Twitter is a wonderful thing, but it can lead you to some very odd places. A few months ago I made a remark to the effect that recent events seem to have suggested that Hayek was wrong to suggest social democracy was the enemy of freedom – for it is in social democratic countries that the greatest freedom of thought, speech and lifestyle is to be found. Well, now ! It turns out that the redoubtable Dr Hayek, though dead for years, still has faithful acolytes to carry his torch. I found myself, at the age of 69, acquiring trolls – not only demanding proof that Hayek was unsympathetic to progressive taxation and the welfare state, but replying with aggressive rudeness when I did so. A lesson learned.
Recently I found myself in another weird universe. The start was pretty normal – someone providing a link to a speech by the former head of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad, who apparently suggested Israel needed new leadership with a more conciliatory tone . In itself, not an exceptional view, you may feel, though perhaps a surprising proponent of them. However, the comments made beneath the tweet led you into an extraordinary world, populated by people who either think Israel should not exist, or that it should be greatly expanded. Both sides leant on the idea of looking back at history to a time – often a very, very long time ago -when the borders of nations in the area were different from now. It did not prove much of an effort to find a time when Jews had much more than the present, or much less; or when it was all Arab lands.
Break for thought. I’ve recently been shown a marvellous dynamic map of Europe’s borders since about 1000. In 1066, France owned England. In 1200, England owned France (and kept a claim on it for another 600 years). You’ll notice, as you run the timeline, Poland is either a European super-power, or doesn’t exist at all; and at the end of the Second World War, it shifted leftwards by 200 miles or so. Hungary booms and busts, and maintains its resentment at losing Transylvania to Romania. German was once made up of scores of minor princedoms. Alsace and Lorraine switch between France and Germany. Yugoslavia lives and dies. And, let’s be fair to Shakespeare, there appears to be a time when Bohemia had a coast. This isn’t just a European experience, of course. Paraguay kept picking wars with its neighbours which would end in losing vast swathes of territory (and horrific numbers of lives). Indian partition, and he creation of Bangladesh provide another example.
What’s my point ? It is that an argument based on historic borders is usually unhelpful and often idiotic. We start from where we are, in a world where most boundaries have changed, and we try to find a way forward where conflict is avoided, exaggerated claims are discounted, gainers outnumber losers, and those who lose most are compensated.