YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

March 9, 2015

Did racial theory take off in medieval Spain: Benzion Netanyahu’s big book

Moshe Maimon "Marranos" 1892

Moshe Maimon “Marranos” 1892

It is unbelievable to me that in the race-obsessed press and liberal academy, few have bothered to trace the origins of racial theory, let alone how such theory as racial struggle supplanted class interest or class struggle as the engine of history, to the point where “economic determinism” or “materialism” are discarded as wayward, hellish “Jewish” inventions.

During the last two weeks, I have been absorbed in reading Bibi Netanyahu’s father’s big book on the origins of the Spanish Inquisition, a tome that was subjected to furious, dismissive reviews when it was first published in 1995 , though it is obviously a masterpiece of scholarly detective work. Indeed, it was presented to Pope Francis by Bibi in 2013. See this brief account here: http://tabletmag.com/scroll/154767/why-netanyahu-gave-pope-francis-his-fathers-history-of-the-spanish-inquisition. The author correctly states that the Inquisition was not owing to papal interference but was political and secular in its origin.

The elder Netanyahu argued that racial theory in the form of antisemitism may be said to have originated in late medieval Spain as an attempt by envious “Old Christians” to drive ‘crypto-Jews’ (i.e., the “New Christians” or conversos) out of their positions as tax farmers, tax collectors, state administrative offices, the professions, and artisan crafts. The same competitiveness and animus, drawing from the antisemitism of the Patristic Church Fathers that labeled all ‘deicide’ Jews evil by nature, would not only explain the expulsion and expropriation of the Jews from Spain in 1492, but would account for the application of racial theory in Nazi Germany.

Neo-Nazi "Hidden Heritage"

Neo-Nazi “Hidden Heritage”

It is very hard to pin down the origins of racial theory. The earliest reference I could find ended up as an endnote in my Melville book, citing John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1981): The Attic sensibility was viewed by medieval (Aristotelian) Catholics as moderate, disciplined and balanced, while its monstrous antitheses represented “emotion, redundance, and formal disorder”; monstrosity was correlated with “the enigmatic, the inflated and the grandiose.”  The hot, deserted antipodes were linked to the vaguely situated Ethiopia, and found at the most extreme distances from the Greek center of the world; its perverse inhabitants had feet turned backwards and walked upside down; i.e., they were out of reach of the Christian gospel. [my footnote ends here] This is not inconsistent with the Netanyahu thesis, though it draws upon Pliny the Elder, (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_History_(Pliny).

Google race theory, and you will find references to Linnaeus and his conception of speciation, and everyone notes the popularity of “scientific racism” in the 19th century. George L. Mosse’s widely read book Toward The Final Solution is ably summarized here: http://www.nationalismproject.org/books/bookrevs/toward.htm (Briefly, Mosse sees racism as originating in the Enlightenment and in Pietism. He did not look for the material and ideological origins of racial theory in late Medieval Spain, though he is generally grouped with the “cultural Marxists.”)

This is what I take away from Benzion Netanyahu’s major contribution to scholarship: while advocates of “the Judeo-Christian heritage” minimize the degree of leftover antisemitism of the most virulent kind, Bibi’s father (writing from the meritocratic Right) spared no sensibilities in his search for truth. Although Netanyahu thought he was setting the stage for Hitler’s deployment of racial theory in Nazi propaganda, I draw a second lesson from his work, perhaps more relevant today.

Just as the New Christians (or Marranos) imagined themselves safe from persecution after their conversion to the dominant culture, today’s Democrats and other leftists of Jewish descent imagine that they are integrated into the political class as friends and equals. In many cases they probably are, but who can see into the heart of another?

The “assimilated” may be living in a fool’s paradise. Are the Inquisitions finished for good? What about the debate over Israel and rising antisemitism in Europe and America? Who is teaching our children about the precise content of antisemitism, past and present? Who is teaching them about the anarchy, constant warfare, and sadistic horrors of the Middle Ages, or the progress achieved by the humanitarians of modernity?

Goya, "Tribunal...." 1812-1819

Goya, “Tribunal….” 1812-1819


September 30, 2012

Bibi as warmonger?

[Before you read this blog, please see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/, especially the last paragraph, just added to the index.]

During my extensive research on the history of antisemitism, I read all of this book published originally in 1942: Jews in a Gentile World: The Problem of Anti-Semitism. The authors were unknown to me: Isacque Graeber and Steuart Henderson Britt. Amazon. com offers a hardcover copy at $939.45. The book was a series of essays written by prominent persons including Talcott Parsons, just then reaching the height of his fame and influence as a sociologist at Harvard. Parsons blamed the Jews for their brutal, domineering, and militaristic conception of the deity. Is Parsons’ ahistoric view of the Old Testament Jewish God still relevant, especially to moderates like himself?

Here is how the Wall Street Journal depicted the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the day after his UN speech 9-27-12. Note the facial expression that in tandem with the  headline suggests a forcefulness/pushiness that I did not detect in what I thought was a cautious but firm address. One Facebook friend proposed that the photo suggested a warmonger sending young American boys into battle. I agree, especially as WSJ (p.A12) claimed that he did not address the Palestinian issue. (He did say that a Palestinian State should be demilitarized.)

WSJ image of Bibi at UN

September 28, 2012

“Bibi” and the human nature debate

CNT poster 1937

(This blog should be read along with https://clarespark.com/2015/01/22/orwells-wartime-essays-some-surprises/ and https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/.)

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 https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/https://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/, and https://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 https://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 the Jewish God. Repentance and fairness is an obligation every day in the year for Jews. 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.

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