Abraham Isaac Kook’s Enduring Insights into the Paradoxes of Modernity

March 28 2017

Reviewing a recent translation of the writings of Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)—the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine and the leading ideologue of religious Zionism—Zach Truboff reflects on how the writings of this original thinker have withstood the test of time:

The philosophy of history offered by Kook has long had its opponents. A central reason for such opposition is that this approach to history has the tendency to deny the autonomy and agency of human actors. . . . [But] perhaps . . . the most damning critique of Kook’s philosophy of history is that it has not yet been fulfilled. The messianic era, which [he claimed was] just beyond the horizon, now appears more distant than ever.

When all is said and done, the most enduring aspect of Kook’s philosophy of history may be its deep grasp of the human condition. Kook’s dialectical thinking allowed him to identify modernity’s radical possibilities along with the dark underside that is all too often ignored. Living at the end of the 19th century, Kook was a witness to the birth of incredible freedoms that facilitated great spiritual possibilities. At the same time, he also saw the terrible disruptions brought about by the forces of modernization. . . .

In [his essay] “The Way of the Renascence,” Kook points out that modernity’s emphasis on intellectual rationalization fails to appreciate the power of irrationality from which spirituality is often drawn. Spirituality, though, cannot be ignored, and any attempt to cordon it off will eventually lead to its reemergence in unpredictable and even uncontrollable ways. In [another essay], Kook identifies the enduring nature of national community. Human beings have an instinctual need for a sense of home, finding great meaning in their identification with a larger collective. Liberal cosmopolitanism, in its attempt to erase national borders and create a universal human identity, often runs against the grain of human nature.

Finally, the most dangerous aspect of modernity is the way in which secularism eliminates the divine idea from human life. Kook noted that all human culture, whether in the realm of economics, science, art, or philosophy, is a manifestation of humanity’s search for transcendent meaning. Secularism, however, limits human endeavor to the pursuit of self-fulfillment. Without transcendent meaning to guide their lives, human beings will descend into anger, frustration, and societal decay.

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More about: Abraham Isaac Kook, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Religious Zionism, Secularism

 

Iran’s Defeat May Not Be Immediate, but Effective Containment Is at Hand

Aug. 20 2018

In the 1980s, the U.S. pursued a policy of economic, military, and political pressure on the Soviet Union that led to—or at least hastened—its collapse while avoiding a head-on military confrontation. Some see reasons to hope that a similar strategy might bring about the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Frederick Kagan, however, argues against excessive optimism. Carefully comparing the current situation of Iran to that of the Gorbachev-era USSR, he suggests instead that victory over Tehran can be effectively achieved even if the regime persists, at least for the time being:

What must [an Iran] strategy accomplish in order to advance American national security and vital national interests? Regime change was the only outcome during the cold war that could accomplish those goals, given the conventional and nuclear military power of the Soviet Union. Iran is much weaker by every measure and much more vulnerable to isolation than the Soviets were. . . . Isolating Iran from external resources and forcing the regime to concentrate on controlling its own population would be major accomplishments that would transform the Middle East. . . .

It is vital to note that the strategy toward the Soviet Union included securing Western Europe against the Soviet threat and foreclosing Soviet efforts to pare America’s allies, especially West Germany, away from it while simultaneously supporting (in an appropriately limited fashion) the Solidarity uprising in Poland and the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. It is not meaningful to speak of a victory strategy against Iran that does not include contesting Iranian control and influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq while strengthening and hardening the Arab frontline states (including Oman and Qatar) against Iranian influence.

Syria is Iran’s Afghanistan—it is the theater in which Iranian forces are most vulnerable, where Iranian popular support for the war is wearing thin, and where the U.S. can compel [Iran] to expend its limited resources on a defensive battle. Iraq is Iran’s Poland—the area Iran has come to dominate, but with limitations, and a country Iran’s leaders believe they cannot afford to lose. The U.S. is infinitely better positioned to contest Iran’s control over Iraq than it ever was in Poland (and similarly better positioned in Syria than it was in Afghanistan).

A long-term approach would focus on building a consensus among America’s allies about the need to implement a victory strategy. It would deter the Russians and Chinese from stepping in to keep Iran alive. It would disrupt the supply chain of strategic materials Iran needs to advance its nuclear and conventional military capabilities. And it would force Iran to fight hard for its positions in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously pressing the Iranian economy in every possible way. Such a strategy would almost certainly force the Islamic Republic back in on itself, halt and reverse its movement toward regional hegemony, exacerbate schisms within the Iranian leadership and between the regime and the people, and possibly, over time, and in a uniquely Iranian way, lead to a change in the nature of the regime.

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More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Soviet Union, U.S. Foreign policy