YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 8, 2011

Is Glenn Beck an antisemite?

Isaac D'Israeli, Dizzy's Jewish papa

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, https://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: https://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.

Sidonia The Sorceress


November 5, 2010

Hamburger’s Separation of Church and State

Philip Hamburger, Professor of Law, Columbia U. Law School

Before reading this blog, I ask the reader to examine two separate accounts of Philip Hamburger’s book.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E6D61131F935A35754C0A9649C8B63 (Peter Steinfels reviews Hamburger, 2002 in NYT.)

http://www.law.columbia.edu/media_inquiries/news_events/2007/December07/hamb_profile.  (Columbia Law School describes the controversy over Hamburger’s book., December 2007 issue of Columbia Law School Magazine.)

[My blog:]    In the conclusion to his 492 page study, Separation of Church and State, the author instructively contrasts two clashing visions of “liberty” (though not in terms that a libertarian would recognize). These paragraphs would seem to identify him as a neutral party to the culture wars (traditionalism versus secularism) that have inflamed the republic longer than we might think. I quote his paragraphs, then lay out the strange associations and claims that this Harvard-published book maintains.

[Hamburger, p. 485:]…[Summarizing Tocqueville] By inculcating morals, by encouraging mutual love and forgiveness, and by directing ambitions toward another world, religion could diminish injurious behavior, dissension, and distrust. Accordingly, it could reduce the necessity of civil coercion—a necessity that might otherwise lead a people to desire harsh or even tyrannical government. Religion could also establish a lasting foundation in public opinion for the various rights that seemed particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in popular sentiments. It thereby could temper the selfish passions and oppression to which republics were all too prone. Thus religion—specifically the Christianity inherited and shared by a community—seemed essential for the preservation of liberty.

[Hamburger, cont., p.485:]    Increasingly , however, this perspective coexisted with another, very different point of view, drawn from European experiences and fears—a perspective that survives most prominently in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. Together with expanding numbers of other Americans, Jefferson feared that clergymen, creeds, and therefore most churches undermined the inclination and ability of individuals to think for themselves. He worried that individuals would defer to their church’s clergy and creed in a way that would render them subservient to a hierarchy and would deprive them of intellectual independence. In such ways, the clerical and creedal religion of most churches appeared to threaten the individual equality and mental freedom that Jefferson increasingly understood to be essential for the citizens of a republic.

[Clare:] One might think from these excerpts from the chapter entitled “Conclusions” that the author had actually set up throughout his lengthy text discussions of Toqueville and Jefferson. But he had not. Rather, he created a genealogy for “American identity” that conflated his secularists with Roger Williams (unconscionably insulted and dismissed in the brief pages on his pathbreaking religion and politics); with Republican Jefferson’s political ambitions in the campaign of 1800 (in which he determined to defeat statist Federalists); with viciously anti-Catholic, anti-working class Protestants who forced compulsory free public education down our throats; with Know-Nothings, “Liberals,”“nativists,” “freethinkers”, “white supremacists,” “individualists,” and  “Americanists”; with Reform Jews, including Felix Frankfurter (!); with Unitarians; and most breakthtakingly, with the Ku Klux Klan, spending endless pages on the tricky Klansman SCOTUS Hugo Black and his fiery crosses (crosses that the author linked to the Statue of Liberty).

I try not to be paranoid, but this wild and undisciplined book could be a through-the-looking-glass rewrite of Disraeli’s novel Lothair (1870), in which the author describes an elaborate [ultramontane] Catholic plot to lure the fabulously wealthy hero (Lothair) away from Anglicanism, a conspiracy to restore the Pope as the supreme authority in Britain (along with his confiscated lands) that fails in the end. In Hamburger’s drama, however, the (undifferentiated) Catholics are the victims of (undifferentiated) Protestants and their white-sheeted knights.

Nowhere does the author examine whether or not the “secularists” had any reason to fear authoritarian religion as an obstacle to intellectual independence. Nowhere does he examine the propaganda churned out by elites since antiquity that declared the people incapable of the self-control and community spirit of their betters. Nowhere does he lay out the case law that addressed the (non-existent or illegitimate) separation of church and state. But what is most shocking is that in both of the reviews and summaries of the controversy linked above, what I have written about the iconographic program of this book is utterly absent, like Roger Williams himself, who was the true originator of the notion that church and state should and must be separated, that faith was an entirely private matter of individual conscience. (Herman Melville said the same in a marginal comment in Goethe’s autobiography, and also echoed Williams’s respect for native Americans and his questioning of what was to become the conquest theory of property.)

Another lacuna in the text is the vexed question of the taxation of Church property. As Keith Thomas wrote long ago in his Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), one reason for the witch-hunts in seventeenth century England might have been this confusion: Who was responsible for charity and the protection of the poor and disabled? Was it to be the state or the church? And to bring Thomas’s  question up to date, if churches, public schools, universities, and non-commercial media are to be ideological weapons of one narrow politics—the crazy-making statist politics of “moderation” (a.k.a. round-the-clock “compromise”)– should taxpayers be asked to support them? Or should they compete in the marketplace of ideas? Hamburger never uses that expression, and I doubt that any Harvard UP editor suggested it to him. The major university presses are firmly committed to self-sacrifice, duty and service to the “community” above creativity and innovation. The “self” has been erased and “laissez-faire capitalism” reduced to a dirty conception.

(For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/. ) Also https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/. It will be clear that Hamburger is an advocate of the “living Constitution” that enhances the “positive state”–i.e., the ethical state. Cf. Mussolini’s Fascism.

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