Hegel, Jabotinsky, and The Israeli Asshole

Last week, I had the privilege of joining my fellow Jewcers for a night of readings, discussion and Jell-O shooters at the JCC. Say what you like about our vegan-unfriendly methodology, I can think of no worse punishment for over-usage … Read More

By / September 25, 2007

Last week, I had the privilege of joining my fellow Jewcers for a night of readings, discussion and Jell-O shooters at the JCC. Say what you like about our vegan-unfriendly methodology, I can think of no worse punishment for over-usage of Jewish catchwords than having Craig's whistle demand you down a bunch of tangy lemon mush and vodka out of a paper cup. I'll think twice the next time I say 'neocon,' 'Trotsky,' 'libertarian,' 'self-hating ghetto Jew,' etc. One piece that came up was a past feature in Jewcy called 'The Israeli Asshole,' an exploration of the historical, psychological, and philosophical conditions that inform the disposition of the so-called Israeli asshole. The gist is as follows:

Raised in their own land, speaking their own language, Israelis have freed themselves from the anxious self-monitoring still experienced by the Jews of the Diaspora. The Jews of Israel have learned to stop apologizing. Early Zionists would have taken great pleasure in knowing this day would arrive. Perhaps we should take some pleasure in it, too.

I didn't pipe up in this discussion because I wasn't confident that I could package my response into anything less than a lecture-length diatribe. But I'm rather amazed at the anti-social implications of this conclusion for two main reasons. The first is that mutual recognition is one of the very foundations of social life, the second is that apology functions in societies as a means of acknowledging one has put oneself outside the acceptable social order, or has violated some social code or more.

There is a reason that Charles Taylor, multiculturalism theorist extraordinaire is also one of the most savvy PoliSci scholars when it comes to Hegel. When you talk about nation-states or ethnic groups, the very core of the argument is mutual recognition. G.W.F. Hegel is and continues to be one of those philosophers you just cant not talk about, not because of Marxian dialectics, but because Hegel articulated the conditions of social subjectivity for the modern world. And while many would jump here at the chance to note the Eurocentrism of such a statement, I would only rebut that the nation-state paradigm is also Eurocentric, however it governs the organization of most human life around the globe (a fact with which many postcolonial thinkers understandably take issue).

First, what does Hegel say about recognition? Nancy Fraser summarizes nicely:

…identity is constructed dialogically, through a process of mutual recognition. According to Hegel, recognition designates an ideal reciprocal relation between subjects, in which each sees the other both as its equal and also as separate from it. This relation is constitutive for subjectivity: one becomes an individual subject only by virtue of recognizing, and being recognized by, another subject. Recognition from others is thus essential to the development of a sense of self. To be denied recognition—or to be ‘misrecognized’—is to suffer both a distortion of one’s relation to one’s self and an injury to one’s identity.

It follows then that the rejection of this dialogical relationship can be seen as a wholesale rejection of the parameters of modern subjectivity in the global sphere. While the Israeli "asshole" is in some respect refusing to be misrecognized, there would appear to be something inherently problematic with declaring oneself free of obligation to the mutal-ness of the equation. Severance from this interactivity thus appears quite anti-social, if one wishes to acknowledge their participation in–or debt to–the world outside a particular community. In other words, it seems absolutely reasonable to demand the Other recognize you correctly, but not at all desirable to deny the validity of the Other's perception. This is after all, the classical definition of narcissism: the subject's refusal or inability to 'see' the Other. Such a notion of ultimate self-ordained sovereignty, of exception from the rest of the species, could even be interpreted through the lens of the Marquis de Sade–not a very pretty thing, and it does seem to be a philosophy that tends toward violence.

This is intimately bound up with the sociological function of apology. An apology is a means by which a transgressor accepts that he or she has done something for which they have been excluded from the social order. Apology functions to allow a person or the rest of the group to affirm one's re-initiation into that order. The refusal of apology as a cultural, ethnic or national identity seems then yet another iteration of the rejection of wider community.

The relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews is indeed a complex one, as is the relationship between world Jewry and a persecuting world. But thinking on the notion that any group, Jewish or otherwise should be 'happy' that they have freed themselves from participation with a social world at-large or with any set of mores and standards they have not determined by themselves, hardly seems worth exalting or striving toward. Jabotinksy spoke about a time, national character beyond apology:

We do not have to apologize for anything. We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest. We do not have to account to anybody. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to.

He also spoke about expulsion and superiority. He, like de Sade, was wrong about a great many things–at least he was if his statements are viewed through any lens that prizes humanity-at-large, dialogue, exchange, freedom, and liberty.

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