Long-term Redstate contributor Neil Stevens has authored a critique of my previous post, in which it was argued that the Israeli policy towards Gaza is problematic from the standpoint of just war doctrine. In my estimation, the critique is an exemplification of the very tendency against which I protested, the tendency to demand a protracted recitation of the manifold sins of Israel's adversaries - none of which are minimized by silence, inasmuch as, not being a Straussian, I am not writing esoterically and bidding my readers to interpret my silences and omissions as possessing the greatest import - as the condition of the possibility of a consideration, then rejection, of the idea that Israel has acted unjustly and/or counterproductively. I reject this implicit mandate, inasmuch as it is reflective of a type of opinion policing, a sort of surveillance of dissenters, that I reject as deleterious to both rational discourse and conservatism; beyond that, it is simply unnecessary, given that there is a division of labour even among members of the amateur commentariat: There are legions of others who will recite the sins of Hamas, and nothing to be gained by my imitation of these writers, whereas there is, in potentiality, something to be gained by pointing to the ambiguity and complexity of the Israel/Palestine situation. We might, at least, become more circumspect about the rhetoric of moral clarity in foreign affairs, which too often functions as a prophylactic against thought, in much the same way that campaign slogans such as "change we can believe in" function to shape sentiment, and not to guide thought.
There is, however, more to the critique.
Specifically, there are the claims that my views are informed by the mainstream media, or, perhaps, that my analysis simply replicates things I've heard parroted by the media, and the attempt to practice distance psychoanalysis, the upshot of which is the claim that I have both - contradictorily - a bias against Israel, and a certain distancing tendency with respect to Israel's predicament. These claims are worth a few paragraphs of examination.
In the first instance, as I neither linked to any article published by a mainstream media outlet, nor even quoted from such a source, and, as such, did not endorse any specific line of argumentation advanced by any critic of the Israeli policy. This being the case, what must be intended is a sort of family resemblances critique: My arguments are reminiscent, in some unspecified respect - or perhaps it is merely the atmosphere of disagreeing with the policy - of the argument X, of unidentified critic of Israel Y - or perhaps the resemblance is to some amorphous or generic, abstract Critic of Israel - and since Y is a disreputable person, for reason of his opinions on Israel and other subjects, the family resemblance asserted here renders my argument suspect, and my character suspect as well. It is, in my estimation, a subtle sort of ad hominem: disreputable persons and institutions advance argument X, and if Maximos advances a variant of argument X, well, draw the conclusion.
There is more that must be said, for the tendency exemplified by such family resemblance arguments is wholly deleterious, and ultimately precludes rational engagement with issues, and thus issues in the inevitable ideologization and ossification of conservative thought. I'd prefer to illustrate by means of an analogy, inasmuch as the Israel question is quite tedious and fraught. Consider the so-called Elvis of cultural theory, the Slovenian philosopher and Lacanian analyst, Slavoj Zizek, who is also an impenitent Bolshevik of sorts, calling in his most recent volume of high theory for a resurrection of revolutionary terror. Seriously. The instinct of the conservative naturally will be to dismiss Zizek's oeuvre as the output of a philosophical madman, the issue of a moral monster, and to eschew any critical engagement therewith, the assumption being that because he is a monster, nothing he says could conceivably be worthwhile. Of course, to adopt this stance would be to forswear wrestling with his multifaceted concept of the Real, which is at once the inherently conflictual, non-totalizable character of reality, and the ideological fantasies and master signifiers which structure much of our societal inheritance, and often answer to profound personal requirements, positing false totalities - from which is there is always a remainder that cannot be accounted for in terms of the ideological discourse. These ideological fictions, inherently incomplete and contradictory, yet pretending to exhaustiveness, thus generate obscene secret supplements, which we might characterize as embodiments of the myth that all law depends ultimately upon lawlessness. Jack Bauer upholding the law by violating every tenet of the law in torturing and maiming the enemies of the state. The anti-Constitutional doctrine that the President possesses the sole authority to declare war, and to suspend the laws as he deems requisite to the prosecution of the war. Chaos and power are primal, order derivative. Manifestly, one could perceive resonances of this analysis, in addition to the differences, with certain philosophical conservative critiques of ideology, rationalism, and the spiritual disorders of modernity. Now, what too often happens in such cases is that the negative association formed by a confrontation with Zizek's communism, in this instance, will prompt the person reacting against his communism to reject his thought in its entirety, such that, if confronted with a discussion of Zizek's concept of the Real, he will be inclined to think, if below the level of explicit consciousness, that if Zizek's doctrine in one place is repellent, and reflective of a repellent sort of mind, all aspects of his doctrine must be repellent, and that wisdom consists of embracing the opposite. Not thought, but a mnemonic for thought: He's a bad sort, so believe the opposite. And in this instance, such reactive posturing would only impel conservatives subtly away from the critique of ideology and pretenses to totalizing systems, and towards the delusional notion that complexity and nuance are the province of the morally suspect, and that, in consequence, what is most needful is a sort of primal, instinctual "moral clarity". When conservatives ride the bandwagon against this or that media outlet or complex, or the reification of The Media as some hypothetical unity, they enact something analogous to my hypothetical dismissal of Zizek, either reacting against what is perceived to be the media's spurious complexification of a subject by positing some simple and clear alternative, or, least reflectively of all, by simply embracing the opposite of what The Media is supposed to have stated. This is tribalism, and it is intriguing that tribal non-thought and ideology are so similar, functionally speaking.
In the second instance, I repudiate without qualification the practice of distance psychoanalysis, a technique which at once personalizes disputed questions and removes personal factors as permissible counter-evidence. The attempt to discern bias in, well, textual interlocutors, is a tricky undertaking, and one that should be avoided unless someone just comes right out and confesses a hatred for some group. The trouble with it is not merely that it is a sort of ad hominem, but that it reflects a category error, a confusion of policy positions with persons, such that policy positions function as symbols of character; discussions of policy become, not rational analyses of the issues, but exercises in tribal differentiation; and virtue is reduced to a function of stated political allegiances. It ought to be of no consequence to an analysis of the merits of a position that one thinks the person articulating that position does so for invidious reasons. When conservatives critique the agenda of certain homosexualists, they do not do so out of animus towards homosexuals, but out of a concern that the nature of marriage, its ontology, if you will, and that of man, be respected, and we recognize that the attempt to tar conservatives as bigots and haters is merely an attempt to evade the force of a critique. So also is it with attempts to discern bias in the critiques of Israeli policy: They represent an attempt to discourage consideration of dissent, on the grounds that dissenters are morally compromised. There is a Party Line, and it is no surety against its strictures that one can adduce certain features of one's personal life and conduct as defenses against the charge of bias. One will be said to be 'protesting too much', or, most perversely and incoherently, to be introducing irrelevant personal matter into the conversation! The issue, therefore, is the dissenter's character, but his character is irrelevant to his defense! He is damned, infallibly, unless, of course, he humbles himself and partakes of the sacraments, those visual signs of inward graces - confessions of the Party Line. Character becomes a mere function of politics, and this has long been a hallmark of leftist ideologues. Conservatives would do well to eschew such repressions.
As regards the factual matter in dispute, in point of fact, the Israeli policy does not conform to just war doctrine. Israel has not attempted all means, in good faith, to secure a peaceful resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, who were offered a faux state in which Israel controlled all of the strategic ground and most of the natural resources. It should not be forgotten that Hamas was empowered in part because Israeli policy, including the negotiating positions taken during the various stages of the 'peace process', weakened Fatah and demonstrated it to be ineffectual to achieving the national aspirations of the Palestinians, and not merely those aspirations that can be reduced to killing all the Jews and casting them into the sea. Moreover, we should reject such utterly arbitrary starting points for the present controversy, as though Hamas's refusal to abide by the terms of the cease-fire agreement were all that we needed to assimilate in order to evaluate the conflict. Hamas refused the cease-fire because Israel imposed a blockade; Israel imposed a blockade because Hamas espouses an exterminationist ideology and directed terrorist attacks; Hamas did these things because Islamic motifs became more prominent in the Palestinian resistance with every year of failure to attain more secular goals.... and so on, almost indefinitely, until will arrive discussions of 1948, the Balfour Declaration, and God only knows what else.
Israel has no serious prospects of success, inasmuch as the present conflict will not persuade the Gazans to renounce their ambitions towards statehood, and will probably only strengthen the exterminationist and Islamist sentiments among them; all the Israeli policy can achieve, unless they intend to unleash an horrific slaughter, is to lay the preconditions for the next round of fighting.
The Israeli policy will not produce a state of affairs in which evils and disorders are less prominent than presently, because that policy will only exacerbate the cycle of retribution. Moreover, this criterion does not concern discrete in bello matters such as the Hamas rockets simply, but the military policy in its entirety. This is no mere matter of whether Israel can cause the rocket fire to cease - if Lebanon is at all indicative, it cannot - but of whether the consequences of this entire phase of the conflict will be preferable to the status quo ante; and given the deterioration both along Israel's borders and in the wider region, it cannot credibly be argued that Israel will be more secure, and that the threat of warfare and death will be diminished. In any event, dropping massive pieces of ordinance on the domiciles of Hamas officials, and then waxing ecstatic over the disproportionate amount of death inflicted - and it should be observed that the relevant intention here is not 'killing Hamas officials' - the purely subjective, reality-is-what-I-say-it-is one - but the objective intention of dropping massive ordinance on a house, knowing full well that noncombatants will die, and then ghoulishly celebrating the "message" that one has sent to other Hamas officials.
Finally, given the astonishingly low casualty rate inflicted by the Hamas rockets, not to mention the fact that such rockets cannot pose a threat to the existence of the Israeli state, it seems strained to argue that the rocket fire constituted a grave, lasting, and certain peril. We should be wary of equivocation here: a moderate and unpredictable danger to a subset of the population is not the same thing as a grave and certain danger to the whole. Nor is the prospect of a life lived under that threat, with frequent trips to the shelter, equivalent to the threat of extermination. This is not to minimize the atrocity of targeting civilians, merely to observe that the Hamas rocket fire was anything but a V-2 barrage, the latter causing thousands of deaths. As I indicated, I'm ambivalent on the application of this criterion. In any event, getting one criterion correct doesn't stamp the imprimatur on the resulting policy, regardless of its nature and prospects.
In any event, I loathe this subject, and feel a profound sorrow when conversing upon it, not least because it discloses all too many conservatives as quick to deal in death.