If you’re going to declare someone else to be insane, your diagnosis will be easier to credit if it’s not couched in absurdities. Here’s the conclusion of Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post today at The Weekly Standard blog:
The outpouring of condemnation from Europe—so outsized, so hypocritical, so ready to ignore the plain truths evident in the videos of the incident, so ready to pounce on embattled Israel—truly does reveal a world gone mad—the headline of a Jennifer Rubin post over at Contentions. One hopes that we are not yet in 1939. But we are unquestionably somewhere in the 1930s, a decade in which few and lonely voices were willing even to recognize the looming catastrophe.
One typical symptom of insanity is the inability to distinguish between metaphor and reality, often joined to an insistence that others operate on the same basis. For that reason, psychologists sometimes attempt to enter a schizophrenic’s world, where the aliens “really” are controlling the world’s oil supply via satellites whose signals sometimes interfere with the microchips surreptitiously implanted above all of our shoulder blades.
There is one thing that in my own schizo-reality is very clear: We are not “unquestionably somewhere in the 1930s.” I think we’re pretty much unquestionably somewhere in 2010, at least according to the Gregorian calendar (we use that one on my planet).
The current predicament of the world may bear some similarities to the 1930s, or offer some disturbing parallels, and my argument is not that the world has reacted, to say the least, very well to the flotilla incident or more generally to Israel’s strategic predicament or to the challenge of countries like Turkey under significant social, economic, and political pressure. The dangers are great, but that’s the human condition, and, if we have any say in our fates at all, then maybe it’s worth remembering that the distance between “looming catastrophe” and “self-fulfilling prophecy” is not scientifically measurable.
The problem for those who are not already thoroughly persuaded by Schoenfeld’s case, or who aren’t transfixed by images of Winston Churchill peering back from the bathroom mirror, is that ever since the real 1930s, the current predicament of the world has always been somewhere close to 1939 in the eyes of conservatives. We’re always preparing for Munich, or coping with the latest one, just as for the liberal left we’ve been somewhere in the early ’60s ever since the early ’60s. Before then, and especially before 1939, we were perpetually in the 1910s – on the verge of a totally irrational and unnecessary, unimaginably horrific and inexpressibly wasteful cataclysm…
Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that both sides are equally right. On the good side, it’s absolutely certain that both sides are, unquestionably, wrong.
It doesn’t help the efforts to arrive at and clearly analyze an adequately social and consensual reality to entertain this kind of presumption from Doctor Zero at the HotAir Greenroom: “The central flaw in Western liberal foreign policy is the naïve belief they can construct a civilization without enemies.” In my view, the central flaw in conservative critiques of “Western liberal foreign policy,” assuming there is such a thing, is the naïve belief that conservatives have even begun to understand what it is they are criticizing. For some writers, those who never seem to encounter a generalization about the other side that’s too demeaning (and too self- and audience-flattering), falling victim to this latter naïvete is a constant danger.
I’ve known many liberals – as well as leftists, far leftists, anarchists, Greens, and so on – in my time on my version of planet Earth, and Doctor Zero has not managed to describe any of them. Some, typically the young and more idealistic utopians and revolutionaries, may hold out the hope that someday humankind will leave war behind, in part because war in the industrial and nuclear age is something that a sane, serious, and morally responsible person will strive to the utmost to avoid. I’m ready to forgive liberals for hoping and believing that we can and must avoid the worst, not to mention the second-, third-, and fourth-worst. We may think that some have gone too far or are always ready to do so, that they are intoxicated by some Kantian vision of perpetual peace or too much preference for the Sermon on the Mount over the Revelation of John, secularized or not, but the grown-ups on the liberal left – there are more than a handful, I believe – are starkly aware of the fact that a world without enemies is not the world they live in or are likely to live to see. Their consciousness of a world full of enemies and potential enemies is a large part of what motivates them. Maybe that even all adds up to the central strength of “Western liberal foreign policy” (things work like that on my planet a lot).
Maybe those lefties just live in a separate world from Doctor Zero and Gabriel Schoenfeld. Like the man sang, we’ll all go together when we go…
You seem to be objecting to common reference points, or commonplaces, and the use of shorthand in making an argument–as if we can ever do without those rhetorical devices. We will always frame current events in terms of past ones, and trying to figure out whether it’s “1939” or only “1935” might seem bizarre from the outside, but it is used to measure to trajectory of tyranical advance and Western self-abasement. If it inevitably misses something, other events can be introduced to frame other features of the situation, or to counter this framing. But claiming that those who use these frames take them literally constructs a straw man.
As for “Western liberal foreign policy,” I don’t know about all the leftists you’ve known, but I read leftist publications like The Nation, Mother Jones, and others for many years, along with more scholarly versions of the same viewpoint, and I have no doubt that we can open one of them pretty much at random and find a discussion of war or militarism assuming that conflicts between nations are the result of material inequities and/or attempts by ruling classes (or “elites”) to “deflect” attention from their own depradations upon the people. And such an assumption easily leads to the conclusion that if we did away with material inequities and “elites” we would also do away with war. So Dr. Zero’s claim is a simplification, but a sufficiently accurate one.