Posted by: New Class Traitor | July 17, 2010

Must-read: Yoram Hazony, “Israel Through European Eyes”

Via Martin Kramer’s twitter feed, a link to an essay by Yoram Hazony that is an absolute must-read for anybody trying to understand the swing of Euro opinion against Israel and in favor of the “Palestinians”: Israel through European eyes.

Hazony references the classic of science philosophy, “The structure of scientific revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn, and specifically the concept of “paradigm shift”.

Kuhn argues that the traditional picture of science—in which scientists conduct universally replicable experiments to accumulate verified facts, which together make up the body of scientific truths—is without basis in the actual history of science. Instead, scientists are trained to see the world in terms of a certain framework of interrelated concepts, which Kuhn calls a paradigm. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the paradigm not only determines the interpretation that a scientist gives the facts, but even what facts there are to be interpreted: The “facts” that scientists consider admissible for discussion are those that easily conform to the dominant paradigm, or that can be made to conform to it by extending the paradigm or introducing minor repairs into it. Those facts that can’t be made to conform to the reigning paradigm are overlooked entirely or dismissed as unimportant.

Kuhn was famous, of course, for pointing out that things don’t go on like this forever. The history of science is punctuated by shifts in the dominant paradigm, as when Aristotelian physics gave way to Newtonian physics, or when Newton’s science was displaced by Einstein’s. Kuhn calls these shifts in paradigm scientific revolutions, and in the book he discusses tens of such shifts from the history of the physical sciences. Kuhn concludes that while most scientists are reasonable people, what we would usually consider reasonable discussion and argument only takes place among scientists who subscribe to the same paradigm. Nothing like a normal process of persuasion is involved in battles between competing paradigms. Indeed, when scientists representing competing paradigms argue, there is often no way at all that either one will be able to prove his case to the other[…]

[…]

As Kuhn points out, even a mountain of facts will not change the mind of a scientist who has been trained in a different paradigm, because the fundamental framework from which he views the world is different: The facts themselves mean something completely different to him. In fact, very few scientific paradigms, including the most famous and most successful, are able to provide the kind of decisive experimental evidence that can force scientists to give up the old paradigm.

How, then, do scientists come to change their minds? Kuhn says that in many cases, they never change their minds—and that an entire generation has to pass before the scientific community enters a new paradigm:

How, then, are scientists brought to make this transposition? Part of the answer is that they  are very often not. Copernicanism made very few converts for almost a century after Copernicus’ death. Newton’s work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent, for more than half a century after the Principia appeared. Priestley never accepted the oxygen theory, nor Lord Kelvin the electromagnetic theory, and so on…. And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” [2]

He then identifies a similar “paradigm shift” in the field of international relations:

What’s the old paradigm? And what’s the new one to which the international arena is shifting?

Let’s begin with the old paradigm, which is the one that granted Israel its legitimacy in the first place. The modern state of Israel was founded, both constitutionally and in terms of the understanding of the international community, as a nation-state, the state of the Jewish people. This is to say that it is the offspring of an early modern movement that understood the freedom of peoples as depending on a right to self-protection against the predations of international empires speaking in the name of a presumed higher authority.[5] And while there have always been nation-states—the Jewish kingdom of the Bible was the most important classical example[6]—the modern history of the national state focuses on the rise of nation-states such as England and the Netherlands, and subsequently Richelieu’s France, whose self-understanding as sovereign nations was sharpened and consolidated during the long struggle to liberate their peoples from the pretensions to universal empire of the Austro-Spanish Habsburgs (that is, the “Holy Roman Empire”) beginning in the mid-1500s. […] The defeat of the universalist ideal in the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 led to the establishment of a new paradigm for European politics—one in which a revitalized concept of the national state held the key to the freedom of peoples throughout Europe. By the late-1800s, this idea of national liberty had been extended to the point that it was conceived not only as a governing principle for Europe, but for the entire world. Progressives such as John Stuart Mill and Woodrow Wilson championed the sovereign nation-state, which would have the right to defend its form of government, laws, religion and language against the tyranny of imperial actors, as the cornerstone of what was ultimately to be a new political order for humanity. Herzl’s Zionist Organization, which proposed a sovereign state for the Jewish people, fit right into this political understanding—and indeed, it was under British sponsorship that the idea of the Jewish state grew to fruition. In 1947, the United Nations voted by a 2/3 majority for the establishment of a “Jewish State” in Palestine. And the birth of Israel was followed by the establishment of dozens of additional independent states throughout the Third World.

But the idea of the nation-state has not flourished in the period since the establishment of Israel. On the contrary, it has pretty much collapsed. With the drive toward European Union, the nations of Europe have established a new paradigm in which the sovereign nation-state is no longer seen as holding the key to the well-being of humanity. On the contrary, the independent nation-state is now seen by many intellectuals and political figures in Europe as a source of incalculable evil, while the multinational empire—the form of government which John Stuart Mill had singled out as the very epitome of despotism—is now being mentioned time and again with fondness as a model for a post-national humanity.[7] Moreover, this new paradigm is aggressively advancing into mainstream political discourse in other nations as well—even in countries such as the United States and Israel.

Read the whole thing. For related reading, two essays (double h/t: Syrah @ C2) for related reading: Daniel Gordis’ “The Tower of Babel and the Birth of Nationhood.” and Lee Smith’s “Hollow Men”.

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