in Jerusalem in retaliation for harassment of
      Jewish worshippers by Arab youths; the bomb caused no injuries “because by
      chance the inhabitants of the house were away” [Toldot Hahaganah, the
      official history of the Haganah].)

      Contrary to Walzer’s claim, random murder of innocent people, is no postwar
      invention of the Provisional IRA and the PLO. His point about “people whose
      national existence has been radically devalued” is very well-taken — but it
      applies to Palestinian Arabs no less than to “the Jews of Israel.”

      The special place of Israel in Walzer’s “moral world” is also revealed in his
      discussion of the war convention — the set of principles that apply once war
      is under way. He contrasts the orders given at My Lai with those issued to
      Israeli troops entering Nablus during the June 1967 war, citing a book of
      conversations among Israeli soldiers. It is perhaps less obvious than he
      assumes that this is the most objective source of evidence concerning the
      humane practices of the Israeli army. But putting that question aside, he
      might have selected other examples from the same book, examples concerning,
      say, the village of Latrun, destroyed by Israeli troops, whose inhabitants
      were driven into exile. He might have even taken a further step and quoted the
      eyewitness account quoted by the Israeli journalist Amos Kenan, describing the
      bulldozing of Latrun and neighboring villages under the command of officers
      who told their troops, “Why worry about them, they’re only Arabs.” He might
      have even quoted Kenan’s prophetic conclusion: “The fields were turned to
      desolation before our eyes, and the children who dragged themselves along the
      road that day, weeping bitterly, will be the fedayeen of 19 years hence.”

      In another section of the book, Walzer comments briefly on the pacifist
      critique of the standard doctrine in an afterword, making the familiar point
      that nonviolent measures appeal to “the essential humanity of the enemy,” in
      A. J. Muste’s phrase, and are therefore of doubtful relevance when the appeal
      will not be heeded. Much pacifist theory relies on a dual psychological
      doctrine: Nonviolence will strike a responsive chord, and violent resistance
      will so shape the character of those who choose it that the distinction
      between aggressor and resister will be erased. As Muste put it, “kindness
      provokes kindness” and “the problem after a war [even a just war] is with the
      victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now
      teach him a lesson?” Walzer does not directly address these basic premises of
      the theory of nonviolent resistance. To me it seems that they cannot be easily
      dismissed, though ultimately they cannot be sustained. I’ve written about this
      elsewhere (American Power and the New Mandarins) and will not pursue the
      question any further here.

      Many other difficult and important questions are raised in Walzer’s study, and
      much of the discussion is literate and richly textured. The examples I have
      focused on, however, reveal a crucial moral and intellectual flaw, which
      undermines much of the argument. No doubt Walzer expresses a broad consensus
      in American society when he assigns a special status to Israel and
      reconstructs the “moral world” accordingly, but this simply reflects the
      pathology of the times. Comparable judgments on the exceptional status of
      Soviet Russia would not have been unusual in an earlier period. Consensus is
      no criterion of truth or justice.

  2. munro
    March 20, 2011, 1:23 pm

    Lieberman, Rubin, Senor, Kristol are for Libya action. How can this be good?

  3. atheo
    March 20, 2011, 3:05 pm

    Connecting the dots from Tunis to Tripoli:

    Investment bankers salivate over North Africa

    link to alethonews.wordpress.com

  4. andrew r
    March 20, 2011, 3:05 pm

    But I know more about Buchanan than this one article (That I won’t read beyond the excerpt).

    link to holocaust-history.org

    link to buchanan.org

    link to colorlines.com

    First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

    Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

    Anyone who still takes him seriously after reading those has nothing to say to me.

    There’s also
    “Before the United States plunges into a third war in the Middle East, let us think this one through, as we did not the last two.”

    So it’s not a war until our soldiers are dying directly? Bombing targets in Pakistan and Yemen doesn’t count?

  5. Leigh
    March 20, 2011, 3:14 pm

    Wow, thanks, Miura, I haven’t seen this before.

  6. Miura
    March 20, 2011, 9:10 pm

    Leigh, you might find reviews of Walzer books by Ronald Dworkin and Brian Barry of interest also. Specifically, these two reviews (dating from 1983 and 1989, respectively) studied in chronological manner with a review by Edward Said below (1986) and Noam Chomsky’s review above (1978) will shine some much needed light on what Norman Finkelstein calls Walzer’s ‘intellectual odyssey’:

    Perhaps the most memorable passages of Leon Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed are those devoted to the ‘friends of the Soviet Union': that claque of left-liberal intellectuals that served up one apologia after another for Stalin’s crimes. Michael Walzer is one of the best-known ‘friends of Israel’. Walzer’s intellectual odyssey offers an instructive insight into the etiology of apologetics for Israel.

    In his early works–notably Just and Unjust Wars–Walzer’s defense of Israel is embedded in a universal ethic. The task was easy enough since a critical literature on Israel barely existed and Walzer, in any event, was able to pass scholarly muster with the barest reference to any literature at all: Israel’s case was seemingly so unimpeachable that facts were almost beside the point.

    Beginning in the late 1970s (but especially after the Lebanon War), new scholarship became available which cast Israel and the Zionist legacy generally in a much harsher light than hitherto. Paralleling these literary revelations were the practical, political ones of Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Defending Israel with reference to the ordinary standards of right and wrong proved increasingly difficult. Symptomatically, Walzer jettisoned the liberal project–most famously in Spheres of Justice–as he argued that there was no universal moral code but, rather, only ethnically specific clusters of ‘shared understandings': one ‘national "family"’ cannot be judged by applying the ‘shared understandings’ of another, and–more important–there is no common language to morally adjudicate between ‘national "families"’ should a conflict arise. Substantive moral judgments are strictly reflexive. The moral universe inhabited by a ‘national "family"’ is separate and disparate, homogeneous and enclosed. The liberation of one nation, as Walzer suggests in Exodus and Revolution, is not at all tainted if achieved at the expense of another nation’s extermination. Each ‘national "family"’ judges for itself according to its own peculiar standards and exigencies what is just and what is not. Incommensurate, juxtaposed ‘national narratives’ thus displaced in Walzer the embracive notion of ‘just and unjust wars’.

    Culminating Walzer’s rupture with liberalism is The Company of Critics. Walzer–like the fascist ideologues that Julien Benda chastised in The Treason of the Intellectuals–now professes that not only is there no universally applicable standard of justice but that, even if one were contrived, the ‘connected’ social critic would still privilege his ‘own’ people. Asked to explain his silence as France waged a bloody, colonial war in Algeria, the French-Algerian writer, Albert Camus, replied: ‘I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother above justice.’ Walzer takes Camus’s apothegm as his credo. Only a hopelessly estranged intellectual would valuate abstract moral principles above the flesh and blood of one’s kith and kin.

    Thus, Walzer’s bête noires are Sartre and de Beauvoir for attaching equal weight to an Arab life as to a French one during the Algerian war and, especially, Rosa Luxemburg, for displaying the same compassion for a tormented African as for a tormented Jew. For Israel’s ‘friends’, the ring of Walzer’s message is as welcome as it is familiar: to be ‘connected’ is to ask, ‘Is it good for the Jews?’

    • Miura
      March 21, 2011, 1:39 pm

      Said’s review was first published in Grand Street, an exquisite literary journal that could not survive the vicissitudes of the publishing industry. Publication of this review was not likely in respected journals of the period until editor Ben Sonnenberg accepted the challenge as Alex Cockburn noted in his recent obituary of Sonnenberg: ‘There was no other cultural periodical at that time that would have given the finger so vigorously to polite New York intellectual opinion’. Worthwhile–and relevant–pieces from Grand Street still keep turning up and one hopes that given the centrality of Walzer’s ‘Just War theory’ (Obama cited it in his Nobel acceptance speech) and his penchant for issuing ex cathedra pronouncements on the correct dosage of cruise missiles–that usually go entirely unchallenged–that Said’s review will also see the light of day for a wider audience. In particular, the literary analytical tools that Said brings to his dissection of Walzer’s prose remain unmatched and apply across the board to just about everything Walzer has written (including the piece on Libya from 2 weeks ago). Following are passages from ‘Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution: A Canaanite Reading’ that first appeared a quarter century ago:

      A ‘relaxed and easygoing vision’ of reality, said Ronald Dworkin of one of
      Walzer’s previous books: the same vision is very much in evidence in Exodus
      and Revolution
      . Homey, egalitarian, melioristic…As you read Walzer and mull over his various agreeable conclusions and
      affirmations, you begin to wonder how the world has become so malleable and so
      possible a place. Not that Walzer actually says it is a possible place; on
      the contrary, he insists on its complexity and difficulty at almost every
      opportunity. No: what bothers you is the world of Walzer’s discourse, the
      verbal space in which his discussions and analyses take place, as well as the
      political locale isolated by him for reflection and hypothesis. Then you begin
      to realize how many extremely severe excisions and restrictions have occurred
      in order to produce the calmly civilized world of Walzer’s Exodus. In itself,
      the strategy of découpage is unavoidable. Every author who pretends to
      rationality obviously has to do some cutting and delimiting in order to manage
      his or her subject, but although these tend of occur offstage, they are
      certainly well within critical reach, and require fairly close inspection if
      the main onstage action is to be fully comprehended.

      Walzer’s ‘relaxed and easygoing’ work is the result of a very curious and, to
      my mind, extremely problematic antithetical mode, insistent and uncompromising
      in places, indifferent and curiously forgiving in others. Take as perhaps the
      most obvious instance the cluster of descriptive references with which he
      endows Exodus: it is Western, Jewish, liberating, complex, this-worldly,
      linear, clear. Compared with that of Lewis Feuer’s Ideology and the
      Ideologists
      (referred to once in a passing note by Walzer), the Exodus of
      Walzer’s study is tremendously circumscribed; Feuer is anxious to show the
      presence of the Exodus ‘myth’, as he calls it, in all revolutionary
      ideology, Western and non-Western, progressive and reactionary alike, the more
      easily to reveal its multiple shortcomings. But the grounds for Walzer’s
      assertions of Exodus’s various discrete and positive qualities are kept
      obscure and, I think, unexamined. Why is Exodus ‘Western’, for instance? Why
      is it of use to seventeenth-century English revolutionaries? to some Latin
      American liberationists and not to others? to some Black leaders but not to
      others? Walzer has no answer that is not tautological, and he does not really
      propose the questions.

      The effect of Walzer’s chatty style is to disarm those who might look for
      evidence, argument, proof and the like — particularly in the writing of an
      author whose numerous strictures on Michel Foucault (Dissent, Fall 1983)
      include the objection that Foucault’s studies are ‘often ineffective in what
      we might think of as scholarly law enforcement — the presentation of evidence,
      detailed argument, the consideration of alternative views’. Nor can Exodus
      and Revolution
      be taken as a poetic or metaphoric excursus through an Old
      Testament text. Walzer’s political and moral study is addressed to us ‘in the
      West’ and his prose is dotted with us‘s and ours, the net result of which
      is to mobilize a community of interpretation that relies for illumination upon
      a canonical text believed to be central, true, important as giving ‘permanent
      shape to Jewish conceptions of time’. And, he adds, ‘it serves as a model,
      ultimately, for non-Jewish conceptions too’. Ultimately in this sentence
      plays a crucial tactical role, as of course does the plural in ‘Jewish
      conceptions of time’. Walzer signals that there are in fact more issues than
      can be dealt with by ‘us’ here and now; if we had the time, we could
      ultimately discover how important Exodus was as a model for various
      nonspecified non-Jewish views of temporality. Ultimately.

      Let me call this tactic inclusion by deferral, in order next to bring in its
      accomplice, avoidance. Remember that at the same time that he uses these
      tactics, Walzer is making very strong assertions about revolution, progress,
      peoplehood, politics and morality: it is not as if he were just an avoider and
      a deferrer. In fact, a fog is exhaled by his prose to obscure those problems
      entailed by his arguments but casually deferred and avoided before they can
      make trouble. The great avoidance, significantly, is of history itself — the
      history of the text he comments on, the history of the Jews, the history of
      the various peoples who have used Exodus, as well as those who have not, the
      history of models, texts, paradigms, utopias, in their relationship to actual
      events, the history of such things as covenants and founding texts.

      Once you begin a catalog of the exceptions to Walzer’s claims for Exodus, much
      less remains of his argument about the book’s paramount importance for future
      movements of liberation. Vico, Marx, Michelet, Gramsci, Fanon either mention
      the book not at all or only in passing. Many Black and Central American
      theorists do mention it; but a great many more do not. Certainly Exodus is a
      trope that comes easily to hand in accounts of deliverance, but there isn’t
      anything especially ‘Western’ about it, nor — to judge from the various
      ‘non-Western’ tropes of liberation from oppression — is there anything
      especially progressive that can be derived from its supposedly Western
      essence. All oppressed peoples dream of liberation after all, and most tend to
      find rhetorical modes for mobilizing themselves, imagining a better future and
      justifying to themselves the vengeance they intend to take not only on their
      former masters but also on their future underlings.

      Given recent history, one would have thought that Walzer might have
      reconsidered the whole matter of divinely inspired politics and coaxed out of
      it some more sobering, perhaps even ironic, reflections than the ones he
      presents. With examples readily at hand of a crazy religious leadership at the
      head of substantial political movements in Israel, Lebanon and Iran (all of
      them pulling references out of their common monotheistic tradition in order to
      eliminate opposition) can he be seriously recommending that we use Exodus as
      ‘realistic’ or ‘progressive’? Yes, he can. Perhaps it is the Exodus narrative
      itself he finds appealing as a work of art. If so, he says hardly anything
      about it that hasn’t been said more artfully by various literary
      theorists — Northrop Frye, Frank Kermode, Paul Ricoeur, Hayden White, scholars
      whose uses of the Bible are exhilarating in their technical as well as
      aesthetic ingenuity.

      No: Walzer’s Exodus offers the opportunity for him to assert and stress the
      inaugural priority of a text as a master of consolidation and conviction, not
      of persuasion or proof. As for the relationship between Exodus and its
      subsequent users, Walzer included, that, like so much else about this curious
      contemporary performance, is hinted at it in telegraphic allusions….Above all, I think, Walzer’s work
      relegates the notion of a genuinely secular political option to nullity; he
      seems to be saying that only the salutary inflections in Exodus could bring
      forth a wholesomely progressive politics, thereby sweeping the board
      improbably clean of zealotry, vicious sectarianism, tyrannical theoretical
      systems and the sheer disorderly tumble of historical events. Reading Walzer
      you could not know that a whole ideological literature, Western and
      non-Western, had offered millions of adherents ideas for which his reading of
      Exodus makes no allowances. Why is Walzer so undialectical, so simplifying, so
      ahistorical and reductive?

      …the Jewish material in Walzer’s work is made to pull in the
      chariot, so to speak, of a resolutely political (and not philosophical)
      agenda, its path marked by repeated words and phrases: progressive, moral,
      radical politics, national liberation, oppression.

      Considered as a group, the provenance of these is not Exodus. The terms enter
      American and European political vocabulary after the Second World War, usually
      in the context of colonial wars fought against movements of national
      liberation. The power of ‘liberation’ and ‘oppression’ in the works of those
      Third World militants like Cabral and Fanon, who were organically linked to
      anticolonial insurrectionary movements, is that the concepts were later able
      to acquire a certain embattled legitimacy in the discourse of First World
      writers sympathetic to anticolonialism. The point about writers like Sartre,
      Debray and Chomsky, however, is that they were not mere echoes of the African,
      Asian and Latin American anti-imperialists, but intellectuals writing from
      within — and against — the colonialist camp.

      The revival of anti-imperialist and liberationist language in discussions of
      Nicaragua and South Africa is one major exception to this pattern. The other
      major exception has been the rhetoric of liberal supporters of Israel. I speak
      here of a rather small but quite influential and prestigious group which,
      since 1967, has conducted itself with — from the perspective of students of
      rhetoric — considerable tactical flexibility. All along, in the face of
      considerable evidence to the contrary, members of this group have tried to
      maintain Israel’s image as a progressive and wholly admirable state.

      Consider that all of the Third World national liberation groups identified
      themselves with the displaced and dispossessed Palestinians, and Israel with
      colonialism. Historically, Zionist writers did not generally describe their
      own enterprise as a national liberation movement; they used a vocabulary
      specific to the moment of their vision of history — in the early twentieth
      century — which, while it contained important secular elements, was primarily
      religious and imperialist. The concepts of the chosen People, Covenant,
      Redemption, Promised Land and God were central to it; they gave identity to a
      people scattered in exile, they were useful in getting crucial European
      support and in the setting up of institutions like the Jewish National Fund,
      and, as is the case in all such situations, they were a focus for heated
      discussion, intense partisanship, contested political theories. After the
      Second World War the appeal of Zionism to the British Labour Party, the
      Socialist International, or to any number of Western liberal supporters — in
      whose ranks, surprisingly, one could find anti-imperialists like Sartre and
      Martin Luther King — was determined by European sympathy with the dominant
      Weizmann-Ben-Gurion (and not Jabotinsky-Begin revisionist) trend within
      Zionism. This trend was perceived as socially progressive and morally
      justifiable in a form that Europeans and Americans could immediately
      understand. When R. H. S. Crossman, Paul Johnson or Reinhold Niebuhr spoke of
      Zionism (and later of Israel), it was because the Jewish presence in Palestine
      was viewed as an extension of like-minded undertakings in European and, much
      more significantly, as restitution for the horrors of European anti-Semitism.
      Arabs were routinely seen as corrupt, backward, irrelevant.

      After 1967, it became difficult to portray the Israeli occupation armies in
      Gaza, the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights as furthering a great social
      experiment. And it has not often been noted how strange the anachronism, how
      ironic the disjuncture, that enabled the emergence of a new and eccentric
      colonial situation at exactly the same time that classical colonialism was
      being defeated nearly everywhere else. Eccentric because while they were
      settler-colonists like the French or British in Africa, Israeli Jews were
      different in essential ways: they had a traditional tie to the land, they had
      an unimaginable history of suffering, they were by no means an overseas
      offshoot of a metropolitan Western power. In 1967 however, the American
      intervention in Vietnam was at its height, and so for progressive supporters
      of Israel it became directly imperative to separate Israel in the Occupied
      Territories from America in Indochina, and to find coherent reasons for
      excusing the first while condemning the second.

      Walzer played a pioneering role in this effort. With Martin Peretz (to whom
      Exodus and Revolution is dedicated) he wrote a landmark article in
      Ramparts (July 1967). Its title, ‘Israel is Not Vietnam’, comprehended half
      a dozen points, all of them showing the way in which Israel was not like
      France, the United States or Britain in their nasty colonial adventures. The
      article did not change the opinions of too many on the Left — to whom the
      article was explicitly addressed — and Peretz later withdrew his financial
      support from Ramparts. In any event, the article is important not only
      because Walzer used his Left credentials to speak with and to the Left, but
      also because the piece codified the mode of analysis he would later use.

      The steps Walzer takes are worth listing. One: he finds a contemporary
      situation that could, if it isn’t immediately addressed, affect Israel’s
      standing adversely. In Exodus and Revolution it is the discredited
      appearance both of Jewish fundamentalism and continued colonial rule over many
      Arabs and Arab land. Two: he does that initially by appearing to condemn
      something close at hand, which progressives can also condemn without much
      effort and for which an already substantial consensus exists. In Ramparts it
      was Western colonialism; in Exodus and Revolution it is Zionist extremists
      like Gush Emunim and Rabbi Kahane. Three: he shows how certain rather
      provocative aspects of Jewish and/or Israeli history and/or related episodes
      in, say, American or French history, do not all fit the condemned instances,
      although some obviously do. Thus since Kahane, like Begin and Sharon, does not
      resemble Moses, Moses’s stature as a fine leader is enhanced and hence he
      qualifies along with contemporary Israelis like Gershom Scholem and members of
      the Labor Party. Four (the really important intellectual move): Walzer
      formulates a theory, and/or finds a person or text — provided that none is
      totally general, too uncompromising, too theoretically absolute — that
      provides the basis for a new category of politico-moral behavior. The book of
      Exodus as interpreted by Walzer does fit the need quite perfectly, especially
      by allowing him to appropriate the language of national liberation and apply
      it anachronistically to the ancient Jews. Similarly, as we shall see
      presently, Albert Camus’s position on French colonialism is made by Walzer to
      stand for the role of the ‘connected’ intellectual. Five: he concludes by
      bringing together as many incompatible things as possible in as moral-sounding
      as well as politically palatable a rhetoric as possible. The desired effect is
      that both the generosity and the ‘relevance’ and not the inconsistency of the
      procedure will be noted.

      Operations of this sort cannot survive critical analysis. Exodus and
      Revolution
      proves their fallibility in all sorts of ways. The nagging
      question is how Walzer can continue to claim that his positions are
      progressive and even radical. He seems unconscious of the degree to which
      Israel’s military victories have affected his work by imparting an
      unattractive moral triumphalism — harsh, shortsighted, callous — to nearly
      everything he writes, despite the veneer of radical phrases and protestations.
      The results have often been extraordinarily disturbing, but not, apparently,
      to him; here and there a disquiet will briefly disturb his style, but all in
      all Walzer is at ease with himself and always has been been. In 1972, for
      example, he argued that in every state there will be groups ‘marginal to the
      nation’ which should be ‘helped to leave’. Saying that he had Israel and the
      Palestinians in mind, he nevertheless conducted this discussion (that coolly
      anticipates by a decade Kahane’s bloody cries of ‘they must go’) in the
      broadly sunny and progressive perspectives of liberalism, independence,
      freedom from oppression. In his book Just and Unjust Wars, he insists on the
      difference between the two kinds of war, yet finds excuses for Israeli
      recourse to such actions he otherwise condemns as preemptive strikes and
      terrorism. His political articles in Peretz’s New Republic, especially
      during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, are full of such tactical
      paradoxes. In 1984 he rewrites the history of the Algerian war by praising
      Camus, the archetypal trimmer, for his loyalty to the pied-noir community
      (one of ‘the two Algerian nations’, as Walzer calls them), for his rejection
      of ‘absolutist’ politics, and for his unwillingness completely to condemn
      French colonialism. Walzer’s unstated thesis is that the one hundred and thirty
      years of Algerian enslavement and consequent demands for Algerian liberation
      were somehow less of a moral cause than that of Camus’s community of French
      settler-colonialists.

      But Walzer’s recuperation of Camus’s lamentable waffling is even more
      interesting as an example of the relentless application of step four (the
      creation of a new category of politico-moral behavior). An essay by Walzer
      which appeared in the Fall 1984 issue of Dissent, the socialist magazine he
      edits with Irving Howe, reveals a good deal more about Walzer in the process
      than it does about Camus. Walzer says that Camus was impressive because ‘he
      was committed to a people, the FLN intellectuals to a cause’. I shall leave
      aside for now the astonishing highhandedness of this judgment of the Algerian
      resistance and return to it later. According to Walzer, the people Camus wrote
      for were his own, and insofar as it has been viewed as the critic’s role to
      write of his/her own people as ‘the others’, Camus, to his immense credit,
      does not fit the prescription. So much, by way of backhanded dismissal, for
      Benda’s trahison des clercs. Camus wrote of what was intimate for him as ‘a
      connected social critic’, connected, that is, to his people, the colonizing
      pieds-noirs of Algeria. Thus he was effective in touching their consciences
      in ways that intellectuals who have taken critical distance from the people
      could not be. Moreover, Walzer adds, Camus, the writer of ‘intimate
      criticism’, was always aware of how what he wrote might expose his family ‘to
      increased terrorism’. Therefore he was sometimes reduced to silence, even
      though ‘the social critic can never be alone with his people; his intimacy
      can’t take the form of private speech; it can only shape and control his
      public speech’. In short, much more than those French intellectuals like
      Sartre and Aron, who condemned French colonialism outright, Camus the
      temporizer and political ‘realist’ was heroic. He remained, in Walzer’s
      approving formulation, ‘what he was’.

      The backing and filling as well as the complaisant sophistry mobilized for
      this redefinition of the responsible intellectual’s role are quite remarkable.
      Not only does Walzer advocate just going along with one’s own people for the
      sake of loyalty and ‘connectedness': he also begs two fundamental questions.
      One: whether the position of critical distance he rejects could not also, at
      the same time, entail intimacy and something very much like the insider’s
      connectedness with his or her community? In other words, are critical distance
      and intimacy with one’s people mutually exclusive? Two: whether in the end the
      critic’s togetherness with his/her community might be less valuable an
      achievement than condemning the evil they do together, therefore risking
      isolation? These questions raise others. Who is more effective as a critic of
      South African racial policy, a white South African militant against the
      regime, or an Afrikaner liberal urging ‘constructive engagement’ with it? Whom
      does one respect more, in the accredited Western and Judaic traditions, the
      courageously outspoken intellectual or loyal member of the complicit majority?

      Much of Walzer’s recent political and philosophical writing validates the
      notion of a double standard, one applied to outsiders, another to the members
      of the intellectual’s own community or, to use an important word for him,
      sphere. Ronald Dworkin was right to say, in the New York Review of Books (13
      April 1983), that Walzer’s moral theory depends on ‘a mystical premise’ that
      ‘there are only a limited number of spheres of justice whose essential
      principles have been established in advance and must therefore remain the same
      for all societies’. In a sense, Exodus and Revolution is a book about the
      establishment of such a sphere for the Chosen People who are inscribed in a
      Covenant and owner of a Promised Land presided over by God. Hence one’s
      realization that Walzer’s idea about ‘Exodus politics’ turns out to be very
      snobbish and exclusive indeed.

      Walzer has regressed to an odd position on the concept of equality. He has
      modified it by saying that social goods ought to be considered as having
      different valences within their separate spheres (education, medicine,
      leisure, office), not in absolute terms. The key terms once again are
      ‘members’ in and ‘strangers’ to a community, and although Walzer does not
      refer to Jews and non-Jews, it is difficult not to arrive at the conclusion
      that his reflections as a Jew on Israel have ‘shaped and controlled’ his other
      thought. Thus, for him, the views that members have rights that strangers
      don’t, or can’t have, come from the very same political ground on which
      Israel, as the ‘state of the Jewish people’ — and not of its citizens, 20 per
      cent of whom are not members of ‘the Jewish people’ — is constructed. An
      additional complication, unattended to by Walzer’s philosophy, is that whereas
      any Jew anywhere is entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return,
      no Palestinian anywhere, whether born in Palestine before 1948 or not, has any
      such right. I refer here to over two million Palestinian refugees, those
      people (with their recent descendants) who like the Canaanites were originally
      driven out of their native land by Israel on the premise that they were
      ‘explicitly excluded from the world of moral concern’.

      Yet the secular facts are not so neat, so clear and simple, for ‘spheres’ do
      not just exist, nor do they simply acquire the authority of natural facts, nor
      are they accepted uncomplainingly by ‘strangers’ who feel their rights have
      been denied. Spheres are made and maintained by men and women in society. My
      feeling about Walzer is that his views on the existence of separate spheres
      have been shaped not so much by Israel as by those of Israel’s triumphs which
      he seems to have felt have been in need of defense, explanation,
      justification. If Jews were still stateless, and being held in ghettos, I do
      not believe that Walzer would take the positions he has been taking. I cannot
      believe that he would say, for example, that communities have the right to
      restrict land ownership or immigration so that Jews (or Blacks, or Indians)
      couldn’t participate equally in an absolute sense. Not at all. But now that
      Israel holds territories and rules inferior people, he does not question such
      practices against non-Jews. Rather he speaks about the intimate connectedness
      of Camus and the role of ‘members’ in a state, as well as that of people
      marginal to it. As for the root problem — why the discrimination instituted by
      Jews in power should be any more just than the discrimination against Jews by
      non-Jews in power — that elicits no comment.

      It would be wrong and unfair to single out Walzer in all this, since the
      adjustments and the compromises he has made are part of a general retreat
      among Left and liberal intellectuals during the last few years. We are at the
      point now where it is nearly impossible to discern individual themes within
      the chorus of revised views that blare out from the pages of formerly Left or
      liberal publications like the New Republic. Nowadays religion and God have
      returned, along with realism; utopia and radicalism are dirty words; terrorism
      and Soviet communism have acquired a kind of metaphysical purity of horror
      that eliminates history entirely; competition and the laws of a free market
      have replaced justice and social concern.

      Certainly the peculiarity of Walzer’s position (about which, with a few
      exceptions, he has not been stridently polemical) is that is still advanced,
      and honored, as the Left position. It is at bottom a position retaining the
      vocabulary of the Left, yet scuttling both the theory and critical astringency
      that historically gave the Left its moral and intellectual power. For theory
      and critical astringency, Walzer has substituted an often implicit but always
      unexamined appeal to the concreteness and intimacy of shared ethnic and
      familial bonds, the realism, the ‘moral’ responsibility of insiders who have
      ‘made it’. Still, as I have said, if like the Canaanites you don’t happen to
      qualify for membership you are excluded from moral concern. Or, in Walzer’s
      other surprisingly disparaging, dismissive judgment, you are relegated to a
      mere cause, like the FLN intellectuals.

      If this is the difference between Exodus politics and the politics of causes,
      then I’m for the latter. For not only does Exodus seem to blind its
      intellectuals to the rights of others, it permits them to believe that
      history — the world of societies and nations, made by men and
      women — vouchsafes certain peoples the extremely problematic gift of
      ‘Redemption’. Another of the many endowments Walzer bestows on Exodus
      insiders, Redemption, alas, elevates human beings in their own judgment to the
      status of divinely inspired moral agents. And this status in turn minimizes,
      if it does not completely obliterate, a sense of responsibility for what a
      people undergoing Redemption does to other less fortunate people, unredeemed,
      strange, displaced and outside moral concern. For this small deficiency Walzer
      has a reassuring answer too: ‘to be a moral agent’, he says, ‘is not to act
      rightly but to be capable of acting rightly’. While it is not blindingly clear
      to me how national righteousness — a highly dubious idea to begin
      with — derives from such precepts, I can certainly see its value as a
      mechanism for self-excuse and self-affirmation.

      Little of such writing derives from ‘radicalism’ or from ‘righteousness’.
      Walzer’s Exodus book is written from the perspective of victory, which it
      consolidates and authorizes after the fact. As a result, the book is shot
      through with a confidence that comes from an easy commerce between successful
      enterprise in the secular world and similar (if only anticipated) triumphs in
      the extra-historical world. As to how radicalism and realism square with
      Walzer’s astonishing reliance on God, I cannot at all understand. I have no
      way — and Walzer proposes none — for distinguishing between the claims put
      forth by competing monotheistic clerics in today’s Middle East, all of
      whom — Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Begin, Ayatollah Gemayel (and there are
      others) — say that God is indisputably on their side. That the Falwells, the
      Swaggerts, the Farrakhans in America say the same thing piles Pelion on Ossa,
      and leaves Walzer unperturbed, urging a remarkable amalgam of God and realism
      upon us, as we try to muddle through.

      But the one thing I want Walzer to remember is that the more he shores up the
      sphere of Exodus politics the more likely it is that Canaanites on the outside
      will resist and try to penetrate the walls banning them from the goods of what
      is, after all, partly their world too. The strength of the Canaanite, that is
      the exile position, is that being defeated and ‘outside’, you can perhaps more
      easily feel compassion, more easily call injustice injustice, more easily
      speak directly and plainly of all oppression, and with less difficulty try to
      understand (rather than mystify or occlude) history and equality. I have read
      Walzer for many years and I have always admired his intellect, although I have
      fundamentally disagreed with his politics. I have always wanted to say to him
      that the defense of spheres and peoplehood based on exclusion and displacement
      of others who are deemed to be lesser is not what intellectuals ought to be
      about. I have also wanted to say that ideologies of difference are a great
      deal less satisfactory than impure genres, people, activities; that separation
      and discrimination are often not as estimable as connecting and crossing over;
      that moral and military victories are not always such wonderful things. But
      having read him again recently, I now realize that Exodus may be a tragic
      book in that it teaches that you cannot both ‘belong’ and concern yourself
      with Canaanites who do not belong. If that is so, then I thank Walzer for
      showing me that, and allowing me — and I hope others — to remain unconvinced
      by what he says, and to resist.

  7. RoHa
    March 20, 2011, 11:44 pm

    “Let the “world community” take the lead on this one.”

    It did. France pushed it through, and the Arab League went along. The US was reluctant to join in. (Not that the US won’t try to run the show, and boast endlessly about anything useful it does.)

  8. Citizen
    March 21, 2011, 10:31 am

    So, a state’s (or organized group’s?) “challenge” to another state justifies preemptive/preventive war by the challenged state? Any composite of threat more or less comparatively equal to what Nasser did justifying Israel’s ’67 war? And Israel’s second step, which has been going on since ’67 in the form
    of its ever expanding settlements and seige of Gaza? If this is the litmus test for universally recognized civilized conduct, what could it mean for the future? And even now? How does Bush Jr’s attack on Iraq square with this test? And how does that test square with the prayed-for attack on Iran and current full-spectrum boycott of that state? And with our boycott of Libyan oil & trade and present attack on the failing regime there?

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