Like the Covid shutdowns and the riots of 2020 before them, the Hamas atrocities of October 7 revealed the ongoing moral and political catastrophe of the West. Hamas initiated a war against Israel that immediately turned into a war against Jews everywhere. That much was clear when its opening salvo—an orgy of rape, torture, murder, and kidnapping—received fervent support among leftists worldwide. From London to Sydney and points in between, the intifada, as Lee Smith observes, has gone global.
But what does the global intifada stand for, besides the brutal hard core of Hamas? It’s hard to say, because Hamas stands purely for the violent annihilation of what it hates. And what it hates is anything that impedes worldwide Islamist domination—especially Western civilization.
The twin roots of the West are Athens and Jerusalem, where philosophy, science, politics, law, and the love of God emerged as pillars of civilization. Hamas’s reference points are totalitarian-era Moscow and Berlin, which, in the twentieth century’s darkest hours, gave us the Gulag, the Iron Curtain, and Auschwitz. From its inception, the Muslim Brotherhood—of which Hamas is an offshoot—embraced fascistic Jew-hatred. And Hamas’s international support is the bitter fruit of a Soviet campaign, launched more than 60 years ago, that used the Palestinians, left by their Arab neighbors to languish in refugee camps, as an ideological bludgeon against the West.
After October 7, Hamas’s war against the Jews enflamed the demoralized remains of a free world that is now tearing itself apart. No people in history has proved more vital and resilient than the Jews. The irrepressible Israelite spirit is announced in the first words of Exodus, where Pharaoh feels threatened by an explosion of Israelite births. Freed from the Egyptian yoke, the desert-and-God-formed Jews fought and conquered, remembered and reflected, and recorded what they’d learned in the Torah, a wellspring of wisdom and cultural creativity. They survived the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and built a new one after returning from a lifetime of captivity in Babylon.
When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and evicted them from Palestine, the Jews should by all odds have withered away. Instead they reconfigured their religion from the ground up. In the absence of the Temple, they found a new locus of contact with God in the Torah. Rabbis skilled in scriptural interpretation replaced the priests, and self-sacrifice substituted for the offering of animals. In subsequent centuries, the Jews produced the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, monumental works of intellectual imagination. A prodigious number of great thinkers followed, including 214 Nobel Prize winners. And after a third of the Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust, the survivors founded a new homeland, defended it with courage and conviction, and made the desert bloom.
Jewish success is an imperishable monument to the accomplishment of the West, the civilization they helped to birth and, as much as any other people, to build and sustain. The Jews reflect the best of the West: the promise of freedom, peace, prosperity, and creativity it holds for those willing to work for these things. And it is just this happiness and human flourishing that is intolerable to Islamists and their nihilistic allies.
The global intifada marks a step down the road of totalitarianism, which always destroys the organic life of civilized societies. Here we can take our bearings from Czeslaw Milosz. In his book The Captive Mind, the Polish Nobel laureate offers a striking image of the ideological destruction of social orders:
A forest is an organism arising out of complicated interactions of mosses, soil, fungi, trees, and grasses. The moment these mosses and fungi are destroyed by the cutting out of the forest, the symbiotic pattern is disturbed and the new forest is a completely different organism from what might be expected by someone who ignored the sociology of plants. Stalinists have no knowledge of the conditions human plants need in order to thrive.
This passage contains a whole anthropology. Human plants thrive only within local civic ecosystems, communities defined by common experiences and sustained by shared memories and practices. But social engineers are political machinists, not ecologists. They approach human forests with chainsaws in hand, and they instinctively fell the tallest trees first. In 1944, Stalin’s Red Army waited patiently for the occupying Germans to crush the Warsaw Uprising before they crossed the Vistula River to take the city. Neither the Soviets nor the Nazis had any need of courageous, freedom-loving Poles.
Yet totalitarians never just clear-cut the forest. They chop down or uproot specific categories of people, as dictated by the logic of their abstract systems and, just as often, by the whims of the Party. The list of victims is long and varied—Gypsies, Serbs, Poles, capitalists, kulaks, Kalmyks, Tatars, Kurds—but there is one historical constant: Communism, Fascism, and Islamism, the big totalitarian religions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, always target the Jews.
The first step on the road to full-blown totalitarianism occurs when the human social organism loses the sense of wholeness essential to its vitality. Today, we suffer from a deficit of human connection, accelerated by the isolating effects of electronic media. We have lost the feeling of rootedness in a shared past of common struggle and suffering. Many Americans have lost even the memory of patriotism: a felt historical connection with our fellow citizens, and civic pride in our national project of constitutionally ordered liberty.
General cultural amnesia has allowed ideology in the most precise sense—a mechanical simulacrum of authentic intelligence that prefers compulsion to the give-and-take of democratic politics and intellectual exchange—to infect the social organism. When this happens, reductive explanations of complex social phenomena become prevalent. Totalizing ambition gets mistaken for moral depth, and leaden oppositions (between colonizers and colonized, oppressors and oppressed) are considered golden keys to human liberation. Thinking decays into knee-jerk sloganeering, and political cant—“science is real,” “no human is illegal”—is confused with moral profundity. The stupidity of it all eventually demoralizes individuals, deforms institutions, and clouds judgment.
The ideology that has led too many Westerners to celebrate the depredations of Hamas is “social justice,” a cultural variant of class-warfare Marxism. The kaleidoscopically jumbled, rapidly evolving concerns of what is now a full-fledged movement have included sexism, racism, environmentalism, transgender rights—and now, Zionist oppression. Social justice’s assumption that relative inequalities can be explained only by oppression leads to the persecution of Jews, who are presumed to have benefited from nefarious forces like “systemic racism.” Left out of the account are the most fundamental organic conditions, including strong cultural memory, intact families, and a tradition that esteems education above all.
Social-justice ideology originated more than half a century ago in humanities and social-science departments. Carried by intellectual fashion like cotton seed-fluff, it spread to distant academic fields, including mathematics and science, and finally to the culture at large. It has now reshaped K-12 curricula in ways that promote Jew-hatred of the sort that recently exploded at Hillcrest High. Embraced by Millennials, and still more fervently by Gen Z—67 percent of Americans between 18 and 24 believe “Jews as a class are oppressors”—social justice is now a full-fledged movement embedded in most major American institutions.
The consequences are unavoidable. The American government, having officially converted to the liberatory narcissism of the “religion of humanity,” spies on religious Catholics. The justice system selectively enforces and applies the law. Newspapers conceal or frame facts to push a preferred narrative, publishers reject or bowdlerize “insensitive” books, and schools and universities indoctrinate more than educate. All this makes for a daily life in which social rancor, urban chaos, and scapegoating have become wearisome fixtures.
In September, Martin Gurri wrote that ours is an age of “pseudo-ideology.” The ideological movements of the last century, he observed, were going somewhere. Leninism, Nazism, and Maoism sought to overthrow existing orders and “impose utopia by brute strength”—to bend the arc of history through compulsion. Pseudo-ideologies, however, aim to preserve the establishment, to arrest social and political motion rather than to initiate it. The zero-sum cult of identity, for example, is “a perpetual conflict machine” that generates and releases political energies that might otherwise be directed against governing elites.
How quickly things change. The soft despotism that Gurri described just three months ago has hardened. The avant-gardes of ideological tyranny, multitudes of those whom Lenin called useful idiots cheering murderous Hamas forces, now march down the streets and campus quads of cities across the world. And the sound of silence—the obfuscating babble with which Jewish words of protest have been met—is deafening.