Gradualism, and another little phrase

June 21, 2010

The Five    I just finished reading Jabotinsky’s novel, The Five, and would recommend it, especially for those whose curiosity about the author is never quenched. Toward the end, Jabotinsky inserts a character – an anonymous lawyer – with whom to lecture us:

“The crux of the matter is gradualism,’ the lawyer kept insisting. “Gradualism, and another little phrase, an interrogative consisting of a few short words….
…. The phrase is: ‘But why is it forbidden?’  Let me assure you that no power of agitation can be compared to this question in its devastating impact.  From time immemorial the moral equilibrium of humanity has on the fact that we hold certain axioms: some closed doors bear the inscription ‘Forbidden.’  Simply ‘forbidden,’ with no explanation; these axioms stand firm, doors are locked, floorboards don’t crack and planets continue to revolve around the sun according to the established order. But if only once you pose the question: ‘But why is it forbidden?’ — these axioms come crashing down.
It’s a mistake to think that an axiom is obvious, that it’s ‘not worth’ proving because it’s clear to everyone; no, my friend, an axiom is defined as a proposition that is inconceivable to prove; inconceivable, even if the whole world were to rise up in rebellion and demand: ‘Prove it!’  And as soon as this question is posed – it’s all over.  This little phrase is like an incantation: in its presence all locked doors are smashed to smithereens; there’s no more ‘forbidden’ and everything becomes ‘permitted.’  Not only the rules of conventional morality… but even the most instinctive, most innate…reactions of human nature — shame, physical squeamishness, the voice of blood — everything dissolves into dust.”

In light of this passage, can’t you just see Jose Maria Aznar (prime minister of Spain 1996-2004), like so many of us, valiantly seeking to resurrect an axiom from the dust it has become?

…. In our dealings with Israel, we must blow away the red mists of anger that too often cloud our judgment. A reasonable and balanced approach should encapsulate the following realities: first, the state of Israel was created by a decision of the UN. Its legitimacy, therefore, should not be in question. Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic institutions. It is a dynamic and open society…
…. For Western countries to side with those who question Israel’s legitimacy, for them to play games in international bodies with Israel’s vital security issues, for them to appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly to stand up in defence of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but a strategic error of the first magnitude.
Israel is a fundamental part of the West. The West is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost too. Whether we like it or not, our fate is inextricably intertwined.

The Five was Jabotinsky’s second novel; he wrote it in 1935.  The very next year he began to prepare an “evacuation plan” for the entire Jewish population of Poland, Hungary and Romania … to Palestine. The year after that -in 1937, two years before the Nazis invaded Poland- he addressed the Great Synagogue of Warsaw on Tisha b’Av, exhorting his fellow Jews to avail themselves of his plan: “Time is short but you can still save yourselves.”
Jabotinsky died of a massive heart attack in August 1940. He was sixty years old. 
A couple of weeks later, Lev Davidovich Bronstein (that is, Trotsky) was murdered in an axe attack in Mexico.  Interesting, isn’t it?  These two Jews were born within a year of one another, within about a hundred miles of one another, spent their formative years in Odessa, led amazing lives still of great interest … and then they both died in exile, in North America, within weeks of each other.  It’s enough to make you believe there is a G-d🙂
From the last page of The Five  — Warning:  DO NOT read this if you intend to read the book, as it’s so much more beautiful in its proper context) —

“Everything that’s good on earth, everything is tenderness: the light of the moon, the lapping of the sea, the rustling of branches, the fragrance of flowers, and the sound of music — it’s all tenderness.  And God, if one can ever manage to reach Him, shake Him, wake Him, and berate Him with one’s worst curses about the big mess He’s created, and then make one’s peace with Him and lay one’s head in His lap — most likely, He, too, is tenderness.”

…but it was that same gradualism that led me to reject the leftism I was raised in. It works both ways. What has the state done for me? What do I get out of this collective? No I don’t want to do it for the group. No I don’t think I need to control nature. No I don’t want that kind of power in my hands… it sounds like a painful unloving burden that hurts other people anyway.
the part about Jabotinsky ringing the alarm bells in Eastern Europe Jewery in Poland is the more interesting part to me.