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The single defining civilizational test that millions are failing the world over


"The envy of excellence leads to perdition, the love of it leads to the light."

George Gilder, President Reagan's most quoted living author, pioneer of supply-side economics, venture capitalist, and founder of the futurist Discovery Institute presented a test to the world in 2009. If events in recent years and days are any indication, some Americans and millions all over the world are failing it. The test

distills into a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who surpass you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishments? Do you aspire to equal their excellence, or does it make you seethe? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do you impugn it and seek to tear it down?

Gilder writes that one's attitude towards a single country in the world is the measure of this test.

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem (Photo: Wikipedia) The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem (Photo: Wikipedia)

[The] central issue [in international politics] is not a global war of civilizations between the West and Islam or a split between Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and salient, but they obscure the deeper moral and ideological war. The real issue is between the rule of law and the rule of the leveler, between creative excellence and "fairness," between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it.

Israel defines a line of demarcation. On one side, marshaled at the United Nations and in universities around the globe, are those who see capitalism as a zero-sum game in which success comes at the expense of the poor and the environment: every gain for one party comes at the cost of another. On the other side are those who see the genius and the good fortune of some as a source of wealth and opportunity for all.

[sharequote align="center"]The real issue is between the rule of law and...the leveler...Israel defines a line of demarcation[/sharequote]

In Gilder's "The Israel Test," he argues that the test is about more than culture or economics, but morality itself, in paragraph that is particularly poignant in light of the class warfare stirring the world over.

The Israel test is a moral challenge. The world has learned to see moral challenges as issues of charity and compassion toward victims, especially the poor, whose poverty is seen as proof of their victimization. But the moral challenge of this century is not charity toward the poor but treatment of the productive elites who create the wealth that supports us all. A victim only of resentment, Israel epitomizes the plight of the productive elites under siege around the globe.

Gilder, a philo-Semitic WASP -- who admittedly initially failed his own test in his resentment of Jews while growing up as a New England prep school student -- continues:

[instory-book ISBN="9781594036125"]

In countries where Jews are free to invent and create, they pile up conspicuous wealth and arouse envy and suspicion. In this age of information, when the achievements of mind have widely outpaced the power of masses and material force, Jews have forged much of the science and wealth of the era. Their pioneering contributions to quantum theory enabled the digital age. Their breakthroughs in nuclear science and computer science propelled the West to victory in World War II and the cold war. Their bioengineering inventions have enhanced the health, and their microchip designs are fueling the growth, of nations everywhere. Their genius has lifted the culture and economy of the world.

Israel today concentrates the genius of the Jews. Obscured by the prevalent media narrative of the "war-torn" Middle East, Israel's rarely-celebrated feats of commercial, scientific, and technological creativity climax the Jews' twentieth-century saga of triumph over tragedy. Today tiny Israel, with its population of 7.23 million, five and one-half million Jewish, is second only the United States in technological contributions. In per capita innovation, Israel dwarfs all nations. The forces of civilization in the world continue to feed upon the intellectual wealth epitomized by Israel.

Today in the Middle East, Israeli wealth looms palpably and portentously over the middens of Arab poverty. But dwarfing Israel's own wealth is Israel's contribution to the world economy, stemming from Israeli creativity and entrepreneurial innovation. Israel's technical and scientific gifts to global progress loom with similar majesty over all others' contributions with the sole exception of the United States.

Gilder notes that Jewish flourishing in Israel predates the nation's establishment:

Long before the founding of Israel in 1948, Jewish pioneers in Palestine had reclaimed the land from malarial marshes, gullied hillsides, and sand dunes, and enabled it – for the first time in a millennium – to sustain a population of millions of Jews and Arabs alike. Now, over the last two decades, Israel has unleashed a miracle of creative capitalism and technology and exported its contributions around the globe. During the 1990s and early 2000s Israel removed the manacles of its confiscatory taxes, oppressive regulations, government ownership, and socialist nostalgia and established itself as a driving force of global technological leadership.

On the other side of Gilder's test are those who cast aspersions upon Israel:

[sharequote align="center"][T]he critics of Israel lash out at the foundations of civilization itself[/sharequote]

Contemplating this Israeli achievement, the minds of parochial intellects around the globe, from Jerusalem to Los Angeles, are clouded with envy and suspicion. Everywhere, from the cagey diplomats of the United Nations to the cerebral leftists at the Harvard Faculty Club, critics of Israel assert that Israelis are somehow responsible for Palestinian Arab poverty. Violence against Israel is seen as blowback from previous crimes of the Israelis.

With little or no extenuation for the difficulties of a targeted defense against guerrilla attacks, suicide bombers, rockets and missiles, the world condemns the Israelis' efforts to preserve their country against those who would destroy it. Denying to Israel the moral fruits and affirmations that Jews have so richly earned by their paramount contributions to our civilization, the critics of Israel lash out at the foundations of civilization itself – at the golden rule of capitalism, that the good fortune of others is also one's own.

Summarizing the issue, Gilder writes:

In simplest terms, amid the festering indigence and seething violence of the Middle East, the state of Israel presents a test. Efflorescent in the desert, militarily powerful, industrially preeminent, culturally cornucopian, technologically paramount, it has become a vanguard of human achievement. Believing that this position was somehow maliciously captured, rather than heroically created, many in the West still manifest a dangerous misunderstanding of both economics and life.


[sharequote align="center"]The envy of excellence leads to perdition, the love of it leads to the light.[/sharequote]

As with all nations and cultures faced through history by the plain facts of Jewish brilliance and success, we have a choice. We can either resent it or embrace it as a divine gift to the world. But although our choice is free, the result of our choice is intractably set by the moral law that governs the outcome of human endeavor as strictly as the laws of physics that govern the planets. The envy of excellence leads to perdition, the love of it leads to the light.

As TheBlaze's Billy Hallowell wrote several weeks ago, Gilder has translated this test into video form, which you can watch below:

Ben Weingarten discussed this story on Tuesday's BlazeCast with Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker (@bakerlink):


Note: The links to the book in this post will give you an option to elect to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sale to a charity of your choice. Mercury One, the charity founded by TheBlaze’s Glenn Beck, is one of the options. Donations to Mercury One go towards efforts such as disaster relief, support for education, support for Israel and support for veterans and our military. You can read more about Amazon Smile and Mercury One here.

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