Monday, June 21, 2010

"The Jews Are Being Scapegoated Again"

How has it happened that the lessons of Nazi genocide have been so thoroughly forgotten? How has it happened that in time of economic crisis the world has chosen to scapegoat the Jews?

Shelby Steele's excellent article in the Wall Street Journal provides a cultural analysis of the current state of scapegoating. According to Steele, we in the West have absorbed all of the lessons of what I would call a guilt culture, and, as a consequence, we now find ourselves crippled, unable to assert our values, and unable to stand up for a kindred culture in the Middle East. Link here.

In Steele's words: "... the entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremicist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past-- racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on."

People who have been trafficking the lessons of guilt culture might not have realized the practical consequences of teaching the nation to feel guilt about all of its achievements, but these consequences are all too real nonetheless.

It is not really an accident that the progenitor of cultural deconstruction, Martin Heidegger, was an avid and unrepentant supporter of the Third Reich.

We, and by extension, the Israelis, are the champions of modernity. We and they have built the greatest modern societies,with free market capitalism, democratic institutions, the rule of law, and all the rest. Next to this example the Palestinians must feel inferior. They have fallen back on grievances and a cult to victimization.

As Steele explains it, victims grant themselves a moral superiority over modernity. The mind of the victim thinks this: "And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity-- no matter how smart and modern my enemy is. I have the innocence that defines victims. I may be poor but my hands are clean. Even my backwardness and poverty only reflect a moral superiority, while my enemy's wealth proves his inhumanity."

And Steele adds that since Palestinian self-esteem is so closely entwined with hatred for Israel, for modernity, and for the West, that Yassir Arafat could not accept a peace treaty that would have ended the war and ushered in a new age of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. Better to destroy, that is, to deconstruct what the others have built, than to built a modern society ourselves.

In Steele's words: "To have accepted that [peace] offer would have been to forgo hatred as consolation and meaning. Thus it would have plunged the Palestinians-- and by implication the broader Muslim world-- into a confrontation with their inferiority relative to modernity. Arafat knew that without the Jews to hate an all-defining cohesion would leave the Muslim world. So he said no to peace."


enowning said...

"Martin Heidegger, was an avid and unrepentant supporter of the Third Reich"

He said it was his biggest mistake, so in what sense was he unrepentant?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

As I recall Heidegger was one of the few who refused to recant his allegiance to Nazism because he felt it would mean renouncing his philosophy.

We do know that Heidegger was not a wholehearted supporter of the Nazi program. But we also know that he was upset that Ernst Rohm's Stormtroopers were crushed by Hitler, and that its place was taken over by Himmler's SS.

Heidegger was offended that the street thuggery and persecution enacted by the SS was eliminated... perhaps because he liked the theatrical nature of it all, to be replaced by the SS and the concentration camps.

Why did Heidegger dislike the camps? Largely because they involved too much technology. Thus they reminded him of the advent of agriculture.

To take another example, one that is rather well known, in 1935 Heidegger wrote his Introduction to Metaphysics. In it he famously wrote that the Third Reich was the best modern realization of his philosophy.

In 1948 the book was reprinted and Heidegger chose to keep the offending sentence in.

As for the larger philosophical question of whether Heidegger's thought was consistent with Nazism, I am persuaded by Richard Wolin's "Being and Politics" that it was perfectly consistent.