YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 28, 2012

“Bibi” and the human nature debate

CNT poster 1937

Recent historians are acknowledging that the transition from pre-capitalist societies to capitalist societies is prolonged, tempestuous, and violent.  At the bottom of all the fights between political factions in our country (the U.S.), can be discerned sharp differences over the precise content of “human nature.”

For instance, in David Horowitz’s recent book Radicals (2012), he concludes that progress (linked by him to utopianism and perfectionism) is a leftist/fascist illusion; that human nature is evil, and the best we can expect in the route to amelioration is “compromise.” He thus marks himself as a moderate man, and is aligned with some of the figures most criticized on my website, notwithstanding DH’s strong support for Israel and opposition to jihadist Muslims. (For instance, Harvard Magazine is promoting “The Case for Compromise” in its Summer 2012 issue.)

This last week I carefully read George Orwell’s famous work Homage to Catalonia (1938). It is a confusing work, though much admired by anarchists and Trotskyists for its testimony as to Orwell’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War, in which he witnessed the destruction of POUM by Stalinists, leading him to denounce all bourgeois influences as fascist, and also to complain about non-peasants and non-laborers as “money-grabbing.” He went on to denounce journalists and Communists for betraying the facts of the Spanish Civil War.

This populist term of abuse (“money-grabbing”) led me to wonder if Orwell’s critique of Communism, Fascism, and “Ingsoc” in 1984 was not at least partly motivated by an aversion to the “jewification” often ascribed during his lifetime to the modern world, a “materialist”/anti-“spirituality” modernity that seen as inducing “degeneration” from the late 19th century onward. Indeed, in the last words of 1984, the rehabilitated Winston Smith sings ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree /I sold you and you sold me –‘, suggesting that the modern world has been commodified, reducing all human relationships to the cash nexus; but more, he is as hard as any Frankfurt School “Western Marxist” on the horrid influence of mass media in controlling the proles, the “85%.”  [In prior blogs I have noted that Hitler had been assumed to carry cunning Jewish blood;  that Hitler himself viewed Soviet Communists as fronts for finance capital; and that J. A. Hobson’s influential study Imperialism (1905) blamed a conspiracy of wealthy Jews for war, which they instigated through their control of international finance and mass media (in his case, newspapers).] I am not concluding anything in particular about Orwell’s possible Jewish problem, but noting that it is worth exploring. (For pertinent blogs see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, http://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/http://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/, and http://clarespark.com/2009/11/17/melencolia-i-and-the-apocalypse-1938/.)

On September 27, 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Few of the press reports I have seen mention the beginning of his speech, in which he explained global conflict as a fight to the death between modernity and medievalism. In the process, he highlighted the Enlightenment elevation of science, technology, and medicine, fields in which Israel excelled, but which threatened their hostile neighbors who worshipped death and promoted unquestioning obedience to authority (i.e., to the medieval order).

“Bibi” also urged that his formulation of conflict was more precise than a rival formulation between “tradition” and “progress” (much used in the culture wars, I might add).  The Jewish tradition, he argued, looking back to Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah, comprised the very foundation of “civilization.” This is an argument that one rarely hears in public these days. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/09/30/bibi-as-warmonger/, for the photo used by the Wall Street Journal, which may have chosen to depict Bibi as the bossy and militaristic Jewish deity promoted by Talcott Parsons in 1942.)

Now, Netanyahu and David Horowitz are both known as conservatives, yet they differ considerably on the subject of human nature.

The Enlightenment view of human nature relied upon travel narratives, that demonstrated that the material resources of cultures and their modes of exploitation/production that were just being discovered during the period of Renaissance exploration, determined their belief systems: thus was derived “cultural relativism,” a notion that has been resisted by some believers and manipulated by leftist “anti-imperialists” to discredit modernity tout court. The notion of “progress” was a distinctively Western notion that in turn depended on worldliness, science, reason, and the determination to lift up humanity to unprecedented heights. Moderns learned to understand their ancestors, but not to  worship them and their mores.  With economic and political development, perhaps wars and less cosmic conflicts over land, markets, and resources could be eliminated one day.

We have just completed the Jewish New Year, in which Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, caps the period of inner examination and resolve to improve one’s relations with oneself and with other people. Clearly, a view of human nature is implied in the notion of self-improvement and reparations. That view is not oriented to a better world after death, nor to the notion that we are necessarily befuddled by our evil propensities, carried in the very DNA of our species. Christopher Hitchens’s 2002 Orwell study (Why Orwell Matters) ends with a stunning revelation about the “radical” Hitchens view of human nature:   Like other British intellectuals with a highbrow education, he doesn’t see sadomasochism in Orwell,  but thinks it normal: “With a part of themselves, humans relish cruelty and war and absolute capricious authority, are bored by civilization and humane pursuits and understand only too well the latent connection between sexual repression and orgiastic vicarious collectivized release. Some regimes have been popular not in spite of their irrationality and cruelty, but because of it.” (p.191)

Freud himself noted that aggression was part of our natures, and often difficult to control, but he would never have agreed with Hitchens on S-M as normal. Part of human nature, in the rationalist Enlightened view that I share, is in the development of curiosity about the past, including those unresolved conflicts that linger into the present to the confusion of our political culture (world-wide), which is highly heterogeneous and internally conflicted.

Sadly, the counter-Enlightenment influences remain strong enough to halt appropriate curiosity in the young, to the detriment of the progress that the more advanced parts of humanity still find compelling and swear by. In our New World scenario, the Devil (or the demonic) is a relic of the dead past and his persistence in the belief systems of some political entities and societies should be strongly resisted. Nothing less than the survival of our species and the planet depends upon it. Medievalism was not only bad for the Jews, it was bad for all of humanity.

About these ads

10 Comments »

  1. […] It is a misconception to think that a person’s views toward individual Jews tests their antisemitic views one way or another. A-S is above all, a theory of history, most recently a reaction to the “disruptive” effects of modernity, and an identification of the source of Evil. Most or all antisemitism is racist, for no matter how assimilated a person of Jewish descent may be, that person retains mental, physical, and moral attributes attributed to “the Jews” considered as a collective entity. Of these, none is more pernicious than the notion that all “Jews” partake of the Old Testament God as read by non-Jews, most famously by Voltaire (whose admirers were possibly angrier at Christianity, the offshoot of Judaism). That deity is domineering, militaristic, and genocidal, looking out solely for his “Chosen People.” One would think that such a powerful set of misconceptions would be corrected in the schools and in the mass media, but no. For in a highly populated globe, the masses must be controlled, and there is no more potent poison, directing popular anger away from abusive elites, than antisemitism: our innermost desires for truth, for a relatively accurate inventory of our past, is stigmatized as disintegrating to “the family.” So despite occasional hand-wringing over “the Holocaust,” antisemitism is still poorly, even crudely, understood by most, if not all, trained intellectuals. (For a related blog that pits the middle ages against modernity see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/,) […]

    Pingback by Minding antisemitism | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 25, 2013 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

  2. We have to look to “human nature” in the way that Darwin, and Marx, did: a river flowing permanently,in wich is impossible to “take a bath” twice in the same waters.
    This approach is the dialectical materialism of the old greek philosofers from the Aegean Sea,similar to the Zen Buddism from China of the xvi century.
    Anyway,to attach capitalism to jewishness,this is a common mistake.The source of Capitalism is from the anglo-saxon tradition ,and the Jewish participate in this process because they do not have any other choice,as a People without a Homeland.Marx himself fall in this mistake.

    Asher Frohlich
    Israel

    Comment by ASHER FROHLICH — December 3, 2012 @ 7:22 am | Reply

  3. [...] In my book, I show how Kingsley’s archetypal “agitator” bears a close resemblance to Melville’s character Captain Ahab. Note especially that Benjamin Netanyahu cited the Hebrew prophets as the founders of “civilization” in his UN speech. (See last sentences in http://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/.) [...]

    Pingback by Christian Socialism as precursor to Orwell « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 7, 2012 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

  4. [...] http://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/ Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Leave a Comment [...]

    Pingback by Index to blogs on antisemitism « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 29, 2012 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  5. [...] a related blog see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Comments [...]

    Pingback by Melencolia I and the apocalypse, 1938 « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 29, 2012 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  6. I find your writing very interesting…you have done a lot of research

    Comment by katzideas — September 29, 2012 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  7. As to the question of whether Orwell had a jewish problem, on the whole I think not. He did after all, stand for plain speech and if he had thought the world was being jewified I am sure he would have said as much. He wrote an essay about English anti-semitism; it is many years since I read it, and I can’t refer you to the text on-line. The salient point I would makehere is that it was not a subject he had given much thought to until after WWII.
    Orwell explored his own contradictions with some frankness in the second part of his book The Road To Wigan Pier, sent to the publisher before he went to Spain, and published while he was there. One of his contradictions was his suspicion of progress. This would have included a suspicion of psychoanalysis, but he does analyse his own visceral feelings about social class and how they have affected his political views.

    Comment by Caedmon — September 29, 2012 @ 9:02 am | Reply

    • To Caedmon: I will look for Orwell’s essay about English antisemitism. As for “visceral feelings about social class” that is interesting to psychoanalysis but no substitute for it. It is rather a starting point. The same can be said for antisemitism.

      Comment by clarespark — September 29, 2012 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

      • Having lived here for over two decades, I can tell you, unequivocally, there is a lot of quiet anti-Semitism on the ground here in the UK. Get to know someone and they will open up about how ‘Jews’ are ‘stingy’, ‘good with money’, ‘against the country’, ‘backed radicalism’, ‘stood with their own’, ‘make you walk in the street’ and so on. This is probably the one — and greatest — black mark Great Britain has against her. Be sure that those of other faiths will buy into it.

        Comment by churchmouse — September 29, 2012 @ 4:45 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,275 other followers

%d bloggers like this: