The Clare Spark Blog

September 29, 2012

Index to blogs on antisemitism

Saudi cartoon 2008 (a synthesis that takes account of the “Hebraic” Reformation sects) (index to German Romantic sources for multiculturalism and related issues, such as identity politics) (retitled The Protestant Establishment Taps a Good Jew) (on the pervasiveness of “Christian anti-Semitism”)

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.

Gustave Doré: Lost Satan

Gustave Doré: Lost Satan

May 5, 2011

Assimilation and its malcontents

Yesterday on Facebook I started a thread asking my friends what they thought that assimilation meant, then refined it to assimilation in a democratic republic. I got this strong response from Tom Nichols, a political scientist and frequent contributor to the History of Diplomacy (Humanities Net) discussion group:

“Assimilation, to me, has never had a negative connotation. To me it means that if you ask to immigrate to another country, you’re accepting that you’re asking other people to let you make your home with them. The house rules are posted up front: you don’t get to pick and choose. If the adopting country is attractive enough to you to move there and seek citizenship, then you must accept all of the communal responsibilities of citizenship. But let’s leave the U.S. out of it for a moment, and let’s pretend we’re talking about assimilation if you move to Saudi Arabia. If you want to move to the Kingdom, then suck it up: the little missus is going to have to wear a headscarf. It’s their country, not yours, and if you want to join their family, get it straight about who wears the veil and who wears the pants. It might be ridiculous, but it’s their right as a society. On the other hand, it’s our right not to have to move there, and this might explain why talented, smart people in the West are not deluging the Saudi consulates for immigration visas.

Or better yet, take France, which has had the stones to pass some laws we would never have the guts to pass here. If you move to France, you respect and practice French values, at least in public — and that means you don’t form roving packs of boys raping unveiled women in Marseilles. If your son is in one of those packs, you don’t later defend him by saying that in your culture, women who are unveiled are asking for it. (If you like your own culture so much, then stay where you are.) It means you accept the decisions of the legally-elected French government until the next election, and
if you lose in that election, you don’t protest those decisions by wilding in the streets because it’s your “culture” to do so. You become French, and you damn well stand up when the French flag is raised. Assimilation doesn’t mean losing your identity; in a democratic republic it means your public identity must conform to the values that made you want to move in the first place. It means not being cynical about being an immigrant. And in a democratic republic, the bargain is this: it means your private life is just that — private. Do what you like at home, but one you step outside, your public life conforms to the norms of the Republic. Most importantly, you cannot be a hypocrite. You cannot come to France, take citizenship, study in the great
halls of the Sorbonne, gorge on wine and cognac, chase the local gals, download porn at prodigious rates over Europe’s free and uncensored internet, and then complain that the EU is just a decadent, indulgent melange of perverts and that is why you therefore maintain two or three passports, just like you have two or three wives, no matter what those French snobs think about it. That all sounds harsh, maybe, but the solution is clear: if you don’t like it, don’t get off the plane at De Gaulle. Try Russia or Japan or Mexico, pull your anti-assimilationist *merde* there, and see how that goes for you. So vive la France. And good luck to every other country that takes in and tolerates immigrants who think that “immigration” means staking out a community like some sort of hostile base camp deep in enemy territory. Let’s have more assimilation and less use of the word “culture.” Oh, and PS: Learn French, damn it.” [end, Tom Nichols quote]

I was glad that professor Nichols picked France as his example, as it has been secular (off and on)* since the much derided French Revolution, a revolution that took its inspiration in part from the previous American Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the Constitution. This is significant to me because some “traditionalist” conservatives regularly condemn “secularism” as if the conception was derived from the godlessly atheistic Soviet Union. These same persons are busy finding fault with the separation of church and state, and combing through documents for proof that the Founding Fathers were godly and never intended to leave spiritual matters to the privacy of the individual conscience. Hence, the culture wars. I have written about that tendency among the social conservatives before on this website, and deplore their abandonment of libertarian ideas originated in the early modern period.

To end this blog, let me make a distinction between multiculturalism ( a pseudo-solution to the existence of prejudice or bigotry) and the pluralism guaranteed by our Constitution, particularly in the First Amendment. The American and French Revolutions were children of both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, with the exception of the divergent German Enlightenment, the latter an irrationalist assault on the Age of Reason. Multiculturalism was consciously counter-revolutionary, a response to the French philosophes, materialists all, who preceded them. As I have shown with quotes from Herder and his followers on this website, the notion of national character, a racialist and collectivist idea, was the linchpin of their philosophy.

[Added after I was working on the blog, from Tom Nichols:  just to be clear, I think every country’s culture is its own business, and that each nation decides for itself what is acceptable within its own social norms — except when those practices become so dangerous to human life that they must be stopped (like, say, genocide or ritual female mutilation). I just happen to think that *Western* nations have the same rights.”

* When I first wrote this I had forgotten that the Declaration of the Rights of Man has had a rocky history in France. When Melville’s Billy Budd says farewell to the Rights of Man, we have a hint that Melville was not assigning to his character the qualities often ascribed to him.

July 29, 2009

The centrality of the Holocaust to Nazi war aims

Saul Friedlander and one of his great books

Historian Saul Friedländer gave a lecture at Vanderbilt University, November 5, 2007, that aroused the objection on one of my discussion groups (the history of antisemitism, a group on Humanities Net): one member complained that too much emphasis was placed on the centrality of Jewish extermination to the conduct of the second world war as managed by the Third Reich. This essay attempts to clear up an understandable confusion.

As Europeanist historians are aware, Friedländer and the late Martin Broszat had a very public argument in the 1980s over whether or not the final solution was or was not an indirect consequence of dispersed bureaucratic decision-making as opposed to the obsessive intent of Hitler and his closest lieutenants. There was also in this argument a debate over the “uniqueness” of the Holocaust, compared with other genocides. UCLA professor Peter Baldwin reproduces their correspondence in his Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians’ Debate, edited with an introduction (Beacon Press, 1990). This argument is now commonly characterized as the intentionalist versus functionalist debate. Near the beginning of his talk, Friedländer breaks away from his notes to describe some of his beef with Broszat, but only mentions, fascinatingly, that Broszat, like some other historians of note, did not think that the testimony of the victims (ostensibly a Jewish myth) should be part of the writing of an “objective” history of the final solution. One of the features of Friedländer’s two volumes is the inclusion of victim diaries (and their recovery is a story in itself), and these voices from the dead not only powerfully remove the Holocaust from the realm of depersonalized abstraction, but reveal what Friedländer describes as an important internal contradiction in some of their writing: a belief that their death is imminent, combined with plans for the future; in short, a degree of denial. This denial, that things are not as bad as they appear to be, is to be part of my comments below.

So, it is my view that when Friedländer describes the centrality of the complete extermination of the Jews in the Nazi project, he is arguing against the functionalist school of interpretation. He is not ignoring other factors that all students of German history are aware of. In his recorded lecture, you will hear him explain what he characterizes as his own view and the evidence for it, for instance, the timing of the extermination (as opposed to deportation and enslavement) moves in response to the entry of the Americans after Pearl Harbor and the counter-attack against the German invasion by the Soviets in late 1941. Hitler was now surrounded by “the Jews” on two fronts, not to speak of the enemy within. He also mentions Jeffrey Herf’s recent book [The Jewish Enemy, 2006] that shows the image of the Jew becoming ever more ominous (in concert with a flood of Nazi propaganda depicting the Jews as instigators of the war and their intention to exterminate Germany). Friedländer makes a nice comment on this point: whereas Nazi propaganda depicts the Jews as a monolithic demonic force, Jews were drastically divided among themselves throughout “the years of extermination,” to the detriment of all. And scariest of all, he points out that the knowledge of the final solution as it was taking place was broadly known by elites in every field (including the churches) and yet nearly all remained publicly silent. I bring this out because we may be in a comparable position today with respect to the terrorist threat emanating from Islamists and the dissemination of such horrors as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf throughout the Arab and Muslim world. (On the understudied subject of antisemitism see

When I first started reading and writing about the role of propaganda in the second world war (in the 1970s), I was dubious about how effective it was as an explanation for the rise of Nazism and its victories. I was then a Marxist of some sort and read numerous left-wing books on fascism as the inevitable result of monopoly capital. And the fact that immediately after the war, American elites were pushing the importance of propaganda and Hitler’s craziness while ignoring the Nazi and Italian Fascist destruction of the independent working class movement in tandem with the destruction of the Soviet Union (the home of “Jewish Bolshevism,” supposedly a bogus form of socialism) tended to minimize in my own mind the toxic cultural inheritance of Germany and Europe in general. Moreover, throughout my education in major universities (whether in the 1950s or from 1983 on in graduate school), I never heard a responsible discussion on the history and power of antisemitism. My postings on the history of antisemitism list have been a record of my own growing change of mind. I have posted numerous comments about “the Jews” perceived as responsible for capitalism and the growing rule of filthy lucre. (I do not imply that this was some kind of original discovery of mine, but only my public education by other scholars plus broad and probably obsessive reading in the sources.) Moreover, as just noted, it was the argument of many Europeans that the Soviet regime was not true socialism but a trick, with finance capital pulling the strings: see the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its predecessor, “the Rabbi’s speech” (synopsized in Norman Cohn’s book, Warrant for Genocide), but also the ongoing hatred of “finance capitalism” as essentially a Jewish invention that was dominated by Jews and the wide currency such beliefs had at the turn of the twentieth century, for instance in the writing of J. A. Hobson (author of Imperialism: A Study.) Populists bought this notion, I believe on both Left and Right. Little did I know that those publicists of 1945 and after who emphasized propaganda knew whereof they spoke, for they had been, as progressives, creating their own propaganda to maintain an American consensus in support of the New Deal, aka “socially responsible capitalism.” There was nothing in their project that would have enhanced understanding in this country of the power of antisemitism and its fundamental tenets. And none of these social psychologists/sociologists called a conference in America or Europe immediately after the war to make sure that such racist malevolence was entirely bogus, anti-intellectual, and antidemocratic. [This blog might be read along with my blog of 8-22 on sykewar emanating from Harvard , also my blog on the book and movie The Reader]

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