Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Myth of American Exceptionalism. By Andranik Migranyan.

The Myth of American Exceptionalism. By Andranik Migranyan. The National Interest, October 11, 2013.

An Israeli Soldier to American Jews: Wake Up! By Hen Mazzig.

An Israeli Soldier to American Jews: Wake Up! By Hen Mazzig. The Times of Israel, October 10, 2013. Also here.

Ex-Israeli Soldier Denounced on US Campus for Not Raping Palestinian Women. By Daniel Greenfield. FrontPage Magazine, October 14, 2013. See also The Blaze.

BDS movement distilled – when Israeli soldiers not raping Arab women is racist. By William A. Jacobson. Legal Insurrection, October 19, 2013.

The next hate fest. By Alan Dershowitz. New York Post, February 25, 2013.

Dershowitz unveils new hasbara claim: IDF has lowest rape rate. By David Samel. Mondoweiss, March 4, 2013.

Refusing to Rape=Racism if you are an Israeli soldier. By Phyllis Chesler., December 24, 2007.

Heb. U. Paper Finds: IDF Has Political Motives for Not Raping. By Hillel Fendel. Arutz Sheva 7, December 23, 2007.

Academic: IDF dehumanizes Palestinians by not raping them. By Vic Rosenthal. FresnoZionism, December 26, 2007.

The Raping of Israeli Academia – Tal Nitzan, Zali Gurevitch and Hebrew U. By Lee Kaplan. Israpundit, January 3, 2008.

Complete Story of “No Rape = Racism” Essay. By Steven Plaut. Words and War, January 3, 2008. Abridged version at The Jewish Press.

Monday, December 16, 2013; Hen Mazzig, Stand With Us Northwest. Video. El Shaddai, December 18, 2013. YouTube.


This new form of bigotry against Israel has been called the “new anti-Semitism,” with “Israel” replacing “Jew” in traditional anti-Semitic imagery and canards, singling out and discriminating against the Jewish state, and denying the Jewish people alone the right to self-determination. The new anti-Semitism is packaged in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS), which claims to champion Palestinian rights though its real goal is to erode American support for Israel, discredit Jews who support Israel, and pave the way for eliminating the Jewish state. One of BDS’ central demands is the “complete right of return” for all the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees, subtle language that means the end of Israel as the Jewish homeland because it would turn Israel into a Palestinian-Arab majority state.

It is surprising that an extremist group like BDS is ever taken seriously, but BDS advocates have found receptive audiences in some circles. Their campaigns are well organized and in many cases, well financed. They have lobbied universities, corporations, food co-ops, churches, performing artists, labor unions, and other organizations to boycott Israel and companies that do business with Israel. But even if these groups don’t agree to treat Israel as a pariah state, the BDS activists manage to spread their anti-Israel misinformation, lies and prejudice simply by forcing a debate based on their false claims about Israel.

To give you a taste of the viciousness of the BDS attacks, let me cite just a few of the many shocking experiences I have had. At a BDS event in Portland, a professor from a Seattle university told the assembled crowd that the Jews of Israel have no national rights and should be forced out of the country. When I asked, “Where do you want them to go?” she calmly answered, “I don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t have any place else to go. They should not be there.” When I responded that she was calling for ethnic cleansing, both she and her supporters denied it. And during a presentation in Seattle, I spoke about my longing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. When I was done, a woman in her 60’s stood up and yelled at me, “You are worse than the Nazis. You are just like the Nazi youth!” A number of times I was repeatedly accused of being a killer, though I have never hurt anyone in my life. On other occasions, anti-Israel activists called me a rapist. The claims go beyond being absurd – in one case, a professor asked me if I knew how many Palestinians have been raped by IDF forces. I answered that as far as I knew, none. She triumphantly responded that I was right, because, she said, “You IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them that you won’t touch them.”

Such irrational accusations are symptomatic of dangerous anti-Semitism. Yet, alarmingly, most mainstream American Jews are completely oblivious to this ugly movement and the threat it poses. They seem to be asleep, unaware that this anti-Jewish bigotry is peddled on campuses, by speakers in high schools, churches, and communities, and is often deceptively camouflaged in the rhetoric of human rights.

UNRWA: An Obstacle to Peace? By Einat Wilf.

UNRWA: an obstacle to peace? By Einat Wilf. Fathom, September 13, 2013.

The Excitement of Being a Martyr for Allah. By Anat Berko.

Jihad Tourism. By Anat Berko. IPT News, October 2, 2013. Also at The Jewish Press.

Lt. Colonel Anat Berko discusses motivations of women and children suicide bombers. By Joseph Hawthorne. Pipe Dream, October 8, 2013.

Israel’s Bedouin Land Grab. By Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

Israel’s Other Land Grab. By Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Moment, August 29, 2013. Also at Slate. Also here.

American Jews need to stop turning a blind eye to the resettlement of Israel’s Bedouins.

The Unmaking of Israel. By Gershom Gorenberg.

The Mystery of 1948. By Gershom Gorenberg. Slate, November 7, 2011.

Did Israel actually plan to expel most of its Arabs in 1948? Or not?

Israel’s Old-Time Religion. By Gershom Gorenberg. Slate, November 8, 2011.

How government policies have caused the surge in ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel—and why it’s an economic disaster.

How to Save Israel. By Gershom Gorenberg. Slate, November 9, 2011.

The three steps that could rescue it from endless conflict and international ostracism.


I write from an Israel with a divided soul. It is not only defined by its contradictions; it is at risk of being torn apart by them. It is a country with uncertain borders and a government that ignores its own laws. Its democratic ideals, much as they have helped shape its history, or on the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of 20th-century ideologies.
What will Israel be in five years, or 20? Will it be the Second Israeli Republic, a thriving democracy within smaller borders? Or a pariah state where one ethnic group rules over another? Or a territory marked on the map, between the river and the sea, where the state has been replaced by two warring communities? Will it be the hub of the Jewish world, or a place that most Jews abroad prefer not to think about? The answers depend on what Israel does now.
For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes. First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Second, it must divorce state and synagogue—freeing the state from clericalism, and religion from the state. Third and most basically, it must graduate from being an ethnic movement to being a democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equality.
Proposing these changes provokes several reflexive objections, inside Israel and beyond. First, many Israeli Jews translate any call for full equality of all citizens as a demand that Israel cease to be a Jewish state. The supposed choice is a false one. Israel can be a liberal democracy and still fulfill the justifiable desire of Jews, as an ethnic national group, for self-determination.
The liberal meaning of self-determination begins with the rights of individuals. As Israeli political thinker Chaim Gans argues, it expresses the justifiable desire of members of an ethnic group to maintain a basic aspect of their humanity and personal identity: their culture. To live in their culture and preserve it, they need a place where that culture shapes the public sphere. The natural and must justifiable place for that to happen is their homeland, or in part of it.
But in the real world, in contrast to utopias, individual rights clash. The classic metaphor for this is the man crying fire in a crowded theater: Dogmatically preserving his right of expression robs others of their right to stay alive. Nation-states can be liberal democracies, but each faces the constant challenge of balancing the right of self-determination and other rights.
Israel does not have to give up being a Jewish state. It does need to establish a very different balance of rights. In a country with a significant Jewish majority, it is reasonable for the usual language of the public sphere to be Hebrew. It is reasonable for offices to close on Jewish holidays, because most people would not show up for work on those days anyway. It is also reasonable for the kitchens in government institutions—such as the army—to be kosher, since this preserves the right of Jews who observe religious dietary laws to participate fully in society.  It is not acceptable for the government to favor Jews in allocation of jobs, land, or school buildings, or for it to prevent Muslim citizens from maintaining a mosque in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood. Nor is it acceptable for the government to condition the rights of non-Jewish citizens on their swearing fealty to this particular balance of rights.
A second objection is that creating two states between the river and the sea is no longer possible. Settlements are too large, Israel and the occupied territories too entangled; the tipping point has been passed. All that is possible now is a one-state solution. Especially outside of Israel, this practical argument often hides a psychological tendency: even progressives sometimes fight the last battle, especially if it was a heroic fight for which they were born too late. One person, one vote was the answer in South Africa, they say; therefore it is the solution for Israel.
In fact, a one-state arrangement would solve little and make many things worse. Imagine that tomorrow Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip were reconstituted as the Eastern Mediterranean Republic, and elections were held. With the current population, the parliament would be split almost evenly between Jews and Palestinians. One of the first issues that the parliament and judiciary would face is the settlements that Israel built on privately owned Palestinian property, whether it was requisitioned, stolen, or declared state land over Palestinian objections. Palestinian claimants would demand return of their property. The problem of evacuating settlers wouldn’t vanish. Rather, it would divide the new state on communal lines.
Likewise for refugees. Palestinian legislators would demand that Israel’s Law of Return be extended to cover Palestinians returning to their homeland. Jewish politicians would oppose the move, which would reduce their community to a threatened minority. Palestinians would demand the return of property lost in 1948 and perhaps the rebuilding of destroyed villages.  Except for the drawing of borders, virtually every question that bedevils Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations would become a domestic problem, setting the new political entity aflame.
Issues not at the center of today’s diplomacy would also set the two communities at odds. Israel has a post-industrial Western economy; The West Bank and Gaza are underdeveloped. Financing development in majority-Palestinian areas and bringing Palestinians into Israel’s social-welfare network would require Jews to pay higher taxes or receive fewer services. But the engine of the Israeli economy is high-tech, an entirely portable industry. Both individuals and companies would leave, crippling the new shared economy. Meanwhile, two nationalities who have desperately sought a political frame for cultural and social independence would wrestle over control of language, art, street names, and schools. Psychologically, it would be a country with two resentful minorities and no majority.
Even in the best case, the outcome would be the continued existence of separate Jewish and Palestinian political parties. And even the more liberal-leaning parties of each community would be hard-pressed to bridge the divide to form stable coalitions. Israel would become a second Belgium, perpetually incapable of forming a stable government. In the more likely case, the political tensions would ignite as violence. The transition to a single state would mark a new stage in the conflict. For a harsh example of the potential fluctuation between political stalemate and civil war, Palestinians and Jews need only look northward to Lebanon.
A single state could easily be the result of Israel failing to make any choices. It would not be a solution—even a workable arrangement, which is what politics normally offers in place of solutions. It would be a nightmare: another of the places marked on the globe as a country, in which two or more communities do battle while the most educated or well-connected members of each look for refuge elsewhere.
A third objection to a two-state solution, from the Israeli right and its overseas supporters, is that it requires Israel to sacrifice too much for peace. This reflects an old habit of thought in which territory is the coin that Israel reluctantly pays for a peace agreement.
It’s true that peace is an essential end in itself. But Israel must also give up land to reestablish itself as a state and a democracy. It needs to put a border back on the map. Within that border, the government needs to rule by the consent of the governed. It needs to restore the rule of law and end the ethnic conflict.
Peace with the Palestinians is a means for achieving these goals. It provides the way for Israel to end its grip from outside on the Gaza Strip and to leave the West Bank safely. “Hold too much, and you will hold nothing,” the Talmud says. If the state of Israel tries to continue holding the West Bank, there will be no state.

In Catalonia, a Warning on One-State Solutions. By Gershom Gorenberg.

In Catalonia, a Warning on One-State Solutions. By Gershom Gorenberg. The American Prospect, October 11, 2013.

Nationalism is alive and well in Europe. Expecting Israelis and Palestinians to abandon it is a fantasy.


From the balconies above the narrow stone-paved streets of Girona hung gold-and-red striped flags. A blue triangle and white star adorned most of them, transforming the banner of the autonomous region of Catalonia into the standard of Catalonian independence. Here and there a legend emblazoned a flag: Catalunya, Nou Estat D’Europa—“Catalonia, A New State in Europe.”
I’d taken the train north from Barcelona to see Salvador Dali’s personal museum in Figueres and then explore Girona's medieval old city. I was on vacation from the Middle East. But a political writer’s time off can so easily become a busman’s holiday. I looked at the flags and thought of the arguments about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio, about political scientist Ian Lustick’s very recent New York Times essay despairing of a two-state outcome, and about the furies that the late Tony Judt released almost precisely 10 years ago when he came out for a one-state solution. Nationalism was passé, the great historian of modern Europe wrote; nation-states had been replaced by “pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural . . . as any visitor to London or Paris or Geneva will know.”
In Catalonia, as any visitor to Girona or Barcelona will know, nationalism is alive and very 21st-century. In mid-September over a million and a half people—a fifth the region’s population—formed a chain the length of Catalonia to demand independence from Spain. Since the end of the Franco era, Catalonia has been on a long march toward ever greater autonomy from the central government in Madrid. The Franco regime repressed the Catalan language. Today the regional government works in Catalan, schools teach in it, and a language law requires businesses to use it. That menu, fair visitor, is in Catalan, not Spanish. The restaurateur does not get to choose.
Media reports on demands for independence often stress finances: Better-off Catalonia is tired of paying more to Madrid than it gets back. Regional President Artur Mas includes that problem in his case for secession. But let’s not fall into lazy economic determinism. If giving more to a federal government than you receive in return was reason enough to demand self-determination, you'd see million-person rallies for independence in California and New York.  The economic argument resonates in Barcelona because so many Catalans feel that their shared language, culture and history give them a national identity separate from Spain, and want to express that identity in their own state. This is nationalism, and it’s the platform of Catalan parties on both the left and the right.
North of the Pyrenees, there’s further evidence that post-nationalist pluralism hasn’t progressed quite as far as Judt claimed. On a Paris street, a young Muslim woman can choose to wear fashionably color-coordinated pastel pants, blouse, and hijab. But a 2004 law requires her to take off her headscarf to attend a public school, or to teach in one. This year’s controversies include an unpopular court decision that permits a woman wearing a hijab to work in a private nursery school, and the question of whether a headscarfed mother can accompany her child’s class trip. Calls to extend the legal ban on the hijab have come from politicians on the left as well as the right.
In France, the principle of a state based on shared national identity has worked in the opposite direction from Catalonia. The state came first, and has engaged in a two-century project to forge a common national culture, language, and historical memory. The Third Republic successfully imposed French as the national tongue, marginalizing other languages. Taking the long perspective, the headscarf ban is the newest stage in the old process.  Formally, the 2004 law that bans headscarves in public schools prohibits wearing other religious symbols as well, in the name of shared secularism. But the hijab was the target. France is arguing about whether a woman who is publicly Muslim is a true Frenchwoman, or merely a citizen.
It’s ironic that Malala Yousefzai, the heroic 16-year-old Pakistani advocate of education for girls, would have to remove her hijab to attend a public school in France, and that Egyptian human-rights activist Dalia Ziada would have to do the same to teach a class. But my point is not to defend language laws or condemn veil laws, or to take a stand on Catalonian secession, or for that matter whether Scotland should choose independence in next year’s referendum. I am merely reporting: Working out how a nation-state should function is still a basic issue in Europe. Nationalism isn’t over in the democratic world. Jews are not atavistic in wanting their national self-determination, nor are Palestinians. Judt knew this. His call for a one-state solution expressed his personal, painful disappointment with the particular way that the Jewish nation-state had turned out. (I share the disappointment and have other ideas about the solution, but that’s a separate story.)
Advocates of the one-state answer today are an odd mix. They include Israeli rightists so opposed to giving up land that they’d rather annex the West Bank and give citizenship to its Palestinian residents—but who expect Israel to remain “the state of the Jewish people, with a large Arab minority.” As individuals, Palestinians would have full rights; as a nation, none. Some Palestinian one-staters have a vision that, at best, is a mirror image of this: The state of Palestine, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, would have Jewish citizens—defined as a religious rather than national minority, because Palestinian nationalism has always had a hard time with the idea that Jews constitute a nationality. Among American proponents of a single state, quite a few speak only of how it will provide individual civil rights to all. That position reflects a natural but deceptive inclination to fit foreign events into American analogies. Civil rights battles are basic to American history; the ideologies of national rights are largely a foreign language.
The one-staters with whom it’s easiest to sympathize are those who have lost all hope for negotiating the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Their most common claim is that Israeli settlements are too large to evacuate, and a Palestinian state is impossible if they stay put. Though Lustick speaks of “one mixed state” only as a possibility, not a program, he is an effective spokesman for despondency. The Israel and Palestinian visions of a two-state agreement are too far apart, he writes. The current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are “negotiations to nowhere.” They provide cover for Israel to build settlements and for the Palestinian Authority to survive on aid from abroad, he says.
Lustick is right that, so far, the talks appear to be producing nothing—except for talk in closed rooms. But his alternative to diplomacy—“outcomes [that] develop organically”—is a very soft euphemism for outcomes that come about violently. Independent Ireland didn't just “emerge,” as Lustick writes; it was born in bloodshed. His description of potential partners in creating a single state is a lovely fantasy. But contrary to what he writes, “Tel Aviv’s . . . non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants” are not post-Zionists. “Global village Israeli entrepreneurs” are just as Zionist as the other Israelis who served with them in elite army units. On the other side, Palestinians committed to democracy are no less committed to their national identity and the hope for independence.
The challenge to one-staters is to explain how two national groups, Jews and Palestinians, will peacefully put together a single state, live together in that state, and prevent it from ripping apart. Expecting that their nationalism will disappear is even less realistic than expecting the gold, red and blue flag to vanish from Catalonia.

Unbreakable: Malala Yousafzai Is Changing the World.

Unbreakable: One Girl Changing the World. Video. Malala Yousafzai interviewed by Diane Sawyer. 20/20. ABC News, October 11, 2013. Excerpt 4: The Muslim Way.

“There Are Thousands of Malalas”: What Pakistan’s Teenage Activist Has Already Won. By Omar Waraich. Time, October 11, 2013.

Malala Is a Heroine, But Gandhi She Ain’t. By Qanta Ahmed. NJBR, October 12, 2013.


Men Dither While Women Lead. By Hanna Rosin.

Men dither while women lead in the world. By Hanna Rosin. CNN, October 11, 2013.

West Bank Reality: Arab, Not Jewish Hate. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

West Bank Reality: Arab, Not Jewish Hate. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, October 11, 2013.


Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.
Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.
The prevailing narrative of evil settlers attacking innocent Palestinians is popular precisely because it dovetails with the frame of reference through which Israel’s critics view the conflict. When they choose to notice the far more frequent instances of Arab violence against Jews, the victims are reported as being “settlers” — even when the targets are children — so as to make the point that they had it coming in some way. The settlers are seen as the possessors of stolen property, not people whose rights to live in the heart of the Jewish homeland are actually guaranteed by international law. If the media were to put settler violence in the context of the siege of attacks with which they have to live, the relatively small number of such incidents would be rightly seen as proof of the restraint and law-abiding nature of the vast majority of Jews living in the territories rather than as evidence of their incorrigible and hateful character.
More to the point, were the media to focus as they should on the drumbeat of incitement of hate against Israel and Jews that comes not from Palestinian outliers but the government that is the Jewish state’s supposed peace partner — Abbas’s PA — the notion that an accord merely requires an Israeli territorial retreat would be seen as a transparent fiction.

Medieval Times: “Vanity Fair” and the New Feudalism. By Matthew Continetti.

Medieval Times: “Vanity Fair” and the New Feudalism. By Matthew Continetti. Washington Free Beacon, October 11, 2013.

California’s New Feudalism Benefits a Few at the Expense of the Multitude. By Joel Kotkin. NJBR, October 7, 2013.


Looking for a distraction from the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate? I urge you to read Vanity Fair’s latest advertisement for “The New Establishment,” a list of “50 Titans Disrupting Media, Technology, and Culture,” the century-old magazine’s annual mash-note to the rich and powerful and self-satisfied. These disrupters innovate technologies, set the trends, define the limits of acceptable conversation in culture and politics and society, and pour money into the network of liberal foundations and Democratic campaigns around which our world is increasingly organized. They are the winners in the cognitive lottery that is the New Economy, the men and women creating and shaping, by accident and by design, the “New Feudalism” described so well by Joel Kotkin in The Daily Beast. It’s good to know their names.
The members of Vanity Fair’s new establishment include Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, Cory Booker and Megan Ellison. These are the bold-faced celebrities you spot on other lists of power players, in the lush photos of parties and galas and tributes and premieres that appear in the front of the book of glossy magazines, and on the cover of our national newsweekly. They share a certain demographic profile. They are people of pallor, all but eight of them are men, they are clustered in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and Seattle, they work in technology, media, and politics, they are fantastically rich, and it is safe to assume that all but two of them share the attitudes and sensibilities, the mental luggage and politically correct language, the burnished resumes and can-do attitude of the caste.
One of the more remarkable things about this collection of do-gooders, overachievers, and symbolic analysts is their consistent inability to apply to themselves the skepticism and criticism they shower so heavily on Republicans and conservatives, on the rich who make their fortunes from resource extraction, manufacture, and investment. Not long ago a social critic such as C. Wright Mills could write pitilessly and accurately about The Power Elite, about the WASP establishment he saw lurking behind militarism and inequity. Few were exempt from his gaze. Our social critics today, however, prefer only to focus on a minority of a minority: the wealthy and influential whose policy and ideological objectives happen to be the very opposite of their own.
Put a banker or an industrialist or—dare I say it—a Republican in front of the men and women who edit Vanity Fair, and they will approach their subject with the utmost incredulity and commitment to ferreting out the worst possible facts. But the Hollywood tycoon or Internet billionaire or green-energy hawker or “engaged” actor whose politics exist in the temperate zone of bourgeois liberalism, whose public pronouncements are reliably “down the middle” and “moderate,” whose bold stands on the issues include such courageous positions as support for abortion-on-demand, affirmative action, amnesty, gun control, free trade, diversity, globalization, alternative energy, public transit, and government “investments” in education and infrastructure—his place in the establishment is not only noted but celebrated, applauded, held as an example to the people.
The news that a group associated with Charles and David Koch had contributed to another group that advocates for shutting down parts of the government to protest Obamacare has seized the political press and its allies in the Democratic Party as earth-shattering, revelatory. Meanwhile the imperious outgoing mayor of New York City can flood Colorado with outside money to support gun control, can cut a million dollar check to help his Democratic pal Cory Booker in New Jersey, can announce his intention to spend some $400 million in 2013 to make the world conform to his prejudices, and Time magazine slaps him on its cover, writes the headline “Bloomberg Unbound,” and writes in bold type: “He’s remade New York. Next up, the world.”
Does the world get a vote? Remaking the world into one giant New York City may sound swell to the editors of Time magazine, to the editors of Vanity Fair, and to the wide-eyed, Millennial bookers and producers toiling away in the Rockefeller and Time Warner centers, but it is not a cost-free proposition. New York is nice if you can afford it: If you are a wealthy liberal, or a recent college graduate rooming with three friends, if you are at the top of the world or setting out in the world, if you are Carrie Bradshaw or doing your best to impersonate her, the city cannot be beat. But it is hard to raise a family there. It is no place for the middle class.
The city has experienced a surge of inequality, of poverty, of dependence. Sublimated racial tension underwent a process of deposition over the summer, as activists and journalists challenged Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk crime policy. All of these trends combined to give the world Bill de Blasio, the surprise Democratic nominee for mayor, and therefore in all likelihood the next occupant of Gracie Mansion. His tale of two cities captured the imagination of the Democratic electorate, his bourgeois liberal supporters not realizing how good they have it, how easily it all might disappear.
The feudalism Kotkin describes in his excellent essay has the same contradictory aspect: liberals lament the inequality and atomization of liberal societies, only to vote for, well, wealthy liberals. California, where many of the members of Vanity Fair’s new establishment reside, is a beautiful place. There are more billionaires in California than anywhere in the United States. But it is not a healthy polity. “The state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country,” Kotkin writes. “The Golden State now suffers the highest level of poverty in the country.” The Golden State is “home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.” “For the first time in decades, the middle class is a minority.”
For years California has been a laboratory experiment in liberalism, for illegal immigration, progressive taxation, generous welfare benefits, union-run public schools, generous public service pensions, and the most cutting edge environmental policies. The result? Jerry Brown may have patched up the state’s fiscal situation for now, but the underlying problems remain: a hollowed-out economy and politics that satisfies the moral imperatives of rich liberals by buying off interest groups and the poor, and sends the middle class to Nevada and Arizona.
“The state’s digital oligarchy,” Kotkin says, “surely without intention, is increasingly driving the state’s lurch towards feudalism. Silicon Valley’s wealth reflects the fortunes of a handful of companies that dominate an information economy that itself is increasingly oligopolistic. … Through their embrace of and financial support for the state’s regulatory regime, the oligarchs have made job creation in non-tech businesses—manufacturing, energy, agriculture—increasingly difficult through ‘green energy’ initiatives that are also sure to boost already high utility costs.” I might dispute that part about the oligarchs acting “surely without intention”—at the moment things seem to be working precisely according to, say, Tom Steyer’s intention—but I cannot dispute Kotkin’s empirical findings or the thrust of his analysis. Neo-feudalism it is.
This week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a study that concluded, in the words of the New York Times, that “the skill level of the American labor force is not merely slipping in comparison to that of its peers around the world, it has fallen dangerously behind.” Ask yourself which ideas rule in America in the fall of 2013: Who has won the intellectual fights over trade, over immigration, over the environment, over the family, over entitlements and welfare and affirmative action. The conservatives? I do not see it.
I see an America governed by liberal or libertarian principles, an America that has adopted economic and social policies that benefit the established and the ascendant, the smart and the wily, while ignoring or bribing the poor and low skilled. I see an America where a protest movement of the aging white middle class is mocked and vilified, where criticism of Obamacare or deficits and debt becomes the mark of a nihilist, a terrorist, a hostage taker, a suicide bomber. I see a world built to order for Reed Hastings of Netflix, for Ben Silbermann of Pinterest, for Dan Doctoroff of Bloomberg, for Tyler Perry and for Jennifer Lawrence, members of an establishment that finds its antitheses in the likes of de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann. In this America our constitutional architecture is an obstacle to progressive ambition, and the nasty partisan fights we are experiencing are the birth pangs of a new power elite, a new digital oligarchy, a new caste of liberals here to assert their rule.

Malala Is a Heroine, But Gandhi She Ain’t. By Qanta Ahmed.

Malala is a heroine, but Gandhi she ain’t. By Qanta Ahmed. USA Today, October 11, 2013.

Why We Separate Church and State. By Seth Mandel.

Why We Separate Church and State. By Seth Mandel. Commentary, October 10, 2013.

Are Developing Countries Missing Out on the Blue Model? By Walter Russell Mead.

Are Developing Countries Missing Out on the Blue Model? By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, October 11, 2013.

The Perils of Premature Deindustrialization. By Dani Rodrik. Project Syndicate, October 11, 2013.

The Devil and Antonin Scalia. By Jennifer Senior.

The Devil and Antonin Scalia. By Jennifer Senior. New York Magazine, October 6, 2013. From the October 14, 2013 issue.