The Max Perutz Memorial Lecture The Archimedean Lever: Right in the Face of Might
Welcome: Dr. Torsten Wiesel
Max Perutz was representing the Royal Society in this Network, but he came originally, as you know, from Austria, and his ability to communicate, both in his writing and as a scientist, made him more a citizen of the world. He was admired and respected by us all and a real role model in terms of his science and also his modesty.
Max stood for something very special. He was one of the founding members of the Network, and we wanted his tradition for respect for human and civil rights to be kept alive. So this lecture in his honor is the first lecture of this sort by the Network, and it is meant to celebrate Max.
We are very fortunate in having a good friend of Max from Cambridge, Sir John Meurig Thomas, here with us to help pay tribute to Max. He is a very distinguished chemist and has received a number of awards. Dr. Thomas wanted to speak about Max as a good friend. So, I will invite Sir John to come up and give his presentation in honor of Max.
Max Perutz: Chemist, Molecular Biologist, Human Rights Activist†
John Meurig Thomas
(Department of Materials Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK and Davy Faraday Research Laboratory, Royal Institution, London W1S 4BS)
In tracing the trajectory of Max Perutz’s life, future historians of science will doubtless highlight several great scientific adventures and achievements:
He founded, with Sir Lawrence Bragg and John Kendrew, the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit of Molecular Biology in the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, in 1947, and then he was the principal scientific architect of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), which he founded in Cambridge in 1962.
Along with his associate, John Kendrew, he solved the first protein structures(1) (haemoglobin and myoglobin), and this earned them the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1962.
Again, with John Kendrew, he founded the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and became its founding chairman in 1963.
By focusing on numerous mutants of haemoglobin from a large range of living creatures and numerous humans, he gained a deep understanding of several inherited diseases, enabling him to open up the new field of molecular pathology and adding to our knowledge of molecular evolution. He elucidated the nature of such tragic diseases as thalassemia and sickle-cell anaemia.
In 1970, he finally worked out the mode of action of haemoglobin(2) and, in 1986, nearly a quarter of a century after his Nobel Prize—winning work, he discovered how haemoglobin acts as a drug receptor.
As Francis Crick wrote in 2002,(3) Max Perutz was still the centre of the revolution in molecular biology that occupied the second half of the 20th century.
And the careful historian of science will also record that, in 1948, the 34-year-old Perutz solved the problem of how a glacier flows. (It moves, not like treacle, but more like a ductile metal when it is extended, with planes of atoms gliding over one another.)
All these, and many other scientific achievements, are associated with Max Perutz’s name. But to those who knew him, to those who worked or lived alongside him, to those who observed his quiet, effective negotiating skills, and to those who had the pleasure of talking to or corresponding with him, or attending his lectures, or of reading his evocative book reviews, essays and letters, there was far more to Max Perutz. He combined, in a singular fashion, all the noblest instincts of mankind.
Max Perutz was a man of warm humanity and of great human decency and compassion. He had immense moral courage. He was morally incorruptible. And he possessed huge reserves of intellectual energy, as well as a youthful voracity for new knowledge. He was a stylish and incisive author of popular scientific articles and reviewer of books—books that he meticulously researched and fastidiously, though eloquently, analysed. He wrote charming and sensitive personal letters. Above all, he was an indefatigable warrior, passionately committed to social and political justice. Intellectual honesty and freedom, and especially human rights, mattered to him profoundly.
Max Perutz often exhibited the temperament of the artist and the imaginative sensibility of the poet. It pleased his many admirers, and Max himself, when Rockefeller University accorded him their first Lewis Thomas Prize, recognising the Scientist as Poet.
Max delighted in the beauty of the natural world. He was the kind of man who, before starting his laboratory work at the LMB on a Spring morning, would occasionally take a walk on the Gog-Magog hills (outside Cambridge), filling his heart and soul, in so doing, with pantheistic pleasure.
But Max was resolute in his opposition to what he perceived to be wrong-headed and erroneous arguments or decisions. Long before his work at Cambridge came to fruition—long before he made his monumental scientific breakthroughs—he felt impelled to resign from his post as lecturer in the University of Cambridge, as a protest against the decisions of the central authorities.
Another example of how forthright he could be is seen in his attack on certain philosophers and historians of science whose theses he disputed. Max rejected as nonsense the view, popular among modern sociologically oriented philosophers of science, that scientific truth is relative and shaped by a scientist’s personal concerns, including his or her political, philosophical, even religious instincts. When he attacked such opinions, he once quoted Max Planck’s memorable assertion:
“There is a real world independent of our senses: the laws of nature were not invented by man, but forced upon him by that natural world. They are the expression of a rational order.”
Max would probably have agreed with Richard Feynman’s flippant remark:
“Philosophers of science are about as helpful to scientists as ornithologists are to birds.”
Max’s long, labyrinthine path as a research scientist began when he studied chemistry at the University of Vienna, his home city. He acquired a special interest in organic biochemistry and heard about the work of Sir Gowland Hopkins, the discoverer of vitamins. Max decided that he wanted to solve a great problem in biochemistry. His teacher, Hermann Mark, visited Cambridge and had planned to pave the way for Max to join Hopkins’ group there. But Mark met J.D. Bernal, a pyrotechnically brilliant conversationalist, who said he would take Max as his
student. (Mark forgot to approach Hopkins!) So, in 1936, Max became a researcher in the Cavendish Laboratory, where Bernal taught and researched in physics, and a graduate student at Peterhouse.
On Bernal’s advice, he learned X-ray crystal structure analysis in the Department of Mineralogy. A year or so later, he visited his cousin Felix Haurowitz (in Prague), who convinced him that an appropriate target for his ambitions was the structure of haemoglobin, first, because it was the protein that was most abundant and easiest to crystallise, second, because oxyhaemoglobin and deoxyhaemoglobin had different crystal structures—but no one knew what these structures were. Gradually, it emerged that each unit repeat volume in a crystal of haemoglobin has about 12,000 atoms. In 1937, when Max made his decision, X-analysis had solved structures containing no more that about 100 atoms. That was the magnitude of the problem Max set himself.
He had been encouraged, however, by the success that J.D. Bernal and Dorothy Crowfoot (later Hodgkin) had achieved in obtaining in 1934 beautiful X-ray diffraction patterns of the protein crystal, pepsin, in its mother liquor. Soon, he, Bernal and Fankuchen obtained(4) similarly encouraging diffraction patterns from haemoglobin and chymotrypsin. But it was not until the late 1950s, under the aegis of Sir Lawrence Bragg, that he finally reached his target of elucidating the structure of haemoglobin. And when he did, it made him famous. From 1936 to the late 1950s, however, he suffered a succession of setbacks: there were many scientific, personal and political obstacles to surmount. In 1940, his studies at the Cavendish Laboratory were rudely interrupted by his internment (along with hundreds of German-speaking people then living in the UK), first in the Isle of Man, then in Quebec, Canada. He returned to work of national importance during the war. In 1942, after a whirlwind romance, he married Gisela Peiser, a Berlin-born lady then working in Cambridge; in 1943 he became a British citizen. In 1944, he was back again at the bench in the “Cavendish”, where, in 1945, he was joined by John Kendrew. Francis Crick, a physicist, joined the group as Max’s Ph.D. student in 1948. Jim Watson, a geneticist, came in 1951 and was soon working with Crick on DNA.
In early 1951, after some six years extracting what X-ray crystallographers call Patterson maps (which, in the case of haemoglobin crystal, consisted of some 25 million lines between the thousands of atoms in the haemoglobin molecule), Max Perutz felt elated when they seemed to tell him that haemoglobin consists simply of bundles of parallel chains of atoms spaced apart at equal intervals. I quote his words:
“Shortly after my results appeared in print, a new graduate student joined me. As his first job, he performed a calculation which proved that no more than a small fraction of the haemoglobin molecule was made up of the bundles of parallel chains that I had persuaded myself to see, and that my results, the fruits of years of tedious labour, provided no other clue to its structure. It was a heartbreaking instance of patience wasted, an ever-present risk in scientific research.”
That graduate student made himself unpopular in the MRC unit of the Cavendish at the time. But he was very clever. In fact, years later, Max Perutz told me that that student turned out to be one of the cleverest men he ever met. His name was Francis Crick—a man who won the Nobel Prize, with Watson and Wilkins, before he completed his PhD!
After a period of deep depression, which disturbed Max emotionally and physically, a ray of brilliant light appeared in 1953. Max, remembering an earlier suggestion by Bernal, realised that he could benefit by tagging molecules of haemoglobin with heavy ions, such as silver or mercury. Being the expert crystallographer that he was, he knew immediately that such heavy-atom-tagging should enable him to solve the structure of haemoglobin in a manner quite different from his early approach, which Francis Crick had so comprehensively and unceremoniously demolished. Both Perutz and Kendrew redoubled their efforts. Max it was who first demonstrated the validity of the method, by computing the X-ray diffraction patterns of haemoglobin with and without a mercury tag. (Sir Lawrence Bragg was so thrilled that, to quote Max, he “went around telling everyone that I had discovered a goldmine”).
But John Kendrew, in 1958, working both at the Cavendish and with David Phillips at the Royal Institution, solved the three-dimensional structure of myoglobin, an achievement greeted world-wide as sensational. Max was both pleased and somewhat depressed with this breakthrough. Pleased because his method and his laboratory and his partner, John Kendrew, had triumphed. But he said later that he was also depressed, partly because he had not “got” to haemoglobin first, but partly also because he had a nagging uncertainty that the solution of the haemoglobin problem might prove bewilderingly and interminably elusive. In September 1959, however, Max Perutz and his colleagues, using 40,000 measurements from crystals of haemoglobin and six heavy-atom derivatives, calculated the three-dimensional structure of the molecule. At last, he had reached the longed-for shore.
Max officially retired from the LMB in 1979, but he worked there almost every day until the time of his death in 2002. And only a few days before he entered hospital during his terminal illness, he completed the text of a research article that followed on from his important work on the fundamental causes and molecular aspects of neurodegenerative diseases.
It is universally acknowledged that the LMB is one of the most famous and successful research laboratories now in existence. Max had set up a simple structure for running the LMB from its inception in 1962. “I persuaded the MRC” he said “to appoint me as Chairman of the Governing Board rather than Director, a Board to be made up of Kendrew, Crick, Sanger and me” (four wise men, five Nobel Prizes!). “This arrangement reserved major decisions of scientific policy to the Board and left their execution to me. The Board met only rarely!”
Shortly after he passed away in 2002, I discussed elsewhere (5) the scientific and humane legacy of Max Perutz. In particular, I sought to divine the secret of the extraordinary success of the LMB and to contrast his methods of running a research laboratory with the advice nowadays given to scientists by the Paladins of accountability in various funding and research councils, and increasingly by university administrators. The principles he used were: choose outstanding people and give them intellectual freedom; show genuine interest in everyone’s work and give younger colleagues public credit; enlist skilled support staff who can design and build
sophisticated and advanced new apparatus and instruments; facilitate the interchange of ideas, in the canteen as much as in seminars; have no secrecy; be in the laboratory most of the time and accessible to everybody when possible; and engender a happy environment in which people’s morale is kept high.
These are lofty principles, obviously and compellingly correct, but difficult to live up to. A crystallographer friend of mine, who visited me recently, said of them that they reminded him of the Sermon on the Mount or the Declaration of Independence. Max, however, complied with these principles, and he was ably assisted for many years by his devoted wife, Gisela, who made the canteen of the LMB a focal point of intellectual stimulus.
My friendship with Max extended over the last 24 years of his life: we lived a few doors from one another; we were members of the same Cambridge college, Peterhouse; and for part of that time I had responsibilities for running the Royal Institution and the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory, places where he and John Kendrew had been readers for 13 years, from the time of the appointment of my predecessor-but-one, Sir Lawrence Bragg, as director. Through my friendship with Max, I benefited enormously from his wisdom, guidance and humour, which I grew to appreciate during our numerous walks around the playing fields adjacent to our homes, while strolling in the Botanical Garden, or sitting for tea in the intimacy of our homes. During those discussions, I recall particularly two anecdotes worthy of reciting here. The first relates to an incident that occurred while he attended a human rights gathering. A Soviet scientist had said that one should cease to use the term “freedom of speech” and replace it with “freedom after speech.” The second involves his retort when I asked him how he had become such a skilled negotiator. He replied by quoting what a former fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge had once said:
“In Cambridge, to reach your goal, you must learn to combine the linear persistence of the tortoise with the circuitous locomotion of the hare.”
Max was utterly repulsed by the thought of the use of torture on political or other prisoners. He could be seen to cringe while talking about it. His revulsion of such practices was partly what animated him as a human rights activist. But he detested injustice of any kind and was dedicated to the eradication of ignorance. He did something about it. Members of this audience will know that, ten years ago, in Amsterdam at the Dutch Academy, he read a paper on “By What Right Do We Invoke Human Rights?” This widely published lecture(6) is a closely reasoned history of the concept of human rights from the days of Aeschylus (458 BC) to the present day. His response to the terrorist attack in New York on 9/11 was to organise a petition intended for world leaders. Amongst other things it said, “Avoid military actions against innocent people. Military retaliation does not solve the problem of fanaticism, but instead fuels the anger by demanding ‘counter’ revenge.”
In closing this tribute, having heard repeated mention today of liberty, freedom, the pursuit of truth and the elimination of injustice, I can think of no better way to remember Max, and to remind us of the things that he stood for, than to quote some of the words of the Hindu mystic and poet, Rabindranath Tagore (Gisela, Max’s wife, had met Tagore in Berlin). Tagore
and Einstein had an interesting correspondence some 90 years ago. Tagore held that scientific truth was realised through man, whereas Einstein maintained (as did Max Planck, whom I quoted earlier) that scientific truth must be conceived as a valid truth that is independent of humanity.
Knowing that the premier academics and scholarly bodies of the world are committed to the restless pursuit of truth and knowledge (as Max was), it is appropriate that I should recite, to end, Song 35 of Tagore’s “Gitanjali”:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action —
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
1. The protein structure data base in the United States now contains over 30,000 structures, essentially all derived using the crystallographic method pioneered by Perutz and Kendrew.
2. The words used by him were: “Haemoglobin is not just an oxygen tank: it is a molecular lung. It changes its structure every time it takes up and releases oxygen. You can hear your heart going ‘thump, thump, thump’; but in your blood the haemoglobin molecules go ‘click, click, click’ – but you can’t hear that”.
3. Francis Crick, Physics Today, 2002, Aug. issue.
4. J.M. Thomas, Angew Chemie Intl Ed. Eng., 2002, 41, 3155
5. J.D. Bernal, I Fankuchen and M.F. Perutz, Nature, 1938, 141, 523
6. M.F. Perutz, Proceedings Amer. Philos. Soc., 1996, 140, 135.
Wiesel – We very much appreciate your tribute to Max, whom we all admired. It is interesting to see how his devotion and professionalism to science led to openness. I think the comment after 9/11 that you cited is exactly what you would expect him to say.
The first lecture is by Sari Nusseibeh, who is a professor in philosophy and also President of Al-Quds University. He actually got his bachelor’s degree in economics and politics and philosophy at Oxford University and then he went to Harvard, where he got his Ph.D. in Islamic philosophy. He has a background that would prepare him for the world in which he has come to live. He was a professor at Birzeit University for a number of years, teaching philosophy, and then, in 1995, he because President of Al-Quds University. There was a time when the university was in some trouble, and I think his presence as its leader has been significant for its now strong status.
The Archimedean Lever: Right in the Face of Might
Sari Nusseibeh, President, Al-Quds University
The human propensity to use violence as force or to threaten its use (whether explicitly or implicitly) for the achievement of ends is quite common. This propensity in the political sphere is so common that it has led many to believe, especially in the context of international relations theories, that force is necessary, in the sense of its being irreducible or inevitable. Typically force has been viewed, in Machiavellian fashion, as the midwife in the birth of political institutions or systems. More generally power, as a second-generation and a generic notion encompassing all of the state’s negotiating cards or assets, including, typically, that state’s military capacity (whether independent or indirect, through alliances and agreements), has been regarded, alongside self-interest, as the main determinant of relations between states. The political world map, it has been argued, is determined by power and interest. In short, states in this view, whether at birth or in the course of their existence, are not regarded as moral agents, but as power brokers. This can be observed at many levels, including, even in peacetime, typically, at the level of negotiating international trade or border treaties or agreements between them. Typically and in the first instance, states do not seek justice or fairness in the process of formulating such treaties or agreements, but the fulfillment of interest, the achievement of which is viewed as being a function of the power they possess (Albin, ).
Let us assume that this so-called realist view in international relations theories is correct, and that the building mortar with which states and political systems are constructed is power and interest. It would then only be logical to extrapolate from this that legal as well as moral norms associated with those systems—or constructed and adhered to by those systems—must in some basic manner be secondary to, if not wholly derivable from, the mortar with which these systems have been constructed. This observation is so simple but fundamental, that a fuller explanation of it is in order. If one were to view, in a unilateralist manner, human action and human forms of association brought about and reinforced by such action as being informed in the first instance by such considerations as power and self-interest, then one would be forced to concede that moral principles, as well as the legal norms that come to express them, are but secondary outgrowths or constructs or appendages whose origins are rooted in that power and self-interest. Furthermore, such principles and norms, unless specifically conceived to undermine the primary principle of self-interest—a matter which the realist view does not entertain as being consistent with its understanding of human nature—will by definition play the role of reinforcing that self-interest, and the political order or system that is built upon it. Indeed, even any formal action undertaken by such systems, whether an act of war or of charity, must necessarily come to be defined in its bare bones as being simply an act that reinforces an exclusively self-interest— and power-based human order.
Understandably, such an explicit formulation of policy would not sit well with unilateralist world powers, which would like to have their cake as well as eat it. For example, if they wished to carry out a war, they may like to present this as a just war, meaning both that it is a war that is aimed at achieving justice as an end, and that is being carried out justly. If they
wished to carry out a trade agreement, or an international act of charity, or an act of political intervention, they may also like to present these as being morally inspired or morally informed acts. But in a realist view, such interpretations or representations of intention would not make any sense (except, perhaps, as delusory devices). Unless such acts are conceived in the first instance to be fundamentally at odds with the underlying mortar of power and self-interest, they can be understood only as being acts that serve and reinforce that power and self-interest and the political order on which it is founded.
There is no escaping this logical trap laid by the realist view. This is why, hard as it may try by using the right language on the values of freedom and democracy, the United States (and Britain of course behind it) finds it hard to convince the Iraqi people, and the Arab world more generally, of its good intentions in Iraq or the Middle East. Indeed, this is why the insurgency in Iraq, however ugly and brutal, finds sympathy across the Arab and Moslem worlds. Because, offensive and extreme as it may appear, a realist view in fact provides justification for the beheading or kidnapping of innocent civilians, just as it does for a formal—even a so-called surgically clean—armed intervention. Terrorism, as defined in the annals of the United Nations, or in the U.S. Congress, can perforce be seen only from the perspective of the “other side” but as part of a legal and moral framework or package that is conceived to protect the unilateralist, self-interest—based intentions and real aims of the aggressor. Also acting unilaterally against such an aggressor and informed by its perception of its own self-interest, the aggressed party is and feels fully entitled to the use of whatever force is at its disposal as it fights back. Indeed, in a realist view, that party would be acting perfectly legitimately as it goes about constructing its moral norms to fit its circumstances and its own interests.
Fortunately, a realist view, though upheld by some for whom our conclusions should come as no surprise, is not a realistic view of human nature. It accounts for only a part of this nature, as well as for only a frozen or only a temporal slice of it. A realist view, in other words, fails to provide a comprehensive or a historic and full account of human nature, and it fails equally to provide a unified theory of human behavior.
A realistic view, on the other hand, would provide both a unified as well as a comprehensive account. In this different view, egotistic impulses as well as calculative skills, simultaneously or over time, interact or compete, in the same plane, for informing human behavior. Calculative skills in particular address the individual’s contextual placement and consequently the social or associative requirements, even on egotistic grounds, for defining that behavior. Such skills are just as inherent to human nature as that nature’s egotistic impulses, but as they come to be applied to the latter the resultant products, as principles for action, in proving to be a more effective means for the achievement even of egotistic ends, therefore come to occupy a higher logical order, so to speak, than the objects defined exclusively by the egotistic impulse. Starting off as being calculatively associative rather than blindly egotistic or unilateralist in their nature, these principles can be shown eventually to develop into basic and universal values, such as the primary human concerns for freedom and equality, and these, in turn, can thus gradually come to be seen as assuming a leading role in informing human behavior.
A behavioral theory that takes account only of the crude egotistic impulse in human nature is thus incomplete, while one which totally sets out a generic separation between this egotistic dimension as a natural human quality and the calculative faculty as a divorced and Platonically objective “reason” or set of moral values, will perforce yield two separate and often contradictory accounts of human behavior, or two irreconcilable dimensions, often described as an unbridgeable chasm between is and ought—a natural as opposed to a moral account of behavior. A unified theory, on the other hand, would provide us with an understanding of how the two primary and natural components of human nature, egotism and the calculative skill, combine to yield principles for action—those of freedom and equality—which are best suited to the robust evolution of that nature. The calculative propensity towards these principles can only be further reinforced by that other, equally natural sentiment in human nature of compassion, a sentiment that makes the adoption of these principles fulfill the psychologically inherent disposition in an individual to care for others. Care and compassion can thus come to be viewed, not as sentiments which typically conflict with reason, but as ones that naturally complement and reinforce those principles of action that are formulated by the calculative faculty in its interaction with the egotistic impulse.
However, the objection may now be raised that while a unified account such as the one just described makes ideal sense, in fact human beings as well as states do not behave in accordance with that sense, but are rather observed as acting primarily out of interest. This objection can be countered on the grounds that it is once again incomplete, in that it takes account only of a temporal slice of human nature. Indeed, human beings or states, at certain periods of their evolutionary histories, can be observed to act purely on the basis of blind egotistic interest. More often than not, however, as a child grows older and becomes more familiar with her calculative skills and her contextual human surroundings, she learns to temper that instinct by those skills in cognizance of the requirements of being part of a context, if not also by natural sympathy or instinctive compassion toward others, or by what can come to be described using these terms as a moral sense. Similarly, even states conceived by an act of force tend toward adjusting that force by a tempered view of their place among nations. Basic values such as freedom and equality, being claimed in the first instance as the associative cornerstone of their own citizenry, eventually have to come to be recognized as the associative cornerstone of international association. Often, indeed, the citizenry in those states are quicker to reach that recognition than their respective governments. Where this is the case, history shows that those governments come themselves to be replaced, or their foreign policies are cumulatively if gradually made to become different through the mounting pressure of their citizenry.
The realistic view, then, is one that accounts for the gradually and historically transformative character of human behavior, as one which, through conscious will, constantly seeks and reaches out for a well-formed balance or higher logical order of primary motivation, defined by what we described as the principles or core concerns for action, namely, freedom and equality. One may speculate a gradual historical process of convergence toward those principles, as well as a process of gradual refinement and universalization of their application—i.e., a process of both qualitative as well as quantitative development. Viewed in light of this perspective, one may then regard the evolution of law and law practices of political systems that are grounded historically in force and self-interest, not as acts that necessarily reinforce that order, but as acts that seek slowly to emancipate that order from its purely or exclusively
egotistic foundations. A recurrent historical theme, and a sine qua non, associated with this emancipation is the emancipation and increasing participation of the individual herself in the political order, or her transformation from object (passive) to subject (active), or from subject (passive) to citizen (active). Such transformative processes even in one order tend to trigger parallel processes in other orders, and tend eventually to impact how one order allows itself to treat another. One could view these historical processes as a general pattern, rather than as descriptions that are true of specific instances of political orders. To deny this process of evolution in the identities of individuals and political orders is to be blind, for example, to the way in which the concept of citizen evolved from Athenian or Roman times, or to the way in which the attitude to slavery has also changed—indeed, even to the way marriage as a relationship between two individuals has evolved. On the other hand, to be cognizant of these transformational processes is to be cognizant of identities, whether of individuals or of political orders, not as being temporally or qualitatively static objects or selves—i.e., frozen in temporal slices of time—but as being dynamically transforming identities, or as self-organized systems which are constantly being shaped by an internal emancipatory agency or will. History, in other words, constantly evolves, however painfully slowly it might seem (to the point, sometimes, of creating the illusion that it cyclically repeats itself) reflecting the active agency of the human will.
A paradigm or prototype of such an agency or will is what we might call “an Archimedean moral lever”: Archimedes, it is said, claimed that if he had a lever that was long enough, he could then cause the world itself to move, however heavy it might be. One might ask oneself if one could conceive of a moral lever and a specific point in human relationships at which it might be placed, such that the world’s moral order can be caused to change, or such that the emancipatory process of transformation referred to can be reinforced. Let us pose this question in another, down-to-earth way: assuming that Israel, informed by a realist perspective, unjustly and by force deprives Palestinians of the basic values of freedom and equality, would Palestinians then have no choice, or be better off, responding in the same way, or could we conceive of a situation in which, cognizant of a higher logical order of principles for action, Palestinians stand to gain from remaining steadfastly committed to that higher order, while refusing to respond with violence or force, and insisting on acting as a paradigm of the moral will?
Before answering this question, let us address and answer another question behind it: assuming that in the face of unjust situations as the one described Archimedean moral levers instead of guns are brought to bear as tools of change, wouldn’t the transformative process toward universal freedom and equality be enhanced? One “scientifically respectable” way of answering this question would be to refer to a success function: to the extent that nonviolent movements for emancipation prove to be a cost-effective and successful means of change, and their use therefore more widespread, the transformation process toward a better world order will clearly be enhanced. For positive returns in this context to be regarded as effective or successful, they will clearly have to relate specifically to the conflict or predicament under review, and not only (nor even at all in the first instance) to general world order. Indeed, such examples are in abundance, whether in the area of labor disputes or political conflicts (Gene Sharp, ’05). To return to the Palestinian case, therefore, it would seem that our question is not inappropriate, since the choice of a cost-effective and successful nonviolent response at least in theory exists.
At this point, I wish to introduce another feature, underlying nonviolence, to our moral lever: conflict situations are typically situations in which the protagonists or players posit themselves as being enemies of one another. In conceiving of nonviolent as opposed to violent responses between enemies, emphasis is often placed—the pressure tactic associated with violent means still being uppermost in one’s mind—on resistance as a form of pressure, or on a “power greater than force” (…). Such responses have indeed proved to be highly effective, even in the Palestinian context, and they may indeed become a requirement in some possible future context. But it is a mistake to assume that all nonviolent responses need by definition to be instances of resistance (or the application of pressure) for them to be effective, regardless, that is, of context. What we might call an “attraction” tactic, as another form of nonviolent response, conceived not to apply pressure but contrariwise to create what one might call “a gravitational pull” is also appropriate in certain contexts. A pressure tactic presupposes resigning oneself to the identity (and position) of one’s protagonist, while a gravitational tactic presupposes the ability to positively transform the identity (and position) of that protagonist. Arguably, it is (at least) sometimes more profitable to address the situation “from outside the box”—i.e., by not resigning oneself in the first place to a prefixed notion of protagonists having static identities. Viewed from inside the box, the protagonists are typically assumed as fixed variables, or as having fixed identities (and positions), and the question raised becomes one of whether it is best to employ violent or nonviolent forms of pressure by one protagonist against another as a means to extracting a desired objective from them. Viewed from outside of the box, protagonists need not be regarded as being prefixed or preset in their political identities, and the question that could be raised is one of whether one protagonist can so act as to help shape or define the identity of the other protagonist to one’s advantage. An identity or substantive attitudinal change can then provide the basis for reaching that objective. Coincidentally, while this observation can inform the foreign policies of such world powers as the United States, instead of being informed by what we earlier called “the unilateralist or realist view,” nowhere does this observation seem to be as valid or applicable as in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Two elements, besides context, are presupposed in this view from outside the box: one is the element of agency, or will, as a means of affecting or shaping one’s own identity or that of others; and the second is the notion of the de-ideologized or de-constructed human being, or citizen—admittedly a clumsy expression, but one which I hope will do the job of conveying the idea meant. The first element draws on the notion of human identities being constantly shaped or formed by conscious acts of will rather than as being a priori and static. The second element draws on the related notion that ideologies are second- or third-order constructs relative to basic human concerns.
Let us take as an example of the first element two cases from the Israeli-Palestinian context, one being that of Israel’s Labor Party loss of the elections in the aftermath of the Camp David talks, which resulted in the replacement of Barak by Sharon as a negotiation partner; the other being that of Israeli polls, which show a dissonance between electoral behavior and political desires. The argument has been cogently made that Sharon’s election was partly made possible by an apparent or perceived Palestinian rejection of peace with Israel; and that, likewise, a persistent popular support for the draconian measures by Sharon are partly a result of Palestinian acts of violence. In both cases, therefore, a pressure-based “repellent” dynamic is
argued to have been set in motion, in that Palestinians, though the weaker of the two parties, have actually contributed negatively through their actions to the formation of the identity of their protagonist in the relationship, whether in the form of producing a different protagonist altogether, or in the form of producing a negative electoral or public attitude. It is easy to surmise the effect of such a repellant dynamic on the negotiating posture of the Israeli protagonist, and the negative outcome of such negotiation as it affects the Palestinian side itself. One can likewise surmise the effect of a gravitational pull or an attraction dynamic, or of causing contrary changes to occur on a negotiation outcome. In short, one major variable in a negotiation or contestation model, besides how two protagonists view the exchange values of the items being contested or which are under negotiation, is the identity or posture of one protagonist in the relationship as this is affected by the other. The main principle in this argument is that a positive negotiating partner is often made, not found—and can indeed be lost after having been made or found (one need hardly point out that this principle is just as valid in ordinary human relationships, such as marriage or friendships, as in political contexts). Unless, therefore, one views one’s own acts as being fatalistically predetermined or statically preset (as one might indeed view the acts of one’s protagonist), there is clearly a political and psychological space in which the activation of the human will can be so articulated as to help shape the best form or posture of one’s opposite in the negotiation. This is an incredible source of power. But it is a power that can be used either way: one of the protagonists, wishing that negotiations never succeed, may well help through certain actions to so demonize or indeed provoke the second protagonist such that the latter can no longer pose, or indeed even wish to consider himself, as a potential peace partner.
The second element of an Archimedean moral lever is the recognition and employment of the distinction between the ideological and the more mundane or basic clusters or layers making up the identity of the individual human being: opinion polls both in Israel and among Palestinians show an overwhelming support for a workable two-state solution. But the same polls also show an overwhelming support for those political parties or movements that do not aim at (or work toward) such a solution. Expressed political behavior does not correspond with latent dispositions—even as these are translatable into deep political convictions. Primarily, both Israelis and Palestinians overwhelmingly believe that the employment of force is necessary, though they sadly also see eye to eye on what they believe deep down is an inevitable solution and a better alternative to continued conflict or the continued use of force. Cognizant of this distinction, an Archimedean lever in this context would therefore be one that, in addition to its nonviolent feature, will also and through a gravitational dynamic be so manipulated as to succeed in “lifting up” or “drawing out” these latent dispositions to the political surface, making those dispositions, rather than surface and immediate concerns, inform expressed political behavior and attitudes.
Nonviolence as a moral means of effecting political change therefore consists of both pressure, as well as of gravitational dynamics. Pressure and gravitational dynamic forms of nonviolence methods need not be seen as mutually exclusive tools. They need only be recognized, and valued, as different types or forms of political tools, one or the other or both being appropriate in terms of the political context in which they are to be employed. Indeed, in a given political system, the employment of a gravitational dynamic at the public level can be the best means of generating a pressure dynamic at the upper political level, in that a public that
comes to be disaffected through a gravitational dynamic with the unilateralist policies of its leadership can apply pressure to change that policy or leadership—to the advantage of the other protagonist.
Combining the two main elements (i.e., nonviolence and gravitation) of an Archimedean lever, it becomes obvious that the most effective manner in which it can be used, at least in some contexts in which a latent positive disposition at the public level exists, is when one party to the conflict, using attraction or gravitational—rather than pressure—dynamics, so organizes its behavior as to bring about (or draw out) the desired attitudinal change in the other. This can, of course, in principle work both ways or be employed by either one of the two parties. Paradoxically, however, given what one normally assumes to be the strategic imbalance between the two parties, or the fact that one party is under the forceful occupation of the other, the option of using this lever is realistically—strangely as this may sound—available only to (and is in the immediate interest of) the party being held down by force: while the perceived strategic advantage of the party “on top” stands to be lost if it decides to replace force by a moral lever, the perceived absence of this advantage to the other party allows it to draw on this lever as an option without the risk of losing that advantage. Once set in motion by the second party, however, it immediately comes to be viewed as being in the interest of the first party to embrace this approach, as doing so would be perceived as preempting a potential future threat to itself arising from the existing imbalance. While logically, therefore, the option of embarking on such a reconciliatory approach is available to the two sides, realistically it is amenable for use by the “grounded” side. This leads to the following unexpected, and rather astounding, conclusion: that if one were to define power (even in Machiavellian language) in terms of the ability to cause political change to one’s advantage, it is paradoxically the Palestinians who hold this power even though (or precisely because) they are held down by a mighty military force!
A political context in which a predominantly pressure dynamic is used is of course also conceivable and sometimes preferable—but only, exactly as one assumes in the case of a military operation, in the context of an overall strategy. For it to be successful, however, a gravitational dynamic is sometimes needed to accompany it. For example, having finally become wise to Sharon’s plans in which they unwittingly played the role of an obliging accessory, Palestinians can abruptly decide on and implement a policy of wholesale suspension or boycott of formal, i.e., governmental relations (including negotiations) with Israel. Indeed, the pressure effectiveness of such a policy can be enhanced only if it were to be backed by some form or another of international reinforcement. However, for such a policy to bring about the desired change, and not simply to succeed in creating a hardened opposite force, it must first be selectively aimed at government institutions, and, even more importantly, it must be accompanied by a gravitational force aimed toward the Israeli public, with a view to mobilizing this public in support of the Palestinian political objective. This can be achieved, again at the formal level, through the announcement, as the clear objective of Palestinian policy, of an unambiguous commitment to that peace that the Israeli public can at once view as constituting a “fair” or “acceptable” deal, and as being one that serves their own basic interests. Ambiguity here, with due respect to the Kissinger doctrine, is destructive rather than constructive. An unambiguous declaration of those principles that could mobilize the Israeli public would constitute the required gravitational force. It would identify a particular government policy rather than the people or civil society as “an enemy.” The declaration could be made
conditionally—i.e., not as a negotiating position but as a final package, and not as a permanent offer but as a last offer for two states. The Israeli public can be won over to the Palestinian side, or to a rational solution, or be made into a peace partner, and can thus be mobilized to exert its own pressure dynamic to change Israeli government policy.
In conclusion, then, it would seem that Palestinians are best positioned to embody the role of an Archimedean moral lever. This not only consists in replacing force by nonviolence as they set about to achieve their human political objectives. It also consists in identifying what form of nonviolent response to be employed would be best suited to the attainment of those objectives. While resistance tactics would seem best suited in some contexts, attraction tactics may prove more effective in other contexts. The latter draw upon two principles: that a protagonist can be transformed (that a peace partner can be made), and that the most suited agent for such transformation is none other but the second protagonist.
Needless to say, a success achieved in the explicit employment by Palestinians of an Archimedean moral lever in their conflict with Israel should prove to be a lesson to the world. It would serve as a model in the universal effort at refining human conduct in international affairs. The super powers could perhaps draw a useful lesson from such an experiment. Rather than being informed by narrowly defined notions of force and self-interest, such powers could see how they would be better served through a peaceful and proactive intervention in international affairs that is informed by the principle of enhancing those economic and humanitarian conditions that would bring about freedom and equality and therefore peace and stability.
Wiesel – From my perspective, the concept laid out here is, in some ways, revolutionary. We should give serious consideration to these issues. It is idealistic to think in those terms, but if we are not dreamers and visionaries, nothing changes. The fact that Sari is willing to put this forward at this time is beautiful as a concept, and this is in tune with this network’s whole concept of trying to assist in various conditions. Are you going to publish this speech?
Nusseibeh – It is part of a longer piece that I’ll be putting out. I’m trying to explain to people who ask, Why shouldn’t we use violence? These people are shooting at us—aren’t we correct in the response of shooting back? Could we actually affect anything? This example suddenly occurred to me and I told them, suppose two people among you were wrestling and one of you got the other to the ground, who do you think has more power? With this story, they liked it. They liked that you can actually tell that, if you are grounded, you have a choice—you can either lay quiet, or you can go out kicking. Either way, you’re still grounded. You can always go back to kicking after laying quiet. Now, for the guy on top, once he lets go and the other party starts speaking, they might actually overthrow him. So, in terms of power, who has more power? If you define power as a choice, options, it turns out that the guy underneath actually has more choice and therefore has more power.
Wiesel – This is clearly something we all have to think about. One can think of Gandhi, who had a similar way of thinking about conflicts and how to solve them.
Nusseibeh – I think he is certainly a symbolic, spiritual father of all forms of nonviolent thinking. But having heard Tagore, I must also say that while one associates Gandhi with tactics, I would probably associate myself more with Tagore in terms of values because he was a humanist. He thought of himself as a humanist and actually thought that Gandhi was very limited in his view of nationalism. As far as method goes, Gandhi; but as far as vision goes, Tagore.
Question – I’ve been trying to formulate something about the way people feel as part of that conflict, and I have a feeling that in many cases the conflict has become the people. That is to say, they define themselves only in terms of the fact that they are opposing something. The conflict we know best in this country is the Northern Ireland conflict. When you look at the two sides, each side defines itself as not being the other side. Is there not an external agent that you need somehow in order to provoke a different vision of what the future might be, which is not part of “I am not them and they are not me”?
Nusseibeh – You need a different vision. In order to get people going in a direction, you need the vision. The question is, Who is best suited to provide such a vision? A third party or the parties themselves? The most powerful and direct way of actually changing the situation is if the person underneath somehow or another creates that change directly. Now, how do you create it directly? Partly through a vision. You have to propose a vision, and the vision has to be such that, in fact, it is appealing to the two sides. They have to see a life beyond the conflict, just as some time ago people went around creating faith in life after death—maybe they still do. You have to create faith in life after the conflict on the two sides. In other words, a life in which both sides were to gain if they were to do such and such. The ability to create this is with the people themselves.
Talking in terms of politics, I think it would be great and wonderful if tomorrow, Condoleezza Rice, together with members of the quartet, were to get up and travel to Jerusalem, lodge themselves at one of the hotels, and issue declarations to both sides that they have to come to the negotiating table today. Maybe not today but after Gaza—and tell them, I want you to negotiate now and agree on the final terms of an agreement. If it could be produced, this is what we want you to agree on, this will be the destination. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders will be made to sign. If they don’t sign, I think half a million people in Israel will go out in the streets, and similarly in Palestine, asking their leaders to go and sign, because in real terms, on both sides, the people are basically fed up with what is going on. Second, they realize it is getting worse and therefore something else needs to be happening. If the international community can provide such a dynamic, it would be great. If it doesn’t, then there is a problem because things can just go from bad to worse. It is possible now to have two states, [but] in 3, 4, or 5 years, it will no longer be possible.
Question – I just want to add to the names of Gandhi and Tagore, David Hume, who developed a theory of evolution of nonselfish behavior….
Nusseibeh – I used the term compassion because first of all it was used by somebody earlier than David Hume, by the name of Ibn Khaldoun. Khaldoun’s theory of what compassion actually is, I think, far more developed than that of David Hume, although David Hume, of course, in terms
of the other people thinking and talking at the time, did develop quite a distinct theory from Hobbs and others.
Comment – I don’t think Tagore should be taken as just one who was advocating selfishness. What he described was a symbiotic relationship. Translating his poem, he said, when a bee approaches a flower, the flower doesn’t open up unless the bee is playing on its wings some music, and then the flower opens up. The flower needs the bee because otherwise there is no pollination. On the other hand, the bee needs the flower, but they would also have to have respect for each other. This is the symbiotic relationship. A time may come when the younger generations say enough is enough, we need each other for a peaceful existence, and I think of the flower and bee.
Comment – [inaudible]
Nusseibeh – I think the Israelis will not disagree with the fact that they are on top, although they will probably say they are the victims. We are on top, but we are the victims. That is the paradox we have. It is true that both feel they are the victims, and we Palestinians have to take that into account, even though we are underneath and can see that. We think that the only way to get out of this victimhood situation is by being on top. So you need to create a conversation in which attitudes change, create a vision that will produce and attract both sides, reflecting a symbiotic relationship between the two sides. Although in fact the Israelis and Palestinians are shooting at each other, in the long run, objectively speaking, they have to work it out. It is better for them to work it out, the sooner the better.
Talking about my own experiences, in the political drive in which I was personally engaged in getting people to sign this document, we had more than 170,000 Palestinians from villages, from everywhere, who were for peace with the Israelis. It was unprecedented. I think that, paradoxically, had Arafat still been alive and had there not been the kind of diversion that is now happening in Gaza, one might have been able to go ahead and push for general public support for a two-state solution based on reasonable terms of reference. Today, maybe it is a little more difficult because ordinary people have resigned their will to that of their governments, and they believe the government will do it. That is dangerous, because if the individual feels they have nothing to do with it, it is a major problem.
Wiesel – That surprises me. I think many of us in the Western world thought that this would provide an opportunity, rather than being a positive/negative development for future peace in the region.
Nusseibeh – The Gaza thing now—the Americans are looking at it as something that is happening. As long as something is happening, everybody is happy. But who knows what is happening? Who knows exactly what will happen after six months or a year, or two years. Sharon says this is part of the road map, the Americans say this is part of the road map, so a lot of Israelis have convinced themselves this is part of the road map. But maybe we will find ourselves a half-year from now in a difficult situation once again, unable to move forward. So it looks nice, but it might be diversionary—and not even intentionally diversionary.
Question – Thanks for such an inspiring speech. I want to ask a potentially gloomy question. This vision of evolution toward people connecting with each other, getting out of the dynamics of real politics, is so powerful, yet history has examples of the trend going in the opposite direction. One that comes to mind is Bosnia, where people lived with each other for generations. Muslims and Serbs would marry into each other’s families, and it was not a conflict that was ancient and ongoing. All of a sudden, the thing blows up and people are butchering each other. How does that interaction fit into the theory that you’ve set forth? How do we avoid that awful result?
Nusseibeh – Rather than going shooting at each other for 300 years for fear that 300 years later we might start shooting at each other, we might as well try to get an agreement now. Bosnia is an example, you’re quite right. That is why I said one has to look at patterns. What I’m claiming is that, in general, one basic, essential feature to take into account is what I call the participation of the citizen. That is the major element. To the extent that the citizens, the individuals, become true owners of the society in which they live, true partners, to the extent that the principles of freedom and equality are truly in effect, they fully become part of the political order, and the kind of thing that has happened in Bosnia would probably be avoided. The emancipation of the individual is the necessary ingredient.
Ideally, the Palestinian government would stand up and say very clearly to Israelis, these are the terms of a final agreement between us and yourselves with regard to borders, with regard to Jerusalem, with regard to refugees and settlements. But, they have to be very clear, because a lot of Israelis are not sure at the public level what the Palestinian aims are. Non-ambiguity and clarity are very important. If that is done on the part of the formal leadership, I think it would be a great thing. In order to get the formal leadership to do it, very often you need to lead the leadership to do it. That is why sometimes it is necessary for the people to take the lead.
Wiesel – I think this has been a very inspiring talk. We all should stand up and give Sari thanks for his presentation.