Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Tragedy of John Mearsheimer

There's been a recent and very significant development involving Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. A few days ago, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an entry pointing out that Professor Mearsheimer had written a book blurb for Gilad Atzmon's, The Wandering Who. The title at Goldberg's entry is not subtle: "John Mearsheimer Endorses a Hitler Apologist and Holocaust Revisionist." I hoped to blog something about it, but being the big birthday weekend, I put it off for a bit. In the meantime, a number of other writers have picked up on the story, and the implications for Mearsheimer are nothing short of devastating. In addition to The Israel Lobby, Professor Mearsheimer is the author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, a work of neorealist international relations theory that received general acclaim in the discipline. The book argues that great power politics is tragic, especially for the leading states in the system, since the structure of the realm impels them to seek greater power and act more aggressively, with revisionist aims for international mastery. Since opposing great powers share the same incentives to offense and expansion, states are fated to perpetual conflict. And thus the prospects are dim for international peace.


I think the prospects for internal peace are dim for Professor Mearsheimer. By that I mean that while both Mearsheimer and his co-author Stephen Walt have received withering criticism since the publication of "The Israel Lobby" in 2006 (and the full-length book in 2007), this latest controversy is a definitive confirmation of the attacks on Mearsheimer by his critics. As will be seen below, amid these developments, I can't imagine how Mearsheimer will ever live down the allegations of anti-Semitism that have followed him for years -- he will be fated to unsuccessfully fighting these battles for the remainder of his career. Personally, I've always held back on making such allegations. I was late to the debate in the first place, and the full weight of all the writings and responses took me a while to absorb. And frankly, there's hardly any more ugly attacks than to call someone anti-Semitic, especially a scholar whose work could be evaluated on scientific grounds. But I can't any longer make those arguments in good faith. After reading all the commentary on this, it's undeniable that Gilad Atzmon, whose book Mearsheimer blurbed, is a despicable and ugly Hitler apologist and Holocaust denier. What's also particularly disturbing is that Professor Stephen Walt joined the debate to explicitly defend Mearsheimer against the allegations of anti-Semitism. The two together are fighting a rearguard action with virtually no prospects for success. Readers will recall that I've hammered Walt on occasion, for example, when he spoke at the Code Pink convention earlier this year, where the roster of sponsoring organizations was a veritable "one-stop shop for the global left's international solidarity movement." It would be one thing to offer up a controversial theory of Israel as the primary focus of American foreign policy. It's quite another thing to actively join forces with the global left's Israel extermination industry, but that's what Stephen Walt has done. I find that tragic too, since Walt was someone who I studied a great deal in graduate school, and I wrote my dissertation with some of his theories as the starting point. Now the both of them have dug down deep to defend against this backlash, and it's just pathetic. These two eminent scholars have destroyed their reputations by peddling the most base anti-Israel stereotypes that simply can longer be defended on academic grounds. When you traffic with Holocaust deniers --- no, when you champion them --- you've pretty much given up the game.

In any case, Jeffrey Goldberg has been updating his responses to the controversy. See, "Mearsheimer's Endorsement of a Holocaust Revisionist (Cont'd)"; "Giving John Mearsheimer a Chance to Climb Down"; and "A Mearsheimer Falsehood, and Other Reactions to Atzmon."

And from David Bernstein, at Volokh, "A Challenge to John Mearsheimer":
Mearsheimer accuses his critics of suggesting that he must be an anti-Semite, given that he is intellectually in bed, so to speak, with the likes of Gilad Atzmon. Certainly, it’s reasonable to suspect Mearsheimer of anti-Semitism as this point, given that the main alternative explanation, that he is simply a fool who endorses highly polemical books attacking Jews and Israel without reading them closely or knowing anything about the author, has now been rebutted by Mearsheimer himself. But one could also posit Mearsheimer has decided to adopt a “Popular Front Strategy”, willing to accept any anti-Israel allies even from the blatantly anti-Semitic fringe. Regardless, it’s a pathetic fall from grace for Mearsheimer, and it’s disappointing to see that his co-author Walt is enabling him rather than pulling him back from the brink.
Bernstein links to Pejman Yousefzadeh, and here's another from Pejman that's vital: "John Mearsheimer Further Beclowns Self. Film at Eleven."

And here's this from David Rothkopf, "Mearsheimer picks a winner: Finally, a revealing book jacket blurb":
Mearsheimer was given a chance by Walt on this website to "defend" himself against the "smears" of Goldberg. Walt thus associated himself with Mearsheimer's choice to back Atzmon. He also asserted Goldberg was more inclined to make ad hominem attacks than to address the substance of U.S.-Israel relations. This is of course, absurd as, agree with him or not, no one can deny that Goldberg has written extensively on the subject and, to his credit, comparatively little about the two professors.

Mearsheimer's defense is stunningly lame. He begins with an attack on Goldberg. He then quotes the blurb and edges slightly away from the book by saying he doesn't agree with everything in it. He then repeats his admonition that Jews and non-Jews should read the book ... although I can hardly imagine how many Jews will be moved to buy a book on the recommendation of John Mearsheimer.

That said, he goes on to say that he has taught courses about the Holocaust and is therefore not a Holocaust denier. That said, Goldberg never said he was a Holocaust denier. He said he had endorsed one. Goldberg's assertion, based on Atzmon's writings, is that Atzmon has sought to both minimize the event and to explain away its origins as something at least in large part provoked by the Jews. What is this if not revisionism and there is no disputing that by blaming the Jews in part for their fate, Atzmon is, in fact, as accused a full-fledged apologist for Hitler.
Rothkopf's reference is the the post by Mearsheimer at Stephen Walt's blog at Foreign Policy, "Mearsheimer responds to Goldberg's latest smear."

I may be missing a couple of the responses I saw while researching this post, and I'll update if I find anything with added value. That said, this Harry's Place entry is probably the most precise examination of Gilad Atzmon's anti-Semitism: "Mearsheimer and Walt defend antisemite who thinks Hitler will be proved right." (And note that Harry's Place includes examples of Atzmon's anti-Semitism found in The Wandering Who, the very book that Mearsheimer reviewed.)

Check back for updates. Goldberg and Rothkopf are left-of-center, so Mearsheimer's taking a hit from those closer ideologically than myself. It's fascinating, and sad too, the way the authors of The Israel Lobby have kept digging when the long ago should have just stopped.


1389 said...

The University of Chicago is a den of iniquity.

After all, they hired both Obama and Moochelle. What else need I say?

El Conquistador said...

Donald - I'm not so sure that Mearsheimer and Walt's anti-Semitism negates their important work in the field, as you seem to suggest (perhaps I've misunderstood you though). Offensive realism and balance of threat are still incredibly powerful and elegant theories, regardless of whether their progenitors are jerks.

AmPowerBlog said...

El: I think it negates "The Israel Lobby." It also puts some of their other theories in a bad light, but folks might know enough to keep in mind the other considerations. I'm a neo-classical realist in my research, or I was, and I don't respect these folks as much as I once did.