This month marked my third trip to Israel; my family and I arrived before Yom Kippur and stayed for approximately a month. The trip was inspiring and eye-opening. More than anything else, it was a reminder that national cohesion matters.
The US is in a fair bit of philosophical trouble these days. The political divisions that have riven the country spring from a far deeper problem: the disintegration of American nationhood. The American nation isn’t rooted in race or ethnicity; it’s rooted instead in history, culture, and language. Unfortunately, all three elements of American nationality are being dramatically undermined now.
America’s history used to be seen as a story of immutably true and good founding principles, often brutally misapplied but gradually improved over time. Minorities in America who were victimized through misapplication of those principles weren’t merely a part of the story - they were often the people fighting hardest to bring founding principles to broader fruition.
Now, America’s history has become a dividing point, with "The New York Times" suggesting that America was founded not on the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, but on slavery; Democratic presidential candidates routinely declaring that America’s foundational sins of racism and bigotry remain at the core of Americanism; colleges and universities teaching that the history of Western civilization is, at root, a history of white supremacism.
America’s culture used to be based in an inherited tradition of personal freedom and liberty. The rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the US weren’t invented by government; they were the outgrowth of a millennia-long development in human reason and increased tolerance. At the same time, American culture was rooted in an understanding of the value of community - yes, religious community, but more broadly, American community - a recognition that Americans ought to see each other as neighbors. That principle, too, was brutally misapplied, but gradually strengthened in practice.
Now, America’s culture has disintegrated. The American Left suggests that foundational principles like freedom of speech are actually mere cover for the power of hierarchical dominance, and that freedom of religion isn’t about tolerance of variant practice but about creating a façade for bigotry. Community, too, has been derided as unnecessary, to be replaced by a large and powerful central government. Localism has been overridden by a desire to cram down a more general set of values from above.
Then there is language. The problem in America isn’t people refusing to learn or speak English. It’s that Americans can’t even agree on the basic terminology of conversation - and we seem determined to misinterpret even the most innocuous statements by our political opponents as evidence of their malice. Americans are currently engaged in a vicious debate over whether the word "he" applies to biological males, or to anyone who identifies, even transiently, as "male" - whatever "male" would mean in that context. Americans spend their days trying to suss out whether their opponents are utilizing "dog whistles," whether their use of particular terms springs from "unwoke" prior assumptions. The rules of language shift quickly and unpredictably. The goal: to divide Americans from each other.
Unfortunately, all of this is succeeding, at least for now. America has the world’s most dominant economy, her most stable governmental structure, and her most powerful military. And yet Americans feel more estranged from each other than ever.
The same doesn’t seem true in Israel. Perhaps that’s because I’m a visitor, not a resident - when you’re standing farther from a Seurat painting, it’s easier to see the big picture. Nonetheless, Israel seems less philosophically divided than America these days.
Israelis share a common history, culture, and language. That history stretches back 3,500 years, to the days of Abraham; that history encompasses the Temple Mount and Hebron, and the building of cities like Tel Aviv from desert. That history is the story of tragedy and triumph, of fighting together, dying together, building together. And that history continues day in and day out.
Israelis also share a common culture. That culture includes a recognition of the anti-Semitism that has thrust Jews together over the centuries, but it also includes a baseline recognition that Judaism lies at the root of shared values. Even Tel Aviv shuts down on Yom Kippur. And because Israelis share that culture, they are warmer to the democratic and liberal notions that undergird Western civilization more broadly.
Israelis, for now, share a common language. That language is the language of survival. Israelis may violently argue about everything from welfare to military service to buses running on Sabbath, but they all understand that Israel’s thriving relies on a solidarity in the face of existential threat. There is a reason the political Left in Israel has collapsed, at least with regard to security issues.
Does all of this mean that the future of Israel is brighter than that of America? Of course not. America, I hope and pray and believe, will regain its solidarity, its sense of meaning, revivify its foundational principles. Israel still has a lot to learn from America (cut your regulations, Israel!). But America can learn from Israel, too - and Israel should ensure that its own history, culture, and language aren’t dissolved through the universal acid of cynicism or the chimerical pursuit of global acceptance by those who have a long, inglorious history of anti-Semitism.
The author is a conservative American political commentator, public speaker, author, and lawyer and editor of the Daily Wire website, which has 120 million page-views per day. The Ben Shapiro Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the US with 1.2 million daily listeners
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 27, 2019
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