The Clare Spark Blog

December 23, 2009

She Who Gets Slapped: the magic of middle-aged Boomerdom

from the sadomasochism collection of S.T.

[Racy song from World War I:]

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-voo?
Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-voo?
Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
She hasn’t been kissed in forty years,
Hinky, dinky, parley-voo….

“Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” by Thomas Moore

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day
Were to change by to-morrow, and flee in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear;
No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turned when he rose.

Here are numerous excerpts from Daphne Merkin’s long article on movie director Nancy Meyers: “Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?” NYT Dec.15, 2009. My reminiscence of one feature of second-wave feminism follows.

[Merkin:] With her black-framed glasses and penchant for wearing clothes that seem like a softer variant of a man’s business suit — white blouse, yellow cardigan over slacks, low-heeled patent-leather pumps — the petite and attractive Meyers might pass for a lawyer or professor; there’s nothing about her that shouts V.I.P. She looks, rather, like the kind of woman who has always been cute and has always conveyed a certain approachability to men. Her jewelry is equally understated, as unblingy as can be, consisting of two gold rings and a gold bracelet. Everything about her suggests an innate tastefulness and the kind of self-image that isn’t based on making a grand impression. Goldie Hawn, whose relationship with Meyers also goes back to the ’70s, puts it this way: “Nancy has the clout. She doesn’t have to own the clout.”

…Part and parcel of that uniqueness is Meyers’s focus on making films that both feature and speak to middle-aged women, a demographic that studios traditionally ignore for fear of not bringing in the all-important opening-weekend numbers by which a movie’s position is assessed and its future success seemingly foretold. The simple truth is that any movie that is not aimed at 15-year-old boys, who come out in droves on Friday night for movies like “Transformers,” is seen as something of a risk. Movies like “It’s Complicated” unfold at the box office in a different pattern than movies that are skewed younger; their success is based more on long-range playability and word of mouth than on instant impact. Still, in a movie culture consumed by youth and its trappings — vampires, werewolves, stoners and superheroes — Meyers’s decision to pay attention to a part of the population that is often construed (and often construes itself) to be invisible stands out in bold relief. The fact that this decision has proved to be commercially shrewd says something about her instincts as a moviemaker but also says something about a previously unsatisfied hunger, composed of two parts daydream and one part hope, that is finally being addressed. “She’s a pioneer with regard to representing older women,” Diane Keaton said over lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “She’s the only one delivering the fantasy for women over 55. You’re beautiful, charming and you get two guys instead of one.”

…Meyers, then, has rushed in where angels fear to tread to rescue the middle-aged and manless woman from her lonely plight. She has taken this sorry creature, who is bombarded with reminders of her vanished youthfulness everywhere she turns, and placed her in an alternate universe, where she is not only visible but desirable just the way she is. (It helps, of course, if she looks like Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep, and if she gets to wear a carefully chosen wardrobe of flattering clothes.) “Feminism didn’t admit the longing for romance,” Barbara Probst Solomon, a writer and critic, says. “And it also didn’t admit that romance often didn’t go with success. Her movies give women their reward — you feel nourished, the way you used to feel about old-time Hollywood movies. You’re not just an old bag sitting with your laptop at the beach — you’ve got your prince. It permits you to have your fantasy.” It is not unique, of course, that Meyers’s vision of life is unabashedly romantic — call it retro or call it postfeminist — but what sets it apart is that she is putting it at the disposal not of unformed 18-year-old girls but of accomplished 50-something women for whom romance is generally no longer considered an option, either because they are too old or because they are too threatening.

…she is proposing the somewhat radical notion that there are second acts in women’s lives and that they don’t necessarily hinge on being a desperate housewife in search of the next “It” bag or a cougar on the prowl. Far from it. The interesting thing about “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated” is that the women in them aren’t remotely on the hunt, seeking proof of their sexual appeal in the form of studly younger men — or men their own age, for that matter. These women are self-sufficient and notably energetic. They may not have men, at least when we first meet them, but they make do with friends and children and siblings, for whom they whip up tasty dinners and homemade pies and laugh over their own situations.

…Her love of seductive surfaces — of rooms graciously adorned with bowls of flowers, glowing lamplight, color-coordinated pillows on the couch, pieces of art, books and touches of pleasing texture in the way of curtains, cashmere throws and rugs — is undoubtedly part of the allure of the upscale world she creates. (That world is also almost pre-ethnic — with the exception of the Asian actor B. D. Wong, who appears in “Father of the Bride” and its sequel, few non-Caucasian faces appear in Meyers’s movies.)

…What is clear is that Meyers doesn’t like shadows — metaphorical or real ones. So it is that on a Tuesday morning she is to be found in the editing room with Joe Hutshing, making like a one-woman clean-up squad. “Can you get rid of this dot, this dot and this dot,” she instructed an assistant editor, pointing out infinitesimal, invisible-to-the-human-eye blurs on the screen. A little later, as she and Hutshing went over shots of the backyard view of Streep’s house (they created a water view where none existed), she wanted all the dead trees edited out. Then it was on to the spiky plants. “Every plant that is spiky is removed from this movie,” she announced, a note of hard-won triumph in her voice. “You have no idea. Keep it all soft.”

…The more I talked to Meyers the more I realize that she prefers for her movies — for life itself — to have a rosy, unconflicted presentation. My sense is that whatever warts exist, she airbrushes out, the better to come away with a happy ending. (Her friends warn her off films that are too bleak. “People are always protective of me when they give me movies to see,” she said. “They think I’m going to break.”) At worst, her films can give off an air of tidy unreality — and it is this unexamined aspect, I think, this failure to even hint at darkness, that most fuels critical ire. Richard Schickel condemns Meyers with faint praise, hinting that she and the studios have struck a devil’s pact of sorts. “Clearly there is an audience for sweet little middle-class romances of the kind she makes, and it pleases the studios to indulge a woman, whom they would not trust with more vigorous projects. It’s as if they’re trying to say: ‘Hey, we’re not sexists. We make Nancy Meyers movies.’ ”

…As part of the audience for whom these “sweet little middle-class romances” are intended, I must say I find this assessment, whatever its kernel of truth, a bit harsh. For one thing, romantic comedies are harder to write than they appear. Sherry Lansing, former chairwoman and chief executive of Paramount Pictures, who championed “The First Wives Club” and tried for years to develop a script called “The Older Woman” without much success, says it is a genre that is “unbelievably difficult to get right.” For another, what’s wrong with a little wish fulfillment? It might be said that Meyers, who has not remarried and is currently involved with, as she puts it, “my movie,” has spun gold from the hay of her own losses, turning the painful aftermath of divorce into comedies where she, in the form of her characters, gets to call all the shots.

…The middle-aged woman as dream icon: lovable, desirable, unleavable. What’s not to warm to about that? I would love to be able to reshoot some of my own life and relationships — and it wouldn’t be half-bad if Alec Baldwin played the role of my ex-husband. We all run what-if scenarios over in our head, and part of the pleasure of this kind of entertainment is the way it lets us roam through our own imaginations as we follow the retakes Meyers’s movies offer us. Given the high divorce rate and the equally high failure rate of second marriages, I’m guessing her latest movie will bring in crowds of grown-ups eager to see their own miscalculations and missteps played out on the large screen against a backdrop anyone would be proud to call home. “It’s Complicated” may not be entirely believable — nor “Something’s Gotta Give” particularly persuasive — but they offer their creator and all the women who relate to her stand-in self, in the form of Keaton or Streep, a good deal of laughter to help get them through the night. And that’s no small piece of magic. [end, Daphne Merkin excerpts]

[Clarespeak:]   What is remarkable about Merkin’s generally positive essay on Nancy Meyer’s oeuvre in film, is that no matter what little qualifications are pumped in to give the piece an air of critical distance, she presents a woman who precisely matches the fantasies of shoppers at the better clothiers, manicurists, hair salons, and plastic surgeons, and whose idea of feminism is that of “role reversal”: “[Meyers], in the form of her characters, gets to call all the shots.”  In so doing, Merkin reiterates one of the class-bound moves of 1960s-70s feminism, in which masters and slaves trade places. I have seen this behavior in the feminist art world, in academic Women’s Studies, and in the conduct of individual women of my acquaintance. But what else would we expect from a periodical (the NYT) whose advertisers cater to exactly this class of urban women, trained from childhood to maintain themselves as “hot” decorative objects (also capable of amusing banter) appealing to good male providers?

Sadly, this was not the way the second-wave of feminism started out. Everyone of my age remembers the almost overnight transformation of the culture, as young women who had been humiliated and thwarted in the road to fame by male New Left “heavies” took to their typewriters and churned out instant best-sellers about male domination, exposing misogyny in literature and the other arts, rediscovering first-wave feminist heroines, and in general, attempting to formulate an “alternative” female culture that would encompass the needs of women in all classes and climes. And an intrinsic part of this project was the assertion of a unique “feminine” sensibility that men didn’t get, hence would not support the efforts of right-on women in the arts. In academe, there were even women who thought that their attention to the women airbrushed from history would cause all of history to be rewritten with “gender” the analytic category par excellence. (Joan Wallach Scott, for instance, now at the top of her profession.)

Those were heady, thoughtless, stupid days, and many a conventional marriage broke up as women took upon themselves the freedom they imagined men enjoyed, while many a professional man became enamored of hippies and New Age escapism, changing spouses accordingly. I knew this cohort well, and almost every one of the feminists I then knew and promoted on my radio programs and elsewhere either had a red family of origin or newly attached herself to some fraction of the left, whether it be Marxist-feminism or New Left feminism, which was odd, because “patriarchy” (the social division that is primary to a feminist) is an ahistoric notion and couldn’t be farther from the complex historical analysis that a proper Marxist (or non-Marxist historian) should exemplify. But rules were laid down by the new dominatrices, and compliant guilty males and ambitious females acquiesced, with nary a murmur or moral qualm. And part of this explosion of P.C. animosity took the form of exposing the inadequacies of their ex-husbands or lovers, naming names, the more famous the better.   Another task was the feminist demolition of Freud (see the passage in  https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/is-the-history-of-psychiatry-a-big-mess-2/ where I mention the attack on Freud as a sell-out to his gender by covering up real sexual abuse of his female patients with the invention of the Oedipus Complex, female variant).

Role-reversal was a losing strategy, not to speak of its intrinsic immorality in a movement that appealed to “equality.” The Battle of the Sexes has not been terminated; rather, new wine has been poured into old bottles. Escapist “magic” makes money as the Boomer generation swells the prospective movie and television audience, and Daphne Merkin struggles with “chronic depression” that she appears not to understand (see an earlier NYT article in which she darkly exhibits her mental states).  The second-wave feminists (a few of them) are now installed in academe and related venues, though their youth has fled, while the masses of women continue to struggle with the same issues that beset them before the 60s-70s feminists made the scene: e.g. women are terrified of aging for good reason.  Here is just one example, from experience, not from formal studies: Discarded women who loved their ex-husbands may continue to feel protective toward them, finally discovering that their concern was never reciprocated in a similar lifelong commitment. And to add to the insult, the older woman may find that she is expected to dress herself as if she were an anorexic adolescent girl. But wait! There is the “understated” Nancy Meyers uniform, as described by Daphne Merkin above. Such are the ways of “liberal” feminism in the time of Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. Mamma Mia!

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August 27, 2009

Hitler and the “Jewish” Mind, Part Three

Werner Sombart, Neo-Nazi idol

[This is the last of three entries on Hitler’s encounter with the restless, skeptical, switching “Jewish” mind. It should be read along with my earlier blog on Hitler and modern art (“Hitler, Switches, Modern Art and more….”) as introduction to the three recent entries. Also see the materials from my book chapters two and nine that document the actions of social psychologists on behalf of ‘civilian morale,’ or preventive politics, also posted this month.]

[Concluding entry to Hitler and the “Jewish” mind:]  How can we synthesize the separate facets of Hitler’s situation? First, he is self-identified with a defeated power (Germany, the victim of treachery whose victory was stolen) and with rural producers, the declining class whose interests are opposed to industrial workers and their bosses as well as to bankers. (Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.)  Hitler’s affinity group is organized politically as the agrarian interest, the backbone of conservative nationalism and German imperialism: Prussian Junker landowners and small farmers wanting tariffs and autarky to protect their prices from international competition. Hitler can revitalize the ruined pastoral if both hidebound reactionaries and wandering workers will only see his light: his solution will protect and restore everyone, rich and poor, parents and children. Crucially, peasants and workers are no longer at odds, but the stable foundation of the rectified neo-feudal order; national, not international unions, may be brought into the system without tearing it apart as long as “the Jews” go away.

Personal history has energized his politics; Hitler may have believed that his civil servant father Alois, dying suddenly of apoplexy, was felled by his own internal contradictions between cosmopolitanism and extreme nationalism and Hitler’s angry insistence (at age 12) in maintaining his difference as an artist and stubbornly rejecting his father’s occupation; he is simultaneously angry that he has been betrayed, abandoned and impoverished: if father was so cosmopolitan, why couldn’t Hitler be an artist? That is, he read the double-bind and father died, a dependent’s worst nightmare: truth leads to destitution. Now political expediency and personal predilection combine: Like other romantic anticapitalists, Hitler chooses the viewpoint of the declining aristocracy glad to pay agitators for the defeat of capitalism-becoming-socialism, a process impelled, the more prescient members of this patrician class believe, by their stubborn brethren who won’t make humane concessions and interventions, but madly press their selfish interests.

Like other agrarians (English Tories, ex-Southern slaveholders in the U.S.) Hitler sees the Jew as undermining the capacity for uncluttered communitarian thinking and social relations through the institutions that “the Jewish character” has brought. The Jewish spirit (as Werner Sombart called it) is the source of real class divisions that Hitler longs to erase. Specifically “Jewish” institutions–money, the Stock Exchange with its absentee ownership, international capitalism, the press, and the intellectual disciplines and attitudes associated with modernity like the study of political economy–literally divide master and man and have inserted themselves between the good consistent parent and the grateful child.

Secondly and crucially, like the good parent turned bad, “the Jew,” a personification of any thoughtful materialist class analysis, confuses the child by unanticipated and frightening switches. As a commentator on group life, “the Jew” asserts the natural rights of individuals and the fallaciousness of blood-and-soil doctrines of identity that ignore the uniqueness and free will of the individual. However, as a commentator on voluntarism and the power of the will, s/he points out structures of determination and the difficulties in decisively separating agency from structural imperative! As a commentator on sexual repression, s/he points out the joys of sex and emotional expressiveness. But as a commentator on bohemian libertinism s/he points out human interdependence and the obligations of the individual to suffering humanity, the noble renunciation of selfish “sensual” gratification (like promiscuity, a cheap fame and popularity) on behalf of higher, finally more satisfying moral principles: the protection of intimate relationships and the pursuit of universal truths and uplift of the poor, relationships and processes whose complexities are still under investigation and are by no means fully comprehended.

[footnote:] Geoffrey Gorer’s presentation of de Sade’s delightful Constructive Sadism (1934) suggests that promiscuity is not the exciting self-indulgence of happy lovers, but a flight from sex, sensibility and experience, i.e., a refusal of intimacy, individuality, and compassion; that romantic love is tied to the senses that report continued domination in collectivist, “egalitarian” societies. (See Hunting Captain Ahab for key quotations.) For Werner Sombart, romantic love was a threat to tradition; along with the heroic entrepreneur and the stranger unbound by local ties, here were the ingredients of “the breakthrough” and monomania.  See Samuel Z. Klausner, Introduction, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, op.cit., xxxii, lxxi.  The rehabilitation of de Sade began in the early 1930s when Gorer was allied with Stalinists; the incriminating passages were deleted from the revised edition of 1953.  “The breakthrough” was a concept Thomas Mann thought was responsible for the rise of fascism, see Doctor Faustus.  Lukács believed the concept of romantic love was one of three sources of Marxism; he supported Goethe’s confidence in apprehending the natural world against Kant’s medievalist insistence on the “unknowableness” of nature and of radical evil in human nature, see Goethe and His Age (London: Merlin, 1968): 200-201. [end footnote]

Hitler is not the only one who has felt anxiety when confronted with the boundary between what he does and does not understand, but nevertheless is called upon to judge and act in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.   Such intellectual and emotional mobility is the bewildering accompaniment to decisive and wise social action; here I believe is the combined satisfaction and burden of Jewish chosen-ness subtly expressed by Freud in Moses and Monotheism (1939) (I may be misreading Freud here). Here and elsewhere Freud opposed the primitivist acting-out and nihilism often associated with his name. In accounting for the murder of the Jews of Europe, he implicitly linked himself and the Jews (specifically their intellectual and ethical achievements) to the social idealism of the radical puritans. All in all, “the bad Jew” is quite the ideal of balanced, well-proportioned Greek classicism cut to the human scale, quite the moderate man.

[footnote:] On the “deplorable quarrelsomeness of the Greeks”see C. Bradford Welles, “The Hellenistic Orient,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 159.  “They were little ready to let go any advantage to another, although this may have been only a consequence and an extension of the qualities which made them unique as a people–their restless and aggressive curiosity, their impatience of authority, and their reluctance to acknowledge a superior.”  This volume links the historical imagination to science, democracy, technology, and optimism; it is of course contradicted by helplessness and other-worldliness.  Cf. Mosse’s claim that the young Greek ideal lay at the heart of Nazi ideology; i.e., Nazism was a romantic youth revolt, see George L. Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” 12. [end footnote]

[Hitler, Oct. 24, 1941:] The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before–and I remember that I drove them to despair…When science finds out that it has to revise one or another notion that it had believed to be definitive, at once religion gloats and declares: “We told you so!” To say that is to forget that it’s in the nature of science to behave itself thus. For if it decided to assume a dogmatic air, it would itself become a church.

[Hitler, Jan. 22-23, 1942:] …A fly began buzzing. Foxl [Hitler’s terrier at the front during the First World War] was stretched out at my side, with his muzzle between his paws. The fly came close to him. He quivered, with his eyes as if hypnotized. His face wrinkled up and acquired an old man’s expression. Suddenly he leapt forward, barked and became agitated. I used to watch him as if he’d been a man–the progressive stages of his anger, of the bile that took possession of him. He was a fine creature…To think they stole him from me!…On my return [to the trenches] he hurled himself on me in frenzy (232-233).

[Hitler, Jan. 23, 1942:] A good three hundred or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe. They’ll return first of all as commercial travellers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here–the better to exploit us. In the next stage, they become philanthropists, they endow foundations. When a Jew does that, the thing is particularly noticed–for it’s known that they’re dirty dogs. As a rule, it’s the most rascally of them who do that sort of thing. And then you’ll hear those Aryan boobies telling you: “You see, there are good Jews.”
Let’s suppose that one day National Socialism will undergo a change, and become used by a caste of privileged persons who exploit the people and cultivate money. One must hope that in that case a new reformer will arise and clean up the stables (236).

[Hitler, Feb. 19, 1942:]…I could live very well in a city like Weimar or Bayreuth. A big city is very ungrateful. Its inhabitants are like children. They hurl themselves frantically upon everything new, and they lose interest in things with the same facility. A man who wants to make a real career as a singer certainly gets more satisfaction in the provinces.

[Hitler, Sept. 1, 1942:]…The relations between master and man in old Vienna were charming in the mutual loyalty and affection which characterized them. There is only one town in Germany, Munich, in which social differences were so little marked. I can blame no Viennese for looking back with sad longing to the Vienna of old; my younger sister is filled with this nostalgia (680).

Contrast with American reactionaries.     Hitler wants the same aristo-democracy lauded by American reactionaries: Lothrop Stoddard, William McDougall, the Southern Agrarians, and “new historicist” admirers of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—some of whom are nativist radicals acceptable to the anti-Stalinist Left. It is they, like the German Romanticists before them, who have furthered hyphenated Americanism to dilute the power and appeal of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turning the word “bourgeois’ into an all-purpose insult connoting only tyranny and decadence. It is the aristodemocrats who pretend to have “decoded” antidemocratic propaganda since World War II, in their inversion of slavery and freedom, vitiating public life and the humanities. It was not the rootless cosmopolitans who invented the discourse of scientific racism.

Surely, Hitler was not alone in backing off from the intellectual and emotional inconsistencies of modernity that he affixes to Jews as others have done with radical Protestants, puritans, romantics, and modern women, yearning for a stable image of the good authority figure who would never turn on the child or drive the child to turn on him. That Hitler chose such extreme and obsessive (sadomasochistic) methods to purify himself and the world of bilious “dirty dogs” is perhaps explicable (but only partly) through analysis of a brutal childhood which he never described in the first person, the death of his father, and an antidemocratic cultural inheritance. And of course, Hitler’s obsession may have been tolerated owing to the similar ambivalence with which “the West” has embraced a modernity neither internalized, nor fully actualized, nor entirely understood.

Obviously, an alternative approach to Nazi “irrationality” would have to examine the fragility and novelty of the radical Enlightenment, then the ongoing class project in which organic conservatives masked themselves as “progressives,” attempting to divert the titanic energies of science and democracy into “gradual” change apparently in “the public interest” but often advantageous only to their class. I suspect that such efforts could not persuade the powerless were children not punished for evil thoughts and speculation, as if fantasy and reality were merged, as if thinking angry thoughts made their acting out more acceptable. Even Darwin held these views and observed the insane to study untrammeled emotions. [footnote:] See G.T. Bettany, The Life of Charles Darwin, London, 1887.

After all, ordinary people, in the bourgeois democracies at least, can use public libraries and reflect upon and deepen their own experience, can avail themselves of the good counsels of past emancipators from illegitimate authority. The defining attribute of the conservative Enlightenment, of pseudo-modernism, then, is the triumphant circumscription or shutting down of rival wandering imaginations: here is the highest achievement of “character,” the proof of “sanity.”

Masochism builds character. To put it another way, I have been describing repressive tolerance, the conditions under which “radical” Enlightenment ideas may be incorporated or co-opted by established institutions. The scientific analysis of social institutions advanced by seventeenth-century empiricism is apparently absorbed, but in practice turned against the mountaineering lower orders uplifted by natural rights, popular sovereignty, mass education, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Shockingly, the Left has abandoned the education of ordinary people: While promoting “tolerance” and empiricism (multiculturalism, “identity politics”, the “new historicism”) the “anti-racists” switch the very concept of the dissenting, goal-oriented individual capable of standing outside “the system” or “the body” to observe its processes, thus to produce universally valid abstract knowledge, a description of reality independent of bodies or class position and intended to facilitate accountability and rational amelioration. In the thought of Werner Sombart (1911), after 1933 an enthused Nazi, that detached (disillusioned?) observer was essentially the profit-seeking Jew, a kill-joy mountaineer who both repulsed and attracted him:

[Sombart:] [We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about. Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood. But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends.”

[footnote:] Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Transaction Press, 1982): 266-267.  Do the beautiful sad eyes belong to depressed, disappointed, martyred mother?  For a Marxist interpretation of European antisemitism derived solely from economic forces and class position, see Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.Y.: Pathfinder Press).  The writer was leader of the Belgian Trotskyists and an anti-Zionist, executed at Auschwitz, 1944 at age 26.  For Leon, the Jews (whose numbers had dramatically increased in the twentieth century) were caught between decaying feudalism (when they lost their social-economic function to Christians) and decaying capitalism (economic crisis squeezed their petit-bourgeois rivals); hence for Leon, the Jewish question cannot be solved without socialist transformation. [end footnote]

By drawing a hard line between Hitler and the corporatist liberals/the New Left, by refusing to examine the analogous confusing confrontations between tradition and modernity in our political and intellectual life, we obscure one important dimension of mass death, not only in “the Holocaust,” but in our timid responses to threats ranging from a weakened First Amendment to ecocide. In my view, only an ever more energetic redeployment of the Enlightenment critical methods and objectives disdained or scuttled by the (pseudo) moderate men will save us from newer and even bigger catastrophes: outcomes which cannot switch from bad to good.

[Note: these entries on Hitler’s view of the “Jewish” mind were read by Roy Porter, Robert Brenner, and my teacher of the German language, Lewis Jillian in the early 1990s. At the time of writing I was writing from the Left. I had not yet read von Mises or Hayek, hence did not consider the argument that class divisions are erased by the self-regulating free market. Still, much of this essay remains valid, for instance, the conflict between the interests of peasants and workers that Stalinists tried so hard to erase through the planning state, with horrible consequences.]

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