Jewish World Review May 2, 2000 /27 Nissan, 5760
There is nothing more disgusting than this kind of thinking. And there is no excuse for accepting the first premiss --- that an individual can be held responsible for the thoughts, beliefs, and reputation of his ancestors and brethren (except insofar as they are embodied in national law). If it were made illegal to make this kind of assertion, anti-semitism and other varieties of racism would be eradicated.
Unfortunately, so too would feminism be eradicated. And with it most current respectable expressions of "anti-racism." And, most of all, socialism and its variants -- yea, even unto the graduated income tax -- would have to be disposed of as well. Into the dustbin would go all of the movements which seek historical judgments from a people on behalf of a people -- people as opposed to persons.
Every one of these movements on behalf of oppressed classes stipulate an oppressive class. The victims here are not oppressed by individual Simon Legrees, or by a system of law that might be repealed or overturned, but by something else: an oppressor group of people, defined by something they cannot help: by their race or sex or class or nationality. And just as it is inescapable, according to these theories, that you can escape racism or sexism if you are of color or female, it is equally a matter of fate or genetic destiny that you will belong to the oppressor class. If you are white, or belong to the male sex, or if your parents had possessions or social position -- then it doesn't matter if you are member of the National Council of Churches -- you are damned.
I candidly admit to Mr. Irving that when I look in the mirror, I think, "so, what's not to like?" But I am averse to making that demand of others. One would think, that after having our noses held to various kinds of mirrors over the millennia -- by the Hellenes in the pre-Christian era, by the Romans, by the early Christians, by the Latin Church, by the members of the Union League and of course by Hitler -- we as individuals might be sensitive about doing the same. Unfortunately, it is not the case.
Look into the mirror, men, realize that you are members of a patriarchal conspiracy to oppress women. The inventors of that notion include Betty Friedan and Shulamith Firestone. Look into the mirror, bourgeois or Kulak, and realize that you are part of a class guilty of standing in the path of history. Too many of us have been connected with the invention of that indefensible notion, and its murderous realization, and the excusing --- away of that holocaust, than I can think of without shame.
But have we learned our lesson? Take the controversy surrounding the restitution movement. Are we avoiding Jesse-Jacksonism in our pursuit of the Swiss and the Austrians? In other words, are we limiting ourselves to restoring definite pieces of property to individual families from whom it was alienated? Or are we suggesting that a "national" guilt can be expunged by writing a nation-sized check to a self-appointed authority for its own use?
I am all for restoring property to those from whom it was looted. But so many of those most earnest in the this cause when the looters have German names are eager to excuse the alienation of property from individuals if it is done in the name of imposing socialism or eradicating racism. Just look at the New York Times' tepidly even-handed account of the disaster that is overtaking Zimbabwe, as a group of government thugs seize the property of farmers simply because they are white-and the result will be famine and economic destruction, engulfing not the whites but the mass of black Zimbabweans. Why should we not pursue the Castro government to give back the property it looted from hundreds of thousands of its citizens? Unlike the governments of Germany and Austria, the Cuban regime is the very same one that committed these crimes in the first place. But if looting is done in the name of a neat experiment like communism, it's ok.
If we are to reject anti-Semitism, we may finally have to reject the kind of
relativism that permits it to exist-the style of thinking that permits
authority to distinguish between living people because of the evil deeds or
the pitiable suffering of their ancestors. There is no good looting or evil
looting-just looting. Nowadays, the intellectual defenders of the immoral
and lazy habit of classifying people into victims and villains are most at
home in the Democratic Party-where, curiously and sadly, most of American
Jewry is still to be
JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.