In the December 1999 issue of Commentary, Irving Stelzer took Peter Brimelow to task for wanting to restrict immigration. Setting the facts aside, Stelzer accuses Brimelow of being a fan of the “old-line WASP population” that had produced
perk-laden corpocrats who so mismanaged America’s major companies as almost to bring the economy to ruin before being saved by Michael Milken and his gang of sons-of-immigrants corporate raiders.
Stelzer hopes his commentary will provide “Mr. Brimelow with enlightenment,” but he suspects it will not:
I regret that I simply do not possess a torch powerful enough to brighten the darkness in which he finds himself as he contemplates the future of an America peopled by folks different from himself.
There was nothing in Brimelow’s comments to justify such rhetorical violence; Stelzer’s irrational response can only be explained as a reflection of his intense dislike of WASPs, whose diminishing presence in American life fills him with joy. Such sneering is characteristic of political intellectuals who have never had to deal with their own burden of prejudice—and, indeed, have worn it as a mark of moral superiority.
One main tendency in neoconservative bigotry is exemplified by Commentary‘s manifaceted anti-Christianism. In the 1980’s, when Commentary‘s Christophobia was blatant, the back pages (and, later, the front ones) abounded in accusations against Christianity. Representative of this obsession were such ill-conceived polemics as Henryk Grynberg’s “Appropriating the Holocaust (December 1982), Hyam Maccoby’s “Christianity’s Break with Judaism” (August 1984), and Ruth R. Wisse’s “Blaming Israel” (February 1984). In the first two pieces, the holocaust was made to fit into the Christian theological mainstream; Maccoby claimed a straight line ran from the “crucifixion myth” to Auschwitz. Most disconcerting was the repeated charge that the New Testament had contributed decisively to the destruction of European Jewry. This accusation flies in the face of the obvious fact that some of the most conspicuous Bible-reading Christian denominations have no record whatever of antisemitism. In Wisse’s attacks on the critics of Israel’s then right-wing government, she even argued that the (leftist) World Council of Churches sided with the Palestinians because of its Christian—and therefore necessarily antisemitic—character.
The mid-80’s also saw a rash of articles published in Commentary by or on “Jewish writer” Cynthia Ozick. An author of decidedly middling talent, Ozick wrote lyrically nonetheless on the problem of Christian prejudice. She also suffered from a palpable perceptual difficulty, confusing American celebrations of Easter with the anti-Jewish riots that had plagued her ancestral Ukrainian village at the beginning of the 20th century.
An essay of mine, which appeared in the Salisbury Review in the mid-80’s and pointed out these examples of bigotry, occasioned expressions of shock from traditional Christians. Though they claimed to read Commentary faithfully, all of this material had somehow escaped their notice—which is a bit like reading the Spotlight and not perceiving its opinions about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
Old habits die hard (and judging by the New York Post‘s strenuous attempts to egg on John McCain against the religious right, these particular habits may still be around), but by the late 80’s, in any case, Norman Podhoretz and his successor, Neil Kozody, had stopped the overt Christian-bashing. One palpable reason is that “sensitive” Christian conservatives belabor this theme as much as the Commentary circle used to. With William E. Buckley making tortured searches for antisemitism and Cal Thomas repeatedly indicting the American people (most recently in his syndicated column of December 14) for “selling out Jews,” why should Podhoretz and his friends bother with the same stuff? But even more importantly, as Daniel Pipes explained in “American Muslims against American Jews” (Commentary, May 1998), American Jews may be wasting their time on “yesterday’s problem,” traditional Christians, when the more urgent concern is the growing Muslim population in the United States. In line with this perception, a strategic adjustment had taken place at Commentary head-quarters. In order to rally its readers and the captive right to a struggle against anti-Zionist Muslims, Commentary is trying to make nice to “our Christian friends.” In 1994, Midge Decter and Irving Kristol even scolded the ADL and its director for making false or exaggerated charges against the pro-Israeli Christian right.
But other neocon dislikes have not been concealed. Ethnic ill will has rushed in to fill the void created by the strategic absence of anti-Christian polemics. Several long articles in Commentary (cf. May 1988 and April 1997) by Donald Kagan compare Imperial Germany to both the Third Reich and Stalin’s Russia. Lately Kagan—whose background is in ancient history—has pulled the Spartans in as additional heavies. Contrary to what might be gathered from Thucydides and Xenophon, Sparta is depicted as imperialistic as well as antidemocratic. Indeed, the descendants of the Dorians are turned into proto-Germans, in a bid for hegemony against proto-global democratic Athens.
Such jerry-built parallels bring to mind the popular German phrase that if a narrative seems congenial, a dann geht’s umso sehlimmer für die Tatsachen (“why worry about the facts?”). Were it not for the Nazis, nobody would bother with these selective comparisons. But why are they gaining currency right now?
Despite Arthur Schlesinger’s stupid comparison in the late 40’s of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee with Hitler and Goering, the neocon dislike for unreconstructed Southern whites is probably unrelated to their anachronistic hatred of Germans. Southerners were overwhelmingly anglophile during both world wars and were disproportionately represented in the U.S. fighting forces. Neocon revulsion for them, as evidenced by the defamation of the late M.E. Bradford in the early 80’s, may have been attributable, as Bradford himself noted, to “a sociological variable.” Neocons considered Southerners to be obstinately rural gentiles, with a tendency toward antisemitic populist politics. And Southern resistance to the civil-rights movement (even before, as the neocons claim, the movement turned antisemitic) showed that Southerners had put themselves on the wrong side of Progress.
While it is comme il fat to praise the neocons for their argumentative skills and other strengths ascribed to their ethnic past, it is certainly more controversial to dwell on their baggage, which includes both the original and acquired attitudes of Eastern European Jews who settled at the turn of the century in predominantly Northern urban areas. Such feelings are not unusual, and something rather similar can be found among other ethnic minorities that nurse their own grudges. But neocon grudges are noteworthy for two reasons. First, those who express them come out of a deeply bookish culture and have tried to integrate them into a worldview, a practice that interwar European nationalists and some Southern intellectuals have also attempted to do with their prejudices. Moreover, the neocons have carried this practice to new heights. The Germans have been raised from a World War II problem to a sufficient cause of World War I and of the Franco-Prussian War, not to mention, in Allan Bloom’s and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s historical musings, the source of the counterculture that still poisons the United States. It is not enough for neoconservatives to express sympathy for the Union in the Civil War; they must also quote Harry Jaffa on the alleged resemblances between the antebellum South and the Third Reich and thereby conveniently link two ideés fixes.
The second circumstance that makes neocon prejudice important is that what used to be primarily leftist obsessions have been imported by the neocons into the American right. Now that all conservative obstacles have been removed, these socialist prejudices have become general political biases, with little working against them. This has happened as the neocons have come to dominate the American conservative movement. They have done this not as interlopers (a comforting thought advanced by paleoconservatives back in the 80’s), but at the invitation of fawning foundation heads and magazine publishers. (A useful comparison for this takcover would be the Austrian Anschluss.) Welcomed in, they imposed their followers, expelled those who resisted, and imprinted their hang-ups on what they reconstructed.
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