Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy" was published one hundred years ago. In an inaugural lecture, Roy Fuller, the Professor of…
The present article is adapted from an Adelphi University Theology Lecture
Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy was published one hundred years ago In an inaugural lecture, Roy Fuller, the Professor of Poetry at Oxford, reminds us that “Sweetness and Light,” the first chapter, was Arnold's final lecture when he was Professor of Poetry “Hebraism and Hellenism” is another chapter
There is a difficulty in assessing great men, an irony that will out, but the irony may tell us more about ourselves than about its objects Who has not written that Philosophy I term paper demolishing Hegel? The temptation is old, and the description of it is old Not completely, but yet in some stubborn part of ourselves we would rather forget that if we are taller than our predecessors, maybe it is because we stand on their shoulders And when a man's name is linked to “sweetness and light”—never mind what it actually meant for him, and for Swift before him—the temptation to patronize him becomes all the stronger. Arnold respected Goethe, and Goethe may have something to tell us No man is a hero to his valet; true, but perhaps more because the valet is a valet than because no man is a hero
Is Arnold relevant to us? He refused to be relevant even to his contemporaries, in the terms in which they understood relevance Relevant or not, he can be useful
- We are solemnly approving of the individualist mob Arnold says “Thinking by batches of fifties is . . . as fatal as thinking by batches of thousands”
- For us “nonconformity” is good and “establishment” bad Arnold on nonconformity and establishment does not give us a final, full truth, but how many truths are final and full? He says
- Another good word for us is “dissent.” If I am not mistaken, the founders of Dissent had in mind, favorably, a phrase of Arnold's, “the Dissidence of Dissent” He did not coin that phrase “The Dissidence of Dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion” was the slogan of a journal of the English Nonconformists a hundred years ago For Arnold the Nonconformists' “Dissidence of Dissent” expressed all that was cranky, Philistine, “hole-in-corner ”
- And last, for archeological interest.
The great works by which, not only in literature, art, and science generally, but in religion itself, the human spirit has manifested its approaches to totality, and to a full, harmonious perfection, and by which it stimulates and helps forward the world's general perfection, come, not from Nonconformists, but from men who either belong to Establishments or have been trained in them. . . Milton, Baxter, Wesley
I remember my father [Thomas, of Rugby], in one of his unpublished letters written more than forty years ago, when the political and social state of the country was gloomy and troubled, and there were riots in many places, goes on, after strongly insisting on the badness and foolishness of the government, and on the harm and dangerousness of our feudal and aristocratical constitution of society, and ends thus “As for noting, the old Roman way of dealing with that is always the right one, flog the rank and file, and fling the ringleaders from the Tarpeian Rock!”
(Arnold withdrew this crusty remembrance from later editions)
for the sake of the present, but far more for the sake of the future, the lovers of culture are the opposers of anarchy
Thus can Arnold be relevant by his very irrelevance, by the shock of his strangeness, by—a word he would not have welcomed—his nonconformity And he did believe that “the men of culture are the true apostles of equality.”
Arnold defines culture, or rather enumerates its elements, astutely Making culture pretty nearly the sum of all good things, he takes care that it will be if not impossible, then difficult to show that his idea of culture is defective, lacking in some essential He is as clever as we, knowing we will look for exposed salients to attack, he strengthens them He defines culture, or inventories it, positively Yet his “culture” affects us not altogether differently from the Polish Marxist philosopher Kolakowski's “socialism” Kolakowski's “What is Socialism?” tells us what socialism is not For instance, it is not a system
in which a person who has committed no crime sits at home waiting for the police. In which there are more spies than nurses and more people in prisons than in hospitals In which one is forced to resort to lies and compelled to be a thief In which the philosophers and writers always say the same thing as the generals and ministers, but always after them
And so on There are seventy-two things that socialism is not “But now listen attentively, we will tell you what socialism is—well, then, socialism is a good thing ” Kolakowski enumerates negatively and Arnold positively, but like Kolakowski's socialism, Arnold's culture is a Good Thing
What G K Chesterton says of Christianity, many socialists say of their religion it has not failed, it has never been tried Matthew Arnold redivivus would say culture has not failed, it has never been tried For culture is Arnold's real religion To him it is more or less what before his revolutionary times, the 19th century, religion proper had been to the great mass of mankind He sees the human spirit, and more particularly the Western spirit, as having not one but two parts, Hebraism as well as Hellenism—“the governing idea of Hellenism is spontaneity of consciousness, that of Hebraism, strictness of conscience”—but he gives the lion's share to Hellenism
Hellenism is the specifically Greek tradition Arnold was not one who mocked “culture ! a smattering of the two dead languages of Greek and Latin ”How could you be a Hellenist, Hellenic, if you could not read the Greek authors in their own words? But more generally, Hellenism is mind, intellect—a free mind and a free intellect, resistant to cant and prejudice, connected with imagination and emotion, open to all excellence, past, present, and future It is mind and intellect flexible and self-correcting, the enemy of fanaticism, rigidity, and one-sidedness Therefore culture is largely Hellenic Culture is the best that has been known and thought, the best that has been thought and said in the world, a stream of thought upon everything, the study of perfection, that power which enables us to see things as they really are Or rather, Hellenism is that power Those predicates can be assigned almost indifferently to either Hellenism or culture as their subject
On the other hand, “to Hebraise. is, to sacrifice all other sides of our being to the religious side it leads to a narrow and twisted growth of our religious side itself, and to a failure in perfection”
What has struck many Jews in such definitions or descriptions of Hebraism is that Arnold was not talking about, was in fact not concerned to talk about, the Jews and the Jews' religion, character, ways of being Since the Maccabees, the Jewish tradition itself has insisted on the distinctness of Hebraism from Hellenism, but Arnold was defining the spirit, as he understood it, of sectarian Protestantism in 19th-century England His Hebraism keeps pointing to sectarian Protestant bibliolatry—the doctrine of the open Bible carried to a kind of democratic extreme In that doctrine anyone can read his Bible as well as anyone else, and can understand it as well.
Bibliolatry is not Jewish Classically, how a Jew read and understood the Bible was regulated by the learned, rabbinical tradition No ignorant Jew, in Spain or Germany or Poland, could pretend, even to himself, that he understood the very Hebrew or Aramaic of the Bible or Talmud as well as a learned Jew Why then did Jews never demand an open—i e, vernacular—Bible with nearly the same vehemence as Christians? I think the answer is to be found in this that many Christians were persuaded that the priests kept the Bible in Latin to keep it from the people, a priestly monopoly, while Jews knew that at least in principle, it was the ideal and the effort of Jewish society that every (male) Jew should be taught all the sacred literature he could master—and, along the way, the Hebrew and Aramaic in which it was written When modern Jews began to rebel against Hebrew in favor of the vernacular, that was not because they resented a rabbinical monopoly What modern Jews resented, in fact, was that the rabbis wanted Hebrew not to be a monopoly The rebels thought that their time, and their children's time, was being wasted by rabbis who wanted everyone to be rabbinically learned, or almost (Actually, the scholars tell us that the first full-length translation of any kind was Jewish the Hebrew Bible into Greek In traditional Jewish Bible editions, the Aramaic version has pride of place next to the Hebrew text It alone shares with the text the distinction of being vocalized, and in square characters)
Some years ago Isaiah Berlin revived Archilochus's saying. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows One Big Thing Hellenism is fox, Hebraism is hedgehog Among the many things that the fox knows—that Arnold, ondoyant et divers, the foxy Hellenist, knows—is the necessity of hedgehog Hebraism Looking about him, Arnold sees an excess of Hebraism and an insufficiency of Hellenism heavy mid-Victorian England is too Hebraic and insufficiently Hellenic. He tries to right the imbalance. At other times in history, he says, there was too little Hebraism and too much Hellenism If he had lived then, he would have tried to right that imbalance But in England, with its Barbarian aristocracy, Philistine middle class, and unknown, half-frightening, half-appealing Populace, his duty is to recall his countrymen to more Hellenism and less Hebraism
He is telling the truth That is how he sees his England But beneath his estimate of what his England needs, there is something more general Arnold believes that while it is possible to have too much Hellenism, it is easy to have too much Hebraism
Only three years after Culture and Anarchy the work of a young man, of a genius greater though darker than Arnold's, was published—the Birth of Tragedy. Arnold's Hellenism stands under the sign of Apollo, Nietzsche's under the sign of Dionysus For Arnold the great figure of Hellenism, actual as well as symbolic, is Socrates he invokes Socrates in what we may call the peroration of Culture and Anarchy For Nietzsche, Socrates is a fake
Arnold's Hellenism is like Freudian ego, his Hebraism like superego. He wants to lighten the burden of Hebraic superego, letting in Hellenic ego The ego is the guardian of the reality principle, and one definition that Arnold gives of Hellenism is that it helps us to see things as they really are. Nietzsche agrees that Hebraism is superego Much more than Arnold, he wants us liberated from Hebraic superego But for Nietzsche the liberation is not in the name of ego It is in the name of id—passion, instinct, primal force
The god of ego is Apollo, the god of id Dionysus. Apollo is “ordre et beauté,/Luxe, calme, et volupte” (especially if we are not vulgar about luxe and volupte) Dionysus is orgy, ecstasy—etymologically “ecstasy” is standing outside one's self—derangement of the senses, blood, lawlessness Dionysus is the horse, Apollo the bit and bridle It is quite clear which is primary and which secondary. Roy Campbell says:
You praise the firm restraint with
which they write—
I'm with you there, of course
They use the snaffle and the curb all right,
But where's the bloody horse?
That is, id-Dionysus first and ego-Apollo a long way second.
Is it to be guilty of an it-is-no-accident, Leninist kind of argument to recall that Campbell was a fascist—called himself a fascist—and fought in Spain for Franco? A spokesman for Dionysian theater (the producer, in fact, of Dionysus in 69), a man of the Left rather than the Right, has said: “Ecstasy doesn't come cheap. You pay for it in blood” He has written. “The hidden fear I have about the new expression is that its forms come perilously close to ecstatic fascism”
Who are, or should be, the chief custodians of Hellenism? Professors of Greek When Arnold thought of professors of Greek, he was likely to think of his friend Jowett, priest of the Church of England, translator of Plato, Master of Balliol, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford But so was Nietzsche a professor of Greek, and so is or was Norman O Brown From Jowett to Brown—that is the history of Hellenism since Arnold If Arnold were our contemporary, he might say that the balance had tipped again and had to be redressed again, particularly since the preponderant Hellenism of our time is not at all what he had in mind
As a cozy, even endearing specimen of our Hellenism, consider the Beatles' Yellow Submarine The Blue Meanies are the enemy, cruel, destructive For them, “yes” is a dirty word When an inferior clicks his heels and salutes his superior, he does not say, ”Yes, sir “A Blue Meanie says, “No, sir”
The submarine, as a phallic symbol, is a symbol of life The submarine's element is the ocean: the ocean is the womb, it is the mother of all living things, the origin of life Yellow is life the sun is yellow, it nurtures life
Blue is coldness, gloom, death, laws that forbid pleasure are blue laws, blue Monday is suicide Monday In the middle of the film a throwaway line, apparently unmotivated, is spoken: “That's funny, you don't look blueish ”It makes no difference how this was intended trust the tale, not the teller Blueish, Jewish; blue is Hebraism.
Yellow is Hellenism The end of the film is an insistent yellow flashing Yes, love, yes, love, yes, love It celebrates the victory of yellow and yes and love over their enemies, blue and no and—what is the enemy of love? Hate? Death?
Celebrating yes is rather more highbrow than this may suggest Nietzsche praises the yea-sayers and dispraises the nay-sayers Joyce's Ulysses ends much as Yellow Submarine does In that famous soliloquy of Molly Bloom's, she says yes, yes, yes—to life, to love; to adultery
And indeed, Hebraism has a way of saying no and not The preeminent sequence of Hebraic noes and nots is in the twentieth chapter of Exodus (with a variant m the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy):
I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage Thou shalt have no other gods before Me Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them nor serve them, for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Thou shalt not murder Thou shalt not commit adultery Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife nor anything that is thy neighbor's
Is Yellow Submarine exoteric, public propaganda for Dionysian Hellenism? How could it be? It is pleasant not ecstatic, calm not violent, tranquil not lawless On the surface it is even sexless. At most, Dionysianism is hinted at—in its “yes,” with its recollection of Molly Bloom, and its “love,” which is ambiguous The Hellenism that Yellow Submarine exemplifies for us and commends to us may well be Apollonian Which leads to a supposition There is a play about an extraordinary physician, Dr Knock, who has discovered that un homme bten portant est un malade qui s'ignore—a well man is a sick man unaware. In like manner, and from one point of view, perhaps, Apollonian Hellenism is sometimes Dionysian Hellenism unaware, or without the courage to be aware.
We come now to a difficult question, the question of woman, the womanly Routinely, the neo-femimsts of our time condemn the Jewish tradition for subordinating women. Less is said about the Greek tradition—Sparta, even Periclean Athens; or Plato.
Matthew Arnold considers himself to be a disciple of Spinoza, but it is with Nietzsche that Spinoza joins hands, in hostility to woman and the womanly. We know what Nietzsche says about woman, and about Hebraism. For Nietzsche, Hebraism—Judaism and Christianity—is the resentment and revenge of the weak: women and slaves. Spinoza, contemptuous of the moral and psychological state of the Jews, says that the foundations of their religion have effeminated their character. That is, Judaism has made the Jews womanish For Spinoza, pity is muliebris misericordta, womanish pity—not in praise of woman but in dispraise of pity.
Though etymologies prove nothing, they can suggest something Greek hystera means “womb,” as in surgical words like “hysterectomy”; but its best-known derivative is “hysteria”: Hellenically, the womb generates hysteria. From Hebrew rehem, “womb,” derives rahamim, “pity”. Hebraically, the womb generates pity. Hellenism has something anti-woman, anti-womanly, misogynist; and so has our culture, high or low, under Apollo's sign or Dionysus'. The eponymous Marquis de Sade, a hero for our time, was homosexual. One picks up a newspaper and sees a review of an edition of Oscar Wilde's criticism. The review quotes the editor as recalling for us that André Gide, having read Wilde first, says he has found Nietzsche less exciting than he would have been otherwise; and that for Thomas Mann many of Nietzsche's aphorisms might have been expressed by Wilde, and vice versa. It was because Wilde was what he was, the reviewer goes on to say, that he linked art with lawlessness and criminality, and independently of Nietzsche was moved to transvalue all values.
Surely Arnold never heard of his older, Italian Jewish contemporary Samuel David Luzzatto, but Luzzatto also thought a great deal about Hellenism and Hebraism—which he called Atticism and Judaism/Abrahamism Like Arnold, Luzzatto recognizes the necessity of both; but unlike Arnold, he gives priority to Hebraism. Luzzatto cannot forgive Spinoza that muliebris misericordta. Luzzatto prefers the Rabbis' “He who feels no pity is not of the seed of Abraham”; and quotes the 19th-century German classicist Bockh, “Mercy is no Hellenic virtue.” (What I know about Luzzatto I owe to Shalom Spiegel's Hebrew Reborn.)
Not long ago the rabbi of my congregation preached on the unpromising lesson in Leviticus (Shemini) about clean and unclean foods Conceding the force of the jokes about stomach religion and of the arguments for a concern with higher things than hooves and cuds, fins and scales, he said only that Judaism—the Jewish tradition—is a unitary, a whole regimen. The Rabbis, serious about what is kosher and what is not, legislated, in what he insisted was the same spirit, about other things as well. He cited Tosefta Avodah Zarah:
Whoever sits in the stadium [where gladiators fight] is a murderer [sharing the guilt, with the others there, for encouraging gladiatorial combat] But R. Nathan says it is permitted, for two reasons because he [sc, a Jew in the stadium] can shout [for mercy, when the victorious gladiators ask whether to spare or to kill the defeated] and thereby save lives; and by testimony can help a woman to be remarried.
The last parts needs explanation: A Jew who has been in the stadium can testify that he has seen the woman's husband die—a Jewish captive of the Romans sent as a gladiator to the arenas. Then, known to be a widow, she is allowed to remarry.
So for those most Hebraic of Hebrews, the Rabbis, helping a woman to remarry was a motive not unworthy of mention with saving lives. Womanish. As Edmund Wilson has just reminded us, Tacitus called the Jews enemies of the human race because, among other reasons, they were uncivilized—un-Hellenic—in that they refused to practice infanticide. (Infanticide means killing babies, usually girls—in the ancient world the popular means of keeping children few enough to prevent the parceling of estates.) The blues have been saying no for a long time, even to such sensible, pleasurable, useful, or civilized things as gladiatorial shows and infanticide.
Maybe Yellow Submarine, in indicting blueness and meanness, lacks the courage, the honesty, to admit to itself what the worship of Dionysus requires. Nietzsche did not lack courage or honesty. He was explicit about what follows once we say—as he says—that the God of Hebraism is dead. What follows is that we recognize Jewish (or Jewish and Christian) mercy, and kindred notions, to be nothing more than the restraints that the envious weak, women and slaves, try to impose on the strong; and the duty of the strong—aristocratic, heroically hard—to throw off those restraints. Nietzsche said he would believe only in a god who could dance. Like its original, the Bacchae of Euripides, Dionysus in 69 is about dancing, and the producer (a Jew), who knows about ecstatic fascism and about blood as the price of ecstasy, is described as rejecting Judeo-Christian culture. At least he is candid: “If you dance with Dionysus you kill Pentheus—that is the action of the play.”
For her “Temptations of Cultural Fascism” (Wiener Library Bulletin, Winter 1968-69), Renee Winegarten takes the title from Saul Bellow: Herzog's “cultural fascism.” She is interested in writers who are liberals, or radicals, or Jews, yet are culturally Dionysian:
The fact that a man really belongs with those who would be the first victims of the Dionysian urge does nothing to lessen the fascination, just as the fact that he is neither aristocratic nor heroic does little to prevent the exaltation of the reader's imagination at the idea of an elite of noble and remarkable souls to which he can fancy he belongs. . . .
Until very recently, for the majority of students and lovers of literature (as Lionel Trilling pointed out), there was no accord between what stirred them in books and practical political life: aristocrats in fancy, they remained democrats or radicals in fact. Yet that disruptive and subversive element in literature which served many readers merely as a stimulant for the imagination has now descended into the streets, in the United States, in France and Germany, even in England. The aristocratic outlook of the exceptional individual or the rare elite has been adopted by those for whom it was never intended: the dissatisfied, half-educated mass of the young. . . . [There] are tokens of a new kind of cultural fascism (emanating from the Left instead of the Right).
An English poet and painter has described the “ambience of tenderness, intelligence, total licence and crackling undercurrents of a kind of sad cruelty” in the Dionysian milieu he used to frequent. From the visitors' graffiti at a Happening he staged, he learned that “what was hell to puritans was heaven to sadistic fetishists.”
For Yellow Submarine, it is the puritan Blue Meanies who are sadistic; and in a Catholic and ecumenical journal of religious thought, a Presbyterian theologian publishes a “Manifesto for a Dionysian Theology,” introduces it by citing Nietzsche's dancing god, and then is silent about killing Pentheus, and ecstatic fascism, and mercy as womanish, slave morality. Wholesome anti-uptightness—that seems to be what he wants to suppose Dionysianism is, and wants us to suppose.
Why should we keep paying the homage of embarrassment or hypocrisy to traditional religion's virtue? For moderns the dominant religion, the religion that has superseded religion, is a cross between Arnold's culture and Nietzsche's art. Obedient to Nietzsche, we faithfully assert the primacy of the aesthetic: let me, as the lawyers say, incorporate by reference Trilling's Beyond Culture. I would only mention a further resemblance between traditional and modern religion. When the God of religion was pronounced dead, the god of art was proclaimed. That god—or one of his persons—was beauty, but in no time at all “beauty” became just as quaint as “God,” just as otiose and shy-making. Where the central principle of the new religion was, a void now is.
In the old religion, God created. In the new, man—especially the artist—creates. The characteristically modern, Nietzschean insistence is on art as the creative act and element above all others. May this not be in part, as some have suggested, masculine protest, womb-envy? (If so, it is probably truer of the appreciators, the Berensons, than of the artists themselves, who tend to be earthy, not given to mooning about Creativity.) Is “creative” to be taken seriously, has it to do with “create,” is it more than just another OK word, interchangeable with our “relevant” and “meaningful” and with yesterday's “dynamic”? Then, since life is what it is, willy-nilly we have to recognize the womanly—the maternal—as most nearly creative, simply. When Judah Ha-levi said of Greek culture that it bore flowers but no fruit, he knew Greek culture (in Arabic). He meant that it was intellectual and aesthetic rather than moral; but he also knew about traditional Mediterranean forms of masculine protest.
Before we leave the theme of woman and the womanly, a final irony at Arnold's expense is unavoidable. A man so severe about bathos—he thought it characteristically Philistine—should himself stay clear of bathos. In the matter of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, he did not stay clear. That was not, as we may think, only comic stuff for W. S. Gilbert and Bernard Shaw. By Church of England law, marriage with a deceased wife's sister was forbidden. Non-Anglican reformers adduced the licitness of such marriage in Leviticus, among other arguments. Knowing what Arnold knew about Sparta and Athens (“the race which invented the Muses”) and Rome, scourge that he was of the bathetic, he yet allowed himself this:
. . . who, that is not manacled and hoodwinked by his Hebraism, can believe that, as to love and marriage, our reason and the necessities of our humanity have their true, sufficient, and divine law expressed for them by the voice of any Oriental and polygamous nation like the Hebrews? Who, I say, will believe, when he really considers the matter, that where the feminine nature, the feminine ideal, and our relations to them, are brought into question, the delicate and apprehensive genius of the Indo-European race, the race which invented the Muses, and chivalry, and the Madonna, is to find its last word on this question in the institutions of a Semitic people, whose wisest king had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines?
(“Indo-European race” was the science of his day.) Naturally, Arnold's Hebraic-Hellenic dualism is not original with him. In the early Christian centuries Tertullian asked, Quid Athenis cum Hierosolymis, what has Athens to do with Jerusalem? In Arnold's time Ernest Renan, whom he thought well of, addressed a “Prayer at the Acropolis” to Apollo, god of clarity, reason, and harmony, begging forgiveness for having bothered so much with unclear, unreasonable, and discordant Semitic things But, as Trilling suggests, it is Jews who are most conscious of the dualism Not only Trilling's Heine and Borne, and not only Talmud, Judah Ha-levi, and Luzzatto, but also, in this century, Hermann Cohen and (in COMMENTARY) Leo Strauss1
Arnold cites Heine as a Jew who, because he is modern, prefers Hellenism to Hebraism (In Heine's later years he was to say that being Greek is a young man's game, immature, one ages into being a Jew) There have also been the Jewish Nietzscheans Chernikhovsky's “Before the Statue [= idol, pesel] of Apollo” is even more anti-Hebraic than the title suggests, because that Apollo looks remarkably Dionysian Like the philosophical since antiquity, the poet takes for granted that man creates gods in his image The passionate, warrior Israelites had the passionate, warrior god YHWH, Chernikhovsky says, but then alas! they became Jews, “and bound him in phylactery thongs” And so Babel, with his Cossacks For a Jewish Nietzschean, the Jews were not so virtuously chaste (peace-loving, etc) as they liked to believe They were only eunuchs, self-made womanish
Arnold speaks of the miracles of the rise and spread of Christianity, but if only as an admirer of Spinoza he does not really believe in miracles Neither do we, of course It is less that we have disproved miracles than that we have defined them away By definition, for us, there can be no such thing, especially since our very science is statistical and probabilistic If a miracle is not fraud or delusion, or suggested by superstition and ignorance, it is merely statistically unusual. as, if this table were to fly upward at my command; or a voice were to speak to Moses out of a bush that burned but was not consumed For Arnold as for us, “miracle” is what it was at the beginning—“marvel” is from the same root One gapes, one stares at miracle and marvel.
A rereading of Arnold must make a Jew realize how the old Jewish sentiment of being (or of ancestors having been) caught up in miracle has come to life again In spite of miracle's low standing, in spite of its nonexistence by definition, our renewed consciousness of miracle—of miraculous things done to and through Jews—has brought about a curious reversal Arnold, who knows of the “cultivated and philosophical Jews,” commends their Socinian-like estimate of Jesus to Christians Jews of that sort have also been cultivated and philosophical about God, and miracle. Today they may find it less difficult than Christians, similarly cultivated and philosophical, to imagine the God of history (and of tradition) present and active
Not that Arnold paid much attention to the Jews and Judaism of his time Why should a Victorian Englishman in his position have noticed the Jews and their Judaism otherwise than incidentally? That is almost the best Jews can expect. Even incidentally, it would have been easy for him, natural, to say harsh things Both in what he says and in what he does not say, Arnold is kind to us By the standards of the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th centuries, he is a friend.
Certainly he was more a friend than his father. Liking plural establishments rather than disestablishment, Matthew Arnold approved the establishment of the synagogue, as in France Thomas Arnold, who insisted on the harm and dangerousness of a feudal and aristocratical constitution, clearly was not illiberal, but Trilling's Matthew Arnold has this to say of him.
. . . with Jews he was intransigent, believing that they should be barred from the universities and from citizenship He held that citizenship required an almost mystic homogeneity, which was supplied in the modern world by religion He denounced “that low Jacobinical notion of citizenship, that a man acquires a right to it by the accident of his being littered [human beings are born, animals are littered—MH] inter quattuor maria [on the nation's soil], or because he pays taxes” England, he said, was the land of Englishmen, not of Jews, and “lodgers” had no claims to more than an honorary citizenship
he dreaded the possibility of examining a Jew in history at the University of London . . . and of having to avoid calling Jesus the Christ
From Cecil Roth we learn that, though Jews fared much better in England than almost anywhere else, well into the 19th century
it was possible to maintain in the courts Lord Coke's doctrine that the Jews were in law perpetual enemies, “for between them, as with the devils, whose subjects they are, and the Christian there can be no peace”
What is the lexicographical evidence, in the Oxford English Dictionary? (We will no doubt find worse if we consult OED's German or even French counterpart) OED's first definition of “Jew” is. “A person of Hebrew race, an Israelite “So much for adherence to a faith, identification with a history, practice of a ritual, study of a culture, or Jonah. “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” OED's second definition is more interesting still: “transf. As a name of opprobrium or reprobation, spec applied to a grasping or extortionate moneylender or usurer, or a trader who drives hard bargains or deals craftily” Thus Coleridge “Jacob is a regular Jew, and practices all sorts of tricks and wiles.” Coleridge! “Jew-bail” is insuffificient bail, and Captain Marryat's “Jew carts” carry stolen goods As a verb (“colloq”) it means “To cheat or overreach, in the way attributed to Jewish traders or usurers,” teste Dante Gabriel Rossetti “But as to his doing and jawings and jewings, William brought me the news”
This sort of thing could have only one effect on Jews who wanted European culture to be theirs and took its standards as theirs Rahel Varnhagen writes of “what was so long the greatest shame, the bitterest sorrow and suffering to me, my Jewish birth” In one of his moods Heine says that Judaism is not a religion, it is a misfortune; being a Jew is like being a hunchback
In good Franz Josef's time, two Jews in a Viennese cafe are arguing about Dr Herzl's idea Neither can convince the other A third Jew has been listening attentively, and they ask him to judge He says he is not a proper, impartial judge. he regards himself as a follower of Dr Herzl's—a Zionist, if you will—though, to be sure, with three reservations. Will he be kind enough to explain? Gladly
First, why Hebrew? Everybody who is anybody speaks German Besides, reviving Hebrew is a mad, utopian scheme Patiently the great Semitist Renan has reminded the half-baked enthusiasts that Hebrew has long been dead, and that in all of human history not one dead language has ever been brought to life again, to be spoken by children and shopgirls as well as the learned
Second, why Palestine? You would have to look hard to find another place so infertile, rocky, and eroded, with such desert and insalubrious marsh, such a lack of natural resources, harbors, and navigable waterways Besides, people are already living there, the Arabs Israel Zangwill is right. we should accept the British government's offer of Uganda It is fertile, and the natives will give no trouble for hundreds and hundreds of years
Third, Dr Herzl's idea is a great idea It needs a great people And whom do you waste it on? Jews!
As an example of usage for a new edition of OED—the present one stops at the 20th century—I submit an order of the day by Lieut General Sir Evelyn Barker, G O C Palestine, after the explosion in the King David Hotel.
you will put out of bounds to all ranks all Jewish establishments, cafes, restaurants, shops, and private dwellings. No British soldier is to have any social intercourse with any Jew. the troops will be punishing the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, by striking at their pockets and showing our contempt for them
That was in 1946, and by one British military authority In 1967 the Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, had other things to say of “the race” Predicting that the 1967 war would be “studied in staff colleges for many years to come,” the Institute for Strategic Studies said that “the performance of the Israeli Defense Force” was “like the campaigns of the younger Napoleon.” (For Napoleon it was the English who were a nation of shopkeepers)
When the Saturday Review asked Harold Macmillan whether Great Britain should try to be like Athens or like Sweden, he ruled out Athens—living on slavery, imperialist, warlike, and overtaken by decay and death He continued
It may well be that Britain will someday follow in the footsteps of Sweden, but if so I'm glad I won't be here to see it
No, the future I hope for Britain is more like that of Israel In the time of Elizabeth we were only two million people, in the time of Marlborough only five or six million, in the time of Napoleon only ten million. The other day, while the world debated, Israel's three millions imposed their will on their enemies They had what any great people need—resolution, courage, determination, pride. These are what really count in men and nations
The new OED may have to enter a new definition
For a modern Jew this is miraculous A modern Jew is a man whose outlook has been apt to be the one we find in OED—and Heine's equation, and the Viennese joke Some of the most significant modern Jews, native neither to England nor to English culture, have looked upon England and English ways as models Freud, Chaim Weizmann, even Ahad Ha'am. Now comes Macmillan—of the line of Churchill, Gladstone, Wellington—and says what he says With our eyes we see and with our ears we hear the fulfillment of the promise thrice made to Abraham, that the nations of the earth would bless themselves by him and his descendants How long we have been accustomed to the fulfillment of other prophecies, that the nations would curse themselves by us!
Here is unexpectedness, improbability, uniqueness That so many are unimpressed does not mean it is unimpressive Aesthetically almost, as a spectacle if as nothing else, it should impress When Toynbee, who is supposed to have a historical imagination, applies to Israel a canting, shabby substitute for thought—“neo-colonialism”—he only shows us that Goethe's valets are numerous and diverse
On the Sabbath of Passover the Torah lesson is read in which the Lord, complementing His redemption of the children of Israel, vouchsafes a revelation of Himself to Moses—or, rabbinically, reveals His “thirteen attributes” “. . . compassionate and gracious, slow to anger,” etc The Prophetical lesson, from Ezekiel, is also about redemption, but future rather than past—redemption that is at the same time revelation
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He set me down in the midst of a valley, and it was full of bones . . . very many . . . and . . . very dry And He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered O Lord God, Thou knowest Again He said to me Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord Thus says the Lord God to these bones Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and ye shall live and ye shall know that I am the Lord So I prophesied as I was commanded and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet Then He said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel Behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are clean cut off Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people, and I will bring you home into the land of Israel And I will put my Spirit within you, and ye shall live then ye shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord
Jewish triumphalism, some will say, chauvinism, or actually militarism (of megalomaniacal would-be Napoleons)—even some Jews will say that Not so Over all lies the shadow of 1939-1945 Unable to bear thinking of 1939-1945, I appeal to Wittgenstein “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should not speak.” Dissatisfaction with God's justice is as old with the Jews as Abraham, but after the crematoria, theodicy—arguing for God's justice—is more difficult than arguing for His existence, difficult as that is
If there is any answer at all, if there is any answer for Jews, its elements must be in that chapter from Ezekiel that is read in the synagogue on the Sabbath of Passover The dry bones are the bones of the dead It is only figuratively that the dead live again, nothing can cancel out their deaths Yet there has also been redemption (Hatikvah—not a good poem but, as an anthem, informative—echoes Ezekiel The despair Ezekiel quotes, “Our hope is lost,” is ave-dah tiqwatenu The refrain of Hatikvah is ‘od lo’ avedah tiqwatenu, “our hope is not yet lost”) In Isaiah the Savior God of Israel, a God who conceals Himself, shapes light and creates darkness, makes weal and creates woe It should be possible to mourn darkness and woe, and to rejoice over light and weal
For the religion of culture and art, theodicy is an even more nearly impossible enterprise than for the older religion The religion of culture and art is a religion of salvation If salvation has any meaning not twisted by perverseness and heartlessness, then it is the god of that religion who has failed most completely and who is, or should be, dead Among an infinity of possible citations, this, mild, is from Ralf Dahrendorf's Society and Democracy in Germany
thousands of alumni of German Gymnasia did not let the cultivated humanism of their intellectual formation prevent them from stamping out people like ants whom one may not notice because one is so busy looking up to the stars that one does not watch the streets.
“Cultivated humanism” is Apollonian Hellenism What might a Dahrendorf not have had cause to say if those Gymnasia had been largely Dionysian? (Let this be said for Apollo, that of all the—it goes without saying, non-Hebraic—gods, he is the least given to drinking blood)
For modern Jews now, the status of Hellenism may be lower than at any time since we became modern, and if only for that reason—though I think not only—the status of Hebraism may be correspondingly higher Ezekiel was Hebraic simply He called Renan's and Chernikhovsky's statue-idols wood and stone, reproved our lust to worship wood and stone, as the nations do; and swore in the Lord's name that with mighty arm and outstretched hand (with which He had redeemed and led Israel forth from the Egyptian house of bondage) He would be King over us For us, now, that Hebraism is still insufficient Even Luzzatto would agree, and so testify even the miracles we have seen But if by itself Hebraism is insufficient, and too simple, yet now, more than in many years, we truly hold it to be essential, and its necessary proportion to be high.
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Hebraism and Hellenism
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Exactly one week later, a Star Wars cantina of the American extremist right featuring everyone from David Duke to a white-nationalist Twitter personality named “Baked Alaska” gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue honoring the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. A video promoting the gathering railed against “the international Jewish system, the capitalist system, and the forces of globalism.” Amid sporadic street battles between far-right and “antifa” (anti-fascist) activists, a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of peaceful counterprotestors, killing a 32-year-old woman.
Here, in the time span of just seven days, was the dual nature of contemporary American anti-Semitism laid bare. The most glaring difference between these two displays of hate lies not so much in their substance—both adhere to similar conspiracy theories articulating nefarious, world-altering Jewish power—but rather their self-characterization. The animosity expressed toward Jews in Charlottesville was open and unambiguous, with demonstrators proudly confessing their hatred in the familiar language of Nazis and European fascists.
The socialists in Chicago, meanwhile, though calling for a literal second Holocaust on the shores of the Mediterranean, would fervently and indignantly deny they are anti-Semitic. On the contrary, they claim the mantle of “anti-fascism” and insist that this identity naturally makes them allies of the Jewish people. As for those Jews who might oppose their often violent tactics, they are at best bystanders to fascism, at worst collaborators in “white supremacy.”
So, whereas white nationalists explicitly embrace a tribalism that excludes Jews regardless of their skin color, the progressives of the DSA and the broader “woke” community conceive of themselves as universalists—though their universalism is one that conspicuously excludes the national longings of Jews and Jews alone. And whereas the extreme right-wingers are sincere in their anti-Semitism, the socialists who called for the elimination of Israel are just as sincere in their belief that they are not anti-Semitic, even though anti-Semitism is the inevitable consequence of their rhetoric and worldview.
The sheer bluntness of far-right anti-Semitism makes it easier to identify and stigmatize as beyond the pale; individuals like David Duke and the hosts of the “Daily Shoah” podcast make no pretense of residing within the mainstream of American political debate. But the humanist appeals of the far left, whose every libel against the Jewish state is paired with a righteous invocation of “justice” for the Palestinian people, invariably trigger repetitive and esoteric debates over whether this or that article, allusion, allegory, statement, policy, or political initiative is anti-Semitic or just critical of Israel. What this difference in self-definition means is that there is rarely, if ever, any argument about the substantive nature of right-wing anti-Semitism (despicable, reprehensible, wicked, choose your adjective), while the very existence of left-wing anti-Semitism is widely doubted and almost always indignantly denied by those accused of practicing it.T o be sure, these recent manifestations of anti-Semitism occur on the left and right extremes. And statistics tell a rather comforting story about the state of anti-Semitism in America. Since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking it in 1979, anti-Jewish hate crime is at an historic low; indeed, it has been declining since a recent peak of 1,554 incidents in 2006. America, for the most part, remains a very philo-Semitic country, one of the safest, most welcoming countries for Jews on earth. A recent Pew poll found Jews to be the most admired religious group in the United States.1 If American Jews have anything to dread, it’s less anti-Semitism than the loss of Jewish peoplehood through assimilation, that is being “loved to death” by Gentiles.2 Few American Jews can say that anti-Semitism has a seriously deleterious impact on their life, that it has denied them educational or employment opportunities, or that they fear for the physical safety of themselves or their families because of their Jewish identity.
The question is whether the extremes are beginning to move in on the center. In the past year alone, the DSA’s rolls tripled from 8,000 to 25,000 dues-paying members, who have established a conspicuous presence on social media reaching far beyond what their relatively miniscule numbers attest. The DSA has been the subject of widespread media coverage, ranging from the curious to the adulatory. The white supremacists, meanwhile, found themselves understandably heartened by the strange difficulty President Donald Trump had in disavowing them. He claimed, in fact, that there had been some “very fine people” among their ranks. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville,” tweeted David Duke, while the white-nationalist Richard Spencer said, “I’m proud of him for speaking the truth.”
Indeed, among the more troubling aspects of our highly troubling political predicament—and one that, from a Jewish perspective, provokes not a small amount of angst—is that so many ideas, individuals, and movements that could once reliably be categorized as “extreme,” in the literal sense of articulating the views of a very small minority, are no longer so easily dismissed. The DSA is part of a much broader revival of the socialist idea in America, as exemplified by the growing readership of journals like Jacobin and Current Affairs, the popularity of the leftist Chapo Trap House podcast, and the insurgent presidential campaign of self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders—who, according to a Harvard-Harris poll, is now the most popular politician in the United States. Since 2015, the average age of a DSA member dropped from 64 to 30, and a 2016 Harvard poll found a majority of Millennials do not support capitalism.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Donald Trump offers “nativism and culture war wedges without the Reaganomics,” according to Nicholas Grossman, a lecturer in political science at the University of Illinois. A party that was once reliably internationalist and assertive against Russian aggression now supports a president who often preaches isolationism and never has even a mildly critical thing to say about the KGB thug ruling over the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Like ripping the bandage off an ugly and oozing wound, Trump’s presidential campaign unleashed a bevy of unpleasant social forces that at the very least have an indirect bearing on Jewish welfare. The most unpleasant of those forces has been the so-called alternative right, or “alt-right,” a highly race-conscious political movement whose adherents are divided on the “JQ” (Jewish Question). Throughout last year’s campaign, Jewish journalists (this author included) were hit with a barrage of luridly anti-Semitic Twitter messages from self-described members of the alt-right. The tamer missives instructed us to leave America for Israel, others superimposed our faces onto the bodies of concentration camp victims.3
I do not believe Donald Trump is himself an anti-Semite, if only because anti-Semitism is mainly a preoccupation—as distinct from a prejudice—and Trump is too narcissistic to indulge any preoccupation other than himself. And there is no evidence to suggest that he subscribes to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories favored by his alt-right supporters. But his casual resort to populism, nativism, and conspiracy theory creates a narrative environment highly favorable to anti-Semites.
Nativism, of which Trump was an early and active practitioner, is never good for the Jews, no matter how affluent or comfortable they may be and notwithstanding whether they are even the target of its particular wrath. Racial divisions, which by any measure have grown significantly worse in the year since Trump was elected, hurt all Americans, obviously, but they have a distinct impact on Jews, who are left in a precarious position as racial identities calcify. Not only are the newly emboldened white supremacists of the alt-right invariably anti-Semites, but in the increasingly racialist taxonomy of the progressive left—which more and more mainstream liberals are beginning to parrot—Jews are considered possessors of “white privilege” and, thus, members of the class to be divested of its “power” once the revolution comes. In the racially stratified society that both extremes envision, Jews lose out, simultaneously perceived (by the far right) as wily allies and manipulators of ethnic minorities in a plot to mongrelize America and (by the far left) as opportunistic “Zionists” ingratiating themselves with a racist and exploitative “white” establishment that keeps minorities down.T his politics is bad for all Americans, and Jewish Americans in particular. More and more, one sees the racialized language of the American left being applied to the Middle East conflict, wherein Israel (which is, in point of fact, one of the most racially diverse countries in the world) is referred to as a “white supremacist” state no different from that of apartheid South Africa. In a book just published by MIT Press, ornamented with a forward by Cornel West and entitled “Whites, Jews, and Us,” a French-Algerian political activist named Houria Bouteldja asks, “What can we offer white people in exchange for their decline and for the wars that will ensue?” Drawing the Jews into her race war, Bouteldja, according to the book’s jacket copy, “challenges widespread assumptions among the left in the United States and Europe—that anti-Semitism plays any role in Arab–Israeli conflicts, for example, or that philo-Semitism doesn’t in itself embody an oppressive position.” Jew-hatred is virtuous, and appreciation of the Jews is racism.
Few political activists of late have done more to racialize the Arab–Israeli conflict—and, through insidious extension of the American racial hierarchy, designate American Jews as oppressors—than the Brooklyn-born Arab activist Linda Sarsour. An organizer of the Women’s March, Sarsour has seamlessly insinuated herself into a variety of high-profile progressive campaigns, a somewhat incongruent position given her reactionary views on topics like women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. (“10 weeks of PAID maternity leave in Saudi Arabia,” she tweets. “Yes PAID. And ur worrying about women driving. Puts us to shame.”) Sarsour, who is of Palestinian descent, claims that one cannot simultaneously be a feminist and a Zionist, when it is the exact opposite that is true: No genuine believer in female equality can deny the right of Israel to exist. The Jewish state respects the rights of women more than do any of its neighbors. In an April 2017 interview, Sarsour said that she had become a high-school teacher for the purpose of “inspiring young people of color like me.” Just three months earlier, however, in a video for Vox, Sarsour confessed, “When I wasn’t wearing hijab I was just some ordinary white girl from New York City.” The donning of Muslim garb, then, confers a racial caste of “color,” which in turn confers virtue, which in turn confers a claim on political power.
This attempt to describe the Israeli–Arab conflict in American racial vernacular marks Jews as white (a perverse mirror of Nazi biological racism) and thus implicates them as beneficiaries of “structural racism,” “white privilege,” and the whole litany of benefits afforded to white people at birth in the form of—to use Ta-Nehisi Coates’s abstruse phrase—the “glowing amulet” of “whiteness.” “It’s time to admit that Arthur Balfour was a white supremacist and an anti-Semite,” reads the headline of a recent piece in—where else? —the Forward, incriminating Jewish nationalism as uniquely perfidious by dint of the fact that, like most men of his time, a (non-Jewish) British official who endorsed the Zionist idea a century ago held views that would today be considered racist. Reading figures like Bouteldja and Sarsour brings to mind the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner’s observation that “the racialization of the world has to be the most unexpected result of the antidiscrimination battle of the last half-century; it has ensured that the battle continuously re-creates the curse from which it is trying to break free.”
If Jews are white, and if white people—as a group—enjoy tangible and enduring advantages over everyone else, then this racially essentialist rhetoric ends up with Jews accused of abetting white supremacy, if not being white supremacists themselves. This is one of the overlooked ways in which the term “white supremacy” has become devoid of meaning in the age of Donald Trump, with everyone and everything from David Duke to James Comey to the American Civil Liberties Union accused of upholding it. Take the case of Ben Shapiro, the Jewish conservative polemicist. At the start of the school year, Shapiro was scheduled to give a talk at UC Berkeley, his alma matter. In advance, various left-wing groups put out a call for protest in which they labeled Shapiro—an Orthodox Jew—a “fascist thug” and “white supremacist.” An inconvenient fact ignored by Shapiro’s detractors is that, according to the ADL, he was the top target of online abuse from actual white supremacists during the 2016 presidential election. (Berkeley ultimately had to spend $600,000 protecting the event from leftist rioters.)
A more pernicious form of this discourse is practiced by left-wing writers who, insincerely claiming to have the interests of Jews at heart, scold them and their communal organizations for not doing enough in the fight against anti-Semitism. Criticizing Jews for not fully signing up with the “Resistance” (which in form and function is fast becoming the 21st-century version of the interwar Popular Front), they then slyly indict Jews for being complicit in not only their own victimization but that of the entire country at the hands of Donald Trump. The first and foremost practitioner of this bullying and rather artful form of anti-Semitism is Jeet Heer, a Canadian comic-book critic who has achieved some repute on the American left due to his frenetic Twitter activity and availability when the New Republic needed to replace its staff that had quit en masse in 2014. Last year, when Heer came across a video of a Donald Trump supporter chanting “JEW-S-A” at a rally, he declared on Twitter: “We really need to see more comment from official Jewish groups like ADL on way Trump campaign has energized anti-Semitism.”
But of course “Jewish groups” have had plenty to say about the anti-Semitism expressed by some Trump supporters—too much, in the view of their critics. Just two weeks earlier, the ADL had released a report analyzing over 2 million anti-Semitic tweets targeting Jewish journalists over the previous year. This wasn’t the first time the ADL raised its voice against Trump and the alt-right movement he emboldened, nor would it be the last. Indeed, two minutes’ worth of Googling would have shown Heer that his pronouncements about organizational Jewish apathy were wholly without foundation.4
It’s tempting to dismiss Heer’s observation as mere “concern trolling,” a form of Internet discourse characterized by insincere expressions of worry. But what he did was nastier. Immediately presented with evidence for the inaccuracy of his claims, he sneered back with a bit of wisdom from the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, yet cast as mild threat: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words: How can you Jews expect anyone to care about your kind if you don’t sufficiently oppose—as arbitrarily judged by moi, Jeet Heer—Donald Trump?
If this sort of critique were coming from a Jewish donor upset that his preferred organization wasn’t doing enough to combat anti-Semitism, or a Gentile with a proven record of concern for Jewish causes, it wouldn’t have turned the stomach. What made Heer’s interjection revolting is that, to put it mildly, he’s not exactly known for being sympathetic toward the Jewish plight. In 2015, Heer put his name to a petition calling upon an international comic-book festival to drop the Israeli company SodaStream as a co-sponsor because the Jewish state is “built on the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities and sustained through racism and discrimination.” Heer’s name appeared alongside that of Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian cartoonist who won second place in the Iranian government’s 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Competition. For his writings on Israel, Heer has been praised as being “very good on the conflict” by none other than Philip Weiss, proprietor of the anti-Semitic hate site Mondoweiss.
In light of this track record, Heer’s newfound concern about anti-Semitism appeared rather dubious. Indeed, the bizarre way in which he expressed this concern—as, ultimately, a critique not of anti-Semitism per se but of the country’s foremost Jewish civil-rights organization—suggests he cares about anti-Semitism insofar as its existence can be used as a weapon to beat his political adversaries. And since the incorrigibly Zionist American Jewish establishment ranks high on that list (just below that of Donald Trump and his supporters), Heer found a way to blame it for anti-Semitism. And what does that tell you? It tells you that—presented with a 16-second video of a man chanting “JEW-S-A” at a Donald Trump rally—Heer’s first impulse was to condemn not the anti-Semite but the Jews.
Heer isn’t the only leftist (or New Republic writer) to assume this rhetorical cudgel. In a piece entitled “The Dismal Failure of Jewish Groups to Confront Trump,” one Stephen Lurie attacked the ADL for advising its members to stay away from the Charlottesville “Unite the Right Rally” and let police handle any provocations from neo-Nazis. “We do not have a Jewish organizational home for the fight against fascism,” he quotes a far-left Jewish activist, who apparently thinks that we live in the Weimar Republic and not a stable democracy in which law-enforcement officers and not the balaclava-wearing thugs of antifa maintain the peace. Like Jewish Communists of yore, Lurie wants to bully Jews into abandoning liberalism for the extreme left, under the pretext that mainstream organizations just won’t cut it in the fight against “white supremacy.” Indeed, Lurie writes, some “Jewish institutions and power players…have defended and enabled white supremacy.” The main group he fingers with this outrageous slander is the Republican Jewish Coalition, the implication being that this explicitly partisan Republican organization’s discrete support for the Republican president “enables white supremacy.”
It is impossible to imagine Heer, Lurie, or other progressive writers similarly taking the NAACP to task for its perceived lack of concern about racism, or castigating the Human Rights Campaign for insufficiently combating homophobia. No, it is only the cowardice of Jews that is condemned—condemned for supposedly ignoring a form of bigotry that, when expressed on the left, these writers themselves ignore or even defend. The logical gymnastics of these two New Republic writers is what happens when, at base, one fundamentally resents Jews: You end up blaming them for anti-Semitism. Blaming Jews for not sufficiently caring enough about anti-Semitism is emotionally the same as claiming that Jews are to blame for anti-Semitism. Both signal an envy and resentment of Jews predicated upon a belief that they have some kind of authority that the claimant doesn’t and therefore needs to undermine.T his past election, one could not help but notice how the media seemingly discovered anti-Semitism when it emanated from the right, and then only when its targets were Jews on the left. It was enough to make one ask where they had been when left-wing anti-Semitism had been a more serious and pervasive problem. From at least 1996 (the year Pat Buchanan made his last serious attempt at securing the GOP presidential nomination) to 2016 (when the Republican presidential nominee did more to earn the support of white supremacists and neo-Nazis than any of his predecessors), anti-Semitism was primarily a preserve of the American left. In that two-decade period—spanning the collapse of the Oslo Accords and rise of the Second Intifada to the rancorous debate over the Iraq War and obsession with “neocons” to the presidency of Barack Obama and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitic conspiracy made unprecedented inroads into respectable precincts of the American academy, the liberal intelligentsia, and the Democratic Party.
The main form that left-wing anti-Semitism takes in the United States today is unhinged obsession with the wrongs, real or perceived, of the state of Israel, and the belief that its Jewish supporters in the United States exercise a nefarious control over the levers of American foreign policy. In this respect, contemporary left-wing anti-Semitism is not altogether different from that of the far right, though it usually lacks the biological component deeming Jews a distinct and inferior race. (Consider the left-wing anti-Semite’s eagerness to identify and promote Jewish “dissidents” who can attest to their co-religionists’ craftiness and deceit.) The unholy synergy of left and right anti-Semitism was recently epitomized by former CIA agent and liberal stalwart Valerie Plame’s hearty endorsement, on Twitter, of an article written for an extreme right-wing website by a fellow former CIA officer named Philip Giraldi: “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” Plame eventually apologized for sharing the article with her 50,000 followers, but not before insisting that “many neocon hawks are Jewish” and that “just FYI, I am of Jewish descent.”
The main fora in which left-wing anti-Semitism appears is academia. According to the ADL, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses doubled from 2014 to 2015, the latest year that data are available. Writing in National Affairs, Ruth Wisse observes that “not since the war in Vietnam has there been a campus crusade as dynamic as the movement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.” Every academic year, a seeming surfeit of controversies erupt on campuses across the country involving the harassment of pro-Israel students and organizations, the disruption of events involving Israeli speakers (even ones who identify as left-wing), and blatantly anti-Semitic outbursts by professors and student activists. There was the Oberlin professor of rhetoric, Joy Karega, who posted statements on social media claiming that Israel had created ISIS and had orchestrated the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. There is the Rutgers associate professor of women’s and gender studies, Jasbir Puar, who popularized the ludicrous term “pinkwashing” to defame Israel’s LGBT acceptance as a massive conspiracy to obscure its oppression of Palestinians. Her latest book, The Right to Maim, academically peer-reviewed and published by Duke University Press, attacks Israel for sparing the lives of Palestinian civilians, accusing its military of “shooting to maim rather than to kill” so that it may keep “Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.”
One could go on and on about such affronts not only to Jews and supporters of Israel but to common sense, basic justice, and anyone who believes in the prudent use of taxpayer dollars. That several organizations exist solely for the purpose of monitoring anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation on American campuses attests to the prolificacy of the problem. But it’s unclear just how reflective these isolated examples of the college experience really are. A 2017 Stanford study purporting to examine the issue interviewed 66 Jewish students at five California campuses noted for “being particularly fertile for anti-Semitism and for having an active presence of student groups critical of Israel and Zionism.” It concluded that “contrary to widely shared impressions, we found a picture of campus life that is neither threatening nor alarmist…students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, comfortable as Jews on their campuses.” To the extent that Jewish students do feel pressured, the report attempted to spread the blame around, indicting pro-Israel activists alongside those agitating against it. “[Survey respondents] fear that entering political debate, especially when they feel the social pressures of both Jewish and non-Jewish activist communities, will carry social costs that they are unwilling to bear.”
Yet by its own admission, the report “only engaged students who were either unengaged or minimally engaged in organized Jewish life on their campuses.” Researchers made a study of anti-Semitism, then, by interviewing the Jews least likely to experience it. “Most people don’t really think I’m Jewish because I look very Latina…it doesn’t come up in conversation,” one such student said in an interview. Ultimately, the report revealed more about the attitudes of unengaged (and, thus, uninformed) Jews than about the state of anti-Semitism on college campuses. That may certainly be useful in its own right as a means of understanding how unaffiliated Jews view debates over Israel, but it is not an accurate marker of developments on college campuses more broadly.
A more extensive 2016 Brandeis study of Jewish students at 50 schools found 34 percent agreed at least “somewhat” that their campus has a hostile environment toward Israel. Yet the variation was wide; at some schools, only 3 percent agreed, while at others, 70 percent did. Only 15 percent reported a hostile environment towards Jews. Anti-Semitism was found to be more prevalent at public universities than private ones, with the determinative factor being the presence of a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on campus. Important context often lost in conversations about campus anti-Semitism, and reassuring to those concerned about it, is that it is simply not the most important issue roiling higher education. “At most schools,” the report found, “fewer than 10 percent of Jewish students listed issues pertaining to either Jews or Israel as among the most pressing on campus.”F or generations, American Jews have depended on anti-Semitism’s remaining within a moral quarantine, a cordon sanitaire, and America has reliably kept this societal virus contained. While there are no major signs that this barricade is breaking down in the immediate future, there are worrying indications on the political horizon.
Surveying the situation at the international level, the declining global position of the United States—both in terms of its hard military and economic power relative to rising challengers and its position as a credible beacon of liberal democratic values—does not portend well for Jews, American or otherwise. American leadership of the free world, has, in addition to ensuring Israel’s security, underwritten the postwar liberal world order. And it is the constituent members of that order, the liberal democratic states, that have served as the best guarantor of the Jews’ life and safety over their 6,000-year history. Were America’s global leadership role to diminish or evaporate, it would not only facilitate the rise of authoritarian states like Iran and terrorist movements such as al-Qaeda, committed to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, but inexorably lead to a worldwide rollback of liberal democracy, an outcome that would inevitably redound to the detriment of Jews.
Domestically, political polarization and the collapse of public trust in every American institution save the military are demolishing what little confidence Americans have left in their system and governing elites, not to mention preparing the ground for some ominous political scenarios. Widely cited survey data reveal that the percentage of American Millennials who believe it “essential” to live in a liberal democracy hovers at just over 25 percent. If Trump is impeached or loses the next election, a good 40 percent of the country will be outraged and susceptible to belief in a stab-in-the-back theory accounting for his defeat. Whom will they blame? Perhaps the “neoconservatives,” who disproportionately make up the ranks of Trump’s harshest critics on the right?
Ultimately, the degree to which anti-Semitism becomes a problem in America hinges on the strength of the antibodies within the country’s communal DNA to protect its pluralistic and liberal values. But even if this resistance to tribalism and the cult of personality is strong, it may not be enough to abate the rise of an intellectual and societal disease that, throughout history, thrives upon economic distress, xenophobia, political uncertainty, ethnic chauvinism, conspiracy theory, and weakening democratic norms.
1 Somewhat paradoxically, according to FBI crime statistics, the majority of religiously based hate crimes target Jews, more than double the amount targeting Muslims. This indicates more the commitment of the country’s relatively small number of hard-core anti-Semites than pervasive anti-Semitism.
4 The ADL has had to maintain a delicate balancing act in the age of Trump, coming under fire by many conservative Jews for a perceived partisan tilt against the right. This makes Heer’s complaint all the more ignorant — and unhelpful.
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Review of 'The Once and Future Liberal' By Mark Lilla
Lilla, a professor at Columbia University, tells us that “the story of how a successful liberal politics of solidarity became a failed pseudo-politics of identity is not a simple one.” And about this, he’s right. Lilla quotes from the feminist authors of the 1977 Combahee River Collective Manifesto: “The most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.” Feminists looked to instantiate the “radical” and electrifying phrase which insisted that “the personal is political.” The phrase, argues Lilla, was generally seen in “a somewhat Marxist fashion to mean that everything that seems personal is in fact political.”
The upshot was fragmentation. White feminists were deemed racist by black feminists—and both were found wanting by lesbians, who also had black and white contingents. “What all these groups wanted,” explains Lilla, “was more than social justice and an end to the [Vietnam] war. They also wanted there to be no space between what they felt inside and what they saw and did in the world.” He goes on: “The more obsessed with personal identity liberals become, the less willing they become to engage in reasoned political debate.” In the end, those on the left came to a realization: “You can win a debate by claiming the greatest degree of victimization and thus the greatest outrage at being subjected to questioning.”
But Lilla’s insights into the emotional underpinnings of political correctness are undercut by an inadequate, almost bizarre sense of history. He appears to be referring to the 1970s when, zigzagging through history, he writes that “no recognition of personal or group identity was coming from the Democratic Party, which at the time was dominated by racist Dixiecrats and white union officials of questionable rectitude.”
What is he talking about? Is Lilla referring to the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern? Is he referring obliquely to George Wallace? If so, why is Wallace never mentioned? Lilla seems not to know that it was the 1972 McGovern Democratic Convention that introduced minority seating to be set aside for blacks and women.
At only 140 pages, this is a short book. But even so, Lilla could have devoted a few pages to Frankfurt ideologist Herbert Marcuse and his influence on the left. In the 1960s, Marcuse argued that leftists and liberals were entitled to restrain centrist and conservative speech on the grounds that the universities had to act as a counterweight to society at large. But this was not just rhetoric; in the campus disruption of the early 1970s at schools such as Yale, Cornell, and Amherst, Marcuse’s ideals were pushed to the fore.
If Lilla’s argument comes off as flaccid, perhaps that’s because the aim of The Once and Future Liberal is more practical than principled. “The only way” to protect our rights, he tells the reader, “is to elect liberal Democratic governors and state legislators who’ll appoint liberal state attorneys.” According to Lilla, “the paradox of identity liberalism” is that it undercuts “the things it professes to want,” namely political power. He insists, rightly, that politics has to be about persuasion but then contradicts himself in arguing that “politics is about seizing power to defend the truth.” In other words, Lilla wants a better path to total victory.
Given what Lilla, descending into hysteria, describes as “the Republican rage for destruction,” liberals and Democrats have to win elections lest the civil rights of blacks, women, and gays are rolled back. As proof of the ever-looming danger, he notes that when the “crisis of the mid-1970s threatened…the country turned not against corporations and banks, but against liberalism.” Yet he gives no hint of the trail of liberal failures that led to the crisis of the mid-’70s. You’d never know reading Lilla, for example, that the Black Power movement intensified racial hostilities that were then further exacerbated by affirmative action and busing. And you’d have no idea that, at considerable cost, the poverty programs of the Great Society failed to bring poorer African Americans into the economic mainstream. Nor does Lilla deal with the devotion to Keynesianism that produced inflation without economic growth during the Carter presidency.
Despite his discursive ambling through the recent history of American political life, Lilla has a one-word explanation for identity politics: Reaganism. “Identity,” he writes, is “Reaganism for lefties.” What’s crucial in combating Reaganism, he argues, is to concentrate on our “shared political” status as citizens. “Citizenship is a crucial weapon in the battle against Reaganite dogma because it brings home that fact that we are part of a legitimate common enterprise.” But then he asserts that the “American right uses the term citizenship today as a means of exclusion.” The passage might lead the reader to think that Lilla would take up the question of immigration and borders. But he doesn’t, and the closing passages of the book dribble off into characteristic zigzags. Lilla tells us that “Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity” but then goes on, without evidence, to assert the accuracy of the Black Lives Matter claim that African-Americans have been singled out for police mistreatment.
It would be nice to argue that The Once and Future Liberal is a near miss, a book that might have had enduring importance if only it went that extra step. But Lilla’s passing insights on the perils of a politically correct identity politics drown in the rhetoric of conventional bromides that fill most of the pages of this disappointing book.
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n Athens several years ago, I had dinner with a man running for the national parliament. I asked him whether he thought he had a shot at winning. He was sure of victory, he told me. “I have hired a very famous political consultant from Washington,” he said. “He is the man who elected Reagan. Expensive. But the best.”
The political genius he then described was a minor political flunky I had met in Washington long ago, a more-or-less anonymous member of the Republican National Committee before he faded from view at the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term. Mutual acquaintances told me he still lived in a nice neighborhood in Northern Virginia, but they never could figure out what the hell he did to earn his money. (This is a recurring mystery throughout the capital.) I had to come to Greece to find the answer.
It is one of the dark arts of Washington, this practice of American political hacks traveling to faraway lands and suckering foreign politicians into paying vast sums for splashy, state-of-the-art, essentially worthless “services.” And it’s perfectly legal. Paul Manafort, who briefly managed Donald Trump’s campaign last summer, was known as a pioneer of the globe-trotting racket. If he hadn’t, as it were, veered out of his gutter into the slightly higher lane of U.S. presidential politics, he likely could have hoovered cash from the patch pockets of clueless clients from Ouagadougou to Zagreb for the rest of his natural life and nobody in Washington would have noticed.
But he veered, and now he and a colleague find themselves indicted by Robert Mueller, the Inspector Javert of the Russian-collusion scandal. When those indictments landed, they instantly set in motion the familiar scramble. Trump fans announced that the indictments were proof that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians—or, in the crisp, emphatic phrasing of a tweet by the world’s Number One Trump Fan, Donald Trump: “NO COLLUSION!!!!” The Russian-scandal fetishists in the press corps replied in chorus: It’s still early! Javert required more time, and so will Mueller, and so will they.
A good Washington scandal requires a few essential elements. One is a superabundance of information. From these data points, conspiracy-minded reporters can begin to trace associations, warranted or not, and from the associations, they can infer motives and objectives with which, stretched together, they can limn a full-blown conspiracy theory. The Manafort indictment released a flood of new information, and at once reporters were pawing for nuggets that might eventually form a compelling case for collusion.
They failed to find any because Manafort’s indictment, in essence, involved his efforts to launder his profits from his international political work, not his work for the Trump campaign. Fortunately for the obsessives, another element is required for a good scandal: a colorful cast. The various Clinton scandals brought us Asian money-launderers and ChiCom bankers, along with an entire Faulkner-novel’s worth of bumpkins, sharpies, and backwoods swindlers, plus that intern in the thong. Watergate, the mother lode of Washington scandals, featured a host of implausible characters, from the central-casting villain G. Gordon Liddy to Sam Ervin, a lifelong segregationist and racist who became a hero to liberals everywhere.
Here, at last, is one area where the Russian scandal has begun to show promise. Manafort and his business partner seem too banal to hold the interest of anyone but a scandal obsessive. Beneath the pile of paper Mueller dumped on them, however, another creature could be seen peeking out shyly. This would be the diminutive figure of George Papadopoulos. An unpaid campaign adviser to Trump, Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his conversations with Russian agents. He is quickly becoming the stuff of legend.
Papadopoulos is an exemplar of a type long known to American politics. He is the nebbish bedazzled by the big time—achingly ambitious, though lacking the skill, or the cunning, to climb the greasy pole. So he remains at the periphery of the action, ever eager to serve. Papadopoulos’s résumé, for a man under 30, is impressively padded. He said he served as the U.S. representative to the Model United Nations in 2012, though nobody recalls seeing him there. He boasted of a four-year career at the Hudson Institute, though in fact he spent one year there as an unpaid intern and three doing contract research for one of Hudson’s scholars. On his LinkedIn page, he listed himself as a keynote speaker at a Greek American conference in 2008, but in fact he participated only in a panel discussion. The real keynoter was Michael Dukakis.
With this hunger for achievement, real or imagined, Papadopoulos could not let a presidential campaign go by without climbing aboard. In late 2015, he somehow attached himself to Ben Carson’s campaign. He was never paid and lasted four months. His presence went largely unnoticed. “If there was any work product, I never saw it,” Carson’s campaign manager told Time. The deputy campaign manager couldn’t even recall his name. Then suddenly, in April 2016, Papadopoulos appeared on a list of “foreign-policy advisers” to Donald Trump—and, according to Mueller’s court filings, resolved to make his mark by acting as a liaison between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
While Mueller tells the story of Papadopoulos’s adventures in the dry, Joe Friday prose of a legal document, it could easily be the script for a Peter Sellers movie from the Cold War era. The young man’s résumé is enough to impress the campaign’s impressionable officials as they scavenge for foreign-policy advisers: “Hey, Corey! This dude was in the Model United Nations!”
Papadopoulus (played by Sellers) sets about his mission. A few weeks after signing on to the campaign, he travels to Europe, where he meets a mysterious “Professor” (Peter Ustinov). “Initially the Professor seemed uninterested in Papadopoulos,” says Mueller’s indictment. A likely story! Yet when Papadopoulus lets drop that he’s an adviser to Trump, the Professor suddenly “appeared to take great interest” in him. They arrange a meeting in London to which the Professor invites a “female Russian national” (Elke Sommer). Without much effort, the femme fatale convinces Papadopoulus that she is Vladimir Putin’s niece. (“I weel tell z’American I em niece of Great Leader! Zat idjut belief ennytink!”) Over the next several months our hero sends many emails to campaign officials and to the Professor, trying to arrange a meeting between them. As far we know from the indictment, nothing came of his mighty efforts.
And there matters lay until January 2017, when the FBI came calling. Agents asked Papadopoulos about his interactions with the Russians. Even though he must have known that hundreds of his emails on the subject would soon be available to the FBI, he lied and told the agents that the contacts had occurred many months before he joined the campaign. History will record Papadopoulos as the man who forgot that emails carry dates on them. After the FBI interview, according to the indictment, he tried to destroy evidence with the same competence he has brought to his other endeavors. He closed his Facebook account, on which several communications with the Russians had taken place. He threw out his old cellphone. (That should do it!) After that, he began wearing a blindfold, on the theory that if he couldn’t see the FBI, the FBI couldn’t see him.
I made that last one up, obviously. For now, the great hope of scandal hobbyists is that Papadopoulus was wearing a wire between the time he secretly pled guilty and the time his plea was made public. This would have allowed him to gather all kinds of incriminating dirt in conversations with former colleagues. And the dirt is there, all right, as the Manafort indictment proves. Unfortunately for our scandal fetishists, so far none of it shows what their hearts most desire: active collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
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An affair to remember
All this changed with the release in 1967 of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and Mike Nichols’s The Graduate. These two films, made in nouveau European style, treated familiar subjects—a pair of Depression-era bank robbers and a college graduate in search of a place in the adult world—in an unmistakably modern manner. Both films were commercial successes that catapulted their makers and stars into the top echelon of what came to be known as “the new Hollywood.”
Bonnie and Clyde inaugurated a new era in which violence on screen simultaneously became bloodier and more aestheticized, and it has had enduring impact as a result. But it was The Graduate that altered the direction of American moviemaking with its specific appeal to younger and hipper moviegoers who had turned their backs on more traditional cinematic fare. When it opened in New York in December, the movie critic Hollis Alpert reported with bemusement that young people were lining up in below-freezing weather to see it, and that they showed no signs of being dismayed by the cold: “It was as though they all knew they were going to see something good, something made for them.”
The Graduate, whose aimless post-collegiate title character is seduced by the glamorous but neurotic wife of his father’s business partner, is part of the common stock of American reference. Now, a half-century later, it has become the subject of a book-length study, Beverly Gray’s Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation.1 As is so often the case with pop-culture books, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson is almost as much about its self-absorbed Baby Boomer author (“The Graduate taught me to dance to the beat of my own drums”) as its subject. It has the further disadvantage of following in the footsteps of Mark Harris’s magisterial Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008), in which the film is placed in the context of Hollywood’s mid-’60s cultural flux. But Gray’s book offers us a chance to revisit this seminal motion picture and consider just why it was that The Graduate spoke to Baby Boomers in a distinctively personal way.T he Graduate began life in 1963 as a novella of the same name by Charles Webb, a California-born writer who saw his book not as a comic novel but as a serious artistic statement about America’s increasingly disaffected youth. It found its way into the hands of a producer named Lawrence Turman who saw The Graduate as an opportunity to make the cinematic equivalent of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Turman optioned the book, then sent it to Mike Nichols, who in 1963 was still best known for his comic partnership with Elaine May but had just made his directorial debut with the original Broadway production of Barefoot in the Park.
Both men saw that The Graduate posed a problem to anyone seeking to put it on the screen. In Turman’s words, “In the book the character of Benjamin Braddock is sort of a whiny pain in the fanny [whom] you want to shake or spank.” To this end, they turned to Buck Henry, who had co-created the popular TV comedy Get Smart with Mel Brooks, to write a screenplay that would retain much of Webb’s dryly witty dialogue (“I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends”) while making Benjamin less priggish.
Nichols’s first major act was casting Dustin Hoffman, an obscure New York stage actor pushing 30, for the title role. No one but Nichols seems to have thought him suitable in any way. Not only was Hoffman short and nondescript-looking, but he was unmistakably Jewish, whereas Benjamin is supposedly the scion of a newly monied WASP family from southern California. Nevertheless, Nichols decided he wanted “a short, dark, Jewish, anomalous presence, which is how I experience myself,” in order to underline Benjamin’s alienation from the world of his parents.
Nichols filled the other roles in equally unexpected ways. He hired the Oscar winner Anne Bancroft, only six years Hoffman’s senior, to play the unbalanced temptress who lures Benjamin into her bed, then responds with volcanic rage when he falls in love with her beautiful daughter Elaine. He and Henry also steered clear of on-screen references to the campus protests that had only recently started to convulse America. Instead, he set The Graduate in a timeless upper-middle-class milieu inhabited by people more interested in social climbing than self-actualization—the same milieu from which Benjamin is so alienated that he is reduced to near-speechlessness whenever his family and their friends ask him what he plans to do now that he has graduated.
The film’s only explicit allusion to its cultural moment is the use on the soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” the painfully earnest anthem of youthful angst that is for all intents and purposes the theme song of The Graduate. Nevertheless, Henry’s screenplay leaves little doubt that the film was in every way a work of its time and place. As he later explained to Mark Harris, it is a study of “the disaffection of young people for an environment that they don’t seem to be in sync with.…Nobody had made a film specifically about that.”
This aspect of The Graduate is made explicit in a speech by Benjamin that has no direct counterpart in the novel: “It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean, no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”
The Graduate was Nichols’s second film, following his wildly successful movie version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Albee’s play was a snarling critique of the American dream, which he believed to be a snare and a delusion. The Graduate had the same skeptical view of postwar America, but its pessimism was played for laughs. When Benjamin is assured by a businessman in the opening scene that the secret to success in America is “plastics,” we are meant to laugh contemptuously at the smugness of so blinkered a view of life. Moreover, the contempt is as real as the laughter: The Graduate has it both ways. For the same reason, the farcical quality of the climactic scene (in which Benjamin breaks up Elaine’s marriage to a handsome young WASP and carts her off to an unknown fate) is played without musical underscoring, a signal that what Benjamin is doing is really no laughing matter.
The youth-oriented message of The Graduate came through loud and clear to its intended audience, which paid no heed to the mixed reviews from middle-aged reviewers unable to grasp what Nichols and Henry were up to. Not so Roger Ebert, the newly appointed 25-year-old movie critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, who called The Graduate “the funniest American comedy of the year…because it has a point of view. That is to say, it is against something.”
Even more revealing was the response of David Brinkley, then the co-anchor of NBC’s nightly newscast, who dismissed The Graduate as “frantic nonsense” but added that his college-age son and his classmates “liked it because it said about the parents and others what they would have said about us if they had made the movie—that we are self-centered and materialistic, that we are licentious and deeply hypocritical about it, that we try to make them into walking advertisements for our own affluence.”
A year after the release of The Graduate, a film-industry report cited in Pictures at a Revolution revealed that “48 percent of all movie tickets in America were now being sold to filmgoers under the age of 24.” A very high percentage of those tickets were to The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. At long last, Hollywood had figured out what the Baby Boomers wanted to see.A nd how does The Graduate look a half-century later? To begin with, it now appears to have been Mike Nichols’s creative “road not taken.” In later years, Nichols became less an auteur than a Hollywood director who thought like a Broadway director, choosing vehicles of solid middlebrow-liberal appeal and serving them faithfully without imposing a strong creative vision of his own. In The Graduate, by contrast, he revealed himself to be powerfully aware of the same European filmmaking trends that shaped Bonnie and Clyde. Within a naturalistic framework, he deployed non-naturalistic “new wave” cinematographic techniques with prodigious assurance—and he was willing to end The Graduate on an ambiguous note instead of wrapping it up neatly and pleasingly, letting the camera linger on the unsure faces of Hoffman and Ross as they ride off into an unsettling future.
It is this ambiguity, coupled with Nichols’s prescient decision not to allow The Graduate to become a literal portrayal of American campus life in the troubled mid-’60s, that has kept the film fresh. But The Graduate is fresh in a very particular way: It is a young person’s movie, the tale of a boy-man terrified by the prospect of growing up to be like his parents. Therein lay the source of its appeal to young audiences. The Graduate showed them what they, too, feared most, and hinted at a possible escape route.
In the words of Beverly Gray, who saw The Graduate when it first came out in 1967: “The Graduate appeared in movie houses just as we young Americans were discovering how badly we wanted to distance ourselves from the world of our parents….That polite young high achiever, those loving but smothering parents, those comfortable but slightly bland surroundings: They combined to form an only slightly exaggerated version of my own cozy West L.A. world.”
Yet to watch The Graduate today—especially if you first saw it when much younger—is also to be struck by the extreme unattractiveness of its central character. Hoffman plays Benjamin not as the comically ineffectual nebbish of Jewish tradition but as a near-catatonic robot who speaks by turns in a flat monotone and a frightened nasal whine. It is impossible to understand why Mrs. Robinson would want to go to bed with such a mousy creature, much less why Elaine would run off with him—an impression that has lately acquired an overlay of retrospective irony in the wake of accusations that Hoffman has sexually harassed female colleagues on more than one occasion. Precisely because Benjamin is so unlikable, it is harder for modern-day viewers to identify with him in the same way as did Gray and her fellow Boomers. To watch a Graduate-influenced film like Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming (1995), a poignant romantic comedy about a group of Gen-X college graduates who deliberately choose not to get on with their lives, is to see a closely similar dilemma dramatized in an infinitely more “relatable” way, one in which the crippling anxiety of the principal characters is presented as both understandable and pitiable, thus making it funnier.
Be that as it may, The Graduate is a still-vivid snapshot of a turning point in American cultural history. Before Benjamin Braddock, American films typically portrayed men who were not overgrown, smooth-faced children but full-grown adults, sometimes misguided but incontestably mature. After him, permanent immaturity became the default position of Hollywood-style masculinity.
For this reason, it will be interesting to see what the Millennials, so many of whom demand to be shielded from the “triggering” realities of adult life, make of The Graduate if and when they come to view it. I have a feeling that it will speak to a fair number of them far more persuasively than it did to those of us who—unlike Benjamin Braddock—longed when young to climb the high hill of adulthood and see for ourselves what awaited us on the far side.
1 Algonquin, 278 pages
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“I think that’s best left to states and locales to decide,” DeVos replied. “If the underlying question is . . .”
Murphy interrupted. “You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?”
“Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming, I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Murphy continued his line of questioning unfazed. “If President Trump moves forward with his plan to ban gun-free school zones, will you support that proposal?”
“I will support what the president-elect does,” DeVos replied. “But, senator, if the question is around gun violence and the results of that, please know that my heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to gun violence.”
Because all this happened several million outrage cycles ago, you may have forgotten what happened next. Rather than mention DeVos’s sympathy for the victims of gun violence, or her support for federalism, or even her deference to the president, the media elite fixated on her hypothetical aside about grizzly bears.
“Betsy DeVos Cites Grizzly Bears During Guns-in-Schools Debate,” read the NBC News headline. “Citing grizzlies, education nominee says states should determine school gun policies,” reported CNN. “Sorry, Betsy DeVos,” read a headline at the Atlantic, “Guns Aren’t a Bear Necessity in Schools.”
DeVos never said that they were, of course. Nor did she “cite” the bear threat in any definitive way. What she did was decline the opportunity to make a blanket judgment about guns and schools because, in a continent-spanning nation of more than 300 million people, one standard might not apply to every circumstance.
After all, there might be—there are—cases when guns are necessary for security. Earlier this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed into law a bill authorizing some retired police officers to carry firearms while working as school guards. McAuliffe is a Democrat.
In her answer to Murphy, DeVos referred to a private meeting with Senator Enzi, who had told her of a school in Wyoming that has a fence to keep away grizzly bears. And maybe, she reasoned aloud, the school might have a gun on the premises in case the fence doesn’t work.
As it turns out, the school in Wapiti is gun-free. But we know that only because the Washington Post treated DeVos’s offhand remark as though it were the equivalent of Alexander Butterfield’s revealing the existence of the secret White House tapes. “Betsy DeVos said there’s probably a gun at a Wyoming school to ward off grizzlies,” read the Post headline. “There isn’t.” Oh, snap!
The article, like the one by NBC News, ended with a snarky tweet. The Post quoted user “Adam B.,” who wrote, “‘We need guns in schools because of grizzly bears.’ You know what else stops bears? Doors.” Clever.
And telling. It becomes more difficult every day to distinguish between once-storied journalistic institutions and the jabbering of anonymous egg-avatar Twitter accounts. The eagerness with which the press misinterprets and misconstrues Trump officials is something to behold. The “context” the best and brightest in media are always eager to provide us suddenly goes poof when the opportunity arises to mock, impugn, or castigate the president and his crew. This tendency is especially pronounced when the alleged gaffe fits neatly into a prefabricated media stereotype: that DeVos is unqualified, say, or that Rick Perry is, well, Rick Perry.
On November 2, the secretary of energy appeared at an event sponsored by Axios.com and NBC News. He described a recent trip to Africa:
It’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out to those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, “One of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I won’t have to try to read by the light of a fire, and have those fumes literally killing people, but also from the standpoint of sexual assault.” When the lights are on, when you have light, it shines the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that.
This heartfelt story of the impact of electrification on rural communities was immediately distorted into a metaphor for Republican ignorance and cruelty.
“Energy Secretary Rick Perry Just Made a Bizarre Claim About Sexual Assault and Fossil Fuels,” read the Buzzfeed headline. “Energy Secretary Rick Perry Says Fossil Fuels Can Prevent Sexual Assault,” read the headline from NBC News. “Rick Perry Says the Best Way to Prevent Rape Is Oil, Glorious Oil,” said the Daily Beast.
“Oh, that Rick Perry,” wrote Gail Collins in a New York Times column. “Whenever the word ‘oil’ is mentioned, Perry responds like a dog on the scent of a hamburger.” You will note that the word “oil” is not mentioned at all in Perry’s remarks.
You will note, too, that what Perry said was entirely commonsensical. While the precise relation between public lighting and public safety is unknown, who can doubt that brightly lit areas feel safer than dark ones—and that, as things stand today, cities and towns are most likely to be powered by fossil fuels? “The value of bright street lights for dispirited gray areas rises from the reassurance they offer to some people who need to go out on the sidewalk, or would like to, but lacking the good light would not do so,” wrote Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “Thus the lights induce these people to contribute their own eyes to the upkeep of the street.” But c’mon, what did Jane Jacobs know?
No member of the Trump administration so rankles the press as the president himself. On the November morning I began this column, I awoke to outrage that President Trump had supposedly violated diplomatic protocol while visiting Japan and its prime minister, Shinzo Abe. “President Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond,” read the CNN headline. An article on CBSNews.com headlined “Trump empties box of fish food into Japanese koi pond” began: “President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan briefly took a turn from formal to fishy.” A Bloomberg reporter traveling with the president tweeted, “Trump and Abe spooning fish food into a pond. (Toward the end, @potus decided to just dump the whole box in for the fish).”
Except that’s not what Trump “decided.” In fact, Trump had done exactly what Abe had done a few seconds before. That fact was buried in write-ups of the viral video of Trump and the fish. “President Trump was criticized for throwing an entire box of fish food into a koi pond during his visit to Japan,” read a Tweet from the New York Daily News, linking to a report on phony criticism Trump received because of erroneous reporting from outlets like the News.
There’s an endless, circular, Möbius-strip-like quality to all this nonsense. Journalists are so eager to catch the president and his subordinates doing wrong that they routinely traduce the very canons of journalism they are supposed to hold dear. Partisan and personal animus, laziness, cynicism, and the oversharing culture of social media are a toxic mix. The press in 2017 is a lot like those Japanese koi fish: frenzied, overstimulated, and utterly mindless.
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Review of 'Lessons in Hope' By George Weigel
Standing before the eternal flame, a frail John Paul shed silent tears for 6 million victims, including some of his own childhood friends from Krakow. Then, after reciting verses from Psalm 31, he began: “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. … Silence, because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.” Parkinson’s disease strained his voice, but it was clear that the pope’s irrepressible humanity and spiritual strength had once more stood him in good stead.
George Weigel watched the address from NBC’s Jerusalem studios, where he was providing live analysis for the network. As he recalls in Lessons in Hope, his touching and insightful memoir of his time as the pope’s biographer, “Our newsroom felt the impact of those words, spoken with the weight of history bearing down on John Paul and all who heard him: normally a place of bedlam, the newsroom fell completely silent.” The pope, he writes, had “invited the world to look, hard, at the stuff of its redemption.”
Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, published his biography of John Paul in two volumes, Witness to Hope (1999) and The End and the Beginning (2010). His new book completes a John Paul triptych, and it paints a more informal, behind-the-scenes portrait. Readers, Catholic and otherwise, will finish the book feeling almost as though they knew the 264th successor of Peter. Lessons in Hope is also full of clerical gossip. Yet Weigel never loses sight of his main purpose: to illuminate the character and mind of the “emblematic figure of the second half of the twentieth century.”
The book’s most important contribution comes in its restatement of John Paul’s profound political thought at a time when it is sorely needed. Throughout, Weigel reminds us of the pope’s defense of the freedom of conscience; his emphasis on culture as the primary engine of history; and his strong support for democracy and the free economy.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the pope continued to promote these ideas in such encyclicals as Centesimus Annus. The 1991 document reiterated the Church’s opposition to socialist regimes that reduce man to “a molecule within the social organism” and trample his right to earn “a living through his own initiative.” Centesimus Annus also took aim at welfare states for usurping the role of civil society and draining “human energies.” The pope went on to explain the benefits, material and moral, of free enterprise within a democratic, rule-of-law framework.
Yet a libertarian manifesto Centesimus Annus was not. It took note of free societies’ tendency to breed spiritual poverty, materialism, and social incohesion, which in turn could lead to soft totalitarianism. John Paul called on state, civil society, and people of God to supply the “robust public moral culture” (in Weigel’s words) that would curb these excesses and ensure that free-market democracies are ordered to the common good.
When Weigel emerged as America’s preeminent interpreter of John Paul, in the 1980s and ’90s, these ideas were ascendant among Catholic thinkers. In addition to Weigel, proponents included the philosopher Michael Novak and Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine (both now dead). These were faithful Catholics (in Neuhaus’s case, a relatively late convert) nevertheless at peace with the free society, especially the American model. They had many qualms with secular modernity, to be sure. But with them, there was no question that free societies and markets are preferable to unfree ones.
How things have changed. Today all the energy in those Catholic intellectual circles is generated by writers and thinkers who see modernity as beyond redemption and freedom itself as the problem. For them, the main question is no longer how to correct the free society’s course (by shoring up moral foundations, through evangelization, etc.). That ship has sailed or perhaps sunk, according to this view. The challenges now are to protect the Church against progressivism’s blows and to see beyond the free society as a political horizon.
Certainly the trends that worried John Paul in Centesimus Annus have accelerated since the encyclical was issued. “The claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life” has become even more hegemonic than it was in 1991. “Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it” increasingly get treated as ideological lepers. And with the weakening of transcendent truths, ideas are “easily manipulated for reasons of power.”
Thus a once-orthodox believer finds himself or herself compelled to proclaim that there is no biological basis to gender; that men can menstruate and become pregnant; that there are dozens of family forms, all as valuable and deserving of recognition as the conjugal union of a man and a woman; and that speaking of the West’s Judeo-Christian patrimony is tantamount to espousing white supremacy. John Paul’s warnings read like a description of the present.
The new illiberal Catholics—a label many of these thinkers embrace—argue that these developments aren’t a distortion of the idea of the free society but represent its very essence. This is a mistake. Basic to the free society is the freedom of conscience, a principle enshrined in democratic constitutions across the West and, I might add, in the Catholic Church’s post–Vatican II magisterium. Under John Paul, religious liberty became Rome’s watchword in the fight against Communist totalitarianism, and today it is the Church’s best weapon against the encroachments of secular progressivism. The battle is far from lost, moreover. There is pushback in the courts, at the ballot box, and online. Sometimes it takes demagogic forms that should discomfit people of faith. Then again, there is a reason such pushback is called “reaction.”
A bigger challenge for Catholics prepared to part ways with the free society as an ideal is this: What should Christian politics stand for in the 21st century? Setting aside dreams of reuniting throne and altar and similar nostalgia, the most cogent answer offered by Catholic illiberalism is that the Church should be agnostic with respect to regimes. As Harvard’s Adrian Vermeule has recently written, Christians should be ready to jettison all “ultimate allegiances,” including to the Constitution, while allying with any party or regime when necessary.
What at first glance looks like an uncompromising Christian politics—cunning, tactical, and committed to nothing but the interests of the Church—is actually a rather passive vision. For a Christianity that is “radically flexible” in politics is one that doesn’t transform modernity from within. In practice, it could easily look like the Vatican Ostpolitik diplomacy that sought to appease Moscow before John Paul was elected.
Karol Wojtya discarded Ostpolitik as soon as he took the Petrine office. Instead, he preached freedom and democracy—and meant it. Already as archbishop of Krakow under Communism, he had created free spaces where religious and nonreligious dissidents could engage in dialogue. As pope, he expressed genuine admiration for the classically liberal and decidedly secular Vaclav Havel. He hailed the U.S. Constitution as the source of “ordered freedom.” And when, in 1987, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet asked him why he kept fussing about democracy, seeing as “one system of government is as good as another,” the pope responded: No, “the people have a right to their liberties, even if they make mistakes in exercising them.”
The most heroic and politically effective Christian figure of the 20th century, in other words, didn’t follow the path of radical flexibility. His Polish experience had taught him that there are differences between regimes—that some are bound to uphold conscience and human dignity, even if they sometimes fall short of these commitments, while others trample rights by design. The very worst of the latter kind could even whisk one’s boyhood friends away to extermination camps. There could be no radical Christian flexibility after the Holocaust.