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Leonard Peikoff Betrays Israel

From Understanding Objectivism, the book version, and this is from a student talking:
Now consider three examples, a couple of them historical. One, Adolf Hitler announces that he’s going to take over as much of the world as possible. And in each instance, when his armies march into another country, he is ready with a pretext: that he is only acting in defense of the German people. The second example would be, in 1967, the State of Israel, anticipating, by means of military intelligence, that they were about to be attacked on all sides, attacked first and blew up the opposing air forces, and claimed that they did that in self-defense.
Never mind what he's talking about, it doesn't matter to my point. Just note the Israel example. Then when Leonard Peikoff is commenting, I'll show you this out of order. Second he says:
This was certainly not a rationalistic presentation. He started with some examples—leaving aside the Israel one, which was inappropriate for the reasons we just mentioned—but Hitler is certainly a good example on the topic of force;
OK, now what are the reasons Peikoff says not to use the Israel example?
So the rule here is, do not pick controversial concretes. Pick a nice range of concretes. But when you’re trying to understand, the examples should be simple and straightforward. Then, when you grasp it, you can take up trickier cases. So it is a bad idea to combine concretizing with devil’s advocacy. I learned this teaching elementary logic, and I thought I’d get two birds for the price of one, and in illustrating a certain fallacy, which is a simple fallacy to understand, I threw in an argument for political isolationism, and the example aroused the class, and it became so controversial that they began to challenge the logical point involved, because they disagreed with the political point. And I lost the entire logical issue on the example. I learned from that that examples cannot be controversial; they have to be illuminating.
First, an aside, Peikoff is wrong here. He should have learned the lesson that his class had this big misconception, this big hole in their rationality. When they "began to challenge the logical point involved, because they disagreed with the political point", that was a huge thinking and methodology mistake the students were making. Which Peikoff correctly recognized. But then instead of teaching them how to think better, he thought in the future he should avoid this issue coming up. Instead of teaching the students to be good at this, his plan is to avoid this thing where their flaws come out. :(

Now about Israel, there's a really big problem here. The issue is, the Israel example shouldn't be controversial. By acting as if it's controversial, he is deferring to anti-semites. He's treating their disagreement as a legitimate controversy, and sanctioning it. Instead of Roark's "don't think of them" type approach, he's treating evil as this important thing and saying to change your actions according to the demands of evil. You have to choose different examples because some anti-semites will get offended by the Israel example, you have to think of them and give their anti-semitic concerns due consideration.

He's letting anti-semites drag the conversation into a distorted reality where Israel's right to exist is a controversy. That's granting them way too much. There are some issues where you can say it's controversial and respect the other side, but there are other issues where you must not grant them the sanction of being legitimate opponents whose dissent constitutes an intellectual controversy. Anti-semitism hasn't made the issue of Israel's self-defense intellectually or rationally controversial.

Peikoff went out of his way to try to stop a student from acting according to reality – a reality in which Israel's self-defense is a clear cut example similar to the World War II example. Peikoff demanded the student show greater respect to anti-semites, and help them fake reality by pretending there is an intellectual controversy where there isn't one. This is a betrayal of Israel.

PS In fairness, I want to add that I mostly like the book so far, I think it's pretty good, you could learn some things from it.

Elliot Temple on December 12, 2014

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