Jewish Ethnic Networking

Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionism, and the Decline of Western Art, Part 2 of 3

Go to Part 1.

Wisconsin landscape by John Steuart Curry (1938-39)

Creating a New “American” Art

Before the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s, the American art scene was defined by two main currents. The first were the Regionalists (e.g. Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry) who used their own signature styles to portray the virtues of the hard-working rural American population. The second group were the artists of Social Realism (e.g. Ben Shahn and Diego Rivera), whose work reflected urban life during the Great Depression and their devotion to international socialism. Neither was interested in abstract art, and despite their political radicalism the Social Realists held rather conservative attitudes to figurative representation. While these two styles dominated, the artists of the nascent New York School “met frequently at the legendary Cedar Bar, where they discussed their radical theses. They argued endlessly about the problems of art, about how to effect a total break with the art of the past, about the mission of creating an abstract art that no longer had anything to do with conventional techniques and motifs.”[i]

The Museum of Modern Art did not yet exist; the Metropolitan Museum tended to “look down its WASP patrician nose at modernism;” and the Whitney favoured exactly the kind of American painting young Rothko most despised: scenic, provincial, anecdotal, and conservative.[ii] For a Jewish outsider like Rothko, who in 1970 declared that he would never feel entirely at home in a land to which he had been transplanted against his will, urban America was his America.

But what was on the mid-town gallery walls was, for the most part, another America altogether: big Skies, fruited plain, purple mountain majesty, the light of providence shining on the prairie. About that America Rothko knew little and cared less. Early on, he had the sense that America ought to offer an art that was as new and vital as its history; but he also wanted that art to play for high stakes, to be hooked up somehow to the universal ideas he was chain-smoking his way through. Just what such an art might look like, however, he had as yet not the slightest idea.[iii]

The New York Intellectuals (who were overwhelmingly Jewish) associated rural America with “nativism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, and fascism as well as with anti-intellectualism and provincialism.” By contrast, urban America was associated “with ethnic and cultural tolerance, with internationalism, and with advanced ideas.” Their basic assumption was that rural America “with which they associated much of American tradition and most of the territory beyond New York” had “little to contribute to a cosmopolitan culture” and could therefore be dismissed.

Artistic Expression as “Unrelated to Manual Ability or Painterly Technique”

Rothko’s skill in rendering the human form was poor, which is evident in early works like Bathers or Beach Scene (Untitled) (1933/4). Schama admits as much, noting that: “When he [Rothko] stood in the Brooklyn [Jewish Center] classroom [where he taught art classes from 1929–46] it all seemed so easy. He would tell the children not to mind the rules — painting, he said, was as natural as singing. It should be like music but when he tried it came out as a croak. It’s the work of a painfully knotted imagination. No not very good.”[iv] According to the general consensus, Rothko “never stood out as a great draughtsman and could even at times appear clumsy in the execution of his oil paintings.”[v]

Bathers or Beach Scene by Mark Rothko (1933–34)

Rothko, in a speech in the mid-thirties, offered a quasi-philosophical rationale for the unimportance of technical skill, stressing “the difference between sheer skill, and skill that is linked to spirit, expressiveness and personality.” He insisted that artistic expression was “unrelated to manual ability or painterly technique, that it is drawn from an inborn feeling for form; the ideal lies in the spontaneity, simplicity and directness of children.”[vi] Such grandiloquent pronouncements from Rothko were not unusual, with Collings noting that “Rothko was outrageously over-fruity and grandiose in his statements about art and religion and the solemn importance of his own art.”[vii]

This tendency on his part prompted one writer to declare: “What I find amazing … is how a painting which is two rectangles of different colors can somehow prompt thousands upon thousands of words on the human condition, Marxist dialectics, and social construction.” He suggests a good rule of thumb is “the more obtuse terms an artist and his supporters use to describe a work, the less worth the painting has.  By this definition Rothko may be the most worthless artist in the history of humanity.” Another critic humorously observed that:

Rothko needed to be fluent in rationalizing his existence and validating himself as a relevant artist to the average idiot who spent tens of thousands of dollars on paintings which could be easily reproduced by anyone with a pulse and a paint brush. Rothko … learned to garner attention to his paintings by getting into a frenzied drama-queen state and hysterically claiming that his works were deep, profound statements and not just indiscriminate blobs of color. They were expressions that rejected society’s expectation of technical expertise, actual talent and an artist’s evolution over time.

As well as self-interestedly seeking to redefine the nature of great art, Rothko often spoke out for the importance of “artistic freedom,” which in practice meant artistic freedom for those on the left. He became involved in the famed 1934 incident between John D. Rockefeller and the Social Realist painter, Diego Rivera. This began when Rivera was commissioned to paint a huge mural in the lobby of the main building of Rockefeller Center, the newly completed showcase of the oil baron’s ideals. Shortly before Rivera completed his work, Rockefeller dropped in and saw that the mural had a defiantly socialist message based on a heroic depiction of Lenin. He ordered the removal of the mural, resulting in its destruction. After this incident, a group of 200 New York artists gathered to protest against Rockefeller, and Rothko marched with them.[viii]

Part of Diego Rivera’s mural for Rockefeller Center

Jewish Ethnic Networking and “The Ten”

In 1934 Rothko was one of the original 200 founding members of the Art Union and Gallery Secession which was devoted to the newest artistic tendencies. A year later he became a member of the group who called themselves “The Ten” (the minimum number of Jews that can pray together). This unashamed exercise in Jewish ethnic networking was an opportunity for Rothko and his colleagues to engage in mutual admiration and promotion, and agitate in favor of “experimentation” and against “conservatism” in museums, schools and galleries.[ix] Among “The Ten” were Ben Zion, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Yankel Kufeld, Louis Schanker, Joseph Solman, Nahum Chazbazov, Ilya Bolotovsky and Rothko. Gottlieb, in describing the group, later recalled: “We were outcasts, roughly expressionist painters. We were not acceptable to most dealers and collectors. We banded together for the purpose of mutual support.” “The Ten” acted as an alliance against the promotion of Regionalist art by the Whitney Museum of American Art, which to them was too “provincial” for words.[x]

Rejecting the local artists’ Regionalist perspectives, they were unable to define themselves as mere U.S. citizens. Instead, they presented themselves as cosmopolitan internationalists, freer and more open to incorporate the intercultural lessons of the European Modernist avant-gardes. When the fascist regimes began to decapitate these new art movements (with the closing of the Bauhaus in 1933 and the mounting of the exhibition Entartete Kunst [Degenerate Art] in Munich in 1937), great masters like Josef Albers and Piet Mondrian made their way to the United States, and American Jewish artists welcomed them with open arms.[xi]

The pronounced ingroup-outgroup mentality of “The Ten” mirrored that within the Jewish intellectual movements reviewed by Kevin MacDonald in Culture of Critique, where he notes how Norman Podhoretz described the group of Jewish intellectuals centered around Partisan Review as a “family” – a sentiment derived from their “feeling of “beleaguered isolation shared with masters of the modernist movement themselves, elitism – the conviction that others are not worth taking into consideration except to attack, and need not be addressed in one’s writing; out of the feeling as well as a sense of hopelessness as to the fate of American culture at large and the correlative conviction that integrity and standards were only possible among ‘us.’”[xii]

Within these alienated and marginalized Jewish groups was an atmosphere of social support that fostered an intense “Jewish ingroup solidarity arrayed against [what they saw as] a morally and intellectually inferior outside world.”[xiii] Despite the ethnic superglue, there were tensions within the Jewish milieu of “The Ten,” with Schama pointing out that, ”Amidst the usual Talmudic bickering of leftist factions, the denunciations and walk-outs, Rothkowitz and his comrades were all burning to make an art that would say something about the alienation, as they saw it, of modern American life.”[xiv] For Rothko, “the whole problem of art was to establish human values in this specific civilization.”[xv]

Isolationism as “Hitlerism”

Jewish gallery owners like Sam Kootz decried the “nationalist” art of the Regionalists and promoted the internationalist art of a rising generation of (often Jewish) expressionist, surrealist and abstract artists. “America’s more important artists are consistently shying away from Regionalism and exploring the virtues of internationalism,” he commented at the time. “This is the painting equivalent of our newly found political and social internationalism.”[xvi] For Rothko, like for most American Jews, the Second World War was a moment of universal moral crisis. He had only become an American citizen in 1938 and like many American Jews, “he was worried about the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the possibility of a revival of anti-Semitism in America, and U.S. Citizenship came to signify security.” Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, Rothko along with others left the American Artists’ Congress to protest its continuing support for the Soviet Union.

When on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the Metropolitan Museum organized an exhibition entitled Artists for Victory, consisting of 1,418 works by contemporary artists—John Steuart Curry took first prize—the Federation of Modern painters vehemently criticized the works, denouncing them as “realist and isolationist.”[xvii] Jewish abstract artist Barnett Newman took a clear stand against local American artists, declaring: “Isolationist painting, which they named the American Renaissance, is founded on politics and on an even worse aesthetic. Using the traditional chauvinism, isolationist brand of patriotism, and playing on the natural desire of American artists to have their own art, they succeeded in pushing across a false aesthetic that is inhibiting the production of any true art in this country…. Isolationism, we have learned by now, is Hitlerism.”[xviii]

Jewish artist Barnett Newman with his “true”art untainted by “Hitlerism”

Rothko enthusiastically celebrated American entry into the war, insisting that it represented “an escape from narrow-minded isolation,” and “a reconnection with the destinies of modern history.” Schama observes that:

Now Rothko and his painter friends — so many of them originally European Jews — wanted American art to go the same way. With European civilization annihilated by fascism, it was up to the United States to take the torch and save human culture from a new Dark Ages. It was not just a matter of offering safe haven to the likes of Piet Mondrian or Guernica, but rather the authentic American way — doing something bold and fresh, taking the fight to the enemy which had classified modernism as “degenerate” and had done its best to destroy its partisans. … The Nazis had art (as well as everything else) entirely the wrong way round. The modernism they demonized as “degenerate” was in fact the seed of new growth, and what they glorified as “regenerate” was the stale leavings of neo-classicism. Their mistake was America’s — and particularly New York’s — good fortune.

This was a time when many American Jews were changing or modifying their names to sound less Jewish. In January 1940 Marcus Rothkowitz officially became Mark Rothko. During the war years Rothko’s art changed too: he produced a series of surrealistic pictures inspired by Freud’s interpretations of dreams, C.G. Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious, and ancient Greek mythology. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy was an important influence at this time.[xix] One source claims that “Amid an era of rising anti-Semitism, such themes enabled Rothko to address the unfolding catastrophe in Europe without publically proclaiming his status as a Jew.”

The Jewish Ethnic Networking Finally Pays Off

In the 1940s, Rothko’s intensive Jewish ethnic networking started to bear tangible fruit. He befriended Peggy Guggenheim, “the most voracious patroness of American avant-garde art,” who had migrated to New York in 1941. Guggenheim’s artistic consultant, Howard Putzel, “convinced her to show Rothko in her Art of This Century gallery, where she had opened in 1942, during the low point of the war.”[xx] In 1945, Guggenheim decided to put on Rothko’s first one-man exhibition at her gallery.[xxi] In 1948, Rothko invited a coterie of mainly Jewish friends and acquaintances to view his new “multiforms.” The prominent Jewish art critic Harold Rosenberg found these works “fantastic,” and called the experience “the most impressive visit to an artist” in his life.”[xxii] Rothko returned the favor, lauding Rosenberg as “one of the best brains that you are likely to encounter, full of wit, humaneness and a genius for getting things impeccably expressed.”[xxiii]

One of Rothko’s “fantastic” multiforms

When, in late 1949, Sam Kootz inaugurated his new gallery, he asked Rosenberg to select the artists for the opening show, and Rothko was inevitably among them. That year Rothko produced his first “color field” paintings, describing his new method as “unknown adventures in unknown space,” free from “direct association with any particular, and the passion of organism.” 1949 was also the year Jewish art critic Clement Greenberg expressed the hope that “national pride will overcome ingrained philistinism and induce our journalists to boast of what they neither understand nor enjoy.” Greenberg’s article appeared in the Nation on June 11, and two months later, journalist Dorothy Seiberling took up Greenberg’s challenge in an article in Life Magazine entitled: “Jackson Pollock: is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” This article, published in a magazine with a circulation of five million, made Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists famous.[xxiv] Subsequent articles by Sieberling sought to “make Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline accessible to a somewhat perplexed public.”

When, in 1950, the Metropolitan Museum announced an exhibition entitled American Painting Today, Rothko’s Jewish colleagues Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt, in a letter published in the New York Times, lashed out at the curator for being hostile to “advanced art,” accusing the director of “contempt for modern painting,” and lamenting that “a just proportion of advanced art” had not been included in the upcoming exhibition.[xxv] Rothko was moved at the time to flatly reject the “whole tradition of European painting beginning with the Renaissance.” “We have wiped the slate clean,” he declared. “We start new. A new land. We’ve got to forget what the Old Masters did.”[xxvi]

In the 1950s, Rothko had arrived at his mature style, and with Katherine Kuh and Sidney Janis as his professional agents, “enjoyed both fame and material success at last.”[xxvii] Rothko’s professional ascent was fostered by these two eminent personalities of the art world: Kuh was the curator of the Art Institute in Chicago; and Janis an art dealer with the power to make or break reputations. In her biography of Rothko, Annie Cohen-Solal emphasizes the role of Jewish ethnic networking in Rothko’s rise from obscurity to celebrity in the American art scene. “Of all the ‘dynamic players’ instrumental to anchoring Rothko’s position as artist in American society,” she notes, “how not to mention that these two, in particular, were ‘assimilated’ Jews?”[xxviii]

Influential Jewish art dealer Sidney Janis

As soon as she became curator of the Art Institute’s painting department in 1954, Kuh proposed a solo show of Mark Rothko, and following the exhibition, the Institute “proudly announced that the museum had purchased No. 10, 1952, for its permanent collection. ‘It is needless to tell you how greatly this transaction contributes to the peace of mind with which my present work is being done,’ Rothko admitted to Kuh.”[xxix] Meanwhile, taking on Sidney Janis as his dealer in 1954 “marked a shift into higher gear” that resulted in a “spectacular windfall for Rothko.”[xxx] Janis signing up and actively promoting Rothko settled his status “as a protagonist of international importance in the post-war art scene.” After this, Rothko’s art was declared a good investment by Fortune magazine, which led to his relationship with colleagues Clifford Still and Barnet Newman deteriorating to the point where “They accused Rothko of harbouring an unhealthy yearning for a bourgeois existence, and finally stamped him as a traitor.”[xxxi] Sales of Rothko’s work would only improve when, a few years later, Congress passed a new tax law particularly advantageous to art collectors.

The Seagram Murals

In 1958, Rothko received a contract to paint murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram’s Building in New York. The man who approved the commission was Seagram’s American subsidiary head Edgar Bronfman Sr.—later to become President of the World Jewish Congress. The fee offered was $35,000 (a huge sum at the time). Rothko was, however, uncomfortable with the commission and the damage it might do to his bohemian reputation, and subsequently refunded the money and asked for the completed murals to be returned. The idea that his “Seagram murals,” conceived as deep metaphysical statements, would become mere background decorations, was intolerable. Nine of them were permanently installed in a room at the Tate Gallery in London in 1970.

According to an unsigned source, Rothko’s color field paintings of the 1950s and beyond “can be seen as profound mediations on the Holocaust,” with their rectangular forms inviting “associations with the haunting images of mass graves seen in American newspapers and magazines during and after the war.” The dark tones of Rothko’s Seagram murals are described as “doorways to Hell” and “likened to the rims of flames: responses with obvious Holocaust resonance.” These paintings are widely held to be Rothko’s greatest achievement. Rothko certainly thought so, immodestly equating them with Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.[xxxii]

Rothko’s Seagram Murals at the Tate Modern

1961 marked the climax of Rothko’s public recognition as an artist with a comprehensive exhibition of his work at MoMA. The man responsible, MoMA’s Jewish curator, Peter Selz, raved about “these silent paintings with their enormous, beautiful, opaque surfaces [that] are mirrors, reflecting what the viewer brings with him. In this sense, they can be said to deal directly with human emotions, desires, relationships, for they are mirrors of our fantasies and serve as echoes of our experience.”[xxxiii] Selz, alongside fellow Jew Alan Henry Geldzahler at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was one of “New York’s reigning curators,” was, like Rothko, “born into a European-Jewish family, but he came from Munich and had immigrated to the United States in 1936, driven out of Germany by the rise of Nazism.”[xxxiv] For Rothko, “who had already encountered various secular Jews in his professional trajectory—from Peggy Guggenheim to Sidney Janis, Katherine Kuh, and Phyllis Lambert”—Peter Selz would be the one to stage Rothko’s most prestigious exhibition in the United States.”[xxxv]

Despite the cheerleading of New York’s Jewish-dominated art establishment, a few critics resisted the enthusiasm for Rothko, most notably the gentile Howard Devree who, regarding Rothko’s paintings, noted that “the impact is merely optical rather than aesthetic, the validity as a work of art negligible. Seemingly it has become necessary for the color group to increase the size of their paintings, with corresponding emptiness; to make impact and size equivalent; and, as a corollary, they escape making any valid statement.” Devree compared Rothko’s paintings with “a set of swatches prepared by a house painter for a housewife who cannot make up her mind.”[xxxvi]

Works of ineffable genius or “a set of swatches prepared by a house painter
for a housewife who cannot make up her mind?”

Critic Emily Genauer described Rothko’s paintings as “primarily decorations,” which for Rothko was the ultimate insult. Rothko’s works were, she opined, “less paintings, as a painting is generally conceived, than theatrical curtains or handsome wall decorations.” Leading art critic and historian, John Canaday, observed “Mr Rothko’s progressive rejection of all the elements that are the conventional ones in painting, such as line, color, movement and defined spatial relationships,” before dismissing his work as “high-flown nonsense.”[xxxvii] Doubtless with Devree, Genauer and Canaday in mind, Rothko, who was intensely protective of his memory and paintings, once declared: “I hate and distrust all art historians, experts and critics.”[xxxviii]

The Rothko Chapel

In 1965 Rothko was commissioned by the oil tycoon John de Menil and his wife Dominique to paint a series of panels for a chapel in Houston, the city where they lived. Rothko adorned this chapel — a small, windowless, geometric, postmodern structure — with a collection of dark (almost black) murals essentially devoid of any content. The Jewish head of MoMA, Peter Selz, inevitably declared these paintings masterpieces, insisting that “like much of Rothko’s work, these murals seem to ask for a special place apart, a kind of sanctuary, where they may perform what is essentially a sacramental function…”[xxxix]  Dominique de Menil claimed to be similarly impressed, asserting that Rothko’s colors “became darker, as if he were bringing us to the threshold of transcendence, the mystery of the cosmos, the tragic mystery of our perishable condition.”[xl]

Rothko Chapel Murals: bringing us to the “threshold of transcendence?”

Rothko’s place at the summit of the New York art world was threatened three years after his MoMA exhibition when the Golden Lion was awarded to Robert Rauschenberg at the Venice Biennale of 1964. This gave prominence to the emerging artists of the Neo-Dada and Pop Art movements, and made Abstract Expressionists like Rothko seem passé.

In 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm. Ignoring his doctor’s orders, he continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoid exercise, and ignore dietary prescriptions—which also exacerbated his depression and seclusion. He died in his studio on February 25, 1970 after overdosing on anti-depressants and cutting his right arm with a razor blade. He was 66 years old and left no suicide note. After Rothko’s death, 798 of his works were “procured” by his then dealer, Frank Lloyd, the Jewish director of the Marlborough Gallery, in dubious circumstances. The lengthy legal proceedings this initiated became emblematic of mounting financial corruption in the art world, and led to a growing distrust of art dealers among Americans.[xli]

Conclusion

Opinions vary widely about Rothko’s work and legacy. Many within the Jewish-dominated art establishment hail him as a genius, a creator of transcendental, spiritual works for secular times. Others cannot believe that any sane person would pay hundreds of millions of dollars for what amounts to nothing more than a large, empty canvas occupied by two colors divided into separate rectangles by a third color. What is clear, however, is that Rothko’s career and burgeoning posthumous reputation have been overwhelmingly the result of shameless barracking and hyping on the part of the Jewish intellectual and cultural establishment. Rothko’s son had the chutzpah to draw a parallel between his father’s work and that of Mozart, insisting that his father’s paintings are “the visual embodiment of a Mozart composition.”

Jews have long used their cultural dominance to construct “Jewish geniuses” to foster ethnic pride and group cohesion. It has been (and remains) a standard feature of Jewish intellectual life in the West to wildly exaggerate the significance of Jewish scientists, writers, composers, artists and intellectuals (often while downplaying the achievement of their non-Jewish peers). The absurdly exalted status accorded to Mark Rothko and his oeuvre is emblematic of this practice. Rothko is surely an artist for whom the expression “the emperor has no clothes” is particularly apposite.

Go to Part 3.


[i] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 10.

[ii] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, 403.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art TV Series.

[v] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 64.

[vi] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 24.

[vii] Matthew Collings, This is Modern Art (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999), 169.

[viii] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 26.

[ix] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, 405.

[x] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 26.

[xi] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 7

[xii] In MacDonald, Culture of Critique, 217.

[xiii] Ibid., 218.

[xiv] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, 406.

[xv] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art TV Series.

[xvi] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 90.

[xvii] Ibid., 79.

[xviii] Ibid., 88.

[xix] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 33.

[xx] Ibid., 38.

[xxi] Ibid., 39.

[xxii] Ibid., 45.

[xxiii] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 97.

[xxiv] Ibid., 116.

[xxv] Ibid., 121.

[xxvi] Ibid., 126.

[xxvii] Ibid., 153.

[xxviii] Ibid., 138.

[xxix] Ibid., 144.

[xxx] Ibid., 117.

[xxxi] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 50.

[xxxii] Norbert Lynton, The Story of Modern Art (Oxford: Phaidon, 1989), 242.

[xxxiii] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 174.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 175.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 147.

[xxxvii] Ibid., 176.

[xxxviii] Ibid., 161.

[xxxix] Ibid., 185.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] 206

Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionism, and the Decline of Western Art, Part 1

Mark Rothko

The life and career of Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko is a prototypical Jewish story that encapsulates a range of themes discussed at The Occidental Observer. Central to Rothko’s story is the political radicalism of Eastern European Jewish migrants arriving in the United States between 1880 and 1920; the reflexive hostility of these migrants to the traditional people and culture of their new homeland, and how this hostility was reflected in the artistic and intellectual currents that came to dominate Western societies in the twentieth century. Rothko’s story also exemplifies other familiar themes including: the power of Jewish ethnic networking and nepotism in promoting Jewish interests (both individual and collective), and the tendency for Jewish “genius” to be constructed by Jewish intellectuals as self-appointed gatekeepers of Western culture.

With Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko has been accorded a leading place in the ranks of the Abstract Expressionists. If there is such a thing as a cult artist among the liberal Jewish intelligentsia, then Rothko is probably it. Important people stand in grave silence before his empty expanses with looks on their faces that bespeak lofty thoughts. As a critic for The Times noted:

Rothko evokes all that could be criticized as most pretentious, most clannish, most pseudish about his spectators. They stand there gravely perusing something that to the outsider probably looks more like a patch of half-stripped wallpaper than a picture and then declare themselves profoundly moved. And many outsiders will start to wonder if they are being duped, if this Modernist emperor actually has no clothes on and his fans are just the blind followers of some aesthetic faith.[1]  

For critics like Ottmann, Rothko’s genius is indisputable and he possessed an “extraordinary talent” that enabled him to transfer his metaphysical “impulses to the canvas with a power and magnetism that stuns viewers of his work. … In fact Rothko’s skill in achieving this result — whether intentional or not — perhaps explains why he was once called ‘the melancholic rabbi.’”[2] For prominent Jewish art historian Simon Schama, Rothko’s “big vertical canvasses of contrasting bars of colour, panels of colour stacked up on top of each other” qualify him as “a maker of paintings as powerful and complicated as anything by his two gods — Rembrandt and Turner.” For the ethnocentric Schama, “these [Rothko’s] paintings are equivalent of these old masters. … Can art ever be more complete, more powerful? I don’t think so.”[3]

After experimenting with Expressionism and Surrealism, Rothko finally arrived in 1949 at the style that would typify his work until his death by suicide in 1970 at the age of 66. This consisted of two or three floating rectangles of color painted against a monochrome background. A pioneer of what the Jewish art critic Clement Greenberg christened “color field” painting, Rothko claimed that only abstract painting could express the “full gravity of religious yearnings and the angst of the human condition.” He intended their effect to be transcendental with his stated goal being “only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” Rothko claimed that “a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures” which showed they were “having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” His final works became so minimalistic (large black canvasses) as to be almost void of any substance.

Mark Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) which sold for $186 million in 2014

In the twenty-first century, the sale prices of Rothko’s paintings at auction have risen consistently, surpassing those of his Abstract Expressionist colleagues, to reach staggering sums in the vicinity of $200 million. In 2011, Mark Rothko became the main character in Red, a successful Broadway play that treated him as a unique genius and won six Tony Awards.[4] Rothko would have approved of the portrayal: Elaine de Kooning once noted how he was “hypnotized by his own role, and there was just one. The role was that of the Messiah.”[5]

The making of Mark Rothko

Born in 1903, Marcus Rothkowitz was the youngest child of pharmacist, Jacob Rothkowitz, and his wife, Anna Goldin Rothkowitz, in the Russian city of Dvinsk (today Daugavpils, Latvia). Dvinsk, at the time in the Jewish Pale of Settlement, was a hotbed of Jewish radicalism. The Pale was then inhabited by five million Jews confined there by the Tsar at a time when thousands of Polish Jews were crossing the border into Russia seeking work. Rothko’s father was the stereotype of the leftwing Jewish intellectual, who presided over a family with an “intense commitment to politics and education.”[6] He initially preferred secular education for his children, and political over religious involvement. According to Rothko, his father’s relation to formal religion was openly oppositional: “My father was a militant social democrat of the Jewish party, the Bund, which was the social democracy of that time. He was profoundly Marxist and violently anti-religious.”[7]

That this was chiefly an anti-Christian, rather than anti-religious, impulse is revealed by the fact he returned to the Orthodox Jewish fold after Marcus’s birth in response to anti-Jewish violence which followed the failed Revolution of 1905. While no “pogroms” were ever visited on the Jews of Dvinsk, the town witnessed occasional incidents where Jews were targeted as sympathizers of the Social Democratic and other revolutionary parties. In 1905, according to Baal-Teshuva, the young Rothko’s “hometown was under the blanket surveillance of the Tsarist secret police. Jews were the usual victims of reprisals whenever the Cossacks, the loyal followers of the Tsarist state, came into the town to break up revolutionary uprisings.” Jews living in the environs of Dvinsk “lived in constant terror of pogroms and massacres. The air was filled with slogans like ‘Kill the Jews to Save Russia.’ This was the atmosphere in which Rothko grew up.”[8]

Despite the fact no pogroms occurred in Dvinsk, Rothko claimed to “remember the local Cossacks indulging in their favorite activity — beating up Jews.” He repeatedly told “likely embellished stories that he would wear a backpack to avoid getting hit by the stones the children of Dvinsk threw at him in the streets,” and that a Cossack who had come to repress demonstrations in the city had “struck him in the face with a whip.”[9]

Rothko later even claimed to recall “dug-up pits in the forests around Dvinsk, where the Cossacks buried Jewish victims they had kidnapped and murdered. These images always plagued him mentally, and he says they exercised a certain influence on his painting.”[10] Baal-Teshuva forgives Rothko these obvious untruths, contending it’s likely “that the child heard adults talking about the pogroms and massacres elsewhere, and in his memory ended up mixing up these stories with his own memories of the nearby woods.”[11] Acknowledging that some critics have happily run with these falsehoods, he observes how they have “gone so far as to say this explains his preference for rectangular forms in his late works, as a formal echo of the grave.”[12]

Rothkowitz family portrait in Dvinsk 1912 (Marcus second from the right)

In response to the economic and political insecurities of life in the Pale, Marcus’s father migrated to the United States in 1910. Only in 1913, when Marcus was ten years old, did the rest of the family move to America. Despite the supposed hazards of life in the Pale, Rothko “referred often to the ‘terrible experience’ of having been torn away from his homeland against his will.”[13] It was certainly not the gentile culture of America that attracted the waves of Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe, but only the relatively advantageous conditions created by American economic growth. “They came to America’s shores,” notes Muller, “motivated not by religion but in spite of it, their more orthodox leaders being inclined to warn them against the dangers of godless and goyish America.”[14] A massive influx of 2.3 million Jews arrived at Ellis Island between 1881 and 1920.

The Rothkowitz family spoke Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish and therefore fit well into their new surroundings. South Portland in Oregon where they settled (which was dubbed “Little Odessa”), provided an environment “very much as we think of a shtetl” where one could go for years “speaking Yiddish, Russian, or Polish without having to learn a word of English.”[15] Beginning in Dvinsk and then in Portland, his father decided Marcus would have a strict religious education. He was sent to a cheder, the religious school run by a synagogue, starting at the age of five, and was subject to a strict and tiring routine: praying, reading and translation of Hebrew texts, and rote memorization of Talmudic law.[16]

Rothko’s parents saw no contradiction in bringing up their son as an Orthodox Jew, a Zionist, and a Communist. This is quite in keeping with Kevin MacDonald’s observation that “within Russian Jewish communities, the acceptance of radical political ideology often coexisted with messianic forms of Zionism as well as intense commitment to Jewish nationalism and religious and cultural separatism, and many individuals held various and often rapidly changing combinations of these ideas.”[17]

After the family had achieved a degree of economic security in Portland, they joined local chapters of radical movements. Marcus avidly participated in discussions on current affairs and argued “skilfully for the right of workers to strike, or for general access to contraception. His entire family was in favour of the Russian Revolution, as Rothko later said.”[18] This was, of course, very typical, with Jewish historian Norman Cantor noting how “In the first half of the twentieth century, Marxist-Leninist communism ran like an electromagnetic lightning flash through Jewish societies from Moscow to Western Europe, the United States and Canada, gaining the lifelong adherence of brilliant, passionately dedicated Jewish men and women.”[19]

Another “Jewish Genius” Gets Stung by the WASPS

Rothko was, according to Schama, very much one of these brilliant Jewish men who, despite his Orthodox Jewish education, was “no Jewish Trappist, but a much more recognizable type (at least to me): loquacious, exuberant, hot-tempered, deeply immersed in literature and history.” While the Orthodox Judaism in which Rothko was schooled was not directly expressed in his later art, Schama insists that “once you’ve done cheder — Hebrew school — it never really goes away, however much you try to banish it; nor did it for Marcus. He was what everyone would call, with smiles, both admiring and pitying, a chocom — a know-it-all. And what do chochoms do if they weren’t going to be rabbis?”[20] He was, Schama insists, “just your super-educated, ungainly, sentimental Jew. In the grip of mighty ideas, he was desperate to tell you all about them, fidgeting on the sofa and waving his arms all around. A big heart and a big mouth to match — you know the type.”[21]

After his Orthodox Jewish education, Rothko, at the age of fourteen, attended Lincoln High School in Portland where “he finally experienced his first true encounter with the non-Jewish world, as only 10 percent of the nine hundred students were Jewish.” There he excelled academically and was a passionate debater for the radical cause. Cohen-Solal admires the way “the diligent student from Lincoln High grew into a passionate young intellectual” who “bluntly decided to confront tradition.”[22] Around this time he went to hear “‘Red’ Emma Goldman lay into capitalism and sing the praises of the Russian Revolution.”[23] Despite his avowed support for the Bolshevik Revolution, Rothko resented the fact that anyone at Lincoln High School who “had a name ending in ‘off’ or ‘ski’ is taboo and branded a Bolshevik.” He and his Jewish friends also begrudged the “control over student organizations exercised by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant youngsters.”[24]

Rothko was passionately drawn to the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and Emma Goldman at a time of rising ethnocentrism and growing hostility to Jewish immigration among White Americans. In 1915, the Ku Klux Klan, inactive since the Reconstruction era, revived in the South, and in 1916, Madison Grant defended his racial history theory in The Passing of the Great Race. Rothko saw disturbing parallels between the respective goyim of his old and new countries, especially at the time of Leo Frank’s lynching in 1915, when he observed in a poem that:

Those primitive barbarous people,
They live again in my blood,
And I feel myself bound to the past
By invisible chains.[25]

American entry into World War One in 1917 inspired nationalist demonstrations among Americans who believed their country had no interest in the conflict. The majority of them also, as mentioned, opposed mass immigration, and Congress passed three successive, highly restrictive, immigration laws: the Immigration Act of 1917, which introduced a literacy test; the Emergency Quota Act of 1921; and the National Origins Act of 1924. Such laws were deeply distressing to Jews like Rothko who wanted the country kept open to mass Jewish immigration.

Schama tells us that Rothko was “scholarship material, and won a place at Yale [in 1921] before the Ivy League decided they were about to be inundated by clever Jews and imposed admission quotas.” Despite his admission to Yale, “Rothko felt the sting of the WASPS all the same. If they couldn’t actually evict the talky-smart kikes, ‘those people,’ they could at least make it hard for them to stick around.”[26] Baal-Teshuva claims Rothko and his fellow Jewish students soon discovered the difficulties of gaining social acceptance in a setting where “the majority of generally affluent White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were contemptuous of the Jewish minority.”[27] Exactly how these WASP students were supposed (or even remotely likely) to embrace a group who feted Emma Goldman, were deeply hostile to their people and culture, and longed for the day when a violent revolution would consign them and their kind to the dustbin of history, is unclear. The more desperately the Jews wanted to “climb the social ladder, the more panic-stricken the others became at the idea of being invaded.”[28]

Rothko while at Yale

At the end of a year spent studying the history of philosophy and psychology, Rothko had achieved only mediocre results, and his scholarship was rescinded and replaced with a student loan. Rothko biographer Annie Cohen-Solal indignantly asks:

How could a young man of eighteen years—the image of a 1920s intellectual, with a high forehead, an intense gaze behind round glasses, and a combed-back mass of wavy black hair—who entered with such enthusiasm into Yale, this temple of knowledge, so severely flounder there? Why would this voracious student, craving intellectual debates, so confident in his abilities after a string of successes in Portland, completely fail to find his place at this elite university?[29]

Her predictable answer: the ubiquitous anti-Semitism Rothko supposedly confronted at a Yale dominated by an “inaccessible club of young WASPs.”[30] Cohen-Solal claims that Rothko quickly became a pariah after his arrival in New Haven, and was “stigmatized precisely because he was bright.” He quickly learned that “the Yale social system was based more on breeding than on merit,” while also discovering “the cynicism and hypocrisy of the caste-based micro-society that sought to protect and reproduce itself, in particular by excluding new, upwardly mobile immigrants who, in those years of rampant nationalism, were deemed threatening to the system.”[31] By thwarting his entry into its exclusive society, Cohen-Solal accuses Yale of having unforgivably “hampered the development of the identity of the young prodigy from Dvinsk.”[32]

Rothko lived off-campus with relatives in New Haven, and launched a radical underground newspaper called The Yale Saturday Evening Post “which took aim at the college’s teaching methods and fetish for prestige.”[33] He discovered his artistic calling by chance. One day, in 1923, he visited a friend studying drawing at the Art Students League and decided “It is the life for me.” He dropped out of Yale after his second year, and moved to New York where he took some art courses. According to Cohen-Solal, it was little wonder he elected to become a painter: “Socially, he was a rebel who, after enduring a series of setbacks, had developed a precocious political awareness as well as a desire for revenge. To pursue a career in art meant, for him, joining a professional group of outcasts with which he could identify.”[34] Rothko would return to Yale 46 years later—when the WASPs had been overthrown and his own ethnic group was firmly in charge—to receive an honorary degree.

Rothko relocated to New York in 1925 and remained there for the rest of his life, becoming involved with Jewish institutions and close to various Jewish artists. He enrolled in the New School of Design where Arshile Gorky (not Jewish) became one of his instructors and cubist artist Max Weber, a fellow Russian Jew, became one of his mentors. In 1928, he was invited to participate in a group show at New York’s Opportunity Gallery, with Lou Harris and Milton Avery — a self-taught painter connected to Brooklyn’s Jewish community through his wife — who mentored various Jewish artists including Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman, and Louis Schanker.[35] Rothko also gained experience by drawing maps and illustrations for the Graphic Bible by Lewis Browne, a retired rabbi from Portland who was a best-selling author. When he saw he wasn’t credited for these works, he sued Browne for $20,000 in damages. In the end, he lost the trial.[36]

Early Rothko painting: Woman and Cat (1933)

Despite all this activity, when the Wall Street crash came in 1929, followed by the Great Depression, Rothko had little to show for his decade in New York. He was exhibited but rarely sold, and when it did, it was not a living. Between 1928 and 1939, one exhibition followed the next, but his works—oils, watercolors, and paintings on paper—sold poorly. In the meantime he had married Edith Sachar, “bright and Jewish, whom he had met at a progressive summer camp at Lake George in the Adirondacks: downing dialectical materialism, Freud and Cubism along with the weak coffee.”[37]

Go to Part 2.


[1] Klaus Ottmann, The Essential Mark Rothko (New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 8. 

[2] Klaus Ottmann, The Essential Mark Rothko (New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 8.

[3] Simon Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, BBC TV Series, Great Britain, 2006.

[4] Annie Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, Toward the Light in the Chapel (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2015), 207.

[5] 78

[6] J.E.B, Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 14.

[7] Ibid., 15.

[8] Ibid., 19-20.

[9] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 15.

[10] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art TV Series.

[11] Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Rothko (Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2009), 19-20.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ottmann, Essential Mark Rothko, 17.

[14] Jerry Z. Muller, J.Z. (2010) Capitalism and the Jews (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 96.

[15] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 26.

[16] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 20.

[17] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth‑Century Intellectual and Political Movements, (Westport, CT: Praeger, Revised Paperback edition, 2001), 82.

[18] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 23.

[19] Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain – The History of the Jews (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 281.

[20] Simon Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, BBC Books, London: BBC Books, 2006), 401-2.

[21] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art TV Series.

[22] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 35; 30.

[23] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, 402.

[24] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 30

[25] Ibid., 38.

[26] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, 402.

[27] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 23.

[28] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 45.

[29] Ibid., 39.

[30] Ibid., 45.

[31] Ibid., 42-3.

[32] Ibid., 43.

[33] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 23.

[34] Cohen-Solal, Mark Rothko, 56

[35] Ibid., 57.

[36] Baal-Teshuva, Rothko, 24.

[37] Schama, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, 405.

“Modify the standards of the in-group”: On Jews and Mass Communications

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in September, 2018, in two parts. It is a classic, and an important addition to the research on Jewish involvement in creating the culture of critique—the anti-White culture that we live in today. The above photo is a testament to the way we live now—viewing the world through lenses shaped by activist Jews.

“To be successful, mass propaganda on the behalf of out-groups would have to modify the standards of the in-group.
Samuel H. Flowerman, Mass Propaganda in the War Against Bigotry, 1947.
[1]

“The whole story is transparently barmy.” This is what Guardian journalist Jason Wilson had to say in a 2015 article discussing “conspiracy theories” about Cultural Marxism. Barmy, for the uninitiated, is a British informal adjective with the meanings “mad; crazy; extremely foolish.” Wilson continues by attempting to explain “the whole story”:

The vogue for the ideas of theorists like Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno in the 1960s counterculture culminated with their acolytes’ occupation of the commanding heights of the most important cultural institutions, from universities to Hollywood studios. There, the conspiracy says, they promoted and even enforced ideas which were intended to destroy traditional Christian values and overthrow free enterprise: feminism, multiculturalism, gay rights and atheism. And this, apparently, is where political correctness came from. I promise you: this is what they really think … The theory of cultural Marxism is also blatantly antisemitic, drawing on the idea of Jews as a fifth column bringing down western civilisation from within, a racist trope that has a longer history than Marxism.

Re-reading this article recently, I wondered what Mr Wilson would say if I told him I possessed a document wherein an influential Jew linked to Marcuse and Adorno unambiguously sets out a scheme for the capture of the media, the mass brainwashing of White populations with multicultural propaganda, the manipulation of in-group culture to make it hostile to its own sense of ethnocentrism, the spreading of a culture of political correctness, and, ultimately, the co-option of the West by small ethnic clique pursuing its own interests under the guise of “promoting tolerance.” I wonder what he’d say if I told him the same Jew operated a network of hundreds, if not thousands, of other Jewish intellectuals engaged in the same single task — unlocking a psychological “backdoor” to White culture in order to completely reorient it. I think I’m correct in assuming that Mr Wilson would call me “barmy,” and accuse me of regurgitating the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I suspect he would believe I’m a fantasist and an anti-Jewish conspiracy theorist. I know he’d dismiss even the possibility that such a document might actually exist. And yet it does exist. Read more

Pariah to Messiah: The Engineered Apotheosis of Baruch Spinoza, Part 1 of 3

Editor’s note: This is a classic article by Andrew Joyce published originally in March, 2013 on how Jewish academic activists created the image of Spinoza as a great philosopher and father of the Enlightenment. I interviewed Andrew Joyce on TOQLive on May 6, 2019. Great discussion! 


A recurring theme here at TOO has been the monitoring of ethnic networking in efforts to establish Jewish figures in positions of scientific, academic, artistic or cultural pre-eminence. Erudite studies by several writers, particularly Kevin Macdonald (a major theme of The Culture of Critique) and Brenton Sanderson, have shed light on individual cases (e.g., Boas, Freud, Trotsky, Rothko, Mahler) as well as the more generic processes involved in these efforts (e.g., promotion in the elite media and the academic world). Typically these efforts can be said to begin with the veneration by a group of Jews of a Jewish intellectual or artist, and is followed by the creation of an authoritarian cult-like aura around his or her personality. The process reaches its completion, in some cases after the death of the guru figure, in an aggressive Jewish marketing effort to convince society at large that this figure, together with his or her ideas, is or was of national or international—if not cosmic—significance. It is predominantly by this process that the notion of “Jewish Genius” is perpetuated. 

Although in some respects the pattern is slightly different in the case examined in this article, where the effort only began centuries after the death of its subject, I argue that the essence and goal of the campaign is consistent with previous cases. I explore what is arguably the most ambitious effort yet attempted to create a Jewish icon for the non-Jewish world. In this, the case of Baruch Spinoza, I will outline the history of the Jewish effort to place him at the very heart of the Enlightenment, and to crown him as nothing less than the founder of the modern West, and even of modern democracy itself.

Although I had been aware for some time of the Jewish emphasis on Spinoza as a prominent and significant Enlightenment figure, I only began to appreciate the scale and complexity of the Jewish effort to canonize him recently when Jonathan Israel’s 2001  Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750 was brought to my attention. In this extravagantly praised tome and its 2006 sequel Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752,  Israel rejected strictly national interpretations of the Enlightenment, and argued that it was a single, highly integrated intellectual and cultural movement. At the centre of this single movement he posits the ideas of the 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whom Israel argues we should view above Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Newton and other non-Jews, as the source of modernity. In Israel’s words: Spinoza and Spinozism were “the intellectual backbone of the European Radical Enlightenment everywhere.”[1]

At least compared with the works of ethnic activists like Anthony Julius, Israel’s work is representative of a more subtle and sophisticated way of shaping ‘ways of seeing.’ Much of what he says is at least factually correct. In some cases his assertions are beyond dispute, and are liberally furnished with references to archival documentation. However, Israel’s basic thesis over-reaches the sum of its parts. While his work is meticulously researched, very detailed, and replete with copious amounts of primary and secondary source material, there remains significant doubt about the basic argument of the book — that the support of over seventy 18th-Enlightenment figures for modern democracy, separation of Church and State, freedom of expression, social justice, equality, fairness, and tolerance can be directly linked only to the ideas of Baruch Spinoza. 

The aim of this essay is not to explore the Enlightenment, nor even to directly challenge Israel’s theory of there being one single ‘Radical Enlightenment’. Instead, this essay simply and modestly aims to demonstrate that the effort to place Spinoza at the center of the Enlightenment is much older than the work of Jonathan Israel, and that it has been, and remains, a specifically Jewish effort. On a deeper level, I explore its mechanisms and the motivations underlying it. Read more

Leonard Bernstein and the Jewish Cultural Ascendency — PART 1

Introduction

2018 marks the centenary of the birth of Jewish-American conductor, pianist, composer and teacher Leonard Bernstein. This milestone has seen a global bonanza of 2,500 concerts, programs, exhibitions and theatrical productions. Bernstein features prominently in the pantheon of “Jewish geniuses” as designated by the West’s Jewish-dominated cultural and intellectual establishment. Bernstein’s centenary year inevitably yielded hagiography: for his Jewish biographer Allen Shawn, he was not just a “genius” but “a powerful cultural and political voice and symbol, transcending all categories.”[1] Mark Horowitz, curator of an exhibition at Philadelphia’s Jewish museum celebrating Bernstein’s “pride of tribe,” fully endorses this view, while for the Jewish music writer for the New Yorker, Alex Ross, Bernstein remains “American music’s dominant figure.”

Bernstein lived during the heyday of the recording industry, at the dawn of the television era and of video recording. He left behind what is possibly the most extensive documentation in recordings, films, and on paper of any musician in history. His archive at the Library of Congress already lists some 400,000 items.[2] During the 1950s and 1960s Bernstein was not only the best known of all American classical musicians; his fame rivalled that of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. Attitudes to Bernstein varied dramatically during his lifetime, and many responded negatively to the fact he was so visible, so outspoken, so dramatic, and so politically active on the left.

Famous for his flamboyantly extroverted temperament, Bernstein was a “personality on such a big scale that he would naturally manage to offend many people along the way. … His self-regard and need for attention were also, to be sure, extreme.”[3] Bernstein’s brash self-confidence and monstrous ego incurred the enmity of many of those he encountered. He “loved to be the center of attention, even if it meant being obnoxious” observed a fellow student at the Curtis School of Music who noted that his “extroversion was extreme.”[4] John Rockwell, writing for the New York Times in 1986, observed that “It is quite a remarkable personality, for better and for worse, the defines every aspect of his near-manic existence. There are those who still find him inherently annoying — when he shoots off what he likes to call his ‘big Jewish mouth,’ when he prances and gyrates on the podium, when he seems to squander his compositional gifts in flashy trivia or overwrought excess.”[5] Bernstein’s own children pointed out his unsurpassed ability to become emotional on his own behalf, to “move himself.”[6]

Bernstein’s unusual, extremely emotional, visual presentation was his trademark as a conductor. He conducted with his entire body in a style that led to much criticism and derision over the years. German composer Gunther Schuller, for example, observed that Bernstein was “one of the world’s most histrionic and exhibitionistic conductors.” Schuller saw Bernstein as a musician with “very little discipline and no shame,” whose interpretation of Brahms’ First Symphony contained “too much of an ‘oy-vey’ Weltschmerz to be bearable.”[7] Read more

“Modify the standards of the in-group”: On Jews and Mass Communications — Part Two of Two

Go to Part 1.


“Millions of leaflets, pamphlets, cartoons, comic books, articles
and more recently radio and movie scripts — have been produced and disseminated in the propaganda war.”  Samuel H. Flowerman, Mass Propaganda in the War Against Bigotry, 1947.[1]

The Protocols of Samuel H. Flowerman

Samuel H. Flowerman, as Research Director at the American Jewish Committee, as colleague of the Institute for Social Research, and as a kind of hub for the expansive Jewish clique of mass communications scholars, was at the center of the drive to put Jewish “opinion research” initiatives into practical action. The clearest articulation of what this practical action would look like was articulated in his 1947 essay, “Mass Propaganda in the War Against Bigotry.” Flowerman’s foremost concern was that, although millions of dollars were being spent by organisations like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League on propaganda, propaganda may not by itself be sufficient for the mass transformation of values in the host population — in particular, for the weakening of its ethnocentrism.

Flowerman begins by explaining the format and extent of existing efforts: “Millions of leaflets, pamphlets, cartoons, comic books, articles — and more recently radio and movie scripts — have been produced and disseminated in the propaganda war (429).” Flowerman’s use of the language of warfare is of course interesting in itself and will be discussed further below. For now, we should focus on what Flowerman lists as the five aims of the “propaganda war”:

1. “The restructuring of the attitudes of prejudiced individuals, or at least their neutralization.”
2. “The restructuring of group values toward intolerance.”
3. “The reinforcement of attitudes of those already committed to a democratic ideology perhaps by creating an illusion of universality or victory.”
4. “The continued neutralisation of those whose attitudes are yet unstructured and who are deemed “safer” if they remain immune to symbols of bias.”
5. “Off-setting the counter-symbols of intolerance.” (429)

Flowerman concedes that the level of work and control required to achieve these aims would be extensive, and that the project was highly ambitious, seeking nothing less than “successful mass persuasion in the field of intergroup relations (429).” But he is equally clear in the conditions required for such success. Read more

The Jewish Ethnic Nexus of Bill Browder’ Financial Operations

A tweetstorm consisting of quotes from Israel Shamir’s excellent article on Bill Browder showing how he operated in an entirely Jewish milieu. Jewish ethnic networking is alive and well in the twenty-first century.