In this blog, I recount a controversy that has erupted on a H-Net discussion group devoted to the history of antisemitism, but that has, in my view, degenerated into a quarrel between leftists and imaginary “rightists” or neocons. The following message of mine, stimulated several responses that I answer in the second part of this blog essay. I do not identify list members by name here.
[My first (recent) message to the group:]
“List member X is convinced that Glenn Beck is an antisemite, and objects to my recent blog questioning that judgment. In my own mind, I was challenging the common belief (and shared by the editors of Wikipedia) that if one is born “a Jew” then it follows as the night follows the day that one is indeed “a Jew.” That is a racist assumption that is shared by some scholars (who should know better), and ignores the lack of Jewish self-identification of many “Jews” on the hard left or on the social democratic left. Surely, in a list that is devoted to the history of antisemitism, this notion (the shedding of Jewish identity) should not be surprising. To remind X and others, those persons of Jewish ancestry who joined the Stalinist Left or other left factions, switched their primary identification from that of their ancestors to that of the international proletariat, or if Maoists, included peasants in that category. So what makes these persons Jewish? It has been well-documented that in Russia, where antisemitism was horrific, one strategy to preserve one’s life and rise in the social scale was to join the Bolsheviks, distancing oneself from the poor Jews who were embracing Zionism as a different means of escape.
Glenn Beck is first and foremost a populist. Like other populists, he rails against the money power. Whether or not he consciously equates the money power with the International Jew (as did Henry Ford and before that, J. A. Hobson) I cannot tell. But his stand against the Flotilla to Gaza, and his declared willingness to” stand with Israel” against her enemies does suggest to Dr. Barry Rubin, as well to other public intellectuals, that Beck is at least pro-Israel.
In my blog, http://clarespark.com/2010/02/20/the-glenn-beck-problem/, I noted that Beck was wrong about Walter Lippmann, and that he had replicated Chomsky’s famous take-down of Lippmann. I also linked him to the most organic conservatives on the Right today.
Finally, I request that we recall that definitions of antisemitism, overt or covert, change according to the particular historical context. There may be latent or implicit antisemitism (as in populist rhetoric), rhetorical antisemitism, political antisemitism (pogroms, expulsion, the Shoah), or false philosemitism (the approval of Good Jews versus Bad Jews: http://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/). I would appreciate seeing precise and contextualized judgments of what is and what is not antisemitic conduct. [End first message]
This blog prompted several responses, which I answered here:
I am not sure that list members Q, R, and S have understood my last message, with which they either find fault or reiterate somewhat. I am answering them here, because I want to clear up any misunderstandings about my own position. In this expanded one, I will make the following assertions:
1. That Jews do not control their “identities,” and that notwithstanding whether or not a “Jew” identifies with other Jews as an ethnicity or “race,” ancestry alone not only defines Jewishness, but ascribes a group character to all Jews, and that is implicit in populism, whether of the Left or Right. Beck may be just that sort of right-wing populist. But, as an admitted autodidact, it remains an open question as to whether he sees a vampire Jew when attacking George Soros. Barry Rubin, a self-described left of center scholar, doesn’t see Beck as an antisemite, probably because of Beck’s strong stand in support of Israel. You may quibble,
as many do, whether or not supporting Israel always has some hidden End of Days agenda for the Christian Right, with which Beck is surely affiliated, and he may even be as convinced as they are by a coming Apocalypse. But we don’t know that for a fact.
2. The notion, advanced by Q, that there are similarities between anti-Catholicism and antisemitism may stem from a common inheritance of German idealist epistemology, one that was adapted and advanced by the
Frankfurt School critical theorists in tandem with American social psychologists of the social democratic Left after WW2: that the uppity petit-bourgeoisie (unlike their aristocratic selves), project their evil will-to-power onto hapless Others: a congeries of victims, mixed together willy-nilly. I wrote about the history of this ideological nonsense in my book on the ideological currents that fed the Melville Revival, and here in the following essays, essays that represented decades of intensive and obsessive research into the history of racial theory. Read any one of them, and you will find abundant support for my position–one that discards collective categories for any group, other than adherence to the same set of laws.
3. I cannot believe that Professor Q would use Benjamin Disraeli as an example of Jewishness in any sense whatsoever. I have read and reread Disraeli’s major novels, and though he elevates his character Sidonia as the smartest man alive (though too cerebral to form attachments), and Sidonia is a pure Semite (with both Arab and Jewish blood, i.e., characteristics), to imagine that Disraeli himself was anything but an opportunistic adherent to Anglicanism (wavering at times into medieval Catholicism), I find quite astonishing. To this reader, Disraeli emerges as the echt progenitor of modern social democracy, making fun of and jibing profligate and inattentive aristocrats, who were refusing their paternal duties in an age of industrialism that he abhorred for its sharp division between rich and poor, plus its abhorrent materialism, utilitarianism, and economic determinism. In its place, he reinstated the old religion (i.e., apostolic Christianity, in which Christianity is “completed Judaism,” with Jerusalem, not Rome, as its progenitor, see Sybil, Book 2, Chapter 12) and the good King to unite the People and avert class war. He offered, instead of Benthamite Utilitarianism and Whiggish Progress, the New Generation that was blatantly Burkean and “progressive” in the ways of organic conservatives, then and now. If Q has evidence that Disraeli thought of himself as Jewish, as opposed to fulfilling the reputation of smart and wily Jews, then I welcome an addition to my study of that important and world-shaking figure. As I reread this paragraph, I would say that Disraeli’s Sidonia is an archetypal Wandering Jew– or even the evil twin of his pre-Raphaelite ladies, and that Disraeli is ambivalent about his admiration, to say the least. But in his insistence on apostolic Christianity as completed Judaism, Disraeli did destroy the antithesis between Judaism and Christianity that has been a staple of Christian antisemitism. It should also be noted the Glenn Beck is now a Mormon, and that religion is considered to be philo-Semitic and pro-Israel.