YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 11, 2009

Multiculturalists and Wilsonians can’t diagnose “the new antisemitism”

Philosopher Bernard Harrison

[12-28-12: This essay explains in a roundabout way, how it is possible to be anti-Zionist without viewing oneself as antisemitic. "Peace is the answer." It is especially timely given the possible nomination of the anti-Israel Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.]

Given the Senate hearings preparatory to the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court that are to begin July 13, I thought it would be timely to review how leading academics and other hip intellectuals are handling or ignoring the notion of the law, liberally conceived. Also, I am interested in the claim that her appointment would be a welcome gesture of “inclusion,” long overdue. Hence, this blog, which should be read in connection with my last one on unfinished revolutions. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.)

Professor Bernard Harrison recently delivered a well-received lecture at a recent conference on antisemitism at the U. of Haifa, June 22, 2009. (The link is http://www.edu.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/antisemitism_conference/. What follows is my critique of two aspects of his general argument: 1. His notion of “prejudice” is not analyzed sufficiently as a term developed by propagandists for the “progressives” (conservative reformers staving off socialism and communism or any other replay of the “jacobin” French Revolution, often through the co-opting of dissident groups); and 2. The idea of “international community” is another “progressive” nostrum that flies in the face of international law and cannot achieve its stated objective of conflict resolution. (I refer the reader of this blog to an excellent essay by legal scholar Samuel J. Spector, disseminated through Middle East Forum that makes the same criticism as I do regarding the underlying ideology of Wilsonian internationalism (the hazy notion of “self-determination,” in Spector’s case study, dealing with the failed diplomacy in resolving problems in the Western Sahara.)

The premise of Harrison’s paper was that the once pervasive antisemitic prejudice was based on exclusion, but that it is now superceded by the newer paranoid variety that carries “the scent of death” and “the stench of bad eggs.” In deploying the idea of inclusion as a strategy to fight “prejudice” Harrison does not step outside the assumptions of “multiculturalism”–a policy that bears no relation to what used to be called the melting pot or pluralism–features of the secular state, that is, a state that forbids any and all religious establishments that hold themselves apart from the liberal state and the rule of law. Moreover, he appears to be unaware of the history of racial theory and the assumptions of populist and/or Marxist-Leninist anti-capitalism, with its important persistence in so-called “anti-imperialism,” black liberation theology, or Third Worldism today.

Harrison seems to think that Jews are now enjoying relative “inclusion.” But closer analysis of actual historic persons suggests that, for many,  if a non-Jew includes this or that person of Jewish origin in his/her charmed circle, it is because that exception is a good Jew (i.e. not a fanatic: s/he behaves like a Christian, or agrees with the ever-compromising world view of the “moderate” and “rational” gatekeeper, or worse, submits to Sharia law). This highly conditional idea of inclusion is forcefully brought out in the Radoshes new book on Truman and the founding of Israel, where Truman was strongly put-off by pushy, pressuring Zionist Jews, preferring those like Chaim Weizmann who concurred with his own self-image of the moderate man. It was the pleas of Weizmann and Truman’s old friend Eddie Jacobson who persuaded him to support the new Jewish state in May 1948 (but de jure, not de facto). Thus Truman is portrayed as facing down a recalcitrant and insubordinate Department of State, probably because of his earlier connection with Christian Zionism, blended with more recent humanitarian sympathies with stranded displaced persons in Europe, who were denied entrance to Palestine by the British, and who could not enter other societies as well, given their swelling numbers as many Jews fled Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, adding great numbers to the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, and all living in horrendous conditions.

Harrison has made a distinction between a “new antisemitism” and what he claims is a now virtually passé form of social prejudice. Ignoring the actual history of ethnopluralism/multiculturalism as transmitted by J.G. von Herder and the German Romantics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, he supposes that all stigmatized groups, including Jews, are imagined not as coherent collectivities of persons sharing a national or other group character (such as ‘race’), but as collectivities of “individuals.” This does not square with the historical record. In the U.S., intellectuals such as Horace Kallen, a Progressive, clearly understood that “ethnic” solidarity or cultural nationalism trumped the alarming notion of proletarian internationalism, or the kinship of workers everywhere as Socialist and Marxists had been arguing.  (One favorite test question on the Ph.D. field exams in the UCLA Department of History was to state whether ethnicity or class was the engine of American history. The right answer was undoubtedly “ethnicity” since “class” was constantly collapsed into “race” while I was there, in good anti-imperialist fashion, and stranding the white working class as bearers of “white skin privilege.”)

Turning again to Harrison’s lecture, such social prejudice that makes exclusion or inclusion the test of either prejudice or acceptance, he traces to Rousseau and the (undifferentiated) Enlightenment, not to idealist Germany, with its leading intellectuals in opposition to the “mechanical materialist” French Enlightenment influence, both before and after the French Revolution. Oddly, for Harrison, the conceptual flaw of “exclusion” as the test for prejudice is that it lays “the Chosen People” open to the charge of bigoted exclusiveness. (Clearly, he does not understand or does not report the concept of chosenness as imposing a moral burden on Jews to repair themselves as individuals, through repentance and reparation to the wounded.) Anyway, he thinks such a form of social prejudice has nearly faded away, masking the infinitely more lethal threat of antisemitism that he (and Jean-Paul Sartre) attributed to genocidal Hitler and their current manifestations: Manichean antisemitism in which the division of the universe into the dualing forces of Good and Evil precedes the specifically paranoid conspiracy theory that comprises the new antisemitism. In other words, I infer that Harrison is defending moral relativism, another tic of progressives and moderates, who seek to compromise what may be irreconcilable conflicts with a “middle ground.”

It is my understanding that the conception of Good versus Evil is a feature of absolutist religious world views, and I hasten to add, not Judaism.* The latter has no conception of the devil or of original sin and fallen flesh redeemed by the Saviour. By contrast with Christianity, Judaism as a way of life constantly interrogates the individual as to the possible mixed motives for apparently good and generous gestures, whereas the Christian humanities professors and other intellectuals I have encountered either hesitate to look inside altogether or throw up their hands as to the possibility of any positive knowledge whatsoever of the human psyche. “It is all a mystery,” they often say, or quoting Scripture, we see “through a glass darkly.”   Harrison might have brought out this crucial contrast between some forms of Christianity and Judaism, but did not.

Does the current animus against Zionism and Jews in general have anything whatsoever to do with irrationalism or a fight to the finish between the forces of light and darkness?  The point I made above regarding good Jews (or other token friends from stigmatized groups) still holds. To the “progressive” person, the acceptable Jewish friend has converted away from the collectivity of bad, grasping, pushy, vulgar Jews; indeed has rejected her or his “essence,” but don’t think that the tolerant now-and-then bigot is necessarily comfortable or unwary about a possible switch back to the underlying collective “identity” of the Jew, black, woman, Scotsman, etc. Why? Because “prejudice,” taken by itself is a purely psychological/cultural category invented by social psychologists that is disconnected from the real world of political power,  economic interest, gender domination, and other material considerations. Telling the supposed bigot that s/he has a distorted, i.e., irrational idea of “the Other” is to ignore the structures of domination and irreconcilable conflicts out there (many of which cannot be erased through education or better communication or sensitivity training. And here I am condemning a wide array of social policy that seeks to ameliorate “prejudice”).

To put it plainly and severely, Harrison is worried that the recrudescence of the panicky paranoid variety of antisemitism is creating a “bunker mentality” that focuses Israelis on “security,” not “peace.”” He actually says this straight out, though this, to me, appalling statement, is almost buried by an avalanche of his opinions on other scary matters relating to growing violence against Jews everywhere. So notwithstanding the importance of Arab oil to the West for the last seven decades or so, or the penetration of the Islamic world by Axis elements before and during the 1940s, or the internal hard-line antidemocratic governance of the Arab states and Iran (featuring of course the control of women, and/or economic backwardness and tribalism), Harrison apparently believes that there is a plausible peace process in the offing between Israel and her neighbors, if only all parties would purge themselves of the irrational components of their psyches. And of course the moderate men, the mediators, will sensitively and artfully manipulate the warring parties to eliminate psychological obstacles to compromise (compromise being the braiding together of Good and Evil?). To me, that was the subtext of Harrison’s presentation at the U. of Haifa: a call to moderation and sanity, led by philosopher-kings.

In the remaining part of this essay, I  discuss the rejection by progressive  anti-Semites of the chief tenet of the bourgeois Enlightenment: equality before the law– the keystone of the liberal state and of liberal nationalism. It is my suspicion that this so-called “legalism” has long been the gravest unpardonable sin indulged in by “the Jews”  and by their “Hebraic” Judeo-Christian progeny in the West.” As a would-be peacemaker in the time of multiculturalism, Bernard Harrison doesn’t see this.

It is no wonder that Carl Schmitt, Hitler’s favored legal theorist has been rehabilitated by some Leftists. This posting continues the thought expounded above with a distinction between rootless cosmopolitanism and rooted cosmopolitanism, expressed through the contrast between conceptions of liberal nationalism and conservative nationalism.

In the new book by Allis and Ronald Radosh that traces the intricate diplomacy surrounding the U.N. partition of Palestine and then the Jewish state (A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, HarperCollins, 2009), they describe the findings of a prominent Democratic lawyer, Oscar R. Ewing, who determined that the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 was in conformity with international law, and that international law was based on the conquest theory of property.  That is, the Allied Powers had defeated the Ottoman Empire in the first world war, and were entitled to dispose of the previously Turkish lands as they saw fit (Safe Haven, pp.287-288). Hence, the idea of the partition of Palestine (as adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 29, 1947) did not violate international legal precedent. Against this sort of claim, Arab nationalists had long latched onto the Wilsonian notion of “self-determination.” It occurred to me after reading these pages that the common phrase “international community” must be the foil to “international law” and that “self-determination” was an intrinsic notion of multiculturalism, which stands, therefore, outside the law (and indeed any kind of universalist ethical imperative).

   Another way to put it is this: Ewing and such predecessors in America as Senator Charles Sumner or his ally Thaddeus Stevens (two of the “Black Republicans”) were advocates of the rational liberal state, understood as that overarching set of laws that guaranteed the protection of individual liberty and the common welfare. Liberty was understood not simply as limited government, but both as equal opportunity to advance through merit, and most crucially as equality before the law, i.e., one law for rich and poor alike. Such a classically liberal orientation has been characterized as “rootless cosmopolitanism” by its enemies, and as many of you know, Stalin abhorred and disposed of such an ideology that inevitably spawned enemies of the people. Prior opponents were organic conservatives of the Woodrow Wilsonian ilk, whose “cosmopolitanism” was “rooted.” What follows is Wilson’s own definition of community and its notion of Gemeinschaft.

[footnote from my article ("Margoth vs. Robert E. Lee") http://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. See Woodrow Wilson, "A Calendar of Great Americans," Mere Literature, 209-210: "[Like Lincoln, Lee was also "national in spirit"]: He fought on the opposite side, but fought in the same spirit, and for a principle which is in a sense scarcely less American than the principle of Union. He represented the idea of the inherent–the essential–separateness of self-government. This was not the principle of secession: that principle involved the separate right of the several self-governing units of the federal system to judge of national questions independently, and as a check upon the federal government,–and to adjudge the very objects of the Union. Lee did not believe in secession, but he did believe in the local rootage of all government. This is at the bottom, no doubt, an English idea; but it has had a characteristically American development. It is the reverse side of the shield which bears upon its obverse the devices of the Union, a side too much overlooked and obscured since the war. It conceives the individual State a community united by the most intimate associations, the first home and foster-mother of every man born into the citizenship of the nation. Lee considered himself a member of one of these great families; he could not conceive of the nation apart from the State: above all, he could not live in the nation divorced from his neighbors. His own community should decide his political destiny and duty.”

So where do the Jews come in? If anyone here has read George L. Mosse’s numerous books on the popular culture of Nazism, you will remember that the Jew was commonly seen in German novels or similar artifacts as the snake in the garden that attacked the roots of the tree. In other words, the Jewish threat is always, in one form or another, that of destroyer of “local rootage,” i.e., community and the solidarity that occurs within families, ‘races,’ and nation-states, with the nation state understood as control over specific territories and resources, as opposed to that of Gesellschaft: the liberal state as guarantor of freedom and safety for individual citizens. How do we “Jews” poison the well? Through the control of money and the media, through the advocacy of science and technology, the defense of equality before the law, skepticism, political and religious pluralism. Name your poison in this secular, hence jewified, world. In my view, this is what the Harrison paper misses (for many of these “Jewish” sins predate the onset of modernity and comprised Jew-hatred, and not simply exclusion or “social prejudice” but death to the Jewish collectivity, a collectivity understood by its opponents to share a common militaristic and domineering national character, instigated by its cruel and vindictive, particularistic God), and yet any serious student of intellectual history must recognize the pattern.

Finally, I refer you again to the paper posted on this website and excerpted above, as it spells out, in often entertaining detail, the difference between a “mechanical materialist” (i.e., “Jew” or Charles Sumner type) and an anti-science, anti-materialist organic conservative of the Woodrow Wilson-Robert E. Lee type. Although this distinction is developed throughout my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, this paper goes beyond the book and is more concrete with respect to Melville’s conservative racist persona as expressed in a book of poems he wrote as a meditation upon the Civil War and Reconstruction. Another of my essays on the origins of multiculturalism is found at http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. Readers here who are curious about the “rootless cosmopolitan” should look at the following paragraphs from Freud’s essay “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” (1915):

[Freud describes what I call “the rootless cosmopolitan.”]… Relying on this unity among the civilized people, countless men and women have exchanged their native home for a foreign one, and made their existence dependent on the intercommunication between friendly nations. Moreover anyone who was not by stress of circumstance confined to one spot could create for himself out of all the advantages and attractions of these civilized countries a new and wider fatherland, in which he would move about without hindrance or suspicion. In this way he enjoyed the blue sea and the grey; the beauty of snow-covered mountains and of green meadow lands; the magic of northern forests and the splendour of southern vegetation; the mood evoked by landscapes that recall great historical events, and the silence of untouched nature. This new fatherland was a museum for him, too, filled with all the treasures which the artists of civilized humanity had in the successive centuries created and left behind. As he wandered from one gallery to another in this museum, he could recognize with impartial appreciation what varied types of perfection a mixture of blood, the course of history, and the special quality of their mother-earth had produced among his compatriots in this wider sense. Here he would find cool, inflexible energy developed to the highest point; there, the graceful art of beautifying existence; elsewhere, the feeling for orderliness and law, or others among the qualities which have made mankind the lords of the earth.

Nor must we forget that each of these inhabitants of the civilized world had created for himself a ‘Parnassus’ and’ a ‘School of Athens’ of his own. From among the great thinkers, writers and artists of all nations he had chosen those to whom he considered he owed the best of what he had been able to achieve in enjoyment and understanding of life, and he had venerated them along with the immortal ancients as well as with the familiar masters of his own tongue. None of these great figures had seemed to him foreign because they spoke another language – neither the incomparable explorer of human passions, nor the intoxicated worshipper of beauty, nor the powerful and menacing prophet, nor the subtle satirist; and he never reproached himself on that account for being a renegade towards his own nation and his beloved mother-tongue.”

*But see Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Harper and Row, 1987), a large popular work dedicated to a Christian gentleman who is a friend to the Jews. In his first chapter Johnson calls their all encompassing and world-changing moral law “totalitarian” and making clear channels between right and wrong, good and evil. Using the word “totalitarian” in this context is provocative and ahistoric, especially as Johnson lauds the Jews as upholding life above all things, in contrast to their contemporaries in antiquity. But as I read further into the book, it seems to me to be one of the best history books for a popular audience that I have encountered.

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6 Comments »

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    Comment by michael kors hudson downtown shoulder tote — December 31, 2012 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  2. [...] posted here (“Why Multiculturalists and Wilsonians Can’t Diagnose the New Antisemitism” http://clarespark.com/2009/07/11/multiculturalists-and-wilsonians-cant-diagnose-the-new-antisemitism…) I mention the conditions of assimilation for a certain group of upwardly mobile Jews, who may have [...]

    Pingback by More On The ABCs of Staying Alive and Preserving The Planet « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 14, 2011 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

  3. But closer analysis of actual historic persons suggests that, for many, if a non-Jew includes this or that person of Jewish origin in his/her charmed circle, it is because that exception is a good Jew (i.e. not a fanatic: s/he behaves like a Christian, or agrees with the ever-compromising world view of the “moderate” and “rational” gatekeeper, or worse, submits to Sharia law).

    What practical meaning could this have for a non-Jew? You better don’t have Jewish friends, since this could make you an antisemite in the eyes of “some other Jews” who know the “historic patterns”?

    How do we know every non-Jew has these evil motives? What exactly make them feign friendship with us, and what is their ultimate motive? They befriend some of us to trick the rest of us? And they only do this to Jews?

    Maybe you should elaborate a bit on the issue? I may well be a bit confused.

    Comment by LeaNder — July 18, 2009 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for your comment, and please excuse this belated reply. I didn’t mean to say that all non-Jews offer only conditional friendship, but was making an oblique comment on “assimilated” Jews who are enemies of Israel in order to fit in with, say, the Left, or with persons who look down on lower-class Jews, especially those from Eastern Europe (this was common among German Jews in America, who spurned the more recent immigrants after the 1880s or so.
      It is a class thing. If I have failed to clear matters up, do write to me again.

      Comment by clare spark — July 31, 2009 @ 12:09 am | Reply


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