Friday, January 30, 2009

The Future of Modernity

Divine, not human, law rings down the curtain (so to speak) on the short happy life of Don Giovanni, so beautifully celebrated in Mozart's opera of 1787 (the last possible moment, perhaps, for such an opera on such a theme). In the real world of the 18th century a man like the Don would not have been able to compile anything like the numbers so happily reeled off by Leporello, the rule of law--civil law--having been pretty well established in Europe despite some deplorable lapses for I don't know how long--seven or eight hundred years at least.

The French Revolution added something new to the European mix of civil and canon law, ideology, a word coined by Napoleon in a brilliant insight: he had seen ideologues in action and knew what they were doing before he had a name for it. An ideology
is a system of theories and ideas that is used to justify, or seize, political power. It is fitting that this word should have appeared just at the time when the heretofore apolitical and therefore invisible masses of ordinary people were beginning to be a factor and more than that, a force, in the politics of nations. The advent of that force changed everything, especially for those who happen to be politically ambitious. If you want to succeed in politics nowadays (no doubt this has always been the case) you have to know how to lead people by the nose, for there really is no other way. Therefore you need a hook. Money is efficacious but money talks and it never knows when to shut up; utility is philosophically and ethically appealing but it's too abstract and most people only want to know what you can for them rightnow ; the best hooks of all are baited with ideals which make you feel morally heroic while incidentally advancing the interests of your family, friends and followers. And so the modern ideological political party was born. The 20th century has been called the Age of Ideology and it came within an ace of blowing us up.

So now we've got another chance, and because the balance of nature is inexorably turning against us, driven by the by-products of our technological and economic ingenuity--carbon-dioxide, methane and other gases--we probably won't get another.

Another chance for what? To establish the rule of law, not ideology. And I have to say the prospects don't look good. I'm not talking about nations where the rule of law and due process is fairly well established but about those, the majority, where the rule of law is still a new idea and is usually trumped by ideology or religion-- Iran for example, or the nations of Africa. Or countries like Russia and China, still emerging from their own ideologically driven disasters.

Consider the modern state of Israel, where the rule of law is consistently trumped by religious orthodoxy--as elsewhere in that part of the world; Judaism, like Islam it seems, has never been able to entirely accept the modern secular state. So now, unwillingly complicitous, we are forced to stand by helplessly as the courts of Israel wilt, despicably, before a mob of religious zealots bent on grabbing the last remaining scraps of Palestinian land. And what is the nature of their claim? A collection of ancient stories containing a deed signed, say the authors of these stories, by God. And that's it. And for this the entire region and not only the region but the world has been driven mad, and all of us threatened by nuclear jihad.

It's a poor outlook for the rule of law and the world.

(If you want to hear the sort of thing that Israel's apologists are willing to say, read the following comment.)


  1. Why are there Jewish settlements on the West Bank? Because after the Six-Day War, the Arab nations met in Khartoum, Sudan, and voted for the Three Noes of Khartoum—no negotiations, no recognition, no peace. At that point, Israel allowed the settlers to move in. For some reason, nobody knows about the Noes.

    In 2005, Ariel Sharon, before his stroke, ordered the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza, and promised a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank. His successor, Olmert agreed. The settlers in Gaza were uprooted, and the beginnings of an independent Palestinian state were offered to its residents. Unfortunately, Palestinians have consistently rejected an independent state. They rejected the UN Partition Plan of 1947. They rejected, in effect, the Oslo Agreenet when they began their intifada. They rejected the Taba Agreement of 2000. They cannot be bribed with a state. They want to do what is virtuus—to die in a jihad while killing Jews. The world loves them for their selflessness.

  2. amen sela. hamas never wanted a two state solution. they openly want a one state solution. the same goes for fatah, though unlike their fellow hamasnik fellow varmints, they don't admit this brazenly in english.

  3. one more thing: for the writer to compare the wildly vibrant, liberal and absolutely secular state of Israel with the semi Medieval Muslim societies that surround it is obscene. These neighbors have governments and populations opposed to anything the writer presumably takes for granted (freedom of press, assembly, religion, and women and gay rights etc). Your remarks are a form of loathsome and ignorant relativism.