April 23, 2002

David Brooks, Israel, and "bourgeoisophobia"

David Brooks argues in The Weekly Standard that Europeans don't like Ariel Sharon's Israel because the Jewish State is "bourgeois" and Europeans suffer from "bourgeoisophobia." I think, though, David is just using the word "bourgeois" here to mean "good," rather than what it actually means. Sharon, himself, would be offended by being called bourgeois. He sees himself as the embodiment of more ancient virtues: he entitled his autobiography Warrior, not Businessman. The entire Zionist project was distinctly antibourgeois. It was heroic, romantic, anti-capitalist, socialist, collectivist, risky, nationalist, militarist, agriculturalist, trade unionist, anti-individualist, ethnocentrist, feminist, myth-driven, and on and on. If the Zionists had wanted to be bourgeois, they could have made a lot more money by moving virtually anywhere else in the world, or even by buying Baja California from Mexico. The Zionists tried to de-bourgeoisify Jews by creating a national economy in which Jews would hold all the jobs, including farmer and soldier, rather than just the bourgeois middle-man-minority jobs at which they made much money, but also elicited dangerous resentment from other peoples.

From an ideological standpoint, it's more than a little strange that the mouthpieces of the American big business Right in America are so attached to this offshoot of the 19th Century European romantic nationalist Left. The neoconservatives should be complimented for rising above narrow doctrinaire prejudices to warmly embrace a country founded on principles they oppose. Ideological purity isn't everything.

What the neocons shouldn't do is distort the nature of Israel to paper over the contradictions in their own views. For example, Larry Kudlow writes in NR: "A free-market Israel has every right to defend itself." But, Israel's hardly a free market paragon - it ranks a mediocre 56th out of 123 countries on the Economic Freedom index. And, surely, Larry also believed that Israel had every right to defend itself back in 1980 when it ranked a miserable 93rd out 107 countries in economic freedom? What nation shouldn't have a right to defend itself? So, why do Brooks and Kudlow make up transparently obvious rationalizations like this? Why not just admit that there are other things deserving of loyalty in this world besides bourgeois values and the free market?

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