George Gilder’s “The Israel Test” Reviewed

George Gilder is one of the most important people in American public life. In fact, he has been for the bulk of my life. When Gilder decides to champion as issue, he masters it, and then writes about it eloquently and persuasively – so much so, that his work changes lives. Gilder has been an intellectual authority against the vast majority of late 20th century ideological disasters, from radical feminism, to messianic environmentalism, and, most importantly, the politics of envy known as socialism. His Wealth and Poverty is the standard-bearer in arguing for the moral imperative of free markets. It is no surprise that his latest work, The Israel Test, is such a profound gem of a book.

There is no shortage of very good books available in defense of the nation of Israel. Right-wing intellectuals like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol have been the godfathers of an intelligent and ethical apologetic for America’s alliance with Israel. Even left-wingers like Alan Dershowitz manage to get this fundamentally obvious issue right. While I still believe anti-semitism (implicit and explicit) is the base causation behind much of paleo-conservatism’s foreign policy plunders, and so many other ideological catastrophes of the day, the fact is that plenty of good repudiations of anti-semitism exist for those looking. What Gilder’s book does, though, is lay out the true major motivation behind all sorts of anti-semitic behavior and attitude. The Israel Test draws the lines conclusively between his seminal Wealth and Poverty work and the subject of animosity toward Israel; yes, for Gilder, and now for me, anti-Jewish sentiments have always been, and are no less so in modern times, anti-prosperity sentiments. Indeed, what drives Jew haters is fundamentally a hatred and resentment of a success, achievement, and performance that the world has never, ever seen.

It is tempting to blow the entire book with a review like this. Gilder is such a masterful writer that for a “quote fanatic” like me, I could pepper this review with enough quotes to warrant your skipping the book. But I do not want to do such a disservice to you. I want you to read this book. I want you to appreciate the Jewish people even more after reading this book, and see the Israeli-conflict for what it is: “a battle between creative excellence and covetous ‘fairness’; between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it.” You will not finish the book unconvinced of the Jewish entrepreneurial accomplishments of the last generation. And you certainly will not fail to recognize the feats of Jewish scientists, feats that happened to have saved the world in the mid-20th century. I hope this book will convince you that “an ideological belief that nature favors equal outcomes fosters hostility to capitalism and leads directly and inexorably to anti-semitism.”

Gilder does not shy away from justifiable criticism of many Jews either. Indeed, one of his first critiques of the Jewish people is their frequent self-loathing. “Jews, amazingly, excel so readily in all intellectual fields that they out-perform all rivals even in the field of anti-semitism.” Wow. He meticulously demonstrates how the radical leftist economic policies of the nation-state Israel throughout most of the 1960’s and 1970’s led to the near economic collapse of the country in the 1980’s, and properly observes how the Reaganite revolution of Netanyahu and others opened up floodgates of prosperity and opportunity for this tiny desert nation. What kind of contempt does Gilder hold for the leftist socialist leadership of early Israel? “Israeli leaders balked the entrepreneurs and inventors who gathered there, creating a country as inhospitable to Jewish genius as any anti-Semite could contrive.” Wow again.

You will have to read for yourself the incredible technological contributions that Jewish scientists and engineers have made in the last thirty years, both inside and outside Israel. Gilder’s true love is technology, and he is the prime authority on the subject of techno-innovation. The damning flaw in most analyses of the Jewish situation is the insistence on seeing it as purely geo-political, and ignoring the vast economic lessons of tiny Israel.

“The more the players focus on politics rather than on economics, the more the game tends to deteriorate. Without capitalism, democracy is a zero-sum game and leads to conflict and war. Without the increasing economic rewards of an expanding pie of goods and assets, the democratic struggle for power hardly differs from a series of coups. In both cases, the losers are deprived not merely of political power but also of their livelihoods and futures. The way to transcend the zero-sum trap into the golden rule economy is to move from political and military relationships to the spirals of gain in capitalist economic interplay.”

Imagine that. If Nazi butchers and Palestinian hate-mongers did not begrudge Jews their God-given right to create a better life for themselves, the conflict would end. Gilder does plenty more in this work than demonstrate the case for Israeli-enterprise endeavors. He is uncompromising in his critique of the repugnantly named “Peace Now” movement, and he waxes and wanes philosophically about the paradoxical challenge that exists for Israel (“by repeatedly informing the Arabs that it wants peace more than victory, Israel evinces a short-term strategy that powerfully and consistently rewards bad behavior; as a result, Israel gets neither peace nor victory.”). Yes, wow.

Gilder’s conclusions are no less eloquent than they are powerful. “Anyone who obsessively denounces Jews has a name: Nazis. Anyone who believes that these people should command a nation-state ensconced next to Israel is delusional.” Gilder takes behind the woodshed those who advocate a continued appeasement of jihadists, and even worse, the “peace movement” that seeks to neuter America’s ability to defend herself and her allies. “The Israel test” is a test for America. For if we can not defend Israel, we will “prove unable to defend anything else; the Israel test is finally our own test of survival as a nation.”

This book is about so much more than Israel. Jew hatred has been with us since the beginning of history, and it will always be with us. But for those of us who passionately believe in the cause of freedom – of prosperity – of technological advancement – of transcendent values – there is only one way to take the Israel test. The values of America are threatened more than just indirectly by the enemies of Israel; they are placed squarely in the laser sights of our Nazi jihadist enemies who loathe all that is good and pure. Rank envy and covetousness goes beyond a simple matter of class warfare; it is dire sin, capable of genocidal horror. Gilder’s work is a wake-up call to all of us who recognize that our values – our very civilization – depend on us passing the Israel test.