‘Open societies’ and today’s enemies: internal challenges to the West, including Israel
What is an ‘open society’? Those which encourage the expression of different points of view. Writing after the horrors of WWII, Karl Popper identified totalitarianism and its supporting philosophies as enemies of ‘open’ societies. Although many of the countries involved in WWII adopted democratic constitutions or conventions which opened the way for civil discussion, Popper’s enemies have not disappeared – and others have since emerged.
On-the-spot reporting on TV news channels alerted millions, almost simultaneously, to the horrors of events such as the Vietnam War. Computers and the Internet have allowed open societies’ enemies to spread their poison anonymously. In particular, two opposing views are, each in their own way, damaging civil debate.
One claims to have all knowledge, and to be the guardians of the truth. Woe betide anyone who crosses their path or challenges their truth or their influence. They will blackball, de-platform, heckle or out-loudspeaker anyone whose views differ.
For convenience, and to avoid ‘liberal’ and ‘left’, which mean different things in different countries, I will follow the example of Karl Popper’s followers, known as ‘Popperians’; I will refer to ‘Chomskyites’. In doing so, I do not imply that Popper endorsed, nor that Chomsky endorses, all the words and actions of their respective followers.
The Internet has facilitated the Chomskyites’ blackballing and exclusion of debate on any matters where they believe that they hold the sole truth. Political correctness and virtue signalling to their allies have resulted in cultural relativism, historical revisionism and holding to account the behaviours of past generations – because they breached today’s ‘self-evident’ Chomskyist truths.
This ‘know-it-all’ piety has angered the ‘ethno-linguistic nationalists’, people who are proud of their ancestry, their language and their culture. They reject the approach of the Chomskyites, and bridle at the arrogance of people who call them ‘deplorables’.
The Internet, overflowing with false facts (ie interpretations of ‘information’ presented through the filters of both sides) plays on conformation bias to reinforce each side’s ‘beliefs’. As Hannah Arendt observed, in a different context, “If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer … And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge.”
Unbridled ‘Chomskyism’ is threatening Western democracies, undermining the questioning values which opened European minds during the Renaissance, and especially after the emancipation of argumentative Jews from the ghettoes of Europe. As Yehuda Bauer put it, “It is that essential quality of pluralism, of incessant questioning, arguing, and correcting, that keeps the Jewish people alive. Were it not for that, it would have ossified long ago and passed into history.”
The threat to Israel is different from Chomskyism, but the equivalent danger can be seen in the behaviour of the Haredim. They possess the only truth. All other Jews are in error. Perhaps the most grotesque exhibition of this belief is evident in their behaviour during this pandemic.
Their refusal – despite their own higher death rate from Covid-19 – to abide by public health restrictions, has threatened and angered the rest of the population. They will, literally, defend their dominions (their ‘yards’) to the death. They have no care for the wellbeing of other Israelis. Unlike the Chomskyites, they have no need of the Internet; each Rebbi lords it over his acolytes, who fear to disobey him.