Jewish Ethnic Networking

Susan Sontag’s Jewish World

A theme of The Culture of Critique is that Jewish intellectual movements created a fundamentally Jewish intellectual and social world whose members promoted each other and socialized with each other. People outside that world didn’t matter. They could be subject to mobbing-type attacks or simply ignored.

The New York Intellectuals spent their careers entirely within a Jewish social and intellectual milieu. When Rubenfeld (1997, 97) lists people [Clement] Greenberg invited to social occasions at his apartment in New York, the only gentile mentioned is artist William de Kooning. Revealingly, Michael Wrezin (1994, 33) refers to Dwight Macdonald, another Trotskyist contributor to [Partisan Review, the flagship journal of the New York Intellectuals], as “a distinguished goy among the Partisanskies.” Another non-Jew was writer James T. Farrell, but his diary records a virtually all-Jewish social milieu in which a large part of his life was spent in virtual non-stop social interaction with other New York Intellectuals (Cooney 1986, 248). Indeed, [Norman] Podhoretz (1967, 246–248) refers to the New York Intellectuals as a “family” who, when they attended a party, arrived at the same time and socialized among their ingroup. (CoCChapter 6, pp. 220-221)

A discussion in the Forward of a recent biography of Susan Sontag is a nice illustration of this phenomenon (Susan Sontag’s Not-So-Secret and Not-Always-So-Jewish History: Biographer Demonstrates Author’s Persistent Charms). 

Very soon, Sontag would draw inspiration from a series of Jewish mentors and friends, or as Schreiber puts it, the “dominant, exotic European-Jewish father figure to whom Sontag was attracted throughout her career.” These include the political philosopher and classicist Leo Strauss and the sociologist Philip Rieff with whom she studied at the University of Chicago— she married Rieff at age 17. At Harvard, Sontag was taught by another sociologist, Jacob Taubes; his wife Susan’s fascination with the French Jewish philosopher Simone Weil inspired one of Sontag’s ardent campaigns to get the American reading public to heed hitherto overlooked writers and thinkers. Her publicization of “the achievements of such authors as Walter Benjamin [of the Frankfurt School], Elias Canetti, Paul Goodman, and Leonid Tsypkin, who wrote the novel “Summer in Baden Baden,” are among Sontag’s most sympathetic labors.

While respectful of literary elders, Sontag had an ironic attitude toward a few “dominant, exotic European-Jewish father figures” such as French Jewish philosopher Jean Wahl, whom she met in Paris in 1958. The septuagenarian Wahl, who had escaped from Drancy internment camp during the Nazi occupation, was mocked by Sontag for having “three holes in his pants through which his underpants were visible.” By the time she moved to New York in 1959, her Jewish influences were her contemporaries, often gay writers including the novelist Alfred Chester, poet Richard Howard and film critic Elliott Stein. The last-mentioned apparently inspired Sontag to write her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” which, if necessarily of its time, still has value as a cultural artefact today.

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Steven Pinker on Harvard Admissions: Ignoring the Elephant in the Room

Steven Pinker (“The Trouble with Harvard“) argues that students should be selected on the basis of standardized testing. He is tone deaf on Jewish overrepresentation and on the underrepresentation of non-Jewish Whites.

Like many observers of American universities, I used to believe the following story. Once upon a time Harvard was a finishing school for the plutocracy, where preppies and Kennedy scions earned gentleman’s Cs while playing football, singing in choral groups, and male-bonding at final clubs, while the blackballed Jews at CCNY founded left-wing magazines and slogged away in labs that prepared them for their Nobel prizes in science. Then came Sputnik, the ’60s, and the decline of genteel racism and anti-Semitism, and Harvard had to retool itself as a meritocracy, whose best-and-brightest gifts to America would include recombinant DNA, Wall Street quants, The Simpsons, Facebook, and the masthead of The New Republic.

This story has a grain of truth in it: Hoxby has documented that the academic standards for admission to elite universities have risen over the decades. But entrenched cultures die hard, and the ghost of Oliver Barrett IV still haunts every segment of the Harvard pipeline.

Sounds like Pinker is implying that WASPs like Oliver Barrett IV still run the show at Harvard, keeping out the Jews and anyone else who can’t trace their ancestry to the Mayflower.

The reality, of course, is there is more than a grain of truth to the idea that admission to Ivy League universities is anything but meritocratic. In fact, Jews are vastly overrepresented on the basis of any available metric, while Whites and Asians are underrepresented, as Ron Unz has shown. Pinker is aware of Unz, but interprets Unz’s results as showing only that the deck is stacked against Asians, with the implication that folks like Oliver Barrett IV are the beneficiaries of unearned privilege:

Jerome Karabel has unearthed a damning paper trail showing that in the first half of the twentieth century, holistic admissions were explicitly engineered to cap the number of Jewish students. Ron Unz, in an exposé even more scathing than Deresiewicz’s, has assembled impressive circumstantial evidence that the same thing is happening today with Asians.

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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Jewish Ethnic Networking

American Whites of European extraction — particularly White males — are being systematically displaced in the very country they built. This surely will not be news to TOO readers. As editor Kevin MacDonald has already pointed out, the appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court is testimony to this trend:

Kagan’s arrival on the Supreme Court is a sort of official coming out party for the new elite. It’s been there for quite some time, but the Kagan nomination is an in-your-face-demonstration of the power of Jewish ethnic networking at the highest levels of government. And the first thing one notices is that the new elite has no compunctions about nominating someone for the Supreme Court even though she has no real qualifications. So much for the principles of merit and inclusion: Inclusion does not apply to WASPs now that they have been deposed. And the principle of merit can now be safely discarded in favor of ethnic networking. As I noted previously,

This is a favorite aspect of contemporary Jewish self-conception — the idea that Jews replaced WASPs because they are smarter and work harder. But this leads to the ultimate irony: Kagan isremarkably unqualified to be a Supreme Court Justice in terms of the usual standards: judicial experience, academic publications, or even courtroom experience. Rather, all the evidence is that Kagan owes her impending confirmation to her Jewish ethnic connections (see also here).

The same goes for Jewish over-representation in elite academic institutions — far higherthan can be explained by higher Jewish IQ. Does anyone seriously think that Jewish domination of Hollywood and so much of the other mainstream media  (see, e.g., Edmund Connelly’s article) is about merit rather than ethnic networking and solidarity?”

In conclusion, MacDonald writes, “Whatever else one can say about the new elite, it certainly does not believe in merit.” Allow me to offer a newer case in point — that of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who grew up in a Jewish family in Miami. Sandberg’s key break was admission to Harvard, despite the fact that her academic background hardly seemed to warrant it. As she admits in her best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. (New York, Random House, 2013), she was clearly not prepared for the rarified atmosphere of Harvard:

Freshman year of college was a huge shock for me… [M]y professor of political philosophy assigned a five-page paper. I was panicked. Five whole pages! I had only written one paper that length in high school, and it was a year-long project. How could anyone write five pages in just one week? I stayed in every night, plugging away, and based on the time I put in, I should have gotten an A for effort. I got a C. It is virtually impossible to get a C at Harvard if the assignment is turned in. I am not exaggerating — this was the equivalent of a failing grade.”

How unprepared was she? Well, in a class called “The Concept of the Hero in Hellenistic Civilization,” she hadn’t even heard of the two main texts, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Meanwhile, most of her classmates had already read them, and about a third of them had read them in the original Homeric Greek. Yet there sat Miss Sandberg right beside them. Read more

Victoria Nuland’s family ties: The Permanent Government in action

Intertwined Jewish power families are an important aspect of Jewish history, cementing business relationships by creating networks of close relatives who married only among themselves—e.g., the Court Jews of 17th- and 18th-century Europe (see here, pp 150-152).  We see echoes of that in the contemporary world, as among the neocons.

As with the other Jewish intellectual movements I have studied, neoconservatives have a history of mutual admiration, close, mutually supportive personal, professional, and familial relationships, and focused cooperation in pursuit of common goals. For example, Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, is the father of John Podhoretz, a neoconservative editor and columnist. Norman Podhoretz is also the father-in-law of Elliott Abrams, the former head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (a neoconservative think tank) and the director of Near Eastern affairs at the National Security Council. Norman’s wife, Midge Decter, recently published a hagiographic biography of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose number-two and number-three deputies at the Pentagon, respectively, are Wolfowitz and Feith. Perle is a fellow at the AEI. He originally helped Wolfowitz obtain a job with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1973. In 1982, Perle, as Deputy Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, hired Feith for a position as his Special Counsel, and then as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Negotiations Policy. In 2001, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz helped Feith obtain an appointment as Undersecretary for Policy. Feith then appointed Perle as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. This is only the tip of a very large iceberg. “Neoconservatism as a Jewish movement” (p. 32)
Ethnic networking and ties cemented by marriage are on display in the flap over Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s phone conversation with Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. As VDARE’s Steve Sailer puts it, Nuland is a member of
a talented, energetic [Jewish] family that is part of the Permanent Government of the United States. It doesn’t really matter who wins the Presidential election: some Kagan-Nuland will be doing something somewhere in your name and on your dime.
The Kagan connection is via her husband, Robert Kagan. As noted by Your Lying Eyes, “Robert and brother Fred seem to have strategically implanted themselves in key policy-making positions within the Democratic and Republican party apparatus. Robert is embedded at Brookings, while Fred is ensconsed at AEI.”
So we have another Jewish neocon family tree, beginning with Donald Kagan, a Yale historian whose history of the Peloponnesia War has been used by neocons as a rationale for invasions of countries Israel doesn’t like (see Sailer). Donald Kagan was also a signatory to a 2002 letter to George W. Bush put out by Bill Kristol’s Project for the New American Century (PNAC) equating threats to Israel (Iran, Syria, Iraq) with threats to the U.S.
The next generation, Fred Kagan (American Enterprise Institute) and Robert Kagan (Brookings) are neocon stalwarts as well. (E.g., Donald, Robert and Frederick are all signatories to the neocon manifesto, Rebuilding America’s Defenses (2000), put out by PNAC.)   They and their wives, are all graduates of elite universities and well entrenched in the neocon thinktank/government infrastructure. Fred’s wife Kimberly (nee Kessler) is the head of the Institute for the Study of War and holds typical neocon positions.
And although U.S. policy toward Ukraine likely stems from other issues besides the neocon hostility toward Russia (the latter due to issues such as Putin’s crackdown on the oligarchs and Russia’s support of Israel’s enemies, Iran and Syria), there be little doubt that Nuland’s energetic support of the pro-EU opposition to the Yanukovych government dovetails with the attitudes of her neocon network. Our Permanent Government at work.

Samuel Goldman on Nathaniel Rich: “mild nepotism” or ethnic networking?

Jewish ethnic networking has been a theme at TOO, ranging from appointments to the Supreme Court (notoriously, Elena Kagan), admissions to elite universities, the world of art (e.g., Mark Rothko), literature (e.g., pro-Israel writers Shani Boianjiu and Risa Miller), and philosophy (e.g., Spinoza). Not to mention the intellectuals discussed in The  Culture o f  Critique.

Now comes an article by Samuel Goldman in The American Conservative Mild Nepotism and the Illusion of Meritocracy,” the point of which is that the path of Nathaniel Rich to fame and fortune in the literary world has been greatly aided by having a “famous name and the connections that often go along with it.” Rich is the son of former New York Times columnist Frank Rich who has come to the attention of TOO several times, including for a piece of Jewish triumphalism in which, like the New York Times editorial page, he eagerly looks forward to an America with a White minority.

Goldman cites Margaret Sullivan’s comment in the Times:

It’s beginning to feel like Nathaniel Rich Month at The Times. The author’s new novel was reviewed in the Arts section on April 10, then again in the Sunday Book Review on April 14. Mr. Rich also wrote an essay for the Sunday Book Review, with many references to that novel, “Odds Against Tomorrow.” In addition, the Editors’ Choice section of the Sunday Book Review listed Mr. Rich’s novel second on its list.

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

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The Apotheosis of Baruch Spinoza

Influenced by the sentiments of their own people, the majority of Jewish academics have long held and advanced a view of Spinoza strikingly at odds with that held by non-Jewish academics. Over time, however, the internal intellectual consistency and dedication of a core of Jewish academics has steadily worn away academic resistance to its objective of elevating Spinoza to a level of supreme importance, and the group is now closer than ever to achieving its goal of making Spinoza not merely a messianic figure for Jews, but a Jewish icon for non-Jews. Beginning in the 1930s with Harry Wolfson’s two-volume The Philosophy of Spinoza,[1] through the 1950s with Joseph Dunner’s Baruch Spinoza and Western Democracy[2] and Lewis Feuer’s Spinoza and the Rise of Liberalism ,[3] the 1960s with Leon Roth’s Spinoza, Descartes, and Maimonides,[4] the 1970s with the many works of Richard Popkin,[5] the 1980s with Margaret Jacob’s The Radical Enlightenment  and Marjorie Glicksman Grene’s Spinoza and the Sciences,[6] and the early 2000s with Steven Nadler’s Spinoza: A Life[7] and his Spinoza’s Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind,[8] there has been a concerted and persistent Jewish effort to reframe Spinoza as a product of purely Jewish thought, and to raise him to the summit of Enlightenment significance. Maurice Mandelbaum, Professor of Philosophy at The Johns Hopkins University, wrote in 1975 that he hoped to one day see the recognition of Spinoza as a major Enlightenment figure “flourish in the English-speaking world.”[9]

More recently, the pace of the effort has quickened and has been pushed with even greater intensity, bringing Mandelbaum’s dream ever closer to fruition. In the past four years alone we have seen the publication of  Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750,[10] Michael Mack’s Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: The Hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud,[11] Steven Nadler’s A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age,[12] and Rebecca Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity.[13] These books have been in addition to a huge number of academic articles. Nadler, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been one of the most prolific activists in pushing Spinoza in scholarly journals.[14] There is a high level of consensus and intellectual consistency within this group, and its influence and success can be said to derive substantially from this solidarity and cohesion, the consistency of its message, the access the group has had to elite publishing outlets, and sympathetic reviews in influential journals and media channels. These are precisely the characteristics of all Jewish intellectual movements, including Boasian anthropology, psychoanalysis, radical political ideology, the Frankfurt School, the New York Intellectuals and neoconservatism.[15]
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Pariah to Messiah: The Engineered Apotheosis of Baruch Spinoza, Part 2 of 3

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The Jewish Reclamation of Spinoza

To understand the shift in Jewish attitudes to Spinoza, one must take into account the birth of the concept of the ‘secular Jew,’ and the corresponding development of surrogate intellectual and cultural movements in which ‘Jewishness’ was divorced from Judaism and yet survived and thrived post partum. Prior to and throughout the Enlightenment, Jewry in the West remained separate and distinct in patterns of settlement, custom, language and dress. Judaism remained the only avenue for the expression of ‘Jewishness.’ Only at the end of the eighteenth century, as modernity began to encroach upon them, and “to remedy the inferiority of the Jews,” did Jewish intellectuals in Germany begin to make attempts to represent Judaism as an entirely rational belief system, and to justify the continued existence of Jews as a separate people.[1]

The earliest proponents of this attempt to reframe Judaism were a group of German Jewish intellectuals known as the maskilim, and they first began to rise to prominence, both inside and outside Jewry, in the 1780s. It is noteworthy that some of the earliest works produced by the maskilim, the most famous of whom was Moses Mendelssohn, were built around the reclamation of Spinoza. Mendelssohn was the author of Jerusalem (1783), probably the most important 18th-century text arguing the case for pluralism, and putting forth the contention that Judaism was compatible with the precepts of the Enlightenment.[2] Daniel Schwartz writes that Mendelssohn was also a “watershed figure”[3] in softening Spinoza’s image both for Jews and for non-Jews. He played a major role in overturning the prevailing apathy towards Spinoza’s works in the German Academy, and was pivotal in aiding Spinoza’s “integration into the canon of modern Western philosophy.”[4]

Although outwardly, Jewry appeared to be undergoing great change, at heart the real change it sought was in the non-Jewish world. Rather than adapt to modernity and wider society, Jewry sought a means of justifying its continued isolation. At first, the case that Judaism was inherently rational was argued by the maskilim, but it increasingly failed to convince non-Jewish intellectuals or the non-Jewish society as a whole. At the beginning of the 19th century, Jews were coming under intense scrutiny for their seeming unwillingness to enter the modern age. In the French Republic, Napoleon had halted moves towards the political emancipation of the Jews after hearing about extensive Jewish usury in the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Napoleon subsequently convened a ‘Grand Sanhedrin’ of notable Jews at Hotel de Ville in Paris in July 1806.[5] All of the twelve questions posed by Napoleon to the notables cut to the heart of Jewish group cohesion as being incompatible with the Enlightenment. They concerned, “Jewish clannishness, divided loyalties, intermarriage, and usury.”[6] Napoleon asked: “Has the law ordered that the Jews should only intermarry among themselves?” and “In the eyes of Jews are Frenchmen considered as brethren or strangers?”[7] Rather than tell the truth and abandon the push for political power for their group, the notables believed they could succeed through crypsis and resorted to evasion and lies, telling Napoleon among other things that “the law does not say that a Jewess cannot marry a Christian, nor a Jew a Christian woman; nor does it state that the Jews can only marry among themselves.”[8]

Napoleon took them at their word, even trusting the notables with the writing of reforms necessary to bring about the political emancipation of the Jews. As Esther Benbassa noted in her The Jews of France: A History from Antiquity to the Present, while the notables were willing to tinker slightly with religious organization, they utterly refused to move “on the questions of usury and exogamous marriage.”[9] Emancipation proceeded regardless.

In Germany too, the pressure was increasing. Schwartz writes: “Within German Idealism, it was more or less a consensus that while a reformed Christianity could serve as a basis, or at least a vehicle, for a modern religion of reason, Judaism could not provide such a foundation. As the religion of a single people, it was seen as intractably chauvinist and exclusive, and with its strict legal character, it seemed totally at odds with a modern ethos stressing human autonomy.”[10] For Hegel and others, there was a belief that Jews could be granted civil rights, but there was real doubt about whether Jews could long survive an encounter with modernity. Read more