Advancing a Free Society

The Teacher of Fools

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, an Athenian ambassador refutes the Spartans’ claim that they are going to war with Athens on the principle of justice: “Calculations of interest have made you take up the cry of justice––a consideration which no one ever yet brought forward to hinder his ambition when he had a chance of gaining anything by might.” Thucydides presents here a permanent truth of interstate conflict: when force will not get a people what they want, they will often cloak their ambitions in lofty principles like justice in order to gain sympathy, buy time, and win allies.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is a textbook example of Thucydides’ insight. Only after three attempts to destroy Israel by force failed did we begin to hear about the “justice” of a “Palestinian homeland” and “national self-determination.” The Arabs, moreover, cast the conflict not in terms of their own Islamic ideology and ideals, in which the ummah, the global community of Muslims, is the primary locus of Muslim identity. Rather, they appeal to the Western idea of nationalism, something sure to find sympathy among Europeans and Americans who are already inclined to disfavor Israel because of short-sighted geopolitical realism, leftist hatred of a liberal-democratic American ally, or post-Holocaust stealth anti-Semitism.

Continue reading Bruce Thornton at FrontPage Mag