Relevant to the current situation in Israel, Richard Weaver, author of Ideas Have Consequences, has one of his gems of sagacity embedded in his characteristically dense prose:
“It appears, then, that culture is originally a matter of yea-saying, and thus we can understand why its most splendid flourishing stands often in proximity with the primitive phase of a people, in which there are powerful feelings of “oughtness” directed toward the world, and before the failure of nerve has begun.”
“Before the failure of nerve has begun”. The failure of nerve is the steady weakening of resolve, as fear and reluctance begin to triumph over boldness and resolve. Weaver is saying that cultures are at their strongest when filled with a deep sense of their purpose, morals, and beliefs. When they still possess a unified way of looking at the world, cultures act boldly, deliberately and assertively, believing their worldview is justified. Early Greece, early Rome, Britain in the Victorian era, and even pre-Vietnam America evidenced this kind of self-assured patriotism and purpose.
The failure of nerve is a kind of entropy of self-confidence and moral effort. It takes great perseverance to maintain a pure vision of reality and one’s place in it. The excitement of powerful and successful beginnings is usually succeeded by the more mundane task of administering the empire, and the momentum of success is slowed by the more defensive posture of maintenance of the status quo. Any nation’s success is soon hen-pecked by naysayers from within and without. The opponents without are usually motivated by envy, or bitterness over defeat, or from the vulture-like instinct that senses that a declining country will be a scavenger’s delight. The opponents within are either traitorous saboteurs, looking for their thirty pieces of silver, or restless self-righteous visionaries, certain that the prosperity and success of their home culture could only have come through bloodied hands and sticky fingers. The restless visionary is often the real source of the failure of nerve in a culture, for the perpetual haranguing of the leaders of their own nation eventually becomes an intolerable burden for most leaders to bear.
Leaders at their best are human, and not invulnerable to the eroding power of perpetual opposition. Leadership, even without opposition, is taxing: self-discipline, initiative in the face of apathy, perpetual planning, administering, and influencing is a wearisome burden. Add to this unceasing opposition and criticism, and most leaders wilt, especially those of the meeker frame (who usually make better statesmen).
The West is a classic example of the failure of nerve. For centuries, it preserved and developed its own inheritance of a superior culture: monotheistic religion and morality, the imago dei in mankind, the rule of law in jurisprudence, a balance and separation of powers in statecraft, the value of the written word, the importance of beauty in art, the freedoms of trade and travel and speech and assembly. From Charlemagne’s time, it weathered and rebounded from assaults by Saracens, Mongols, Turks, atheist revolutionaries, Bolsheviks and communists. The West was always able to assimilate what was true, good, and beautiful from other cultures, while rejecting those influences antithetical and inimical to its flourishing.
Historians will debate when the failure of nerve truly began. But few will doubt that by the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the failure of nerve had metastasised into a tumorous growth in every elite realm of culture: politics, the academy, the arts, the media, and even the public-facing side of corporate commerce. The West was finally persuaded by Marxism that its success was blood-stained with oppression. It became devoted to a kind of penitentiary self-renunciation: a slow suicide of steadily renouncing itself, and ennobling and celebrating the values of those hostile to it. It will go down in history as one of the few cultures that died not by defeat by a superior enemy, but by agreeing with inferior opponents that it ought to slit its own throat.
Today, Israel stands as one of the last holdouts against the enemies of the West. No, it is no saintly nation. Composed as it is of sinners, and ruled by sinners, it errs and sins, like other nations. Much of it is profoundly secular. But it does enshrine some of the values of the West. Its opponents have been vociferous and incessant, from its birth in 1948, to the Six-Day War, to the Yom Kippur War, to the Intifadas, to the present day. The disingenuous handling of the facts regarding Israel and Palestine by the Leftist press reveals what Jacques Revel called “the flight from truth”. For while land is in dispute, the real dispute is over whether the old world and its values should still prevail in the new world order. No concession by Israel will finally satisfy, no defence of themselves will ever be termed “proportionate”, and no moderation in their response will ever be honoured. For Israel is more than a thorn in the flesh of radical Islamic regimes. Israel is a sliver of Western civilisation. Those committed to the anti-culture must ensure every remnant of Western civilisation surrenders and accepts the terms of its humiliation and purgatorial self-loathing.
For the moment, Israel’s leaders have not shown a failure of nerve, for which they will be roundly berated. (They must die on their knees, not on their feet, you see.) But the signs are all there that Israel’s friends are declining in moral perseverance. Supporting Israel is now lumped with a matrix of conservative positions: support for the free market, pro-life, limited government, traditional marriage and morality, non-racism (as opposed to Woke “anti-racism”), skepticism of some climate-change assertions and, often enough, some kind of Judeo-Christian sympathies. Unsurprisingly, vocal critics of Israel and unvarnished supporters of a “Free Palestine” are often pro-LGBTQ+, pro-abortion, pro-gun-control, anti-capitalist, climate-change activists, and vocal supporters of universal basic income and state-intervention for most economic matters. The Left is nothing if not predictably uniform in its lock-step loyalty to the party-line.
Israel’s persistence of nerve has to do with survival: the shadows of the Holocaust loom large to them, especially when Hamas’ Nazi-like acts are condoned or silently passed over by the world at large. But Israel’s non-Jewish supporters have only their own reputations, not their lives, at stake. And as the value and importance of the West fades from memory, the failure of nerve grows.