For Matthew Schneider
As the domination of those who privilege resentment and victimhood continues to increase throughout the domain of Western civilization (not however without some recent healthy European reactions), those who deplore this trend, when asked for its fundamental cause, are likely to evoke the decline of religious belief in the Western, Judeo-Christian sense to the profit of pseudo-Marxist leftism on the one hand and an atavistic “post-colonial” Islamism on the other. This increasingly dangerous red-green alliance has become what strikes many as the most dangerous and potentially explosive coalition since the Axis.
The usual remedy begins by explaining loss of belief in God as a product of growing hedonism and materialism, and then seeking ways to restore or recreate traditional religious institutions that will foster this belief. With the decline of traditional childhood religious training, a more radical mode of adult social conditioning is often proposed, for example, Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” or similar modes of “new monasticism.”
Independently of the success or failure of such ventures, what this approach begins with is an avowal that the conditions of modern Western society are increasingly incompatible with religious belief, that is, with the sense of the sacred. Yet the recent raucous demonstrations in support of Hamas in various cities and campuses are clear demonstrations of the contrary. The demonstrators are not defending their personal interests and are in most cases only vaguely aware of the issues involved, but the one thing that cannot be denied is that they consider it a sacred duty to express their support for Hamas and the Palestinian cause and their hostility to Israel. And in relation to the long history of antisemitism in the West, the anti-Zionist animus of the current hostility is directed more broadly at Western civilization itself—in sharp contrast with Nazism, which saw itself rather as preserving this civilization from Jewish infiltration. During WWII the Mufti of Jerusalem was a dependent of the German Reich; today, it is the Western true believers who take their watchword from the Islamists.
Such expressions of passionate religious conviction in the West demonstrate that today its chief sign of civilizational decay is not the forgetting of the sacred, but the rejection of its Judeo-Christian forms to the profit of the most radical form of the third and most problematic member of the Abrahamic Trinity, militant Islam, identifying less with its renewed drive to world conquest than with its savage violence toward the Jews as both the original source of Western religion and the “colonial” usurper of the Holy Land. The Islamists exploit the post-colonial vocabulary of the world’s “South” as a secular translation of their view of Israel as a blasphemous abomination, occupying the sacred Muslim land in which Jerusalem is destined to become the capital of the Umma’s world-wide Caliphate.
To hear the cries of “gas the Jews” and continue to bewail the decline of religion is to be guilty of a dangerous naivete. No doubt there is little danger of concentration camps dotting the American countryside, but this new passion, whose power we are only now beginning to find more dangerous than absurd, requires that we make the effort to understand the sacred in terms far broader terms than attending weekly church services.
It also demands that we give thought to possible means by which the communal basis of the sacred can be restored outside of religious institutions. I will suggest such a possibility in the conclusion to this Chronicle.
The October 7 Hamas pogrom that brought the inherent antisemitism of victimary Wokeness out of the shadows also made clear the real focus of the Woke revolt against “privilege.” Affirmative action originally meant giving extra help to those whose backgrounds or handicaps prevented them from making full use of their intellectual and/or physical capacities to perform effectively in their places of work or study. A child whose school background was inadequate could receive supplementary training to bring him up to the norm met by those from more satisfactory backgrounds. Race was not a criterion in itself, at most a possible indication of inferior schooling. The clear purpose of affirmative action was to provide an even playing field for all candidates for school admission, occupation, or advancement. The DEI approach is, needless to say, very different.
Given the racial divisiveness of this procedure as well as its detrimental effect on performance, one might wonder why so many of those in privileged categories enthusiastically insist on its virtues, as the term “virtue-signaling” suggests. But virtue is merely another word for obedience to the sacred will. Just as renouncing the last canape models the originary deferral of appetite in deference to this will, so presumably is insisting that members of victimary classes be compensated for their sufferings at the hands of the privileged.
Yet the fact remains that assimilating DEI policies to virtue is inherently divisive: it privileges ascriptive identity over the needs of the human community. In the face of extreme assertions such as claiming that even mathematical correctness is “white,” we must assume that scholastic tests and the like are generally valid measures of the potential benefit of a given individual to the community; making “inclusion” the overriding consideration functions to its detriment.
Why then have, under the stimulus of a reminder of the Holocaust, these pseudo-Christian precepts of “the last shall be the first” provoked an outbreak of antisemitism linked to the jihadist destruction not just of Israel, but of Western civilization?
In the context of this association, the recent case of three university presidents unable to condemn antisemitic demonstrations in principle is anything but an anomaly. No doubt Jews tend to do well in intellectual and related activities, but so do various other national groups; why then is the most consistently persecuted people in Western history the obvious target of “antiracism” protests? One can say that it is the fault of Israel, but the Nazis were able to make the same case for exterminating the Jews in the absence of any such nation-state— indeed, for the very reason that no such state existed to which the Jews could be deported.
Antisemitism cannot be explained by such superficial criteria; its core is resentment of the firstness of the Jews in Western religion as the revealers of its One God, against whom first Christianity and then Islam defined themselves. Today, the rapprochement of Christians and Jews has been facilitated by the Woke identification with Islamism as post-colonialism: the alliance of the internal and external enemies of the oppressive West. And indeed, in recent years, Muslim persecution has made far more victims among the “Sunday people” than the “Saturday people,” although even the most destructive anti-Christian hatred lacks the particular venom of antisemitism, which finds resonance in Christian as well as Muslim countries.
It is no doubt an oversimplification to claim that antisemitism is the originary model of DEI, but it is far from insignificant that the “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations sparked by October 7 have found favor with the majority of DEI supporters. The key point is that whereas DEI purports to be a means for helping “victims” to catch up with their “oppressors,” it is in fact, as ideologues such as Ibram Kendi are not afraid to assert, an instrument of “antiracism” in the sense of vengeance, perpetuating racial conflict rather than seeking the de-differentiation that was the goal of such leaders as Booker T. Washington and M. L. King. The natural sympathy of DEI for antisemitism makes this point more clearly than statistical analyses.
What the Woke have awoken to, in a word, is not the egalitarianism of originary society that rejects the primate Alpha-Beta hierarchy, but the preemptive resentment of young people whose identification with the purported victims of discrimination is based less on a desire to efface the traces of such discrimination than on identification with their victimary credentials. Emulation abolishes ascriptive differences through shared activity; resentment fetishizes them into impenetrable barriers. Whence the ubiquitous crybullying phenomenon of “feeling unsafe.” Instead of competing with others toward a shared goal and an ultimately communal focus, the crybully seeks to win the game by calling a foul.
I have previously referred (see in particular Chronicle 566) to the fact that life in past times was seen far less as a source of pleasure and more as a “vale of tears” than it is today. As a result, we tend to judge the faith of the past, with its apparent focus on the afterlife, as an illusion: “pie in the sky when you die.” Pascal’s probabilistic notion that given the inevitability of death, even the smallest chance of eternal salvation is worth betting on is based on the intuition of death in the absence of such salvation as the eternal suffering of damnation; but in the premodern age, the intuitive model for damnation and hellfire was but an exaggeration of the pains and diseases of everyday life.
I have often wondered in what sense the Christians of the past “believed” in this alternative: to what extent they expected to “live” after death in either eternal pain or bliss. It is all too easy to imagine the reality in our own imaginations of beliefs that must be understood in their own religious context.
But whereas my eternal bliss or suffering can never be more than an abstraction, faith in the “afterlife” makes sense not only for the human species but for the human collectivity on every level: family, community, metropolis, nation…. The idea of “life after death” should be understood less as a prolongation of my individual existence than as a way of participating in the human future to which our lives have led. Thus we do not find it unreasonable for the armed forces to ask their members to be ready to make the “supreme sacrifice” for their country without pretending to guarantee them eternal life in Heaven.
The Christian sacred that guarantees this faith in the West offers Jesus’ crucifixion as exemplary precisely insofar as he died unaware of any prior promise of resurrection. To follow his example is not to be assured of salvation, but to seek to merit salvation, whether by one’s deeds or by the faith that motivates them. Faith in resurrection is no doubt imagined as eternal life, but the source of its power is not this imagination, but the assurance of Jesus’ love for those he presumably gave his life to “save.”
As Matt Schneider once defined in a word the fundamental difference between Christianity and Judaism, HaShem cares for humanity and wants it to flourish, but Jesus loves you—he gave his life for each of us personally. I think that it is above all this Protestant-toned sentiment that keeps Christianity alive today, in a world for which a promised eternity of lifelike pleasures is no longer a powerful incentive, whereas the promise of one’s loved ones’ survival makes dying less painful. I think the sense of human immortality must always be understood in the context of the perpetuation of the human community, whether defined as a family, a local community, a tribe, a nation, a culture—a language—or a species.
The original focus of Christianity as an extension of Judaism was to transmit to those of the pagan world the Jewish sense that one’s life will always matter—to God, but as witnessed by one’s people—by explicitly equating this people to the human race. Yet the specifically Jewish sense of community has survived its many catastrophes, and continues to evoke hatred in its quest to establish itself once more in the land of its origin. As the idea of the Westphalian nation-state as a unified realm of shared language and custom becomes problematic in our globalizing age, Israel’s very success has intensified Jew-hatred in countries that witness the fraying of their own national solidarity, often under the pressure of increased Muslim immigration from former colonies.
Whence the increasing attractiveness of the red-green link between Islamism and what was once the Marxist ideal of socialist revolution but has increasingly become an alliance between a globalist billionaire class and the “minorities” whose elites they finance and whose poor they subsidize (while ignoring and even encouraging crime and dysfunction in their communities), supplemented by college-age youth and young adults indoctrinated with a Woke ideology that rejects the work-ethic and related values conducive to a harmonious civil society. This allows market society to continue (more or less) to flourish—putting aside its worrisome decline in military readiness and patriotism—notwithstanding its tendency in the cybernetic age to create vast and unprecedented disproportions of wealth. If religion be defined as the use of a shared conception of the sacred to reinforce the solidarity of a given human community, the faith that binds together this “progressive” class is an anti-religion in the sense that it places the defense of individual “human rights” above any family and communal values, seen as obstacles to the smooth functioning of the global apparatus.
The fact that “human rights” in this coalition has a purely negative relation to communal structures, the same relation that promotes the deliberate failure to punish criminals or protect women from the excesses of “transgender” men, explains the irrelevance of the critique that the Woke’s Islamist allies have in fact zero tolerance for victimary groups such as “liberated” women or homosexuals. For how the Western antinomians and the Middle-Eastern theocrats would find their ultimate modus vivendi remains for the moment a side issue given their common aim of undermining the civilization of the West.
The anti-Western resentment that is the sacred core of this alliance explains—as the Hamas pogrom revealed—its unification around antisemitism, as in Germany 90 years ago. Taken for granted in this program is the continued productivity of the world economy, whose increasing cybernetization and globalization may be left in the hands of its billionaire masters. In a word, the red-green agreement on the decadence of Western civil society implies the perpetuation of the global economy within a post-national and post-communal order.
Such a society, increasingly lacking a sense of human community, would presumably no longer have need for the sacred, leading to an unpredictable and perhaps fatal conclusion. But for the moment the world is not yet ready for either the Brave New World or the World Caliphate that the success of the red-green revolution would imply.
Conclusion: Family Policy?
Given the division between political parties and the voters that elect them, it seems obvious that, for example, directly attacking DEI and similar policies might gain a few victories but will do little to restore the sense of national community that its presence denies. In reference not only to the US but to all Western-style nations, what less conflictive policy, rather than espousing the political convictions of one party or the other, can have some hope of restoring this sense over time?
Given the primary function of the sacred to insure the continuation and flourishing of our species, the clearest indicator of social health in normal circumstances is the maintenance of the human population. Falling birth rates over more than a short period are clear signs of societal decline, and should receive far more attention than they currently do. That the European tendency over the past decades to replace reproduction with non-European immigration has led to severe social problems is all too easy to explain. And the current tendency throughout the industrialized world for marriage and childbearing to occur later and less frequently and increasingly less in synchrony, insuring the decline of the native population over time, is not one that societies can afford to leave to chance to resolve.
This suggests that policies that encourage marriage and childbirth—policies that in themselves can hardly be described as partisan—should be at the top of the list of desiderata. That Israel is the only Western-style country with a clear reproductive surplus is a clear indication that modern civilization has lost sight of what we should not hesitate to call its sacred purpose: to reproduce itself as a human community successfully indefinitely into the future.
This focus allows us to put such phenomena as gay marriage in their proper perspective. A social norm such as marriage and reproduction need not exclude or stigmatize exceptions such as homosexual relations, although it should go without saying that acceptance should not reach the point where the victimary status that adheres to these exceptions results in their privileging above the norm. Understood as a tolerated substitute for marriage, gay marriage in fact reinforces the marriage norm, in significant contrast to what was once the standard of male homosexual relations: unlimited promiscuity maximally separating sexuality from family formation.
There is no doubt a tension, especially in the lives of women, between childbearing and seeking success in the world of economic exchange. But the unique example of Israel demonstrates that the desire to produce children not simply as future atoms of a global society but as members of a self-conscious cultural community is sufficient to stimulate the modest population growth sustainable under any foreseeable conditions of the world economy.
No doubt we cannot command the reconstruction of the national values that sustained the Westphalian system that had spread throughout the world from Europe, and that today appears to have entered a phase of decline. Theorizing about the love that binds the members of national communities does nothing to create it. But I can assert with some confidence that a policy of investing in families and “family values” offers a potential means for rebuilding communities on all levels from the bottom up—in contrast to the increased bureaucratization of child-rearing, which has reached the point in the US where parents are forced to resort to home-schooling and/or to protest the use of the public schools for increasingly intrusive indoctrination, political and even sexual.
To strengthen the family is to provide the basis for strengthened community at every level, as well as providing religious belief with a population that has acquired through the experience of child-rearing a taste for both love and authority as the indispensable twin foundations of any community. And what makes me at least slightly optimistic about such a policy is that, however many battles may be fought over the details, the proposition that family formation and stabilizing national population is nearly always a good thing is in itself without political bias.