Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Left-cult of actionism

Jürgen Habermas is certainly more worthy of citation that Jonah Goldberg. Russell Berman writes an interesting article from a conservative position in the latest Democratiya, "From ‘Left-Fascism’ to Campus Anti-Semitism: Radicalism as Reaction," in which he cites Habermas and others. Berman, of the right-wing Hoover Institute, might be aiming to mainstream Goldberg/Horowitz, but I think he accomplishes something anyway. I distrust his attacks on "a growing illiberalism in the academic world" as poorly targeted. But many of his comments indeed seem to be critiques from the left of an ornate and insubstantial Left that is more liberal -in the sense which Leftists use as a rejoinder- than liberals.

Neither fascism nor antisemitism are exclusively right-wing affairs. No prejudice has ever failed to find a home on the Left while it pervades society, despite the Left's insistence that it is above and apart from the society of which it is the Left, but beyond that there have always been left roots of antisemitism. Almost as soon as Marx wrote "On the Jewish Question," antisemitism took form as Bebel's "socialism of fools."

And, despite attempts to describe fascism as Bush's style of corporate cronyism (a critique that misses the point of the fascist's favored analogy to the corporation, which focused on hierarchy and leaders and deplored the ability of corporate heads to bully a weak leader), fascism developed as a third-way critique of both Capitalism and Communism. Under the same circumstances as Social Democracy.

What Russell Berman (no relation to Sheri, I'm sure) says of Habermas is that:
...he expressed concern about the movement's tendency [in the 60s] to combine an indifference toward consequences with an oblivious actionism, as if the decision to act at all were always more important than any consideration of consequences.
This might fail as a complete description of fascism, but it is, I think, a key aspect of fascism's appeal. To do something. The urge to do something will make people do anything.

This is a key argument of the Boycott Israel movement, and while it may not be fascistic as such (the parallel to the UCU's disclaimer that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic "as such" is entirely intended) I find it troubling for exactly the same reasons I would under other circumstances. Something, we are repeatedly told, must be done - and that something is apparently not the One Voice movement, the Seeds of Peace program, or any other cooperative project for peace. Nothing that would require engaging with people who disagree, diluting the boycotters purity.

Those who disagree, even just a little, may be cast out of the Left. (Can we understand "the Left" here as some post-national replacement for the nation?) Anyone who claims that the situation is complicated and requires a measured response is denounced in terms I doubt we could distinguish from fascistic anti-intellectualism.

So everything productive, and there are productive things to be done, is illegitimated as by an overdetermined anti-theory. What "must be done," instead, is to make Israel a "pariah state." And, following immediately, pariahs of all the Jews who support the existence of Israel, whether or not they support the supposed crimes (I say supposed, because the crime that motivates this anti-theory seems always to be an alibi to cirticize Israel's mere existence) that the boycotters claim to be their motivation.
In other words, Baker levels the charge that Jews cannot be, or have difficulties being, reliable and trustworthy anti-Zionists. Noam Chomsky has faced similar accusations: his career argument against Israel as an agent of Washington now faces denunciations from more radical anti-Zionists as a white-washing camouflage for the reverse hypothesis, the hypothetical Israeli domination of Washington, which is nothing more than the colorful antisemitic fantasy of conspiratorial Jewish world control. [13]
Indeed, there is something fascistic about denouncing the Jewish "internal Other" so, creating a standard of assimilation that is ultimately impossible. The Différance remains. More importantly, when we recognize that many boycotters are not as antisemitic as Baker, defining Différance remains in the control of gentiles.

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