The direction in which industrial society is headed, culturally and socially, is, of course, second to no other question in…
The sense of a radical dehumanization of life which has accompanied events of the past several decades has given rise to the theory of “mass society.” One can say that, Marxism apart, it is probably the most influential social theory in the Western world today. While no single individual has stamped his name on it—to the extent that Marx is associated with the transformation of personal relations under capitalism into commodity values, or Freud with the role of the irrational and unconscious in behavior—the theory is central to the thinking of the principal aristocratic, Catholic, or Existentialist critics of bourgeois society today. These critics—Ortega y Gasset, Karl Mannheim, Karl Jaspers, Paul Tillich, Gabriel Marcel, Emil Lederer, and others—have been concerned, less with the general conditions of freedom, than with the freedom of the person, and with the possibility for some few persons of achieving a sense of individual self in our mechanized society.
The conception of “mass society” can be summarized as follows: The revolutions in transport and communications have brought men into closer contact with each other and bound them in new ways; the division of labor has made them more interdependent; tremors in one part of society affect all others. Despite this greater interdependence, however, individuals have grown more estranged from one another. The old primary group ties of family and local community have been shattered; ancient parochial faiths are questioned; few unifying values have taken their place. Most important, the critical standards of an educated elite no longer shape opinion or taste. As a result, mores and morals are in constant flux, relations between individuals are tangential or compartmentalized rather than organic. At the same time greater mobility, spatial and social, intensifies concern over status. Instead of a fixed or known status symbolized by dress or title, each person assumes a multiplicity of roles and constantly has to prove himself in a succession of new situations. Because of all this, the individual loses a coherent sense of self. His anxieties increase. There ensues a search for new faiths. The stage is thus set for the charismatic leader, the secular messiah, who, by bestowing upon each person the semblance of necessary grace, and of fullness of personality, supplies a substitute for the older unifying belief that the mass society has destroyed.
In a world of lonely crowds seeking individual distinction, where values are constantly translated into economic calculabilities, where in extreme situations shame and conscience can no longer restrain the most dreadful excesses of terror, the theory of the mass society seems a forceful, realistic description of contemporary society, an accurate reflection of the quality and feeling of modern life. But when one seeks to apply the theory of mass society analytically, it becomes very slippery. Ideal types, like the shadows in Plato’s cave, generally never give us more than a silhouette. So, too, with the theory of “mass society.” Each of the statements making up the theory, as set forth in the second paragraph above, might be true, but they do not follow necessarily from one another. Nor can we say that all the conditions described are present at any one time or place. More than that, there is no organizing principle—other than the general concept of a “breakdown of values”—which puts the individual elements of theory together in a logical, meaningful—let alone historical—manner. And when we examine the way the “theory” is used by those who employ it, we find ourselves even more at a loss.
As commonly used in the term “mass media,” . “mass” implies that standardized material is transmitted to “all groups of the population uniformly.” As understood generally by sociologists, a mass is a heterogeneous and undifferentiated audience as opposed to a class, or any parochial and relatively homogeneous segment. Some sociologists have been tempted to go further and make “mass” a rather pejorative term. Because the mass media subject a diverse audience to a common set of cultural materials, it is argued that these experiences must necessarily lie outside the personal—and therefore meaningful—experiences to which the individual responds directly. A movie audience, for example, is a “mass” because the individuals looking at the screen are, in the words of the American sociologist Herbert Blumer, “separate, detached, and anonymous.” The “mass” divorces—or “alienates”—the individual from himself.
As first introduced by the late Ortega y Gasset, however, in his Revolt of the Masses, the word “mass” does not designate a group of persons—for Ortega, workers do not constitute the “masses”—but calls attention to the low quality of modern civilization resulting from the loss of commanding position by an elite. Modern taste, for Ortega, represents the judgment of the unqualified. Modern culture, since it disowns the past, seeks a “free expression of its vital desires”; it becomes, therefore, an unrestrained “spoiled child,” with no controlling standards, “no limit to its caprice.”
Still another meaning is given to the concept by some German writers, for whom mass society is mechanized society. Ernst Jünger asserts that society has become an “apparatus.” The machine impresses its style on man, making life calculable, mathematical, and precise; existence takes on a mask-like character: the steel helmet and the welder’s face-guard symbolize the individual’s disappearance into his technical function. The “regulated man” emerges as a new type, hard and ruthless, a cog in the technological process.
Less romantic, but equally critical, are those theorists who see extreme rationalization and bureaucratization—the over-organization of life—as the salient features of the mass society. The idea of “rationalization” goes back to Hegel and Marx, and along with it the notions of “estrangement” or “alienation,” “reification,” and the “fetishism of commodities”—all of which express the thought that in modern society man has become a “thing,” an object manipulated by society, rather than a subject who can remake life in accordance with his own desires. In our time, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and Karl Mannheim have developed and elaborated these concepts. In Mannheim’s work—notably in his Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction—the diverse strands are all brought together. Mannheim’s argument, put schematically, runs as follows: modern large-scale organizations, oriented exclusively toward efficiency, withdraw all decisions from the shop floor and concentrate direction and planning at the top. This concentration of decision-making not only creates conformity, but stunts the initiative of subordinates and leaves them unsatisfied in their personal needs for gratification and esteem. Normally, the routinization of one’s job dulls the edge of frustration and provides some security. But when unemployment looms, one’s sense of helplessness becomes sharpened, and self-esteem is threatened. Since individuals cannot rationally locate the source of their frustration (i.e., the impersonal bureaucratic system itself), they will under these circumstances seek scapegoats and turn to fascism.
While for Mannheim mass society is equated with monolithic bureaucratization, for Emil Lederer and Hannah Arendt it is defined by the elimination of difference, by uniformity, aimlessness, alienation, and the failure of integration. In Lederer’s view, society is made up of many social groups which, so long as society is stratified, can exercise only partial control over the others. As long as this situation obtains, irrational emotions are thus kept within some bounds. But when the lines dividing social groups break down, then the people become volatile, febrile “masses” ready to be manipulated by a leader. Similarly, for Hannah Arendt, the revolt of the masses is a revolt against the “loss of social status along with which [is] lost the whole sector of communal relationships in whose framework common sense makes sense. . . . The masses [become] obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental incomprehensible aspects.” Because modern life sunders all social bonds, and because the techniques of modern communication have perfected the conditions under which propaganda can sway masses, the “age of the masses” is now upon us.
What strikes one first about these varied uses of the concept of mass society is how little they reflect or relate to the complex, richly striated social relations of the real world. Take Blumer’s example of the movie audience as “separate, detached, and anonymous.” Presumably a large number of individuals, because they have been subjected to similar experiences, now share some common psychological reality in which the differences between individual and individual become blurred; and accordingly we get the sociological assumption that each person is now of “equal weight,” and therefore a sampling of what such disparate individuals say they think constitutes “mass opinion.” But is this so? Individuals are not tabulae rasae. They bring varying social conceptions to the same experience, and go away with dissimilar responses. They may be silent, separate, detached, and anonymous while watching the movie, but afterward they talk about it with friends and exchange opinions and judgments. They are once again members of particular social groups. Would one say that several hundred or a thousand individuals home alone at night, but all reading the same book, constitute a “mass?”
One could argue, of course, that reading a book is a qualitatively different experience from going to a movie. But this leads precisely to the first damaging ambiguity in the theory of the mass society. Two things are mixed up in that theory: a judgment as to the quality of modern experience—with much of which any sensitive individual would agree—and a presumed scientific statement concerning the disorganization of society created by industrialization and by the demand of the masses for equality. It is the second of these statements with which this essay quarrels, not the first.
Behind the theory of social disorganization lies a romantic notion of the past that sees society as having once been made up of small “organic,” close-knit communities (called Gemeinschaften in the terminology of the sociologists) that were shattered by industrialism and modern life, and replaced by a large impersonal “atomistic” society (called Gesellschaft) which is unable to provide the basic gratifications and call forth the loyalties that the older communities knew.1 These distinctions are, however, completely riddled by value judgments. Everyone is against atomism and for “organic living.” But if we substitute, with good logic, the term “total” for “organic,” and “individualistic” for “atomistic,” the whole argument looks quite different. In any case, a great weakness in the theory is its lack of history-mindedness. The transition to a mass society, if it be such, was not effected suddenly, explosively, within a single lifetime, but took generations to mature. In its sociological determinism, the hypothesis overlooks the human capacity for adaptiveness and creativeness, for ingenuity in shaping new social forms. Such new forms may be trade unions whose leaders rise from the ranks—there are 50,000 trade union locals in this country that form little worlds of their own—or the persistence under new conditions of ethnic groups and solidarities.
Because romantic feeling colors critical judgment, the attacks on modern life often have an unduly strong emotional charge. The image of “facelessness,” for example, is given a metaphysical twist by Gabriel Marcel: “The individual, in order to belong to the mass . . . has had to . . . divest himself of that substantial reality which was linked to his initial individuality. . . . The incredibly sinister role of the press, the cinema, the radio has consisted in passing that original reality through a pair of flattening rollers to substitute for it a superimposed pattern of ideas, an image with no real roots in the deep being of the subject of this experiment.” Perhaps terms like “original reality” and “real roots in the deep being” have a meaning that escapes an empiricist temper, but without the press, the radio, etc., etc.—and they are not monolithic—in what way, short of being everywhere at once, can one learn of events that take place elsewhere? Or should one go back to the happy ignorance of earlier days?
Some of the images of life in the mass society as presented by its critics border on caricature. According to Ernst Jünger, traffic demands traffic regulations, and so the public becomes conditioned to automatism. Karl Jaspers has written that in the “technical mass order” the home is transformed “into a lair or sleeping place.” Even more puzzling is the complaint against modern medicine. “In medical practice . . . patients are now dealt with in the mass according to the principle of rationalization, being sent to institutes for technical treatment, the sick being classified in groups and referred to this or that specialized department. . . . The supposition is that, like everything else, medical treatment has become a sort of manufactured article.”
The attack on the mass society sometimes widens into an attack on science itself. For Ortega, “the scientific man is the prototype of the mass-man” because science, by encouraging specialization, has made the scientist “hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations.” Ortega draws from this the sweeping conclusion that “the most immediate result of this unbalanced specialization has been that today, when there are more ‘scientists’ than ever, there are much less ‘cultured’ men than, for example, about 1750.” But how is one to verify such a comparison between 1750 and the present. Even if we could establish comparable categories, surely Ortega would have been the first to shy away from statistical comparisons. Moreover, can we assume that, because a man specializes in his work, he is unable in his leisure, and in reflection, to appreciate culture? And what is “culture”? Would not Ortega admit that we have more knowledge of the world than in 1750—knowledge not only of nature, but of the inner life of. man? Is knowledge to be divorced from culture, or is “true culture” a narrow area of classical learning in which eternal truths reside?
But more than mere contradictions in usage, ambiguities in terminology, and a lack of historical sense are involved in the theory of the mass society. It is at heart a defense of an aristocratic cultural tradition—a tradition that does carry with it an important but neglected conception of liberty—and a doubt that the large mass of mankind can ever become truly educated or acquire an appreciation of culture. Thus, the theory often becomes a conservative defense of privilege. This defense is so extreme at times as to pose a conflict between “culture” and “social justice.” The argument (reminiscent of the title of Matthew Arnold’s book, Culture and Anarchy) is made that any attempts at social betterment must harm culture. And while mainly directed against “bourgeois” society, the theory also strikes at radicalism and its egalitarian notions.
The fear of the “mass” has its roots in the dominant conservative tradition of Western political thought, which in large measure still shapes many of the political and sociological categories of social theory—i.e., in authoritarian definitions of leadership, and in the image of the “mindless masses.” The picture of the “mass” as capable only of violence and excess originates with Aristotle’s Politics. In his threefold typology, democracy is equated with the rule of hoi polloi—who are easily swayed by demagogues—and must degenerate into tyranny. This notion of the masses as developed in Hellenistic times was deepened by the struggles between plebs and aristocracy in the Roman republic and by the efforts of the Caesars to exploit mob support; the image of the insensate mob fed by “bread and circuses” became deeply imprinted in history. Early Christian theory justified its fear of the masses with a theory about human nature. In the religious terms of Augustine—as later in the secularized version of Hobbes—the Earthly City bore an ineradicable stain of blood: property and police were the consequences of the Fall of Man; property and police were evidence, therefore, not of man’s civilization, but of his corruption. In heaven there would be neither private property nor government.
It was the French Revolution that transplanted the image of the “mindless masses” into modern consciousness. The destruction of the ancien régime and the rallying cry of “equality” sharpened the fear of conservative, and especially Catholic, critics that traditional values (meaning political, social, and religious dogma) would be destroyed.2 For a Tocqueville and an Acton, there was an irreducible conflict between liberty and equality; liberty guaranteed each man the right to be different, whereas equality meant a “leveling” of tastes to the lowest common denominator. For a Max Scheler, as well as an Ortega, the mass society meant a “democracy of the emotions” which could only unleash irrational forces. For the Catholic de Maistre, as for the Anglican T. S. Eliot, the equality of men meant the destruction of the harmony and authority so necessary to a healthy, integrated society.
Important as these conceptions are as reminders of the meaning of excellence, and of liberty, they reflect a narrow conception of human potentialities. The question of social change has to be seen against the large political canvas. The starting point of modern politics, as Karl Mannheim has pointed out, came after the Reformation when chiliasm, or religiously inspired millennial striving to bring about heaven on earth, became an expression of the demands for social and economic betterment of the lower strata of society. Blind resentment of things as they were was thereby given principle, reason, and eschatological force, and directed to definite political goals. The equality of all souls became the equality of all individuals and the right of everyone, as enlightened by progressive revelation, to make a judgment on society. Comte, the father of modern sociology, expressed great horror at the idea of this universal right to one’s own opinion. No community could exist, he wrote, unless its members had a certain degree of confidence in one another, and this, he said, was incompatible with the right of everyone to submit the very foundations of society to discussion whenever he felt like it. In calling attention to the dangers of free criticism, Comte pointed to the decline in public morals as evidenced by the increase of divorces, the effacement of traditional class distinctions, and the ensuing impudence of individual ambitions. It was part of the function of government, he thought, to prevent the diffusion of ideas and the anarchic spread of intellectual freedom.
Modern society, apparently, does not bear Comte out: though the foundations of privilege go on being challenged in the name of justice, society does not collapse. Few moralists would now uphold the bleak view once expressed by Malthus that “from the inevitable laws of human nature some human beings will be exposed to want. These are the unhappy persons who in the great lottery of life have drawn a blank.” The most salient fact about modern life—capitalist and Communist—is the ideological commitment to social change. And by change is meant the striving for material economic betterment, greater opportunity for individuals to exercise their talents, and an appreciation of culture by wider masses of people. Can any society deny these aspirations?
It is curious that in these “aristocratic” critiques of modern society, refracted as they are through the glass of an idealized feudal past, democracy is identified with equality alone. The role of constitutionalism and of the rule of law which, with universal suffrage, are constituent elements of the Western democratic structure, are overlooked. The picture of modem culture as debauched by concessions to popular taste—a picture that leaves out the great rise in the general appreciation of culture—is equally overdrawn. If it is granted that mass society is compartmentalized, superficial in personal relations, anonymous, transitory, specialized, utilitarian, competitive, acquisitive, mobile, status-hungry, etc., etc., the obverse side of the coin must be shown too—the right to privacy, to free choice of friends and occupation, status on the basis of achievement rather than of ascription, a plurality of norms and standards rather than the exclusive and monopolistic social controls of a single dominant group, etc., etc. For if, as Sir Henry Maine once put it, the movement of modern society has been from status to contract, then it has been, in that light, a movement from a fixed place in the world to possible freedom.
The early theorists of the mass society (Ortega, Marcel) focussed attention on the “deterioration of excellence,” while the later theorists (Mannheim, Lederer, Arendt) called attention to the way in which the over-organization and, at the same time, the disruption of the social fabric facilitated the rise of fascism. Recently, in the light of Communist successes, the argument has been advanced that the mass society, because it cannot provide for the individual’s real participation in effective social groups, is particularly vulnerable to Communist penetration, and that the mass organization, because it is so unwieldy, is peculiarly susceptible to Communist penetration and manipulation. (See Philip Selznick’s study, The Organizational Weapon.) Certainly, the Communists have scored enormous successes in infiltration, and their “front” organization may be counted one of the great political inventions of our century. But without discounting Communist techniques, the real problem here lies less with the “mass society” as such (aside from the excuse it affords disaffected intellectuals for attacks on modern culture) than in the capacity or incapacity of the given social order to satisfy the demands for social mobility and higher standards of living that arise once social change is under way. This is the key to any radical appeal.
It is not poverty per se that leads people to revolt; poverty most often induces fatalism and despair, and a reliance, embodied in ritual and superstitious practices, on supernatural help. Social tensions are an expression of unfulfilled expectations. It is only when expectations are aroused that radicalism can take hold. Radical strength is greatest (and here the appeal of Communism must be seen as a variant of the general appeal of radicalism) in societies where awareness of class differences runs deep, expectations of social advancement outstrip possibilities, and the establishments of culture fail to make room for aspiring intellectuals.
It is among industrial workers rather than apathetic peasants (in Milan rather than Calabria), among frustrated intellectuals rather than workers long unionized (e.g. India), that radicalism spreads. Resentment, as Max Scheler once noted, is among the most potent of human motives; it is certainly that in politics. It is in the advanced industrial countries, principally the Untied States, Britain, and Northwestern Europe, where national income has been rising, where mass expectations of an equitable share in that increase are relatively fulfilled, and where social mobility affects ever greater numbers, that extremist politics have least hold. It may be, as the late Joseph Schumpeter pessimistically believed, that, in newly awakened societies like Asia’s, the impatient expectations of key social strata, particularly the intellectuals, may so exceed the actual possibilities of economic expansion that Communism will come to look like the only plausible solution to the majority.3 Whether this will happen in India and Indonesia is one of the crucial political questions of the next decade. But at any rate it is not the mass society, but the inability, pure and simple, of any society to meet impatient popular expectations that makes for a strong response to radical appeals.
From the viewpoint of the mass society hypothesis, the United States ought to be exceptionally vulnerable to the politics of disaffection. In our country, urbanization, industrialization, and democratization have eroded older primary and community ties on a scale unprecedented in social history. Yet, though large-scale unemployment during the depression was more prolonged and more severe here than in any country in Western Europe, the Communist movement never gained a real foothold in the United States, nor has any fascist movement on a European model arisen. How does one explain this?
It is asserted that the United States is an “atomized” society composed of lonely, isolated individuals. One forgets the truism, expressed sometimes as a jeer, that Americans are a nation of joiners. There are in the United States today at least 200,000 voluntary organizations, associations, clubs, societies, lodges, and fraternities with an aggregate (but obviously overlapping) membership of close to eighty million men and women. In no other country in the world, probably, is there such a high degree of voluntary communal activity, expressed sometimes in absurd rituals, yet often providing real satisfactions for real needs.
“It is natural for the ordinary American,” wrote Gunnar Myrdal, “when he sees something that is wrong to feel not only that there should be a law against it, but also that an organization should be formed to combat it.” Some of these voluntary organizations are pressure groups—business, farm, labor, veterans, trade associations, the aged, etc., etc.—but thousands more are like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, the American Jewish Committee, the Parent-Teachers Associations, local community-improvement groups, and so on, each of which affords hundreds of individuals concrete, emotionally shared activities.
Equally astonishing are the number of ethnic group organizations in this country carrying on varied cultural, social, and political activities. The number of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, Czech, Finnish, Bulgarian, Bessarabian, and other national groups, their hundreds of fraternal, communal, and political groups, each playing a role in the life of America, is staggering. In December 1954, for example, when the issue of Cyprus was first placed before the United Nations, the Justice for Cyprus Committee, “an organization of American citizens,” according to its statement, took a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to plead the right of that small island to self-determination. Among the groups listed in the Justice for Cyprus Committee were: the Order of Ahepa, the Daughters of Penelope, the Pan-Laconian Federation, the Cretan Federation, the Pan-Messian Federation, the Pan-Icarian Federation, the Pan-Epirotic Federation of America, the Pan-Thracian Association, the Pan-Elian Federation of America, the Dodecanesian League of America, the Pan-Macedonian Association of America, the Pan-Samian Association, the Federation of Sterea Ellas, the Cyprus Federation of America, the Pan-Arcadian Federation, the GAPA, and the Federation of Hellenic Organizations.
We can be sure that if, in a free world, the question of the territorial affiliation of Ruthenia were to come up before the United Nations, dozens of Hungarian, Rumanian, Ukrainian, Slovakian, and Czech “organizations of American citizens” would rush eagerly into print to plead the justice of the claims of their respective homelands to Ruthenia.
Even in urban neighborhoods, where anonymity is presumed to flourish, the extent of local ties is astounding. Within the city limits of Chicago, for example, there are eighty-two community newspapers with a total weekly circulation of almost 1,000,000; within Chicago’s larger metropolitan area, there are 181. According to standard sociological theory, these local papers providing news and gossip about neighbors should slowly decline under the pressure of the national media. Yet the reverse is true. In Chicago, the number of such newspapers has increased 165 per cent since 1910; in those forty years circulation has jumped 770 per cent. As sociologist Morris Janowitz, who studied these community newspapers, observed: “If society were as impersonal, as self-centered and barren as described by some who are preoccupied with the oneway trend from ‘Gemeinschaft’ to ‘Gesellschaft’ seem to believe, the levels of criminalty, social disorganization and psychopathology which social science seeks to account for would have to be viewed as very low rather than (as viewed now) alarmingly high.”
It may be argued that the existence of such a large network of voluntary associations says little about the cultural level of the country concerned. It may well be, as Ortega maintains, that cultural standards throughout the world have declined (in everything—architecture, dress, design?), but nonetheless a greater proportion of the population today participates in worthwhile cultural activities. This has been almost an inevitable concomitant of the doubling—literally—of the American standard of living over the last fifty years. The rising levels of education have meant rising appreciation of culture. In the United States more dollars are spent on concerts of classical music than on baseball. Sales of books have doubled in a decade. There are over a thousand symphony orchestras, and several hundred museums, institutes, and colleges purchasing art in the United States today. Various other indices can be cited to show the growth of a vast middlebrow society. And in coming years, with steadily increasing productivity and leisure, the United States will become even more actively a “consumer” of culture. (These changes pose important questions for the development of a “high culture,” but that problem lies outside the scope of this essay—see Clement Greenberg’s “The Plight of Our Culture,” Commentary, June and July 1953.)
It has been argued that the American mass society imposes an excessive conformity upon its members. But it is hard to discern who is conforming to what. The New Republic cries that “hucksters are sugar-coating the culture.” The National Review, organ of the “radical right,” raises the banner of iconoclasm against the liberal domination of opinion-formation in our society. Fortune decries the growth of “organization man.” Each of these tendencies exists, yet in historical perspective, there is probably less conformity to an over-all mode of conduct today than at any time within the last half-century in America. True, there is less bohemianism than in the twenties (though increased sexual tolerance), and less political radicalism than in the thirties (though the New Deal enacted sweeping reforms). But does the arrival at a political dead-center mean the establishment, too, of a dead norm? I do not think so. One would be hard put to it to find today the “conformity” Main Street exacted of Carol Kennicott thirty years ago. With rising educational levels, more individuals are able to indulge a wider variety of interests. (“Twenty years ago you couldn’t sell Beethoven out of New York,” reports a record salesman. “Today we sell Palestrina, Monteverdi, Gabrielli, and Renaissance and Baroque music in large quantities.”)
One hears, too, the complaint that divorce, crime, and violence demonstrate a widespread social disorganization in the country. But the rising number of divorces, as Dennis Wrong pointed out (Commentary, April 1950), indicates not the disruption of the family, but a freer, more individualistic basis of choice, and the emergence of the “companionship” marriage. And as regards crime, I have sought to demonstrate (in Fortune, January 1955) that there is actually much less crime and violence (though more vicarious violence through movies and TV, and more “windows” onto crime, through the press) than was the case twenty-five and fifty years ago. Certainly, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York were much rougher and tougher cities in those years. But violent crime, which is usually a lower-class phenomenon, was then contained within the ecological boundaries of the slum; hence one can recall quiet, tree-lined, crime-free areas and feel that the tenor of life was more even in the past. But a cursory look at the accounts of those days—the descriptions of the gang wars, bordellos, and street-fighting in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, New York’s Five Points, or Chicago’s First Ward—would show how much more violent in the past the actual life of those cities was.
At this point it becomes quite apparent that such large-scale abstractions as “the mass society,” with the implicit diagnoses of social disorganization and decay that derive from them, are rather meaningless without standards of comparison. Social and cultural change is probably greater and more rapid today in the United States than in any other country, but the assumption that social disorder and anomie inevitably attend such change is not borne out in this case.
This may be owing to the singular fact that the United States is probably the first large society in history to have change and innovation “built into” its culture. Almost all human societies, traditionalist and habit-ridden as they1 have been and still are, tend to resist change. The great efforts to industrialize under-developed countries, increase worker mobility in Europe, and broaden markets—so necessary to the raising of productivity and standards of living—are again and again frustrated by ingrained resistance to change. Thus in the Soviet Union change has been introduced only by dint of wholesale coercion. In the United States—a culture with no feudal tradition; with a pragmatic ethos, as expressed by Jefferson, that regards God as a “workman”; with a boundless optimism and a restless eagerness for the new that has been bred out of the original conditions of a huge, richly endowed land—change, and the readiness to change, have become the norm. This indeed may be why those consequences of change predicted by theorists basing themselves on European precedent find small confirmation.
The mass society is the product of change—and is itself change. But the theory of the mass society affords us no view of the relations of the parts of the society to each other that would enable us to locate the sources of change. We may not have enough data on which to sketch an alternative theory, but I would argue that certain key factors, in this country at least, deserve to be much more closely examined than they have been.
The change from a society once geared to frugal saving and now impelled to spend dizzily; the break-up of family capitalism, with the consequent impact on corporate structure and political power; the centralization of decisionmaking, politically, in the state and, economically, in a group of large corporate bodies; the rise of status and symbol groups replacing specific interest groups—indicate that new social forms are in the making, and with them still greater changes in the complexion of life under mass society. With these may well come new status anxieties—aggravated by the threats of war—changed character structures, and new moral tempers.
The moralist may have his reservations or give approval—as some see in the break-up of the family the loss of a source of essential values, while others see in the new, freer marriages a healthier form of companionship—but the singular fact is that these changes emerge in a society that is now providing one answer to the great challenge posed to Western—and now world—society over the last two hundred years: how, within the framework of freedom, to increase the living standards of the majority of people, and at the same time maintain or raise cultural levels. American society, for all its shortcomings, its speed, its commercialism, its corruption, still, I believe, shows us the most humane way.
The theory of the mass society no longer serves as a description of Western society, but as an ideology of romantic protest against contemporary society. This is a time when other areas of the globe are beginning to follow in the paths of the West, which may be all to the good as far as material things are concerned; but many of the economically underdeveloped countries, especially in Asia, have caught up the shopworn self-critical Western ideologies of the 19th century and are using them against the West, to whose “materialism” they oppose their “spirituality.” What these Asian and our own intellectuals fail to realize, perhaps, is that one may be a thorough going critic of one’s own society without being an enemy of its promises.
1 This antithesis, associated usually with the German sociologist Tonnies, is central in one way or another to almost every major modern social theory: Weber’s traditional-rational behavior, Durkheim’s mechanical-organic solidarity, Redfield’s folk-urban society, and so on.
2 Nazism, in the view of modern conservative and Catholic critics, is not a reaction against, but the inevitable end-product of, democracy. Hitler was a new version of the classical demagogue, leading the mindless masses in nihilistic revolt against the traditional culture of Europe.
3 As Morris Watnick has pointed out in a pioneering study (in the University of Chicago symposium The Progress of Underdeveloped Areas), the Communist parties of Asia are completely the handiwork of native intellectuals. The history of the Chinese Communist party from Li Ta-Chao and Ch’en Tu-hsu, its founders, to Mao Tse-tung and Liu Shao-Chi, its present leaders, “is virtually an unbroken record of a party controlled by intellectuals.” This is equally true of India, “where in 1943, 86 of 139 [Communist] delegates were members of professional and intellectual groups.” The same pattern also holds true “for the Communist parties of Indochina, Thailand, Burma, Malaya and Indonesia, all of which show a heavy preponderance of journalists, lawyers and teachers among the top leadership.”
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When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.
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A conservative rethinks race and policing.
A week since an off-duty Dallas police officer shot and killed her neighbor in his own home, numerous unanswered questions bedevil investigators. Among them: How and why did the officer, Amber Guyger, end up in a different flat than her own that night? Did she mistake his apartment for hers, as she has claimed, or did she force her way inside, as some eyewitness reports seem to suggest?
More questions: Did the two neighbors know each other? Was there bad blood between them from the past? Or were they like two strange vessels floating in dark waters, the one accidentally ramming the other and sinking it? What really transpired between shooter and victim in that bleak, brief, and irrevocable instant that extinguished the life of Botham Shem Jean—a professional, a stalwart of his church, a black man, a human being?
America’s adversarial system of justice will, I expect, answer most of these questions in due course. But one fact is already inescapable: Even within the four walls of his castle, his home, Jean was not safe from undue police violence. As a CNN observer argued recently, even “living while black” can, well, end black men’s lives. And this should impel those of us on the right to drop the tendency to reflexively rally behind law enforcers in such cases and our corresponding tendency to dismiss claims about racial injustice in our system.
The arguments in favor of these reflexes are well-known to me. I know that day-in, day-out, legions of American law enforcers risk their lives to protect and to serve. That the vast majority of these men and women aren’t power-tripping bigots or trigger-happy lunatics. That, on the contrary, these are well-trained but fallible human beings, whose job requires them to make snap judgments in which life and death are at stake.
I know, too, that street thuggery and “black-on-black crime” are, statistically speaking, the far greater menace to African-American lives than potentially fatal encounters with the police. That often the police officers doing the shootings, whether justly or unjustly, are themselves black or Hispanic. That family members of those unjustly shot by police have many legal means for making themselves whole.
I know that in some of the most notorious cases, the suspects increased the danger to their lives by acting foolishly, defying verbal commands, and so forth. And I know that if officers feel too hamstrung by litigation or public scrutiny, it may actually cause them to become less vigilant in enforcing the law, thereby putting yet more black lives at risk.
All of this is true. I know these arguments through and through, and I have often made them, in these pages and elsewhere. And yet, and yet, there is the inescapable fact that, one night, Botham Shem Jean came to his own apartment, probably seeking a few hours’ shuteye after a long day at work, only to be shot and killed by an off-duty officer with questionable, if not outright malicious, judgment. One minute, Botham Shem Jean was a beloved son, coworker, and church member. The next minute, he was dead. And for what? Who can say?
The typical arguments marshaled in favor of the policing status quo can’t, and shouldn’t, be used to justify or pooh-pooh the raw, awful reality of this violation. Neither procedural safeguards nor statistics about black criminality should deafen us to the cries for substantive justice that ring out from the African-American community when a black man is shot within the four walls of his own home by an intruder with a badge.
Nor should conservatives harden their hearts when African-Americans point to the persistence of a certain racial pattern in these violent encounters. Assuming Guyger’s account is true, for example, did she instantly assume she was facing a “burglar” owing to the color of Jean’s skin? If so, is that evidence that implicit bias exists? We can’t yet be sure. Officer fatigue, bad lighting, a misunderstanding, the coarseness and alienation of American urban life—all of these may have been a factor. All could mitigate or extenuate Guyger’s culpability.
But the point is this: After Botham Shem Jean, conservatives should be a little less quick to insist that we don’t have systemic problems. I know I will.
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The Elon Musk problem.
No one has ever mistaken me for a business writer. Show me a balance sheet or quarterly report, and my eyes will glaze over. Bring up “chasing alpha” at the bar, and I’ll ask for the check and give you the old Irish goodbye. Business chatter—the kind you can’t help but overhear from young stockjobbers at the gym and bloaty middle managers on the Acela—bores me to tears. I’m especially allergic to the idea of “The Market” as an autonomous, anthropomorphic entity with a unitary will and mind of its own.
But even I can tell you that Elon Musk is imploding.
The latest omen came Friday when footage of the South African-born magnate smoking a fat marijuana blunt dropped online. The video is worth watching; the Guardian has the key bits from the 150-minute interview (do people really watch interviews this long?).
Rogan, whose fame has been a mystery to many yet is an inescapable fact of our online lives, offers the joint to Musk but is quick to add: “You probably can’t [smoke it] because of stockholders, right?” (On second thought, I think I know why Rogan is famous—because he knows how to push his subjects’ buttons.)
“I mean it’s legal, right?” Musk replies.
And so Elon Musk—the founder of an electric-car company worth $50 billion and a rocket company worth $20 billion—presses the blunt between his lips and takes a drag. He washes it down with a sip of whiskey on the rocks.
“I’m not a regular smoker of weed,” Musk says a few minutes later. “I almost never [smoke it]. I mean, it’s it’s—I don’t actually notice any effect.” His speech by now is noticeably more halting than it has been earlier in the interview. “I know a lot of people like weed, and that’s fine. But I don’t find that it is very good for productivity.”
The Market was not amused. News of two senior Tesla executives quitting their jobs broke soon after the interview appeared. Tesla shares slid 8 percent. On Twitter, where he competes with President Trump for the World Megalomaniac Award, Musk tweeted out his Rogan interview, adding: “I am a business magnet.” Perhaps he was still coming down.
These disasters follow the summer’s going-private fiasco. In early August, Musk claimed he had secured the vast funding needed to take his company private and then did a switcheroo. Tesla short-sellers, whom Musk constantly tries to show up, were vindicated. The Market got angry; shares slid.
“Moving forward, we will continue to focus on what matters most,” Musk wrote in a statement to investors two weeks later, “building products that people love and that make a difference to the shared future of life on Earth. We’ve shown that we can make great sustainable energy products, and we now need to show that we can be sustainably profitable.”
That apparently entails shooting the THC-laden breeze with Joe Rogan for two and a half hours.
The question now is: How did Musk ever get so big in the first place? There were many Tesla-skeptics, of course, chief among them those very short-sellers. They were onto something, perhaps because they sensed that a sound inventor-investor-executive would be more concerned with producing a reliable, profitable, non-subsidized automobile than with . . . showing up short-sellers. Even so, Tesla shares climbed and climbed. Even now, after Friday’s Harold and Kumar routine, the stock is trading north of $260.
Two explanations come to mind. The first is that, after Steve Jobs’s death, Wall Street and Silicon Valley types were seeking the next Eccentric Visionary to whom they could hitch their dreams. And Musk was straight out of central casting for Eccentric Visionary. Ending climate change. Colonizing Mars. Super-trains linking cities across vast distances. Everything seemed possible with him. Who knows, maybe the hopes were well-placed at one point, and the adulation went to the man’s head?
The second explanation, which needn’t be mutually exclusive with the first, is ideology. So much of Musk’s business reputation rested on his claims of solving climate change and other planetary crises that loom large in the minds of the Davos crowd. Musk embodied the ideological proposition that no modern problem eludes solution by noble-minded technocratic elites. The Market, it turns out, was as prone to magical thinking as any of the rest of us.
Clarification: News of the Tesla executives’ departure broke following Musk’s pot-smoking interview, but at least one of the departures had been finalized earlier this week.
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The course the West followed has been a disaster.
The West has squandered the last, best opportunity to rid the world of the criminal regime in Syria.
Damascus was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979, and it has lived up to that title every year since. Syria’s descent into civil war presented several opportunities to dispense with the despot in Damascus and avert a crisis in the process, but they were all ignored. As I wrote for National Review, Syria is a case study in the perils of ideological non-interventionism. The results of the West’s over-reliance on covert action, outsourcing, and diplomacy in Syria is arguably the worst-case scenario.
Had Barack Obama not abandoned his infamous “red line” in 2013, the U.S. might have preserved the 100-year prohibition on the battlefield use of chemical weapons. The collapse of that taboo has been rapid and terrifying. In the years that followed, chemical arms have been regularly deployed in Syria, and rogue powers have been using complex nerve agents on foreign (even allied) soil in reckless state-sponsored assassination campaigns.
Ideological adherence to non-interventionism well after it had proven an untenable course of action allowed the flourishing of terrorist organizations. Some parties in the West with a political interest in isolationism deliberately confused these terrorist groups with secularist movements led by Assad regime defectors. In the years that followed, those moderate rebel factions were crushed or corrupted while Islamist terror networks, which provided a politically valuable contrast to the “civilized” regime in Damascus, were patronized and nurtured by Assad.
The incubation of terrorist organizations eventually necessitated the kind of American military intervention Obama had so desperately sought to avoid, but at a time and place not of America’s choosing and with a footprint too small to achieve any permanent solution to the crisis. All the while, a great human tide poured out from Syria in all directions, but especially into Europe. There, an influx of unassimilated migrants eroded the continent’s post-War political consensus and catalyzed the rise of illiberal populist factions.
Even as late as the summer of 2015, there was still time for the West to summon the courage to do what was necessary. In a stunning speech that summer, Assad himself admitted that Syrian forces suffered from “a lack of human resources” amid Western estimates that nearly half the 300,000-strong Syrian army had been killed, captured, or deserted. “Based on current trend lines, it is time to start thinking about a post-Assad Syria,” an intelligence source told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. But Obama dithered still. Just a few short weeks later, Vladimir Putin, upon whom Obama relied to help him weasel out of his pledge to punish Assad for his crimes, intervened in Syria on Damascus’s behalf. That was when the greatest crimes began.
Russian intervention in Syria began not with attacks on “terrorists,” as Moscow claimed, but with attacks on covert CIA installations and arms depots; a dangerous campaign that continued well into the Trump era. The Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian allies then embarked on a scorched-earth campaign. They bombed civilian neighborhoods and hospitals and maternity wards. They surrounded the liberated cities of Homs and Aleppo, barraging and starving their people into submission. They even targeted and destroyed a United Nations aid convey before it could relieve the famine imposed by Damascus. All the while, Moscow’s propagandists mocked reports of these atrocities, and the children who stumbled bloodied and ashen from the ruins of their homes were deemed crisis actors by Russian officials and their Western mouthpieces.
America’s strategic obligations in Syria did not diminish with Russian intervention. They increased, but so too did the danger. Early on, Russian forces concentrated not just on attacking Assad’s Western-backed enemies but on harassing NATO-aligned forces that were already operating in the Syrian theater. Russian warplanes harassed U.S. drones, painted allied assets with radar, conducted near-miss fly-bys of U.S. warships and airplanes in the region, and repeatedly violated Turkish airspace. This conduct was so reckless that, in November of 2015, NATO-allied Turkish anti-aircraft fire downed a Russian jet. On the ground, Moscow and Washington engaged in the kind of proxy fighting unseen since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as U.S.-manufactured armaments were routinely featured in rebel-made films of successful attacks on Russian tanks and APCs.
In the years that followed this intensely dangerous period, the Syrian state did not recover. Instead, Syrian forces withdrew to a narrow area along the coast and around the capital and left behind a vacuum that has been filled by competing great powers. Iran, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and the United States, to say nothing of their proxy forces, are all competing to control and pacify portions of the country. Even if the terrorist threat is one day permanently neutralized in Syria—a prospect that today seems far off, considering these nations’ conflicting definition of what constitutes a terrorist—the state of competition among these powers ensures that the occupation of Syrian territory will continue for the foreseeable future.
And now, the final battle is upon the rebels. On Friday, hundreds of Syrians waving the “independence flag” poured into the streets of Idlib, the last of the country’s free cities, begging the international community to spare them from the onslaught that has already begun. The United Nations has warned that up to 800,000 people could be displaced in Damascus’s efforts to retake the rebel-held enclave, and the worst of the seven-year war’s humanitarian disasters may be yet to come.
Over the last two weeks, the United States has issued some ominous warnings. Senior American officials have begun telling reporters that the evidence is increasing of Damascus’s moving chemical munitions near the frontlines with the intent of using them on civilians. Trump administration officials announced in no uncertain terms that they would respond to another chemical attack with disproportionate force.
In response to these threats, Moscow deployed the biggest Russian naval taskforce on the Syrian coast since 2015. Simultaneously, Russia has warned of its intent to strike “militant” positions in the country’s Southwest, where U.S. soldiers routinely patrol. American forces are holding firm, for now, and the Pentagon insists that uniformed personnel are at liberty to defend themselves if they come under assault. If there is a conflict, it wouldn’t be the first time Americans and Russians have engaged in combat in Syria.
In February, Russian mercenaries and Syrian soldiers reinforcing columns of T-72 tanks and APCs armed with 125-millimeter guns engaged a position just east of the Euphrates River held by American Green Berets and Marines. The four-hour battle that ensued resulted in hundreds of Russian fatalities, but it may only have been a terrible sign of things to come.
Of course, a Western-led intervention in the Syrian conflict would have been accompanied by its own set of setbacks. What’s more, the political backlash and dysfunction that would have accompanied another difficult occupation in the Middle East perhaps presented policymakers with insurmountable obstacles. But the course the West followed instead has been a disaster.
The lessons of the Syrian civil war are clear: The U.S. cannot stay out of destabilizing conflicts in strategically valuable parts of the world, no matter how hard it tries. The humanitarian and political disasters that resulted from Western indifference to the Syrian plight is a grotesque crime that posterity will look upon with contempt. Finally, the failure to enforce prohibitions against chemical-weapons use on the battlefield has emboldened those who would use them recklessly. American soldiers will suffer the most in a world in which chemical warfare is the status quo of the battlefield of the future.
American interventionists are often asked by their opponents to reckon with the bloodshed and geopolitical instability their policies encourage. If only non-interventionists would do the same.
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And the demands of realpolitik.
Earlier this week, my housekeeper, Mary, arrived to work decked out in a bright red T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who came to Israel last Sunday for a three-day official visit.
Mary was at the Knesset on Monday, one of several hundred Filipino workers among approximately 28,000 in Israel, enthusiastically cheering her strongman president.
I asked her what she thought of Duterte–a leader who makes President Trump seem eloquent and measured, by comparison–and I was taken aback by her effusive, unhesitating endorsement: “Oh,” she enthused, “he is a very good president! The best!”
“But,” I suggested, carefully, “he says and does some pretty extreme, crazy things. Does that concern you at all?”
“Oh, no!” she collapsed in laughter. “He doesn’t mean that. It’s just his style.”
Indeed, Duterte has “style.” Bragging of his intent to kill millions of Filipino drug addicts, and invoking Hitler and his genocidal rampage, approvingly, in this context; referring to President Obama as a “son of a whore”; boasting of his parsimony in keeping multiple mistresses available in low-end hotels; approving of sexually assaulting women, particularly attractive ones. And then there was the outburst during the Pope’s visit to the very Catholic Philippines in 2015 when Duterte called him a “son of a bitch” for causing a traffic jam while in Manila.
Mary is not a simple woman. She is university educated, hard-working, pleasant, and respectful. And whatever makes her overlook Duterte’s thuggish tendencies should interest us all, because there are many Marys the world over supporting populist leaders and governments. Mary admires Duterte’s strength of conviction in dealing with drug dealers, addicts, corruption and Islamic extremists.
Human rights activists and journalists, of course, see only a brute who visited Israel to shop for weapons and defense capabilities, which would be put to questionable use. Then again, Duterte is hardly the first and far from the only unsavory ruler to come shopping in Israel, America, or elsewhere, for arms.
Israel deftly managed the visit and optics. Whereas many were disgusted that the PM and President Rivlin gave Duterte an audience, according him a legitimacy and respect that is undeserved, their meetings were brief and remarks carefully calibrated.
In addition to acknowledging his personal gratitude to the Filipino caregiver who was a companion to his father in his final years, Bibi reminded us all of the enduring friendship the Philippines has shown Israel, and Jews, for decades. Prior to WWII, then president Manuel Quezon made available 10,000 visas as part of an “open door” policy to accommodate European Jewish refugees. Only 1,300 were used, ultimately, due to the Japanese invasion which closed off escape routes.
In 1947, the Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in support of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, providing critical support for the momentum building towards the creation and international acceptance of the Jewish state one year later. These are important, historical events about which Bibi, quite rightly, chose to remind us all.
I am no cheerleader of dictators and thugs, but I do wonder why the morality of many objectors to the Duterte visit is so selective. Israel (and all western nations) has relations and ties with many countries led by dictators and rulers far more brutal than the democratically elected Duterte.
Much ado has been made in recent months of Bibi’s meetings with a number of right-wing populists and, worse. Some link it to what they see as disturbing, anti-democratic tendencies in his own leadership of late. Others, myself included, would read it as a careful effort to maintain and cultivate as many international relationships as possible that may enhance Israel’s strategic and economic interests, particularly in this period of extreme global political, economic and institutional instability.