Bill Gates famously called George Gilder "very stimulating even when I disagree with him, and most of the time I agree with him." The issues on which Gilder has staked out stimulating positions over more than 30 years as a writer and public intellectual are wide-ranging. They include the causes of poverty and the creators of wealth; the consequences of modern feminism; and the possibilities opened by the high-tech revolution. His arguments are often surprising, always provocative, and generally controversial.
His latest book is titled The Israel Test. Much of what he says is dramatically different from what just about anyone else is saying. In particular: "Either the world, principally the United States, supports Israel, or Israel, one way or another, will be destroyed. There are no other realistic choices. And if Israel is destroyed, capitalist Europe will likely die as well, and America, as the epitome of productive and creative capitalism spurred by Jews, will be in jeopardy."
At this juncture, it is probably not just useful but necessary to note that George Gilder is not Jewish. In other words, the case he makes for Israel has no basis in religious or ethnic affiliation. At the same time, not being tethered to Israel or to Jews allows him to be blunt in a way few of Israel's Jewish defenders dare.
For example, he says that people "who obsessively denounce Jews have a name; they are Nazis." He does not hesitate to apply the term to Arab and Iranian leaders who exhibit such behavior. He contends, as well, that the "most dangerous form of Holocaust denial is not rejection of the voluminous evidence of long-ago Nazi crimes but incredulity toward the voluminous evidence of the new Holocaust being planned by Israel's current enemies. Two Iranian presidents have resolved to acquire nuclear weapons for the specific purpose of 'wiping Israel off the map.'"
What can be done to prevent a second Holocaust and to beat back the jihadis at America's gates? Gilder believes, first, we need to recognize the nature and gravity of the threat; second, we need more resolve; and third, we need more technology of the sort America and Israel have been most adept at producing.
It will require comprehensive missile defense and other high-tech means to prevent our sworn enemies from "infiltrating nuclear weapons into American cities, exploding them offshore near American ports, or detonating bombs above America's critical electronic infrastructure" — destroying that infrastructure with an EMP (electromagnetic-pulse) attack, an offensive capability that Iran, for one, is known to be developing.
"No nation in history has succeeded in preserving its integrity and sovereignty without meeting the challenge of ever-advancing armaments," Gilder points out. "But many American intellectuals still imagine that the United States is different, that it is possible or desirable for us to negotiate an 'end to the arms race.' Our enemies will always want to end the arms race because they know only free nations can win it. . . . An end to the arms race would deprive the capitalist countries of their greatest asset in combating barbarism."
Gilder is convinced that the forces targeting Israel and America also are "targeting capitalism and freedom everywhere." Capitalism, he says, requires freedom — for entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers alike. All benefit because "under capitalism the achievements of one group provide markets and opportunities for others."
He goes on to make this unfashionable observation: Any democracy not resting on a solid capitalist foundation is doomed. "Without an expanding capitalist economy," he writes, "democracy becomes dominated by its zero-sum elements — by mobs and demagogues."
Over the centuries, such mobs and demagogues have, many times, turned against Jews. Today, Gilder adds, "they have turned against Israel." Sometimes, the root cause is simply greed and envy. But often it is the belief that "social justice" necessitates the dispossession of the "haves" and redistribution to the "have-nots" in the interest of "equality of outcome."
Over time, this can only lead to expanding poverty because it is based on a misunderstanding of what wealth is. Fundamentally, wealth inheres not in material resources but in "human minds and creations that thrive only in peace and freedom. In particular, the immiseration of the Middle East stems chiefly from the covetous and crippling idea among Arabs that Israel's wealth is not only the source of their humiliation but also the cause of their poverty."
Gilder has much more to say — more challenging arguments and perplexing questions than I can summarize in a brief column. But his underlying thesis is straightforward: The future of freedom, democracy, capitalism, America, the West, and the tiny state of Israel are all tied together in a single knot. Israel is "not only a major source of Western technological supremacy and economic leadership — it is also the most vulnerable source of Western power and intelligence."
Israel is, Gilder contends, "not only the canary in the coal mine — it is also a crucial part of the mine." If Americans will not defend Israel, they will "prove unable to defend anything else. The Israel test is finally our own test of survival as a free nation."