Might Be Time To Check Your Premises


Of course people will not voluntarily make that accommodation. At this point the right of self-preservation comes into effect. And when attempts to settle the difficulty in an amicable way are rejected the clenched hand must take by force that which was refused to the open hand of friendship. If in the past our ancestors had based their political decisions on similar pacifist nonsense as our present generation does, we should not possess more than one-third of the national territory that we possess to-day and probably there would be no German nation to worry about its future in Europe.


Regrettably, human history refutes the idealistic claim that in order to exist for long, a state, society or people has to be moral. Given the foreseeable realities of the 21st century and beyond, harsh choices are unavoidable, with requirements of existence often contradicting other important values. ...

When important for existence, violating the rights of others should be accepted, with regret but with determination. Support or condemnation of various countries and their policies should be decided upon primarily in light of probable consequences for the existence of the Jewish people.

In short, the imperatives of existence should be given priority over other concerns — however important they may be — including liberal and humanitarian values, support for human rights and democratization.

The second set of remarks was given by Yehezkel Dror, in an op-ed for The Forward last week.

The first set of remarks was given by You Know Who.

Hey, I'm just sayin'...

[Hat tip: Mobius]

[Followup DR post]

Share this

Hitler thought highly of dogs and nature

Just because Hitler said it doesn't make it wrong. But as a matter of fact Hitler was simply wrong about an existential threat to Germany at that time. As we know in retrospect, Hitler was laying the groundwork for an expansion of Germany and an establishment of a Nazi world empire. In contrast, Israel really is under constant low-grade actual attack and a constant existential threat from the likes of Iran, whose President hints at the nuclear annihilation of Israel. Israel has expanded its territory slightly relative to its original boundaries following a defensive war against its neighbors, but (a) when you look at how exposed the original sliver of a territory is to attack (which actually came, repeatedly) you might forgive them for seeking out a more convex, round shape, and (b) they actually have been relinquishing the territory, bit by bit. A lot of Israel's neighbors would like nothing better than to see the Jews driven into the sea. The would like nothing better than to wake up one morning and to hear the news that every Jewish man, woman, and child in the state of Israel had died. Germany was most certainly not in anything remotely like that situation.

As a general statement, no creature on this planet can reasonably be expected to sacrifice its own life for the sake of others or for the sake of adhering to moral principles which would condemn it to death, especially when that condemnation would be entirely undeserved. It might nevertheless lay down its life, if it loved those enough for whom it was sacrificing itself.

Israel, of course, is not a creature but a political creation. It has no rights, no moral standing whatsoever. So there is plenty of room for an argument that the argument from self-preservation cannot be properly extended to Israel. However, this is a separate argument from the comparison with Hitler.

No such thing as right to collective existence

You're right; just because Hitler said it doesn't make it wrong. But when you start to reach for the same sort of conclusions Hitler reached for--not the incidental ones like vegetarianism and anti-smoking, but the morally problematic ones he is remembered for, such as lebensraum--it's a good sign that you might need to check your premises.

It's worth following that link through to Econlog and Bryan Caplan's analysis of Hitler's motivation. Hitler too was motivated by an existential argument (a Malthusian one); that's why he was laying the groundwork for an expansion of Germany, because without expanding, Hitler feared Germany's very existence was threatened. His reasoning is actually quite sensible if you don't have a good grasp of the economic reasons why Malthusian fears are misplaced (and most people don't have a good grasp of these economic reasons).

I'm aware of the existential fears related to Israel. Trust me, I know. Nearly all of my mother's relatives live in Israel, as do most of my friends from high school.

The thing is, as you yourself recognize later in your post, the arguments from self-preservation that normally have much force when applied to individuals, lose all of their moral force when applied to collectives. Not only do political creations, i.e. governments have no rights to exist if their existence requires sacrificing "liberal and humanitarian values [and] support for human rights", nationalities, ethnicities and religions have no right to exist if their their existence requires sacrificing "liberal and humanitarian values [and] support for human rights."

I was actually hoping to make this point a separate post at some point, because it's a pretty extreme thing for me as a Jew to say, but it took a pretty extreme thing for someone else say to finally motivate me to say it. Existence may be the ultimate value for any particular individual, but it is not and cannot be the ultimate value for particular groups of individuals (other than perhaps the group that is comprised of humanity as a whole, and even then, I'd question it).

And that is why the comparison with Hitler is so apt, because his faults came directly from this mistake: placing the existence of Germany and the German people above all other values. Placing the existence of Israel and the Jewish people (as a people, mind you, not as individuals) above all other values is committing the identical mistake.

What about genocide?

What you're saying comes close to denying the special moral status of genocide (as opposed to the mass murder of an equal number of people who do not constitute "a people"). Do you agree with this implication or do you want to explain how you stop short of taking this position?

I don't have a huge problem

I don't have a huge problem denying the special moral status of genocide, if denying the special moral status of genocide just means denying that one has done a doubly enforceable wrong, above and beyond the wrongs done to individual people by also destroying an abstract concept - an abstract concept which does not think, feel, or do much of anything other than act as a historical placeholder for a bunch of shared cultural, geographic, ethnic, or religious traits.

I do think one can make a different argument for the special status of genocide: that since the desire to destroy "a people"--whether that people be defined nationally, ethnically, whatever--provides an additional motivation for killing those individual persons of which "a people" is comprised, we might devote special attention to this kind of crime, and might consider it an additional moral and cognitive vice, above and beyond the moral and cognitive vices inherent in exterminating large swaths of people for any other reason.

For the same reason that I view racism, even when not combined with an actionable moral crime to be morally wrong, and for the same reason that I view an actionable moral crime motivated by racism to be morally worse than the same actionable moral crime unmotivated by racism (i.e. the hate crime issue), I don't think the difference between these two, the racist motivation, is additionally actionable. That is, I think it deserves additional moral and social disapproval, but the difference shouldn't be ingrained into the legal system (or whatever system is doing the "enforcing"). Vices are not crimes.

Geneva rules

Dror is an idiot, for his choice of words.

That being said, according to rules of war agreed upon at Geneva, the responsibility for civilian casualties caused by war when a group is using them as shields, lies with the ones using them as shields. Israel is within its rights when it blows up houses or schools in Gaza or southern lebanon that are being used to shoot missiles at Israel.

Are the rights of the civilians in those houses and schools being violated? Yes, but according to internationally agreed upon standards, the responsibility for that violation lies with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

Rights of course are not absolute. I should have the right to go to the mall unmolested, but i have to pass through a security check (whether in Israel, or parts of America, or elsewhere in the world). That's an abridgement of my rights, but in context, it's not necessarily inappropriate. The kicker is whether it's truly necessary or 'proportionate'-- and from what I've seen, that's an extremely case-by-case basis.

But Hitler comparisons are ludicrous in any context, inflammatory and useless. If you want anything resembling a serious discussion, which you may not.

Matthew, Dror did not


Dror did not simply make an unfortunate word choice here and there; his central point is clear: the self-preservation and continued existence of the Jewish people and the State of Israel are ultimate values, for which all other values may be legitimately sacrificed. This kind of argument doesn't only justify collateral damage; it justifies anything, so long as the thing in question is viewed as necessary for the continued existence of Israel/the Jewish people.

So the Hitler comparison is not ludicrous; Hitler essentially made the exact same argument: the self-preservation and continued existence of Germany/the German people is the ultimate value, for which all other values may be legitimately sacrificed.