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The Tragedy of Martin van Creveld

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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