Since the 19th century, raison d'état has been powerfully reinforced at the top by a culture of anti-Semitism.
The resounding slogan of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” leaves no room for racism in the French state, in theory. In practice, over the two centuries since that slogan was coined, rulers of France have tried with varying success to fit two peoples—Arabs and Jews—into their grand design for the French nation and for its standing in the world. Today, as long-held but misconceived ambitions collide, racism with its hates and fears increasingly plagues France, calling into question the relationship that the country's Arab and Jewish minorities have with each other, that each has with the state, and that the state has with Arab nations on the one hand and with Israel on the other.
The official position taken toward French Jews goes back to the revolution of 1789. In December of that year, during a debate over granting citizenship to the country's Jewish minority, Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, a liberal aristocrat, declared in the Constituent Assembly: “Everything must be refused to the Jews as a nation, and everything granted to the Jews as individuals.” This idea was soon enshrined in law. Behind it lay the suspicion that Jews had their own brand of nationalism, one that cut across the French nationalism emerging from the revolution. To the French elite, moreover, Jews have consistently seemed to be the conspiratorial tools of others, first of Germany and Russia, then of Britain, and finally, in the 20th century, of Zionists.
What is remarkable is that, in spite of the unregenerate anti-Semitism revealed and unleashed by the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century, in spite even of French participation in the Nazi mass murder of World War II, French Jews have generally accommodated themselves to the state's view of the necessary relation between them, and have been content, at least until recently, to downplay the ethnic element in their own identity as a people. This has, however, been less true of those hailing from French-speaking North Africa, who today make up the majority of the 600,000-strong community. In addition, the return of anti-Semitism during the last few years in France has willynilly raised the ethnic consciousness of even the most assimilated elements of the older community.
On the Muslim and Arab side, although virtually no Muslims lived in France until the 20th century, the French state long regarded its vital interests as tied up in Arab lands. Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 campaign in Egypt and the French invasion of Algeria in 1830 were military adventures undertaken with the express purpose of emulating imperial Britain: England might have India, but France could move into, and ultimately colonize, the Arab world. Moreover, France traditionally claimed the right to protect Catholics and Christianity in the Ottoman empire, and in the Holy Land in particular; in 1843, a French consulate opened in Jerusalem. By the 1850's, Napoleon III and his administration had elaborated the concept of a “Franco-Arab kingdom,” grandiosely expanding this to visualize France itself as “a Muslim power” (une puissance musulmane).
In a gesture aimed at rewarding North African Arabs for their service in World War I, the Great Mosque of Paris was opened in 1926. But large-scale immigration did not begin until after the end of the Algerian war in 1958, when 250,000 so-called “harkis,” Algerians who had opposed the nationalist movement, sought refuge in France. In the 1960's and 1970's, immigrants arrived steadily from each of the newly independent Maghreb countries. Initially they were allowed to come only as guest workers seeking to better themselves and return home, but a change of law in 1974 gave them residence and other rights.
The size of today's community is a matter of contention. A figure of upward of 6 million has long been accepted, but Nicolas Sarkozy, a onetime minister of the interior now aspiring to be president, and the semi-official newspaper Le Monde have both spoken of 5 million, while the demographer Michèle Tribalat has reduced this further to 3.65 million. Muslims tend to congregate in the outskirts of the great cities, where bad housing conditions and a lack of employment generate all the ills and violence of alienation. More than 5,000 mosques serve as community centers; at the national level, there is a representative Muslim institution, the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM). Some of the demands or practices of Islam being incompatible with bedrock republican secularism, embarrassing conflicts have arisen like the one over the right of Muslim girls to wear the hijab in school; it took the French authorities fifteen years to decide that this defied the constitution.
Depending on the figure one accepts, Muslim Arabs outnumber Jews in France by a factor of at least six to one, perhaps by as much as eight to one. As the number of Arabs rises, and as France fails to deliver on its promise of equality and prosperity, the question of their place as a minority has come increasingly to the fore. That question has been made all the more complicated by the fact that, over the decades, Arabs and Jews alike have transformed themselves from passive subjects of history into active agents on the world stage, acquiring new identities and modern nation-states of their own.
For Arabs, one of the most evident signs of self-identity is hostility toward Jews and Israel. In a 2003 collection of essays about Islam in France, the sociologist Barbara Lefèbvre offered typical examples of this prejudice in the younger generation. Addressing a teacher, a boy in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis quotes his father: “There will be a final war between Muslims and Jews, and the Jews will be destroyed; it says so in the Qur'an.” In another Paris district, a teacher overhears Arab children telling Jewish children: “Jewish dogs, we're going to burn Israel, go back to your country.”
Of course, Arab aggression against Jews has been rising everywhere in the last decades. But it is particularly virulent in France, where it has been accompanied by occasional loss of life, street violence against individuals, and bombings of synagogues, restaurants, offices, and shops. For a long time, the authorities maintained that this was mere hooliganism rather than the manifestation of a vengeful jihad. (Many Arab ghettos are outside the law: no-go areas for the police.) But as it became clear that imams were using their mosques to preach anti-Semitism and the hatred of all non-Muslims, the agents of law enforcement at last began to take action. A number of extremists have been deported, and the police have been able to foil and arrest terrorists coming from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco.
But this is to raise a much larger issue—namely, the differential attitude of the French elite toward Arabs and Jews. Much has been written about the role of European academics, intellectuals, and journalists in excusing, justifying, or sympathizing with Muslim anti-Semitism. But no less pertinent, and arguably more so, is the role of policy-makers. Ideas and attitudes work downward from the political elite that conceives them to the people who have to live with the consequences.
The French foreign ministry, generally referred to as the Quai d'Orsay, is the institution above all others in France that has been responsible for realizing the state's grand design and the political outcome that has followed from it. The archives of that institution, along with the testimony of generations of diplomats writing in their memoirs, show how a small number of highly motivated and carefully selected men have fostered preconceptions of Arabs and Jews that have now come to threaten the integrity of the French nation.
The Quai d'Orsay
Situated next to the National Assembly on the left bank of the Seine, the Quai d'Orsay occupies a splendid building in the opulent style of 19th-century Paris. Here, both the site and the architecture declare, is where the nation's fate is shaped, by men of exceptional intelligence. Many of these men have had literary as well as diplomatic gifts: a huge body of memoirs harks back with nostalgia to the enduring club-like atmosphere of the place, symbolized in the tea ceremony at five o'clock where the Quai d'Orsay in its heyday used to gather and consolidate its collective thoughts.
Recurrent governmental instability has reinforced the importance of the Quai d'Orsay. Between September 1870 and August 1914, for example, there were no fewer than 30 foreign ministers of France; the pace of turnover was just as turbulent during the Fourth Republic (1949-59), improving only in today's Fifth. Although a few foreign ministers have been able to impose their own policy objectives, the majority have come and gone with bewildering rapidity and to little effect. Prime ministers have further devalued the position by often reserving it for themselves. In sum, foreign ministers have had to rely disproportionately on their permanent civil servants: not only their private staffs but the secretary-general of the Quai d'Orsay, also referred to as the political director, and the heads of its various departments.
From the start, the ministry was staffed by self-selected members of the aristocracy. Competitive examinations were introduced in 1894, but this and other reforms mainly served to perpetuate the ministry's sense of itself, handed down by the old to the young. In successive generations, the Cambons, Herbettes, Margeries, François-Poncets, and Courcels became nothing less than dynasties. In The French Foreign Office and the Origins of the First World War, 1898-1914 (1993), H. B. Haynes writes that entry to the Quai d'Orsay was determined by “nepotism, patronage, and political persuasion [that was] Catholic and hostile to Jews and Protestants and the parliamentary system.”
Indeed. A document in the archives from October 1893 reveals that “an Israelite” by the name of Paul Frédéric-Jean Grunebaum had applied to the personnel office of the Quai d'Orsay and wished to know “if this fact [was] of a kind to forbid him access to a diplomatic or consular career.” The margin carries a note from Louis Herbette, secretary general at the time: “I saw M. Grunebaum, who spontaneously withdrew his request. . . . He bowed with good grace to the motives dictating the department's decision.”
By the 1920's, the diplomatic service was open to Jews, but they would have needed thick skins to survive. As J.-B. Barbier, who joined the Quai d'Orsay in 1904, commented in his memoirs, “the career had no Jews among its members, at least as far as the important governing levels were concerned.”1 And this was a matter of some gratification since Jews, Barbier held, belonged to an “often parasitical ethnic element,” and the way some of them had managed to penetrate the service was “disastrous.” Against one of them, Jean Marx, the head of overseas cultural programs, Barbier would wage a passionate campaign as the epitome of the “anti-national Jew” who, duly backed by “International Jewry,” had recruited unreliable and even traitorous people of his own kind.
Jews in the Mind of the Quai d'Orsay
The historical record displays evidence of unremitting hostility to Jews, decade after decade.
In 1840, a rumor spread in Damascus that an Italian Capuchin friar and his Arab servant had disappeared. The French consul in the city, Comte Ulysse de Ratti-Menton, immediately accused the Jewish community of ritual murder, and persuaded the Ottoman governor to arrest Jewish notables and hold Jewish children hostage. Some of the notables died under torture; others were forcibly converted to Islam.
The scandal rocked Europe, but Ratti-Menton was unrepentant and the Quai d'Orsay defended him. In the National Assembly, Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers complained that Jews were “besieging all the chancelleries with their petitions.” When Arab media today depict ritual murder as a fact of Jewish life, they are retailing, whether they know it or not, lessons learned from French teachers long ago.
But the seminal event of the 19th century was the 1890's trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer falsely accused of betraying military secrets to the Germans. The conspiracy to prove Dreyfus guilty of treason was hatched in the ministry of war; the Quai d'Orsay stayed at a watchful distance. But when the guilty verdict was declared in December 1894, and partisans of Dreyfus's innocence refused to let the injustice stand, a number of ambassadors could be heard lamenting the damage to France that the case was doing. The brilliant but slippery Maurice Paléologue represented the foreign ministry in 1899 at Dreyfus's successful appeal. He saw the documents, met the officers who had forged the incriminating evidence, looked hard at Dreyfus's face as the reprieve was about to be announced, and thought he could detect there a perduring Jewish trait: “an immense pride beneath a mask of humility.” Fortunately, he would confide in a letter to a colleague, he himself was immune as a diplomat from prosecution.
Few men left a greater mark on the Quai d'Orsay than Paul Cambon, born in 1843, and his brother Jules, two years younger. Both were powerful personalities. Paul, ambassador in London for 22 years, was a principal architect of the Entente Cordiale with Britain. Jules served in Washington. Both were also involved with Arab affairs, Paul as resident in Tunisia, Jules as governor-general of Algeria. Paul believed that Dreyfus, as a Jew, was a traitor by definition, and appears to have changed his mind only once the appeal process had started; his brother Jules, in common with many other colleagues in the diplomatic service, persisted in thinking Dreyfus guilty to the end. To one of those colleagues (Auguste Gérard), the anti-Dreyfus forces were the “natural defenders” of the nation, the “true representatives of France and its genius.”
Pogroms in czarist Russia were occurring at the same time as the Dreyfus trial in France. A. Bompard, ambassador in Saint Petersburg from 1902 to 1908 and a man much esteemed at the Quai d'Orsay, wrote in an August 1903 report: “I pass over in silence anti-Jewish disturbances such as those in Kishinev because they are, so to speak, on the rebound from agrarian disturbances. The Jewish population . . . is a nursery of nihilists and agitators.” A year later, writing to Foreign Minister Théophile Delcassé, he compared the Finns, “wise and calm,” to the Jews, “detested but [economically] indispensable at the same time, themselves full of hatred as they hold the people to ransom and undermine authority.”
In due course Paléologue succeeded Bompard at Saint Petersburg. Czarist policy toward the Jews, he asserted, seemed devised to sustain
their hereditary defects and their bad passions, to exasperate their hatred for goyim, to plunge them deeper into their talmudic prejudices, to affirm them in their state of permanent inner rebellion, to bring the indestructible hope of promised reparations shining in their eyes. . . . [T]he vengeful and vindictive stubbornness of the Jews could not have found a more favorable climate.
In 1915, as World War I raged, he sent a laconic telegram: “Since the beginning of the war, Russian Jews have not had to submit to any collective violence. . . . In the zone of operations a few hundred Jews have been hanged for espionage: nothing more.”
The Catholic Factor
In the late 19th century, the French built up their position simultaneously in North Africa and in the Ottoman provinces comprising Syria, Lebanon, and the Holy Land. In the latter case, the process was slow and piecemeal, often promoted by pious and wealthy individuals. Comte Paul de Piellat, for instance, settled in Jerusalem, purchasing real estate and bequeathing it to the Catholic Church. The French had hospitals in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Nablus, as well as monasteries and seminaries and several churches; they also owned and operated the Jerusalem-Jaffa railway.
In 1888 the Vatican decreed that Catholics and Catholic institutions in the Levant should henceforth look for protection exclusively to France. Prime Minister Jules Ferry, most imperial of French politicians, held that “this protectorate of Christians in the Orient is in some sense part of our Mediterranean domain.” Aspiring to counteract the British, who were then consolidating their hold on Egypt, Foreign Minister Gabriel Hanotaux believed that, through its Catholic protectorate, France was now the only European power “capable of acting without fatal contention but side by side with Muslim monotheism.”
Treaties in 1901 with the Turkish sultan and in 1913 with the Young Turks protected France's privileged position in the Holy Land, then still under Ottoman dominion. A Comité de l'Asie Française was founded in 1901; eight years later, a second committee was formed to develop “our moral, economic, and political standing in the Orient.” These appeared to be building blocks toward the goal of becoming a true “puissance musulmane.”
The anti-clericalism of the French Left, and France's eventual break with the Vatican, cut right across any such sweeping Catholic ambitions. Soon, too, Germany, Italy, and Russia would challenge France's position, expanding the institutions belonging to their own respective religions. Kaiser Wilhelm's visit to the Holy Land in 1898 represented one such open challenge.
Zionism vs. French Ambitions
The rise of political Zionism promised to bestow a modern national identity on the Jews, one that would altogether overturn the French state's preferred definition of who they were. French diplomats in central and eastern Europe, where the most ardent Zionists could be found, were quick to register dismay and to search for the causes, open or occult, of this disturbing new development. Writing from Bucharest in June 1902, L. Descoy regretted the “extreme enthusiasm” of that city's Jewish community at the arrival of Bernard Lazare, a gifted French Jewish polemicist and early Zionist, suggesting that it had been whipped up by a newspaper “whose leading editors are Israelites.” In Budapest, Vicomte de Fontenay, in charge of the consulate, reported in August 1906 that, for the Magyar population, the advent of Zionism was “a new cloud” on the horizon, one likely to grow “worse with time.” In February 1912, Max Chouttier, consul in Salonika, relayed warnings against Zionism in the official local press, expressing the hope that these warnings would “give the Jewish communities pause for thought and encourage them to oppose Germano-Zionist propaganda.”
G. Deville, minister in Athens, commented adversely on the role in Salonika of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the school system set up by French Jews to promote Jewish education and culture in the Middle East. To Deville, the Alliance was screening its true ambitions; its Parisian director “might be a good Frenchman, but those of his religion in Salonika think only of serving themselves and not of serving France. . . . In these circumstances, is it to our benefit to upset the Greeks in order to flatter Jewish pride?” In Le Mirage Oriental (1910), Louis Bertrand, another polished writer-diplomat, wrote of the “displeasing” Jews he had met in Ottoman Palestine, with “their hybrid clothes, half European, half Oriental, dirty, with glowering looks . . . hordes crazed with poverty and mysticism.”
In the Holy Land itself, Zionism had implications far greater than it did in Europe: by definition, it represented a rival to French expansionism and France's Catholic protectorate. The spontaneous reaction was twofold—to heap contempt on Jewish nationalism and to sponsor Arab nationalism in opposition to it.
Najib Azoury, a Maronite Christian from Beirut who had once been employed in the Ottoman bureaucracy in Jerusalem but now lived in Paris, published a booklet, Le Réveil de la nation arabe, predicting that Jews and Arabs were destined to fight until one eliminated the other. The Quai d'Orsay apparently subsidized a journal, L'Indépendence arabe, that this unsavory character began to put out in 1907, and paid for a meeting in Paris in June 1913 at which 23 Arabs from Syria and the Holy Land effectively launched the Arab nationalist movement.
After world war I, two highly restricted groups of specialists in the Quai d'Orsay handled the redrawing of the map of the Middle East in the wake of the demise of the Ottoman empire. The personnel overlapped, and were of a single mind: France already controlled the Arab western shores of the Mediterranean, and now could add the eastern ones, what these experts referred to as la Syrie intégrale or Greater Syria (that is, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine). The question before them was how to turn both Arab nationalism and Zionism to their purposes.
The background was as follows. François Georges-Picot had been counselor at the wartime French embassy in London. In secret negotiations in 1916 with Sir Mark Sykes, a Conservative member of Parliament, he reached what he believed was an agreement granting France possession of la Syrie intégrale after the war. The Germans, it was suspected, were about to issue a proclamation of support for Zionism, and this could swing Russian Jews to their side, with ominous consequences for the outcome of the war; American Jews were thought to exercise a comparable influence on their country's policy. Therefore, according to André Tardieu, the French high commissioner in the U.S. and a future prime minister, the right of Jews to self-determination should be taken into consideration, lest “certain elements in American Jewry” lose interest in helping to recover Alsace and Lorraine for France.
Others similarly saw the Jews as holding France's postwar fate in their hands. On May 7, 1917 Jean Gout, head of the Asian section of the foreign ministry with responsibility for the Ottoman provinces, sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau:
The millenarian hopes of the Jews, especially the proletarians of Poland and Russia, are not socialistic as their social standing might suggest, nor national as the declarations of their intellectuals pretend, but they are essentially talmudic, that is to say religious. These poor devils have been nurtured on myths of misery which gives them a glimpse of Jerusalem as the end of their ills. . . . Even intelligent and educated Jews who have come to the top in countries with equal opportunities cherish for generations in a corner of their heart the dream of the old ghettos. Thanks to their wealth and the links they preserve among themselves, and the pressure they exert on ignorant governments, they represent an international weight.
An earlier proposal, to help create a small autonomous Jewish state with Hebron as its capital and Gaza as its port, had prompted Jules Cambon to comment bitingly that the Jews there could “grow oranges and exploit each other.” But since the powers were all bidding for Jewish favor, the French could, too; in June 1917, Cambon wrote a letter assuring the Zionist leadership of French support “in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so long ago.” This letter was no sooner sent than regretted, as the Quai d'Orsay rapidly returned to circulating anti-Zionist memoranda and bombarding the British with demands to abstain from any action that might raise unrealizable Jewish hopes.
That November, Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, issued the declaration bearing his name. It was far more supportive of Zionism than Cambon's letter. The British government, Balfour wrote, was in favor of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. With 150,000 soldiers fighting the Turks to France's 800, the British were able to propose and dispose. On Christmas day 1917, Field Marshal Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem with Georges-Picot in his entourage. At a picnic, the latter suggested setting up the civil administration he thought he had negotiated with Sykes. Also present was Lawrence of Arabia, and his description of Allenby's scornful response is one of the more famous passages in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
In December, a French diplomat in the embassy in London reported that, although wealthy English Jews were hostile to the Balfour Declaration, the enthusiastic view of poor and immigrant Jews was that “the Israelite race was superior to all others; it possessed colonies in all the countries and one day it shall dominate the world.” An unsigned position paper from around the same time suggested that Zionists, who drew their strength from the mysticism of Russian-Polish Jewry, were trying to spread their nefarious ideas to Jews in Algeria and Morocco, thereby seeking “to exploit great-power rivalry.” The author had some classic advice: “Our Jewish policy in North Africa is necessarily linked to our Muslim policy. We have to avoid Jewish nationalism, as also pan-Islamism or pan-Arabism, by favoring a slow and careful evolution in the direction of our civilisation.”
On January 15, 1919, Foreign Minister Stephen Pichon instructed Paul Cambon to alert the British government to the Zionist danger, lest it become a cause for international trouble in the Middle East. “The Zionists must understand once and for all that there can be no question of constituting an independent Jewish state in Palestine, or even forming some sovereign Jewish body.” Three days later Cambon reported back. He could hardly believe the conversation he had just had with Balfour. In his usual dilettantish manner (Cambon wrote), Balfour had said that “it would be interesting to be present at the reconstitution of the [ancient] Kingdom of Jerusalem.” When Cambon protested that, according to the New Testament book of Revelation, such an event would signal the end of the world, Balfour rejoined: “It would be still more interesting to be present at the end of the world.”
Between the Wars
The postwar treaty of peace signed at Sèvres settled the disposition of the former Ottoman provinces. France was to have a mandate for Syria, but not for Greater Syria: Palestine would be incorporated into a British mandate. Since the British at least were Christian (where the Ottomans had been Muslim), France duly renounced the letter of its Catholic protectorate. But not the spirit: as a Catholic paper, L'Oeuvre d'Orient, editorialized, “It is inadmissible that the ‘Country of Christ’ should become the prey of Jewry and of Anglo-Saxon heresy. It must remain the inviolable inheritance of France and the Church.” The Quai d'Orsay never ceased to play one side off against the other, at every level.
In October 1919, General Henri Gouraud arrived in Damascus to take up his appointment as French high commissioner and to scatter the minuscule number of Arab nationalists who sought to resist the French mandate. Meanwhile, Georges-Picot was alerting the Quai d'Orsay that British authorities in Jerusalem were finally becoming aware of growing Muslim restiveness, something that “could only be to the profit of our influence.” During the first six months of 1920, Gouraud bombarded his superiors with anti-Zionist telegrams. Both Muslims and Christians, he wrote, were expecting conditions in Palestine to be worse under the British than under the Turks. Suggesting the need for a renewed Catholic protectorate, he thought the French “should take advantage of circumstances to enlarge the scope of this protectorate to include the Muslims whom we cannot leave alone and unarmed to face Zionism.” A February 1920 dispatch states outright that Palestine would benefit from the guardianship of France.
Since the exact boundary between the French and British mandates remained uncertain, Gouraud's personal secretary, Robert de Caix, was dispatched to Jerusalem to discuss the issue with Sir Herbert Samuel, the British high commissioner. One historian, Peter A. Shambrook, has described de Caix as “the eminence grise at the Quai d'Orsay on the Levant question.” In a preliminary letter dated October 19, 1920, de Caix confirmed what was already political orthodoxy in his circle: the British and the Jews were conspiring together against French interests. From the outset he felt personally slighted because he had been “received in a rather mediocre way.” Samuel, he explained,
represents in Palestine what it is appropriate to call Anglo-Jewish policy. This well-mannered English Jew, scraped clean of the ghetto, has been completely taken up in Jerusalem by his tribe, and he attends synagogue, accepts no invitations on the Sabbath, and on holy days goes only on foot. It is a strange phenomenon when one reflects on the evident ignominy of Jews from Galicia and other surrounding regions who are now flooding Palestine but who draft people like Sir Herbert into their buffoonery. Before doing anything worthwhile in the country, these people dream of spreading at our expense, and you may be sure that the complete Jewry of both hemispheres will apply a policy consisting of rejecting our frontier.
In a lengthy final report, de Caix mentioned another personal insult: Samuel had declined an invitation to dine at the French consulate on the Sabbath. British policy, de Caix elaborated, may have been intended to exploit Jewish strength against France, but was in fact being exploited by it. Jews had infiltrated the local administration, and British officials were either lying low or leaving the country in disgust. As for the Jews, their religion was only a means to an end—“passionate nationalism and a thirst for revenge.” They would prove, he continued, harmful neighbors:
The frequent revolutionary and prophetic spirit of the Jews derives from the Bolshevism of the colonists whom Eastern Europe is sending to Palestine. Through conviction, and also through their instinctive tendency to fragment societies whose cohesion might stand in the way of their expansion, these people will . . . try to break the traditional framework of religious confessions [in Lebanon and Syria] that are already threatened for other reasons.
British rule in Palestine, de Caix concluded, amounted to a kind of despoiling. It had been allowed to occur only because the French had sacrificed themselves for the Allied cause on the Western front. But the French language and French intellectual influence were and ought to have remained paramount in the Holy Land. After all, the principal door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed “in the solid and massive ogival style born in the 12th century in the Ile de France.” He ended with the consoling thought that the future of Zionism remained doubtful: more than any other people, the Jews had lost the habit of agriculture, and their settlement of the land was artificial, expensive, and divisive. “If under the British mandate the native [Arab] peoples have a tendency to react, there is every chance that they will try to maintain, as indeed they do in Egypt, the French culture, which retains such attraction.”
On November 3, General Gouraud seconded the conclusions of de Caix's “remarkable report,” adding his opinion that Zionism was a threat to Syria as well. The loss of the Catholic protectorate made the care of French institutions more essential than ever. Twelve days later, Georges-Picot in a telegram from Beirut informed the ministry that British authorities in Jerusalem were taking precautions against riots and warning Muslims that they would be held responsible for any disorder. “This [British] attitude can only benefit our influence, as irritation with Zionism is only growing among . . . Muslims.” French consuls in mandatory Palestine became increasingly alarmist: Durieux in Haifa reported that the British were recruiting unemployed Jews as the core of a future Jewish army, and that Jewish and Protestant elements were attempting to cut the ground out from under the Catholics (that is, France). In May 1921, after riots in Jaffa, Durieux could at least write in relief that “our car was borne in triumph by the population crying ‘long live France, down with the Jews.’ ”
De Caix's interpretation of Zionism would have a lasting impact at the Quai d'Orsay. From the French protectorate of Morocco, Marshal Hubert Lyautey, perhaps the most respected spokesman for old-style French imperialism, reiterated in June 1923 that Zionism lacked any internal authenticity; at the same time, he advised extreme caution lest this doctrine, which had “received its directives from abroad, [and] served principally the interests of a determined power,” be imported into Morocco.
Seeking to show who the Jews really were, an unsigned report dated December 2, 1925 drew attention to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Although this work, purporting to show evidence of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, had already by then been exposed as a czarist forgery, the author gives credence to its “facts” and concludes that, if the matter is to be taken seriously, “we have to deal with a really diabolical plan.” That same year, the French ambassador in Warsaw reported that a local Zionist conference constituted an appeal for special privileges by Jews unwilling to accept any idea of Polish nationality, or even of simple loyalty. Covering another Zionist congress in Cracow ten years later, the succeeding ambassador to Poland adapted this same critique to the changing tenor of the times: “Basing themselves on conceptions that are more racial than religious, they aspire to set up on both banks of the Jordan a Jewish state conceived on the fascist model.” This ambassador appears to have been among the first to draw a comparison between Zionism and Nazism, likening the Revisionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky to Hitler.
To be sure, one does find an occasional official disposed to a favorable view of Zionism, usually on the basis of first-hand experience. One such was Henry de Jouvenel, Gouraud's successor as high commissioner in Syria. He visited Jerusalem in 1926 and later wrote: “Anti-Zionist when I arrived in the East, I became Zionist, or rather jealous of the British high commissioner in Palestine and all that the Zionists contribute.” Naturally, he added, France was obliged to support Christians, but the Jews were models of self-help, and their spirit of enterprise was admirable.
There were also realists like Philippe Berthelot, secretary general from 1920 to 1933, who commented that “Zionism is a fact” and regretted only that the Jews of England had understood the point of the movement while French Jews had proved unable to take “the lead of world Jewry to the benefit of France.” At Berthelot's instigation, the Quai d'Orsay set up a special department for religious affairs under Louis Canet, which soon became, in the words of one historian, an obligatory antechamber for visiting Zionist leaders. After a meeting with Chaim Weizmann in May 1927, Canet concluded a memorandum with a clear expression of his own inner thoughts: “Jewish nationalism is a mistake and Israel [i.e., Jews] can find peace only through assimilation.”
Throughout the interwar period, many of the Quai d'Orsay's leading lights were extremely capable men. Yet they and the politicians whom they served sought the shelter of the status quo, even though this meant appeasing the powerful and the vicious at the expense of the weak. All of a kind, they were conditioned to the task by background and temperament. Nor were their ranks enlarged or made more diverse. Candidates groomed in the select higher schools were examined in history, international and civil law, and economic geography, then vetted by a committee of four senior diplomats to ensure that they were socially and culturally presentable.
Here, in short, was a prime example of a French institution unable to take the measure of the age of the dictators. As the Nazi threat grew, and as Jews tried to escape from Europe to Palestine, French authorities feared violence in Muslim countries under French rule. And so, from March 1933 on, Jewish “travelers” were allowed to enter Syria only on condition that they had obtained immigration visas to Palestine from a British consulate abroad. Henri Gaillard, consul in Cairo, condemned the Jews of Egypt for “complaining without limit about the fate of those [in Europe] who share their religion.” In doing so, he grumbled, “they have succeeded in creating a strong current of Arab opinion against themselves in this country, where until now their position was completely privileged.” Gaston Bernard, consul in Trieste, reporting that his city was profiting from the traffic of Jewish emigrants on their way to Palestine, complained nevertheless that, on Lloyd Triestino steamships, “care has been carried to the extreme of ensuring that the emigrants have services of the talmudic cult and the exclusive use of kosher cuisine: and this, it has to be said, communicates a sui generis odor to these ships which customers of a normal composition no doubt appreciate less highly.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hitler's invasion of Austria in March 1938, the United States invited 28 European and Latin American governments to a conference at Evian to discuss how to facilitate the emigration of political refugees. By tacit agreement, and ostensibly for fear of stoking anti-Semitism, there was no open reference to Jews. Nothing of substance was agreed upon at the conference, which has been called “the Jewish Munich.” In the judgment of one authority, the historian Catherine Nicault, “the absolute lack of generosity in French policy was less striking [at Evian] than the indifference toward even keeping up any appearance of it”; she also notes outright and frequent anti-Semitic pronouncements on the part of French officials.
After the collapse of France in June 1940, Marshal Pétain agreed to an armistice with Hitler and then formed his Vichy government with the intention of collaborating with Nazi Germany. That October, without any prompting from Berlin, Vichy passed the Statut des Juifs, its version of Germany's Nuremberg laws, excluding Jews from whole areas of public life. Jacques Guérard, director of the office of Foreign Minister Paul Baudoin, telegraphed the French ambassador in Washington with instructions for allaying any disquiet in American public opinion. The prewar Left, he asserted in contravention of the facts, had allowed Jews to enter France in the hundreds of thousands, and these Jews, with “their special mentality,” had attacked “all the ideas from which the French had never wavered.” Again in contravention of the facts, since dispossession and arrest were already the order of the day, Guérard stated flagrantly that “no measure has been taken against individuals or property.” The sole purpose of the statute, he concluded, was “to allow the peaceful existence in France of elements whose racial characteristics make them dangerous when they mix too intimately with our political and administrative life.”
Collaboration with the Nazis was incompatible with any genuine foreign policy. Ambassadors in important capitals resigned, as did officials in the Vichy zone, some escaping into Spain and then onward to Algiers or London. A list of personnel at the Quai d'Orsay in February 1943 names the secretary general, Charles Rochat, along with a tiny handful of men under him. Asked later why he himself did not resign, Rochat answered that he was maintaining “the continuous affirmation of French sovereignty.” This was of course illusory: the Quai d'Orsay had virtually ceased to function.
Writers Take Sides
In his years as secretary general (1920-21, 1925-32), Philippe Berthelot set a special tone to which many of those who served with him would pay tribute in print. The son of a celebrated industrial chemist, Berthelot had supreme self-confidence and dedication, wide social connections, and genuine literary tastes. His wife, Hélène, conducted a fashionable salon. Under his sponsorship and protection, Paul Morand, Paul Claudel, Jean Giraudoux, and other writers employed at the Quai d'Orsay were given time and a sense of security, enabling them to build international literary reputations. It was as if they were members of an elite club rather than an institution of government. Berthelot's successor as secretary general, Alexis Saint-Léger, an elusive personality from the French West Indies, was a poet who under the pseudonym of Saint-John Perse would win the Nobel Prize. Taken together, these men perpetuated the image of the Quai d'Orsay as the repository of culture and brilliance.
Paul Morand grew up in an artistic milieu. He entered the Quai d'Orsay in 1913 at the age of twenty-five. Among his early writings was Mort d'un Juif (“Death of a Jew”), a short story in which a Jew on his death bed refuses to pay his doctor until the rate of exchange has improved. In a second piece of fiction, Mort d'un autre Juif (“Death of Another Jew”), the mortally wounded victim of a pogrom feels that he has been “faithful to the truth under the mask of eternal treason.” Alexis Saint-Léger wrote to Morand, “You have a prodigious gift.” Berthelot expected great things of him.
Morand used his status as a diplomat to travel in style all over the world. In 192 7 he married the divorced wife of Prince Dimitry Soutzo, the Romanian military attaché in Paris, and the couple settled smoothly into the beau monde. His many books display a cosmopolitan superiority verging on flippancy, and resorting time and again to malicious descriptions of Jews. In New York (1930), for example, he writes of Jewish intellectuals as “preachers, self-immolators, socialists, anarchists, Bolsheviks, Communists, and others ‘ists’ perpetually quarrelling and cursing each other,” altogether “giving a rather exact idea of what Jerusalem must have been.” The Lower East Side prompts this reaction: “Grilled and salted almonds are sold by peddlers whose frozen hooked noses stick out of moth-eaten fur caps brought over from Russia by their ancestors.” Morand claimed that his novel France La Doulce (“Sweet France,” 1934) was satire; although he was no Céline calling outright for the massacre of Jews, the book, whose theme is that Jews control the movie industry and that their sole objective is money-grubbing and the debauchery of public taste, has a central place in the anti-Semitic literature of the period.
In 1940 Morand was in London at the head of an economic warfare mission. Like all but a handful of the 800 French officials in Britain at the collapse of France, he rejected Charles de Gaulle's appeal to join the Free French and instead returned home. In Vichy he was made president of the Commission for Film Censorship. In 1943, Morand took up an appointment as French ambassador in Bucharest, and for a few weeks before the end of Vichy served as ambassador in Berne, where he and his wife judged it prudent to remain as long as there was any chance of recrimination at home. In 1958, de Gaulle, then president of France, vetoed Morand's election to the Académie Française, only to consent to it ten years later. By then such reversals had become standard practice in France, in this case serving to sugarcoat Morand's embrace of fascism as just another aspect of his inveterate dandyism.
Jean Giraudoux was among Morand's closest friends and colleagues. He knew England and America well, and spoke English fluently. An aesthete, he wrote in a style elegant and subtle, suffused with irony. He too littered his work with aspersions against the Jews. In an autobiographical book published in 1939, he stated that “we are in complete agreement with Hitler in proclaiming that [national] policy attains its superior form only when it is racial.” As for Jews, he had been taken to meet a family from Eastern Europe and found them “black and inert, like leeches in a jar.” “The Jews,” he wrote, “sully, corrupt, rot, corrode, debase, devalue everything they touch.” On the eve of war, he was appointed to run the Commission for Information, supposedly as a counter to the propaganda ministry run by Goebbels in Nazi Germany but in fact complementing the latter's racial opinions. In Paris throughout the occupation, Giraudoux mingled socially with German officials and collaborators; a play of his was staged there in 1943. His death early the following year saved him from being brought to account.
Paul Claudel (1868-1955) combined a diplomatic career with the pursuit of literature. A high Catholic and a political conservative, very much a man of the world, he seemed a contemporary standard-bearer of the values and tradition of pre-Revolutionary France. Saint Louis and Joan of Arc, whom he constantly invoked, were living symbols for him. When W.H. Auden wrote that “time . . . will pardon Paul Claudel,/Pardons him for writing well,” he was expressing the view of his generation that in spite of his obvious limitations, Claudel was a literary star of the first rank, a French Yeats or Eliot.
Claudel's father and sister, he later acknowledged, had been admirers of the notorious anti-Semitic polemicist Edouard Drumont, and during the Dreyfus affair he himself had not been “on the right side.” His first foreign posting, in 1893, was as French consul in New York. Soon afterward he was sent for six years to China. As late as 1910, by which time Dreyfus had been rehabilitated, Claudel was writing to his fellow Catholic Charles Péguy, a militant for the faith but a Dreyfusard, “I have difficulty understanding how you can deny the role of Jewry in this affair. I have lived in all the countries of the world, and everywhere I have seen the newspapers and public opinion in the hands of the Jews. I was in Jerusalem in December 1899 and at the moment of the second condemnation [of Dreyfus] I saw the rage of those lice with a human face who live in Palestine on the razzias [desert raids] which their kith and kin operate against Christianity.”
In the early years of the 20th century, Claudel began portraying Jewish characters for literary effect. Ali Habenichts and Sichel are the names he gives to a Jewish father and daughter in a trilogy of plays. Money-making, the drive to assimilate, and the absence of any patriotism are their distinguishing traits. Claudel has Sichel say: “For us Jews, there's no little scrap of earth so large as a gold coin.”
In the 20's Claudel was ambassador in Tokyo and then Washington (where he received Morand). But his outlook seems to have evolved somewhat when one of his sons married the daughter of Paul-Louis Weiller, a prominent French Jew who was the managing director of a leading manufacturer of aircraft engines. In 1935, Weiller appointed Claudel to the board of this company, paying him a large salary; perhaps fortuitously, Claudel then wrote an open letter to the World Jewish Congress objecting to the Nuremberg race laws as “abominable and stupid legislation directed against those of your religion in Germany.”
Apparently his new mood was variable. The demise of the Third Republic's parliamentary regime in June 1940 enthused Claudel. After 60 years, he wrote in his diary, France had finally been delivered “from the yoke of the radical and anti-clerical party (professors, lawyers, Jews, freemasons).” The replacement of democracy by an authoritarian system based on Catholic values had long been his ideal. He knew Marshal Pétain, who had voted for his election to the Academy in 1935. On the other hand, he disapproved of unqualified collaboration with Germany as was recommended by some Catholics. Already in his early seventies by now, Claudel retired to his country house in the non-occupied zone.
On October 6, 1940, Paul-Louis Weiller was arrested on trumped-up charges. Claudel went to Vichy to intercede for him, but to no effect. Soon afterward, Weiller's French citizenship was revoked, and his property was confiscated; released from prison, he managed to escape to New York. On December 27, Claudel published an ode to Pétain, presenting him as the national savior and an almost saintly figure. To an interviewer after the war, he would explain his enthusiasm for Pétain with the phrase, “He took me in.”
Be that as it may, on December 24, 1941, Claudel wrote to the chief rabbi of France, expressing “the disgust, horror, and indignation that all decent Frenchmen and especially Catholics feel in respect of the injustices, the despoiling, all the ill treatment of which our Jewish compatriots are now the victims.” Catholics, he concluded, could never forget that “Israel is always the eldest son of the promise [of God], as it is today the eldest son of suffering.” The rank of “Ambassadeur de France” after his signature added to this act of civil courage. When the letter was published, the Vichy authorities, who suspected Claudel of having facilitated Weiller's flight abroad, duly searched his house and kept him under observation. In September 1944, in keeping with the twists and turns of that tormented period, Claudel published an ode to de Gaulle, as embarrassing in its high-flown obsequiousness as his earlier ode to Pétain.
Claudel was one of the earliest to understand that the Holocaust was an event like no other, a stain forever on Christian Europe. But he also thought there might be something “providential” about it, a “redeeming effectiveness.” For the remainder of his life, he pondered in his visionary manner on “the mystery of Israel” and its “vocation.” His support of the state of Israel was genuine, however, and marked a complete reversal of the animus against “lice with a human face” that had once possessed him. Still, the place of the Jews in the modern world remained, for him, in question. Jews were a people apart but also “ecumenical,” possessors of the Holy Land not through any historic link or right but as ambassadors of humanity, with “a message addressed to man as he emerged pure from the hands of his Creator.” Even for someone trying sincerely to come to grips with the meaning of the events of his time, Jews were evidently not to be seen as human beings like any other but as agents of other purposes, now lower, now higher.
The Rescue of the Mufti
“We hate France—it is the enemy of Islam and religion because it is governed by atheists and Jews.” Thus spoke one Arab nationalist propagandist among many on Mussolini's Radio Rome in 1938. Along similar lines, a tract distributed throughout North Africa contained the words: “The Jew feeds on you [Arabs] as vermin feed on sheep; France protects him; he is the agent of France, the tool of France. Germany is arresting and persecuting Jews and confiscating their possessions. If you weren't the slaves of France, you could do the same.”
The collapse of France in 1940 and its subsequent occupation by Germany exhausted the country's moral and political authority as an imperial power. Although, as leader of the Free French, General de Gaulle would make a speech promising independence to French colonies and mandates in the Middle East, this was a promise he evidently had no intention of keeping any time soon. Nevertheless, Arab nationalists in North Africa and the Levant saw themselves as having been invited to rebel and seize power.
On May 8, 1945, the day marking Allied victory in Europe, Algerians rioted in the provincial town of Setif. Over 100 French people were killed, and as many injured. In the reprisals that followed, at least 6,000 Algerians died. At the same time, law and order broke down in Syria and Lebanon. Over 400 Syrians were killed, and the parliament in Damascus was destroyed. British forces temporarily stationed in Syria and Lebanon as a result of the war ordered the much weaker French units back to their barracks, in effect negating French rule and handing independence to both countries. In the National Assembly, the French foreign minister Georges Bidault warned the British with a Latin tag: “Hodie mihi, crastibi”—today me, tomorrow you.
That same May, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the notorious mufti of Jerusalem, along with his staff of some sixteen aides and the officer assigned to him by the Nazi Gestapo, left what had been German-occupied Silesia and fled to Switzerland. Denied asylum there, he and his entourage found themselves in the hands of the French authorities.
Haj Amin had been responsible for rejecting any notion of partitioning Palestine between Arabs and Jews, and for precipitating the Arab revolt of 1936 in which many British personnel as well as Jews and Arabs had been killed. With French connivance, he had escaped in 1938 to Lebanon, going on to participate in the 1941 anti-British coup in Iraq before finally fleeing to Berlin. Wartime photographs show him in his clerical robes and turban in the company of Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Eichmann, both privately and at public occasions, including a tour of Auschwitz. After the Allies invaded North Africa in November 1942 and the Germans took over Vichy France, Haj Amin urged Hitler to exploit the local populations of both places in order to break “the Judeo-Anglo-Saxon stranglehold.” He also recruited a Bosnian Muslim division for the SS, an act for which the Americans, the British, and the Yugoslavs wanted him extradited as a war criminal.
On May 11, 1945, the ministry of the interior briefed the Quai d'Orsay that Haj Amin was considered “the brains of German espionage in all Muslim countries.” The next day, the French embassy in Cairo confirmed what was to become policy. “The mufti has certainly betrayed the Allied cause,” the telegram ran. “But he has above all betrayed Britain without affecting us directly. Seemingly, therefore, nothing obliges us to undertake any action in his regard that could harm us in the Arab countries.” The main point was that Haj Amin held the future of Palestine in his hands at a time when “the problem of Palestine remains open.”
On May 18, in a note marked “Urgent,” Jean Chauvel, now secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay, confirmed to the minister of war that Haj Amin was “capable of imposing himself on the Muslim community.” By May 23 Chauvel had informed the relevant embassies that “in spite of the very heavy accusations weighing against him, Haj Amin is to be treated with consideration.” The reason given was his “religious prestige.” An unsigned note of May 30, apparently in Chauvel's handwriting, asserts that “at the moment when [British] policy . . . is tending to throw us completely out of Syria, we must make use of the strong personality who has fallen into our hands and above all refuse to deliver him to our English friends.”
Haj amin was housed in a villa in the Paris suburbs. With him were two secretaries and a cook supplied by the Paris mosque. The Quai d'Orsay's go-between, Henri Ponsot, a former high commissioner and ambassador in Syria, was impressed by the mufti's “certain air of dignity and aristocratic grace,” as well as by his intellect and his correct French. As for war crimes, Haj Amin claimed that he knew nothing about extermination camps and had never heard of “Karl Hichman” (Ponsot's garbled version of Adolf Eichmann). Approvingly, Ponsot passed on Haj Amin's view that, since Britain was unable “to break loose from the influence that the Jewish world exercised on its politics,” France and the Arab states should come to an accord to settle the future of both Syria and Palestine. What Haj Amin offered, Ponsot reported on June 26, was either a “positive” collaboration, in return for which he promised to calm the general Arab agitation concerning Syria, or, almost as good, a “negative” collaboration, in which case he would provoke crises in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, and Transjordan “to the benefit of our own policy.” (These words of Ponsot's are lightly scratched out on the document.)
At the end of July, Haj Amin was moved into a comfortable country house where he could receive visitors, walk in the park under supervision, and visit Paris, where the couturier Lanvin cut him a civilian suit. The documents hint at financial and material help in an atmosphere of growing good will. Reporting on August 14 to the Quai d'Orsay on a visit to the mufti, Louis Massignon, France's most distinguished Orientalist scholar, could not resist confiding that they had spoken Arabic together and that he had addressed the mufti as “za-'imnaa,” our leader. Haj Amin, Massignon wrote, “is persuaded that he can launch a durable Franco-Arab cooperation,” and had asked permission to meet Arab diplomats since “time was pressing, if the Zionists attack.”
Already there was talk in the ministry of letting Haj Amin go free. Should the British insist on having him brought to trial, Chauvel commented in October, “we should probably be obliged to have the party slip directly into Switzerland.” In April 1946, the French press published an officially inspired announcement that the government would not prevent Haj Amin's departure to an Arab country. Taking the hint, he left Orly airport on a TWA flight to Cairo. Under the name of a retainer who had been with him in Nazi Germany, and wearing his new Lanvin suit, he traveled on a false Syrian passport. Once in Cairo he held regular interviews with members of the French legation there, who praised his “quite particular interest in French cultural activity” while also expressing certain reservations about his trustworthiness.
On October 11, Haj Amin declared his official thanks to the French government for its hospitality and its tacit approval of his escape. In a secret annex, he reiterated a favorite theme: the British and American governments were in the hands of the Jews, just as had been the case in Germany, “where, thanks to the natural simplicity of the leaders, the Jews prior to Hitler had taken hold of all the commanding reins.” Now, he told the French, there was a chance for “your civilization, your spirituality, and your liberalism” to bring about an accord with the Arabs.
From Cairo, Haj Amin went to Lebanon. Still in touch with French officials, he did his best to orchestrate his “negative” policy of violence against the emerging state of Israel, a policy that extended the ruin of the Palestinian Arabs and has bedeviled the Middle East ever since.
For his contemporaries, Louis Massignon revitalized the belief that France was indeed a “Muslim power”—and that the duty of Jews was to accommodate themselves to other peoples' conceptions of them. Born in 1883, Massignon was a particularly brilliant misfit, a fabulist with a personality strong enough to persuade interlocutors that the quirks of his imagination corresponded to the movements of the real world. He spread mystification right through the Quai d'Orsay, to lasting effect.
In Cairo and Baghdad before World War I, Massignon learned the languages of the Middle East and initiated the research that led to a professorship at the Collège de France and a growing reputation as an Orientalist. The special object of his study as a scholar was Mansur al-Hallaj, a medieval Shiite mystic tortured to death as a heretic in Baghdad in 922. A Spanish friend, Luis de Cuadra, introduced him to the homosexual debauchery of Cairo. Soon afterward, consumed by remorse, he had a religious epiphany, a vision of what he called “the divine fire.” He believed that he, too, had a religious vocation, one that would be accompanied by martyrdom as suffered by both Jesus and al-Hallaj.
Marriage hardly interfered with Massignon's incessant travels or his work. Paul Claudel, a longstanding friend and a witness at Massignon's wedding, wrote to him from Prague on February 8, 1911, “You would make an incomparable agent. I have dropped the word to my friend Berthelot, to whom I must introduce you one day.” Although the Massignon files in the Quai d'Orsay remain closed, enough is in the public domain to show that he indeed acted as some sort of roving ambassador, engaging in secret and confidential work. Loosely identified as the head of a “scientific mission,” he traveled on a diplomatic passport. Algeria, Morocco, and Syria were among his special areas of concern, and in one of his books he would admit to “sailing under false colors in Damascus from 1920 to 1945.”
In 1917, as a member of the Georges-Picot mission, Massignon was present when the British captured and entered Jerusalem. So, we have seen, was T.E. Lawrence. Speaking to one another in Arabic, they were two of a kind; just as Lawrence always suspected the worst of the French, so Massignon always suspected the worst of the British.
For Massignon as for Claudel, Jews were a theological “mystery,” conducting their private dialogue with God to the imagined ultimate benefit of Christianity. He took his time deciding how Zionism fit or failed to fit into his Catholic scheme of things. Work on the land might be redemptive for a few proletarian Jews, but in the background, he warned as early as 1920, was “the horrible Israel of cosmopolitans, bankers with no country of their own who have exploited Anglo-Saxon imperialism, . . . eating you down to the bone.” Visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in 1934 he detected “powerful financial interventions” that alone enabled Zionism to survive. The conviction hardened in him that only “a Franco-Islamic bloc” could save the Holy Land, indeed the whole Middle East.
In a 1939 article, Massignon deplored how “Germanized Ashkenazim have taken the Palestinian issue into their hands, with the perfect and implacable technique of the most exasperating of colonialisms: slowly pushing the Arab ‘natives’ toward the desert.” At the outbreak of war he served under Giraudoux, directing propaganda to Muslim countries. His state of mind at the time is revealed in a remark he made to a devoted pupil who had converted to Islam: “My country is the Arab world.” In the same spirit he had once written to Claudel, “It is in Arabic no doubt that [God] is pleased that I should one day serve Him.” Out of mortification, he fasted during Ramadan.
After the war, Massignon campaigned with passionate fury against the creation of the state of Israel. Any agreement struck with Zionists was intrinsically wrong—the Jewish national home was “an imposture in which we should not be accomplices”—and would serve only to “convulse our North Africa.” Not really a nation, Jewry “signifies nothing unless it lives through spirituality, and if this spirituality is exclusive, as it is trying to ensure against the Muslim Arabs, it will be a catastrophe.” He founded a committee to help lobby for the cause, and above all for retaining the holy places in French-Catholic hands. In an extended polemic in print, he maintained that the infamous blood libel accusing the Jews of needing Christian blood for their rites had an authentic historical basis.
The United Nations vote in November 1947 in favor of partition—in which the Quai d'Orsay concurred—appalled Massignon. His frequent articles in Catholic publications like Témoignage Chrétien and L'Aube became infused with religiosity and political hysteria. According to him, Christian or Muslim recognition of Israel had no value in law. The “State-without-a-Messiah of Israel” had been formed at the expense of the Arabs, who were “victims of repulsive Yankee technology.” Obsessed with the Virgin Mary, he insisted that “the world will never know a just peace until Israel [i.e., Jews] reconsiders its rejection of the mother of Jesus.” Visiting the state of Israel in February 1949, he felt his “heart pierced by the ignominiousness of the Jews.” An angry Claudel broke off a lifetime's friendship, noting in his diary that Massignon “has gone off the rails as usual.”
In 1950, in Cairo, the city where he had discovered his homosexuality, Massignon took holy orders as a priest in the eastern Melkite church. After his death in 1963, many a Quai d'Orsay colleague would lament the loss of a genius. Then and ever since, Massignon's learning and showmanship have served to reinforce the Quai d'Orsay in its collective predisposition in favor of Arabs and in its view that it is better equipped to define Jews, and to ordain their path, than are Jews themselves.
“A Pernicious Example and a Great Peril”
Nominally a victor in World War II, France was in reality more like one of the defeated. Its standing in the world had to be rebuilt virtually from scratch. The same may be said for the Quai d'Orsay.
In 1945, somewhere between 100 and 200 former French soldiers or members of the Resistance were granted admission to the “career” without an examination. That year also saw the founding of the Ecole nationale d'administration (ENA), whose purpose was to train civil servants; thereafter, a handful of its graduates would become diplomats. In theory this was a new dispensation, but in practice the old institutional mindset survived intact. As far as the Middle East was concerned, Zionism was seen as more of a danger than ever to what French diplomats were convinced would otherwise be a smooth and equitable relationship with Arab countries.
There are numerous attestations to this persistent attitude. As the historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle has mildly observed, the first postwar foreign minister, Georges Bidault, was “not unreceptive to the arguments of the Islamists in the Quai d'Orsay.” Christian Pineau, a subsequent foreign minister well disposed toward Israel (and by chance the son-in-law of Jean Giraudoux), would write frankly in his autobiography that the Quai d'Orsay's Middle East policy was motivated by a “more or less conscious” anti-Semitism. Chauvel, the secretary general, used to caution journalists against Pineau and do what he could to frustrate the minister's initiatives. In his own memoirs Chauvel makes the revealing remark that at the end of the war, “Jews and Communists, formerly untouchables and moreover deported or living underground, had been reintegrated with honor into the community.”
The archives similarly expose the predispositions of the Quai d'Orsay. Early in 1945, a committee was set up “to examine the different problems posed by the Jewish question.” The committee seemed a hangover from Vichy. Its chairman, Henri Ponsot, considered one of the department's most eminent authorities on the Middle East, was at the same time regularly calling on the mufti, Haj Amin, to flatter and promote him. The Holocaust and its consequences feature in the archives only in a contorted and euphemistic style. This, for example, is from an April 15, 1945 report on postwar prospects:
It is probable that many Israelites who were obliged under one pressure or another to leave their country of origin or their residence would not like to return there. One can ask if on the one hand it might be useful to include in the peace treaties minority clauses in favor of Israelites, and if on the other hand it will be desirable to favor, by some means or other, their establishment either in Palestine or in another territory to be decided.
The committee rapidly concluded that Zionism faced “insurmountable obstacles” and Palestine was not the right place for a Jewish state.
Zionists with whom French diplomats were in contact are reviled or condescended to in various documents. David Ben-Gurion is said to be “avid with ambition.” At the top right-hand corner of a personal dossier devoted to him are the hand-written words, “Nationality: Jewish.” The dossier of Moshe Shertok (afterward Sharett) carries the same identification, and a separate note says, “Like all his compatriots he is highly gifted as a journalist of propaganda, but much less as a politician.” Abba Eban “possesses the art of playing offended and making a travesty of facts.” Of Menachem Begin the French consul in Haifa, Pierre Landy, wrote: “Of modest demeanor, he has the humble exterior of a small merchant.”
French representatives in Cairo and Beirut, Damascus and Amman, insisted more and more urgently that any support for Zionism or the nascent state of Israel was bound to aggravate Arab nationalism and therefore to harm French interests. Moral issues, right or wrong, were not involved; power was at stake. Armand du Chayla, minister in Lebanon, compared the prospective Jewish state with wartime Japan; its “exacerbated will to power” was bound to lead to a similar catastrophe. Others in the department built their case on the alleged need to protect France's cultural and religious presence in the Holy Land.
Although France finally voted in favor of partition, beforehand it took whatever diplomatic measures were available to it both in the United Nations and elsewhere to avert or delay the vote. Alexandre Parodi, its delegate to the UN, would later explain that his country had been motivated by the desire to maintain good relations with the Arab world. If so, its final vote in favor of partition was a travesty, or so an anonymous official at the Quai d'Orsay pointed out to the foreign minister, writing that France was now a “banana republic,” unable to hold its own against Britain (which had abstained in the voting).
In a diary entry of June 29, 1948, six weeks after Israel declared statehood, Vincent Auriol, then president of the Republic, recorded a meeting with Parodi. The latter was now of the view that a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world was a guarantee of stability, and so in France's interest, but that matters should have been handled in such a way as to avoid anything like a defeat for the Arabs. No doubt out of some such consideration, France would refuse de-facto recognition of Israel until January 1949, and de-jure recognition until four months later. Such were the tergiversations and self-deceptions to which policy had sunk.
René Neuville was consul general in Jerusalem from 1946 to 1952. Undoubtedly intelligent, he was as narrow-minded as he was sincere. His inability to come to terms with the idea of a Jewish state offers a case study in the formation of policy within the Quai d'Orsay.
Jews, Neuville wrote in a lengthy dispatch dated April 12, 1947, were “racist through and through . . . quite as much as their German persecutors and in spite of their democratic pretensions.” From biblical times onward, they had striven to inculcate within themselves the sense of being God's chosen people, and this bred a xenophobia and fanaticism that could not be ascribed to mere national feeling. The Zionist press, he further adduced, “displays beyond all possible doubt the ancestral traits of a completely Oriental cast of mind.” Jews were on no account to be allowed any control over the holy places, and should be denied statehood.
In an equally characteristic report dated April 4, 1948, Neuville warned that the founding of a Jewish state would mean the death of any hopes once placed in the UN, a victory of “obscurantism over enlightenment . . . a pernicious example and a great peril.” At the same time, Neuville foresaw an Arab victory in the hostilities to come, although he feared that this would itself lead to the danger of greater Arab militancy in French North Africa.
In April 1950, Neuville escorted his superior Jean Binoche on a week's visit around Israel. In a note to the Quai d'Orsay, Binoche said of Neuville that “he is susceptible, stormy, and bitter, but he has an ardor that I cannot find much exemplified in the people of our house.” He recommended keeping Neuville in place, adding the thought that he should be brought to confer in Paris along with the ambassadors in both Israel and Jordan. “Today,” according to the wistful Binoche, “it is indispensable for the department to define clearly the French political line.”
The coup mounted in Cairo in 1952 by Gamal Abdel Nasser and other so-called Free Officers transformed Arab nationalism and pan-Islamism into popular causes. In one Arab country after another, and especially throughout French North Africa, claimants to power soon imitated Nasser. One of them was the National Liberation Front—FLN in its French acronym—in Algeria.
In November 1954, a series of violent terrorist acts signaled the opening of the FLN's campaign for independence. Nasser's radio station, the Voice of the Arabs, regularly incited the FLN; its leaders had their headquarters in Cairo, and Nasser supplied them clandestinely with arms. Lasting for eight bloody years, the conflict brought something approaching civil war in France itself, and the return of General de Gaulle to power. Meanwhile, the ups and downs of French policy had unforeseen but dramatic repercussions affecting the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
As a prime target of Nasser and Arab nationalism, Israel unexpectedly acquired a community of interest with France—or rather with certain French decision-makers. Thus, the ministry of defense and the leaders of the armed forces collaborated unconditionally with Israel, in the belief that doing so would help overthrow Nasser and preserve French Algeria. Apart from a few hostile Catholic publications, the media were also supportive of Israel, as was public opinion at large. Guilt over wartime deportations figured as an element in the mix; so did admiration for Israel's spirit of self-determination. All this constituted an open—but partial—repudiation of the Quai d'Orsay and its ingrained pro-Arabism.
Arms sales alone were what gave France any importance in the Middle East. In the Israeli view, it was urgent to procure aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery to prevent Nasser from exploiting the military edge conferred on him by the Soviet Union. While the United States and Britain took cover behind a declaration not to supply weapons to belligerents in the region, French manufacturers and the ministry of defense rushed to accommodate Israel. For its part, the Quai d'Orsay did what it could to block sales outright or to ensure that deliveries were too minimal to be effective.
The inter-ministerial fighting had something conspiratorial about it. Pierre-Etienne Gilbert, ambassador in Israel from 1953 to 1959 and altogether exceptional among his colleagues, was the first French diplomat openly to admire the Jewish state. Gilbert introduced Israel's defense establishment to its counterparts in Paris: Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury, the minister of defense, and Abel Thomas, his chief of staff. In Comment Israël fut sauvé, “How Israel Was Saved,” Thomas recalls “our quarrels and our chicaneries with the Quai d'Orsay,” and how “it was agreed that the administration of the Quai would in no case be involved” in policy concerning Israel. Consistently, the Quai d'Orsay reacted with anger and frustration; in March 1956, Pierre Maillard of the Afrique-Levant department informed an Israeli interlocutor that French-Israeli arms deal were an aberration, and there was no basis for cooperation between the two countries.
Egypt's September 1955 arms deal with Czechoslovakia, followed by nationalization of the Suez Canal the next July, were defining events of Nasser's career. The French and Israeli governments were of one mind: only a preemptive war could eliminate the danger Nasser now presented to them both. Prime Minister Guy Mollet undertook to persuade the hesitant British to join what became the real conspiracy behind the 1956 Suez campaign. It was encapsulated in Foreign Minister Pineau's advice to the ministry of defense: “Above all, not a word to the Quai d'Orsay!”
But animosity and secrecy among those making vital decisions did not—could not—result in successful coordination. Fatefully, the United States intervened, obliging the British and French to withdraw their invading forces and then compelling Israel to evacuate Sinai and the Gaza strip. In 1957, in a compensatory gesture, France agreed to build for Israel a nuclear plant at Dimona, an installation more up-to-date than anything the French themselves possessed at the time. From that point on, the France-Israel relationship declined in inexorable stages.
Nasser's emergence as the political victor of the Suez campaign inflated Arab nationalism into the prime ideology of the Middle East. The FLN was evidently going to gain power in Algeria, the French army to lose it. In 1958, emerging from seclusion, de Gaulle once more enacted his role as national savior. Even as the Suez campaign ushered in the Fifth Republic, it transformed the Arab-Israeli dispute into one of the most complex of international issues.
Methodically, the Quai d'Orsay began the French disengagement from Israel. In 1959, in deference to the Arab economic boycott, it managed to cancel a contract to assemble Renault cars under license in Haifa. The following year, Ben-Gurion met de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace; the Quai d'Orsay was at pains to ensure that this was not seen as a state visit, and that the Israeli flag would not fly at Ben-Gurion's hotel.
In an official report presented to de Gaulle in 1963, Jean Chauvel wrote that Israel displayed “a heterogeneous character in relation to everything surrounding it.” This euphemism for Israeli aberrancy led to the conclusion that, since good Franco-Israeli relations “in no way gain France any credit in Arabia,” closer cooperation between Arabs and France “is not only acceptable, it is desired.” Under Maurice Couve de Murville, de Gaulle's long-standing foreign minister and a critic of the Suez campaign (and advocate of Algerian independence), the Quai d'Orsay took revenge for the Pineau years by, as the historians Samir Kassir and Farouk Mardam-Bey have put it, successfully reaffirming its old “Muslim policy.”
The hitch was that the constitution of the Fifth Republic had handed the conduct of foreign policy to the president, with the result that the Quai d'Orsay's role was reduced to advice and administration. Always idiosyncratic, de Gaulle enacted a policy often grounded more in personality than in political reality. Although there are numerous testimonies to his professed admiration for Israel and its achievements, it is also true that he had once been influenced by Charles Maurras, an ardent enemy of Jews. As for Arabs, Ambassador Gilbert quotes de Gaulle as saying that they were “all passion, sometimes even demented. What can you do with that?” In all likelihood, his deepest belief was that Jews and Arabs, like everyone else, had to serve the purposes he allotted to them.
Above all, de Gaulle aspired to great-power status for France, and toward that end he sought to maneuver between the United States and the Soviet Union, playing them off against each other and eventually removing France from NATO. The hope was that this brand of militant neutrality would muster the whole third world behind him. Pineau, the former foreign minister, spoke for many in noting that de Gaulle felt “a mortal hatred” for the British and the U.S. Increasingly resentful of the latter's projection of power in the Middle East, de Gaulle suspended aid to Israel's nuclear plant; played cat-and-mouse games over sales of arms and aircraft to Israel; and, after signing a peace treaty with Algeria, issued instructions to his new ambassador in Cairo to adopt “a more liberal attitude toward Nasser.” When Abba Eban, the Israeli foreign minister, expressed anxiety in early 1966 over Israel's relationship with France, an irritated Couve de Murville replied that “General de Gaulle doesn't have to be patting you ceaselessly on the shoulder to reassure you.”
In a series of political and military miscalculations, Nasser precipitated the Six-Day war of 1967. During the run-up to the crisis, France embargoed the delivery of offensive weapons to the Middle East, a move affecting only Israel. In a meeting with Abba Eban, de Gaulle warned Israel not to fire the first shot. (“They didn't listen to me!,” he was to exclaim in anger and hurt pride a few days later.) He also told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that the West would thank him one day for remaining “the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.”
After the war, Roger Seydoux, now France's permanent representative at the United Nations, lost no time declaring that Israel's reunification of Jerusalem was “inopportune and not founded in law.” Israeli assurances of free access to the holy places “touched on questions of sovereignty to which we cannot remain indifferent.” That November, de Gaulle ranted in public that the Jews were “an elite people, self-assured and domineering,” and possessed of “a burning ambition for conquest.” In the ensuing scandal, de Gaulle pretended that his abusive generalizations had been intended as compliments.
In January 1969, in response to Palestinian hijackers operating out of Lebanon, Israeli commandos blew up thirteen civil aircraft in Beirut. Nobody was hurt in this largely symbolic action. “It's unbelievable, without any sense,” de Gaulle nevertheless thundered. “They think they can do as they like.” The arms embargo was now extended to all weapons, defensive as well as offensive. France thereby renounced any influence it had on Israel (as the political thinker Raymond Aron argued at the time in a polemic of great force). Meanwhile, René Massigli, highly respected as a former ambassador to London and later as secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay, spoke for the foreign-policy establishment by repeating in print the shopworn canard that French Jews who supported Israel were guilty of dual loyalty.
Although de Gaulle had once been wary of the Quai d'Orsay, he too ended by speaking of France as a “Muslim power.” In his memoirs, his summary judgment was that “no strategic, political, or economic state of affairs [in the Middle East] will last unless it gets Arab support.” But his self-importance had stranded his country in contradiction, prejudice, and grudge. François Mauriac, a Nobel Prize winner and fervent Gaullist, wrote in 1969: “I saw men whom the General's policy toward Jerusalem had driven mad.” The Quai d'Orsay had won, but there was nothing to show for it.
As Arab immigration into France increased, successive French presidents extended de Gaulle's policy of closely linking France and the Arab states. In the decades after the 1967 war, France steadily nourished the ambition to lead what would become the European Union and to assemble a bloc powerful enough to rival the United States. In line with this, the principal objective in the Middle East was to broker a peace that would satisfy Arab demands on Israel and thus eliminate American influence.
Outright appeasement of the Arabs was complicated both by French self-interest and by Arab resentments over a lost heritage perceived as glorious. Measures nevertheless were taken. They included the pursuit of favorable oil contracts, especially in the aftermath of the 1973 war and the OPEC embargo; the sale of Mirage fighter planes to Libya and the building of the Osirak nuclear reactor for Iraq; a vote at the United Nations accusing Israel of committing war crimes in the occupied territories; the denial of landing rights to American aircraft during the 1973 Yom Kippur war; permission granted to the PLO to open an office in Paris, and the reception of Yasir Arafat at the Elysée Palace; and diplomatic initiatives to protect Saddam Hussein from the consequences of his multiple aggressions. With the exception of the former Soviet Union, no country did more than France to promote a PLO state, and thereby to endanger the existence of Israel.
Anti-Israel policies strengthened under Presidents Georges Pompidou, who served from 1969 until his sudden death in 1974, and his successor Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The former was in all likelihood no more anti-Semitic than his mentor de Gaulle. The latter, too, may not have had anything personal against either Israel or Jews, yet his presidency from 1974 to 1981 intensified the harm done to them and the favoring of Arabs. At the outset of Giscard's term in office, and clearly at his direction, the Quai d'Orsay issued a PLO-influenced statement to the effect that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East had to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. Soon he sent his foreign minister, Jean Sauvagnargues, to Lebanon for an official meeting with Arafat; the secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay then helped set up the PLO office in Paris. In one rather mysterious incident, Abu Daoud, a terrorist at the head of the group responsible for the murder of Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich, was arrested for murder while in Paris but almost instantly released to Algeria. Eventually Giscard invited Arafat on an official visit to Paris.
The 1973 war deepened the fault lines among Western allies. Setting the countries of the European Community against the United States, Giscard refused to abstain from finalizing a deal for Iraq's nuclear plant and actively sought to replace the weakening Soviet Union as the chief arms supplier of Egypt and Syria. In language identical to the PLO's, he criticized the peace between Egypt and Israel sealed at Camp David in 1978. The analyst Maurice Szafran speaks of “open warfare” between France's Jews and Giscard.
Foreign ministers in this period uniformly supported the appeasement of Arab states. Of them all, the most single-minded was Michel Jobert, who took over the Quai d'Orsay in 1973. Born in Morocco, he spoke fluent Arabic and had once written a novel, set in his home town of Meknes, that featured obnoxious Jewish characters. French foreign policy, Jobert used to explain, was not pro-Arab but simply “active, a just reflection of the interests of France” in the Arab part of the world.
Succeeding Giscard as president, François Mitterrand—a 30's fascist, a Vichy official, a Gaullist, a socialist—was a man politically, morally, and personally corrupt. His presidency from 1981 to 1995 bore the stamp of his opportunistic personality and cynical intelligence. Quickly, Mitterrand demonstrated what Le Monde was to call his “talent for trickery.”
Mitterrand had once visited Israel, and now he let it be known that he intended to restore good relations with Jerusalem. But as his secretary Jacques Attali records in his published diary (Verbatim), Mitterrand covered his flanks by ordering two of his foreign-policy aides, Hubert Védrine (a future foreign minister) and Claude de Kemoularia, to make the rounds of Arab embassies in Paris and explain that “good contact between France and Israel will be in your interest.” Mitterrand's two-faced approach was exemplified by his condemnation of Israel's destruction of the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1982 followed by a fawning address to the Knesset some months later, or by his airy proposal of a federation of Jordan, Israel, and Arab Palestine that was incompatible with his role in preserving Arafat from the consequences of his multiple campaigns of violence and terrorist mayhem.
With characteristic equivocation, Mitterrand maintained the Quai d'Orsay as Europe's foremost official pro-Arab and anti-Israel lobby. Kemoularia, entrusted with confidential matters, had close connections to Saudi Arabia. For the first three years of Mitterrand's term, the foreign minister was Claude Cheysson, whose hostility to Israel was matched by his friendship with PLO representatives like Naim Khadir in Brussels. “My condemnation of Zionism is absolute,” he was to say once he was no longer minister. “The state of Israel created itself against the will of the rest of the world.”
Roland Dumas followed Cheysson in 1984. Within three months of taking office, Dumas visited Arafat in Tunis, where the PLO leader had taken refuge after his forced evacuation from Beirut. A lawyer, Dumas had helped defend Hilarion Capucci, a Greek Orthodox priest caught gun-running for the PLO, and he played a part in ensuring that the terrorist Abu Daoud was hurried out of the country in the 1970's. Air piracy, he was to tell a newspaper in December 1984, “was the only way for Palestinian resistance to smash international indifference.”
Under Cheysson, the Quai d'Orsay's secretary general was Francis Gutmann, parachuted into the ministry from a previous job with the Red Cross. A colleague of Jobert's, he had impeccable Arabist credentials. Later, the post went to another influential Arabist, Bertrand Dufourcq, who had served on the staffs of Couve de Murville, Cheysson, and Dumas. PLO documents captured by the Israeli army in Beirut in 1982 showed that French diplomats or their informers in Tel Aviv and Damascus had been leaking information about Israel's impending operation. In 1987 it emerged that the Quai d'Orsay was subsidizing an Arab lobby, the Cercle France-Pays Arabes. In return for such favors, ostensibly, Arafat brought himself to pronounce after another official visit to Paris in 1989 that the clauses of the PLO Charter calling for the destruction of Israel were “caduc,” null and void. As events were to prove, this unexpected display of mastery of French masked an empty promise.
France's current president, Jacques Chirac, began his career in the governments of de Gaulle and Pompidou, becoming prime minister under Giscard as well as Mitterrand before being elected president in 1996. In the several crises engulfing the Middle East during his tenure, Chirac has imitated his predecessors by taking issue with the “Anglo-Saxons,” a Vichy-style phrase loose enough to include the United States, Britain, and anyone else perceived to stand in France's way.
In April 1996, in a speech in Cairo, Chirac claimed that France intended to follow its traditional policies in the Middle East with renewed vigor. Visiting Jerusalem that October, and walking through the Old City, he accused Israeli security guards of closing in on him, pushing them away angrily with a gesture as symbolic as it was physical. At his next stop, in Ramallah, he declared that Arafat's Palestinian democracy might serve as an example to all Arab states. Moving on to Amman in Jordan, he denounced the Western sanctions on Saddam Hussein, with whom he had maintained a friendly relationship dating back to the mid-1970's. He advised Arafat not to sign at Camp David in 2000.
By means of supporting Arafat and Saddam, France was clearly hoping to lever itself into a position of mastery in areas where once Britain had been supreme and where the United States now had responsibility for keeping the peace. The end of the Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, the failure of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, the wrangling over Resolution 1441 at the UN and then the invasion of Iraq in 2003—all spurred Chirac and his administration to prolonged diplomatic activity in pursuit of this grand design. The results have hardly been impressive.
Recently the Quai d'Orsay has condemned Israel's efforts to contain Hizballah in southern Lebanon, and criticized the annexation of Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem. The foreign ministry dragged out the effort to block the Hizballah television station al-Manar from spreading its hatred of Jews via a Paris-based satellite, and the French government still steadfastly refuses to designate Hizballah itself as a terrorist organization. Sophie Pommier, the official responsible for following Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, revealed her emotional involvement in her work by plastering the walls of her office with portraits of Arafat. French consulates have been forbidden from recognizing Jewish weddings solemnized by West Bank rabbis. Jacques Huntziger, the French ambassador to Israel, slammed his fist on the table and left the room when the parents of three Israeli soldiers captured by Hizballah asked him to intervene on their behalf after a visit by Chirac to Lebanon. Gérard Araud, the current French ambassador, declared in December 2004 that “Israelis suffer from a neurosis, a veritable mental disorder that makes them anti-French.” At a London dinner party, Daniel Bernard, ambassador to England and previously the Quai d'Orsay's official spokesman, called Israel “a shitty little country.” And so it goes.
As such pinpricks suggest, France today lacks the resources and the influence either to supplant the United States or to enlist the Arab world in its camp, to create a Palestinian state, or to dismantle Israel. Moreover, its nuisance value has rebounded on itself. Its chosen instruments, Saddam Hussein and Arafat, both proved untrustworthy: support for the former was evidently related to French profiteering from the UN oil-for-food scam, which dwarfed the corruption even of the Mitterrand era, and support for the latter had roots in obscure deals, protection rackets, and emotional anti-Americanism.
In the Middle East, France has forfeited whatever leverage it might once have enjoyed. At home, meanwhile, it has had to come to terms with a growing Arab underclass, one whose resentments and tendencies to violence have been whipped up in no small part by the inflexible hostility displayed by the French state to Jewish self-determination. The pursuit of une puissance musulmane, fitting Arabs and Jews into a grand design on French terms, has evidently been an intellectual illusion all along, and highly dangerous to the interests of everyone concerned.
1 “The career” (la carrière) was shorthand for employment as a diplomat, as though no other career were worthy of the name.
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Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy: A Special Report
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t can be said that the Book of Samuel launched the American Revolution. Though antagonistic to traditional faith, Thomas Paine understood that it was not Montesquieu, or Locke, who was inscribed on the hearts of his fellow Americans. Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense is a biblical argument against British monarchy, drawing largely on the text of Samuel.
Today, of course, universal biblical literacy no longer exists in America, and sophisticated arguments from Scripture are all too rare. It is therefore all the more distressing when public intellectuals, academics, or religious leaders engage in clumsy acts of exegesis and political argumentation by comparing characters in the Book of Samuel to modern political leaders. The most common victim of this tendency has been the central character in the Book of Samuel: King David.
Most recently, this tendency was made manifest in the writings of Dennis Prager. In a recent defense of his own praise of President Trump, Prager wrote that “as a religious Jew, I learned from the Bible that God himself chose morally compromised individuals to accomplish some greater good. Think of King David, who had a man killed in order to cover up the adultery he committed with the man’s wife.” Prager similarly argued that those who refuse to vote for a politician whose positions are correct but whose personal life is immoral “must think God was pretty flawed in voting for King David.”
Prager’s invocation of King David was presaged on the left two decades ago. The records of the Clinton Presidential Library reveal that at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, an email from Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel made its way into the inbox of an administration policy adviser with a similar comparison: “From the perspective of Jewish history, we have to ask how Jews can condemn President Clinton’s behavior as immoral, when we exalt King David? King David had Batsheva’s husband, Uriah, murdered. While David was condemned and punished, he was never thrown off the throne of Israel. On the contrary, he is exalted in our Jewish memory as the unifier of Israel.”
One can make the case for supporting politicians who have significant moral flaws. Indeed, America’s political system is founded on an awareness of the profound tendency to sinfulness not only of its citizens but also of its statesmen. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison informs us in the Federalist. At the same time, anyone who compares King David to the flawed leaders of our own age reveals a profound misunderstanding of the essential nature of David’s greatness. David was not chosen by God despite his moral failings; rather, David’s failings are the lens that reveal his true greatness. It is in the wake of his sins that David emerges as the paradigmatic penitent, whose quest for atonement is utterly unlike that of any other character in the Bible, and perhaps in the history of the world.
While the precise nature of David’s sins is debated in the Talmud, there is no question that they are profound. Yet it is in comparing David to other faltering figures—in the Bible or today—that the comparison falls flat. This point is stressed by the very Jewish tradition in whose name Prager claimed to speak.
It is the rabbis who note that David’s predecessor, Saul, lost the kingship when he failed to fulfill God’s command to destroy the egregiously evil nation of Amalek, whereas David commits more severe sins and yet remains king. The answer, the rabbis suggest, lies not in the sin itself but in the response. Saul, when confronted by the prophet Samuel, offers obfuscations and defensiveness. David, meanwhile, is similarly confronted by the prophet Nathan: “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” David’s immediate response is clear and complete contrition: “I have sinned against the Lord.” David’s penitence, Jewish tradition suggests, sets him apart from Saul. Soon after, David gave voice to what was in his heart at the moment, and gave the world one of the most stirring of the Psalms:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
. . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
The tendency to link David to our current age lies in the fact that we know more about David than any other biblical figure. The author Thomas Cahill has noted that in a certain literary sense, David is the only biblical figure that is like us at all. Prior to the humanist autobiographies of the Renaissance, he notes, “we can count only a few isolated instances of this use of ‘I’ to mean the interior self. But David’s psalms are full of I’s.” In David’s Psalms, Cahill writes, we “find a unique early roadmap to the inner spirit—previously mute—of ancient humanity.”
At the same time, a study of the Book of Samuel and of the Psalms reveals how utterly incomparable David is to anyone alive today. Haym Soloveitchik has noted that even the most observant of Jews today fail to feel a constant intimacy with God that the simplest Jew of the premodern age might have felt, that “while there are always those whose spirituality is one apart from that of their time, nevertheless I think it safe to say that the perception of God as a daily, natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious.” Yet for David, such intimacy with the divine was central to his existence, and the Book of Samuel and the Psalms are an eternal testament to this fact. This is why simple comparisons between David and ourselves, as tempting as they are, must be resisted. David Wolpe, in his book about David, attempts to make the case as to why King David’s life speaks to us today: “So versatile and enduring is David in our culture that rare is the week that passes without some public allusion to his life…We need to understand David better because we use his life to comprehend our own.”
The truth may be the opposite. We need to understand David better because we can use his life to comprehend what we are missing, and how utterly unlike our lives are to his own. For even the most religious among us have lost the profound faith and intimacy with God that David had. It is therefore incorrect to assume that because of David’s flaws it would have been, as Amos Oz has written, “fitting for him to reign in Tel Aviv.” The modern State of Israel was blessed with brilliant leaders, but to which of its modern warriors or statesmen should David be compared? To Ben Gurion, who stripped any explicit invocation of the Divine from Israel’s Declaration of Independence? To Moshe Dayan, who oversaw the reconquest of Jerusalem, and then immediately handed back the Temple Mount, the locus of King David’s dreams and desires, to the administration of the enemies of Israel? David’s complex humanity inspires comparison to modern figures, but his faith, contrition, and repentance—which lie at the heart of his story and success—defy any such engagement.
And so, to those who seek comparisons to modern leaders from the Bible, the best rule may be: Leave King David out of it.
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Three attacks in Britain highlight the West’s inability to see the threat clearly
This lack of seriousness manifests itself in several ways. It’s perhaps most obvious in the failure to reform Britain’s chaotic immigration and dysfunctional asylum systems. But it’s also abundantly clear from the grotesque underfunding and under-resourcing of domestic intelligence. In MI5, Britain has an internal security service that is simply too small to do its job effectively, even if it were not handicapped by an institutional culture that can seem willfully blind to the ideological roots of the current terrorism problem.
In 2009, Jonathan Evans, then head of MI5, confessed at a parliamentary hearing about the London bus and subway attacks of 2005 that his organization only had sufficient resources to “hit the crocodiles close to the boat.” It was an extraordinary metaphor to use, not least because of the impression of relative impotence that it conveys. MI5 had by then doubled in size since 2001, but it still boasted a staff of only 3,500. Today it’s said to employ between 4,000 and 5,000, an astonishingly, even laughably, small number given a UK population of 65 million and the scale of the security challenges Britain now faces. (To be fair, the major British police forces all have intelligence units devoted to terrorism, and the UK government’s overall counterterrorism strategy involves a great many people, including social workers and schoolteachers.)
You can also see that unseriousness at work in the abject failure to coerce Britain’s often remarkably sedentary police officers out of their cars and stations and back onto the streets. Most of Britain’s big-city police forces have adopted a reactive model of policing (consciously rejecting both the New York Compstat model and British “bobby on the beat” traditions) that cripples intelligence-gathering and frustrates good community relations.
If that weren’t bad enough, Britain’s judiciary is led by jurists who came of age in the 1960s, and who have been inclined since 2001 to treat terrorism as an ordinary criminal problem being exploited by malign officials and politicians to make assaults on individual rights and to take part in “illegal” foreign wars. It has long been almost impossible to extradite ISIS or al-Qaeda–linked Islamists from the UK. This is partly because today’s English judges believe that few if any foreign countries—apart from perhaps Sweden and Norway—are likely to give terrorist suspects a fair trial, or able to guarantee that such suspects will be spared torture and abuse.
We have a progressive metropolitan media elite whose primary, reflexive response to every terrorist attack, even before the blood on the pavement is dry, is to express worry about an imminent violent anti-Muslim “backlash” on the part of a presumptively bigoted and ignorant indigenous working class. Never mind that no such “backlash” has yet occurred, not even when the young off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight on a South London street in 2013.
Another sign of this lack of seriousness is the choice by successive British governments to deal with the problem of internal terrorism with marketing and “branding.” You can see this in the catchy consultant-created acronyms and pseudo-strategies that are deployed in place of considered thought and action. After every atrocity, the prime minister calls a meeting of the COBRA unit—an acronym that merely stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A but sounds like a secret organization of government superheroes. The government’s counterterrorism strategy is called CONTEST, which has four “work streams”: “Prevent,” “Pursue,” “Protect,” and “Prepare.”
Perhaps the ultimate sign of unseriousness is the fact that police, politicians, and government officials have all displayed more fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” than of any carnage that actual terror attacks might cause. Few are aware that this short-term, cowardly, and trivial tendency may ultimately foment genuine, dangerous popular Islamophobia, especially if attacks continue.R
ecently, three murderous Islamist terror attacks in the UK took place in less than a month. The first and third were relatively primitive improvised attacks using vehicles and/or knives. The second was a suicide bombing that probably required relatively sophisticated planning, technological know-how, and the assistance of a terrorist infrastructure. As they were the first such attacks in the UK, the vehicle and knife killings came as a particular shock to the British press, public, and political class, despite the fact that non-explosive and non-firearm terror attacks have become common in Europe and are almost routine in Israel.
The success of all three plots indicates troubling problems in British law-enforcement practice and culture, quite apart from any other failings on the parts of the state in charge of intelligence, border control, and the prevention of radicalization. At the time of writing, the British media have been full of encomia to police courage and skill, not least because it took “only” eight minutes for an armed Metropolitan Police team to respond to and confront the bloody mayhem being wrought by the three Islamist terrorists (who had ploughed their rented van into people on London Bridge before jumping out to attack passersby with knives). But the difficult truth is that all three attacks would be much harder to pull off in Manhattan, not just because all NYPD cops are armed, but also because there are always police officers visibly on patrol at the New York equivalents of London’s Borough Market on a Saturday night. By contrast, London’s Metropolitan police is a largely vehicle-borne, reactive force; rather than use a physical presence to deter crime and terrorism, it chooses to monitor closed-circuit street cameras and social-media postings.
Since the attacks in London and Manchester, we have learned that several of the perpetrators were “known” to the police and security agencies that are tasked with monitoring potential terror threats. That these individuals were nevertheless able to carry out their atrocities is evidence that the monitoring regime is insufficient.
It also seems clear that there were failures on the part of those institutions that come under the leadership of the Home Office and are supposed to be in charge of the UK’s border, migration, and asylum systems. Journalists and think tanks like Policy Exchange and Migration Watch have for years pointed out that these systems are “unfit for purpose,” but successive governments have done little to take responsible control of Britain’s borders. When she was home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May did little more than jazz up the name, logo, and uniforms of what is now called the “Border Force,” and she notably failed to put in place long-promised passport checks for people flying out of the country. This dereliction means that it is impossible for the British authorities to know who has overstayed a visa or whether individuals who have been denied asylum have actually left the country.
It seems astonishing that Youssef Zaghba, one of the three London Bridge attackers, was allowed back into the country. The Moroccan-born Italian citizen (his mother is Italian) had been arrested by Italian police in Bologna, apparently on his way to Syria via Istanbul to join ISIS. When questioned by the Italians about the ISIS decapitation videos on his mobile phone, he declared that he was “going to be a terrorist.” The Italians lacked sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime but put him under 24-hour surveillance, and when he traveled to London, they passed on information about him to MI5. Nevertheless, he was not stopped or questioned on arrival and had not become one of the 3,000 official terrorism “subjects of interest” for MI5 or the police when he carried out his attack. One reason Zaghba was not questioned on arrival may have been that he used one of the new self-service passport machines installed in UK airports in place of human staff after May’s cuts to the border force. Apparently, the machines are not yet linked to any government watch lists, thanks to the general chaos and ineptitude of the Home Office’s efforts to use information technology.
The presence in the country of Zaghba’s accomplice Rachid Redouane is also an indictment of the incompetence and disorganization of the UK’s border and migration authorities. He had been refused asylum in 2009, but as is so often the case, Britain’s Home Office never got around to removing him. Three years later, he married a British woman and was therefore able to stay in the UK.
But it is the failure of the authorities to monitor ringleader Khuram Butt that is the most baffling. He was a known and open associate of Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious terrorist supporter, ideologue, and recruiter (he was finally imprisoned in 2016 after 15 years of campaigning on behalf of al-Qaeda and ISIS). Butt even appeared in a 2016 TV documentary about ISIS supporters called The Jihadist Next Door. In the same year, he assaulted a moderate imam at a public festival, after calling him a “murtad” or apostate. The imam reported the incident to the police—who took six months to track him down and then let him off with a caution. It is not clear if Butt was one of the 3,000 “subjects of interest” or the additional 20,000 former subjects of interest who continue to be the subject of limited monitoring. If he was not, it raises the question of what a person has to do to get British security services to take him seriously as a terrorist threat; if he was in fact on the list of “subjects of interest,” one has to wonder if being so designated is any barrier at all to carrying out terrorist atrocities. It’s worth remembering, as few do here in the UK, that terrorists who carried out previous attacks were also known to the police and security services and nevertheless enjoyed sufficient liberty to go at it again.B
ut the most important reason for the British state’s ineffectiveness in monitoring terror threats, which May addressed immediately after the London Bridge attack, is a deeply rooted institutional refusal to deal with or accept the key role played by Islamist ideology. For more than 15 years, the security services and police have chosen to take note only of people and bodies that explicitly espouse terrorist violence or have contacts with known terrorist groups. The fact that a person, school, imam, or mosque endorses the establishment of a caliphate, the stoning of adulterers, or the murder of apostates has not been considered a reason to monitor them.
This seems to be why Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was not being watched by the authorities as a terror risk, even though he had punched a girl in the face for wearing a short skirt while at university, had attended the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Didsbury Mosque, was the son of a Libyan man whose militia is banned in the UK, had himself fought against the Qaddafi regime in Libya, had adopted the Islamist clothing style (trousers worn above the ankle, beard but no moustache), was part of a druggy gang subculture that often feeds individuals into Islamist terrorism, and had been banned from a mosque after confronting an imam who had criticized ISIS.
It was telling that the day after the Manchester Arena suicide-bomb attack, you could hear security officials informing radio and TV audiences of the BBC’s flagship morning-radio news show that it’s almost impossible to predict and stop such attacks because the perpetrators “don’t care who they kill.” They just want to kill as many people as possible, he said.
Surely, anyone with even a basic familiarity with Islamist terror attacks over the last 15 or so years and a nodding acquaintance with Islamist ideology could see that the terrorist hadn’t just chosen the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena because a lot of random people would be crowded into a conveniently small area. Since the Bali bombings of 2002, nightclubs, discotheques, and pop concerts attended by shameless unveiled women and girls have been routinely targeted by fundamentalist terrorists, including in Britain. Among the worrying things about the opinion offered on the radio show was that it suggests that even in the wake of the horrific Bataclan attack in Paris during a November 2015 concert, British authorities may not have been keeping an appropriately protective eye on music venues and other places where our young people hang out in their decadent Western way. Such dereliction would make perfect sense given the resistance on the part of the British security establishment to examining, confronting, or extrapolating from Islamist ideology.
The same phenomenon may explain why authorities did not follow up on community complaints about Abedi. All too often when people living in Britain’s many and diverse Muslim communities want to report suspicious behavior, they have to do so through offices and organizations set up and paid for by the authorities as part of the overall “Prevent” strategy. Although criticized by the left as “Islamophobic” and inherently stigmatizing, Prevent has often brought the government into cooperative relationships with organizations even further to the Islamic right than the Muslim Brotherhood. This means that if you are a relatively secular Libyan émigré who wants to report an Abedi and you go to your local police station, you are likely to find yourself speaking to a bearded Islamist.
From its outset in 2003, the Prevent strategy was flawed. Its practitioners, in their zeal to find and fund key allies in “the Muslim community” (as if there were just one), routinely made alliances with self-appointed community leaders who represented the most extreme and intolerant tendencies in British Islam. Both the Home Office and MI5 seemed to believe that only radical Muslims were “authentic” and would therefore be able to influence young potential terrorists. Moderate, modern, liberal Muslims who are arguably more representative of British Islam as a whole (not to mention sundry Shiites, Sufis, Ahmmadis, and Ismailis) have too often found it hard to get a hearing.
Sunni organizations that openly supported suicide-bomb attacks in Israel and India and that justified attacks on British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless received government subsidies as part of Prevent. The hope was that in return, they would alert the authorities if they knew of individuals planning attacks in the UK itself.
It was a gamble reminiscent of British colonial practice in India’s northwest frontier and elsewhere. Not only were there financial inducements in return for grudging cooperation; the British state offered other, symbolically powerful concessions. These included turning a blind eye to certain crimes and antisocial practices such as female genital mutilation (there have been no successful prosecutions relating to the practice, though thousands of cases are reported every year), forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, the mass removal of girls from school soon after they reach puberty, and the epidemic of racially and religiously motivated “grooming” rapes in cities like Rotherham. (At the same time, foreign jihadists—including men wanted for crimes in Algeria and France—were allowed to remain in the UK as long as their plots did not include British targets.)
This approach, simultaneously cynical and naive, was never as successful as its proponents hoped. Again and again, Muslim chaplains who were approved to work in prisons and other institutions have sometimes turned out to be Islamist extremists whose words have inspired inmates to join terrorist organizations.
Much to his credit, former Prime Minister David Cameron fought hard to change this approach, even though it meant difficult confrontations with his home secretary (Theresa May), as well as police and the intelligence agencies. However, Cameron’s efforts had little effect on the permanent personnel carrying out the Prevent strategy, and cooperation with Islamist but currently nonviolent organizations remains the default setting within the institutions on which the United Kingdom depends for security.
The failure to understand the role of ideology is one of imagination as well as education. Very few of those who make government policy or write about home-grown terrorism seem able to escape the limitations of what used to be called “bourgeois” experience. They assume that anyone willing to become an Islamist terrorist must perforce be materially deprived, or traumatized by the experience of prejudice, or provoked to murderous fury by oppression abroad. They have no sense of the emotional and psychic benefits of joining a secret terror outfit: the excitement and glamor of becoming a kind of Islamic James Bond, bravely defying the forces of an entire modern state. They don’t get how satisfying or empowering the vengeful misogyny of ISIS-style fundamentalism might seem for geeky, frustrated young men. Nor can they appreciate the appeal to the adolescent mind of apocalyptic fantasies of power and sacrifice (mainstream British society does not have much room for warrior dreams, given that its tone is set by liberal pacifists). Finally, they have no sense of why the discipline and self-discipline of fundamentalist Islam might appeal so strongly to incarcerated lumpen youth who have never experienced boundaries or real belonging. Their understanding is an understanding only of themselves, not of the people who want to kill them.
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Review of 'White Working Class' By Joan C. Williams
Williams is a prominent feminist legal scholar with degrees from Yale, MIT, and Harvard. Unbending Gender, her best-known book, is the sort of tract you’d expect to find at an intersectionality conference or a Portlandia bookstore. This is why her insightful, empathic book comes as such a surprise.
Books and essays on the topic have accumulated into a highly visible genre since Donald Trump came on the American political scene; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy planted itself at the top of bestseller lists almost a year ago and still isn’t budging. As with Vance, Williams’s interest in the topic is personal. She fell “madly in love with” and eventually married a Harvard Law School graduate who had grown up in an Italian neighborhood in pre-gentrification Brook-lyn. Williams, on the other hand, is a “silver-spoon girl.” Her father’s family was moneyed, and her maternal grandfather was a prominent Reform rabbi.
The author’s affection for her “class-migrant” spouse and respect for his family’s hardships—“My father-in-law grew up on blood soup,” she announces in her opening sentence—adds considerable warmth to what is at bottom a political pamphlet. Williams believes that elite condescension and “cluelessness” played a big role in Trump’s unexpected and dreaded victory. Enlightening her fellow elites is essential to the task of returning Trump voters to the progressive fold where, she is sure, they rightfully belong.
Liberals were not always so dense about the working class, Williams observes. WPA murals and movies like On the Waterfront showed genuine fellow feeling for the proletariat. In the 1970s, however, the liberal mood changed. Educated boomers shifted their attention to “issues of peace, equal rights, and environmentalism.” Instead of feeling the pain of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck characters, they began sneering at the less enlightened. These days, she notes, elite sympathies are limited to the poor, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ population. Despite clear evidence of suffering—stagnant wages, disappearing manufacturing jobs, declining health and well-being—the working class gets only fly-over snobbery at best and, more often, outright loathing.
Williams divides her chapters into a series of explainers to questions she has heard from her clueless friends and colleagues: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?” “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Just Move to Where the Jobs Are?” “Is the Working Class Just Racist?” She weaves her answers into a compelling picture of a way of life and worldview foreign to her targeted readers. Working-class Americans have had to struggle for whatever stability and comfort they have, she explains. Clocking in for midnight shifts year after year, enduring capricious bosses, plant closures, and layoffs, they’re reliant on tag-team parenting and stressed-out relatives for child care. The campus go-to word “privileged” seems exactly wrong.
Proud of their own self-sufficiency and success, however modest, they don’t begrudge the self-made rich. It’s snooty professionals and the dysfunctional poor who get their goat. From their vantage point, subsidizing the day care for a welfare mother when they themselves struggle to manage care on their own dime mocks both their hard work and their beliefs. And since, unlike most professors, they shop in the same stores as the dependent poor, they’ve seen that some of them game the system. Of course that stings.
White Working Class is especially good at evoking the alternate economic and mental universe experienced by Professional and Managerial Elites, or “PMEs.” PMEs see their non-judgment of the poor, especially those who are “POC,” as a mark of their mature understanding that we live in an unjust, racist system whose victims require compassion regardless of whether they have committed any crime. At any rate, their passions lie elsewhere. They define themselves through their jobs and professional achievements, hence their obsession with glass ceilings.
Williams tells the story of her husband’s faux pas at a high-school reunion. Forgetting his roots for a moment, the Ivy League–educated lawyer asked one of his Brooklyn classmates a question that is the go-to opener in elite social settings: “What do you do?” Angered by what must have seemed like deliberate humiliation by this prodigal son, the man hissed: “I sell toilets.”
Instead of stability and backyard barbecues with family and long-time neighbors and maybe the occasional Olive Garden celebration, PMEs are enamored of novelty: new foods, new restaurants, new friends, new experiences. The working class chooses to spend its leisure in comfortable familiarity; for the elite, social life is a lot like networking. Members of the professional class may view themselves as sophisticated or cosmopolitan, but, Williams shows, to the blue-collar worker their glad-handing is closer to phony social climbing and their abstract, knowledge-economy jobs more like self-important pencil-pushing.
White Working Class has a number of proposals for creating the progressive future Williams would like to see. She wants to get rid of college-for-all dogma and improve training for middle-skill jobs. She envisions a working-class coalition of all races and ethnicities bolstered by civics education with a “distinctly celebratory view of American institutions.” In a saner political environment, some of this would make sense; indeed, she echoes some of Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign themes. It’s little wonder White Working Class has already gotten the stink eye from liberal reviewers for its purported sympathies for racists.
Alas, impressive as Williams’s insights are, they do not always allow her to transcend her own class loyalties. Unsurprisingly, her own PME biases mostly come to light in her chapters on race and gender. She reduces immigration concerns to “fear of brown people,” even as she notes elsewhere that a quarter of Latinos also favor a wall at the southern border. This contrasts startlingly with her succinct observation that “if you don’t want to drive working-class whites to be attracted to the likes of Limbaugh, stop insulting them.” In one particularly obtuse moment, she asserts: “Because I study social inequality, I know that even Malia and Sasha Obama will be disadvantaged by race, advantaged as they are by class.” She relies on dubious gender theories to explain why the majority of white women voted for Trump rather than for his unfairly maligned opponent. That Hillary Clinton epitomized every elite quality Williams has just spent more than a hundred pages explicating escapes her notice. Williams’s own reflexive retreat into identity politics is itself emblematic of our toxic divisions, but it does not invalidate the power of this astute book.
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When music could not transcend evil
he story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, then as now Europe’s two greatest orchestras, were just as willing to do business with Hitler and his henchmen, firing their Jewish members and ceasing to perform the music of Jewish composers. Even after the war, the Vienna Philharmonic was notorious for being the most anti-Semitic orchestra in Europe, and it was well known in the music business (though never publicly discussed) that Helmut Wobisch, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter and its executive director from 1953 to 1968, had been both a member of the SS and a Gestapo spy.
The management of the Berlin Philharmonic made no attempt to cover up the orchestra’s close relationship with the Third Reich, no doubt because the Nazi ties of Karajan, who was its music director from 1956 until shortly before his death in 1989, were a matter of public record. Yet it was not until 2007 that a full-length study of its wartime activities, Misha Aster’s The Reich’s Orchestra: The Berlin Philharmonic 1933–1945, was finally published. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, its managers long sought to quash all discussion of the orchestra’s Nazi past, steadfastly refusing to open its institutional archives to scholars until 2008, when Fritz Trümpi, an Austrian scholar, was given access to its records. Five years later, the Viennese, belatedly following the precedent of the Berlin Philharmonic, added a lengthy section to their website called “The Vienna Philharmonic Under National Socialism (1938–1945),” in which the damning findings of Trümpi and two other independent scholars were made available to the public.
Now Trümpi has published The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich, in which he tells how they came to terms with Nazism, supplying pre- and postwar historical context for their transgressions.1 Written in a stiff mixture of academic jargon and translatorese, The Political Orchestra is ungratifying to read. Even so, the tale that it tells is both compelling and disturbing, especially to anyone who clings to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit.U
nlike the Vienna Philharmonic, which has always doubled as the pit orchestra for the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic started life in 1882 as a fully independent, self-governing entity. Initially unsubsidized by the state, it kept itself afloat by playing a grueling schedule of performances, including “popular” non-subscription concerts for which modest ticket prices were levied. In addition, the orchestra made records and toured internationally at a time when neither was common.
These activities made it possible for the Berlin Philharmonic to develop into an internationally renowned ensemble whose fabled collective virtuosity was widely seen as a symbol of German musical distinction. Furtwängler, the orchestra’s principal conductor, declared in 1932 that the German music in which it specialized was “one of the very few things that actually contribute to elevating [German] prestige.” Hence, he explained, the need for state subsidy, which he saw as “a matter of [national] prestige, that is, to some extent a requirement of national prudence.” By then, though, the orchestra was already heavily subsidized by the city of Berlin, thus paving the way for its takeover by the Nazis.
The Vienna Philharmonic, by contrast, had always been subsidized. Founded in 1842 when the orchestra of what was then the Vienna Court Opera decided to give symphonic concerts on its own, it performed the Austro-German classics for an elite cadre of longtime subscribers. By restricting membership to local players and their pupils, the orchestra cultivated what Furtwängler, who spent as much time conducting in Vienna as in Berlin, described as a “homogeneous and distinct tone quality.” At once dark and sweet, it was as instantly identifiable—and as characteristically Viennese—as the strong, spicy bouquet of a Gewürztraminer wine.
Unlike the Berlin Philharmonic, which played for whoever would pay the tab and programmed new music as a matter of policy, the Vienna Philharmonic chose not to diversify either its haute-bourgeois audience or its conservative repertoire. Instead, it played Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert (and, later, Bruckner and Richard Strauss) in Vienna for the Viennese. Starting in the ’20s, the orchestra’s recordings consolidated its reputation as one of the world’s foremost instrumental ensembles, but its internal culture remained proudly insular.
What the two orchestras had in common was a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism. One of the darkest manifestations of this ethos was their shared reluctance to hire Jews. The Berlin Philharmonic employed only four Jewish players in 1933, while the Vienna Philharmonic contained only 11 Jews at the time of the Anschluss, none of whom was hired after 1920. To be sure, such popular Jewish conductors as Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter continued to work in Vienna for as long as they could. Two months before the Anschluss, Walter led and recorded a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler, his musical mentor and fellow Jew, who from 1897 to 1907 had been the director of the Vienna Court Opera and one of the Philharmonic’s most admired conductors. But many members of both orchestras were open supporters of fascism, and not a few were anti-Semites who ardently backed Hitler. By 1942, 62 of the 123 active members of the Vienna Philharmonic were Nazi party members.
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
With what did they go along? Above all, they agreed to the scrubbing of Jewish music from their programs and the dismissal of their Jewish colleagues. Some Jewish players managed to escape with their lives, but seven of the Vienna Philharmonic’s 11 Jews were either murdered by the Nazis or died as a direct result of official persecution. In addition, both orchestras performed regularly at official government functions and made tours and other public appearances for propaganda purposes, and both were treated as gems in the diadem of Nazi culture.
As for Furtwängler, the most prominent of the Austro-German orchestral conductors who served the Reich, his relationship to Nazism continues to be debated to this day. He had initially resisted the firing of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Jewish members and protected them for as long as he could. But he was also a committed (if woolly-minded) nationalist who believed that German music had “a different meaning for us Germans than for other nations” and notoriously declared in an open letter to Goebbels that “we all welcome with great joy and gratitude . . . the restoration of our national honor.” Thereafter he cooperated with the Nazis, by all accounts uncomfortably but—it must be said—willingly. A monster of egotism, he saw himself as the greatest living exponent of German music and believed it to be his duty to stay behind and serve a cause higher than what he took to be mere party politics. “Human beings are free wherever Wagner and Beethoven are played, and if they are not free at first, they are freed while listening to these works,” he naively assured a horrified Arturo Toscanini in 1937. “Music transports them to regions where the Gestapo can do them no harm.”O
nce the war was over, the U.S. occupation forces decided to enlist the Berlin Philharmonic in the service of a democratic, anti-Soviet Germany. Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, who succeeded him as principal conductor, were officially “de-Nazified” and their orchestra allowed to function largely undisturbed, though six Nazi Party members were fired. The Vienna Philharmonic received similarly privileged treatment.
Needless to say, there was more to this decision than Cold War politics. No one questioned the unique artistic stature of either orchestra. Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic, precisely because of its insularity, was now seen as a living museum piece, a priceless repository of 19th-century musical tradition. Still, many musicians and listeners, Jews above all, looked askance at both orchestras for years to come, believing them to be tainted by Nazism.
Indeed they were, so much so that they treated many of their surviving Jewish ex-members in a way that can only be described as vicious. In the most blatant individual case, the violinist Szymon Goldberg, who had served as the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster under Furtwängler, was not allowed to reassume his post in 1945 and was subsequently denied a pension. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, the fact that it made Helmut Wobisch its executive director says everything about its deep-seated unwillingness to face up to its collective sins.
Be that as it may, scarcely any prominent musicians chose to boycott either orchestra. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war. Upon meeting Herbert von Karajan in 1954, he actually told his wife Felicia that he had become “real good friends with von Karajan, whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.”
At the same time, though, Bernstein understood what he was choosing to overlook. When he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1966, he wrote to his parents:
I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can. There are so many sad memories here; one deals with so many ex-Nazis (and maybe still Nazis); and you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget. The city is so beautiful, and so full of tradition. Everyone here lives for music, especially opera, and I seem to be the new hero.
Did Bernstein sell his soul for the opportunity to work with so justly renowned an orchestra—and did he get his price by insisting that its members perform the symphonies of Mahler, with which he was by then closely identified? It is a fair question, one that does not lend itself to easy answers.
Even more revealing is the case of Bruno Walter, who never forgave Furtwängler for staying behind in Germany, informing him in an angry letter that “your art was used as a conspicuously effective means of propaganda for the regime of the Devil.” Yet Walter’s righteous anger did not stop him from conducting in Vienna after the war. Born in Berlin, he had come to identify with the Philharmonic so closely that it was impossible for him to seriously consider quitting its podium permanently. “Spiritually, I was a Viennese,” he wrote in Theme and Variations, his 1946 autobiography. In 1952, he made a second recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, whose premiere he had conducted in 1911 and which he had recorded in Vienna 15 years earlier. One wonders what Walter, who had converted to Christianity but had been driven out of both his native lands for the crime of being Jewish, made of the text of the last movement: “My friend, / On this earth, fortune has not been kind to me! / Where do I go?”
As for the two great orchestras of the Third Reich, both have finally acknowledged their guilt and been forgiven, at least by those who know little of their past. It would occur to no one to decline on principle to perform with either group today. Such a gesture would surely be condemned as morally ostentatious, an exercise in what we now call virtue-signaling. Yet it is impossible to forget what Samuel Lipman wrote in 1993 in Commentary apropos the wartime conduct of Furtwängler: “The ultimate triumph of totalitarianism, I suppose it can be said, is that under its sway only a martyred death can be truly moral.” For the only martyrs of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were their Jews. The orchestras themselves live on, tainted and beloved.
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He knows what to reveal and what to conceal, understands the importance of keeping the semblance of distance between oneself and the story of the day, and comprehends the ins and outs of anonymous sourcing. Within days of his being fired by President Trump on May 9, for example, little green men and women, known only as his “associates,” began appearing in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post to dispute key points of the president’s account of his dismissal and to promote Comey’s theory of the case.
“In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty,” the New York Times reported on May 11. “Comey Demurred.” The story was a straightforward narrative of events from Comey’s perspective, capped with an obligatory denial from the White House. The next day, the Washington Post reported, “Comey associates dispute Trump’s account of conversations.” The Post did not identify Comey’s associates, other than saying that they were “people who have worked with him.”
Maybe they were the same associates who had gabbed to the Times. Or maybe they were different ones. Who can tell? Regardless, the story these particular associates gave to the Post was readable and gripping. Comey, the Post reported, “was wary of private meetings and discussions with the president and did not offer the assurance, as Trump has claimed, that Trump was not under investigation as part of the probe into Russian interference in last year’s election.”
On May 16, Michael S. Schmidt of the Times published his scoop, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.” Schmidt didn’t see the memo for himself. Parts of it were read to him by—you guessed it—“one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The following day, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. On May 18, the Times, citing “two people briefed” on a call between Comey and the president, reported, “Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance.” And by the end of that week, Comey had agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As his testimony approached, Comey’s people became more aggressive in their criticisms of the president. “Trump Should Be Scared, Comey Friend Says,” read the headline of a CNN interview with Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes. This “Comey friend” said he was “very shocked” when he learned that President Trump had asked Comey for loyalty. “I have no doubt that he regarded the group of people around the president as dishonorable,” Wittes said.
Comey, Wittes added, was so uncomfortable at the White House reception in January honoring law enforcement—the one where Comey lumbered across the room and Trump whispered something in his ear—that, as CNN paraphrased it, he “stood in a position so that his blue blazer would blend in with the room’s blue drapes in an effort for Trump to not notice him.” The integrity, the courage—can you feel it?
On June 6, the day before Comey’s prepared testimony was released, more “associates” told ABC that the director would “not corroborate Trump’s claim that on three separate occasions Comey told the president he was not under investigation.” And a “source with knowledge of Comey’s testimony” told CNN the same thing. In addition, ABC reported that, according to “a source familiar with Comey’s thinking,” the former director would say that Trump’s actions stopped short of obstruction of justice.
Maybe those sources weren’t as “familiar with Comey’s thinking” as they thought or hoped? To maximize the press coverage he already dominated, Comey had authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to release his testimony ahead of his personal interview. That testimony told a different story than what had been reported by CNN and ABC (and by the Post on May 12). Comey had in fact told Trump the president was not under investigation—on January 6, January 27, and March 30. Moreover, the word “obstruction” did not appear at all in his written text. The senators asked Comey if he felt Trump obstructed justice. He declined to answer either way.
My guess is that Comey’s associates lacked Comey’s scalpel-like, almost Jesuitical ability to make distinctions, and therefore misunderstood what he was telling them to say to the press. Because it’s obvious Comey was the one behind the stories of Trump’s dishonesty and bad behavior. He admitted as much in front of the cameras in a remarkable exchange with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Comey said that, after Trump tweeted on May 12 that he’d better hope there aren’t “tapes” of their conversations, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
Collins asked whether that friend had been Wittes, known to cable news junkies as Comey’s bestie. Comey said no. The source for the New York Times article was “a good friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia Law School,” Daniel Richman.
Every time I watch or read that exchange, I am amazed. Here is the former director of the FBI just flat-out admitting that, for months, he wrote down every interaction he had with the president of the United States because he wanted a written record in case the president ever fired or lied about him. And when the president did fire and lie about him, that director set in motion a series of public disclosures with the intent of not only embarrassing the president, but also forcing the appointment of a special counsel who might end up investigating the president for who knows what. And none of this would have happened if the president had not fired Comey or tweeted about him. He told the Senate that if Trump hadn’t dismissed him, he most likely would still be on the job.
Rarely, in my view, are high officials so transparent in describing how Washington works. Comey revealed to the world that he was keeping a file on his boss, that he used go-betweens to get his story into the press, that “investigative journalism” is often just powerful people handing documents to reporters to further their careers or agendas or even to get revenge. And as long as you maintain some distance from the fallout, and stick to the absolute letter of the law, you will come out on top, so long as you have a small army of nightingales singing to reporters on your behalf.
“It’s the end of the Comey era,” A.B. Stoddard said on Special Report with Bret Baier the other day. On the contrary: I have a feeling that, as the Russia investigation proceeds, we will be hearing much more from Comey. And from his “associates.” And his “friends.” And persons “familiar with his thinking.”
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
In April, COMMENTARY asked a wide variety of writers,
thinkers, and broadcasters to respond to this question: Is free speech under threat in the United States? We received twenty-seven responses. We publish them here in alphabetical order.
Floyd AbramsFree expression threatened? By Donald Trump? I guess you could say so.
When a president engages in daily denigration of the press, when he characterizes it as the enemy of the people, when he repeatedly says that the libel laws should be “loosened” so he can personally commence more litigation, when he says that journalists shouldn’t be allowed to use confidential sources, it is difficult even to suggest that he has not threatened free speech. And when he says to the head of the FBI (as former FBI director James Comey has said that he did) that Comey should consider “putting reporters in jail for publishing classified information,” it is difficult not to take those threats seriously.
The harder question, though, is this: How real are the threats? Or, as Michael Gerson put it in the Washington Post: Will Trump “go beyond mere Twitter abuse and move against institutions that limit his power?” Some of the president’s threats against the institution of the press, wittingly or not, have been simply preposterous. Surely someone has told him by now that neither he nor Congress can “loosen” libel laws; while each state has its own libel law, there is no federal libel law and thus nothing for him to loosen. What he obviously takes issue with is the impact that the Supreme Court’s 1964 First Amendment opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan has had on state libel laws. The case determined that public officials who sue for libel may not prevail unless they demonstrate that the statements made about them were false and were made with actual knowledge or suspicion of that falsity. So his objection to the rules governing libel law is to nothing less than the application of the First Amendment itself.
In other areas, however, the Trump administration has far more power to imperil free speech. We live under an Espionage Act, adopted a century ago, which is both broad in its language and uncommonly vague in its meaning. As such, it remains a half-open door through which an administration that is hostile to free speech might walk. Such an administration could initiate criminal proceedings against journalists who write about defense- or intelligence-related topics on the basis that classified information was leaked to them by present or former government employees. No such action has ever been commenced against a journalist. Press lawyers and civil-liberties advocates have strong arguments that the law may not be read so broadly and still be consistent with the First Amendment. But the scope of the Espionage Act and the impact of the First Amendment upon its interpretation remain unknown.
A related area in which the attitude of an administration toward the press may affect the latter’s ability to function as a check on government relates to the ability of journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources. The Obama administration prosecuted more Espionage Act cases against sources of information to journalists than all prior administrations combined. After a good deal of deserved press criticism, it agreed to expand the internal guidelines of the Department of Justice designed to limit the circumstances under which such source revelation is demanded. But the guidelines are none too protective and are, after all, simply guidelines. A new administration is free to change or limit them or, in fact, abandon them altogether. In this area, as in so many others, it is too early to judge the ultimate treatment of free expression by the Trump administration. But the threats are real, and there is good reason to be wary.
Floyd Abrams is the author of The Soul of the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2017).
Ayaan Hirsi AliFreedom of speech is being threatened in the United States by a nascent culture of hostility to different points of view. As political divisions in America have deepened, a conformist mentality of “right thinking” has spread across the country. Increasingly, American universities, where no intellectual doctrine ought to escape critical scrutiny, are some of the most restrictive domains when it comes to asking open-ended questions on subjects such as Islam.
Legally, speech in the United States is protected to a degree unmatched in almost any industrialized country. The U.S. has avoided unpredictable Canadian-style restrictions on speech, for example. I remain optimistic that as long as we have the First Amendment in the U.S., any attempt at formal legal censorship will be vigorously challenged.
Culturally, however, matters are very different in America. The regressive left is the forerunner threatening free speech on any issue that is important to progressives. The current pressure coming from those who call themselves “social-justice warriors” is unlikely to lead to successful legislation to curb the First Amendment. Instead, censorship is spreading in the cultural realm, particularly at institutions of higher learning.
The way activists of the regressive left achieve silence or censorship is by creating a taboo, and one of the most pernicious taboos in operation today is the word “Islamophobia.” Islamists are similarly motivated to rule any critical scrutiny of Islamic doctrine out of order. There is now a university center (funded by Saudi money) in the U.S. dedicated to monitoring and denouncing incidences of “Islamophobia.”
The term “Islamophobia” is used against critics of political Islam, but also against progressive reformers within Islam. The term implies an irrational fear that is tainted by hatred, and it has had a chilling effect on free speech. In fact, “Islamophobia” is a poorly defined term. Islam is not a race, and it is very often perfectly rational to fear some expressions of Islam. No set of ideas should be beyond critical scrutiny.
To push back in this cultural realm—in our universities, in public discourse—those favoring free speech should focus more on the message of dawa, the set of ideas that the Islamists want to promote. If the aims of dawa are sufficiently exposed, ordinary Americans and Muslim Americans will reject it. The Islamist message is a message of divisiveness, misogyny, and hatred. It’s anachronistic and wants people to live by tribal norms dating from the seventh century. The best antidote to Islamic extremism is the revelation of what its primary objective is: a society governed by Sharia. This is the opposite of censorship: It is documenting reality. What is life like in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Northern Nigerian States? What is the true nature of Sharia law?
Islamists want to hide the true meaning of Sharia, Jihad, and the implications for women, gays, religious minorities, and infidels under the veil of “Islamophobia.” Islamists use “Islamophobia” to obfuscate their vision and imply that any scrutiny of political Islam is hatred and bigotry. The antidote to this is more exposure and more speech.
As pressure on freedom of speech increases from the regressive left, we must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islamic doctrines is inherently “racist.”
Instead of contorting Western intellectual traditions so as not to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we need to defend the Muslim dissidents who are risking their lives to promote the human rights we take for granted: equality for women, tolerance of all religions and orientations, our hard-won freedoms of speech and thought.
It is by nurturing and protecting such speech that progressive reforms can emerge within Islam. By accepting the increasingly narrow confines of acceptable discourse on issues such as Islam, we do dissidents and progressive reformers within Islam a grave disservice. For truly progressive reforms within Islam to be possible, full freedom of speech will be required.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the founder of the AHA Foundation.
Lee C. BollingerI know it is too much to expect that political discourse mimic the measured, self-questioning, rational, footnoting standards of the academy, but there is a difference between robust political debate and political debate infected with fear or panic. The latter introduces a state of mind that is visceral and irrational. In the realm of fear, we move beyond the reach of reason and a sense of proportionality. When we fear, we lose the capacity to listen and can become insensitive and mean.
Our Constitution is well aware of this fact about the human mind and of its negative political consequences. In the First Amendment jurisprudence established over the past century, we find many expressions of the problematic state of mind that is produced by fear. Among the most famous and potent is that of Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927, one of the many cases involving aggravated fears of subversive threats from abroad. “It is the function of (free) speech,” he said, “to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” “Men feared witches,” Brandeis continued, “and burned women.”
Today, our “witches” are terrorists, and Brandeis’s metaphorical “women” include the refugees (mostly children) and displaced persons, immigrants, and foreigners whose lives have been thrown into suspension and doubt by policies of exclusion.
The same fears of the foreign that take hold of a population inevitably infect our internal interactions and institutions, yielding suppression of unpopular and dissenting voices, victimization of vulnerable groups, attacks on the media, and the rise of demagoguery, with its disdain for facts, reason, expertise, and tolerance.
All of this poses a very special obligation on those of us within universities. Not only must we make the case in every venue for the values that form the core of who we are and what we do, but we must also live up to our own principles of free inquiry and fearless engagement with all ideas. This is why recent incidents on a handful of college campuses disrupting and effectively censoring speakers is so alarming. Such acts not only betray a basic principle but also inflame a rising prejudice against the academic community, and they feed efforts to delegitimize our work, at the very moment when it’s most needed.
I do not for a second support the view that this generation has an unhealthy aversion to engaging differences of opinion. That is a modern trope of polarization, as is the portrayal of universities as hypocritical about academic freedom and political correctness. But now, in this environment especially, universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to the sort of fearless and spirited debate that we are simultaneously asking of the larger society. Anyone with a voice can shout over a speaker; but being able to listen to and then effectively rebut those with whom we disagree—particularly those who themselves peddle intolerance—is one of the greatest skills our education can bestow. And it is something our democracy desperately needs more of. That is why, I say to you now, if speakers who are being denied access to other campuses come here, I will personally volunteer to introduce them, and listen to them, however much I may disagree with them. But I will also never hesitate to make clear why I disagree with them.
Lee C. Bollinger is the 19th president of Columbia University and the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century. This piece has been excerpted from President Bollinger’s May 17 commencement address.
Richard A. Epstein
Today, the greatest threat to the constitutional protection of freedom of speech comes from campus rabble-rousers who invoke this very protection. In their book, the speech of people like Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald constitutes a form of violence, bordering on genocide, that receives no First Amendment protection. Enlightened protestors are both bound and entitled to shout them down, by force or other disruptive actions, if their universities are so foolish as to extend them an invitation to speak. Any indignant minority may take the law into its own hands to eradicate the intellectual cancer before it spreads on their own campus.
By such tortured logic, a new generation of vigilantes distorts the First Amendment doctrine: Speech becomes violence, and violence becomes heroic acts of self-defense. The standard First Amendment interpretation emphatically rejects that view. Of course, the First Amendment doesn’t let you say what you want when and wherever you want to. Your freedom of speech is subject to the same limitations as your freedom of action. So you have no constitutional license to assault other people, to lie to them, or to form cartels to bilk them in the marketplace. But folks such as Murray, Mac Donald, and even Yiannopoulos do not come close to crossing into that forbidden territory. They are not using, for example, “fighting words,” rightly limited to words or actions calculated to provoke immediate aggression against a known target. Fighting words are worlds apart from speech that provokes a negative reaction in those who find your speech offensive solely because of the content of its message.
This distinction is central to the First Amendment. Fighting words have to be blocked by well-tailored criminal and civil sanctions lest some people gain license to intimidate others from speaking or peaceably assembling. The remedy for mere offense is to speak one’s mind in response. But it never gives anyone the right to block the speech of others, lest everyone be able to unilaterally increase his sphere of action by getting really angry about the beliefs of others. No one has the right to silence others by working himself into a fit of rage.
Obviously, it is intolerable to let mutual animosity generate factional warfare, whereby everyone can use force to silence rivals. To avoid this war of all against all, each side claims that only its actions are privileged. These selective claims quickly degenerate into a form of viewpoint discrimination, which undermines one of the central protections that traditional First Amendment law erects: a wall against each and every group out to destroy the level playing field on which robust political debate rests. Every group should be at risk for having its message fall flat. The new campus radicals want to upend that understanding by shutting down their adversaries if their universities do not. Their aggression must be met, if necessary, by counterforce. Silence in the face of aggression is not an acceptable alternative.
Richard A. Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
David FrenchWe’re living in the midst of a troubling paradox. At the exact same time that First Amendment jurisprudence has arguably never been stronger and more protective of free expression, millions of Americans feel they simply can’t speak freely. Indeed, talk to Americans living and working in the deep-blue confines of the academy, Hollywood, and the tech sector, and you’ll get a sense of palpable fear. They’ll explain that they can’t say what they think and keep their jobs, their friends, and sometimes even their families.
The government isn’t cracking down or censoring; instead, Americans are using free speech to destroy free speech. For example, a social-media shaming campaign is an act of free speech. So is an economic boycott. So is turning one’s back on a public speaker. So is a private corporation firing a dissenting employee for purely political reasons. Each of these actions is largely protected from government interference, and each one represents an expression of the speaker’s ideas and values.
The problem, however, is obvious. The goal of each of these kinds of actions isn’t to persuade; it’s to intimidate. The goal isn’t to foster dialogue but to coerce conformity. The result is a marketplace of ideas that has been emptied of all but the approved ideological vendors—at least in those communities that are dominated by online thugs and corporate bullies. Indeed, this mindset has become so prevalent that in places such as Portland, Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere, the bullies and thugs have crossed the line from protected—albeit abusive—speech into outright shout-downs and mob violence.
But there’s something else going on, something that’s insidious in its own way. While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.
The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.
The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.
David French is a senior writer at National Review.
Pamela GellerThe real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? Not without war, I suspect, as is evidenced by the violence at colleges whenever there’s the shamefully rare event of a conservative speaker on campus.
Free speech is the soul of our nation and the foundation of all our other freedoms. If we can’t speak out against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
With that principle in mind, I organized a free-speech event in Garland, Texas. The world had recently been rocked by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. My version of “Je Suis Charlie” was an event here in America to show that we can still speak freely and draw whatever we like in the Land of the Free. Yet even after jihadists attacked our event, I was blamed—by Donald Trump among others—for provoking Muslims. And if I tried to hold a similar event now, no arena in the country would allow me to do so—not just because of the security risk, but because of the moral cowardice of all intellectual appeasers.
Under what law is it wrong to depict Muhammad? Under Islamic law. But I am not a Muslim, I don’t live under Sharia. America isn’t under Islamic law, yet for standing for free speech, I’ve been:
- Prevented from running our advertisements in every major city in this country. We have won free-speech lawsuits all over the country, which officials circumvent by prohibiting all political ads (while making exceptions for ads from Muslim advocacy groups);
- Shunned by the right, shut out of the Conservative Political Action Conference;
- Shunned by Jewish groups at the behest of terror-linked groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
- Blacklisted from speaking at universities;
- Prevented from publishing books, for security reasons and because publishers fear shaming from the left;
- Banned from Britain.
A Seattle court accused me of trying to shut down free speech after we merely tried to run an FBI poster on global terrorism, because authorities had banned all political ads in other cities to avoid running ours. Seattle blamed us for that, which was like blaming a woman for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt.
This kind of vilification and shunning is key to the left’s plan to shut down all dissent from its agenda—they make legislation restricting speech unnecessary.
The same refusal to allow our point of view to be heard has manifested itself elsewhere. The foundation of my work is individual rights and equality for all before the law. These are the foundational principles of our constitutional republic. That is now considered controversial. Truth is the new hate speech. Truth is going to be criminalized.
The First Amendment doesn’t only protect ideas that are sanctioned by the cultural and political elites. If “hate speech” laws are enacted, who would decide what’s permissible and what’s forbidden? The government? The gunmen in Garland?
There has been an inversion of the founding premise of this nation. No longer is it the subordination of might to right, but right to might. History is repeatedly deformed with the bloody consequences of this transition.
Pamela Geller is the editor in chief of the Geller Report and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
Jonah GoldbergOf course free speech is under threat in America. Frankly, it’s always under threat in America because it’s always under threat everywhere. Ronald Reagan was right when he said in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
This is more than political boilerplate. Reagan identified the source of the threat: human nature. God may have endowed us with a right to liberty, but he didn’t give us all a taste for it. As with most finer things, we must work to acquire a taste for it. That is what civilization—or at least our civilization—is supposed to do: cultivate attachments to certain ideals. “Cultivate” shares the same Latin root as “culture,” cultus, and properly understood they mean the same thing: to grow, nurture, and sustain through labor.
In the past, threats to free speech have taken many forms—nationalist passion, Comstockery (both good and bad), political suppression, etc.—but the threat to free speech today is different. It is less top-down and more bottom-up. We are cultivating a generation of young people to reject free speech as an important value.
One could mark the beginning of the self-esteem movement with Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 paper, “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” which claimed that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” This understandable idea ran amok in our schools and in our culture. When I was a kid, Saturday-morning cartoons were punctuated with public-service announcements telling kids: “The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you!”
The self-esteem craze was just part of the cocktail of educational fads. Other ingredients included multiculturalism, the anti-bullying crusade, and, of course, that broad phenomenon known as “political correctness.” Combined, they’ve produced a generation that rejects the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me” in favor of the notion that “words hurt.” What we call political correctness has been on college campuses for decades. But it lacked a critical mass of young people who were sufficiently receptive to it to make it a fully successful ideology. The campus commissars welcomed the new “snowflakes” with open arms; truly, these are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“Words hurt” is a fashionable concept in psychology today. (See Psychology Today: “Why Words Can Hurt at Least as Much as Sticks and Stones.”) But it’s actually a much older idea than the “sticks and stones” aphorism. For most of human history, it was a crime to say insulting or “injurious” things about aristocrats, rulers, the Church, etc. That tendency didn’t evaporate with the Divine Right of Kings. Jonathan Haidt has written at book length about our natural capacity to create zones of sanctity, immune from reason.
And that is the threat free speech faces today. Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are in reality fighting “heresy speech”—ideas that do “violence” to sacred notions of self-esteem, racial or gender equality, climate change, and so on. Put whatever label you want on it, contemporary “social justice” progressivism acts as a religion, and it has no patience for blasphemy.
When Napoleon’s forces converted churches into stables, the clergy did not object on the grounds that regulations regarding the proper care and feeding of animals had been violated. They complained of sacrilege and blasphemy. When Charles Murray or Christina Hoff Summers visits college campuses, the protestors are behaving like the zealous acolytes of St. Jerome. Appeals to the First Amendment have as much power over the “antifa” fanatics as appeals to Odin did to champions of the New Faith.
That is the real threat to free speech today.
Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
KC JohnsonIn early May, the Washington Post urged universities to make clear that “racist signs, symbols, and speech are off-limits.” Given the extraordinarily broad definition of what constitutes “racist” speech at most institutions of higher education, this demand would single out most right-of-center (and, in some cases, even centrist and liberal) discourse on issues of race or ethnicity. The editorial provided the highest-profile example of how hostility to free speech, once confined to the ideological fringe on campus, has migrated to the liberal mainstream.
The last few years have seen periodic college protests—featuring claims that significant amounts of political speech constitute “violence,” thereby justifying censorship—followed by even more troubling attempts to appease the protesters. After the mob scene that greeted Charles Murray upon his visit to Middlebury College, for instance, the student government criticized any punishment for the protesters, and several student leaders wanted to require that future speakers conform to the college’s “community standard” on issues of race, gender, and ethnicity. In the last few months, similar attempts to stifle the free exchange of ideas in the name of promoting diversity occurred at Wesleyan, Claremont McKenna, and Duke. Offering an extreme interpretation of this point of view, one CUNY professor recently dismissed dialogue as “inherently conservative,” since it reinforced the “relations of power that presently exist.”
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss campus hostility to free speech as affecting only a small segment of American public life—albeit one that trains the next generation of judges, legislators, and voters. But, as Jonathan Chait observed in 2015, denying “the legitimacy of political pluralism on issues of race and gender” has broad appeal on the left. It is only most apparent on campus because “the academy is one of the few bastions of American life where the political left can muster the strength to impose its political hegemony upon others.” During his time in office, Barack Obama generally urged fellow liberals to support open intellectual debate. But the current campus environment previews the position of free speech in a post-Obama Democratic Party, increasingly oriented around identity politics.
Waning support on one end of the ideological spectrum for this bedrock American principle should provide a political opening for the other side. The Trump administration, however, seems poorly suited to make the case. Throughout his public career, Trump has rarely supported free speech, even in the abstract, and has periodically embraced legal changes to facilitate libel lawsuits. Moreover, the right-wing populism that motivates Trump’s base has a long tradition of ideological hostility to civil liberties of all types. Even in campus contexts, conservatives have defended free speech inconsistently, as seen in recent calls that CUNY disinvite anti-Zionist fanatic Linda Sarsour as a commencement speaker.
In a sharply polarized political environment, awash in dubiously-sourced information, free speech is all the more important. Yet this same environment has seen both sides, most blatantly elements of the left on campuses, demand restrictions on their ideological foes’ free speech in the name of promoting a greater good.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Laura KipnisI find myself with a strange-bedfellows problem lately. Here I am, a left-wing feminist professor invited onto the pages of Commentary—though I’d be thrilled if it were still 1959—while fielding speaking requests from right-wing think tanks and libertarians who oppose child-labor laws.
Somehow I’ve ended up in the middle of the free-speech-on-campus debate. My initial crime was publishing a somewhat contentious essay about campus sexual paranoia that put me on the receiving end of Title IX complaints. Apparently I’d created a “hostile environment” at my university. I was investigated (for 72 days). Then I wrote up what I’d learned about these campus inquisitions in a second essay. Then I wrote about it all some more, in a book exposing the kangaroo-court elements of the Title IX process—and the extra-legal gag orders imposed on everyone caught in its widening snare.
I can’t really comment on whether more charges have been filed against me over the book. I’ll just say that writing about being a Title IX respondent could easily become a life’s work. I learned, shortly after writing this piece, that I and my publisher were being sued for defamation, among other things.
Is free speech under threat on American campuses? Yes. We know all about student activists who wish to shut down talks by people with opposing views. I got smeared with a bit of that myself, after a speaking invitation at Wellesley—some students made a video protesting my visit before I arrived. The talk went fine, though a group of concerned faculty circulated an open letter afterward also protesting the invitation: My views on sexual politics were too heretical, and might have offended students.
I didn’t take any of this too seriously, even as right-wing pundits crowed, with Wellesley as their latest outrage bait. It was another opportunity to mock student activists, and the fact that I was myself a feminist rather than a Charles Murray or a Milo Yiannopoulos, made them positively gleeful.
I do find myself wondering where all my new free-speech pals were when another left-wing professor, Steven Salaita, was fired (or if you prefer euphemism, “his job offer was withdrawn”) from the University of Illinois after he tweeted criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy. Sure the tweets were hyperbolic, but hyperbole and strong opinions are protected speech, too.
I guess free speech is easy to celebrate until it actually challenges something. Funny, I haven’t seen Milo around lately—so beloved by my new friends when he was bashing minorities and transgender kids. Then he mistakenly said something authentic (who knew he was capable of it!), reminiscing about an experience a lot of gay men have shared: teenage sex with older men. He tried walking it back—no, no, he’d been a victim, not a participant—but his fan base was shrieking about pedophilia and fleeing in droves. Gee, they were all so against “political correctness” a few minutes before.
It’s easy to be a free-speech fan when your feathers aren’t being ruffled. No doubt what makes me palatable to the anti-PC crowd is having thus far failed to ruffle them enough. I’m just going to have to work harder.
Laura Kipnis’s latest book is Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.
Eugene KontorovichThe free and open exchange of views—especially politically conservative or traditionally religious ones—is being challenged. This is taking place not just at college campuses but throughout our public spaces and cultural institutions. James Watson was fired from the lab he led since 1968 and could not speak at New York University because of petty, censorious students who would not know DNA from LSD. Our nation’s founders and heroes are being “disappeared” from public commemoration, like Trotsky from a photograph of Soviet rulers.
These attacks on “free speech” are not the result of government action. They are not what the First Amendment protects against. The current methods—professional and social shaming, exclusion, and employment termination—are more inchoate, and their effects are multiplied by self-censorship. A young conservative legal scholar might find himself thinking: “If the late Justice Antonin Scalia can posthumously be deemed a ‘bigot’ by many academics, what chance have I?”
Ironically, artists and intellectuals have long prided themselves on being the first defenders of free speech. Today, it is the institutions of both popular and high culture that are the censors. Is there one poet in the country who would speak out for Ann Coulter?
The inhibition of speech at universities is part of a broader social phenomenon of making longstanding, traditional views and practices sinful overnight. Conservatives have not put up much resistance to this. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous dictum: “First they came for Robert E. Lee, and I said nothing, because Robert E. Lee meant nothing to me.”
The situation with respect to Israel and expressions of support for it deserves separate discussion. Even as university administrators give political power to favored ideologies by letting them create “safe spaces” (safe from opposing views), Jews find themselves and their state at the receiving end of claims of apartheid—modern day blood libels. It is not surprising if Jewish students react by demanding that they get a safe space of their own. It is even less surprising if their parents, paying $65,000 a year, want their children to have a nicer time of it. One hears Jewish groups frequently express concern about Jewish students feeling increasingly isolated and uncomfortable on campus.
But demanding selective protection from the new ideological commissars is unlikely to bring the desired results. First, this new ideology, even if it can be harnessed momentarily to give respite to harassed Jews on campus, is ultimately illiberal and will be controlled by “progressive” forces. Second, it is not so terrible for Jews in the Diaspora to feel a bit uncomfortable. It has been the common condition of Jews throughout the millennia. The social awkwardness that Jews at liberal arts schools might feel in being associated with Israel is of course one of the primary justifications for the Jewish State. Facing the snowflakes incapable of hearing a dissonant view—but who nonetheless, in the grip of intersectional ecstasy, revile Jewish self-determination—Jewish students should toughen up.
Eugene Kontorovich teaches constitutional law at Northwestern University and heads the international law department of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.
Nicholas LemannThere’s an old Tom Wolfe essay in which he describes being on a panel discussion at Princeton in 1965 and provoking the other panelists by announcing that America, rather than being in crisis, is in the middle of a “happiness explosion.” He was arguing that the mass effects of 20 years of post–World War II prosperity made for a larger phenomenon than the Vietnam War, the racial crisis, and the other primary concerns of intellectuals at the time.
In the same spirit, I’d say that we are in the middle of a free-speech explosion, because of 20-plus years of the Internet and 10-plus years of social media. If one understands speech as disseminated individual opinion, then surely we live in the free-speech-est society in the history of the world. Anybody with access to the unimpeded World Wide Web can say anything to a global audience, and anybody can hear anything, too. All threats to free speech should be understood in the context of this overwhelmingly reality.
It is a comforting fantasy that a genuine free-speech regime will empower mainly “good,” but previously repressed, speech. Conversely, repressive regimes that are candid enough to explain their anti-free-speech policies usually say that they’re not against free speech, just “bad” speech. We have to accept that more free speech probably means, in the aggregate, more bad speech, and also a weakening of the power, authority, and economic support for information professionals such as journalists. Welcome to the United States in 2017.
I am lucky enough to live and work on the campus of a university, Columbia, that has been blessedly free of successful attempts to repress free speech. Just in the last few weeks, Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza have spoken here without incident. But, yes, the evidently growing popularity of the idea that “hate speech” shouldn’t be permitted on campuses is a problem, especially, it seems, at small private liberal-arts colleges. We should all do our part, and I do, by frequently and publicly endorsing free-speech principles. Opposing the BDS movement falls squarely into that category.
It’s not just on campuses that free-speech vigilance is needed, though. The number-one threat to free speech, to my mind, is that the wide-open Web has been replaced by privately owned platforms such as Facebook and Google as the way most people experience the public life of the Internet. These companies are committed to banning “hate speech,” and they are eager to operate freely in countries, like China, that don’t permit free political speech. That makes for a far more consequential constrained environment than any campus’s speech code.
Also, Donald Trump regularly engages in presidentially unprecedented rhetoric demonizing people who disagree with him. He seems to think this is all in good fun, but, as we have already seen at his rallies, not everybody hears it that way. The place where Trumpism will endanger free speech isn’t in the center—the White House press room—but at the periphery, for example in the way that local police handle bumptious protestors and the journalists covering them. This is already happening around the country. If Trump were as disciplined and knowledgeable as Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which so far he seems not to be, then free speech could be in even more serious danger from government, which in most places is its usual main enemy.
Nicholas Lemann is a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Michael J. LewisFree speech is a right but it is also a habit, and where the habit shrivels so will the right. If free speech today is in headlong retreat—everywhere threatened by regulation, organized harassment, and even violence—it is in part because our political culture allowed the practice of persuasive oratory to atrophy. The process began in 1973, an unforeseen side effect of Roe v. Wade. Legislators were delighted to learn that by relegating this divisive matter of public policy to the Supreme Court and adopting a merely symbolic position, they could sit all the more safely in their safe seats.
Since then, one crucial question of public policy after another has been punted out of the realm of politics and into the judicial. Issues that might have been debated with all the rhetorical agility of a Lincoln and a Douglas, and then subjected to a process of negotiation, compromise, and voting, have instead been settled by decree: e.g., Chevron, Kelo, Obergefell. The consequences for speech have been pernicious. Since the time of Pericles, deliberative democracy has been predicated on the art of persuasion, which demands the forceful clarity of thought and expression without which no one has ever been persuaded. But a legislature that relegates its authority to judges and regulators will awaken to discover its oratorical culture has been stunted. When politicians, rather than seeking to convince and win over, prefer to project a studied and pleasant vagueness, debate withers into tedious defensive performance. It has been decades since any presidential debate has seen any sustained give and take over a matter of policy. If there is any suspense at all, it is only the possibility that a fatigued or peeved candidate might blurt out that tactless shard of truth known as a gaffe.
A generation accustomed to hearing platitudes smoothly dispensed from behind a teleprompter will find the speech of a fearless extemporaneous speaker to be startling, even disquieting; unfamiliar ideas always are. Unhappily, they have been taught to interpret that disquiet as an injury done to them, rather than as a premise offered to them to consider. All this would not have happened—certainly not to this extent—had not our deliberative democracy decided a generation ago that it preferred the security of incumbency to the risks of unshackled debate. The compulsory contraction of free speech on college campuses is but the logical extension of the voluntary contraction of free speech in our political culture.
Michael J. Lewis’s new book is City of Refuge: Separatists and Utopian Town Planning (Princeton University Press).
Heather Mac DonaldThe answer to the symposium question depends on how powerful the transmission belt is between academia and the rest of the country. On college campuses, violence and brute force are silencing speakers who challenge left-wing campus orthodoxies. These totalitarian outbreaks have been met with listless denunciations by college presidents, followed by . . . virtually nothing. As of mid-May, the only discipline imposed for 2017’s mass attacks on free speech at UC Berkeley, Middlebury, and Clare-mont McKenna College was a letter of reprimand inserted—sometimes only temporarily—into the files of several dozen Middlebury students, accompanied by a brief period of probation. Previous outbreaks of narcis-sistic incivility, such as the screaming-girl fit at Yale and the assaults on attendees of Yale’s Buckley program, were discreetly ignored by college administrators.
Meanwhile, the professoriate unapologetically defends censorship and violence. After the February 1 riot in Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannapoulos from speaking, Déborah Blocker, associate professor of French at UC Berkeley, praised the rioters. They were “very well-organized and very efficient,” Blocker reported admiringly to her fellow professors. “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order for the MY event and making sure no one in the crowd got hurt” (emphasis in original). (In fact, perceived Milo and Donald Trump supporters were sucker-punched and maced; businesses downtown were torched and vandalized.) New York University’s vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, Ulrich Baer, displayed Orwellian logic by claiming in a New York Times op-ed that shutting down speech “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people.”
Will non-academic institutions take up this zeal for outright censorship? Other ideological products of the left-wing academy have been fully absorbed and operationalized. Racial victimology, which drives much of the campus censorship, is now standard in government and business. Corporate diversity trainers counsel that bias is responsible for any lack of proportional racial representation in the corporate ranks. Racial disparities in school discipline and incarceration are universally attributed to racism rather than to behavior. Public figures have lost jobs for violating politically correct taboos.
Yet Americans possess an instinctive commitment to the First Amendment. Federal judges, hardly an extension of the Federalist Society, have overwhelmingly struck down campus speech codes. It is hard to imagine that they would be any more tolerant of the hate-speech legislation so prevalent in Europe. So the question becomes: At what point does the pressure to conform to the elite worldview curtail freedom of thought and expression, even without explicit bans on speech?
Social stigma against conservative viewpoints is not the same as actual censorship. But the line can blur. The Obama administration used regulatory power to impose a behavioral conformity on public and private entities. School administrators may have technically still possessed the right to dissent from novel theories of gender, but they had to behave as if they were fully on board with the transgender revolution when it came to allowing boys to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
Had Hillary Clinton had been elected president, the federal bureaucracy would have mimicked campus diversocrats with even greater zeal. That threat, at least, has been avoided. Heresies against left-wing dogma may still enter the public arena, if only by the back door. The mainstream media have lurched even further left in the Trump era, but the conservative media, however mocked and marginalized, are expanding (though Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of conservative speakers could be a harbinger of more official silencing).
Outside the academy, free speech is still legally protected, but its exercise requires ever greater determination.
Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops.
John McWhorterThere is a certain mendacity, as Brick put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in our discussion of free speech on college campuses. Namely, none of us genuinely wish that absolutely all issues be aired in the name of education and open-mindedness. To insist so is to pretend that civilized humanity makes nothing we could call advancement in philosophical consensus.
I doubt we need “free speech” on issues such as whether slavery and genocide are okay, whether it has been a mistake to view women as men’s equals, or to banish as antique the idea that whites are a master race while other peoples represent a lower rung on the Darwinian scale. With all due reverence of John Stuart Mill’s advocacy for the regular airing of even noxious views in order to reinforce clarity on why they were rejected, we are also human beings with limited time. A commitment to the Enlightenment justifiably will decree that certain views are, indeed, no longer in need of discussion.
However, our modern social-justice warriors are claiming that this no-fly zone of discussion is vaster than any conception of logic or morality justifies. We are being told that questions regarding the modern proposals about cultural appropriation, about whether even passing infelicitous statements constitute racism in the way that formalized segregation and racist disparagement did, or about whether social disparities can be due to cultural legacies rather than structural impediments, are as indisputably egregious, backwards, and abusive as the benighted views of the increasingly distant past.
That is, the new idea is not only that discrimination and inequality still exist, but that to even question the left’s utopian expectation on such matters justifies the same furious, sloganistic and even physically violent resistance that was once levelled against those designated heretics by a Christian hegemony.
Of course the protesters in question do not recognize themselves in a portrait as opponents of something called heresy. They suppose that Galileo’s opponents were clearly wrong but that they, today, are actually correct in a way that no intellectual or moral argument could coherently deny.
As such, we have students allowed to decree college campuses as “racist” when they are the least racist spaces on the planet—because they are, predictably given the imperfection of humans, not perfectly free of passingly unsavory interactions. Thinkers invited to talk for a portion of an hour from the right rather than the left and then have dinner with a few people and fly home are treated as if they were reanimated Hitlers. The student of color who hears a few white students venturing polite questions about the leftist orthodoxy is supported in fashioning these questions as “racist” rhetoric.
The people on college campuses who openly and aggressively spout this new version of Christian (or even Islamist) crusading—ironically justifying it as a barricade against “fascist” muzzling of freedom when the term applies ominously well to the regime they are fostering—are a minority. However, the sawmill spinning blade of their rhetoric has succeeding in rendering opposition as risky as espousing pedophilia, such that only those natively open to violent criticism dare speak out. The latter group is small. The campus consensus thereby becomes, if only at moralistic gunpoint à la the ISIS victim video, a strangled hard-leftism.
Hence freedom of speech is indeed threatened on today’s college campuses. I have lost count of how many of my students, despite being liberal Democrats (many of whom sobbed at Hillary Clinton’s loss last November), have told me that they are afraid to express their opinions about issues that matter, despite the fact that their opinions are ones that any liberal or even leftist person circa 1960 would have considered perfectly acceptable.
Something has shifted of late, and not in a direction we can legitimately consider forwards.
John McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music history at Columbia University and is the author of The Language Hoax, Words on the Move, and Talking Back, Talking Black.
Kate Bachelder OdellIt’s 2021, and Harvard Square has devolved into riots: Some 120 people are injured in protests, and the carnage includes fire-consumed cop cars and smashed-in windows. The police discharge canisters of tear gas, and, after apprehending dozens of protesters, enforce a 1:45 A.M. curfew. Anyone roaming the streets after hours is subject to arrest. About 2,000 National Guardsmen are prepared to intervene. Such violence and disorder is also roiling Berkeley and other elite and educated areas.
Oh, that’s 1970. The details are from the Harvard Crimson’s account of “anti-war” riots that spring. The episode is instructive in considering whether free speech is under threat in the United States. Almost daily, there’s a new YouTube installment of students melting down over viewpoints of speakers invited to one campus or another. Even amid speech threats from government—for example, the IRS’s targeting of political opponents—nothing has captured the public’s attention like the end of free expression at America’s institutions of higher learning.
Yet disruption, confusion, and even violence are not new campus phenomena. And it’s hard to imagine that young adults who deployed brute force in the 1960s and ’70s were deeply committed to the open and peaceful exchange of ideas.
There may also be reason for optimism. The rough and tumble on campus in the 1960s and ’70s produced a more even-tempered ’80s and ’90s, and colleges are probably heading for another course correction. In covering the ruckuses at Yale, Missouri, and elsewhere, I’ve talked to professors and students who are figuring out how to respond to the illiberalism, even if the reaction is delayed. The University of Chicago put out a set of free-speech principles last year, and others schools such as Princeton and Purdue have endorsed them.
The NARPs—Non-Athletic Regular People, as they are sometimes known on campus—still outnumber the social-justice warriors, who appear to be overplaying their hand. Case in point is the University of Missouri, which experienced a precipitous drop in enrollment after instructor Melissa Click and her ilk stoked racial tensions last spring. The college has closed dorms and trimmed budgets. Which brings us to another silver lining: The economic model of higher education (exorbitant tuition to pay ever more administrators) may blow up traditional college before the fascists can.
Note also that the anti-speech movement is run by rich kids. A Brookings Institution analysis from earlier this year discovered that “the average enrollee at a college where students have attempted to restrict free speech comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the average student in America.” Few rank higher in average income than those at Middlebury College, where students evicted scholar Charles Murray in a particularly ugly scene. (The report notes that Murray was received respectfully at Saint Louis University, “where the median income of students’ families is half Middlebury’s.”) The impulses of over-adulated 20-year-olds may soon be tempered by the tyranny of having to show up for work on a daily basis.
None of this is to suggest that free speech is enjoying some renaissance either on campus or in America. But perhaps as the late Wall Street Journal editorial-page editor Robert Bartley put it in his valedictory address: “Things could be worse. Indeed, they have been worse.”
Kate Bachelder Odell is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Jonathan RauchIs free speech under threat? The one-syllable answer is “yes.” The three-syllable answer is: “Yes, of course.” Free speech is always under threat, because it is not only the single most successful social idea in all of human history, it is also the single most counterintuitive. “You mean to say that speech that is offensive, untruthful, malicious, seditious, antisocial, blasphemous, heretical, misguided, or all of the above deserves government protection?” That seemingly bizarre proposition is defensible only on the grounds that the marketplace of ideas turns out to be the most powerful engine of knowledge, prosperity, liberty, social peace, and moral advancement that our species has had the good fortune to discover.
Every new generation of free-speech advocates will need to get up every morning and re-explain the case for free speech and open inquiry—today, tomorrow, and forever. That is our lot in life, and we just need to be cheerful about it. At discouraging moments, it is helpful to remember that the country has made great strides toward free speech since 1798, when the Adams administration arrested and jailed its political critics; and since the 1920s, when the U.S. government banned and burned James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses; and since 1954, when the government banned ONE, a pioneering gay journal. (The cover article was a critique of the government’s indecency censors, who censored it.) None of those things could happen today.
I suppose, then, the interesting question is: What kind of threat is free speech under today? In the present age, direct censorship by government bodies is rare. Instead, two more subtle challenges hold sway, especially, although not only, on college campuses. The first is a version of what I called, in my book Kindly Inquisitors, the humanitarian challenge: the idea that speech that is hateful or hurtful (in someone’s estimation) causes pain and thus violates others’ rights, much as physical violence does. The other is a version of what I called the egalitarian challenge: the idea that speech that denigrates minorities (again, in someone’s estimation) perpetuates social inequality and oppression and thus also is a rights violation. Both arguments call upon administrators and other bureaucrats to defend human rights by regulating speech rights.
Both doctrines are flawed to the core. Censorship harms minorities by enforcing conformity and entrenching majority power, and it no more ameliorates hatred and injustice than smashing thermometers ameliorates global warming. If unwelcome words are the equivalent of bludgeons or bullets, then the free exchange of criticism—science, in other words—is a crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the current challenges are new variations on ancient themes—and they will be followed, in decades and centuries to come, by many, many other variations. Memo to free-speech advocates: Our work is never done, but the really amazing thing, given the proposition we are tasked to defend, is how well we are doing.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.
Nicholas Quinn RosenkranzSpeech is under threat on American campuses as never before. Censorship in various forms is on the rise. And this year, the threat to free speech on campus took an even darker turn, toward actual violence. The prospect of Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at Berkeley provoked riots that caused more than $100,000 worth of property damage on the campus. The prospect of Charles Murray speaking at Middlebury led to a riot that put a liberal professor in the hospital with a concussion. Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley was cancelled after the university determined that none of the appropriate venues could be protected from “known security threats” on the date in question.
The free-speech crisis on campus is caused, at least in part, by a more insidious campus pathology: the almost complete lack of intellectual diversity on elite university faculties. At Yale, for example, the number of registered Republicans in the economics department is zero; in the psychology department, there is one. Overall, there are 4,410 faculty members at Yale, and the total number of those who donated to a Republican candidate during the 2016 primaries was three.
So when today’s students purport to feel “unsafe” at the mere prospect of a conservative speaker on campus, it may be easy to mock them as “delicate snowflakes,” but in one sense, their reaction is understandable: If students are shocked at the prospect of a Republican behind a university podium, perhaps it is because many of them have never before laid eyes on one.
To see the connection between free speech and intellectual diversity, consider the recent commencement speech of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust:
Universities must be places open to the kind of debate that can change ideas….Silencing ideas or basking in intellectual orthodoxy independent of facts and evidence impedes our access to new and better ideas, and it inhibits a full and considered rejection of bad ones. . . . We must work to ensure that universities do not become bubbles isolated from the concerns and discourse of the society that surrounds them. Universities must model a commitment to the notion that truth cannot simply be claimed, but must be established—established through reasoned argument, assessment, and even sometimes uncomfortable challenges that provide the foundation for truth.
Faust is exactly right. But, alas, her commencement audience might be forgiven a certain skepticism. After all, the number of registered Republicans in several departments at Harvard—e.g., history and psychology—is exactly zero. In those departments, the professors themselves may be “basking in intellectual orthodoxy” without ever facing “uncomfortable challenges.” This may help explain why some students will do everything in their power to keep conservative speakers off campus: They notice that faculty hiring committees seem to do exactly the same thing.
In short, it is a promising sign that true liberal academics like Faust have started speaking eloquently about the crucial importance of civil, reasoned disagreement. But they will be more convincing on this point when they hire a few colleagues with whom they actually disagree.
Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz is a professor of law at Georgetown. He serves on the executive committee of Heterodox Academy, which he co-founded, on the board of directors of the Federalist Society, and on the board of directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Ben ShapiroIn February, I spoke at California State University in Los Angeles. Before my arrival, professors informed students that a white supremacist would be descending on the school to preach hate; threats of violence soon prompted the administration to cancel the event. I vowed to show up anyway. One hour before the event, the administration backed down and promised to guarantee that the event could go forward, but police officers were told not to stop the 300 students, faculty, and outside protesters who blocked and assaulted those who attempted to attend the lecture. We ended up trapped in the auditorium, with the authorities telling students not to leave for fear of physical violence. I was rushed from campus under armed police guard.
Is free speech under assault?
Of course it is.
On campus, free speech is under assault thanks to a perverse ideology of intersectionality that claims victim identity is of primary value and that views are a merely secondary concern. As a corollary, if your views offend someone who outranks you on the intersectional hierarchy, your views are treated as violence—threats to identity itself. On campus, statements that offend an individual’s identity have been treated as “microaggressions”–actual aggressions against another, ostensibly worthy of violence. Words, students have been told, may not break bones, but they will prompt sticks and stones, and rightly so.
Thus, protesters around the country—leftists who see verbiage as violence—have, in turn, used violence in response to ideas they hate. Leftist local authorities then use the threat of violence as an excuse to ideologically discriminate against conservatives. This means public intellectuals like Charles Murray being run off of campus and his leftist professorial cohort viciously assaulted; it means Ann Coulter being targeted for violence at Berkeley; it means universities preemptively banning me and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condoleezza Rice and even Jason Riley.
The campus attacks on free speech are merely the most extreme iteration of an ideology that spans from left to right: the notion that your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin. Even Democrats who say that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley say that nobody should be allowed to contribute to a super PAC (unless you’re a union member, naturally).
Meanwhile, on the right, the president’s attacks on the press have convinced many Republicans that restrictions on the press wouldn’t be altogether bad. A Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll in late April found that 36 percent of Americans thought freedom of the press “does more harm than good.” Undoubtedly, some of that is due to the media’s obvious bias. CNN’s Jeff Zucker has targeted the Trump administration for supposedly quashing journalism, but he was silent when the Obama administration’s Department of Justice cracked down on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News, and when hacks like Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes openly sold lies regarding Iran. But for some on the right, the response to press falsities hasn’t been to call for truth, but to instead echo Trumpian falsehoods in the hopes of damaging the media. Free speech is only important when people seek the truth. Leftists traded truth for tribalism long ago; in response, many on the right seem willing to do the same. Until we return to a common standard under which facts matter, free speech will continue to rest on tenuous grounds.
Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of The Daily Wire and the host of The Ben Shapiro Show.
Judith ShulevitzIt’s tempting to blame college and university administrators for the decline of free speech in America, and for years I did just that. If the guardians of higher education won’t inculcate the habits of mind required for serious thinking, I thought, who will? The unfettered but civil exchange of ideas is the basic operation of education, just as addition is the basic operation of arithmetic. And universities have to teach both the unfettered part and the civil part, because arguing in a respectful manner isn’t something anyone does instinctively.
So why change my mind now? Schools still cling to speech codes, and there still aren’t enough deans like the one at the University of Chicago who declared his school a safe-space-free zone. My alma mater just handed out prizes for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” to two students caught on video harassing the dean of their residential college, one screaming at him that he’d created “a space for violence to happen,” the other placing his face inches away from the dean’s and demanding, “Look at me.” All this because they deemed a thoughtful if ill-timed letter about Halloween costumes written by the dean’s wife to be an act of racist aggression. Yale should discipline students who behave like that, even if they’re right on the merits (I don’t think they were, but that’s not the point). They certainly don’t deserve awards. I can’t believe I had to write that sentence.
But in abdicating their responsibilites, the universities have enabled something even worse than an attack on free speech. They’ve unleashed an assault on themselves. There’s plenty of free speech around; we know that because so much bad speech—low-minded nonsense—tests our constitutional tolerance daily, and that’s holding up pretty well. (As Nicholas Lemann observes elsewhere in this symposium, Facebook and Google represent bigger threats to free speech than students and administrators.) What’s endangered is good speech.
Universities were setting themselves up to be used. Provocateurs exploit the atmosphere on campus to goad overwrought students, then gleefully trash the most important bastion of our crumbling civil society. Higher education and everything it stands for—logical argument, the scientific method, epistemological rigor—start to look illegitimate. Voters perceive tenure and research and higher education itself as hopelessly partisan and unworthy of taxpayers’ money.
The press is a secondary victim of this process of delegitimization. If serious inquiry can be waved off as ideology, then facts won’t be facts and reporting can’t be trusted. All journalism will be equal to all other journalism, and all journalists will be reduced to pests you can slam to the ground with near impunity. Politicians will be able to say anything and do just about anything and there will be no countervailing authority to challenge them. I’m pretty sure that that way lies Putinism and Erdoganism. And when we get to that point, I’m going to start worrying about free speech again.
Judith Shulevitz is a critic in New York.
Harvey SilverglateFree speech is, and has always been, threatened. The title of Nat Hentoff’s 1993 book Free Speech for Me – but Not for Thee is no less true today than at any time, even as the Supreme Court has accorded free speech a more absolute degree of protection than in any previous era.
Since the 1980s, the high court has decided most major free-speech cases in favor of speech, with most of the major decisions being unanimous or nearly so.
Women’s-rights advocates were turned back by the high court in 1986 when they sought to ban the sale of printed materials that, because deemed pornographic by some, were alleged to promote violence against women. Censorship in the name of gender–based protection thus failed to gain traction.
Despite the demands of civil-rights activists, the Supreme Court in 1992 declared cross-burning to be a protected form of expression in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, a decision later refined to strengthen a narrow exception for when cross-burning occurs primarily as a physical threat rather than merely an expression of hatred.
Other attempts at First Amendment circumvention have been met with equally decisive rebuff. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt for defamation growing out of a parody depicting Falwell’s first sexual encounter as a drunken tryst with his mother in an outhouse, a unanimous Supreme Court lectured on the history of parody as a constitutionally protected, even if cruel, form of social and political criticism.
When the South Boston Allied War Veterans, sponsor of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, sought to exclude a gay veterans’ group from marching under its own banner, the high court unanimously held that as a private entity, even though marching in public streets, the Veterans could exclude any group marching under a banner conflicting with the parade’s socially conservative message, notwithstanding public-accommodations laws. The gay group could have its own parade but could not rain on that of the conservatives.
Despite such legal clarity, today’s most potent attacks on speech are coming, ironically, from liberal-arts colleges. Ubiquitous “speech codes” limit speech that might insult, embarrass, or “harass,” in particular, members of “historically disadvantaged” groups. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” protect purportedly vulnerable students from hearing words and ideas they might find upsetting. Student demonstrators and threats of violence have forced the cancellation of controversial speakers, left and right.
It remains unclear how much campus censorship results from politically correct faculty, control-obsessed student-life administrators, or students socialized and indoctrinated into intolerance. My experience suggests that the bureaucrats are primarily, although not entirely, to blame. When sued, colleges either lose or settle, pay a modest amount, and then return to their censorious ways.
This trend threatens the heart and soul of liberal education. Eventually it could infect the entire society as these students graduate and assume influential positions. Whether a resulting flood of censorship ultimately overcomes legal protections and weakens democracy remains to be seen.
Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-based lawyer and writer, is the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (Free Press, 1998). He co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 1999 and is on FIRE’s board of directors. He spent some three decades on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts, two of those years as chairman. Silverglate taught at Harvard Law School for a semester during a sabbatical he took in the mid-1980s.
Christina Hoff SommersWhen Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She also hosts The Factual Feminist, a video blog. @Chsommers
John StosselYes, some college students do insane things. Some called police when they saw “Trump 2016” chalked on sidewalks. The vandals at Berkeley and the thugs who assaulted Charles Murray are disgusting. But they are a minority. And these days people fight back.
Someone usually videotapes the craziness. Yale’s “Halloween costume incident” drove away two sensible instructors, but videos mocking Yale’s snowflakes, like “Silence U,” make such abuse less likely. Groups like Young America’s Foundation (YAF) publicize censorship, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sues schools that restrict speech.
Consciousness has been raised. On campus, the worst is over. Free speech has always been fragile. I once took cameras to Seton Hall law school right after a professor gave a lecture on free speech. Students seemed to get the concept. Sean, now a lawyer, said, “Protect freedom for thought we hate; otherwise you never have a society where ideas clash, and we come up with the best idea.” So I asked, “Should there be any limits?” Students listed “fighting words,” “shouting fire in a theater,” malicious libel, etc.— reasonable court-approved exceptions. But then they went further. Several wanted bans on “hate” speech, “No value comes out of hate speech,” said Javier. “It inevitably leads to violence.”
No it doesn’t, I argued, “Also, doesn’t hate speech bring ideas into the open, so you can better argue about them, bringing you to the truth?”
“No,” replied Floyd, “With hate speech, more speech is just violence.”
So I pulled out a big copy of the First Amendment and wrote, “exception: hate speech.”
Two students wanted a ban on flag desecration “to respect those who died to protect it.”
One wanted bans on blasphemy:
“Look at the gravity of the harm versus the value in blasphemy—the harm outweighs the value.”
Several wanted a ban on political speech by corporations because of “the potential for large corporations to improperly influence politicians.”
Finally, Jillian, also now a lawyer, wanted hunting videos banned.
“It encourages harm down the road.”
I asked her, incredulously, “you’re comfortable locking up people who make a hunting film?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It’s unnecessary cruelty to feeling and sentient beings.”
So, I picked up my copy of the Bill of Rights again. After “no law . . . abridging freedom of speech,” I added: “Except hate speech, flag burning, blasphemy, corporate political speech, depictions of hunting . . . ”
That embarrassed them. “We may have gone too far,” said Sean. Others agreed. One said, “Cross out the exceptions.” Free speech survived, but it was a close call. Respect for unpleasant speech will always be thin. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton wanted violent video games banned. John McCain and Russ Feingold tried to ban political speech. Donald Trump wants new libel laws, and if you burn a flag, he tweeted, consequences might be “loss of citizenship or a year in jail!” Courts or popular opinion killed those bad ideas.
Free speech will survive, assuming those of us who appreciate it use it to fight those who would smother it.
John Stossel is a FOX News/FOX Business Network Contributor.
Warren TreadgoldEven citizens of dictatorships are free to praise the regime and to talk about the weather. The only speech likely to be threatened anywhere is the sort that offends an important and intolerant group. What is new in America today is a leftist ideology that threatens speech precisely because it offends certain important and intolerant groups: feminists and supposedly oppressed minorities.
So far this new ideology is clearly dominant only in colleges and universities, where it has become so strong that most controversies concern outside speakers invited by students, not faculty speakers or speakers invited by administrators. Most academic administrators and professors are either leftists or have learned not to oppose leftism; otherwise they would probably never have been hired. Administrators treat even violent leftist protestors with respect and are ready to prevent conservative and moderate outsiders from speaking rather than provoke protests. Most professors who defend conservative or moderate speakers argue that the speakers’ views are indeed noxious but say that students should be exposed to them to learn how to refute them. This is very different from encouraging a free exchange of ideas.
Although the new ideology began on campuses in the ’60s, it gained authority outside them largely by means of several majority decisions of the Supreme Court, from Roe (1973) to Obergefell (2015). The Supreme Court decisions that endanger free speech are based on a presumed consensus of enlightened opinion that certain rights favored by activists have the same legitimacy as rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution—or even more legitimacy, because the rights favored by activists are assumed to be so fundamental that they need no grounding in specific constitutional language. The Court majorities found restricting abortion rights or homosexual marriage, as large numbers of Americans wish to do, to be constitutionally equivalent to restricting black voting rights or interracial marriage. Any denial of such equivalence therefore opposes fundamental constitutional rights and can be considered hate speech, advocating psychological and possibly physical harm to groups like women seeking abortions or homosexuals seeking approval. Such speech may still be constitutionally protected, but acting upon it is not.
This ideology of forbidding allegedly offensive speech has spread to most of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Rather than seeing themselves as taking one side in a free debate, progressives increasingly argue (for example) that opposing abortion is offensive to women and supporting the police is offensive to blacks. Some politicians object so strongly to such speech that despite their interest in winning votes, they attack voters who disagree with them as racists or sexists. Expressing views that allegedly discriminate against women, blacks, homosexuals, and various other minorities can now be grounds for a lawsuit.
Speech that supposedly offends women or minorities has already cost some people their careers, their businesses, and their opportunities to deliver or hear speeches. Such intimidation is the intended result of an ideology that threatens free speech.
Warren Treadgold is a professor of history at Saint Louis University.
Matt WelchLike a sullen zoo elephant rocking back and forth from leg to leg, there is an oversized paradox we’d prefer not to see standing smack in the sightlines of most our policy debates. Day by day, even minute by minute, America simultaneously gets less free in the laboratory, but more free in the field. Individuals are constantly expanding the limits and applications of their own autonomy, even as government transcends prior restraints on how far it can reach into our intimate business.
So it is that the Internal Revenue Service can charge foreign banks with collecting taxes on U.S. citizens (therefore causing global financial institutions to shun many of the estimated 6 million-plus Americans who live abroad), even while block-chain virtuosos make illegal transactions wholly undetectable to authorities. It has never been easier for Americans to travel abroad, and it’s never been harder to enter the U.S. without showing passports, fingerprints, retinal scans, and even social-media passwords.
What’s true for banking and tourism is doubly true for free speech. Social media has given everyone not just a platform but a megaphone (as unreadable as our Facebook timelines have all become since last November). At the same time, the federal government during this unhappy 21st century has continuously ratcheted up prosecutorial pressure against leakers, whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and technology companies.
A hopeful bulwark against government encroachment unique to the free-speech field is the Supreme Court’s very strong First Amendment jurisprudence in the past decade or two. Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton before him, may prattle on about locking up flag-burners, but Antonin Scalia and the rest of SCOTUS protected such expression back in 1990. Barack Obama and John McCain (and Hillary Clinton—she’s as bad as any recent national politician on free speech) may lament the Citizens United decision, but it’s now firmly legal to broadcast unfriendly documentaries about politicians without fear of punishment, no matter the electoral calendar.
But in this very strength lies what might be the First Amendment’s most worrying vulnerability. Barry Friedman, in his 2009 book The Will of the People, made the persuasive argument that the Supreme Court typically ratifies, post facto, where public opinion has already shifted. Today’s culture of free speech could be tomorrow’s legal framework. If so, we’re in trouble.
For evidence of free-speech slippage, just read around you. When both major-party presidential nominees react to terrorist attacks by calling to shut down corners of the Internet, and when their respective supporters are actually debating the propriety of sucker punching protesters they disagree with, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our increasingly shrill partisan sorting is turning the very foundation of post-1800 global prosperity into just another club to be swung in our national street fight.
In the eternal cat-and-mouse game between private initiative and government control, the former is always advantaged by the latter’s fundamental incompetence. But what if the public willingly hands government the power to muzzle? It may take a counter-cultural reformation to protect this most noble of American experiments.
Matt Welch is the editor at large of Reason.
Adam. J. WhiteFree speech is indeed under threat on our university campuses, but the threat did not begin there and it will not end there. Rather, the campus free-speech crisis is a particularly visible symptom of a much more fundamental crisis in American culture.
The problem is not that some students, teachers, and administrators reject traditional American values and institutions, or even that they are willing to menace or censor others who defend those values and institutions. Such critics have always existed, and they can be expected to use the tools and weapons at their disposal. The problem is that our country seems to produce too few students, teachers, and administrators who are willing or able to respond to them.
American families produce children who arrive on campus unprepared for, or uninterested in, defending our values and institutions. For our students who are focused primarily on their career prospects (if on anything at all), “[c]ollege is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement,” as David Brooks observed 16 years ago. “They’re not trying to buck the system; they’re trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent. Hence they are not a disputatious group.”
Meanwhile, parents bear incomprehensible financial burdens to get their kids through college, without a clear sense of precisely what their kids will get out of these institutions in terms of character formation or civic virtue. With so much money at stake, few can afford for their kids to pursue more than career prospects.
Those problems are not created on campus, but they are exacerbated there, as too few college professors and administrators see their institutions as cultivators of American culture and republicanism. Confronted with activists’ rage, they offer no competing vision of higher education—let alone a compelling one.
Ironically, we might borrow a solution from the Left. Where progressives would leverage state power in service of their health-care agenda, we could do the same for education. State legislatures and governors, recognizing the present crisis, should begin to reform and renegotiate the fundamental nature of state universities. By making state universities more affordable, more productive, and more reflective of mainstream American values, they will attract students—and create incentives for competing private universities to follow suit.
Let’s hope they do it soon, for what’s at stake is much more than just free speech on campus, or even free speech writ large. In our time, as in Tocqueville’s, “the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic,” especially “where instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from moral education which amends the heart.” We need our colleges to cultivate—not cut down—civic virtue and our capacity for self-government. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form,” Madison wrote in Federalist 55. If “there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” then “nothing less than the chains of despotism” can restrain us “from destroying and devouring one another.”
Adam J. White is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Cathy YoungA writer gets expelled from the World Science Fiction Convention for criticizing the sci-fi community’s preoccupation with racial and gender “inclusivity” while moderating a panel. An assault on free speech, or an exercise of free association? How about when students demand the disinvitation of a speaker—or disrupt the speech? When a critic of feminism gets banned from a social-media platform for unspecified “abuse”?
Such questions are at the heart of many recent free-speech controversies. There is no censorship by government; but how concerned should we be when private actors effectively suppress unpopular speech? Even in the freest society, some speech will—and should—be considered odious and banished to unsavory fringes. No one weeps for ostracized Holocaust deniers or pedophilia apologists.
But shunned speech needs to remain a narrow exception—or acceptable speech will inexorably shrink. As current Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai cautioned last year, First Amendment protections will be hollowed out unless undergirded by cultural values that support a free marketplace of ideas.
Sometimes, attacks on speech come from the right. In 2003, an Iraq War critic, reporter Chris Hedges, was silenced at Rockford College in Illinois by hecklers who unplugged the microphone and rushed the stage; some conservative pundits defended this as robust protest. Yet the current climate on the left—in universities, on social media, in “progressive” journalism, in intellectual circles—is particularly hostile to free expression. The identity-politics left, fixated on subtle oppressions embedded in everyday attitudes and language, sees speech-policing as the solution.
Is hostility to free-speech values on the rise? New York magazine columnist Jesse Singal argues that support for restrictions on public speech offensive to minorities has remained steady, and fairly high, since the 1970s. Perhaps. But the range of what qualifies as offensive—and which groups are to be shielded—has expanded dramatically. In our time, a leading liberal magazine, the New Republic, can defend calls to destroy a painting of lynching victim Emmett Till because the artist is white and guilty of “cultural appropriation,” and a feminist academic journal can be bullied into apologizing for an article on transgender issues that dares to mention “male genitalia.”
There is also a distinct trend of “bad” speech being squelched by coercion, not just disapproval. That includes the incidents at Middlebury College in Vermont and at Claremont McKenna in California, where mobs not only prevented conservative speakers—Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald—from addressing audiences but physically threatened them as well. It also includes the use of civil-rights legislation to enforce goodthink in the workplace: Businesses may face stiff fines if they don’t force employees to call a “non-binary” co-worker by the singular “they,” even when talking among themselves.
These trends make a mockery of liberalism and enable the kind of backlash we have seen with Donald Trump’s election. But the backlash can bring its own brand of authoritarianism. It’s time to start rebuilding the culture of free speech across political divisions—a project that demands, above all, genuine openness and intellectual consistency. Otherwise it will remain, as the late, great Nat Hentoff put it, a call for “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason.
Robert J. ZimmerFree speech is not a natural feature of human society. Many people are comfortable with free expression for views they agree with but would withhold this privilege for those they deem offensive. People justify such restrictions by various means: the appeal to moral certainty, political agendas, demand for change, opposing change, retaining power, resisting authority, or, more recently, not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Moral certainty about one’s views or a willingness to indulge one’s emotions makes it easy to assert that others are doing true damage or creating unacceptable offense simply by presenting a fundamentally different perspective.
The resulting challenges to free expression may come in the form of laws, threats, pressure (whether societal, group, or organizational), or self-censorship in the face of a prevailing consensus. Specific forms of challenge may be more or less pronounced as circumstances vary. But the widespread temptation to consider the silencing of “objectionable” viewpoints as acceptable implies that the challenge to free expression is always present.
The United States today is no exception. We benefit from the First Amendment, which asserts that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. However, fostering a society supporting free expression involves matters far beyond the law. The ongoing and increasing demonization of one group by another creates a political and social environment conducive to suppressing speech. Even violent acts opposing speech can become acceptable or encouraged. Such behavior is evident at both political rallies and university events. Our greatest current threat to free expression is the emergence of a national culture that accepts the legitimacy of suppression of speech deemed objectionable by a segment of the population.
University and college campuses present a particularly vivid instance of this cultural shift. There have been many well-publicized episodes of speakers being disinvited or prevented from speaking because of their views. However, the problem is much deeper, as there is significant self-censorship on many campuses. Both faculty and students sometimes find themselves silenced by social and institutional pressures to conform to “acceptable” views. Ironically, the very mission of universities and colleges to provide a powerful and deeply enriching education for their students demands that they embrace and protect free expression and open discourse. Failing to do so significantly diminishes the quality of the education they provide.
My own institution, the University of Chicago, through the words and actions of its faculty and leaders since its founding, has asserted the importance of free expression and its essential role in embracing intellectual challenge. We continue to do so today as articulated by the Chicago Principles, which strongly affirm that “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” It is only in such an environment that universities can fulfill their own highest aspirations and provide leadership by demonstrating the value of free speech within society more broadly. A number of universities have joined us in reinforcing these values. But it remains to be seen whether the faculty and leaders of many institutions will truly stand up for these values, and in doing so provide a model for society as a whole.
Robert J. Zimmer is the president of the University of Chicago.