Avi Woolf, English language editor of Mida, an Israeli news & commentary site, is concerned about the direction that the American right is headed.
For fun, let’s look at how Mida describes its mission.
Mida is a news and intellectual website which aims to present the public with information and opinions not common in the Israeli media.
To paraphrase a famous quote: “Nothing national is alien to us”. We cover economics, defense, education, culture, academia, law, Zionism, Judaism, history, philosophy, art and more. Our purpose is to provide readers with new information on Israel, expose them to current events and thought from around the world and examine current public policy in a variety of fields as well as offer alternatives.
Our values can best be described as “classical liberal” or “conservative liberal”. We see individual freedom as a uniquely Western political achievement, one earned through personal responsibility and civic involvement. Alongside this, we recognize that elections alone are not enough for a democracy which ensures individual freedom; it must be supported by a coherent social identity and corresponding institutions, the most important of which are nationalism and religion. To us, voluntary and spontaneous civilian institutions are infinitely preferable to a Leviathan-like state awash in resources but harming individual and economic freedoms.
‘Mida’ aims to take a sober view of reality. We are driven by realism: we recognize that even though culture and values have a role in shaping history, it is mostly “fear, honor and interest” which drive the day-to-day agenda. We aim to be as faithful as possible to the facts instead of theories and wishful thinking.
I added the bolding for emphasis. I can’t read Hebrew, so most of what’s on the site is unintelligible to me.
Anyway, Avi wants you to know that discussing genetics is bad, wrong, and will lead to Hitler.
Contrary to common misconception, those beliefs never disappeared. Yes, the Holocaust drove them underground, and Buckley managed to briefly drive them from respectable right-wing circles. But if the rise of Trump and the shrill cry of Coulter make anything clear, it is that these views are back with a vengeance. You see it in a thousand different terms throughout the internet: HBD, evolutionary theory, you name it. We are back to ranking human worth by genetic “fitness” — almost exclusively intellectual fitness. And, of course, the question of racial intellectual fitness.
People will argue that I am not a scientist, and that I am not competent to judge whether the claims made in these studies on group differences in IQ are correct or not. They are right — and they are missing the point by a mile and a half. The principle of human moral equality is not — must not — ever be dependent on an IQ or a genetics fitness test. It is axiomatic, the bedrock of liberal democratic society however conceived; it is the life’s blood of the Enlightenment at its…well, most enlightened, whether you are left or right wing.
There’s a lot that’s muddled in this post, and I’ll be charitable to the author and assume that he assembled it without much detailed thinking.
I think a key question to ask is whether or not ‘liberal democratic society’ is something that conservatives ought to support. Historically, they didn’t. The founding fathers didn’t support a liberal democratic society, either, and the notion of moral equality meant something different to them than it means to us. And on the historical scale, the founding fathers were barking-mad liberal revolutionaries who flouted the law.
Liberal, maybe. Democratic, not so much. What Locke meant by moral equality is not the usage which Woolf promotes in this post. And Locke, more than anyone, propelled the American rebellion.
Moral equality certainly didn’t mean at the time that all lives have equal moral weight, regardless of what people do with their essential human freedom. The saint isn’t morally equivalent to the adulterer, and the murderer isn’t morally equivalent to the ordinary citizen. Locke spoke of an equality in moral powers. And even Locke the liberal saw nothing wrong in the exclusionary principle (from §. 95 of the first Treatise):
The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it.
This is less a uniquely liberal principle and more one of basic political sense. The capacity of a government or community to secure its own existence isn’t unlimited. Some people must be excluded for that “comfortable, safe, and peaceable living” to be maintained.
So, for example, Israel wisely excludes Palestinians and heavily armed Nazis from much of Israel. If Israel instead decided that it was to become a true light unto all the nations and accept anyone who showed up as a citizen with full voting rights, there would be no Zionist state to speak of after a short and bloody collapse.
Further, Wolf confuses which side of the political spectrum that movements like nationalism and eugenics actually came from. Eugenics was a prime method used by the progressive movement in its attempts to engineer a higher quality population. This isn’t particularly concealed in the historic record. It’s confused in popular discourse because the left tends to ascribe policies from the past which it disowns today onto its enemies whenever possible, and to drown out knowledge with noisy ignorance when it’s not.
Nationalism of the 1848 variety was also recognized as a leftist movement, in large part because it was in explicit rebellion against the ancient political order of Europe. In America, the poles are a little bit flipped, because our revolution was itself an early strain of nationalist revolution fought on populist grounds.
Even further, it takes a special muddle-mindedness to write for a happily Zionist publication, from a nation that openly discriminates against non-Jews in its immigration and domestic policies, to then proclaim exclusionary principles are dangerous paths for Americans to go down.
This isn’t an especially unusual muddle-mindedness, either, in part because the post-war historians have made it a special project to declare the Jewish people and Israel as morally unique, and permitted special moral privileges that set them apart from the rest of humanity. This then sets them, in particular, up for this sort of unique muddle, in which a writer proclaims that all people are morally equal while also arguing that some groups of people are morally unequal.
There is nothing “obvious” here. Conservatives above all people should know just how powerful the dark side of human nature is — including the desire to find any excuse to dehumanize and degrade the moral worth of others given half a chance. Anyone who thinks they can go about celebrating the relative inferiority and superiority of groups without horrific backlash is either a fool or evil. There is no third option.
The question of genetic ability can and should be grappled with in terms of the question of meritocracies, of assigning jobs and the like. In fact, I welcome serious discussion among the right as a whole on the issue which exemplifies the tradition of the (morally) best of us. But I greatly fear that the poison underneath, the darker, hateful and misanthropic assumptions of conservative thought threaten to destroy a movement I have spent years fighting for — and hope to continue fighting for in the future.
I hope I am proven wrong.
Appealing to sober realism, humans aren’t uniform. Genetics doesn’t stop influencing the human animal from the neck up. Celebrating the superiority of a national group — of which common blood is a common part — is close to a human universal. Israelis definitely do it all the time. It’s not an especially horrible practice. Folk dances and queer local celebrations are not on the same level as Genghis Khan slaughtering a large portion of China.
Nor is recognizing the heredity principle, which long predated Darwin. Proclaiming that heredity only affects things like hair color is itself an unusual and recent doctrine.
Given that humans are impacted by heredity as much as other animals are, it’s actually a strong argument against an enormous ‘meritocratic’ sorting mechanism. Families themselves do that naturally. The part where we should depart from Lockean arguments against divine rights of kings is that moral powers are themselves not as equally distributed as we might have hoped. This is perhaps the source of apocalypse-level concern from Woolf and writers like him: that people are very much unequal in every respect, and that the sort of extreme equality doctrine which people have attempted to establish in the West is actually quite fragile and at odds with the underlying reality of nature.
Again, we have conservatives angling to conserve the mentally feeble postwar doctrines of universal-brotherhood-of-man — with unprincipled exceptions attached. If that is what they’re conserving, they deserve the destruction — as a movement — which Woolf fears.
If the universal-brotherhood-of-man-genetic-uniformity doctrine is so delicate that some prodding around could cause it to explode into universal warfare, then perhaps it was not such a sensible doctrine to attempt to protect, given that it’s neither true nor stable. It’s also an ignoble lie that causes people to make gross errors at every level. This causes phenomenal waste.
It’s also false that this doctrine has deeper roots in classical liberalism. It has very shallow roots. It’s a confused amalgamation of half-baked thought. Affirming the exclusionary principle is less an issue of “hate” and “poison” and more a matter of attempting to preserve civil society against its enemies. To the extent that we can no longer form a government together owing to serious differences between peoples within those states, we should reform it until we can establish order.
Panicked arguments that the exploration of genetics will cause neo-Hitler to rise again are themselves the enemies of clear thought on these issues. It also lends credence to people who would actually like a neo-Hitler to pop up again, just because of the hysterical attempts to suppress the publication of simple truths. By discrediting sober-minded and prestigious scientists in an attempt to buttress stupid and wasteful political doctrines, the Responsible People have given credence to fringe figures who are willing to be public enemies.
Ending that suppression would cut off that air supply. Speaking the truth generates legitimacy. If you make speaking the truth something that only rebels can do, you lend legitimacy to your own enemies, because when your enemies speak obvious truths, the people will tend to be drawn towards their banners and away from yours.
But doing so would provoke a wave of resentment and anger that would be difficult for our incumbent Responsible People to survive. It would also be a sort of betrayal of all the client peoples which the Great, Responsible, Beautiful people have promised to uplift — which they’ll never be able to.
The notion of universal inclusion is itself counter to the classical liberal tradition and really any tradition in political thought as it has been actually applied. The Tower of Babel didn’t last for long. Neither will this one.
What is causing the backlash is the attempt to suppress the totally ordinary attempt of people to cooperate to exclude people who are not compatible with political order and prosperity. Disrupting that behavior causes the resentment, and rightly so.