In the previous Chronicle I emphasized the significance of Christianity’s insistence that we believe not merely in God, whose human-like qualities can be assimilated, as in Durkheim, to the sacred instrument of communal “solidarity,” but in the miraculous events narrated in the New Testament that occurred not in “ancient times” but at a midway point in history.
Judaism is by no means deism, but from an anthropological perspective it can be interpreted as a belief in a providential sacred adapted to the history of a people that, given their sense that God is One, were able to form a nation composed of several tribes united in this belief, thereby offering the first example of what would emerge from the Middle Ages as a community of nation-states. Christianity, which adopted the national concept at the time of the Reformation as already implicit in the separation between God’s kingdom and those of the world, was from the outset a trans-national religion, and the tension between church and state, absent from Islam and no longer relevant to the Jewish diaspora, gave rise to the world community of nations as we know it today, within which the ancient empire of China is seeking aggressively to recover its role as the Middle Kingdom/Empire.
It might seem unfair to blame the current crisis on the deficiencies of Christianity and/or of Judaism as its “elder brother,” but the very term blame already suggests that the central problem of Judeo-Christian morality, one no doubt greatly exacerbated in Christianity but with its roots nonetheless in Judaism, is its reliance on a sense of guilt that is the inverse of the resentment felt by the “victims” of firstness. In this context we should recall that Nietzsche, although he rejected his sister’s antisemitism, was not exactly an admirer of the Jews, with whom he contrasted the “heroic” Greeks—this is, after all, his connection to the Nazi sensibility. Nietzsche considered the Jews the original “men of resentment,” and Christianity merely an extension of this aspect of Judaism:
It was the Jews who, in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good = aristocratic = beautiful = happy = loved by the gods), dared with a terrifying logic to suggest the contrary equation, and indeed to maintain with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of weakness) this contrary equation, namely, “the wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the loathsome, are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation.”
The Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, par. 7. Trans. H. Samuel, Edinburgh, 1913 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/52319/52319-h/52319-h.htm
One may well ask how any religion, or any world-view for that matter, can avoid the issue of resentment/guilt that attends firstness from the outset. But what is needed is not avoiding but “repairing” the Christian moral doctrine, whose evident corruption is the clearest sign of the current crisis. Making George Floyd into a saint on the example of Jesus’ frequentation of publicans and prostitutes is an inevitable temptation so long as one seeks confirmation in a moral “instinct” that, precisely, fails to distinguish between loving the sinner and excusing his sin. The fact that a wise priest or rabbi could explain this in terms consistent with his theology matters little if the religion in itself does not effectively implant this truth in the conscience of the faithful.
In any case, it makes little sense to seek to distinguish between today’s Jews and Christians, when many of the leaders of antizionist organizations are themselves Jews, even in Israel itself—where those who believe in Israel’s right to exist without apology are largely confined to the—majoritary, but hardly uncontested—“Right.” The most we can hope for is that the current wave of antisemitism will alert today’s Jews to what their European forbears found out in 1933: antisemitism isn’t “prejudice,” nor does it depend on specific Jewish sins: making the first become the last is a quasi-permanent Western, and human, temptation.
Is there not a contradiction, one might ask, between explaining wokeness and the epistemology of resentment, of which it is so to speak the reductio ad absurdum, as on the one hand founded on our “moral instinct” as it emerged in the originary event, and on the other, as reflecting a deficiency in Judeo-Christian religion? At the very least, we cannot take the angelistic position of denouncing this “deficiency” without noting that, like all religions, those in question were created precisely for the purpose of deferring resentment.
But as Hegel well knew, deferral is not elimination, even as he conceived an “end of history” on the necessarily indemonstrable model of the Last Judgment. No one can truly stand above the dichotomy between first and last, winners and losers. Reflecting on it, writing about it, even declaring it to have been “transcended,” whether by the Crucifixion/Resurrection or the Bolshevik creation of a “New Man,” is merely one more mode of deferral. And if Derrida had reflected more deeply on his idea of différance and the “play” it allows in the conceptual realm, he would have realized that translating his metaphysical language into that of historial human reality would have changed nothing in its embodiment of paradox. The empirical world contains all the richness of metaphysics, along in addition with the assurance that as long as it endures, it will never be exhausted by our reflections.
Which is to say that nothing is gained by seeking le ver dans le fruit, the “fatal flaw” that has made Judeo-Christianity apparently incapable of maintaining its sense of purpose as the spiritual basis of world hegemony. The very nature of firstness in the broad sense is as a gift to the world, even if it is originally sought in utter selfishness. The superiority of Judeo-Christianity is at least not to have been conceived in such terms, like those of the “compact” empires that preceded the Exodus. The Jews conceive themselves as a “light unto the world,” and Christianity is best seen as a way of making this light shine not just on but within the rest of the world.
Nonetheless, it is not because the West has been characterized by a particular lack of respect for its Others, a domain in which it has done far better historically than any of its rivals, but because no existing religious configuration could have prevented the tensions that the current crisis reflects: that the current state of affairs in the US, and to a lesser extent in all Western democracies, which gives the predominance of institutional wealth and power to a “globalist” elite, obliges it in what remains a regime founded on free elections to ally itself with a demagogically controlled underclass against the once-respectable middle and working classes, whose interests it as far as possible ignores.
Recent signs suggest that this is not truly a stable configuration, that “liberals” sympathetic to BLM and the like are beginning to see through the pretense of “social justice” and its pernicious consequences. If its enemies just give it a little more time, Western society may well find the means to renew its self-confidence before losing all credible authority.
Or if it is truly too late, and the US must take a back seat to Chinese autocracy, even this need not mean the end of the world as we know it, or of the human race. It may even be that it will only be as a result of attaining hegemony in a still-peaceful world that China will lose its resentful edge, and then, as the West has done, responsibly make of its prosperity a gift to all humanity.
As David Goldman recently pointed out in a conversation with Caroline Glick (Mideast News Hour, Ep. 28, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvT4_CWtZBA ), China is not interested in conquering the West so long as it can exact “tribute” from it in economic terms. Meanwhile, as Goldman has also pointed out (see Chronicle 664), China is far outdoing the West in its preservation of the best of Western culture, particularly its classical music, which does not require translation.
China’s maintenance of civil order may be tyrannical, but today both Europe and the US show signs that Western public authority, hamstrung by its focus on “human rights” and aversion to punishment, is unsustainable, as witness California’s allowing theft below $950 virtually without penalty, judges setting zero bail (or, as in the case of the Waukesha massacre, $1000 for a career violent felon), and European “no-go zones” dominated by criminal gangs—marks of a perverted Christianity that defines magnanimity as condoning vicious behavior.
Today when Christianity shows signs of not being able to carry to a successful conclusion its mission to bring the One God to the entire world, it is useful to reflect on both the residual advantages of Judaism and those of Islam, the third member of the Abrahamic trio.
In this context, the survival and flourishing of Israel is of the greatest importance. The fact that it is virtually the sole modern state to exceed the demographic replacement rate is a reflection on all the other democracies whose citizens are increasingly less inclined to found families, and whose growing immigrant populations are, understandably, increasingly less desirous of “assimilating” Western values.
Islam’s claim to be able to outlast Judeo-Christianity (“you’ve got the watches, but we have the time”) is not an empty boast. The demographic Islamification of Europe seems virtually assured within another generation or two. As a counterweight to this decline, the survival of the Jewish state, hopefully in increasing cooperation with its Muslim neighbors, stands as a defiant counterexample—not of triumph, but of a new mode of cooperation that may lead in this same time-frame to Judeo-Islamic fraternity becoming a more powerful force for world order—and ultimately for the integration of all world cultures—than Judeo-Christianity. Stranger things have happened in history.
The current French presidential campaign has been shaken up by Eric Zemmour, a pied noir Jewish polemicist who has made a career of denouncing, in a series of widely-read books (notably, Le suicide français, Albin Michel, 2014 and this year’s La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot, Rubempré), France’s failure to defend itself from the threat of the grand remplacement. This phenomenon is being experienced throughout Europe, and more in France than elsewhere, as the root population fails to reproduce itself and is increasingly replaced by Muslims from the Near East or Africa, who in turn are increasingly militant in their affirmation of Sharia and less willing to assimilate into European society. Zemmour’s joining the race has drawn greater attention to this problem of immigration/integration, obliging the other candidates to take firmer stands than in the past.
The Jewish population of France and Europe in general is far from having developed “Abrahamic” relations with its Muslim neighbors. A recent couple of violent murders of elderly Jewish women by young Muslims in Paris illustrates on the contrary the anti-Jewish animus associated with the “Palestinian” cause so congenial to the Europeans and above all to their Middle-Eastern immigrant populations. But this only makes the Abraham Accords of greater interest as potential signs that the continued success of Israel, hopefully backed up by more positive American support than that from the current administration, may accomplish what the earlier round of Western colonialism could not: creating a truly “level playing field” for Jewish-Muslim, and in consequence, for Muslim-Christian, relations.
Viewing tiny Israel as a “colonial power” may be the formula of the irredentist Arab population of Palestine (although were it not for the ill-conceived 1993-95 Oslo Accords, that situation might well be closer to a solution), but Israel’s Arab neighbors need fear no desire for territorial expansion and can be brought to welcome its economic and military strength. Symbolic gestures, such as this year’s Hanukah menorah in Dubai, suggest that neither the anti-Jewish passages in the Koran nor the Muslim doctrine of world conquest need be obstacles to peaceful cooperation. In this regard it is significant that the EU remains, far more even than the current US administration, hostile to Israel and wedded to the Palestinian-oriented “two-state solution”—which the Palestinians themselves have never shown the least willingness to adopt.
Middle-East historian-journalist Daniel Pipes in particular has insisted on the distinction between Islam and Islamism, and on the real possibility of promoting a Modern Islam in opposition to the atavistic jihadist movements. (See in particular his 2013 Commentary article, https://www.commentary.org/articles/daniel-pipes/can-islam-be-reformed/, where he answers the question in the affirmative; he has not since changed his position.) Indeed, the cliché about the Jews being better integrated into Muslim than Christian society throughout the Middle Ages and Early Modern era is based on real historical experience and not invalidated by occasional lapses. What changed all this was the creation of Israel, which led Arab countries like Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya to virtually expel formerly their formerly considerable Jewish populations. But precisely the direction of the Abraham Accords is to welcome the Jews back, if not into the countries themselves, then into neighborly relations which in time will restore at least partially the Jewish communities in these countries.
On a more abstract level, the theology of Modern Islam has much to choose from in the Koran to contrast with the hostile passages quoted by jihadists and those who agree that they represent the true path of Islam. The Islamist critique of Western civilization, as typified by Sayyid Qutb’s rejection of it after his 1948-50 study visit to the US, is not for all that totally unfounded. Western secularism has fallen away from the social order formerly regulated by Christian morals, and a dose of genuine Islamic piety, as opposed to Western Islam’s terroristic or criminal excesses (grooming gangs, the drug trade…), would not be unwelcome.
The continued existence of GA, demonstrating my conviction that it is more important to understand the originary basis of human enterprises than to immerse oneself in the details, I am not afraid to risk the scandalous proposition that it may well be that a Judeo-Islamic rapprochement can furnish a solution to the cultural decay of the West that Judeo-Christianity has not been able to accomplish.
The Christian relationship with Jesus, particularly in Evangelical sects, may be understood as an attempt to reproduce the Jews’ “familial” relationship with the One God—something found in numerous parables that show rabbis arguing with God—as Abraham did at the time of Sodom and Gomorrah—and sometimes even persuading him of the superiority of their viewpoint. But this sense of quasi-familial intimacy at the same time creates a separation between the Jews and those who are not (yet?) members of the family.
Islam, as we all know by now, means “submission”—in French, Soumission, the title of Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 best-seller about an Islamic take-over of France. We can to be sure interpret “submission” as an abdication of our human judgment, a mode of abjection rather than an affirmation of our creation “in God’s image.” But it can also be understood very differently, as an unqualified confidence in sacred providence.
The root of Islam is in the sense of exclusion from the already Judeo-Christian Middle East by the desert Arabs who made up Mohammed’s first followers (assuming that Mohammed really existed, which, unlike Jesus, is not altogether certain). The role played by the Muslims from the beginning was that of the outsiders of “Western” civilization, including its “Eastern” version headquartered in Byzantium. And Islam’s propensity to violence, which is far more central to it than to its fraternal religions, reflects this resentful stance, as does its doctrine that lands it has once occupied remain permanently in dar es islam.
Yet as the religion of outsiders, Islam, unlike the Jewish “tribe” or the Christian “family of nations,” was conceived from the beginning as truly a religion for all humanity. Not that it need conquer and replace Judaism and Christianity, but that in a true Abrahamic synthesis, all three could find their place, because all three express an essential aspect of the One God—one anticipated, one might say, by the Christian Trinity.
In this context, one recalls the most memorable passage of Malcolm X’s 1965 Autobiography. On attending the annual Hadj, Malcolm is struck by the complete sense of fraternity in Mecca among the varied population of the celebration: Muslims from all over the world united in worship of, in submission to Allah:
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.
America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ballantine Books, 1992, p. 371
Southern Christian churches, even well after the Civil War, had remained segregated; this is inconceivable in a mosque. Nor is Allah thought of by anyone, as many Jews conceive the One God, as a kind of family member. Allah is transcendent, point à la ligne, and transcends everyone equally, from descendants of the first Muslims to yesterday’s convertee.
In Abrahamic terms, Isaac and Ishmael are brothers, and if the Judeo-Christian West has always valorized the legitimacy of the one over the inferior status of the other, born to a handmaid and not a wife, Jesus would have insisted that the true brotherhood of man maintains no such distinctions.
Let it suffice to declare that if these three “Western” but really Middle-Eastern religions can come together in brotherhood, humanity will have taken a truly giant step toward a fraternal world order.