The Intellectual Roots of the American Left’s Emerging Totalitarianism

A recent incident in Wallingford, Connecticut, not far from where I grew up, caused VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow to comment: “Cultural Marxist totalitarianism is coming to an America near you.” A complaint was lodged with the local police that “hate” merchandise— Nazi and Confederate memorabilia—was being publicly exhibited and sold at a popular flea market. Following a police investigation, an Anti-Defamation League official named Joshua Sayles expressed the view that “It’s unfortunate that under the law people have the right to sell these things; but it doesn’t mean they should sell these things. It’s not a crime but I would call it hate…”[Wallingford police look into complaint about Nazi, Confederate items sold at flea market, by Mary Ellen Godin, Record-Journal, July 10, 2015].

Chillingly, the assistant regional director of the Connecticut ADL thus unmistakably indicated he was deeply disturbed that a “right” to deal in what he considered “hate” was still allowed. Presumably, in a more sensitive world, no one would be allowed to exhibit or sell either Nazi or Confederate memorabilia. Needless to say, no moral distinction was made between Nazi Germany and the Confederate States of America. They both stood, or so the ADL official implied, for pure “hate.”

Peter properly suggests if such hate-inspectors get their way, we will be living in a condition of almost Stalinist oppression. We might not be shipped off to gulags(yet), but the control of speech and thought that these professional sensitizers would impose would be reminiscent of the worst examples of Leftist tyranny. I say “Leftist” intentionally—because rightist or non-leftist regimes have never tried to control their subjects’ minds as systematically as the Left.

Even Adolf Hitler’ s Nazi regime largely lost interest in mind reconstruction. It closed up universities as an unnecessary expense by the early 1940s, left the economy in private hands except for those businesses it expropriated, and tolerated a surprisingly wide range of intellectual dissenters. Of course, this had nothing to do with being nice. It was simply that the Nazis, aggressive thugs as they were, had no interest in the worldwide indoctrination program dreamed of by the universalist, conversionary and egalitarian zealots of the true Left.

In contrast to the Nazis, the Left has regularly used every means at its disposal to reconstruct the human personality in accordance with its world vision. Perhaps even more significantly, for the last seventy years the Left has imagined itself as a brave force of resistance against a supposedly implacable but entirely fictitious and shape-shifting enemy— the great evil of “fascism.” As I document in my forthcoming book, Fascism: Career of a Concept, the Left’s eternal enemy of “fascism” is variously depicted as racism, Christian fanaticism, European nationalism, or even opposition to Israeli foreign policy.

Curiously, the post-war Italian fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano was fervently pro-Israel as well as pro-NATO. But Jewish “antifascists” can’t be bothered by such details.

The popular concept of fascism also identifies all forms of the European-wide fascist movement with Hitler, who was actually influenced far more by Stalinist totalitarianism than Mussolini’s ramshackle, not particularly repressive government. “Fascist” is arbitrarily equated with both Nazi genocide a nd anything the cultural Left disapproves of at the moment.

This propagandistic sleight of hand is so blatant that, unless one grasps the current political landscape, it is almost impossible to understand how it works every single time. We are looking here at interlocking political, corporate, and cultural elites when we search for who maintains the system. And there is a unifying doctrine, which for want of a better and more up-to-date name we shall have to call “Cultural Marxism.”

Cultural Marxism‘s central teachings go back genealogically to the Institute for Social Research in interwar Germany. Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and their radical Leftist colleagues attempted to fuse Marxist economics and Freudian psychology into a critique of bourgeois society. The synthesized result had less to do with serious Marxism than with attacking “repressive” and “patriarchal” family life and offering utopian alternatives.

A major aspect of this emerging self-described “Critical Theory,” particularly after the rise of Nazism and the transfer of the Frankfurt School to the US, was describing and combatting “fascism.” This mission became integral to Critical Theory, together with a continuing crusade against anti-Semitism, which, by a certain internal logic, always accompanied the supposed fascist threat. Since the Frankfurt school theorists were mostly Jewish leftists, these facile associations suited them and their followers rather well.

However, in their interpretation, the ominous fascist threat lurked where you least expected it. Middle-class, churchgoing goyim, even those who professed to like Jews and supported women’s rights and labor unions, could not be trusted. Those who did not resolutely break from the existing order slipped easily into such evils as “latent anti-Semitism” and “pseudo-democracy.”

The_Authoritarian_Personality_(first_edition)[1] These psychic and social dangers were described by Horkheimer, Adorno, and others in their massive anthology The Authoritarian Personality, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee after the Second World War and published in 1950, as part of a much larger “Studies in Prejudice” project. [American Jewish Committee News, March 15, 1950.] While in the US, Adorno also created the F-Scale (F for “Fascist”) in social psychology testing, supposed to determine someone’s degree of propensity to subscribe to the hated ideology.

It’s important to remember Critical Theory isn’t a weapon of revolution. It’s a weapon of repression. And it was quickly and thoroughly Americanized. It’s ridiculous to treat it as an exotic import: it took root in American society and culture almost immediately after it was introduced.

Critical Theorists not only found a congenial home in the US, but some were even sent back to “reeducate” the Germans, who had been supposedly corrupted by their “authoritarian” families and “pseudo-democratic” experiences.

Although the Critical Theorists were mostly soft on the Communists, Cold War liberals like Seymour Martin Lipset and other contributors to Commentarystressed the usability of the Frankfurt School’s form of analysis for investigating all enemies of “liberal democracy,” including the Soviets.

The Soviet enemy, in this analysis, were defenders of patriarchal repression and “authoritarian personalities” that stood in the way of democratic progress.

Lipset was also concerned about “working class authoritarianism,” a focus very much present in the work of Adorno and Horkheimer [Political Man, by Seymour Martin Lipset, by Andrew Hacker, Commentary, June 1, 2015]. Communists, fascists and all the benighted simpletons toiling in factories potentially opposed American pluralism. Since we were engaged in a struggle to preserve our democratic, pluralist identity, we also had to be sure that young Americans were instilled with the proper attitudes about tolerance and equality.

One can find in the call for war against “un-American” prejudice beginning in the 1950s the tendency toward Leftist totalitarianism. One major change since then: the number and variety of supposed victims of “prejudice” continue to grow, together with the repressive measures that must be taken to intimidate possible dissenters.

There has also been a collapse in effective opposition to the Leftist Social Justice Warriors. Recent events in the South indicate even many descendants of Confederate soldiers are unwilling to defend their ancestral heritage against hysterical detractors.

The cultural Left, and no other political force, can put gigantic, screaming crowds into the streets in any American city on the spur of the moment. The official Right, by contrast, stays home watching Fox News.

In the absence of real opposition, the cultural-social Left is free to bully and lie as much as it wants. Media-empowered anti-anti-Semites, like ADL officials, freely equate the Confederacy with the perpetrators of the Holocaust, treating both as violent haters and sources of hate for later generations.

Our bogus Conservative Establishment happily rallies to Leftist social positions. No one on the Left sounds as unhinged as “conservative” journalists like Max Boot [Furling the Confederate flag is just the start, Commentary, June 22, 2015]. Or for that matter, Jeff Jacoby [The Confederate flag is anti-American, Boston Globe,July 9, 2015]. Republican congressmen and governors have been at least as zealous as their supposedly more Leftist opposition in calling for the obliteration of Confederate symbols and names.

One also discovers from the Beltway Right press that homosexual rights, including homosexual marriage, is a basic Western value and that European leaders like Victor Orban and Vladimir Putin don’t really belong to the West because they don’t welcome gay activists into the political and educational process [The Authentic Right vs. The Neocons, by Ilana Mercer, WND, December 21, 2007].

Even the relatively isolated, belated complaints of Donald Trump about the crime caused by Third World immigration have elicited frenzied attacks on bigotry from such GOP stalwarts as Linda Chavez and Jeb Bush [Trumped Up, Townhall, July 10, 2015]. Chavez, we might note, has taken valuable time out from bashing the Confederate Battle Flag to deal with the anti-immigration bigots on the right [Linda Chavez: No defending the indefensible, Daily Local News, June 28, 2015].

The Cultural Marxist threat isn’t an epidemic coming from outside: It is raging among our make-believe conservatives, who now often sound as radical as the Frankfurt School.

The critical difference, or so I’ve been told, is that our politicians are usually not self-described socialists, whereas the Critical Theorists were. But even that distinction may no longer be important. Our government and that of other Western countries has grown enormously and now interferes in our social and commercial life far more than it did eighty years ago. Moreover, the major thrust of Cultural Marxism has never been toward the nationalization of productive forces and other classical socialist schemes. It has always been cultural—toward the smashing of bourgeois values, Christian families, gender roles, and what was viewed as a repressive political culture. Government control of the economy was merely an instrument for moving toward the social-cultural goal that the Frankfurt School set for us.

And the social goals of Cultural Marxism are portrayed as the only alternative to a dark night of “fascism” that the ADL, the SPLC, and other like organizations are ostensibly protecting us from.

Yet the specter is never banished. The “Far Right” threat always remains. And as an ever greater number of people find themselves marginalized as “haters,” the actual tyranny taking shape in America could indeed be something even worse than the fevered “fascist” nightmares of the Left’s imagination.

Paul_GottfriedDr. Paul Gottfried is IAI’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and the History of Ideas.

This article was oiginally published at Vdare.com on July 21, 2015.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

American Anti-Intellectualism?

Iwon’t beat around the bush. I’ve known Russell Jacoby [Email him [2]] now a septuagenarian fixture at UCLA [3], for about twenty-five years. Both of us served on the editorial board of Telos magazine [4] and were present at some of the same board meetings. Jacoby always struck me as a lightweight, in contrast to most of the other editors, who were broadly educated and multilingual. I always knew he had some kind of cachet among Jewish-leftist magazine editors, but he was not in the same league as the others who were present at our board meetings—including the Jewish Marxists. [5]

A recent issue of The Chronicles of Education carried an article by Jacoby with the ominous headline: “Dreaming of a World with No Intellectuals” [6] (July 16, 2012). It is keyed to a new book, America-Lite: How American Academia Dismantled our Culture [7]by David Gelernter, Yale professor [8] of computer science, AEI fellow, maimed victim of the Unabomber [9], and a longtime favorite in neoconservative circles. [10]

Jacoby finds America-Lite dangerously anti-intellectual and conflates it with what he claims is the GOP’s relentless crusade against intellectuality.

I find Jacoby’s article/ review snobbish, rhetorical and insubstantial. But I also think it reflects the continuing drive by Leftist gatekeepers to present the followers of Leo Strauss [11] as the “serious,” socially-acceptable conservatives. And, tellingly, I note that Jacoby does not scruple to insinuate that Gelernter’s analysis is pervaded by anti-Semitism, although Gelernter himself is a very observant Jew.

One last relevant bit of information: The Chronicles of Higher Education doggedly rejected every request (there was more than one) that it review my book Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal [12]. (See VDARE.com discussions here and here [13] and here [14]). The editors no doubt threw my expensive work into the trash bin, after shredding it.

Since they, like the editors of the New York Times, have displayed intense interest in Strauss and his disciples, this rebuff may seem surprising. Of course, it’s not.

Jacoby was commissioned by CHE to write his self-important sermon for the same reason that my book was unceremoniously pushed aside: The editors want to tell their readers what they think is good for them to know—rather than to confuse them with non-authorized versions.

Jacoby has written a widely on intellectuals. (The Last Intellectuals [15]) But his operative term refers to nothing more significant than those who share his not very distinctive Leftist politics.

It is clear, however, whom Jacoby would not accept as friendly to “intellectuals” as he understands the term, starting with Christians who allegedly reject modern science [16]. (Or at least that part of science that Leftists are permitted to embrace—their fanatical race denial [17] in the teeth of mounting evidence to the contrary is, in fact, the salient case of anti-intellectualism [18] in modern American intellectual life).

Jacoby also includes those who supported the Bush administration, and anyone who questions the merit of having women seeing themselves primarily as wage-earners and professionals.

Needless to say, none of these pariahs would ever be invited to a soirée attended by the author.

Jacoby never succeeds in proving his doubtful contentions. He simply states his opinions, which become valid by virtue of the fact that “intellectuals” in Jacoby’s circle hold them.

For example, he tells us that women have “entered the work force and—as some conservatives say—abandoned the family.” According to Jacoby, this economic-social change has to do “with the realities of war, say, in which men leave their jobs and women replace them” and apparently with something else which for Jacoby is axiomatic, “with the imperative of supporting a family when one paycheck no longer suffices.”

Who are all these conservatives (Heavens knows I haven’t met them) who are trying to get women to return to Küche, Kirche und Kinder? [19] Are men going off to fight wars in such numbers that their wives have to take their jobs to make ends meet? What proof do we have of this?

And as far as I know, the Rosie Riveters [20] of World War Two [21] didn’t stay in the work force but typically returned to domestic duties after their husbands were demobilized.

As for the “imperative” of women working because “one paycheck no longer suffices,” my question is “suffices for what?” In the 1950s, [22] when women generally stayed at home, nobody starved because of that decision, although the disposable income of a family of four was considerably lower than it is now, and so was the standard of living. If women today work outside the home, it’s not to avoid sinking to a subsistence living level but because American consumers want a more affluent lifestyle t [23]han they had fifty or sixty years ago.

Besides, a majority of women no longer find home-making and child-rearing to be socially acceptable, unless they can also be commercially or professionally active. But this is a cultural choice, not one driven in most cases by stark poverty.

Lest anyone think that Jacoby cannot imagine civilized conservatives, who are not “anti-intellectual,” he begins his tract by naming nice guys and one nice gal: “Edmund Burke [24], Leo Strauss, Gertrude Himmelfarb [25], Harvey Mansfield, Wilfred M. McClay” are all “conservative thinkers” who have “championed scholarship, learning, and history.”

But the first figure, Burke, falls immediately from grace: Jacoby tears into him for making snide references to social dreamers [26] in Reflections on the Revolution in France.

(Another apparent hero of Jacoby, Wilfred McClay, [27] is a kind, tactful scholar and close friend of mine. Bill has never given offense, to my knowledge, to anyone on this planet. But nor is he someone who would raise deeply divisive questions in a public forum).

What immediately leaps out about the rest of the list: Mansfield, Himmelfarb, her late husband Irving Kristol [28], and their son Bill [29], have all been big fans of the Straussians—proof of the link, for Jacoby, between being a Straussian and being an acceptable “conservative” intellectual.

For liberal intellectuals, Straussians are acceptable because they and the Straussians are socially, ethnically, and to some extent politically alike. They all dwell on the ever-present danger of anti-Semitism (which David Gelernter apparently doesn’t care about) and also agonize over the Holocaust, which really didn’t end in 1945, but which continues to shape political and cultural attitudes here [30] and in Europe.

Jacoby denounces Mitt Romney’s griping that, in his words, “Obama spent too much time at Harvard” [31] and also Rick Santorum’s concern that expanding college education to more adolescents will simply enable them to be “indoctrinated by liberal professors.” [32] He claims that Gelernter has given respectability to this anti-intellectualism by describing how liberals were able to “take command of higher education and derail America.” Jacoby’s summary:

America progressed smoothly from Presidents George Washington [33] through Dwight D. Eisenhower [34], but went to hell in the 1960s and has yet to recover. Radicals have taken over the universities and spread their poison.

Jacoby is particularly concerned that Gelernter dares to note, in Jacoby’s paraphrase, that “obnoxious leftist Jews have taken over elite higher education.” According to Jacoby, Gelernter makes this accusation with “enthusiasm untempered by facts” and even has the temerity to quote Norman Podhoretz [35] as a “source.” Gelernter, Jacoby complains, falsely associates Jewish leftists with the “more thrusting, belligerent tone” that has come to dominate American academic life.

I really wonder whether Jacoby is dumb enough to believe this [36], or whether it is an exercise in Political Correctness. A slew of studies are available, going from the (in my opinion) nasty but heavily documented [37] studies of Kevin MacDonald [38] to the sociological work of Stanley Rothman [39], that highlight the noticeable Jewish contribution to the radicalization of American universities.

I would also call attention to a dissertation recently accepted at Cambridge University and submitted by a young friend of mine, David Verbeeten, on the role played by specifically Eastern European Jews in radicalizing American Jewish culture.

Verbeeten shows that Jewish philanthropic organizations in the US were given a decidedly leftist edge in the 1930s and 1940s as Eastern European Jews [40] replaced an older German Jewish leadership [41]. The newcomers pushed Jewish organizations into promoting socialist and later multicultural agendas, over the objections of their predecessors. American Jewish civic and professional elites, Verbeeten notes, were generally conservative and followed the WASP upper class before this fateful changing of the guard occurred.

Jacoby’s attempt to counter the obvious by pointing to the relative tranquility of Brandeis University [42] as proof that a college can be founded by Jews without thereafter becoming known for its radicalism.

But Brandeis from all accounts is conventionally leftist—hardly a bastion of educational traditionalists. Moreover, predominantly Jewish universities attract the Orthodox as well as the more numerous secular Jews. [43] These Orthodox students and professors are more typically neoconservatives than standard leftists in their politics.

Finally, Jewish leftist academics now have the luxury of going anywhere they have well-placed allies. They need not confine their “thrusting, belligerent tone” to a Jewish enclave in the Eastern suburbs of Boston.

Someone recently joked with me that if Jacoby was looking for a Jewish academic who would contradict Gelernter’s alleged stereotype, he might have cited me! Of course, Jacoby would never want it to be known that he’s acquainted with me or my work. But, for his convenience, my VDARE.com work is available here [1].

 


 

Source URL: http://www.vdare.com/articles/american-anti-intellectualism-russell-jacoby-david-gelernter-and-the-anti-semitic-canard

Links:
[1] http://www.vdare.com/users/paul-gottfried
[2] mailto: rjacoby@history.ucla.edu
[3] http://www.history.ucla.edu/people/faculty?lid=827
[4] http://www.telospress.com/main/index.php?main_page=index&zenid=d3264cade4e79b65bf32557d8d1b7647
[5] http://www.vdare.com/articles/some-other-memories-of-madison-and-the-new-left
[6] http://chronicle.com/article/Dreaming-of-a-World-Without/132813/
[7] http://www.amazon.com/America-Lite-Imperial-Academia-Dismantled-Obamacrats/dp/1594036063/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[8] http://www.cs.yale.edu/people/gelernter.html
[9] http://bigthink.com/ideas/19763
[10] http://www.unz.org/Pub/AmConservative-2007jul02-00033
[11] http://www.vdare.com/articles/leo-strauss-immigration-and-israel
[12] http://www.amazon.com/Leo-Strauss-Conservative-Movement-America/dp/1107017246/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[13] http://www.vdare.com/articles/paul-gottfrieds-leo-strauss-and-the-conservative-movement-in-america-whats-behind-the-crack
[14] http://www.vdare.com/articles/leo-strauss-immigration-enthusiast
[15] http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Intellectuals-Russell-Jacoby/dp/0465036252/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[16] http://www.vdare.com/articles/making-a-monkey-out-of-darwin
[17] http://www.vdare.com/articles/the-left-doesnt-like-darwin-either
[18] http://www.vdare.com/posts/anti-intellectualism-in-american-academic-life
[19] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/19/germany-children-birthrate-lowest
[20] http://www.nps.gov/rori/index.htm
[21] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xVuRotcUl8
[22] http://www.vdare.com/articles/did-pre-mlk-america-really-need-redemption
[23] http://www.vdare.com/articles/bad-schools-immigration-and-the-great-middle-class-massacre
[24] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/%22Edmund%20Burke%22
[25] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Gertrude%20Himmelfarb
[26] http://www.bartleby.com/24/3/8.html#185
[27] http://www.eppc.org/scholars/scholarID.71/scholar.asp
[28] http://www.vdare.com/articles/kristol-confesses-neoconservatism-is-not-conservative
[29] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Bill%20Kristol
[30] http://www.vdare.com/articles/americas-immigration-policy-hitlers-revenge
[31] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/mitt-romney-obama-harvard_n_1405723.html
[32] http://www.mediaite.com/tv/santorum-doubles-down-on-education-remarks-liberal-indoctrination-is-encouraged-at-many-colleges/
[33] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/George%20Washington
[34] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Eisenhower
[35] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Norman%20Podhoretz
[36] http://www.vdare.com/posts/the-prestige-of-ignorance-what-russell-jacoby-doesnt-know
[37] http://www.kevinmacdonald.net/books.htm
[38] http://www.vdare.com/users/kevin-macdonald
[39] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Stanley%20Rothman
[40] http://www.amazon.com/The-Rest-Us-Americas-European/dp/0815606141/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[41] http://www.amazon.com/Our-Crowd-Jewish-Families-History/dp/0815604114/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[42] http://www.vdare.com/posts/the-past-is-another-country-they-say-things-differently-there
[43] http://www.vdare.com/articles/race-realism-good-for-the-jews-good-for-america
[44] mailto: gottfrpe@etown.edu
[45] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?tag=vdare&creative=9325&camp=211189&link_code=as2&path=ASIN/0691059837
[46] http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?link_code=ur2&tag=vdare&camp=1789&creative=9325&location=/gp/product/0826214177/
[47] http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?link_code=ur2&tag=vdare&camp=1789&creative=9325&location=/gp/product/0826215971/
[48] http://www.amazon.com/Leo-Strauss-Conservative-Movement-America/dp/1107017246/r?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vdare&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

 

Paul_GottfriedDr. Paul Gottfried is IAI’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and the History of Ideas.

This article was oiginally published at Vdare.com on August 6, 2012.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

A Note on Leo Strauss

Having seen Samuel Goldman’s thoughtful response to Kenneth McIntyre’s sizzling review of my book, I think that I might introduce myself as the author of the still rarely read volume that Professor McIntyre discusses in his essay. By now I am used to the admission that most critics of the review use to introduce their reactions: “I have not looked at Gottfried’s work but am responding to McIntyre’s remarks about Strauss.” Allow me to note that it might be a good idea if these commentators looked at my book, however steeply priced it may be. That would certainly help improve my sagging sales but even more importantly would throw light on what is being argued in my work about Strauss, his hermeneutics, and his academic and political following.

I fully agree with Samuel Goldman on two points. He is correct in his conclusion that Strauss’s greatest contribution to scholarship may be his early (German) writings, more specifically his work on the relation between politics and religion in Spinoza. Moreover, I would add to this early achievement Strauss’s brilliant remarks on Carl Schmitt’s 1932 edition of Begriff des Politischen, which may have been the young Strauss’s most insightful work.

I also think Goldman is correct to assign more significance to Strauss as a scholar than my reviewer suggests. In my book I underline the extent of Strauss’s linguistic training and his prodigious reading in political thought. Although I share McIntyre’s skepticism about Strauss’s way of reading texts and although I find Strauss’s interpretive quirks magnified in his disciples, I would not deny that there is immense erudition in everything he wrote. His disciples impress me far less than the master, as Goldman would learn from reading my book. Finally I don’t think Goldman, who has written splendidly on classical conservatism, would dispute my conclusion and that of Kenneth McIntyre that neither Strauss nor his leading followers would qualify as “conservatives.” One can describe them more properly as Cold War liberals or fervent “liberal democrats,” to use their own phrase. Nor does the intensity of their desire to protect Israel from its enemies or their eagerness to spread America’s democratic creed if necessary by force add up to what Goldman, McIntyre, and I would consider to be true conservatism.

There are a few mistakes in Goldman’s otherwise informative response to McIntyre. Contrary to what Goldman states, Cambridge professor Quentin Skinner did not share Strauss’s views about reading texts, as McIntyre documents in a relevant essay in the Journal of the Philosophy of History (2010). Skinner was appalled by how little historical sense Strauss and his disciples displayed in their hermeneutic work, and he mocked the kind of “Einfluss studies” in which Straussians assumed that certain thinkers were decisively influenced by other ones although they could not prove the connections drawn. In my book I cite the preposterous attempt by Walter Berns to attribute the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia to the influence exercised by Hobbes on early American political thought. Because of Berns’s Straussian reading of the U.S. as a secular democracy, he failed to notice that Baptists had taken the lead in the disestablishment of the Anglicans in Virginia, for theological reasons that Berns would have no interest in exploring.

I am also far less impressed than Goldman by the extent of Strauss’s illustrious German connections. In my book I show that Strauss had few such admirers in his youth, and even his vaunted relation to Hans-Georg Gadamer, who was born a few miles apart from him in Brunswick, was far more tenuous than Straussians have been willing to recognize. Strauss came to America as a virtually unknown researcher, and it was entirely in the U.S. that he established himself as a political as well as academic presence. Most of his bridge-building with European intellectual luminaries came toward the end of his life, and Strauss had no serious influence on Hans Blumenberg or Gadamer, at least none that I can detect. And though he attended the lectures of Heidegger as an obscure student without any professional prospects, I can’t find evidence of a personal relation between the two men. Sholem and Löwith were long-term acquaintances, going back to Strauss’s youth.

Pace Goldman, there are indeed signs of Strauss’s liberal democratic boosterism in his writings. His Walgreen Lectures, published as Natural Right and History (1951), and his published attack on the American Political Association in the 1960s for its insufficient enthusiasm for the democratic West during the Cold War, abound in praise of American liberal democracy. And similar ideological remarks came up in Strauss’s lectures, conversation, and correspondence. One has to doubt that his students’ obsession with the universal applicability of the American liberal-democratic model did not come from an idolized teacher whose legacy they claimed to be carrying forward. In my book I try to show that his disciples picked Strauss at least partly because of ideological and ethnic considerations.

Goldman is right that Strauss was not the only reader of political texts who focused on esotericism or who was aware of the operation of censorship in the past as a factor contributing to “hidden writing.” But what distinguishes the Straussian approach are two characteristics: the far-fetched, numerologically arcane character of the reading and the tendency of the Straussian interpreter to discover his own contemporary views reflected in the thinker whose secret thoughts are supposedly being uncovered. A critic of this hermeneutic, David Gordon, has asked: “Are all producers of secret writings, as Straussians would have us believe, secularists and liberals? Aren’t any of them Christian dissenters, that is, Catholics in Protestant lands or Protestants in Catholic countries expressing what are at bottom Christian thoughts?” In an attempt at humor in my book, I notice that a Straussian reading of secret writing indicates the author in question was a Jewish agnostic living in New York or Chicago in the late 20th century.

Finally I must challenge Goldman’s statements about how the Straussians have made their concept of esotericism generally acceptable “because Strauss and the Straussians have defended so vigorously and for so long.” My book argues exactly the opposite, that Straussians have formed a self-insulated cult that avoids serious combat with incisive critics. It has survived because of networking and because it has been able to use neoconservative publications to advance a particular hermeneutics as well as Straussian politics. McIntyre is spot on when he cites multiple scholars in political theory, including Skinner and J.G.A. Pocock, who find Straussian hermeneutics to be risible. Until I began my research, I assumed that the only methodological critics whom the Straussians scorned were Old Right intellectuals like me. As it turned out, they have avoided dealing with the same type of criticism when it comes from widely respected, mainstream academics. I wrote my book because I hoped to force Straussians out of their comfort zone, but considering the silence my work has met, outside of a few tolerant journals and websites, my strategy has clearly not worked.

Paul_GottfriedDr. Paul Gottfried is IAI’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and the History of Ideas.

This article was oiginally published at theamericanconservative.com on May 22, 2012.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

League of Acceptable Nations

RIn his recent syndicated column “A U.N. for the good guys,” Jonah Goldberg evokes the mindset of seventeenth-century puritanism. This is entirely understandable. Much of what the American left teaches, including its neoconservative element, resembles American Calvinism—albeit in a warmed-over form. In Puritan New England, Congregationalists—the only authorized communicants—were deeply troubled that unredeemed polluted their assemblies. Those who considered themselves visible saints were forced to break bread with those who could not properly prove their divine election. This led to a sectarian split that resulted in Rhode Island’s settlement by breakaway Calvinists disgusted by the toleration of impure religious assemblies in Massachusetts. This determined group of dissenters formed a purified congregation of the saints

In a similar way Jonah is looking for pure souls. He is agitated that Russia and China would not vote for “a fairly toothless U.N. resolution condemning the regime in Syria and calling for President Bashar Assad, the lipless murderer who runs the place, to step down.” Jonah points to a terrible spiritual defect in the governments that opposed the resolution. To him it is an outrage that the UN Security Council assigns seats to countries “because they are powerful, not because they are decent, wise or democratic.” This stems from what Jonah says is a “category error”: “There is nothing in the UN Charter…that says a government has to be democratic or even care for the welfare of its people.” The UN does something even more grievous from the neoconservative standpoint: It serves as a “counterweight to the United States” and allows morally reprehensible countries to thumb their noses at America..

Although Jonah holds back on the idea of “getting rid of the UN” completely, he says it may be possible to create a “league, or concert, of democracies” under American ideological leadership. Here the pure of heart would be able to assemble and act in concert because “good nations want to see good things done.”

Goldberg writes:

A permanent global clubhouse for democracies based on shared principles would make aiding growing movements easier and offer a nice incentive for nations to earn membership in a club with loftier standards than mere existence.

Has it ever dawned on Goldberg that not all nation-states have identical interests? Some of them vote against the American government or our establishment media because they are pursuing their self-interest, at least as they perceive it. In Syria’s case, as Taki astutely points out, the Sunnis’ supporters, led by the very undemocratic Saudi Arabia, are inciting an overthrow of the present Shiite-friendly regime. Whatever replaces that government is not likely to be any nicer than what it supplants, just as Mubarak’s ousting has not led to a surge of democratic liberties in Cairo. We are talking here not about a return to Edenic purity, but about a circulation of elites. The Chinese and Russians have opted for Syria’s Alawi rulers, who depend on their Iranian connection. This leadership is being opposed by the surrogates of the Saudis and other Sunni militants, who are trying to take power from Assad.

It is the US government, or more exactly its neoconservative priesthood, whom Jonah would like to see make the admissions decisions for his “permanent global clubhouse for democracies.” Besides voting in lockstep with American interests as neoconservative journalists define them, all members will be required to support Israel’s Likud government.

Will any deviations be allowed? How long will dissenting members be indulged before they get booted? How closely will membership candidates have to approximate the current American regime before they are let in? Will applicants have to grant women the right to vote, and will they have to enforce what now passes for racial equality?

If such criteria are to be applied, then until recently the US would have been blackballed under its current standards. Women did not achieve national suffrage until 1920, and blacks were denied the vote in some areas until the mid-1960s. What about such democratic blessings as gay marriage? I gather they are now integral parts of our democracy, so we should insist that our cohorts introduce them as well. Will applicants be expected to protect intellectual and religious freedom within their borders—principles that our journalists complain are lacking in China and other bad places? If such freedom is to be the rule, then all Western countries that enforce political correctness against conservative Christians and arrest scholars for expressing criminalized positions will have to be excluded. But it may be such not-very-libertarian Western “liberal democracies” as Canada that Jonah would enlist for his league of “good nations.”

It is doubtful that he would judge their deficient liberty in the same way as he would judge, say, Turkey or Russia. Apparently, arresting people for questioning the Holocaust or for sermonizing about the prohibition against homosexuality in Leviticus is not the same as punishing those who blaspheme the Koran.

I noticed this double standard in looking at recent ratings regarding which countries are “free” according to the less-than-unbiased monitoring organization Freedom House. Turkey, which discourages discussions of the massacre of Armenians during World War I, was rated low for suppressing intellectual dissent. But France, which has criminalized any denial of the “Armenian genocide” and other historical events, received comparatively high ratings for intellectual freedom. What I learned from such strange ratings is that it’s OK to curtail liberties only for what Western progressives want to suppress.

But Goldberg’s “nice incentives” for moral inclusion may never reach such complexity. All that may be required for membership in his club is that a nation votes in the manner he deems appropriate.

In the meantime Jonah has a problem. He can’t seem to get the entire world onboard for what he wishes to see universally enacted. Our world is simply too damned complicated for his latter-day puritanical imagination.

Paul_GottfriedDr. Paul Gottfried is IAI’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and the History of Ideas.

This article was originally takimag.com on February 16, 2012..

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

The Creeping Pink Cloud

Rupert Murdoch’s New York bullhorn, also known as the New York Post, has recently been jubilating each time a Republican in the state legislature comes over to the side of gay marriage. According to the Post, the legalization and celebration of gay marriage is only another step on the road to universal emancipation that has included mileposts such as the civil rights movement and women’s liberation. On June 15, the Post, casting aside the fig leaf of news reporting, produced an editorial called “New York Is Overdue to Say ‘I Do’ to Gay Marriage”:

The sum total of human liberty grows any time a single individual enjoys expanded freedom. So much the better when rights grow through popular consensus, as is likely with bipartisan legislative approval in Albany, rather than through activist judges.

Although some Neanderthals may object to this supposed expansion of freedom, the editorialist assures us not to worry:

The same principle, by the way, demands that religious institutions not be forced to perform marriages they don’t sanction. Their liberties, too, must be protected.

So there! We’ve expanded freedom once again while protecting the liberties of those who may have scruples about what the Post editorialist is rejoicing over. Not quite. Special protection for those thought to have been deprived of rights has come at the cost of those whose rights are being restricted. A gay rights or feminist bill invariably removes rights from people who are thought to be in violation of what some government agency demands. To give proof positive of accepting a newly protected lifestyle or group, an employer or renter will have to strain to show that he is not “discriminating.” Such a person will be expected to lean over backward as evidence of good intentions. In practice, this translates to mandatory favoring of those who are being specially protected.

“What about individuals who for religious or moral reasons find themselves repelled by gay marriage…or gay anything?”

“Discrimination” in these instances is being broadly interpreted to allow public administrators and judges to push dissenters into rethinking their basic values. In 1970 the IRS (with resounding media approval) denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist college in South Carolina—not because this institution kept blacks from attending, but because it discouraged interracial dating as a matter of religious principle. Such a policy, as Justice Rehnquist noted in a single dissenting opinion when the case came before the Supreme Court in 1983, did not contravene the existing law about the purpose of tax-exempt institutions. Bob Jones was stubbornly resisting the progressive thinking about race relations that civil rights laws were intended to produce. Religious conscience was made to take a backseat here to an evolving government policy aimed at altering attitudes.

It is also outrageously dishonest to pretend that religious dissenters will be protected with gay marriage’s legalization because churches will not—not yet—be forced to perform the offending ceremony. What about individuals who for religious or moral reasons find themselves repelled by gay marriage…or gay anything? Grant Havers, a Canadian professor and devout Protestant, has kept detailed evidence of government bullying that has been inflicted on his countrymen for failing to submit to what Robert Weissberg has called “coercive tolerance.”

By now, Havers’s dossier could fill entire library shelves. Although Canadian provinces and the Canadian federal government through its “human rights” purview have not explicitly compelled religious institutions to perform gay marriages, they have by no stretch of the imagination respected dissenters. In the 2001, Ontario evangelical printer Scott Brockie was fined so heavily as to ruin him financially. His crime was that he refused to print material for the Lesbian and Gay Archives. Brockie was found to be in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which obviously was not mindful of his rights as a citizen.

In the relatively conservative province of Alberta, pastor Stephen Boissoin was ordered by a provincial Human Rights tribunal to renounce his views on homosexuality after publishing some disapproving remarks about gay unions. This case came three years after the same tribunal hauled before it the Catholic Archbishop of Calgary for expressing his disapproval of gay marriage. In both cases expensive appeal processes were begun. But while Archbishop Henry backed out of the imbroglio by issuing a “clarification,” Boissoin allowed his case to go all the way up to the highest appellate court in the province, the Queen’s Bench. There the appellant was relieved of the heavy fine that had been imposed by a lower court but not of the charge of having engaged in “hate speech.” This year, comedian Guy Earle was fined $15,000 for giving offense to a lesbian heckler during a routine in a Vancouver restaurant.

 

It is naïve to believe that First Amendment rights will be a permanent protection against such excesses. The US Department of Education, the Justice Department, and other federal and state agencies are already monitoring our words and demanding remedies for insensitive speech in educational institutions and in the workplace. (See my book After Liberalism, pp. 107-09.) The Canadian situation is not unimaginable, because public administrators and judges have already breached guarantees of free expression and free exercise of religion. But they have done this in corporate settings, applying government pressure to alter the values and mindsets of those associated with institutions instead of censoring isolated individuals’ views. It is also incorrect to imagine that the legalization of gay marriage in New York or in any other populous state will not significantly change the degree of control that is already being exercised over us because of existing anti-discrimination laws affecting gays.

The concerns of religious organizations that the “all but inevitable” passage of the gay-marriage bill will further limit their institutional freedoms are well-founded. Henceforth discrimination against gay spouses can and will be treated (however ludicrous this may seem) as an attack on the sacred institution of marriage.

It is equally questionable whether legislators any more than judges are legitimizing gay marriage because of a democratic “consensus.” If by consensus one means a settled, widely shared opinion, this is not what we’re talking about. True consensus, as opposed to fabricated public opinion, can only arise in real communities. It cannot be manufactured by the media and entertainment industries, but unfortunately these are the influences to which our under-thirties crowd has become increasingly susceptible. Factoring in the effect of public education, one has a complete picture of the supposed consensus being formed. The Still Divided Academy (a work by two of my young former colleagues, April Kelly-Woessner and Matthew Woessner) proves that most college freshmen have already been conditioned by the educational and entertainment establishments to embrace liberal social views. Adolescents happily accept that what they are made to believe is “liberal,” often with the illusion that they are choosing their own values.

Their parents may be compared to floating objects, located somewhere between fragmented communities and the world that their offspring inhabit. These middle-aged parents do not form a “consensus” but, like the kids, they can be persuaded (albeit more slowly) to accept what is fashionable. Obviously the media and universities have been working overtime to create a “consensus.”

Up until the 1970s, when I first noticed journalists and intellectuals pushing the incipient gay agenda, it is unlikely that people favored gay marriage any more than they endorsed legalized bestiality. After all, heterosexual unions are not a recent fad but the way hominoids have lived for the last million years. It may also be historically important that the “gay community” and their advocates are browbeating uncooperative businesses, law firms, and political figures. A Bronx Democrat and state senator, Ruben Diaz, says he has received numerous death threats since he publicly stated that he had reservations about voting for gay marriage. A writer for the Advocate, Jonathan Rauch, has warned his gay allies that the time has come to cool down. It may be necessary to “leave room for homophobia” now that his side is winning. Gays, explains Rauch, shouldn’t accommodate their reactionary critics by appearing to be “bullies.” To which one might reply: “Why not?” Bullying tactics have only helped them so far.

Given these forces it is not surprising that almost overnight a “consensus” has emerged in favor of gay lifestyles and gay unions. It was also predictable that this trend should be particularly popular among minicons, RINOs, and the more recognizable left. Perhaps we should now try to fashion a new “consensus” for unions between humans and chimps. Legislators and the Post could champion this project the way they have gay marriage. The government could then depict “chimpophobes” as the sworn enemies of freedom.

Paul_GottfriedDr. Paul Gottfried is IAI’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and the History of Ideas.

This article was oiginally published at takimag.com on June 27, 2011.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.