The Tragedy of Martin Van Creveld

by Jack Ross

Originally posted at The American Conservative

Richard Silverstein blogs about the most recent newspaper column of Martin van Creveld, the brilliant Israeli military historian and author of the monumental work The Rise and Decline of The State.  The column is just the conventional argument that it is necessary for Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders in order to survive as a Jewish state.  It is argued with the bluntness one would expect of a hard-headed realist, or at least that which we should have expected five years ago when there was still a prayer for the two-state solution.

The Rise and Decline of The State is probably the greatest and most profound work of sociology since the time of Weber and Marx.  Its thesis is that the modern state was created at the dawn of modernity for the purpose of sustaining large standing armies to wage war, that this enterprise peaked in the first half of the 20th century with the two world wars, but has been on a slow but sure decline since the end of the Second World War, meaning, ultimately, the decline and fall of the state itself.

The importance of the work has been widely recognized by libertarians as well as by such other interested theorists as William Lind, and even they probably have yet to do it justice.  For van Creveld might also be read as nothing less than the vindication of Marxism, since it is in fact under social democracy (that is, under European welfare states that have all but abolished their militaries) that the state has begun to whither away.  Indeed, as I have noted in the past in such places as the above link, the early discovery of this phenomenon was crucial to the spawn of neoconservatism.  And for that matter, one could even describe the present crisis of the European welfare states, to be in equal measure gratuitously and ironically Marxist, as the exposure of the system’s contradictions.

The tragedy of van Creveld is that this (possibly inadvertent) giant has devoted a considerable degree of his energies to try and rescue the state in which he lives – which is, at that, the last state on Earth committed to preserving the original precepts of the modern state in its first principles.  (America is a somewhat more complex case, a topic for another day).  In his past writings on the Israeli dilemma he has proposed the most conventional Laborite program of forging an alliance with Syria and Saudi Arabia against Iran, which raises the question of how the author of The Rise and Decline of The State could in all seriousness make such an ossified Metternichian proposal.

For surely van Creveld must also recognize the great revolutionary moment represented by the 2006 Lebanon War, in which for the first time since no later than Westphalia, the state (Lebanon) was unable to commit its essential function of defending its people against the war of aggression being waged against them by Israel, and therefore this function fell to the non-state actor of Hezbollah.  In our actually existing world, if one is to go by the Marxist template the better part of wisdom counsels that the case of Lebanon is closer to the Muenster Rebellion than the Paris Commune, meaning the world after the state is still a few centuries off.  Yet revolutions do come into this world like bastard children.

History will judge whether Martin van Creveld was merely the Hegel whom the libertarian Marx had to turn on his head or something greater still.  But surely it is a tragedy of historic proportions that the prophet is destined to be at the ramparts defending the very vanguard opposing his own prophecy.

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2 replies »

  1. Sadly to say, Jack Ross not only referenced a libeler and a trouble to civility, Richard Silverstein, but also misrepresents some facts. So, first why is Richard Silverstein a libeler and a shame to civil discourse? Just google about it. One will find plenty of information to this effect.

    Secondly, Israel’s 1948 “border” were never the final borders of the State of Israel but merely an armistice line, the green line. Judea and Samaria/West Bank is a territory that was allocated to the Jewish people national homeland after WWI. And the 181 UN resolution was in violation of the UN’s own charter, chapter 80. Study the 1922 Palestine Mandate document easily available on the Internet and valid to date.

    Israel only liberated Judea and Samaria/West Bank in a defensive war in 1967 against Jordan who illegally annexed this territory.

    Anyone who visited Israel knows full well that giving away the Jewish people’s birth place, Judea & Samaria/West bank to the Arab terrorists, Fatah & Hamas, PA, will cause the immediate destruction of the Jewish State. This territory, Judea & Samaria/West Bank is a strategical bulwark against her Arab enemy.

    Mr. Ross also fail to state that Israel only invaded Lebanon because the Lebanese Army let Hisb’Allah attach Israel before Israel had to respond thus Lebanon of course suffered the consequences.

    And Mr. Ross, please, call and spell Hizb’Allah, for what it is, a terrorist organization, a proxy of Iran, the Party of the Jihadist/Allah.

  2. David Deronda, on December 21st, 2010 at 12:53 pm Said:
    To learn more about the 1949 Armistice Agreements, green line, what Mr. Ross and others misinformed call Israel’s border go to:

    Fallacy of the “1967 Borders” – No Such Borders Ever Existed


    btw. it was and still being called “the green line” because they used a green pencil to draw it.

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