We all know people who have lost it over the past few years. Perhaps it was the election of Donald Trump or the Brexit vote the same year that did it. Or maybe it was the lockdowns or the Ukraine war that sent them over the edge. The strangest and saddest cases, however, involve those who for long years managed to preserve their intellectual poise and political integrity in the face of monolithic mass conformity, elite hostility, and relentless gaslighting by the mainstream media, only to eventually crumble and succumb to supporting the “latest thing.” What is worse is when these hitherto tough-minded types succumb to the “latest thing” even when it is curated with all the typical information-warfare paraphernalia that they had hitherto resisted: Manichaean depictions of evil oppressors and innocent victims, the emotive manipulations of wartime propaganda, flag emojis, social-media trends, hashtag activism—all packaged together with the instinct to purge dissent and enforce conformity.
This is what seems to have now happened to a distinctive strain of leftist foreign-policy realism in response to the Israel-Hamas war.
Commentators, analysts, and streamers who managed to preserve their equanimity in the face of the war in Ukraine and indulge in open dissent are abdicating their intellectual independence along with their critical faculties in the face of the war in Gaza. These thinkers braved all sorts of moral opprobrium and vicious denunciation when they urged us to turn away from the distressing images of Ukrainian towns and cities devastated by Russian attacks and of the columns of Ukrainian refugees streaming west. Instead, they insisted that if we wanted to understand the war—the better to resolve it—we had to consider more abstract propositions, such as the geopolitical context of the Russian invasion, the history of NATO expansion, the circumstances of the 2014 “uprising” that overthrew the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych, and so on.