The Devolution of Idealism

Pro-Palestinian demonstration at Harvard University on October 14, 2023. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

In his 2005 memoir Gentle Regrets, the conservative English philosopher Roger Scruton recalls being in Paris in May 1968 during a series of far-left student protests against evil “isms”: capitalism, imperialism, traditionalism, etc. Scruton observed windows broken “in jagged fragments” and overturned cars that had “juices flowing from unseen wounds.” After conversing with a friend who had spent the day on the barricades, he asked her:

What … do you propose to put in the place of this “bourgeoisie” whom you so despise, and to whom you owe the freedom and prosperity that enable you to play on your toy barricades? What vision of France and its culture compels you? And are you prepared to die for your beliefs, or merely to put others at risk in order to display them?

The questions of 1968 could and should be asked afresh to vocal opponents of Israel today, many of whom have taken to the streets to protest Western structures they deem as fundamentally oppressive.

As Israel’s retaliatory military action in Gaza has intensified, so too have marches across the West. But even as they claim to call for a ceasefire, the marches seem more intent on the destruction of Israel itself. Messages scrawled out across banners and signs amid seas of Palestinian flags often don’t call for a two-state solution, the return of Israeli hostages, or condemnations of Hamas. The predominant outcry seems to be a fresh call to arms, animated not by a desire for reconciliation but by an impulse for Israel’s great comeuppance.

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