Matthew Arnold's Hebraism: An Antidote to Today's Anarchy

Nov. 25 2014

In Culture and Anarchy, the preeminent Victorian intellectual Matthew Arnold famously wrote of the contest between those human endeavors that are noble, ennobling, and beautiful and a liberal society where everyone is free to do or say whatever he wants. He also wrote of the contest between the Hebraist and Hellenist strains of Western culture—the former based on doing, the latter on thinking. According to Arnold, for culture to triumph it must strike the right balance between the two. Gertrude Himmelfarb writes:

“Hebraism and Hellenism” . . . are not so much opposed, Arnold points out, as “divergent,” animated by “different principles” but having the “same goal” and “aiming at a like final result.” Both are “contributions to human development—august contributions, invaluable contributions.” Both “arise out of the wants of human nature, and address themselves to satisfying those wants.” The aim of both is the same: “man’s perfection or salvation.” Moreover, it is by alternating the two, “a man’s intellectual and moral impulses,” that “the human spirit proceeds; and each of these two forces has its appointed hours of culmination and seasons of rule.”

The last proviso, about the “appointed hours” and “seasons,” is at the heart of the matter, for this is what made the issue urgent for Arnold. “Now, and for us,” his preface asserts, “it is a time to Hellenize, and to praise knowing; for we have Hebraized too much, and have over-valued doing.” Yet this was followed immediately by the cautionary note: “But the habits and discipline received from Hebraism remain for our race an eternal possession; and as humanity is constituted, one must never assign to them the second rank today, without being prepared to restore them to the first rank tomorrow.”

The final chapter [of Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy] even foresees a time when the two great principles would be in accord.

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More about: Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hellenism, Matthew Arnold, Western civilization

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank