Saul Bellow’s Politics

Reviewing a recently published collection of essays titled A Political Companion to Saul Bellow, Martin Rubin examines the great writer’s politics:

Bellow, who was born in 1915 and died just short of his 90th birthday in 2005, followed a political trajectory typical of intellectuals—and particularly Jewish ones—of his generation. Starting out as a Trotskyite in the 1930s, he went through predictable adherence to New Deal liberal values and their afterglow, before ending up as a neoconservative in all but name. And in that last clause, “aye, there’s the rub.”

Unlike Edward Shils, his friend and colleague at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, Bellow was shy about identifying himself overtly with the political right. In this he was more like his other friend and colleague Allan Bloom. . . . While Bloom was too genuinely subtle in his politics and general thinking to embrace wholeheartedly any single label, Bellow’s similar skittishness additionally owed quite a bit to his ambition. To put it crudely, he knew that the prevailing intellectual establishment in this country and much of the rest of the West was too doggedly liberal to shower honors on someone who swam against the tide. . . .

Yet where it counted, he wore his political as well as his private heart on his sleeve. To his credit as a consummate artist, his fiction is generally unvarnished in its expression of his true political stance. As far back as his magnum opus, Herzog, 40 years before his death, you see his respect for normative values and the bourgeoisie revealing itself between the cracks. A dozen years later in Mr. Sammler’s Planet you see him unmistakably as neoconservative before [the movement’s] heyday. . . .

Adam Bellow, [the novelist’s second son], . . . stressed certain enduring lodestars in his father’s life, like his commitment to Israel and the influence of the conservative thinker Leo Strauss, with whom “he shared a certain sense of detachment from American society, but also a great sense of gratitude and appreciation for it.”

Read more at Washington Times

More about: Allan Bloom, American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Neoconservatism, Saul Bellow

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood