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Anti-Semitism, the Conservatism of Fools By: Robert Locke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 29, 2003


They used to say that anti-Semitism was the socialism of fools. For some people, it probably was. Unfortunately, this applies today on our end of the political spectrum, too, though to a lesser extent. "It's the Jews' fault" is also something one hears on the American Right. No need to name names and I am not interested in "convicting" anybody of anything. But it isn’t good for the conservative movement and these dumb vestiges must go. This is not just about being fair to the Jews: we can't save our country if the political philosophy needed to save it is repeatedly diverted down this intellectually empty rat hole.

Anti-Semitism on the Right, insofar as it has anything to do with conservative politics and is not just an ethnic or religious tic, is caused by the desire for an emotionally satisfying pseudo-solution to our nation’s problems. Many of these problems are complex and seemingly intractable. One naturally builds up a head of frustrated steam confronting them. Whether out of laziness, impatience, gullibility or the desire to take out one’s frustrations, it is a lot easier to blame the Jews than do the work of solving them.

But – this is the key – it is equally emotionally satisfying, because one feels one has done something. One has identified the source of the crisis; one has placed the blame where it belongs; one has found the enemy and he is not us. But one has of course done nothing, and will do nothing as long as one is satisfied with this pantomime. A more perfect excuse to sit on one’s buttocks, fume, and ignore the real causes of problems was never invented.

Why are Jews such a popular target? Because they are both ubiquitous, making it possible to blame them for anything, and have an oddly ambiguous social position which makes it possible to both look up at them resentfully and down at them contemptuously at the same time. Resentment and contempt being the key political emotions when it comes to lazy and dishonorable motivations, they are the perfect target. No other group has quite this convenient package of characteristics. Add the fact that Jews were emancipated in Western society by the same Enlightenment that is at the root of many of the things conservatives are against, and it is easy to tar them with all the misdeeds of modernity.

Some anti-Semites attack Jews to avoid admitting the corruption of their own ethnic or religious group. For example, they insinuate that Jews are the cause of the decay of the traditionally Christian character of American society after about 1960. But the Christian churches themselves played the principal role in this process. The Episcopal Church, for example, began to be corrupted by the invasion of its seminaries by modernists in the 1930's, resulting, a generation or two later, in near-atheist bishops like terror apologist John Spong. And despite the fact that Vatican II was never intended to have the consequences it did, the Catholic Church during this conference and since has surrendered to liberalism on all matters save sexual morality and a few others, and even there the church has defaulted the authority needed to keep its flock in line. It is hard on the ego for Christians to admit that they cooked their own goose, so it is attractive to blame these problems on someone else.

Jews are sometimes charged with pursuing their ethnic interests against that of America as a whole. But the pursuit of ethnic interests is hardly unique to them, nor necessarily illegitimate when carried out in a society with laws where other groups are free to pursue their legitimate interests. Furthermore, many of the things Jews support are disastrous for them. For example, current mass-immigration policy virtually guarantees that America will in 20 years have an anti-Israel foreign policy abroad and hordes of anti-Semites at home, simply because of the demographic mass of Moslem immigrants at the polls. Similarly, the religious relativism that has suffused American life since the 60’s has made it almost impossible for non-Orthodox Jews to transmit their religious identity to the next generation, to the point where the mathematics of the situation suggest that by 2050 there will be virtually no non-Orthodox Jews in America.

These canards are wrong, but a worse danger of anti-Semitism for conservatives is that it can make us misunderstand what we stand for. Case in point: there has arisen an unfortunate subtext to the much-needed criticism of the shortcomings of neoconservatism: that the fundamental problem with it is that it was largely invented by Jews and has a Jewish ethos in many ways.

The tacit idea is that only Christian conservatism is real conservatism. While it is desirable for America to a fundamentally Christian nation, this is false. Christian conservatism is legitimate and valuable, but it is not the only possible kind. This is so because Christianity, unlike Islam, is not a governing ideology. There is – thankfully – no Christian sharia, and the Bible does not spell out how Christians ought to run governments. This is why Christianity is compatible with a free society, which no Islamic nation has ever produced. Jesus said that Christians should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, (Mark 12:13-17) implying that politics is a sphere of human life it its own right which can be understood and acted in rightly on its own basis.

Christian values should guide our government, but the government itself should not be explicitly Christian as such. The founders got it right the first time, and it worked for nearly 200 years – until the governing class was seduced by the contrary religion of secular humanism, which has produced exactly the mess the founders knew an established religion would.

To understand why the attempt to tar the Jews with the errors of neoconservatism is wrong, one must understand the real problem with neoconservatism, which has nothing to do with Jews at all. The real problem with neoconservatism is that it is a child of the Cold War that has outlived the circumstances that gave it birth and made it useful at one time.

Neoconservative principles, freed of the constraining framework of the Cold War, have produced the bastard child of globalism. Because a parallel transformation of the formerly-socialist Left under the pressure of the same events has pushed it to the same conclusion, we have a left-right consensus monster in which the two wings reinforce each other’s worst tendencies, rather than balancing each other as any sane democracy has the right to expect.

Globalism forcibly opens up foreign nations to a capitalist and liberal democratic world-system abroad while making America a universal nation at home. This made sense during the Cold War, because we were threatened by the Soviet Union’s attempt to export its own universal world-system upon contrary principles. We had to fight a something with a something, so we needed an aggressively universalist ideology of our own, whatever the attendant risks.

The Cold War temporarily spared us many of the radically nation-corroding consequences of these ideas because it buttressed a lot of things, like nationalism and Christianity, that were needed to win it despite the fact that they were not a part of the universalist ideology itself. And the brute presence of the Soviet Union blunted America’s ability to impose its ideology on foreign nations. But take the Cold War out of the picture, and these constraints on the ability of the ideology to reach its inherently radical conclusions disappeared. The fact that many neocons were former Trotskyites and thus believers in communist world revolution didn’t help either, as when they abandoned the communist part they kept the world revolution part.

This history actually starts earlier. In 1929, America was confident of its democratic and capitalist values – indeed more democratic and capitalist in many ways than today – but it had no inclination to export a world system or to sacrifice its concrete nationhood for the sake of a universalist ideology. But as a result of fighting the Nazis, we began to define our nationhood in ideological terms as their opposite. Unfortunately, this logically came at the expense of defining ourselves as a concrete nation whose identity resided in the coherence of the American people as a national people and in our real and unique history.

In the Cold War, we performed the same feat of self-abstraction as the liberal democratic capitalist opposite to Marxism, slipping even further towards a self-conception as purely the incarnation of certain ideals. The formal zenith of this is the mischievous idea of the "propositional nation," a sophism I have debunked in detail elsewhere and whose consequences have been explored by J.P. Zmirak in his article "America the Abstraction."

Jewishness has almost nothing to do with it. If it has any connection at all, it is simply that Jews have been the best-educated ethnic group in postwar America and have therefore been over-represented among intellectuals at all points in the political spectrum. And for historical reasons, Jews were disproportionately represented among those seduced by the far Left and therefore among the neocons who become disillusioned with it.

American conservatism is not intrinsically anti-Semitic, but liberalism eventually must be. One of the most astonishing cultural events of the past 10 years has been the way that Jews have ceased to be considered politically correct and are now considered a legitimate target in such left-wing bastions as Europe and American academia. Lawrence Auster has analyzed at length why liberalism must inevitably produce anti-Semitism in the end. If nothing else, absolute tolerance entails tolerance of intolerance, a circle that can only be squared by unconstitutional hate-speech laws and other attacks on essential freedoms. And mainstream liberalism has no answer to the hard Left’s fetishistic need to valorize the "oppressed," making Israel a villain no matter how many concessions she makes to her mortal enemies.

As conservatives, we should agree that America should be a fundamentally Christian society. But how can Jews fit into this? The Jewish American philosopher Leo Strauss is the key thinker on this question. He taught that one can support society’s being Christian in character without actually believing that Christianity is true in the absolute metaphysical sense.

This accords with other Jewish thinkers, going back to the medieval Moses Maimonides, who believed that Christianity was not true but was still a good thing for gentiles to believe, both as a source of secular order and because it brought gentiles closer to belief in the one true God. The controversial but brilliant paleoconservative Rabbi Mayer Schiller once told me that Christianity was "in Platonic terms, God's noble lie for the gentiles and an uplifting and beautiful myth." In other words, a salutary illusion ordained by God for the benefit of those who are not His chosen people.

My Jewish readers, it is your duty to believe this. My Christian readers, it is your duty to make it believable by being nice to the Jews. Others, it is your duty to support this religious entente so we can have the kind of country we want as conservatives.

This entente enables politically-conservative Christians and Jews to agree about America being a fundamentally Christian nation despite not agreeing about religion itself. It achieves this without adopting the religious liberalism that entertains such philosophical nonsense as "all religions are true" or attempts to rewrite Christianity with "dual covenant" theology that makes a mockery of traditional Christianity. It does not ask anyone to be ashamed of their religion or give up their identity.

Fundamentally, this entente works because it is based on a true philosophical separation between church and state, between earthly goods knowable by any citizen and ultimate goods knowable though particular divine revelations. The Jacobin secularism that passes itself off as separation of church and state in the current liberal order cannot accomplish this.

It is rational for Jews to want an America dominated by philo-Semitic Christianity. It is not rational for them to want a godless secularized country, which produces all the problems conservatives are familiar with. It is not rational for Jews to attack Christianity, which won't get rid of it and merely makes the Jews who stage such attacks into the enemies that anti-Semites falsely accuse all Jews of being.

This solution, however, is only possible for conservatives. The liberal solution, when not the aforementioned philosophical absurdities, is to say that religion has no importance in the conduct of human life beyond, perhaps, merely private consolation. This is contradicted by all of human history and by the daily experience of billions of people. Therefore liberals will never be able to solve the problem of Jewish - Christian relations, guaranteeing problems and resentment forever. We conservatives can – and we must if we are to prevent religious differences from sabotaging the conservative movement.

The liberal idea that religion doesn't really matter is also anti-Semitic, because if true, the Jews have been lying to the world for 4,000 years and have worked, and continue to work, a monstrous fraud upon the world by insisting on a distinct identity. The Jewish claim to possess nationhood despite being scattered to the four corners of the earth, which is the basis of the legitimacy of Zionism, only makes sense if one accepts religion as a valid part of what constitutes national identity.

It is thus no accident that Western Europeans, who have largely abandoned Christianity, are so anti-Israel and increasingly anti-Semitic, while American Christian conservatives are Israel’s best friends among gentiles and America is the safest nation for Jews to live in today. The fact that these Europeans are liquidating their own ethnically-based nations in favor of the bureaucratic EU superstate only makes things worse, because it entails the idea that an ethnic state for Jews is illegitimate.

Anti-Semitism must be replaced by fair and reasonable criticism of Jews like that of any other ethnic group. It should be just as permissible to say "Jewish Americans have a cultural predisposition to liberal nonsense" as it is to say "Scandinavian Americans have a cultural predisposition to liberal nonsense." Which they certainly do: just look at heavily-Scandinavian Minnesota.

The alternative to allowing such reasonable criticism of Jews is not good for America and not even good for the Jews, as it involves singling them out in a civic, as opposed to purely religious, sense as this special group, governed by a taboo, that can never be criticized. Frankly, a lot of the nonsense spewed by Jewish liberals and neocons derives from the fact that they have been exempted from the disciplining effect of serious criticism all their lives because they have had the power to yell "anti-Semite" if anyone tries.

Fair and reasonable criticism of Jews must satisfy four criteria:

1. It must be factually true.

2. It must not be more severe than that which other ethnic groups are subjected to.

3. It must acknowledge the corresponding positive traits of Jews.

4. It must not aim to embarrass or insult.

Anything which fails to satisfy these criteria should be condemned as anti-Semitic and outside the bounds of civilized discourse. It is not absolutely necessary that Jews should supervise the publication of such criticism, but probably a good idea.

Within these limits, there is no basis for exempting Jews from the universal recognition that human beings are imperfect and their imperfections are a legitimate object of public-policy discussion. To treat Jews as uncriticizable is to treat them as somehow not human, a policy whose dangers I presume are obvious. Because of their unique history in relation to the core religion of the West, Jews have an innate tendency to get blown up in the gentile mind into mythical, larger-than-life, archetypal beings, which tendency can become perverted easily. A more prosaic image in the gentile mind would probably be a good thing.

Fair and reasonable criticism can certainly be done. The writings of David Horowitz in Radical Son about the Jewish Marxist milieu he grew up in, or Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s analysis in America’s Real War of why Jews are seduced by the liberal lie, are good examples. Among gentiles, see Paul Johnson’s writings about Jewish communists in his book A History of the Jews. Jews don’t really come off that badly in these accounts – all the stuff about their disastrous flirtation with Marxism is old history now, and needs to just come out and be flushed down the historical memory-drain.

The key obstacle to such fair and reasonable criticism is in fact anti-Semitism, which forces any criticism of Jews to be dismissed as the product of mere prejudice. Thus it prevents the open and truthful discussion that would consume anti-Semitism’s explosive fuel in an benign way, and this is yet another reason why it must stop.

The alternative is for this important issue, whose significance no censorship can conceal, to be deprived of the light of open discussion. Then it just goes underground and produces all sorts of weird and nasty things that cannot, in the long run, be contained. We’ve been there, it doesn’t work, and it’s dishonest.

The alternative, the currently politically-correct liberal model, doesn’t produce zero anti-Semitism. It is the erection by the Liberal Left of a theoretical framework – absolute tolerance – that claims to imply zero anti-Semitism but in fact produces lots of from the gutter Left. And, of course, an increasing amount from "respectable" liberal figures like Hillary Clinton.

This is a problem conservatives can solve. We’re not fools, are we?




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