Back in the sixties, I remember coming upon Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media" and recognizing the work of a prophet who was opening up a radically new way of looking at the world. It was he who gave us the now familiar expressions "global village" and the "medium is the message." McLuhan's writing caused a furious critical reaction among the best-known intellectuals of the time. The same thing happened in the eighties with Paul Johnson's revisionist history Modern Times.
I had the same experience in reading George Gilder's bok, The Israel Test. Gilder has now written over 15 books, including the incendiary Sexual Suicide(later reprinted as Men and Marriage), the ground-breaking Wealth and Poverty, which helped fuel the supply-side revolution, and more recently Microcosm, marking his emergence as high-tech guru. Gilder now directs Discovery Institute's Technology Program while practicing venture capitalism on the side.
So ideas indeed have consequences. And Gilder offers plenty of provoking ideas in his new book. The Israel Test employs passion and lively prose to explore the historical and present-day significance of the Jewish people, particularly in the context of capitalism and technology breakthroughs. The book is divided into three chapters. "The Israel Test according to Gilder" can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishments? Do you aspire to their excellence or do you resent it? Caroline Glick, the dauntless deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post sums it up: "some people admire success. The enviers hate Israel."
Gilder spends the first chapter establishing that indeed, the Jews qualify as the real master race in terms of centuries-long achievement, often under severe persecution. He cites Charles Murray's magisterial work Human Accomplishment, which states: "the Jewish three-tenths of one percent of world population has contributed 25 percent of recent notable human-intellectual accomplishment in the modern world…In the second half of the twentieth century, [the number of Jews awarded Nobel Prizes] rose to 29 percent. So far in the twenty-first, it has been 32 percent."
Gilder's thesis, in short, is that the Jews, a gifted, achieving people, have been persecuted not so much due to their religious faith but due to envy of their undeniable superiority in many fields of human endeavor.
In succeeding chapters, Gilder describes "the largely homeless Jewish intellectuals who, in the second half of the twentieth century…. transformed the global economy and the scientific culture of the age." Gilder then examines Israel's astonishing turn-around within the last two decades from a quasi-socialistic, high-tax welfare state to arguably the greatest scientific innovator outside of the U.S., all while being under constant siege and with a population smaller than that of New York City. Gilder profiles many of the innovative entrepreneurs, but the central character here is Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, the past and present prime minister and a "sophisticated supply side economist."
Time for the Test
For Gilder, the hatred of Israel by that immense Arab world that surrounds it is based on Hitler's anti-Jewish (and anti-capitalist) creed Mein Kampf, which is today required reading in schools and terrorist camps. According to Gilder, whenever Israel has ceded land or made concessions, the response has been more terrorist attacks and threats such as the intifada, suicide bombings, etc. "Today, Hitler's rants have morphed into a global program of religious education and military ideology sustained by Arab and Iranian oil money. The hundreds of thousands of Brown Shirts in Germany have become millions of frothing jihadi youths similarly inculcated with anti-Semitic hatred and lust for violence."
It's clear that George Gilder will not be invited to many book signings in the Arab world after this book. However, he has laid out a convincing case that the United States (and indeed what is left of the West) has a compelling interest in the survival of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and not only for economic reasons. Although religion is seldom mentioned in the book, Gilder, a believing Christian, does make the case that Jewish monotheism and a belief in a Creator who has produced rational beings in his own image have made possible modern science, economic growth, and most importantly, a belief in the dignity of the human person.
If we fail the Israel Test a new Dark Age may be upon us, infinitely worse than the onslaught of the barbarians, who lacked both weapons of mass destruction and fanatics ready to use them in what they believe is a holy cause. On the other hand, free markets and the most sophisticated technology will not save the West either, unless it recovers from its present dizzying moral and demographic collapse. Only a societal recognition of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus will achieve that.
Rev. C. John McCloskey is the author of Good News, Bad New: Evangelization, Conversion and the Crisis of Faith.