The immediate inspiration for this Chronicle was an essay by “Spengler” (David P. Goldman) from a June PJ Media article entitled “Why the British Monarchy Still Matters” [https://pjmedia.com/spengler/why-the-british-monarchy-still-matters/], where the author insists on the indissoluble connection between the nation and the sacred.
Spengler is one of the very few pundits who can really be considered a thinker, and one with an excellent knowledge and sense of world history. As an intellectual in the real sense of the term, he is a—not uncritical—supporter of Donald Trump, whose manner offends many of those who in my youth we used to call “pseudo-intellectuals.”
The key element in the inspiration I take from Spengler’s article is that he is very much aware of the unique role played by the Hebrews/Jews in world history, in particular, in creating the ancient and modern idea of the nation. For I am convinced that this factor, unfortunately both foregrounded and distorted by the trauma of the Holocaust, must be given the emphasis it deserves if GA is to have a chance to play the historical role merited by its theoretical originality.
In writing this I am the first to recognize the uncomfortable impression produced by one identifying as a Jew who insists on the importance of his people’s contribution to history. But that is precisely the crux that must be worked through, even if it leaves an unpleasant residue. Indeed, if WWII “proved” anything, it was the centrality of this crux to Western and world history.
A few years ago, Adam Katz and I published a book of essays entitled The First Shall Be the Last: Rethinking Antisemitism (Brill, 2015). Ironically enough, the book was sponsored by an antisemitism-fighting organization, The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). Yet not only has this book had zero impact on the field, it has received virtually no attention or publicity from the very organization that sponsored its publication. And because the publishers set the book price at an exorbitant level, presumably to extort funds from university libraries, they foreclosed any possibility of its finding buyers on the open market.
Perhaps our book could have been more clearly focused, and it certainly could have been better publicized and marketed. But I rather think the problem was simply that we dared to point out that there was a reason why the Jews have the unique distinction—for a people who have never numbered over a few million—of attracting an enduring, world-wide hostility, one that despite its “racial” pretensions is nothing like what is usually called “racism,” the contempt for people of a “different color.” For the Jews are hated for their superiority, however nastily described: as secretly controlling world finance, as infecting the racial purity of Aryan women, as polluting communion wafers or killing little Christian/Muslim children to use their blood in matzoth. Whether or not Jews are really more intelligent than others, their replacement by Asians in many venues, such as my alma mater, the Bronx HS of Science, which in my day was something like 85% Jewish, has not led to my knowledge to a rise in “antiorientalism”—except perhaps in Ivy League admissions departments, where the old Jewish quotas have been replaced by various techniques for depriving Asian students of the benefits supposedly owing to “students of color.” The Jews’ “superiority” is best understood simply as firstness, priority in the rigorous monotheism they transmitted to the (Christian and Muslim) world.
To the extent that history clarifies what would otherwise remain fruitless exchanges of verbiage, the revived existence of Israel after two millennia has provoked, at the very least, an increase in clarity. In a famous, if perhaps apocryphal, anecdote (recounted in the Introduction to Michael Brenner’s In Search of Israel: The History of an Idea; Princeton, 2019), Chaim Weizmann, one of Israel’s founders, is said to have responded to a woman comparing the disappearance of the landless identity of the Jewish people to their “becoming Albania” with “Yes! Albania! Albania!” No, the Jews have not become “a people like any other,” but they have certainly become a bit more like any other. The movement of a plurality of the world’s Jewish population to Israel as a result of Hitler’s slaughter of Europe’s shtetl-bound Jews followed by their expulsion from most Arab countries has made it increasingly resemble a normal nation with its diaspora of expatriates, in sharp contrast to the “international conspiracy” of a people without a country. That this has not in fact lessened the suspicion of the Jews as a sinister force is all the more significant, as is the transfer of the center of antisemitic activity from Europe to the Middle East—which was traditionally and not altogether falsely cited as more accepting of the Jews than Christian Europe.
The various biblical prophecies of the return of the Jews to the Holy Land—the foundation of “Christian Zionism”—are from an empirical-scientific perspective nonsensical. But like all religious ideas, they are founded on the principle, far from absurd in itself, although hardly a guarantee of empirical truth, that certain worldly realities, which superficially are merely quantitatively different from others, possess for historical reasons an inordinate significance. The origin of this irrationality is in the “irrational” nature of the originary event itself, which, wherever it may have taken place, and even however many times it took place in different venues, consisted in the promotion of a specific worldly object to sacred status, not because of its uniqueness “in itself,” but because it was of unique significance to a particular group of humans at a particular moment. But the same is true on a broader scale—in particular, on the scale of nations.
We should hope, of course, that the apocalyptic nature of the predictions associated with this return does not foretoken the end of human civilization, which, given our propensity to violence and our possession of world-ending weaponry, is a far from supernatural possibility. The alternative, of course, is not “perpetual peace,” nor the “end of history,” as prophesied by prophets and philosophers, but an indefinite future on the edge of the apocalypse.
In any case, this provides a clarification of possibilities that for GA, at least, is not beyond the capacity of its theoretical model. One effect of this conjuncture is a newfound respect for nationalism, and a sharper contrast than in the past between it and universalism or “globalism” unlinked to a specific social order. The Left has always been universalist, from its birth in the French Revolution (to which we owe the metric system, and might have owed a calendar with ten-day weeks), as though the rational were incompatible with the particular. But given the dominantly cross-cultural nature of their business ventures, today’s globalists are emphatically “multicultural.” This is quite a change from the authoritarian internationalism of “scientific socialism.” Yet not surprisingly, multiculturalism is equally the province of the Left. Virtually all tech billionaires espouse the victimary egalitarianism of the Left, even (in principle) its denunciations of the rich and the demand that they pay higher taxes—which, in any case, billionaires usually command the legal firepower to avoid.
Superficially, the populist-internationalist dichotomy has upended the traditional positions of Left and Right. The Left’s ascriptive identity politics, quite a change from its earlier class-based typology, seeks to reduce all social difference, that is, firstness, to “racial” privilege, thereby permitting virtue-signaling White Guilt to remove the stigma of “privilege”—a symbolic activity that would have had no effect on the Bolsheviks’ expropriation of the bourgeoisie or their slaughter of the Kulaks. An added benefit of this posture is its dismissive assimilation of “populist” nationalism to fascism, which, as Yoram Hazony has pointed out, was not a nationalist but an imperialist movement.
The world is a particular, not a general place, as reflected in its institutions, notably those of religion and its cultural derivatives. But the common intelligence which lets us learn and translate each other’s languages presupposes an underlying rationality, as reflected in mathematics and the natural sciences, and most importantly, in the technologies by which we use the latter to control our environment. These institutions embody values that are truly universal, not “multicultural.”
Which is to say that cultural particularity has its own rationality. The example of “math is white” (see Chronicle 563) illustrates this principle less controversially than the firstness of the Jews, but both make the same point. Some groups of people do some things sooner and/or better than others; an identity-based quota system for any activity requiring any ability whatever never corresponds to rationality. This is not a matter of “privilege” but of objective reality.
Nor is it “unfair” that people transmit their advantages—first of all, the genetic ones—to their offspring. None of this contradicts the fundamental principle, instantiated in the originary exchange of signs, that the privileges of firstness cannot be made to outweigh the moral equality that made humanity possible in the first place. My purpose here is not to compete with Rawls’ Theory of Justice, but to try to place on a rational ground the current transformations of the political landscape.
My frequent criticism of victimary thinking or PC is a reflection of conviction, but also of frustration. The number of people in Charles Murray’s upper-middle-class “Belmont” who remain altogether indifferent to such criticism goes to show the effectiveness of the Left’s strategy. But this is only to say in other terms that the “marketplace of history” is forced to decide the question, such as in the past might have been settled by civil war.
When recently President Trump accused Jews who still vote Democrat of “disloyalty” to Israel, some found in this one more occasion to accuse Trump not merely of bad judgment but of “antisemitism.” The spectacle of presumably intelligent people accusing our most pro-Israel president of antisemitism illustrates the curious progression of history. When I was a child, all the Jews I knew were Democrats, and Harry Truman was the president who recognized Israel. Today, there are Jews prominent in BDS circles who bewail Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, as though that were the chief injustice to be righted in resolving the problems of the Middle East. Be that as it may, the increasing economic power of Israel and its role in protecting the Arab world from Shiite Iran have produced a number of breakthroughs, and, in the absence of a full-scale war with the latter, seem to be leading to a way out of the impasse.
As a number of recent works have pointed out (notably Joshua Berman, Created Equal, Oxford, 2008; Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic, Harvard, 2011; Eran Shalev, American Zion, Yale, 2014; Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism, Basic Books, 2018), the exemplarity of the Hebrews as outlined in the Old Testament was a major inspiration for the Protestant model of the modern liberal-democratic nation-state, as opposed to multicultural globalism. That Israel is of all nations today the most conscious of the need to define itself as a nation is counterbalanced by the Left’s increasingly overt antisemitism and stigmatization of “Islamophobia,” with its implicit approval of Islam’s transnational universalism as trumping its antediluvian posture toward women, let alone homosexuals.
At a time when nationalism in Western Europe is fighting a rearguard action, and American politics has become a battleground on which the increasingly “progressive” Democratic Party tests out European post-national attitudes, the Old-Testament model that stood behind the modern nation-state, beginning with Britain’s “Glorious Revolution” and the American a century later, is increasingly exemplified, and above all, explicitly defended, by Israel itself, along with some nations of Eastern Europe.
In this context, the Left’s return to antisemitism after the Hitler era has the paradoxically positive, if so far minor, effect of tilting Jewish preferences away from “progressive” virtue-signaling. My point here not to see this as “good for the Jews,” but as a gain in clarity. Whatever one’s own loyalties, Israel exemplifies Jewish national existence in a context where “nationality” cannot be reduced to a geographical location fillable, as some Europeans would like to think, by any given population.
In this context, a return from the illusions of the 1993 Oslo accords and the “two-state solution” is crucial. The fact that over 25 years later the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, refuses to accept the notion of a Jewish state, is gradually providing some clarity to the endless futility of the debate over an Israeli-Palestinian accord. The Palestinians are explicitly not concerned with “national interest.” Their doctrinaire refusal is based on the Islamic principle that territory once governed by Islam can never be voluntarily relinquished. The fact that Israel has had to put up with such “negotiating partners” for 25 years is a sufficient sign of the unique non-normalization of the national status of the one Jewish nation, surrounded as it is by countries that label themselves Islamic. Even yet, the position espoused by Caroline Glick, who argues for an Israeli (i.e., one-state) Solution (Crown, 2014), remains problematic. But such gestures as moving the American Embassy, increased informal ties with the Saudis, and generally improved diplomatic relations with the rest of the world suggest that the momentum is in the right direction.
This process cannot be hurried, and I doubt if I will live long enough (at 78) to witness stabilization, let alone political maturity, in the Middle East. But it would seem increasingly certain that here if anywhere is the boil that must be lanced, the crux whose solution will permit the dialectic of national vs. global to operate once more under historically creative conditions. So long as this sore spot remains, I imagine that the battles between “populists” and “progressives” will continue, to the detriment of the minimal harmony that liberal democracy needs in order to operate efficiently.
The Jews, whether or not “chosen,” are undoubtedly privileged as the inventors/discoverers of the One God under whose auspices the “Abrahamic” religions have created the modern world. This privilege has aroused a good deal of “Jewish guilt” to accompany the antisemitism, yet cannot simply be renounced. Allow me then to suggest a way of thinking about “privilege” altogether different from that taught today in the universities, whose response to Kipling’s “white man’s burden” is virtually never to use the image of a white male to illustrate any positive trait.
Anachronistic as it may sound, the old cliché noblesse oblige describes the only socially useful way to distribute the benefits of firstness among the general population. I think the chief reason for the recent popularity of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s works on power and sovereignty (see Chronicle 606) is the contrast he draws between the sacred contract between traditional monarchies and their subjects, and the practically unlimited demands made by the modern state on its citizens—accompanied in the democracies by the practically unlimited demands made by the citizenry on the state.
That power implies responsibility is a simple idea, but there is nothing simple about implementing it in the absence of an acknowledged transcendent authority. As Hazony persuasively suggests, the Hebrew construct of the nation may be the only viable alternative to established religion. Not that the ideal of global humanity, if not Gaia, should be rejected out of hand. Perhaps world government will come about someday. But clearly not all today’s societies are even remotely equally equitable and functional, however ludicrously this is denied for PC reasons.
If noblesse oblige is the proper reaction to firstness, the Hebrew gift of the One God to humanity remains the most striking example. Similarly, if white people of the Belmont variety want to focus constructively on the “privilege” they owe to family and economic circumstances, they should see it not as a curse to be atoned for but as an opportunity to contribute more to solving the world’s problems, whether or not by helping directly the less fortunate. Since the French Revolution, we have become so accustomed to equating the resentment against “privilege” with “justice” that we have lost sight of this principle, although most continue to honor it through charitable contributions and other activities.
My final point is that everyone has potentially some spark of firstness. Hopefully, as the relatively privileged succeed in ridding themselves of “white guilt,” the less privileged will be encouraged to turn from cultivating their resentment to cultivating their abilities, on what might be called the Booker T. principle. It is not within the race, gender, or “ethnic group,” and not yet in the world at large, but on the scale of the nation that the exchange of mutual advantages we call the division of labor is most efficiently practiced.
It would be nice if I could end by an exhortation to American Jews to aid in the acceleration of Israel’s emergence from pariah status. But increasingly, Jewish history, and even the historical destiny of nationalism, is being made in Israel itself. Enriching the ideas of GA in this domain may well be the most we can do at this juncture.