The Three Axes and the Middle East

I have been suggesting that a model of three axes helps to organize ideological differences. Conservatives emphasize the civilization-barbarism axis. Progressives emphasize the oppressor-oppressed axis. And libertarians emphasize the coercion-freedom axis.

Consider the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. To conservatives, the Arab tactics, such as suicide bombing and firing rockets from civilian homes into civilian areas, are barbaric. Conservatives tend to be pro-Israel.

Progressives are inclined to view the Palestinians as the oppressed in the oppressor-oppressed narrative. As Secretary of State Clinton put it recently,

the Israelis need to do to demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds.

George Gilder, in The Israel Test, excoriates progressives for this view. He argues that Palestinian Arabs are helped by Jewish success, not oppressed by it. He points out that economic gains for Palestinian Arabs were greatest during the 30 years between the 6-day war and the launching of the intifada. Gilder’s book is a celebration of the positive-sum nature of markets and a condemnation of the oppressor-oppressed narrative. Israel is almost beside the point–it performs for Gilder the same function that risque scenes did for Ayn Rand. Rand lured teenagers into reading pro-capitalist lectures, and Gilder wants to lure Zionistic liberal Jews down the same path.

Although he is pro-market, Gilder does not speak to libertarians, and he certainly does not speak for them. Libertarians generally do not concern themselves with the Middle East, other than to suggest that the United States stay out of it and stop providing foreign aid. However, one strand of libertarian thinking assigns substantial blame to Israel for being ethnocentric and coercive. My guess is that this comes from Murray Rothbard, and it is part of his “revisionist” analysis that argued that the Cold War was the fault of the West, with Soviet Policy defensive. I do not find the revisionist view persuasive. I think that what we now know of the history of Eastern Europe suggests that the Soviets were very pro-active in their “defensive” maneuvers. In an alternative history, suppose that the United States makes no effort to create NATO or express an interest in Europe. According to Rothbardian vision, as a result Western Europe would have been left alone and Eastern Europe would have been freed. I think that the former is doubtful and the latter is certainly false.

Similarly, I doubt the Rothbardian vision that Palestine without a Jewish state would become a secular bastion of individual rights. There are indeed many Arabs who have that as an ideal. But they do not seem to hold sway anywhere. The Middle East strikes me as mired in ethnocentrism, coercion, and I daresay barbarism. I understand that Zionism is not a libertarian ideology. But that does not make me particularly excited by anti-Zionism.

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3 Responses to The Three Axes and the Middle East

  1. Ian Buchanan says:

    A little (hopefully constructive) criticism for one of my favorite bloggers:

    1. I don’t think this blog post advanced discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the three axes, or even Golder’s book. I didn’t notice any supported opinions or new ways of looking at things.

    2. Stop mentioning Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand is attractive to some libertarians and repulsive to some non-libertarians. I don’t think there are too many ways you could convince someone NEW to your way of thinking if you distract them by mentioning Ayn Rand. I think there are many people who are irrational about Ayn Rand both positively and negatively.

    I’m interested in your take on the I-P conflict in case you’re considering writing about it again.

  2. guthrie says:

    I can say that coming from a formerly conservative bent, that this is an accurate analysis. I was *very* ‘pro-Israel’ for years, to the point of discounting reports of abuses and violations on the Israeli side. Since I have been persuaded by libertarianism, my stance has significantly softened. I think the issues you bring up there definitely support and highlight your ‘axis’ story that you’ve developed here.

  3. Chris H says:

    I tend to agree that a libertarian view that would say that a Palestinian state would have been less coercive is probably wrong. Just look at Israel’s neighbors in the region. Every one of them has been very oppressive in comparison to Israeli treatment of it’s Arab citizens for instance. Economic outcomes have also been poor in every one of those countries except for the oil producers (and then the entire economy is oil dependent). I’m of the opinion that the “just stay out of it” libertarian ideal is probably the best.

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