Gaza and the nomos of the earth
"Ignore the conspiracy theory that Israel is controlled by the Jews."
“Nomos,” as in Carl Schmitt’s great book Nomos of the Earth, is a Greek word usually translated as “law.” I think it does better as “standard”—the standards of the earth.
The difference between a law and a standard is that no power enforces a standard. For example, what we mean by “the Internet” is a standard called TCP/IP. No one forces your computer to speak TCP/IP. There is just no gain in speaking anything different.
The Internet is beautiful because it has (almost) no central government. By what standards should we govern the earth, which also has (almost) no central government?
Standards are beautiful because they enforce themselves without law. And of course, by definition, there is no power above the power of sovereign states, which could in any way enforce a positive law on them—if there was, they would not be sovereign.
If standards are laws, they are natural laws—like the law that 2+2=4. When we speak of natural law, as opposed to the positive law of a supreme power, we speak of a standard that applied by all would benefit all—and from which there is no incentive to defect. TCP/IP would not work if any node on the network had a motivation to disobey it.
We normally speak of the natural law of human individuals—the ideal standards for anarchic organization (for example, among castaways on a desert island). Burning Man can organize itself almost this way. Burning Man is still not at all without a government, nor are all humans cut out to be burners—nor will the image of Hamas paragliders battening on an Israeli rave, flying wolves with machineguns to scourge these gentle human sheep, soon leave our minds. “Peace, love, unity, respect.” Burners and other highly selected populations aside, mere anarchy does not scale. We humans are mere overclocked chimps and will always need positive laws of power to bind our peace in iron. But our laws and institutions are felicitous when they do not challenge the fundamental pattern of natural law that is set in stone by our physiological reality.
But among states there is also a natural law. This is the natural law of nations—one of the great discoveries of European civilization in the classical era. Let’s rediscover this lost Atlantis of nomos, of standards, and try to apply it to this week’s nightly news.
Debugging international law
We have a lot of “international law” and “international institutions.” The world of 2023 does not just have a nomos. It has an operating system of global governance.
Is this operating system working? Is it good code? Who even wrote this code—how, when, why and where? These are the basic engineering questions we should ask ourselves when we see any governance disaster that does not seem to make sense. Compared to the failure of a government, the failure of a bridge is a pratfall.
When we see horrible things on our TV screen—never-ending ulcers of pointless war; unfixable geopolitical bugs--maybe it is because the operating system of the world is not working well. It is not doing its job. Or maybe at least could be doing it better.
Why is this OS not working well? One theory is that the positive international law of the 21st century has diverged from the natural law of nations as it was understood in the 18th century.
Once we stop believing in the standards we were brought up in, what do we do? First, we must extract the broken standards fully from our minds. Second, we must find and adopt new and better standards.
Because the nature of the 18th century (different people, using different technologies) is so different from that of the 21st century, the doctrines of the 18th century will need an update. But the fundamental philosophical principles of the natural law of nations never change and never will. Why not rediscover them? Or at least, reinvent them?
Let’s use a current war—the new Gaza war of 2023—as an example of this thinking. We see immediately that this war, a small part of the Arab-Jewish conflict in the Holy Land which has been sparking along for the last century, will not end in peace, love, unity or respect. John Lennon will just have to keep on imagining.
The global nomos of the 20th and early 21st century, designed by the most learned men of the time, professing an inexhaustible desire for peace, has, in this one small corner of the earth, utterly failed to bring peace. How could these grand astrologers go awry?
And how can we wipe away their weird and impossible dreams, and work for a world that works? In the words of Paul Kruger, by “taking what worked from the past, and using it to build the future.” Let’s start with one small and local example.
Brainless in Gaza
I was born in 1973—the year of the Yom Kippur War. 50 years later, the Jews in the Holy Land are caught by surprise, and grievously slaughtered, again. Then, again, the Jews strike back, regain the upper hand, and are—restrained by their foreign friends.
Ignore the conspiracy theory that Israel is controlled by the Jews! Idiot. Israel is like everywhere else. Israel is controlled by the State Department. From an Israeli paper:
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken sat last night with the [Israeli] war cabinet and and dictated that humanitarian concessions be made to Gaza.
Blinken remained in the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, and waited for the cabinet to approve his demands. The cabinet discussed the exact wording of the decision for hours, while each time drafts were passed between the cabinet room and Blinken’s room, just a few meters away, at the Kirya.
At approximately 3 am, they achieved an agreement on the text that was read in English in the cabinet room. Some ministers asked to have it read in Hebrew as well and claimed that certain words could be interpreted wrongly. Therefore, an agreed version was formulated by the ministers, which was transferred to Blinken’s room, who approved the outline.
And folks call America an empire! Seriously—Xerxes would recognize this procedure. On the other hand, Secretary Blinken is of the Hebraic persuasion—so…
Blinken, a globalist brat / international Jew like me, is childhood best friends with Rob Malley, Biden’s Iran policy czar, son of the literary tiers-mondiste Simon Malley, who was best friends with Yasser Arafat, and who in a stunning echo of Alger Hiss actually hired Iranian agents into the USG. Iran is the primary state sponsor of Hamas. So…
So, on paper, Israel is controlled by the “rules-based order” of “international law.” Who are the experts in this order? It turns out that the State Department—being so elite and all—knows the rules so well it never breaks them. And of course can tell anyone else how to never break them, too! A tough job, but someone has to do it. Ladies and gentlemen: US foreign policy, keeping the world safe, peaceful, and free since 1919.
Obviously, the “international law” and “rules-based order” of the early 21st century evolved out of the Anglo-American liberal nomos of the 19th and 20th centuries. While our present nomos uses the diplomatic language of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it twists this language subtly until it describes a unipolar order—ie, an empire—while denigrating its multipolar predecessor as “international anarchy.”
But when we leave behind all this verbiage, all this paper—what do we see? What is even going on here? Xerxes might recognize this procedure. But Xerxes, one feels, would at least pick a side. In the Gaza conflict, which side are we even on? The heck?
The United States of Michael Vick
What is actually going on in Gaza? How can the story be told simply? One way to think about it is to think about dogs. In a unipolar world order, the central empire loves its “allies.” Or should. And you also love your dog. Or should. But…
One way to see US foreign policy is as a dogfighting pit posing as a veterinary clinic. Dogs will sometimes get into it at the vet. But at the vet, the standard approach to a dogfight is to break them up. In any context in which break them up is not the standard approach to a dogfight—check your GPS. You may actually be in a dogfighting pit.
In the Global American Empire (GAE), or in any unipolar order, all conflicts can be categorized as four kinds of dogfight:
Dogfights in which America has no dog in the fight.
Dogfights in which America has one dog in the fight.
Dogfights in which America has two dogs in the fight.
Dogfights in which America leaps into the pit itself.
This simple theory can help you understand all kinds of international relations. For instance, the current Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict (see more below) is a conflict of type 1. The current war in the Ukraine war is a conflict of type 2. The Vietnam War was a conflict of type 4.
It will readily be seen that the Gaza war is a war of type 3. Our type 3 wars are the worst kind, for obvious reasons. At least the type 4 wars end quickly (or used to lol).
The live coal
What happened here? Why do we have two dogs in the same fight? How did we get from the rules-based international order to the nomos of Bad Newz Kennels? Is the purpose of US foreign policy just to generate tank porn and GoPro snuff movies?
What is US foreign policy? What—assuming a unipolar order in which America is at least first among equals in economic and military strength—should it be? Where do we need to go? Where are we? How did we get here? How do we go there?
These questions were already answered in 1850 by Thomas Carlyle, who wrote of the British Foreign Office—the heart of the 19th-century world order—that there was “but one reform for the Foreign Office: to set a live coal under it.” This was not done.
By 1914, English diplomacy had stacked up the tinderbox that burned down the Victorian world—a theory of grand strategy whose factual basis was mostly made of abstract worries about projections of German industrial capacity and so on. Maybe they were right and we all would have been wearing spiked helmets. But in any case, in 1914, the Foreign Office plainly wanted a war—and they plainly did everything they could to get one—and they plainly got one. Which they won.
And while, thanks to the debts they rang up, Britain proper lost her unipolar supremacy, and the center of the Anglo-American order moved to Washington after 1918, the traditions and standards of Anglo-American diplomacy have remained intact, though of course changing, until the present day. When we speak about international affairs, we think in the language of the Anglo-American tradition.
From the early days of the 19th-century international arbitration movement, the thrust of this tradition has been to abandon the natural law of nations, a system of multipolar peer-to-peer standards, and replace it with a positive law of power. This positive law is enforced by “alliances” of the unipolar Anglo-American power and its loyal client states.
In 1914, for example, Germany was presented with a diplomatic choice: either go to war to preserve her sovereignty—or accept that the dispute between Austria and Serbia (the Serbian regime being plainly guilty of complicity in the murder of the Austrian heir to the throne) would be judged by England, a la Secretary Blinken, through her preferred method of “international arbitration.”
Austria was a client of Germany. Serbia (then spelled “Servia”—“plucky Serbia” was literally rebranded during the war, because “Servia” seemed too “servile”) was a client of Russia, which was a client of France, which was a client of England. To accept that you must be judged by your enemies is to surrender to your enemies.
In the old nomos of the earth—the standards that German diplomacy still clung to, a century after Waterloo—the right to make war was the most fundamental right of a sovereign state. In the new nomos, making war—without the approval of the State Department—of course—is fundamentally a crime. A violation of human rights.
Supposedly, we care a lot about peace and human rights. If we actually cared, we might ask: is all this working? Is it working for non-Americans? Is it working for Americans? Is it working for anyone? Is it doing an effective altruism?
The old and new way
If having both dogs in the same fight—while hovering close over the pit, threatening to jump in ourselves—is the reductio ad absurdum of unipolar foreign policy, what is the proper foreign policy of a sovereign state which is either strong, or fully supreme?
In my opinion, Carlyle also had it right:
Our English interest in [any] controversy, however huge said controversy grow, is quite trifling; we have only in a handsome manner to say to it:
“Tumble and rage along, ye rotten waifs and wrecks; clash and collide as seems fittest to you; and smite each other into annihilation at your own good pleasure. In that huge conflict, dismal but unavoidable, we, thanks to our heroic ancestors, having got so far ahead of you, have now no interest at all. Our decided notion is, the dead ought to bury their dead in such a case: and so we have the honor to be, with distinguished consideration, your entirely devoted,
—FLIMNAP, SEC. FOREIGN DEPARTMENT.”
I really think Flimnap, till truer times come, ought to treat much of his work in this way: cautious [not] to give offence to his neighbors; resolute not to concern himself in any of their self-annihilating operations whatsoever.
Alexander Hamilton, writing as George Washington, put it more succinctly:
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.
John Quincy Adams, writing as James Monroe, said it again:
Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none.
Gene Roddenberry even weighed in with an interstellar foreign policy of Flimnap—with General Order 1, aka the “Prime Directive”:
No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.
In the age of Elon Musk, the “Prime Directive” starts to sound almost literal. But when Alexander Hamilton agrees with Gene Roddenberry, what could be more American? What is the foreign policy of Flimnap? Nothing more than an old nomos of the earth—the good old Westphalian order, as elaborated by writers from Grotius to Vattel. Past, present and future can all join hands in the natural law of nations.
But lest we take this so-called isolationism as the traditional American foreign policy, there is a darker side to US history.
For we can read these exhortations not as an assertion of good ideas that are obvious to Americans, but as a repudiation of terrible ideas that keep recurring among Americans.
Hamilton and Adams, let alone Roddenberry, are like drunks talking about how awful booze is. And as drunks—as Americans—they ought to know. And nothing is more American than missionary imperialism. The British invented it, but we perfected it.
From Citizen Genêt in 1973 to the Gaza war of 2023, Americans keep getting addicted to the heroin of foreign policy. We have always been high on our own supply. For us, it is a mostly harmless vice. But for the rest of the world, American political opium is a deadly drug. The users love it—ask the Ukrainians. They will present you their deaths, amputations, etc, with the mad glee of a junkie displaying his sores and empty smile. And even the pit bulls love the pit.
Are you addicted to Anglo-American missionary imperialism? Test yourself with two easy checks. Do you genuinely, emotionally, care about the plight of the Palestinians? Do you know where Stepanakert is? If your answers are “yes” and “no,” you need help.
Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?
What does it mean to have a dog in the fight? What is this man-dog relationship, this system of clients and “allies” and “leaders,” quislings and satellites and puppet states? Clearly, the State Department did not invent it.
Many Westerners are very concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. According to them, this is about “altruism”—concern for other human beings, no matter how distant, no matter how different. In Peter Singer’s terms, they are expanding their circle of concern—doing something small to save a Palestinian child across the world seems just as important as saving a drowning child in a swimming pool in front of you.
But is their circle a circle? If the circle of concern was actually a circle of concern, if its emotional roots were in expanding the mammalian instinct of empathy across the abstraction of the universal globe, the circle would be shaped like—a circle. It should not matter if the drowning child, the victim of war or ethnic cleansing, was an Arab or a Jew or… an Armenian.
“Who speaks these days,” Hitler asked in a private speech, “of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Actually, less than a month ago as I write, in a “type 1 conflict” in which America had no dog, two hundred thousand Armenians were ethnically cleansed. There were no demonstrations. There were no passionate group letters at Harvard and Yale. No one cared. And this, I will argue, was a good thing.
If you care about the Palestinians but not the Armenians, your circle of concern is not shaped like a circle. I suggest that this is because it is not a circle of concern at all. Rather, it is a pyramid of patronage—or, at its most debased, of telescopic philanthropy. If humans were angels, Peter Singer would be teaching us all to be living Buddhas. Since humans are humans, he is teaching us all to be Mrs. Jellyby. I have Arabists in my own family—an uncle was the provost of the American University of Beirut. And one aunt, with no Semitic blood since Joseph of Arimathea, is the spitting image of the Dickens character (without, to be fair, the family neglect).
Over its history, the Anglo-American system of missionary imperialism grows less and less imperialist, and more and more missionary. The early traders, soldiers and settlers disappear. The teachers and diplomats and aid workers flourish. Everything turns into the Niger Expedition of 1841. (Pronounced knee-zhay, of course.)
The ties between the Arab world and the Anglo-American elite, especially the mainline Protestant WASP elites of New England, are over a century old. The American University of Beirut, for instance, was founded in 1866. And while missionaries from Harvard may have gone to the Near East to preach Christianity, they soon found that preaching liberalism was far more salubrious to their health.
What went wrong with the Armenians was that this relationship never quite worked. For one thing, it was always weird sending Christian missionaries to Christians. You would think that the Armenians, being Christians, would make better Christian dogs. But in fact the whole thing feels weird—like hiring your cousin as your housecleaner.
So the Armenians, for the last 150 years, have been trying to build this relationship and failing. As Elie Kadourie memorably showed in The Chatham House Version, the Armenian genocide of World War I cannot be understood outside the context of the Allied attempt to carve a new Armenian client state out of the Ottoman carcass—and, as always, the diplomats were long preceded by missionaries. It just didn’t work.
Similarly, the ethnic cleansing of Stepanakert happened because Armenia, of course a Soviet SSR and longtime Russian client state, elected a pro-American leader. Russian diplomacy could easily have kept Azerbaijan at bay—but American diplomacy, while no doubt passionately opposed to any kind of ethnic cleansing, had absolutely no power behind it. America had no political movement devoted to the Armenian cause. America had no dog in the fight.
And what was the result? Two hundred thousand Armenians lost all their real estate and had to become refugees. Did they deserve to? Surely not. But—
Did they lose their lives? Were they slaughtered like sheep or exploded from the air? If they had stayed—perhaps. Once it was clear that they were militarily far weaker than their Turkic foes, the Armenians of Stepanakert—an Armenian city for centuries— did the only sensible thing, and left. A true nakba.
And no one cares. No one cares about the Azeris, either. This is just impersonal history—the present has, in a way, become the past. By accident and unconcern—because the circle is not actually a circle—for no good reason.
And the result is—peace. Actual peace, not the peace of “no justice, no peace.” Today, there is no war in Nagorno-Karabakh—because force was tested and the winner was obvious. War, and not hymns, is always the path to peace.
Yes, regardless of right, the strong prevailed and the weak gave way. The lesson of logic, let alone of history, is that right cannot exceed might. Might makes right, because right is meaningless unless imposed by might. The way to set the world right is not to defeat the mighty, but to make the mighty righteous.
Technically, the State Department is supposed to be in charge of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. It has embassies, of course, in both countries. But in fact, in 2023, the State Department does not matter very much in Central Asia. Through mere fraying, through indolence and incompetence, we have reinvented 21st-century isolationism.
What would it mean to apply this doctrine to the Arab-Israeli conflict?
The classical law of war
Again, in the old nomos, war is the most important right of a sovereign nation. A nation which follows the old standards makes war when another nation violates its national rights. War is the ultima ratio regum, the last argument of kings—a kind of lawsuit, made not before a judge, but before God, the lord of all battles.
Always, might makes right—victory creates its own legitimacy. As John Adams said, “the government de facto is the government de jure for us.” If you have won control of France, by whatever means, you are the government of France—even if you are, as Gladstone called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, “the negation of God.” (I want to take Gladstone to Naples in 2023—so he can see the actual negation of God.)
If the outcome of a neighboring war threatens your own safety, of course, you have a reason to intervene. Cyprus or Jordan or Lebanon or Egypt might have a reason to jump into the pit with the dogs. But America does not run much east of Nantucket. So the classical position of neutrality seems most appropriate.
The basic way for a country to be neutral in a war is, as Hamilton observes, to trade freely with both sides, but not sell weapons (“contraband of war”) to either. Israel does not need our gear, or our subsidies. Hamas does not deserve our gear, or our subsidies. Done. Problem solved. With this one simple policy, imagine how many people the State Department and the Pentagon could lay off.
But what is the proper policy for Israel, which is in the war? As the stronger party, Israel needs to impose a just peace
The fundamental problem with Arab-Jewish coexistence in the Holy Land is that the Arabs feel the land belongs to them—and feel the right to drive the Jews off it, in the normal old-fashioned way, by killing them whenever possible.
Possibly even telling the truth, Hamas went so far as to explain that at least many of the massacres in the kibbutzim near Gaza—some of the most liberal, elite kibbutzim in Israel, and of course the ravers at Supernova were not exactly davening haredim—were not even the work of its soldiers. The massacres, Hamas assured us, were done by private citizens of Gaza—soccer moms, and the like. Okay very cool.
Since the Jews also feel that the land belongs to them, a lawsuit is necessary. In a world where the “United Nations” was not a thing, and America had zero dogs in the fight instead of two, this lawsuit would take the form of a war. And the Jews, being stronger, would win this war—even against the whole Arab and Muslim world. Since this is clear to everyone, no violence at all is necessary.
It is hilarious to hear intelligent people discussing the ethics of besieging Gaza, as if this idea of a “siege” had never occurred in human history. Actually, there is no reason for there to be any significant violence in Gaza—without water, power, food, fuel and Internet, all of which come from Israel or at least through Israel, Hamas is helpless.
The classical nomos of the earth bars unnecessary violence against civilians. Anything that is militarily necessary, such as a siege and/or blockade, is absolutely permissible. Since no standard can succeed if it includes an incentive to defect, there is no way for a workable standard (as opposed to a positive law, enforced by Secretary Blinken) to ban the common and essential military tactic of besieging a city.
For example, it is clear to any sane person that if Israel could install a technical device on its bombs that would prevent them from killing civilians, it instantly would. But this technology does not exist. But the technology to not shoot up a dance party does exist—and Hamas has no interest at all in using it.
Even when they besiege and bomb Gaza, Israel is following the European rules of war, because the Israelis have no desire to cause unnecessary harm to civilians, and in fact frequently break the rules of war in the wrong direction—hampering their own power. Hamas never hampers its own power to preserve Israeli lives—this is unimaginable. Of course, since Hamas is so much weaker, it is also unsurprising.
Even in World War II, the Anglo-American “strategic bombing” campaign had at least the fig leaf of “disrupting enemy production” and so forth. To historians it is perfectly clear that both Arthur Harris and Curtis LeMay had adopted the Giulio Douhet theory of terror bombing from the air—a theory which culminated in the utterly unnecessary aerial destruction of Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In which plenty of little girls were killed. Still, if atomic bombs had a “but don’t kill little girls” switch, even the bloodthirsty Americans of 1944 would have set it. But
How would a sensible sovereign Israel, operating in a renewed multipolar nomos, handle the problem of Hamas and Gaza? First, tackle the root causes of the crisis—send Secretary Blinken, his entourage, and the whole American Embassy home. First class, perhaps. It’s worth it.
Second, call the Chinese and hire their failing construction industry to build an ugly, slapdash, soulless city for 2 million people, in six months, next to Gaza, in Israel but on the Egyptian border. Make it as horizontal as Gaza is vertical. Give it its own power and water, driven by a saltwater pipeline to the coast and a gas line to Israel.
Third, in parallel, build real military fortifications (not wire fences) around Gaza, turn off the utilities and block the checkpoints and the ports, and make sure there is a safe tent for anyone who can get out. Bribe Egypt to let anyone leave Gaza as a refugee, then immediately admit them to the camp while they wait for their new apartment. Only personal possessions that can be carried, and no weapons, come with them.
Fourth, once the only people left in Gaza are thirsty, starving, fanatical solders, level the place with all the weapons available, and give anyone who wants to die the martyrdom they deserve. Bulldoze the rubble into hills and make it a national park.
Fifth, move the border unilaterally so that the new, landlocked Gaza City is now part of Egypt. Egypt has no need to consent. Give Egypt a date when the gas will be cut off. The Gazans are now Egyptians, not Israelis—Egypt can govern them as she wishes. The outcome is a permanent peace. If Egypt cannot prevent Egyptians from shooting rockets at Israel or making other kinds of trouble, of course—more war is needed.
Nothing in this solution involves any kind of violence or combat—any more than the relocation of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh involved violence or combat. The Azerbaijanis only needed a few days of war to make it clear that they were stronger. And the Armenians just had to lose their real estate—not their lives.
The target of the siege of Gaza is not civilians. It is the military regime of Hamas. If Hamas wants to send its civilians out for Israel to house and feed, Israel—being a modern country—will not treat them the way Caesar handled the Gauls at Alesia.
But if Hamas wants to turn its own civilians into hostages—not to mention the 200 hostiages it has already taken—Israel cannot prevent this. It has no responsibility to protect enemy civilians from their own government. In fact, an Israel which cared about its national survival would treat the Israeli hostages as already dead.
This solution is not, I am pretty sure, what will happen. I also am pretty sure that, unless G-d takes a little more interest in the world he supposedly created, and in particular the people he supposedly chose, there will be nothing recognizable as Israel in 50 years—just like, after 30 years of governance by Secretary Blinken and his ilk, there is not much of the old South Africa recognizable. US diplomacy, keeping the world safe and orderly and free since 1919.
But this is how might makes right. Now, picture this victory—the victory of force and order over turmoil and chaos—worldwide, cleaning up all the world’s open sores. You are picturing the fall of the American empire—and realizing that, like the USSR (if much better), the GAE can actually fall upward. Almost all the problems it supposedly exists to solve will rapidly solve themselves as soon as it is gone.