Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 22, 2007

Legitimate Complaints

Polemicists being what they are, it’s no surprise that many have used the death of celebrity centerfold Anna Nicole Smith to suggest that our society is overly sexualized, that girls need better role models, that the relentless seeking of celebrity leads to pathetic endings.

Much stranger, and far more perverse, was the Sunday New York Times op-ed by Stephanie Coontz, a scholar of the family who has long argued that traditional family structure is a locus of evil, and that efforts to strengthen marriage or the family are exercises in unjustified nostalgia. She made the case that the five-month-old daughter Smith left behind was in better shape than she likely would have been if the U.S. had failed in the late 1970’s to do away with all legal demarcations between legitimacy and illegitimacy as conditions for inheritance.

Read More

Polemicists being what they are, it’s no surprise that many have used the death of celebrity centerfold Anna Nicole Smith to suggest that our society is overly sexualized, that girls need better role models, that the relentless seeking of celebrity leads to pathetic endings.

Much stranger, and far more perverse, was the Sunday New York Times op-ed by Stephanie Coontz, a scholar of the family who has long argued that traditional family structure is a locus of evil, and that efforts to strengthen marriage or the family are exercises in unjustified nostalgia. She made the case that the five-month-old daughter Smith left behind was in better shape than she likely would have been if the U.S. had failed in the late 1970’s to do away with all legal demarcations between legitimacy and illegitimacy as conditions for inheritance.


For those who have not followed the case: the baby in question, Dannielynn, is the prize in a grotesque custody circus. Four or five men who have had sexual relations with Smith are lining up to take paternity tests. They want to claim fatherhood of Dannielynn, because she might—might—inherit roughly $400 million from the still-contested estate of Smith’s late husband, the Texas billionaire Howard Marshall.

Coontz tells us that “For thousands of years the future of a child born out of wedlock was of no interest to anyone, especially if she was an orphan. The only people likely to take her in were people who needed free labor on their farms. . . . Little Dannielynn would not have had a right to her mother’s inheritance, much less a legal claim to receive support from the family of either her deceased mother or her father.” Coontz then links Dannielynn’s good fortune to court decisions in the 1960’s and 70’s, which she does not cite by name.

As it happens, illegitimate children could inherit from their mothers for a century or more before that time—a fact that Coontz tries to fudge. As for the right to inherit from an unwed father–which has nothing to do with this case, since the potential inheritance comes from the mother—this was established in 1977, in Trimble v. Gordon. There the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision striking down an Illinois statute, enabled a young Deta Trimble to inherit the worldly goods of her father, who had been murdered. His estate amounted to an old Plymouth car, worth roughly $2,500.

Coontz regards that decision as a major step toward justice for children born out of wedlock. But if this selling-out of support for the institution of marriage for $2,500 isn’t the proverbial exchange of a birthright for a mess of pottage, what is? At the time, the affirming Justices conceded that legitimacy was a pillar of the institution of the family, and the dissenting ones warned that the consequences of the decision would be grave.

The United States now has an illegitimacy rate of 38 percent. Very few of these fatherless children, who will inherit nothing, and who are without famous mothers or gigolos vying to support them, are better off for being born into a society where, thanks to the decisions Coontz celebrates, women have fewer and fewer incentives to be married to the fathers of their babies.

Read Less

The Indispensable Man

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a great post commemorating George Washington’s actual birthday—today, February 22nd. Johnson mentions especially the famous correspondence between Washington and Moses Seixas, then-president of America’s oldest Jewish congregation, Newport’s* Touro Synagogue, on the occasion of Washington’s visit there after Rhode Island’s ratification of the Constitution. Read the whole post here.

* The post originally mislabeled the location of the Touro synagogue as Providence.

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a great post commemorating George Washington’s actual birthday—today, February 22nd. Johnson mentions especially the famous correspondence between Washington and Moses Seixas, then-president of America’s oldest Jewish congregation, Newport’s* Touro Synagogue, on the occasion of Washington’s visit there after Rhode Island’s ratification of the Constitution. Read the whole post here.

* The post originally mislabeled the location of the Touro synagogue as Providence.

Read Less

Political Damnation

Robert Knight of the Media Research Center, a conservative watch-dog group, is unhappy with me. In a piece I wrote for this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, I criticized Concerned Women for America (CWA), a group whose Culture & Family Institute Knight once directed, for the way it uses religion in the service of social conservatism. As I wrote:

For a taste of [intolerant fundamentalist] views, visit the Web site of Concerned Women for America, which bills itself as the “nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization.” Its mission is “to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens,” the Bible being “the inerrant Word of God and the final authority on faith and practice.” As for dissenters from CWA’s stand on issues like the “sanctity of human life,” a handy link to Bible passages explains “why you are a sinner and deserve punishment in hell.”

Knight calls this a “vicious mischaracterization,” so gross a distortion “as to constitute a lie.” My “out of context” quotes, he writes, have nothing to do with CWA’s position on “spiritual outreach.” Indeed, “nowhere does CWA state or imply that people will be sent to hell because of their views on public policy.”

Read More

Robert Knight of the Media Research Center, a conservative watch-dog group, is unhappy with me. In a piece I wrote for this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, I criticized Concerned Women for America (CWA), a group whose Culture & Family Institute Knight once directed, for the way it uses religion in the service of social conservatism. As I wrote:

For a taste of [intolerant fundamentalist] views, visit the Web site of Concerned Women for America, which bills itself as the “nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization.” Its mission is “to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens,” the Bible being “the inerrant Word of God and the final authority on faith and practice.” As for dissenters from CWA’s stand on issues like the “sanctity of human life,” a handy link to Bible passages explains “why you are a sinner and deserve punishment in hell.”

Knight calls this a “vicious mischaracterization,” so gross a distortion “as to constitute a lie.” My “out of context” quotes, he writes, have nothing to do with CWA’s position on “spiritual outreach.” Indeed, “nowhere does CWA state or imply that people will be sent to hell because of their views on public policy.”

Well, here is what leads CWA’s Web page titled “About CWA” (the links below are live on the page as well) :

CWA is built on prayer and action.
We are the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization with a rich 28-year history of helping our members across the country bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.

What We Do
We help people focus on six core issues, which we have determined need Biblical principles most and where we can have the greatest impact. At its root, each of these issues is a battle over worldviews.

Clicking on these links, you quickly discover that CWA’s “Biblical principles” are exclusively concerned with winning salvation through trust in Jesus, with hellfire held out as the consequence of refusal. As for the “core issues” where these very same principles are needed “most,” they include “family,” “pornography,” and, of course, the “sanctity of human life.”

Maybe I’m missing some subtle, inclusive context here, but the clear point of these passages and links seems to be, as I argued, that those who disagree with CWA’s social agenda will have a hot time of it in the afterlife.

Read Less

The News You Don’t Read

It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.

Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.

Read More

It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.

Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.

Take this Wednesday’s thwarted bombing. An Islamic Jihad operative from the West Bank city of Jenin was arrested in a Palestinian “safe house” in a southern suburb of Tel Aviv after planting a bomb, which he may have intended to retrieve and blow himself up with, in a trash can in the center of the nearby city of Rishon Letzion. He told his interrogators where the bomb was, a team of sappers was sent to defuse it, and no damage was done. This kind of thing happens all the time in Israel. The main reason it was treated as such a big story this time was that, warned by intelligence sources that the bomber was on his way, the police threw up roadblocks, causing major traffic jams in the Tel Aviv area.

You read such a story in the newspaper and turn the page and go on. Only in the act of turning it, perhaps, do you suddenly stop to wonder: Just a minute—how did Israel’s intelligence services know that someone from Jenin was on his way with a bomb? And how did they know where he was hiding so that they were able to get to him in time?

You won’t find the answers in the newspaper. For obvious reasons, their details are a secret. And yet in a general sort of way, there’s no great mystery. Israeli intelligence must have known about the bomb because it had a Palestinian agent who tipped it off. It may have known about the safe house from another agent. And where did it recruit these agents from? Most probably from the hundreds of Islamic Jihad operatives who have been arrested in recent years at roadblocks, in raids on houses, in dragnets, and in sweeps—in short, in all those operations that have given Israel a reputation for being an unconscionable oppressor. And how did it persuade them to work for it? Possibly with money, possibly with other incentives, possibly with threats against them and their families—that is, by doing the kinds of nasty things that nice people don’t do to one another.

The world hears mostly about the nasty things. “Dozens of Israeli lives saved yesterday” doesn’t play well with the editors of the New York Times or the Guardian in London. We in Israel, who know those lives could have been our own, our friends’, or our family’s, have a different take on it.

Read Less

Welcome, David Pryce-Jones

We’d like to welcome to contentions as a guest blogger David Pryce-Jones, senior editor at National Review. David has written about systems of belief from Nazism and Communism to Islam. Among his books are The Closed Circle and The Strange Death of the Soviety Empire. His latest book is Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews (Encounter Books). He is also the author of several novels. David brings his trademark erudition and assured voice to contentions, and we’re delighted to have him. Enjoy!

We’d like to welcome to contentions as a guest blogger David Pryce-Jones, senior editor at National Review. David has written about systems of belief from Nazism and Communism to Islam. Among his books are The Closed Circle and The Strange Death of the Soviety Empire. His latest book is Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews (Encounter Books). He is also the author of several novels. David brings his trademark erudition and assured voice to contentions, and we’re delighted to have him. Enjoy!

Read Less

Among the Collaborationists

Maurice Papon has just died at the age of ninety-six, but his name will always stand for France’s moral collapse in 1940, and that country’s inability—or reluctance—to redress matters afterwards. In his capacity as a ranking Vichy official, the documentation proves, he signed the deportation orders to Auschwitz for 1,690 Jews, 223 of whom were children, organizing sixteen trains for them, the last in June 1944 when German defeat was certain. It was also his idea to send the bill for the expense of the requisite cattle-trucks to the Jewish representative council, thus obliging the victims to pay for their journey to be murdered. One of his German superiors described him as a sincere collaborator, “co-operating correctly with the Feldkommandatur.”

Read More

Maurice Papon has just died at the age of ninety-six, but his name will always stand for France’s moral collapse in 1940, and that country’s inability—or reluctance—to redress matters afterwards. In his capacity as a ranking Vichy official, the documentation proves, he signed the deportation orders to Auschwitz for 1,690 Jews, 223 of whom were children, organizing sixteen trains for them, the last in June 1944 when German defeat was certain. It was also his idea to send the bill for the expense of the requisite cattle-trucks to the Jewish representative council, thus obliging the victims to pay for their journey to be murdered. One of his German superiors described him as a sincere collaborator, “co-operating correctly with the Feldkommandatur.”

Collaboration with Nazism was the political choice taken by Marshal Pétain after the fall of France; it was pre-war appeasement in the new context of military defeat. Pétain and his Vichy regime imagined that they were sparing France the sort of horrors inflicted on Poland, but in reality they were facilitating them. In the absence of enough German personnel trained in mass murder, the Nazi authorities had to rely on the French to do their work. The turning point was the accord signed in May 1942 between General Karl Oberg of the SS, and René Bousquet, general secretary of the French police. That accord placed the French gendarmerie at the service of the Nazi machinery of murder. One among many who could now obey orders zealously was Papon, and another was Jean Leguay, Bousquet’s representative.

At the end of the war, Bousquet was condemned to five years of “national indignity,” a somewhat unspecific term, then immediately granted reprieve and decorated for “resistance,” in this case an even less specific term. Bousquet then enjoyed a spectacular career as an industrialist, protected by President Mitterand for no very evident reason except that he too had a compromising Vichy past. Leguay also had a successful business career. Papon fared best of all. General de Gaulle, no less, protected him, appointing him prefect of police in Paris. In that capacity, he supervised a crack-down on Algerians with thousands of arrests, and the massacre of perhaps a hundred of them, their corpses simply thrown into the Seine. Papon showed himself as adept at murdering Muslims as Jews. Under President Giscard d’Estaing, he entered the cabinet as budget minister.

Researching in the archives, Michel Slitinsky came across his own death warrant with Papon’s signature on it. Slitinsky’s father had been killed in Auschwitz, while he himself only just managed to escape arrest. In 1986, more than twenty years after the event, he brought Papon to justice. At his trial, Papon denounced the proceedings as “fake,” claimed to have helped the resistance, and dismissed the evidence as lies, speaking of “plots,” the usual fascist code for supposed Jewish world domination. Sentenced to ten years in prison for crimes against humanity, he fled defiantly to Switzerland, but was sent back and imprisoned. After he had served three years, the Chirac government had him released. The protection of such people by so many French presidents speaks volumes.

Like Papon, Leguay was indicted for crimes against humanity (though he died before going to prison). When I was writing my book Paris in the Third Reich, in which I describe his role in deporting Jews, he used to seek me out in order to plead that he had not really done anything wrong, and in any case had no choice, and would I please understand his predicament. Like Papon again, but in his more oily way, he showed no trace of remorse. Nor did Bousquet, who became more and more arrogant with the passing of time even though he too was facing a trial for crimes against humanity. One day, someone named Christian Didier—always labelled as “unbalanced”—turned up at his house and shot him dead.

The wish to hide complicity in mass murder may be humanly understandable, but it has rotted France’s national conscience and self-respect. Unwillingness to acknowledge complicity in Nazi crime explains the lack of conscience—the sheer bad faith—of the French stance in so many post-war issues.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.