On the anniversary of Israel's founding on May 14 1948, we can turn to Ayn Rand for insights about why such an economically successful state with an open society is so hated by its neighbors.
East-West conflict and Israel
In 1974, Ayn Rand was asked about American Middle East policy in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War of the previous year. That was the fourth war since the modern state of Israel was established in 1948. It was the fourth time that the little country had had to fight for its existence.
While Rand did not advocate sending American troops into the conflict, she did argue that America should “Give all the help possible to Israel.” She stated specifically that “the help Israel needs is technology and military weapons—and they need them desperately. Why should we help Israel?” She explained that at that time, Israel was “fighting not just the Arabs but Soviet Russia, who is sending the Arabs armaments.”
The Soviet Union, of course, has since collapsed. But there was more to Rand’s argument, because she asked, “Why are the Arabs against Israel?”
Premodern vs. Modern Arab-Israeli culture clash
“The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures,” Rand argued. “They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it's the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent.”
Of course, most Arabs even then weren’t nomads. Indeed, a millennium ago Baghdad and Cairo were major urban centers. But the deeper point was that in modern times Arabs have had a pre-modern culture and world view, especially compared to the Jews who had emigrated from Europe to what was to become Israel. A large portion of those Jews were secular-leaning. They embraced the modern, scientific world view. They favored an open, tolerant society and democratic institutions. And thus, even though the founders of the modern state of Israel sought a multi-ethnic society that guaranteed the liberty of Jew and Arab alike, no matter their professed religion, the culture clash was too deep.
A major problem that Rand appreciated was envy. No doubt many Arabs watched with envy as, starting in the late 1800s, Jews came to Palestine, purchased land—usually of the worst quality because that’s all Arab landlords would sell to them— and through their hard work and exercise of reason they made the desert bloom and they founded the modern city of Tel Aviv. Rather than saying “We want to join your marvelous world,” most Arabs said “We want to destroy you.”
Are Arabs savage or civilized?
Forty years ago, Rand used very strong language. She said that “When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don't want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don't wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I've contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.”
Certainly, not all Arabs are savages. Indeed, in the four decades since Rand’s remarks, Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel. Egypt today is struggling to become a modernist country. But, of course, the rise of Islamists such as ISIS can only be described as savage.
All individuals of good will, especially in Israel, long for a day that the current conflict in the Middle East will be only a dim, morally-ugly memory. But this welcome situation will only come about with the spread of the Enlightenment ideals of reason, individualism, and liberty. These are not just ideals for Israelis, Europeans, or Americans but for all individuals, all countries, and for all times.
Edward Hudgins, “Aspirations, Gaza Death Tunnels, Schools of Hope.” April 22, 2016.
Edward Hudgins, “Israeli Independence and Libertarian Blindness.” May 4, 2014.
David Kelley, “Does Islam Need a Reformation?” April 12, 2011.