Jewish Ethnic Networking

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

Why has Ron Unz stopped talking about discrimination against non-Jewish Whites?

Ron Unz’s meritocracy article is an important analysis of discrimination against non-Jewish Whites in admission to elite universities. But you wouldn’t know it by following his recent writing and public presentations. For example, a recent article posted on National Review Online (“Racial Quotas, Harvard, and the legacy of Bakke) focused entirely on his findings on Asian Americans. No mention of non-Jewish Whites.

This obvious omission did not go unnoticed. In “The Minimum Wage, Immigration, and Affirmative Action“, Unz mentions “a prominent conservative hardliner, someone very critical of the Republican establishment, who wondered why my sole focus had been on Asians, rather than on the white victims of affirmative action in college admissions.”

I suspect that the conservative hardliner is concerned about the effects of Ivy League practices on non-Jewish White Americans, and, in any case, that is certainly my concern. But Unz doesn’t touch on this issue, preferring instead to chastise Republicans for focusing on quotas rather than other more subtle and less rigid forms of racial preference. I agree that the Republicans have avoided addressing racial presferences. But in his reply Unz makes it sound as though there is no problem at all with White enrollment:

On average, white percentages have declined substantially over the last twenty years, but so has the white fraction of the college-age population, and the two trends have generally moved in parallel.  The range of white percentages across the Ivy League in 1990 was roughly as wide as the range today, with no sign of collusion or “quotas” in either case.

But in his original article Unz showed that Asians aren’t being discriminated at all in terms of the admission to Harvard compared to Whites ( including Jews and Whites in one category). The ratio of Asian Harvard students compared to the Asian share of National Merit semifinalists is 63%, whereas for Whites (including Jews) the comparable ratio is 61%. That is, both groups are represented at Harvard at just over 60% of what they would be in a completely meritocratic system; the shortfall from a meritocratic result is due to affirmative action for Blacks and Latinos, as well as international students and students who don’t declare their race.

So Asians are not being discriminated against compared to Whites at all, if Jews are included in the White category. Read more

Review: Anthony Julius’ “Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England” [Part One]

Accompanied by much publicity, 2012 saw the publication in paperback of Anthony Julius’ Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England. The paperback followed on from the successful performance of the hardback, which had come out under the imprint of Oxford University Press in 2010. As in so many other cases, much of the book’s success had little to do with its scholarly merit and more to do with a great deal of ethnic networking. For example, Philip Roth labelled Julius’ 827-page literary tumbleweed “an essential history” written by a man with “scholarly integrity”,  while Harold Bloom at the New York Times Book Review gushed that “Julius is a truth-teller, … I am grateful for his calm balance …  and extraordinary moral strength.”

The book achieved its greatest success in Britain, where despite comprising only around 0.5% of the British population, Jews managed to get positive reviews of Julius’ book in almost every single major British newspaper and magazine. At London’s Financial Times the review was written by James Shapiro, an academic who specializes in trying to dismantle Shakespeare, either by denouncing him as an anti-Semite or, paradoxically, claiming that he never wrote any of the works attributed to him. At The New Republic the review was written by Jonathan Freedland, who also writes for The Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle. Freedland also publishes fiction under the name Sam Bourne, in which his plots invariably revolve around Nazi sympathizers and eugenicists. At the New Statesman praise this time came from Jonathan Beckman who also writes for The Guardian and the The Jewish Chronicle. At the Telegraph the review was written by Gerald Jacobs, another Jewish Chronicle stalwart. At the Independent the review was written by Bryan Cheyette, an academic who specializes in portraying White societies as having a neurotic hatred of Jews. At The Guardian, the review was penned by none other than Antony Lerman, a former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

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Elena Kagan’s “diversity problem” and Jewish privilege

The reaction to the appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court in 2010 was a case study in how taboos are maintained in our society regarding the 600-pound gorilla of Jewish power. It is not just that little was said about the fact that she would be the third Jewish justice on the nine-member court in a country barely two percent Jewish, leaving the majority-Protestant country without a Protestant on the high court. It is not just that she was generally lacking in qualifications for the appointment and for pretty much every other job she has ever gotten. What was really interesting was how the Jewish media diverted attention from the phenomenon of Jewish power and privilege by raising the specter of White privilege. And when I say specter, I really mean ghost, because White privilege for all intents and purposes is dead and gone, as the Elena Kagan nomination “controversy” illustrates.

When Obama was set to make his second nomination for the Supreme Court, Kagan’s selection was neither a surprise nor ever seriously in doubt. She had already been on the short list of candidates to fill the first vacancy, which eventually went to Sonia Sotomayor. There were some voices raised, mostly on the “right,” regarding Kagan’s complete lack of judicial experience and her relative lack of courtroom experience. However, the truly interesting objections were raised by observers on the “left” regarding the lack of “diversity” in her recruitment of professors while she was the dean of Harvard Law School.

The liberal on-line magazine Salon published an article by four law professors from less prestigious schools noting that all but one of the 32 tenure-track professors hired while Kagan was dean were White. These professors, two of whom were black, one south Asian, and one with a half-Hispanic hyphenated surname (Luis Fuentes-Rohwer), make seven references to Whites in their 1679-word piece, yet never once use the word “Jew.” Read more

Free to Cheat: “Jewish Emancipation” and the Anglo-Jewish Cousinhood, Part 2

Go to Part I.

The Cousinhood on the World Stage.

In 1847, London’s Jewish community had produced a statement for public consumption stressing that the election of Lionel de Rothschild would represent nothing more than the election of another politician who would work for “the welfare of the nation, and the prosperity of his country.”[33] However, later actions by members of the Cousinhood who had taken places in the legislature and in government would provide cause for pondering precisely which nation was being referred to. David Feldman has revealed that entry into the legislature facilitated greater Jewish involvement in the administration of the British Empire, and that the Cousinhood was involved in a succession of financial and political scandals which had at their root “family and religious connections,” “the pursuit of profit,” and attempts to “influence colonial affairs when it deemed [global] Jewish interests were at stake.”[34]

By 1900, through a process of ethnic and familial networking, the Cousinhood had secured many of the most significant administrative positions in the Empire. Feldman notes that the Nathan family alone had by that date secured the positions of Governor of the Gold Coast, Hong Kong and Natal, Attorney-General and Chief Justice in Trinidad, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India, Officiating Chief Secretary to the Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam,  and Postmaster-General of Bengal.[35] In Parliament, Lionel Abrahams was Permanent Assistant Under-Secretary at the India Office, working under his cousin Edwin Montagu who was then Parliamentary Under-Secretary for India.[36] Read more

Promoting Israel in the world of literature: A tale of Jewish ethnic networking

I was looking over Brenton Sanderson’s TOO article on Mark Rothko (“Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionism, and the Decline of Western Art“). For Rothko, an artist without any of the skills that are traditionally associated with being a professional artist,  it was all about Jewish networking.

Towards the end of 1943, all of the ethnic networking finally began to bear tangible fruit for Rothko. 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.” In January 1945, Guggenheim decided to put on Rothko’s first one-man exhibition at her gallery. In 1948 Rothko invited a coterie of mainly Jewish friends and acquaintances to view his new ‘multiforms’. The [very influential] art critic and historian Harold Rosenberg “remembers finding these works “fantastic,” and called his experience “the most impressive visit to an artist” in his life.”

This is actually quite remarkable. It would be one thing if Rothko was aspiring to be a leading rabbi or the head honcho at the ADL. But he was aspiring to fame and fortune as an historically important artist in the Western canon. He achieved his goal. One of his paintings recently sold for $87 million.

$87 million Rothko

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