by Lee Smith
It’s nothing new for Western intellectuals to lavish attention and admiration on the resistance forces aligned against Israel, whether it’s Hamas or Hezbollah or even organizations like al-Qaida that are less interested in Israel than in killing and maiming Western civilians. Last week, when CNN’s former
Media consumers in the
A common explanation for the turning away of the intellectuals from
However, this would suggest that intellectuals misunderstand a uniquely American concept: The underdog does not win the pity of the chorus because he is crushed by his tormentors; rather, he is the champion who perseveres because the stubborn stars that rule his nature will not permit him to choose otherwise. Perhaps his friends will abandon him, and maybe his family, too; neither his wife nor children signed on for such an arduous journey. If he intends to follow this hard path, he may well travel alone. Such is the stuff of big-ticket American heroism. It is odd that the American intelligentsia cannot recognize in
In reality, of course,
Intellectuals are not interested in the quotidian mediocrity of a functioning democracy.
They are interested in ideas. Once an idea is realized in the form of a political organization that must function on a day-to-day basis, it is difficult for men and women of ideas to stomach the result. For instance, it is very exciting that the
Of course, intellectuals on the right and the left have been wrong about politics these last hundred years more than they have been right (or righteous). George Orwell, after all, is not a major figure who was right about communism; rather, he is a major figure because he was one of the few who was right about communism. Among the great names of
The same search for novelty and individual originality, the same disenchantment with democracy, the same desire to stand outside the mediocrity of mass culture that fueled the modernist revolution in the arts also gave rise to a dispiriting number of mass-murdering political cults, from communism to fascism and Nazism to a number of Western-inspired ideas that were realized elsewhere, from the genocidal regime of Pol Pot to Arab nationalism. Anything to change the status quo, for the West was “a botched civilization,” wrote Ezra Pound, the American poet, “an old bitch gone in the teeth.” This proudly fascist and anti-Semitic modernist master, who made radio broadcasts on Mussolini’s behalf, won the Bollingen prize for poetry in 1949—never mind Pound’s crazy politics, said his defenders, the man was a poet of genius.
You could argue that
But intellectuals are no more rational than the rest of us, and none of us are wholly rational in our politics. The attractiveness of the resistance takes place on an emotional level, for like all of the most intellectually captivating modernist grand concepts it is a rejection of the Enlightenment, the boredom and the mediocrity of regular politics. The Enlightenment did away with the blood, the magic and mysticism of the great leader, he who decides life and death with a word. And this is what is to be recovered in the resistance: the charisma and authenticity of the human being unrestrained by what Nietzsche called slave morality. From Pound and T.S. Eliot to Martin Heidegger and Michel Foucault and their disciples, for a century the West’s greatest minds have taught that the privilege, and duty, of the Western intellectual is to unmake the West, even—or especially—through violence, even if someone else, like the resistance, must serve as the agent of apocalypse and rebirth. The notion that
Some journalists shed tears when Arafat died, others are smitten by the beauty of Islamist militants: The “green eyes” of Hezbollah’s deputy Naim Qassem “are framed by thick, dark lashes and he has long elegant hands.” Saddam Hussein, we are told, did much to advance the rights of women. In
But this attraction of the intellectuals to the flame of the resistance is not simply based on eros alone. There is also the aspect of thanatos, the death instinct. The sad reality is that all organisms—men and the nations they populate—carry within them the seeds of their own end. While the normal run of men unwittingly nurture their demise through the wrong that has become habit and custom, the suicide overruns all limits. In reality, it is not
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