Commentary Magazine

This Aquarian Age

A Pole in Denmark

The influence of wrong texts and interpretations: Magna Carta. Now we are taught that in its time Magna Carta was a defense of feudal powers and privileges against necessary central government, but the Englishmen who overthrew Stuart absolutism appealed in good conscience to the precedent of the Great Charter of liberty under law. Or Shakespeare: for the authorities, the last time I looked, Hamlet’s too, too solid flesh was too, too sullied. And so with that verse in Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Bible scholars now prefer “let Him slay me, I will not quail” (reading lo’; “not” with the kethibh rather than lo’ “to him” with the qere and transposing ‘yhl to ‘hyl).

Job affirms God’s justice. At a burial a mourner recites the zidduq ha-din, the justification of the Judgment, beginning with Deuteronomy 32:4: “The Rock, His doing is perfect;/Indeed, all His ways are justice.” When the mourner goes home he must not lern: learning Torah—which of course is not only Pentateuch, and not only Bible, but also the whole corpus of Rabbinical literature—is a delight (Ps. 119:70: “I delight in Thy Torah”) and therefore forbidden to him, together with less recondite delights. But there is a way out. Since it would be cruel to withhold Torah from a Jew altogether, a distinction is made between studying Torah, which remains forbidden, and merely reading in the Bible, which is permitted, provided the reading is appropriately somber: Job, for instance. Job, after rejecting conventional theodicy, ends by affirming a divine justice invisible to human eyes.

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” has always been understood to teach the faithfulness unto death. Its rhythm has affected even Juliusz Katz-Suchy’s thought and speech. Banished by the Communist government of Poland as a Zionist—i.e., as a Jew—Katz-Suchy is now teaching at a Danish university. In Warsaw he was a professor of international relations. Earlier he had been Polish representative at the United Nations, where he was the consummate Stalinist. Then the order against Stalinism was passed down, and he dutifully became a liberal: what’s in a name? What he could not become was a non-Jew, though the only thing Jewish about him was what he thought to be an irrelevant genealogical datum.

In Denmark Katz-Suchy has told a reporter that the anti-Jewish campaign in Poland, of which he is one of many victims, is used to “exploit presumed [!] anti-Semitism among Poles,” but that “the presumption is an error. . . .” According to Freud, it is not when an intelligent man says an intelligent thing that he most reveals himself: what else should he say? He most reveals himself when he says a silly thing. A UN representative and university professor may be expected to have an IQ above rather than below 100. Yet not only does Katz-Suchy speak of presumed Polish anti-Semitism, he also says: “I am still a Pole and Poland will always be my country”; and, “Even if some of my ideas have let me down, I still believe in socialism. . . .”

For Katz-Suchy, socialism—that heavenly word, Mesopotamia—must mean Marxism. (Surely it cannot mean what Harold Wilson represents.) Among other things, Marxism means atheism. Marxist atheism is more than the philosophical negation of God. It is also the insistence on men’s practical duty to negate God if they are to be men not babies, active not passive, autonomous not heteronomous, rational not irrational. If we are looking for theodicy, usually we do not go to a Marxist. Nevertheless, theodicy is the Marxist Katz-Suchy’s matter and manner. Let us put the two affirmations side by side:

Job Katz-Suchy

concessive clause

Though He slay me

Even if some of my ideas have let me down . . .


. . . yet will I trust in Him

. . . I still believe in socialism

The structure is the same—with some slight literary superiority in Job—and so is the thought: above all, “trust in Him” = “believe in socialism.” And not the least of the irony is that Katz-Suchy’s confession of faith corresponds not to the modern but to the traditional reading of that verse. The Marxist reveals himself as a pious, submissive believer—far more submissive, far less Promethean, than Job himself. (Marx was a Promethean.) Traditionalists and moderns agree that Job’s verse ends, “. . . but I will argue my ways to His face.” Katz-Suchy’s sentence ends, “. . . the future is socialism.”

How do you reason with a man who, in despite of all the evidence, wills himself to believe? Not the capitalist countries and, aside from the Arab states, not even the all but fascist ones are expelling and persecuting Jews. Some people deny that the Soviet Union and Poland are really socialist, but we have not heard Katz-Suchy deny it. A country that this socialist accepts as socialist persecutes and banishes him, and others like him, on racial grounds alone—for under his socialism, “Zionist” again means what “non-Aryan” meant under Nazism. One may almost say that the willfulness of Katz-Suchy’s belief is Christian. It was from a Church Father and not a Rabbi that our stock of quotations received credo quia absurdum, “because it is absurd, I believe.” Jewish believers have tried to be more reasonable than that. The Rabbis know of a foolish piety, and do not like it.

As for Katz-Suchy’s pledge of allegiance—“I am still a Pole and Poland will always be my country”—two jokes are current:

1) The 8,000 Jews remaining in Poland have stood firm against successive opportunities, inducements, and pressures to emigrate. They are as Polish as Katz-Suchy, if that were possible, and as little Jewish. If tomorrow the borders of Poland were opened wide, all 32 million Poles would run—except those 8,000.

When Hitler came to power, Erich-Maria Remarque was one of the few German writers neither of the Left nor non-Aryan to go into exile. The Nazi Ministry of Culture cared not a whit about the non-Aryans or about Aryans like Hein-rich and even Thomas Mann, distinguished though they were. Because the culture bureaucrats did care about Remarque, whose self-exile they thought damaging to the reputation of the New Germany, they sent an emissary to persuade him to return. The emissary warned Remarque that away from the German landscape—the literal, physical landscape and the figurative one of German speech and habit—a German, especially a German writer, must be homeless. “That would bring tears to my eyes,” Remarque is said to have answered, “if I were a Jew.”

2) Someone much like Katz-Suchy went to Israel. In Israel he would be a Polish Communist. In Poland he would be a dirty Jew.



A Very Troublesome Thing

A report by Sidney E. Zion in the New York Times some months ago is too good to go the way of most newspaper reports:

. . . the Law Center for Constitutional Rights [is] a coalition of experienced lawyers and young staff counsel who represent people and organizations in The Movement.

The Movement, of course, is the generic term covering antiwar protesters, Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, the Student National Coordinating Committee, and antidraft groups and radicals in general. . . .

Since many of the law center’s clients are Negroes who have expressed strong anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, the lawyers, most of whom are Jews, were asked how they felt about representing them.

“I find black anti-Semitism a very troublesome thing, it disturbs me very much,” Mr. [So-and-so] said. “But we’re lawyers, and we don’t need to identify with the positions of our clients.”

He said, however, that he would not want to represent white segregationists. . . .



Power to the People

Typically, Black Panthers and other black nationalists, or asserters of négritude, are not impressed by advice from Jews offered as success-story lessons from Jewish history—for example, the advantages of mutual aid. When our advice is not greeted with the respect or gratitude we know it deserves, we are hurt. Like the Gilbert and Sullivan character, we complain: “And yet everybody says I’m such a disagreeable man!/And I can’t think why!” Maybe they would listen if we spoke of Jewish mistakes and failures.

“Power to the people!” the Panthers cry. If the slogan is meant to be taken literally, they are asking for trouble. An American referendum, the voice of the people, will be anti-black. Those least unfriendly to black men and women are not the people but the Constitution, the courts, the elites. Imagine the power of the American people not hedged about by the Constitution and all the rest, and imagine no impediments to a nationwide referendum about deporting blacks to Africa. A bettor might hesitate to offer even money on its defeat.

Since the Panthers know that as well as anyone, their slogan is not to be taken literally. The “people” of the slogan must be like the “people” in “people’s democracy,” a small fraction of the people. “Power to the people” means power for those who rule over the people to keep power from the people.

Why should revolutionaries want a government that keeps power from the people? Reword the question: why should they want “socialism”? Socialism is the remedy for a disease, capitalism. The ravages of capitalism are exploitation, poverty, inequality. Transparently opposed to the needs of the people, capitalism preserves itself by dividing the people, inciting national, religious, and racial hatreds. Only socialism will cure exploitation, poverty, and inequality, and only socialism has an interest not in cultivating but in uprooting national, religious, and racial hatreds. At the start, the wisest, most trustworthy part of the people see to it that the rest of the people shall not have power to indulge the depraved tastes they were seduced into by the capitalists in the bad old days; but soon, soon the masses, now temporarily being coerced toward virtue, will no longer need coercion. Made into new men by socialism, they will not be tempted by archaic vices. They will be immune both to selfish individualism and to national, religious, and racial hatred. Then they will be given their power. Soon, soon. In the meanwhile, to hasten the reign of virtue, the wise and trustworthy are busy in the jails and execution cellars.

What more piteous than a vigorous theory done in by an insensate fact? As Mr. Katz-Suchy’s experience testifies, if not his words, the people in the people’s democracies are so bossed around by “the people,” so enraged by haughtiness and yammer and mess and cruelty, that they solace themselves by turning upon old enemies. Jews become doubly hateful, because conspicuous in the service of “the people.” And “the people” do not mind if the masses blow off steam so harmlessly. After all, “the people” calculate—Stalin taught them—we can spare those Jews; they have served their purpose; you don’t have to be Jewish to like being in the secret police, we can find replacements. If the masses do not themselves think of their old sport, we can give them a signal.

If “power to the people” ever happens in America, most Americans will hate more intensely than ever. To invert an expression of the civil-rights days, “there will be too many black faces”: too many associated with intolerable reminders of “socialism” and “power to the people,” too many—it is inevitable—beneath the helmets of “the people’s” police (Volkspolizei). What better bone for the rulers of the American people’s democracy to throw the masses, what better distraction, than to put the blame for everything on the blacks, to encourage a hatred of them that hardly needs encouragement, and finally to kick them out—but not all at once, because as whipping boys they are too valuable to let go of completely?

That is a Jewish lesson that Katz-Suchy and the 8,000 can teach.

Say this for the Panthers: it is not easy to picture one of them, hounded out by “the people” he had served, telling a Brazilian or Indonesian reporter, “I am still an American and America will always be my country”; or saying that the purpose of the anti-black campaign in “socialist” America was to exploit presumed racism among American whites, and that the presumption was an error.



Heaven and Hell

The Gallup organization has made public a poll it took in ten countries on what people believe will happen by 1990. Nine of the twelve things they were asked to prophesy about are good, like a cure for cancer, an end to the manufacture of atomic weapons, a doubling in the standard of living, and a life expectancy of a hundred years. (“Russian Communism will have vanished” may be ambiguous.) Three are bad: atomic war between Russia and America, civilization in ruins, and (again maybe ambiguously) “capitalism and the Western way of life . . . vanished.” The ten countries that were polled were Canada, Colombia, Finland, Great Britain, Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Spain, and the United States.

Startlingly, the most optimistic countries tend also to be the most pessimistic. But this need not be an inconsistency. It may be a consistency of intensity rather than direction of response.

There are further surprises. The stiff-upper-lip countries are among the most intense: in Canada and Great Britain expectations of both good and bad are higher than the international averages. The United States turns out to be quite matter-of-fact, close to the international averages in both kinds of expectation.

The countries with the soberest expectations are a strange pair, Spain and Israel. For Spain the explanation may be that while in the past generation most of the world has been turned topsy-turvy, in Spain nothing much has happened. That is, a great deal has happened, but at a pace so controlled as to blunt Spaniards’ feeling for mutability: most of them have never known anyone in power but Franco. I will not say one could have predicted Gallup’s findings for Spain, but when one sees them, one need not feel they are inexplicable. Where there has been slow change for more than thirty years, people may not expect fast change in the next twenty.

Then how account for Israel’s cool? In the past thirty years the Israelis have known measureless change: the Destruction in Europe; the State and three victories. They have seen their enemies, and the enemies of the Jews, move from Right (led by Hitler) to Left (led by Stalin and his successors). Formerly, as Jews, accused of craven cunning, now they hear themselves accused of prepotent rashness.

In relation to Spain the Israelis seem to be saying: “Others may not expect change because they have had no experience of it. As for us, we have had plenty, thank you. In exchange for preferring to believe that hell will not come upon us in the next twenty years, we are prepared to believe also that heaven will not come upon us.” In relation to Canada and Great Britain the Israelis seem to be saying: “It is easy for prosperous and unthreatened people to be jaded. They can be more than normally eager for heaven, and failing that—or perhaps even in lieu of that—for hell. Not so with us. Still beset, we are thankful for life, and hope, and daily bread.”



East Side, West Side

Gallup’s “Western way of life” reminds me of something in Donald Nugent’s “City of God Revisited,” in Cross Currents.

For ex-Jewish moderns the alternative to Jewish tradition has nearly always been one or the other of the legitimate children of the Enlightenment: science, Culture and Art, or some variant of left-of-center politics. Of ex-Christian moderns, most seem to have gone in the same direction politically, but the proportion has been somewhat lower than among Jews. Among ex-Christians there has been a good deal of cultural elitism joined with reactionary politics: Yeats, Maurras, Pound. There has also been some turning to the wisdom or religions of the East: Schopenhauer, Aldous Huxley, Toynbee. (T. S. Eliot, a Christian and of the Right, was also pro-East.)

Now Nugent writes:

Several years ago I was at a gathering where Allen Ginsberg, the patriarch of the hippies, was the center of attraction as he ecstatically chanted a mantra to the accompaniment of his finger-cymbals. The atmosphere was exotic and Oriental. The author asked him what seemed an appropriate question: “Have you completely repudiated Western civilization?” I was astonished when, without hesitation and with a look of perfect candor, he replied in a manner so strangely reminiscent of Augustine: “No. The Sacred Heart is enough.” I will never forget his answer.

Once I said that when we view some of the family histories of modern Jews—Mendelssohns, Ehrenbergs, Bergsons, Weils, Pasternaks—we must conclude that other things being equal, for Jews occidental secularism is a propaedeutic to Christianity. Today Ginsberg tells us that for Jews even a turn to the Orient can be a propaedeutic to Christianity. What else can it mean that a man called Ginsberg, no less, the author of a Kaddish, no less, ecstatic chanter of mantras yet man of the Left, answers, so memorably, that the Sacred Heart is enough?

The Cunning of Reason: to make Judaism attractive, the Jewish modernizers tried to make it more occidental and less oriental. That is why Reform did away with chanting (as of Pentateuch and Prophets).



Zodiacal Signs

When people stop being religious they become superstitious, or their children or grandchildren do. Near my office is a bookshop that has a section for paperback science fiction—or rather, had. You can still find a little science fiction there, but most of the section is for books about the occult; about sorcerers, sorceresses, warlocks, wizards; about witches. Some of the books are by witches.

The shop is mod and young, fin de siècle, like the people who staff it and most of its customers. The ear is never ungratified by any lack of rock music, or the eye by any lack of the standard daring posters. That all assorts well with another prominently displayed line of best-sellers—books zodiacal, horoscopical, astrological. Once shabby and cheap for a market of the old, poor, and ignorant, now these are handsome and dear for the young, prosperous, and educated. Not far away from the bookshop is Grand Central Station, where the young and mod line up at the counters of a thriving business called Astroflash to pay over fistfuls of money for the advertised product, “horoscopes by IBM computer.”

What this may mean was suggested nearly 25 years ago in a comment about another time—obviously—and another country, by a Christian believer, a great archeologist and Bible scholar. Soon after the Second World War the University of Chicago Press published a kind of state-of-the-art symposium on Bible scholarship, the Study of the Bible Today and Tomorrow, edited by Harold R. Willoughby. In a chapter on the “War in Europe and the Future of Biblical Studies,” W. F. Albright naturally had to think about Germany:

Because German scholarship ruled the world of learning with undisputed authority . . . from the 1830’s to the 1930’s, it will be hard for us of the older generation to become accustomed to a new world of the spirit in which there is no organized German intellectual elite to set the pace and to impose standards of accomplishment. . . .

During the Weimar Republic . . . anthroposophy and all kinds of quack philosophies grew apace; spiritism won multitudes of adherents; the Deutsche Astrologische Gesellschaft had more members and a longer list of publications than . . . half-a-dozen scientific societies. . . . Germany was perhaps the land most affected by the spiritual malaise which swept around the world in that period. . . . the power of the university elite in Germany was just as illusory as the power of the French aristocracy of birth on the eve of the French Revolution.

Now the newspapers report that Leslie Campbell has opened for black students in Brooklyn, with the support of the African-American Students Association, a “liberated” high school. In Swahili its name is Freedom Now, and “its curriculum will include courses in martial arts, Swahili, and astrology.”

Poor people who need education cannot afford the extravagances of richer people educated beyond desire, and possibly beyond capacity. One can see the point of martial arts and Swahili. What is the point of astrology?



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