The higher and more distant the ideal the greater the power to exalt the soul Ahad Ha–Am
‘Transcendence’ explores the deep connection between beauty and spirituality. By combining images and music from different cultures and periods, the exhibition shows the universality of aesthetics, as well as its power to elevate and unite, to transcend differences. At a time when we are each being reduced to our differences, ‘Transcendence’ uses art to honor the individual soul—to create a path back to seeing that, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “in our uniqueness lies our universality.”
On April 7, the eve of the Jewish holiday of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced to the world that the United States will reinstate “economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.” However generous this may appear, it actually means that the Biden administration chose Holocaust Remembrance Day to declare their intention to finance Palestinian-Arab terrorism with American tax dollars, including “$75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).”
The Biden administration chose Holocaust Remembrance Day to declare their intention to finance Palestinian-Arab terrorism with American tax dollars.
Apart from the moral questions this raises, one significant problem is that the U.S. government enacted the Taylor Force Act (H.R. 1164), which ensures that the U.S. government cannot use American tax revenues to pay for Palestinian political violence in Israel. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on December 5, 2017, and signed into law by President Trump on March 23, 2018. The Taylor Force Act (TFA) requires that the U.S. government only give aid to the Palestinian Authority on the strict condition that the PA takes “credible steps to end acts of violence against Israeli citizens and United States citizens,” such as the March 2016 attack that killed former U.S. Army officer Taylor Force while he was visiting the Jewish State on a goodwill mission.
A recent piece by Bassam Tawil for the Gatestone Institute International Policy Council reveals that the Biden administration has informed Congress that the PA uses international and U.S. cash to pay off killers and their families. Tawil explains that the Biden administration “emphasized that the PA’s actions will not impact its plan to renew funding to the Palestinians.” This is in direct violation of American law. The obvious truth is that President Biden and his administration have no intention of abiding by the Taylor Force Act. The Democratic Party, especially its progressive wing, are no longer allies nor friends to the Jewish people or the Jewish State of Israel. Their entire concern is for whatever they consider to be social and economic justice for the Palestinian people.
The United States should not finance political violence against Jews and Americans in Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s practice of funding that violence is known throughout the West as Pay-for-Slay and within the PA, using religious terminology, as the Martyrs Fund. It is a slush fund that Mahmoud Abbas and the PA use to financially compensate any local Arab who kills or attacks any Jew or any Jewish ally, anywhere in Israel. The more blood, the wider Mahmoud Abbas opens his rather substantial wallet.
That the U.S. is again providing financial support under these circumstances is not surprising, considering Joe Biden’s long and unfortunate history of undermining Israel. On June 22, 1982, Biden famously threatened to cut off U.S. financial aid and was rebuked by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who told him:
Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.
In less than two months in office, Biden has already reversed a slew of policies that President Trump had secured, including a return to calling East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Judea and Samaria “occupied territories.” Under President Trump, the United States did not finance Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Taylor Force was a 28-year-old Army vet who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before he was murdered on behalf of “Palestinian liberation.” His wife was left bloodied on the streets of Jaffa that day, March 9, 2016. He was a Christian American victim of the Palestinian Authority and its hatred for Jews and for fundamental Western norms of decency and morality.
President Biden is now in an untenable situation: he promises that he will give U.S. cash-dollars to the PA even as the PA vows to maintain the Martyrs Fund. Last November, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris told the world: “We will take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem, and work to reopen the PLO mission in Washington.”
Biden, however, seemed to contradict his Vice President by insisting that his administration will abide by the Taylor Force Act. “I’m going to fully support the Taylor Force Act, which holds aid to the PA based on payments they make to terrorists in Israeli jails,” he said.
Meanwhile, just months after the passage of the TFA, Mahmoud Abbas swore that he will finance the Martyrs Fund by any means necessary. MEMRI TV translates:
At a ceremony held in Ramallah on July 23, 2018, to honor Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “If we had one single penny left, we would spend it on the families of the martyrs and the prisoners… We consider the martyrs and the prisoners to be stars in the sky of the Palestinian people and struggle.“
The unresolved question prior to this moment was how President Biden intended to simultaneously uphold the Taylor Force Act while restoring funding to the Abbas regime. The answer is now clarified, as Biden appears satisfied to have it both ways. He will finance the Martyrs Fund while claiming to do otherwise, and most Americans, Democrats especially, won’t know or care.
In a March 12, 2021, Algemeiner piece titled, “Is the Biden Administration Planning on Violating the Taylor Force Act?” by (Taylor’s father) Stuart Force, Sander Gerber, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, we read that “news reports indicate the PA believes it can satisfy the Administration by making terrorist compensation ‘needs based.’” In other words, whereas previously PA compensation was based on physical harm inflicted upon Jewish and American citizens, now it will be based on the economic needs of the attackers and their families. The Palestinian Authority apparently hopes this will allow the Biden administration to legally skirt the legislation. But whether that maneuver succeeds or not, money is fungible and thus can be used on needs outside of the Martyrs Fund while freeing up other funds to go to precisely that.
American money will be used for schools, water projects, ‘civil society’ programming and agriculture. But fungibility means that the PA won’t have to spend its money on those things, and will therefore have more money to pay terrorist salaries.
It should not, therefore, be an enormous surprise that just days before Joe Biden took office, the PA doubled its payment to the terrorist who murdered an Israeli mother, as the blogger Elder of Ziyon tells us. The PA paid cash to the murderer of Dafna Meir, a nurse and mother of six children, just prior to Biden actually taking office. Since then, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are preparing again to fund murder with American cash. This will be in addition to the funds it already receives from other sources, such as the European Union, the United Nations, and any number of anti-Zionist NGOs.
The two Palestinian terrorists who killed Ruti and Udi Fogel and three of their children a decade ago will receive a 50% pay raise from the Palestinian Authority ten years after the 2011 attack, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported. The two have received a monthly salary as part of the PA’s “pay for slay” policy since the day of their arrest, with each earning NIS 338,400 ($101,847) so far.
The article goes on to note that if the Palestinians who murdered the Fogels and their three children are released, they will continue to receive funding that comes from foreign sources, potentially now including U.S. government funding. If, for example, they live to be 80 years old they will have received something close to NIS 6.5 million—almost 2 million in U.S. dollars.
Yet another way that the PA enables the Biden administration in its efforts to enable them is through hiring released terrorists to do no work. Palestinian Media Watch tell us:
In reality, the terrorists receive the payment merely as a reward for their acts of terror and pursuant to their incarceration. Despite receiving a ‘salary,’ they are only actually required to fulfil the duties of their ostensible positions, if specifically ‘requested’ to do so.
Under President Biden, American Jews may now be compelled to finance the murderers of their brethren in Israel—in the name of “social justice.”
Sander Gerber, who helped draft the Taylor Force Act, is quoted in the Algemeineras saying that there “is an open acknowledgment by the State Department that the Palestinian Authority is actively sponsoring terrorists and that it has taken no steps to revoke the laws and dismantle the bureaucracy of its terrorist payment structure. Unless the laws that pay terrorists are revoked, the Biden administration giving money to the PA could be guilty of money laundering for terrorism.”
What seems clear is that this administration has little interest in upholding American law vis-à-vis Palestinian-Arab terrorism against Israeli civilians or even against Americans. What is perhaps most galling is that under President Biden, American Jews may now be compelled to finance the murderers of their brethren in Israel—in the name of “social justice.”
Michael Lumish is a Ph.D. in American History from Pennsylvania State University who has taught at Penn State University, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco.
As a middle school student in a New York City public school, I couldn’t help but notice that while we’ve learned about many important events throughout history and relevant current events, we never once stopped to talk about the Holocaust or the rise of anti-Semitism. The Holocaust was arguably the largest genocide in human history, with 6 million innocent Jewish lives taken. Anti-Semitism is perhaps the most ancient and persistent form of discrimination for the past 2,000 years. In the largest public school system in the country, why has our education never included discussions of both the Holocaust and the very relevant rise of anti-Semitism occurring today?
Today it has become socially acceptable for anti-Semitism to get a “free pass.”
Nearly every day Jews are targeted in the form of various hate crimes and violence: synagogues are vandalized, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, while mass shootings and stabbings have increased significantly over the past few years. Have the Jewish people ever been truly safe? Why are they targeted and singled out over and over again throughout history? And more importantly: where is their movement? Jews have always been a major player in all social justice movements and at the forefront of defending the civil rights of all minorities. But in the fight against anti-Semitism, it often seems they are alone. Today it has become socially acceptable for anti-Semitism to get a “free pass.”
As the daughter and granddaughter of Iranian Jews who were exiled from Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I have heard the stories firsthand of how my family was forced to leave their homeland because of their religion. Having to start over in a new land with a new language was not easy for them, and they did not always feel welcomed or accepted. However, they persevered. It is a common story of the Jewish people, being exiled from their homes and having to start new lives away from the fear of persecution. As an American, a New Yorker, and a Jew, I feel I have a responsibility to use my voice to raise awareness and educate the misinformed so they too can understand the horrifying events that the Jewish people have experienced throughout history. For this reason, I chose to make a podcast on the rise of anti-Semitism.
For my podcast, I was privileged to interview three well-respected experts on the current rise of anti-Semitism: Steven Khadavi, the President of IAJF (Iranian American Jewish Federation), an organization dedicated to helping Jews and raising money for those in need in Israel; Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue, one of the largest Jewish congregations in Manhattan; and White Rose’s Editor in Chief, Karen Lehrman Bloch, a journalist who has written many articles about Judaism and politics. One common theme they all agreed upon was that there is indeed a prevalent rise in anti-Semitism. They also all agreed that the root of the issue occurs throughout the education system: many schools are missing the moment to raise awareness.
“Education is the first way anti-Semitism can be countered,” said Steven Khadavi of IAJF. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it: anti-Semitism comes from a place of ignorance. I think it’s a result of people having stereotypes about Jews and perpetuating these stereotypes. As time goes on, one of the things that IAJF has done has been to support programs in colleges and universities specifically to combat anti-Semitism and BDS, the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, because I think college campuses have also gotten very dangerous for a number of reasons. I think that they are one area where we can really focus our effort. However, it starts even before then, so high schools, junior high schools, even elementary schools are all places where we can combat anti-Semitism and BDS. If we really start to educate the young, when kids get to college, they will have the tools ready to combat anti-Semitism.”
Rabbi Cosgrove agrees that schools hold a key in educating our youth against bias and bigotry. “To always remember and to never forget is crucial to the prevention of further violence directed toward Jews occurring in the future. These past events should be talked about in schools as the education system holds a huge role in the rise of hate toward Jews. Although many people have suffered, Jews have been singled out by the Nazis and were exterminated by a genocidal number of 6 million. Six million lives were destroyed in the most violent, horrific ways. The lesson of the Holocaust was made to inform us on the action we should take when seeing genocide occurring anywhere else in the world, to any group of people regardless of religion. To say ‘never forget’ means that if we see another person or a group of people being discriminated against due to their race, religion, or creed, we have a special responsibility as Jews and as human beings to remember the lesson of the Holocaust and make sure it never happens again.”
Karen Lehrman Bloch holds an interesting opinion on the issues being presented throughout the education system. “Teachers need to understand the difference between education and indoctrination, and they shouldn’t be teaching students their personal opinions. It was and should be considered unethical for teachers to be expressing their personal opinions in the classroom. Like all forms of racism, anti-Semitism is taught. Nobody is born anti-Semitic; nobody is born a racist. Sadly, many of our universities today are teaching students to be anti-Semitic. At the very least, many are teaching students to think that Israel is an illegitimate state, but anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism.”
Another theme presented through all three interviews was that anti-Semitism is as dangerous today as it has been throughout history because it has become normalized for people not to speak out against it. It is our moral obligation to speak out against any form of hatred or discrimination that we hear or see. No matter our religion or political views.
It is with our silence that the problem grows. Staying silent is, in a way, like forgetting.
My hope is that all schools across the country include the Holocaust as part of their lesson plan when discussing history. My wish is for all people, including my generation, to speak up when they witness or hear anything that skews anti-Semitic—whether it be on social media or in their own education system. It is with our silence that the problem grows. “Never Forget” means we have to remember. It means we must talk about it. It means we must learn. It means we must speak up and call out any form of anti-Semitism we witness. Because staying silent is, in a way, like forgetting. And if we really mean to Never Forget, then we need to use our voices and take action in any way we can.
My personal plan is to bring a Holocaust survivor to speak with the students at my public school so they too can learn. While this won’t change the world, maybe it will help create important conversations that seem to have been ignored, and maybe it’s a step in making sure incidents of anti-Semitism are prevented in the future.
In 1942, a group of students at the University of Munich formed an intellectual resistance group called WeiBe Rose—White Rose. The group’s aim: to tell the world what the Nazis were doing.
Led by Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie, Alexander Schmorell, and Christopher Probst, the group sent letters around the world, dropped leaflets throughout Germany, and graffitied “Freedom” on the walls all over Munich.
Conscience gives us the capacity to distinguish between good and evil.
Most of the group were fairly religious Christians: they believed that they could not continue in good conscience knowing about the barbaric atrocities the Third Reich was committing. Sophie’s boyfriend wrote to her: “We know by whom we are created, and that we stand in a relationship of moral obligation to our creator. Conscience gives us the capacity to distinguish between good and evil.” It was a paraphrase of John Henry Newman’s sermon “The Testimony of Conscience.”
Their leaflets quoted extensively from the Bible, Aristotle, and Goethe. The symbol of the white rose was intended to represent purity. The group knew that in a society where thoughts and words were banned, they could face death as a result of disseminating the truth. But they felt that they could not remain silent: in the face of evil, silence was not an option.
Within days of being caught distributing leaflets at the University of Munich, they underwent faux “trials,” and three—including Sophie and Hans—were executed by guillotine. Sophie’s father, who had previously been arrested for calling Adolf Hitler the “scourge of God,” told her how proud he was of them. Han’s last words were: Es lebe die Freiheit! Let Freedom live!
During the summer of 2020, as riots and gratuitous violence were taking over the streets of New York City, as the media and politicians on the left spouted lie after lie after lie, as evil was being called good and good being called evil, I came across Sophie’s most famous quote: “Stand up for what you believe in even if you’re standing alone.”
It resonated. After the publication of my book The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World in 1997, I had been verbally bludgeoned by women’s studies professors for daring to voice two truths: biological differences between the sexes exist and feminism only means freedom, not a laundry list of political opinions. Pre-Internet, they slammed me for heresy in print, on radio shows, in phone calls in the middle of the night. It was my first encounter with today’s thought police, and it was so ugly I moved from Washington, D.C. to NYC to focus on aesthetics.
In June 2014, I was on Facebook conversing with a large group of friends in the international art world. The terrorist group Hamas captured and murdered three Israeli teens, starting yet another war. My posts up until that point mostly involved beautiful images. I had never written about Israel or even about being Jewish, but the appalling capture of the three teens struck a nerve. I waited for my more political friends to post something. To my astonishment, those in the art world took Hamas’s side. To my even greater astonishment, friends I had worked with at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic—liberal Jewish friends—posted nothing. Literally nothing.
I asked a friend of 25 years about it. “Oh,” she said matter-of-factly, “you can’t defend Israel publicly.” Why not? “You just can’t. And if you do, I can’t be friends with you.”
Even though I’ve always been a bit shy, I’ve also always been a proud non-conformist. You demand that I do something and unless it’s the right thing to do I will most likely do the opposite. Thank good parenting, Ayn Rand, and a strong Maccabean soul, I’ve never taken orders from friends and wasn’t about to start.
I began to defend Israel, hoping it would encourage my Jewish liberal friends to do the same. It didn’t. A few even unfriended because of those posts, and the partners of two of my best friends blocked me. Everything I had experienced in ’97 from women I didn’t know I was now experiencing from my closest friends.
All because I dared to tell the truth.
For the next six years I defended Israel but also classical liberal values. As Quilliam founder Maajid Nawaz realized in 2007 when he was being attacked for denouncing terrorism, the left was no longer liberal. It had become, in his words, “regressive leftist.” As a columnist for the Jewish Journal, I tried to show how leftism was illiberal, but nothing mattered: it kept getting worse. Mob justice ruled, forcing cancellations and firings; anti-journalism—propaganda—completely replaced journalism; neo-racism emerged as a state religion.
It also got very personal: because of COVID, I was able to hear millennial teachers try to indoctrinate my 11-year-old son, just as they had been indoctrinated in college.
When the history of this period is written, it will show that there were people who resorted to violence when non-violence would have moved mountains; there were people who resorted to lies when they had the truth on their side; there were people who watched silently when their bravery was needed.
No progress ever stems from lies, violence, and cowardice. What elevates and what destroys—it’s the question that every generation has faced, and right now we are allowing the destroyers free rein.
When I saw that Sophie Scholl quote in the summer of 2020, I began to look deeper into what White Rose stood for and was able to accomplish. What was needed, I thought, was a new magazine rooted in the bravery and moral clarity of those University of Munich students. A publication independent of both parties and thus able to engage in real journalism: reporting the truth and calling out whichever side went off the extremist edge.
Liberalism rests on a foundation of objective truth, objective morality, and a pluralism of opinion.
A publication that would also reteach the values of classical liberalism—individualism, heterodoxy, liberty, ethics—because no knowledge of those values can currently be found in newsrooms, classrooms, even the halls of Congress. A magazine that would state unequivocally that liberalism rests on a foundation of objective truth, objective morality, and a pluralism of opinion.
Finally, a publication that shows why culture in general and art in particular must be depoliticized, and that in fact depoliticized art has the greatest ability to elevate and unite—precisely what is needed right now. A publication that would show how the principles of liberalism and aesthetics align, and why that’s not a coincidence.
“Only the brave write history,” tweeted Hassan Sajwani, when peace was formally established between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Indeed. And our goal is both to honor the students of White Rose—and to make them proud. Our clarion call is the same: no more silence. You’re either calling out the illiberalism or covering it up. Working to liberate or to suppress. Standing up for true liberalism or bowing down to fascism. It’s well past time to revive the bravery of Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy, and Golda Meir.
There are many causes for the rediscovery in our time of the love of dictatorship, for the heartbreaking revival of the preference for what a sixteenth-century French thinker perplexedly called “voluntary servitude.” Some of those causes are economic, but not all of them. We are witnessing also an intellectual convulsion. Not an intellectual war, exactly: one side has yet to come in its full force to the barricades. It has failed in this way before, and disaster ensued. That side is, of course, the liberal side. The rise of authoritarianism is nothing other than the decline of liberalism. In an alarming number of countries and cultures, some of which have experienced a liberal order and some of which have not, the liberal idea is being furiously delegitimated. And not only delegitimated, but also slandered. The description of liberalism as an evil may be the greatest lie of our exceedingly mendacious time.
I leave it for historians to document the plenitude of blessings that the liberal order conferred upon those societies which wisely joined it over the last seven or eight decades. Never has more progress been accompanied by less injustice than in the liberal era. Since I believe that this momentous progress has been owed as much to beliefs as to policies, and that political climates are prepared by intellectual climates, I am more concerned about the philosophical origins of our political circumstances. Intellectually, I am a warmonger. I confess to a lust for battle. It cannot be otherwise, since my enemies, the enemies of liberalism, also have a lust for battle, and they have launched their attack. It comes at us from all sides. In some ways (but not as many as certain commentators think) we have been re-enacting the 1930s, and one of them is in the consensus among the right and the left, among the regressive populists and the progressive populists, that the liberals are the villains.
The ultras can live happily with each other; they need each other; they thrive off each other. They share the revolutionary mentality, the excitement of apocalyptic feeling. Together, therefore, they must band together to destroy the anti-apocalyptics in their midst—the ones who worry about the means as well as the ends; who would rather repair institutions than destroy them; who remember the long history of venalities and atrocities committed in the pursuit of justice; who abhor mobs; who insist that authenticity must answer to morality; who despise simple explanations and worldviews that can be captured in slogans and flags; who dread redemptions and redeemers. Now all those convictions, all the great principles that constitute the liberal tradition, every single one of them, must be defended. After everything that liberalism endured and survived, after the unimaginably savage assaults of fascism and communism, we must steadfastly fight for it all over again, and we must begin again at the beginning. Many of our current opponents are the heirs of liberalism’s older enemies, and we, too, must keep the faith of our fathers—not because it is ours, but because ethically and philosophically we can justify it.
After everything that liberalism endured and survived, after the unimaginably savage assaults of fascism and communism, we must steadfastly fight for it all over again, and we must begin again at the beginning.
The authoritarians of the right and the left are correct: the liberals do indeed stand in their way. We understand the populist temptation too well, and we recall its consequences too vividly, to be left alone. The crowds and their leaders are seeking the re-enchantment of politics, but we long ago championed the disenchantment of politics. We treasure our disillusion, and cultivate it as the beginning of wisdom. There are thrills that no longer attract us; indeed, that repel us. We believe in historical patience—not indifference, but patience—because we have observed that in politics immediate gratification often takes the form of a crime. If we run the risk of complacency, the radicals run the risk of ferocity. No ideology that gained political power (even an anti-ideological ideology such as liberalism) has ever had perfectly clean hands—but liberalism has always included a scruple, a body of values and laws, about its own abuses and the duty to remedy them. The progressives and the regressives, by contrast, are not distinguished by an inclination to introspection. They cherish their anger and they make room for hatred. Should one hate injustice? Always. But the progressives and the regressives do not only hate injustice; they also hate whole classes of people.
The slander against liberalism comes in many parts. The most commonly heard complaint is that liberalism is desiccated—that it is purely procedural, a thicket of rules and regulations that do not address or even recognize the full richness and particularity of human life. It is alleged that liberalism is a doctrine for governing but not for living. There is a grain of truth in this complaint: liberalism’s belief in the power of government to mitigate misery has naturally led it to take a developed interest in the procedures by which this high objective may be achieved. Liberalism really does care about analyzing and solving problems, but the dryness of these commitments should not disguise the hot human core of its enterprise. There is nothing arid about the cause of progress. And if liberalism fails to satisfy citizens emotionally in the way that appeals to blood and soil and class and culture do, well, that is liberalism’s strength, not its weakness. A lecture on responsibility never made anybody’s heart quicken. But beware the politics of quickened hearts. It is all around us now, the rubble of liberalism.
More importantly, it is false to assert that liberalism provides no more than procedures. The liberal tradition espouses a deep portrait of the human person that is noble and inspiring. It is a portrait that begins with an axiomatic faith in human dignity. (The belief may take secular or religious forms.) This dignity is expressed in the idea of rights, which is one of the crowning glories of civilization. A right is the mark of an intrinsic and inalienable worth, a recognition that one is the sort of being whose very nature demands that he be treated with respect and restraint. It is the most fundamental protection against the caprices of power. People who mock the idea of rights, and the “culture of rights,” have never been stripped of one. And nobody who has ever been deprived of a right has ever been troubled by its “individualism.” Nor is it the case, anyway, that rights are, strictly speaking, individualistic. They apply to individuals by referring to a larger principle and a grander picture. Perhaps the most counter-cultural feature of liberalism is its universalism—its insistence upon the universal reach of rights. Before it is anything else, the doctrine of rights is an ideal of all of human life, a vision of how thinking beings and feeling beings—human persons—can live together amicably and justly. A right that is not universal is just a privilege. What exactly is embarrassing about a reference to humanity? Is there really no such thing?
Perhaps the most counter-cultural feature of liberalism is its universalism—its insistence upon the universal reach of rights.
But universalism is the bogeyman of the new authoritarian age. It is mocked everywhere in the name of localism, as if our similarities cannot somehow coexist with our differences. Politicians rise to power and pundits rise to television by preaching that everybody comes from somewhere and nobody comes from nowhere, and so it is our duty to serve our various somewheres and redesign our politics to regard our particularities as our essences. The revolt against universalism is usually expressed as a rejection of “globalization.” Down with elites! Never mind that every somewhere has its own elite. (Anti-elitist elitism is one of the comedies of our age.) It is impossible to deny that Davos is a disturbing spectacle, but surely we have less to fear from the talkative billionaires in a snowy Swiss town than from the dictators in Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, Budapest, Warsaw, Caracas, Damascus, Cairo, Manila, Pyongyang, Bangkok, and elsewhere, with other European and Asian and South American capitals teetering on the brink of anti-democratic disaster.
What begins in philosophy often ends in politics. This is certainly the case with universalism in our darkening world. And so it is worth stressing that the distinction between the universal and the particular is completely phony. There never lived a purely universal man or a purely particular man. Such creatures would be monsters. The universal cannot be attained except through the particular, and the particular cannot be vindicated except through the universal. These alleged antinomies coexist wherever we look. The mixture is not impossible, it is commonplace. We are, all of us, in different measures, particular and universal: compound beings. We originate in specificity but we exceed our origins. That excess—the insistence that the end should not reproduce the beginning—is a defining characteristic of human experience. We are compound and mobile beings. We go from one somewhere to another somewhere, bringing all our somewheres with us, correcting and enriching them with each other, aspiring not to everywhere but to elsewhere, because elsewhere is where we may best educate our provincial hearts. Homelessness may be experienced also, and sometimes most stingingly, at home. And pity the spirit that has only one home.
The romance of heimat is an insult to human potential. And so, too, is the politics of heimat. Authoritarianism is very often a cult of racination, and liberalism is often unfairly maligned as an engine of deracination. Thus the Russian reactionary Aleksandr Dugin has denounced liberalism as “the progressive destruction of all kinds of collective identity.” Historically and conceptually, this is nonsense. Liberalism has no quarrel with roots—but it also honors branches, and recognizes that it is the purpose of roots to grow branches, which may reach very far away from their roots. The argument against liberalism is increasingly made in the name of identity, but a liberal order is not inimical to identity, individual or collective. Quite the contrary. Identity, which is portable and mutable, flourishes most robustly in a liberal order. Or more precisely: identities flourish. It is certainly true that a liberal order cannot in good conscience restrict itself to a single identity. Homogeneity is a contradiction to its sense of possibility. But what shame is there in that? Should solidarity be carried all the way to bigotry? One way of understanding the new authoritarianisms is to regard them as a series of single identities that are too weak to withstand the presence of other identities, too pathetic to weather the test of pluralism, and so they must fortify themselves with the artificial support of state power.
The repudiation of universalism and the worship of origins come together in the current debate about such concepts as freedom and democracy. The critics of democracy like to reduce democracy to its provenance, so as to circumscribe it as Western and therefore alien and not appropriate to non-Western societies. They are content to neglect the ancient democratic strains in certain non-Western cultures, which Amartya Sen has persuasively identified. More significantly, they cannot imagine the interplay of roots and branches that defines human life. After all, propositions that are universally true are discovered in a particular place and a particular time. We make discoveries that apply to people who are not like us, except insofar as they are sufficiently like us for our discoveries to apply to them. Or for their discoveries to apply to us: should the West reject algebra because it was an achievement of the Muslim world? Are we to regard algebra as a Muslim expression? Is the Copernican account of the cosmos true only in Poland?
In the same way it is absurd to dismiss democracy as Western. The theory of democracy is a universal theory or it is meaningless. While the early democratic philosophers of the West did reflect the prejudices of their time by excluding certain groups from the new dispensation, largely on the basis of religion, these exclusions were, by the standards of the new dispensation itself, hypocritical—the bigoted pioneers of democracy were contradicting themselves; and in the modern era these restrictions have been steadily eliminated, and democratic thinking has caught up with the ideal of inclusiveness that was always implied by the democratic promise. The tragic irony is that just as democracy is seeking to live up to its universalism, it is being scorned precisely for its universalism.
A similar confusion reigns in the discussion of freedom. I will cite Dugin again, since he is such a spectacular example of authoritarian error. “The liberal understanding of liberty being not Western in general but modern Western, it is even farther from non-Western civilizations and cultures,” Dugin declares. Note the aspersion against modernity that often accompanies the hostility to democracy. Dugin believes that he can prove his opinion about the essential incompatibility of the liberal notion of freedom to non-Western societies with an exercise in etymology. “The terms to designate ‘freedom’ in different languages,” he writes, “have sometimes completely different meanings.” The term svoboda in the Slavic languages, he instructs, originally designated only a certain familial relation. It means nothing more. “The word svoboda has nothing to do with the individual.” It refers to the collective, to the group.
I have no idea if Dugin is correct about all this. I am quite sure that this is all beside the point. (It reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s unintentionally hilarious remark that there is no word for détente in Russian.) Dugin’s assumption is that the original meaning of a word is its truest meaning, and that the distance travelled away from an original meaning is a fall into inauthenticity. But this is a prior philosophical position, not a conclusion that can be drawn from the history of languages, which richly illustrates the scope of their evolution and their flexibility. Why should the first be the best? What has philology to do with politics? We do not live in the old world, even if a growing number of peoples and leaders wish that we did.
Dugin rejects the liberal notion of freedom because he cannot find it in his tradition. I understand his predicament, since I, too, cannot find it in my tradition, I mean the Jewish tradition. But I do not for that reason refuse to accept it. I have two reasons for this. The first is that I do not want to live without the decency and the opportunity that we denote by the word “freedom.” The second is that I do not believe that tradition is a guarantee of truth. There are many things in my tradition that I know to be false, and I do not regard it as a betrayal of my tradition to say so. I venture that this is the case also with Dugin’s tradition. Does the fact, if it is a fact, that the Russian word for freedom is not the same as the English word for freedom mean that Russians should not be free?
If liberalism is valid in New York and London, it is valid in Moscow and Beijing. Dugin and all the other reactionaries are right: for monists and holists and totalists, for demagogues for whom human existence is exclusively one thing, liberalism represents a historical and philosophical trauma. With its assertion that we live in a multiplicity of realms none of which can be reduced to the others, liberalism opened a crack in the fantasy of wholeness. It is a breach that will never be repaired, that should never be repaired. The contemporary attack on liberal democracy is an attempt to construe history and the human person as if the great rupture never happened. This is what the world looks like when nostalgia panics. It is the solemn duty of liberals, therefore, to point out that this longing for a lost world is, at least from the standpoint of justice, a longing for a worse world. To say this is not in any way to discount the shortcomings of liberal societies—the sickening magnitude of economic inequality, for example. Something about capitalism has gone terribly wrong. But which Volksgemeinschaft or workers’ state ever successfully addressed this problem? They only made it murderously worse. If modern history teaches anything, it is that political injustice is not the solution to economic injustice.
The slander against liberalism is not only that it is formal and procedural, but also that it is, in its character, soulless. This is not a new indictment. Mill turned from Bentham to Coleridge to assuage precisely such an anxiety, and showed by example that the pursuit of political liberty is one of the very conditions of the cultivation of the soul. In the twentieth century, when many people in the West found a variety of illiberalisms more seductive than the liberal order in which they lived, writers and thinkers such as Thomas Mann and Lionel Trilling and Isaiah Berlin and Joseph Brodsky insisted upon the compatibility of reason with imagination, of openness with inwardness. There is certainly no more resounding refutation of the authoritarian caricature of liberalism, of the claim that liberalism is inhospitable to affairs of the spirit, than the freedom of religion that is written into all the liberal constitutions.
The pursuit of political liberty is one of the very conditions of the cultivation of the soul.
What greater compliment can a secular society pay to religion than to call it a right, to establish its freedom to flourish? It may be that some believers are bewildered, and even frightened, by religion’s loss of political privilege, and by the realization that the tolerance extended to their own faith will be enjoyed also by other faiths, so that many certainties will cohabit the same society; but intolerance is a desperate and unacceptable way to express the insecurity of any particular tradition. Believers must not blame their failures upon their freedoms. The emancipation of the state from religion is also the emancipation of religion from the state. In place of the support of the state, religion gains the protection of the state. For the quality of religion in an open society, the religious are accountable only to themselves.
Just as liberalism may host theism, it may host atheism. Materialists and spiritualists, skeptics and mystics, economists and poets, all live legitimately in its kingdom. Liberalism, soulless? I know the soul, and I am a liberal. I believe in truth, and I am a liberal. I reject materialism, and I am a liberal. I study metaphysics, and I am a liberal. I insist that science cannot account for the entirety of human experience, and I am a liberal. I despise the tyranny of quantification, and I am a liberal. I uphold the limits of politics, and I am a liberal. I am loyal to my people, and I am a liberal. I revere tradition, and I am a liberal. I seek rapture, and I am a liberal. These are not contradictions, they are complexities. Whether or not they go together in ideology, they go together in reality, which is never seamless.
Liberalism’s momentous blunder was to regard itself as inevitable, as the historically ordained climax of a centuries-long campaign for progress, as the last word. We should know better by now—and here too, in America, in the debris of our forty-fifth president. The liberal conception of the person asks too much of the person ever to go uncontested. It chooses not to leave the person as it finds him, embedded in legacies and givens. It is a dis-embedding movement, a challenging ethic of criticism, though not necessarily a destructive one. It demands of ordinary men and women a degree of skill with complexity and a degree of forbearance with human affairs. While it is wary of revolution, it extols change. It proposes to mingle continuity with discontinuity, which has the effect that the people whose lives it betters it also rattles. How could such a philosophy and such a politics not provoke a retort? The catastrophes of modern history—the genocides of fascism and communism—were all such retorts. Liberals should be proud to be known by their enemies. But this we know for sure: there is no rest for us. As we watch in horror as one government after another, one society after another, turns its back on the liberal construction of freedom, we must ready ourselves again for a fight. It will last longer than an election cycle. It may be the work of generations. And in the course of it we may have to introduce a new type in the history of politics, a paradoxical figure: the radical liberal.
Leon Wieseltier is the editor of Liberties and the author of Kaddish (Knopf, 1998).
The great irony—if not outright fraud—of the internet is that it is a digital highway without speed limits. That’s true, of course, until the summonses show up. Users then learn of restricted access and banned accounts. Some receive lifetime sanctions, others mere probation.
The digital highway actually has unseen speed traps that operate with all the subtlety of southern sheriffs. The revving up of search engines gets halted. The common courtesies of the road dispensed with. Fellow travelers come to complete stops.
Remember the old IBM operating system known as DOS? Today it stands for Denial of Service. Against now private citizen President Trump and his once treasured Twitter account. And former Congressman Ron Paul, recently locked out of Facebook. They are not the only political leaders to have had their communications on social media disabled. Many private citizens were surprised to discover their Facebook pages suspended for violating the social media giant’s very much unevenly applied and ill-defined “Community Standards.”
Conservative African-American commentator, Candace Owens, had her Facebook page temporarily blocked when she wrote that African-Americans have less to fear from white supremacy than “liberal supremacy,” which she firmly believes incentivizes fatherless families within the black community – along with all the ensuing social pathologies.
The romance of the interconnected wireless network is being hijacked by the suffocating web of intersectionality. Mobs gather fast online. Rigged algorithms sabotage free thought. The PC police have apparently learned how to code. And it has resulted in a systemic failure that is not merely a glitch. It’s the moral revulsion of anonymous trolls and smug, high-tech tycoons.
The geniuses who gave us these wondrous tools for the mind are revealing themselves to be private sector versions of government censors. Social media companies and internet platforms are like the tyrants of old—accountable to no one, omnipotently immune from everyone, and downright indignant toward even the mere mention of regulation.
Wasn’t the internet supposed to be a global public square—open to all without barriers to entry? A true liberals paradise: knowledge always at the ready, without limits, uncensored, available any time of day? An internet connection provided the ultimate soapbox.
Free speech never had a better friend.
Except that the internet was never really a public square in the traditional sense. For one thing, it was a private square without constitutional safeguards. Unlike an outdoor public park where a speaker addresses a spontaneously gathering crowd, holds their attention by shouting to be heard, the internet begins with browsers, followed by search engines, and then usernames and passwords. Silence is the dominant sensation; blue light is the prism through which we make artificial eye contact. The crowds are immense, but the freedom of assembly is distant and unfelt.
Internet users gather alone. A “Like” should never be confused with a roar.
It was always a soap box nestled inside Silicon Valley’s sandbox. Freedom of movement, and speech, was restricted. Algorithms targeted specific audiences. Surveillance was everywhere—what we search for, who is searching for us. People make a lot of stupid decisions on their Smart phones.
Driving a car on the open road is different from the digital highway, where destinations are more predetermined. The steering wheel is an online illusion. And virtue signaling is more important than merely obeying the street signs.
Speech is being regulated by Big Tech even though the websites, search engines and social media platforms are not being regulated by the government. The prior restraint is all privately performed. The internet has become less a repository of intellectual freedom than an actual net that traps.
For liberalism to flourish, open markets are as indispensable as open minds. But the internet is dominated by extraordinary concentrations of power—Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. Look what happened to Parler, a conservative’s alternative to Twitter. Gang, monopolistic warfare seems to have put it out of business. These internet players mean business—and they are pretty mean about it. Valuable companies they may be, but liberal enterprises they are not. They play favorites. They have ideological preferences and political points of view. They communicate through machines, but the decisions they make are very much subject to human bias and error.
When you look past the youthful hoodie culture you see vindictive corporate fiefdoms that arbitrarily stifle free speech.
This should come as no surprise. From mainstream to social media, the news we consume and the social engagements we make are increasingly being dictated by illiberal, anti-democratic purveyors of groupthink. A global pandemic, which converted our homes into self-contained isolation centers—for binge eating, sleeping, schooling, working and exercising—only magnified our dependence on social media and internet portals for touchless human contact and glimpses of the outside world. We have become prisoners of bandwidth and blinking screens. And what is perversely blinking back at us is not content neutral.
Just think back to this summer. The New York Times retroactively and aggressively distanced itself from an opinion piece it had published – a piece it had actively solicited from Senator Tom Cotton. He argued in favor of invoking the Insurrection Act to quell the violence that erupted from some of the Black Lives Matter protests. It was an opinion shared by a majority of Americans. Soon after publication, however, the Times completely disavowed the essay. The editors responsible for its publication were either forced out or were reassigned.
If the cause of Black Lives Matter is just—which I firmly believe it is—must its violent offshoots be either ignored or downplayed?
Apparently, a United States Senator’s opinion was unfit for the Opinion page—and the weight of our regressive social media agreed. Surely, calling for military assistance to put an end to all that arson, looting and violence could only spring from the mind of a racist. The Senator’s surname was further proof of his evil intent.
But why? If the cause of Black Lives Matter is just—which I firmly believe it is—must its violent offshoots be either ignored or downplayed? The Insurrection Act is best known for integrating southern schools and universities during the civil rights era. Local law enforcement was committed to maintaining segregation. Clearly, mobilizing the National Guard is not, per se, a racist endeavor.
The Times doesn’t seem to be all that troubled by the presence of 7,000 National Guardspersons, for the time being, occupying Washington, D.C. Surely the storming of the Capitol on January 6th while a Joint Session of Congress was in progress was horrific. But so, too, was the torching of police precincts and police cars, the ransacking of businesses and vandalism that occurred in the 220 locations were violence was reported over the summer.
This was a tale of two demonstrations. Both largely peaceful. Yet, having favorable opinions about one is morally defensible; the other is a woke war crime.
So far, over 200 people have been arrested in connection with the breaching of the Capitol. Thousands were at the National Mall on January 6th, exercising their First Amendment freedoms of assembly, association and speech. Questioning the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election does not make them all white supremacists, although some undoubtedly were.
Meanwhile, lawmakers who debated the tally of the Electoral College on that same day now find themselves with shelved book contracts, college degrees under threat of being rescinded, and, of course, social media accounts shut down. And what they were doing was protected under the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution. President Trump was nearly convicted by the Senate for inciting an insurrection, and yet he, too, has a First Amendment right to engage in political advocacy, even if his words are incendiary, emotional and spontaneous.
Except for the riot itself, everything else that took place on January 6 was constitutionally permissible, and a demonstration of our liberal values and democratic freedoms.
The cancel culture’s illiberal tendencies has graduated from the college campus and now pervades our politics, news sources and, of course, the gathering mobs of social media. Note how the Hunter Biden story was quashed on Twitter and belittled and ignored on all internet platforms. There may be nothing to that story, but how will we ever know? Did these high-tech companies do their own due diligence—conduct their own truth-seeking—before determining that they would simply not allow Biden’s son to doom his father’s march to the White House?
Seemingly all of corporate America has taken its cue and acted swiftly to pass its own verdict on wrong-thinking—especially within its own ranks.
Amazon recently removed a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from its streaming service. So much for Black History Month. Apparently only one version of that history is acceptable. A documentary that featured actual interviews with an African-American who has served on the Highest Court of the land for 30 years was not something Amazon felt deserved a platform—nothing at all to learn from the man, or about the man. Why? Well, perhaps for the same reason that most people have never heard of Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, two African-American conservative public intellectuals. They haven’t been cancelled, per se, because they have barely existed in the public sphere.
Amazon’s censorship is racism of a different sort: not the soft bigotry of low expectations but rather, ironically, the suppression of individual and cultural achievement. The views of all three of these men simply do not match the perpetual victimization of African-Americans that progressives wish for closed-minded people—white and black—to know.
Here is her employer’s released statement. One hesitates to believe that something like this could happen in a liberal society:
“The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency was distressed to discover this morning, January 25th, that one of our agents has been using the social media platforms Gab and Parler. We do not condone this activity, and we apologize to anyone who has been affected or offended by this. The Agency has in the past and will continue to ensure a voice of unity, equality, and one that is on the side of social justice. As of this morning, Colleen Oefelein is no longer an agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.”
Nowadays, one demonstrates a commitment to “social justice” by terminating the employment of different thinkers.
The actress Gina Carano wasn’t even notified by her employer, Disney, that she had been released from her contract on account of social media postings that expressed opinions that were no longer permissible in polite society—with politeness measured exclusively by intersectional taboos. She equated the intolerance shown toward conservatives with the persecution of Jews during Nazi Germany. She mocked the wearing of multiple masks during the pandemic. And she committed the unforgivable faux pas of not taking pronoun usage and gender identity seriously enough.
Disney’s overheated explanation for Carano’s abrupt firing mentioned that “her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”
Does that accurately reflect what she did? She didn’t denigrate Jews. She merely, awkwardly, invoked a tortured analogy. She’s a former mixed martial artist, for heaven’s sake! She’s not an English professor.
Liberal societies value their exposure to a mix of opinions so that arguments can be weighed and judgments made about ideas, policies and people. The First Amendment applies only to government actions that deprive citizens of their right to speak. Employment contracts in private industries are exempt from free speech protections. That was true for Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee, Colleen Oefelein’s Parler account, and Gina Carano’s Instagram postings.
As a nation we used to think of ourselves as extending the right of free inquiry beyond constitutional boundaries. We took pride in maintaining a permissively tolerant understanding of free speech… Those days are long gone.
None of them have the legal right to reclaim their jobs. And Justice Thomas can’t force Amazon to make the documentary about him available for streaming.
But as a nation we used to think of ourselves as extending the right of free inquiry beyond constitutional boundaries. We took pride in maintaining an indulgent understanding of free speech. We respected the points of view of others, even if it conflicted with our own. We didn’t reflexively, heartlessly banish them from civil society, deem them morally unfit to live and work among us. Blotting them out was un-American.
Those days are long gone. How many heated subjects are now disallowed at dinner table discussions around the country? Simply off-limits. Even talking about the weather carries risk. It might reveal too casual an attitude about climate change. How many are afraid to Like a post on Facebook for fear of alienating “Friends”?
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was enacted, among other reasons, to facilitate the nascent internet industry to develop the information superhighway. The pioneers of the digital economy were incentivized to speed up the task by receiving immunity from civil liability. Why did Google and Facebook, which didn’t even exist at the time, deserve such protections? Well, they merely built and maintained the new highway—the gravel and guardrails that granted everyone access. They were neutral and agnostic when it came to content; indifferent to what content appeared on their platforms. Mark Zuckerberg proved this point by refusing to take down Holocaust denial Facebook pages.
But these internet portals are now multibillion dollar industries with creeping Fourth Estate powers. And they most certainly have more than a passing interest in what opinions are being exchanged. Reporting the truth is not one of their priorities. Zealously mining our personal data is, however. And they privilege some speakers over others. Favorable points of view mysteriously show up on everyone’s news feed; opinions out of favor will end up in places where search engines, apparently, abandon the search.
Especially since this past presidential election, we have come to learn that internet providers care very much about politics. Most people depend on the internet for their news and information, a cultural phenomenon that allows these entities to operate like free speech cartels. Access is denied to individuals and ideas deemed unworthy of this new means of communication. —
They editorialize as they digitize.
…in what twisted moral universe does Ayatollah Khamenei, who repeatedly denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel…deserve a Twitter platform while Trump does not?
Social media companies are not only in it for the money. By suspending and shutting down accounts and de-platforming certain websites, they are functioning like true censors—engaged in viewpoint discrimination and interfering with the public trust. Yes, they are private businesses, but they also happen to be in a business that provides essential infrastructure. And if it’s essential, then it becomes the public’s business, too. American corporate history recalls that Standard Oil, AT&T, IBM and Microsoft each faced regulatory sanction not just because of their size, but due to their indispensability.
The internet’s flinty private square, not unlike the old public square, is a marketplace filled with more junk than ideas. Neither soap boxes nor Twitter handles offer much in the way of mind expansion. Free speech is more costly than ever.
In a world of lies the lie is not removed from the world by means of its opposite, but only by means of a world of truth. (Franz Kafka, The Fourth Notebook, The Blue Octavo Notebooks)
Introduction: Why look, at all?
Why should anyone really care about anti-Semitism, beyond those directly affected? To get by and do right wherever one can—surely that’s not to be condemned, with all that’s going on today? A residual faith in words like “hope” and “truth,” despite personal misgivings and cultural decline, might be enough to orient one’s life, especially if one is traveling with many others along similar paths.
Getting thrown off the path, or walking it alone, might require one to start defining the terrain for oneself. Despite its dangers, that needn’t be impossible if history is any guide. But is it? What use are prior examples if, so the story goes, ours really is a brave new world? And if it is, aren’t we all then lost in some pathless wilderness?
In Samuel Beckett’s 1957 play Endgame, one of his Absurdist clowns announces bleakly, “Something is taking its course.” In 1946 American poet Charles Olson, the first writer to make consistent use of the term “post-modern,” said in an imaginary address to Ezra Pound, the iconic modernist (and infamous antisemite): “It is a time, yours, when forces as large as centuries battle …” We may now all opine about “post-truth,” but as far back as 1848 another of the architects of modernity, Marx, already recognized that “all that is solid melts into air” – and he was quoting Shakespeare from nearly 250 years earlier, at the very dawn of the modern era.
A chasm opens once the questions appear that takes us back to the birth of our weirdly apocalyptic world—a “new” world that is also 3,000 or so years old. A certain constitution is needed to willingly face such destabilization, to visit it upon oneself even in thought, if life doesn’t force one to endure it or to bear its terrors. Most won’t, and in that, anti-Semitism is always born anew.
But returned to that source, by choice or by circumstance, what might be revealed? A vertiginous challenge: nihil versus creatio, power versus meaning, nothing on the march versus one who takes a stand, “forces as large as centuries.”
It is a sad privilege to be chosen in order to perceive… in the eternal return of the Jewish question, the return of metaphysical questions! (Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom)
This isn’t Germany, 1942. Stalingrad isn’t around the corner, nor are the policy-makers at Wansee hopefully formulating their Final Solution to the “Jewish question.” The White Rose was exposing the lie of the Thousand Year Reich when it was at its miserable few years’ peak. Pretending to perfection while built on the meanest of foundations, born in violence and sustained by force, perhaps it was only a matter of time until that Nazi world of falsehood collapsed. Its delusions were self-serving and unstable, its unholy war on the Jews was all-consuming, its follies were depleting its resources, and it was felled at last by its utter misjudgment of Allied will and firepower.
Had Nazism prevailed, the name White Rose would have been reduced to a lesson in the futility of resistance, or simply erased. That we can write it, let alone associate with it, identifies us as immeasurably privileged: our world survived. But which “world”? Do we in the West actually still have a shared world? Do we not these days find ourselves looking in different ways and seeing different realities?
All the elements have begun to slide. Everything seems endlessly disputable: histories, crimes, elections, genders. How to make the necessary determinations? Clear sides seem either self-evident or suspiciously too self-evident: should we trust conviction, or be wary precisely to the degree that others act sure? We can’t quite shake our knowledge of the psychological (“What part do I play in the creation of what faces me?”), of the virtual (our own eyes may be lying), of PR and propaganda (who is cunningly directing our gaze, and to what end?).
We see signs and hope they continue to signal as they once did. But if anything marks our moment, isn’t it the deconstruction of certainties? In this age of undoing, the drive is toward the relentless exposure of the given as the constructed, of appearance as mediated, including (most especially) truth. Still, unassimilated pieces of the past float by and coalesce into familiar shapes, taunting us with the prospect of orientation: “Ah, now we know where we are!”
To take only our present terrifying example: today the name “Hitler” is rightly associated with the demonic and the charge of “fascist” is justifiably one of the most grave. We condemn “The Jews will not replace us!” when chanted by brutes wearing swastikas, nostalgic for some imagined supremacy. So if we, the moderately aware citizens of the 21st century West, were ever truly prey to such fascistic tendencies ourselves—if we harbored a deep, exploitable yearning for the closed and unified group, for the certainty of answers, and for a scapegoat to cleanse our sins—would it present itself to us in Nazi attire, the Third Reich reborn? Since we know we’re supposed to learn from history or be “condemned to repeat it,” mightn’t the danger reside in the historical images themselves, or rather, in our willingness to rely on them instead of opening our eyes to the present?
Looking to the right, where eternal truths have been claimed to reside, we find tradition inevitably corroded by skepticism, thanks to two millennia’s worth of competition between last words; each successive religious variation has sought to put its seal on the faith, but schisms appeared and new contenders arose. Looking to the left, we find the repeated betrayal of hope, with promises of justice wielded for access to power, then cynically abandoned. We’re each alone in a new way, the insecurity of our knowledge unlike any of the peoples of the past. The depth of our disagreements terrifies, and rightly so.
And so who am I to speak to you? Especially with the grandness of my address—“we” this and “we” that! I have no official designation, no particular expertise or exceptional experience. Who am I to suggest anything? And who, for that matter, are you, that I should wish to reach you, to propose the facing of something together?
George W. Bush’s speech of September 21, 2001: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The crux is us. Who are “we,” really? What makes “us”? A war or an attack can do it, or facing an enemy (even a contrived one). A tornado or a flood, too, or just a loud noise in a crowd: we turn, together. The prophetic call: “Everyone! Listen! Look!” And if some people were to say “Yes! We hear it! We see it!” then, in speaking as one, and in acknowledging “it,” they would become “We… ” Our response makes us.
When I visited the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin, where one of the exhibition rooms is of course devoted to the White Rose, what struck me most forcefully was the sheer diversity. There were rooms honouring the resistance to Nazism by the workers’ movement, by business leaders, artists and intellectuals, students, soldiers, Christians, Jews, Roma …
We know today, at least dimly, what it was they all saw and heard, what motivated them to say “We!” in the face of what sort of disintegration. And thanks to their stand, we in the mainstream Western 21st century may indeed be justified in supposing, along with Martin Luther King Jr., that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Slavery and imperial domination are owned as our ignominious heritage, and we cite dystopian novels to signal our diligence about horrors still possible. We no longer countenance the persecution of whole peoples – ethnicities, sexes, sexualities, religions – according to immutable, supposedly negative characteristics. We invoke the spectre of “concentration camps” to affirm that we won’t allow it to happen again.
Coincident with our moral advance, however, with the progressive bend of the arc, is that other development. We’re told that for the first time in all our tens of thousands of human years, including every tribe and civilization ever, we may at last be beyond the one thing we’ve always oriented toward, often fought over, but never imagined ourselves without: truth. What kind of perverse evolution is this? Are we at last learning to be decent, or are we nearing the culmination of a nihilistic revolution? Is nothing sacred or are we progressing toward a better world?
We do find ourselves brought together, voluntarily or otherwise, by a backstory: an “us” has been made by our globalization. We are in a historical condition that is uniquely confusing – thanks to the relativism that becomes possible through intercultural encounter, to the opposition of rival truths, to the transformations of language, to the acceleration of technology. But it also allows a figure to take shape against the chaos. Thanks to its regular appearances, despite its protean manifestations – Christian, Muslim, secularist – we can discern the “anti-Jew.”
Whatever its role in other forms of anti-Semitism, the spectre of a “Jewish world conspiracy” haunts the fantasy of all globalizers – Christian, Muslim, secularist – at every turn, because its source is in Judaism’s place at the conceptual, imaginal, spiritual core of our shared world. It is therefore understandable (if never less than unconscionable) that anti-Semitism should have re-emerged at every juncture of its formation. The anti-Jew is a defensive response to the Jewish challenge, and therefore, perhaps, an intellectual, spiritual, moral key to our cultural unfolding (or undoing).
The continuing existence of the Jews triggers an identity crisis that threatens to undermine the (mis)appropriated “chosen-ness” of every subsequent body of believers: the Christian Church with its “new Jerusalem”; Islam as the revisionist final word on Judaism and Christianity; secularism as an “adulthood” that has outgrown believers’ “childishness”; most preposterously and obscenely, Nazism’s Aryan “Master Race”; and (for many, most shockingly) in the contemporary West, what philosopher Judith Butler has identified as “social movements that are progressive, … that are part of a global left,” among which she includes Hezbollah and Hamas, groups as fanatically dedicated to persecutory anti-Jewish delusion as the Nazis—for anti-Jewish bias has gradually, thoroughly permeated the assumptions of today’s left/liberal/progressive mainstream. A “light unto the nations” – as the people of Israel are chosen to be – anti-Semitism is a reflection back onto the nations of their own fault lines.
The Jewish story stands alone for aloneness, for the personal connection of the individual, mortal human being—and thus of universalized humanity, of “us”—with the transcendent. An unstoppable evolution was inaugurated by the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, and we are all its children, born with an “inner judge” of our every thought and action. Whether it be heeded or denied, it carries with it a pressure George Steiner described as “the blackmail of perfection”:
We come to hate, to fear most those who demand of us a self-transcendence, a surpassing of our natural and common limits of being. Our hate and fear are the more intense precisely because we know the absolute rightness, the ultimate desirability of the demand. In failing to respond adequately, we fail ourselves. (“The Long Life of Metaphor”)
This conflict between the moral ideal and its perceived impossibility has accompanied monotheism’s spread throughout the world, its other forms accommodating themselves in various ways to their inherently Jewish basis. It is carried within the language itself, in words like “morality” and “justice” and “truth.” If they remain today short of their full meaning (and, as I say below, undergoing their very reversal), their rhetorical persuasiveness alone is testimony to the penetration of the Jewish event into the consciousness of “the nations.”
That the Jews, tiny percentage of the global population though they may be, remain not only here in the world, surviving against all odds and all assaults, but there at the source, right where our disorientation leads us, is simultaneously uncanny and predictable. Inseparable from the individuality before God that was instituted with Judaism, a new sort of community was also forged through the sharing of this very burden and gift.
Every person, as a person—that is to say, one conscious of his freedom—is chosen. If being chosen takes on a national appearance, it is because only in this form can a civilization be constituted, be maintained, be transmitted, and endure. (Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom)
The Jewish “creation myth” is unlike any other: a disparate group that brings itself into being as a collective through the individuals’ acceptance of a law that equalizes everyone in worth; and more, a covenant entered into as equals with God, its other party, who too must abide by its terms, so great is its authority. This conceptually abolishes the archaic cosmos of natural hierarchy, in which humans were defined by whatever place had been allotted them by birth and circumstance, according to fixed truths. The covenant at Sinai asks for and thereby creates the very notion of free human beings, bound not to a law imposed from above by divine power, but by a law voluntarily assumed for the just sharing of earthly power.
When we hear in popular discourse now about “Jewish values” this is an echo of this unique notion of impartial justice before the highest moral standard. And it is for this reason that the country of the Jews, Israel, stands today in the position it does, eternally on trial.
If the reader is unfamiliar with the situation of Israel in the context of the globalized story I’ve been telling, I can only avow the good faith of the following account—though no amount of data would be enough to convince a determined skeptic, and the argument as a whole makes almost impossible demands on an innocent worldview. As if “post-truth” confusion and its reactionary fanaticisms weren’t enough, one must now recognize a commitment to unreality so extreme and determined that it seeks to control meaning completely, to bend it according to a self-interest raised to metaphysical heights in a disguise so total it is hidden even from itself.
Having had our whole millennial history to draw upon, this is evil in its most refined form. It illegitimately assumes what international human rights lawyer, Irwin Cottler, has called “the language of universal human values.” Unlike Nazism (which it sets up as its opposite), it is explicitly non-exclusionary, prouder than any historical force for good in its acceptance of diversity. If the post-Holocaust inspiration of the United Nations was a veritable institutionalization of “Jewish values,” it could not be more telling that the UN was quickly overtaken by anti-Jewish powers who turned the machinery of internationalism against Israel. The Nazi slogan “The Jew is our misfortune” has been recast in the globalist era with Israel now cast in the role as “the Jew among nations” (Léon Poliakov):
Far from exposing Jews to the temptations of might, the creation of Israel had inadvertently reproduced in the Middle East a political imbalance almost identical to the one that Jews had experienced in the Diaspora. Israelis were no more inclined or able to subdue the Arabs than the nations among whom Jews had sojourned in exile. … Israel’s geopolitical situation from the moment of its founding … restricted the political options of the sovereign Jewish state not much less than statelessness had previously impinged on the Jews of Europe. (Ruth Wisse, Jews and Power)
Israel is legitimately defensible on every ground: humanitarian, political, legal, pragmatic, ethno-cultural, religious, psychological. Each provides a strong enough foundation on which to build a case capable of meeting the highest standards of neutral adjudication in its own domain. Nothing in the venture of Zionism is socially unjust, impossibly utopian, destructively religious, or morally questionable. At the same time, one can even reject or ignore any one of these grounds one finds objectionable or irrelevant without diminishing in the least the legitimacy of the overall claim.
Indeed, the range of characteristics for which the Jews have been attacked over the centuries—religious at first, then ethno-cultural during the Age of Reason, genetic during the rise of science, political today—taken together amount to what makes up a person, generically speaking. We as beings are comprised of the very dimensions that have been in turn assaulted by anti-Jewish aggression: spiritual, cultural, biological, political. Does this not forcefully suggest that the anti-Jew is, precisely, the anti-human?
If the various claims in Zionism’s favor were illegitimate or mutually contradictory, the near unanimity of support for Israel among Jews worldwide might be little more than self-serving bias. And this is, of course, the view of Israel’s enemies: Israel is accused of being a nightmare for the Palestinian Arabs, a theft of land and history, a political proxy for Western conquest, a travesty of international law, a pragmatic disaster for the region, rife with ethno-cultural racism, founded on religious supremacism, and psychologically pathological.
Not surprisingly, given anti-Semitism’s projective nature, these accusations could not be more untrue, reversing facts with an acuity that signals the profoundest (self-)deception and betrays the actual self-serving bias at work. Beneath their imperialist new clothes, they nakedly enumerate the accusers’ own acts and intentions: to be a nightmare for Israelis, the thief of Jewish land and history, a political proxy for Arab/Islamic conquest, a perversion of judicial impartiality, a constant pragmatic nightmare for Israel, founded on Judeophobia and supersessionist ideology, and psychologically neurotic. Is it necessary to insist here that these accusations against Israel’s enemies can be supported with all the evidence a transcendent authority, a truly moral judge, might require?
The Israelis rarely refuse (and indeed have no need to refuse) a full, impartial inquiry, knowing as they do that if the matter at issue were to be judged on points of fact or law their case would usually be upheld.
When bad faith reaches these scandalous proportions, it is absurd to react as though the rule of law still obtained, and to plead a cause. (Jacques Givet, The Anti-Zionist Complex)
Nazism, too, proceeded by such reversal. It “promoted the elimination of the weak, and, … turned the commandment not to murder upside down.… [T]he legalization of murder replaced the Judeo-Christian prohibition” (Bruno Chaouat, Is Theory Good for the Jews?). Hitler reportedly believed that the Jews “invented conscience”—hence the desirability, for its self-professed enemy, of a world without Jews.
The attempt, thanks to everyone from Allied fighters to the White Rose to the anonymous resisters, was unsuccessful. But was the anti-Jew’s war on Jewishness itself defeated? Did it not simply change fronts, from Europe to the Middle East (where, just two years after the Holocaust, the amassed armies of multiple Arab nations engaged in a self-avowed war of annihilation against a fledgling Israel), and, through prolonged propaganda efforts, now the West? (Terms like “occupation” and “settlers” normalized in Western Israel-related discourse are testament to the mainstream success of a propaganda campaign of unprecedented patience, as part of the Arab/Islamist “Long War” now into its eighth decade.) If anti-Jewishness has accompanied the Jews as surely as the Jews have managed to survive, its adherents are clearly far more widely spread and more numerous, belonging like an internal pathology to the structure of globalizing consciousness itself.
Given that today the self-consciousness of the West is so permeated by a notion, however attenuated, of “Jewish values,” we – unlike Hitler – pride ourselves precisely on our sense of “conscience.” The world has turned. A Nazi could feel confident in hating Jews and loving goodness, because they were defined as opposite; today, the “anti-Jewish spirit” can tell us it doesn’t “hate” at all.
For this, it needs Israel to be criminal. The focus on the nation as political entity exempts the anti-Jew from today’s socially fatal charges of racism and bigotry, demonstrated in their willingness to embrace any Jew—secular or religious—who rejects Israel. It is here that the Islamic supremacist, determined to effect Islam’s supersession of Judaism by any means, meets Butler’s “global left,” which challenges both Israel’s right to self-defense and the legitimacy of its very existence with double standards whose audacity is only equaled by their normalized pervasiveness. (For a broad and well-documented survey, I recommend Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict by Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, who has in fact always considered himself politically leftist.) Yet Israel has the support of well over 90% of the world’s Jewish population (which, it must be noted, has not yet returned to its pre-Holocaust level,) and this should be enough to belie any claim that one can stand against Israel and not stand opposed to that overwhelming Jewish majority.
The defeat of today’s anti-Jewish vanguard, however, lies within the model itself, in the very structure it has misappropriated and sought to repurpose. In adopting the language of “truth,” “justice,” and “morality,” Israel’s enemies are obliged—unlike prior enemies of the Jews—to present a universally valid case. They are on the Jews’ home turf, the terrain Judaism brought into the world with the covenant at Sinai: a plain upon which all are equal before the most stringent moral and judicial standards. To win, they must either make their case before a global consciousness now at least moved by the force of such notions as “universal justice” or they must illegitimately occupy it by force and thereby invalidate its very nature. That this is their own real-world military and propaganda strategy is hardly coincidental; it is the source of their projections against Zionism.
They must redefine the words. But the words push back. The greatest power of resistance is in language itself—in the truth, for example, that “the truth will out,” because “t-r-u-t-h” is not merely an empty thing made of sounds and strokes, but has a force of its own despite its being – also in truth – just an empty thing made of sounds and strokes.
They must assert that the Jews have abandoned “Jewish values,” that they themselves are now “the true Jews.” (Have we not seen every anti-Semite ultimately claim to be the new “chosen”?) But this requires, according to “Jewish values” as such, a presentation before the highest moral arbiter conceivable. And because this “arbiter” does not exist positively in the human domain (call it “God” if you are religious), because it transcends the perspective of any single group or single individual (and within the very consciousness of that individual), there is no entity on Earth that can pronounce the final word. Any determination will require the ratification by a legitimizing body. In the current global arena those bodies include the UN & the International Criminal Court.
If justice, truth, and morality are your proclaimed values, but in reality you are driven by a lust for power, victory, and domination, then you will be obliged to attack Israel and Jews with the contrived assent of the people. Israel and the Jews are of course not inherently in the right; truth isn’t on their side by definition. But to have placed themselves on the side of truth as their choice, their founding choice, is what has allowed Israel, to survive against all historical odds. Returning to their indigenous homeland, birthplace, Holy Land, it has even enabled them to thrive.
Conclusion: Having seen
The vowels in Hebrew are unwritten; this acknowledges that, as the very breath of life, they must be supplied by the consciousness of the human wielding the consonants. Like the worlds that we build together in response to what we find ourselves facing the form of words is constructed & could be otherwise – which, thanks to our relativized, globalized perspective, is now undeniable.
But the shock of collective consciousness at the “social construction of reality” has fooled it into believing this means “we can make up anything we want.” The post-truth “global left” and the revisionist history of Islamic supremacism, twin sources of greatest danger to Israel and thus to the Jewish people, agree on this naïve, self-serving, ultimately self-defeating fantasy.
Even through its distortions, in acceptance or denial, truth bends reality around it like a center of gravity. That the truth of Jewish reality is opposite to the claims of the anti-Jew—Christian, Islamist, secularist—shatters them beyond all reconstruction. This is what they fear and what provides the fuel for their obsessive attack.
But language had this future built into it all along! Words were made to reveal their nakedness: what we encounter at the end is nothing that wasn’t already visible in the beginning. We are meant to be on our own, together, with only the bonds we craft between us and the highest moral standard of justice we can conceive. These are “Jewish values.” This was the challenge of Sinai to all of humanity. And this is why one’s relation to Jews, Judaism, Jewishness—and, most importantly, Israel—today holds out an invaluable possibility: an authentic position in regard to our time’s contradictory demand for foundational clarity during its inevitable dissolution of sense. The perspective afforded by this view from the founding allows us to recognize pieces of our shared world, even amidst its deconstruction.
The enemy—let us call it “the fascist spirit”—is no longer by definition on the right or the left; it doesn’t appeal in particular to Christian or Muslim or secularist. It can appear in any doctrine, ideology, or drag. It may wear jackboots, a priest’s collar, keffiyeh, torn pants, or suit and tie. But its truth is and always has been revealed in its position on what it insists on posing as the “Jewish question”—now, the “Israel question.” Unable to accept its own inner contradiction, unwilling to challenge itself to face truth, it can only encounter truth in its own defeat.
If what we today face is so hard to distinguish that at first we can’t agree on anything but its disintegration, then we, also disintegrated, might still recognize as much together. And in that shared seeing, “We!” might be forged.
Resistance must be unlimited by our habitual forms, our outward appearances, in order to meet the slippery, innovative cunning of the fascist spirit itself. But we have the gravitational force of truth on our side because we place ourselves on the side of truth, which reaches us and draws us together through any desert wasteland, even when “forces as large as centuries battle.”
Everything depends on repentance and good deeds: the messianic coming is to be found at the level of the individual effort that can be produced in full self-control. Everything is already thinkable and thought; humanity is mature; what is missing is good deeds and repentance. (Levinas, Difficult Freedom)
Beckett, Samuel. Endgame (New York, NY: Grove Press Inc., 1958)
Broch, Hermann. Geist and Zeitgeist: The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age (New York, NY: Counterpoint, 2002)
Chaouat, Bruno. Is Theory Good for the Jews? French Thought and the Challenge of the New Antisemitism (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2020)
Yemini, Ben-Dror. Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict (New York, NY: The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy/ISGAP Books, 2017)
German Resistance Memorial Center. Catalogue of the Permanent Exhibition “Resistance Against National Socialism” (Berlin, Germany: Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, 2014)
Givet, Jacques. The Anti-Zionist Complex (Englewood, NJ: SBS Publishing, Inc., 1982)
Kafka, Franz. The Blue Octavo Notebooks (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1991)
Levinas, Emmanuel. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1990)
Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Banality of Heidegger (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2017)
Olson, Charles. “This is Yeats Speaking” from Charles Olson and Ezra Pound: An Encounter at St. Elizabeth’s (New York, NY: Paragon House, 1991)
Scholl, Inge. The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943 (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983)
Steiner, George. “The Long Life of Metaphor: An Approach to ‘the Shoah’” in Encounter, Vol. LXVIII No. 2, February, 1987 (London, UK)
Wisse, Ruth. Jews and Power (New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2007)
Yemini, Ben-Dror. Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict (New York, NY: The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy/ISGAP Books, 2017)
Michael R. Caplan is a designer, writer, singer, and theatre-maker, and the Director of Michael Caplan’s House of ShAkE, a production company working in print, performance, music, and other media. www.houseofshake.ca
One of the most important jobs any man can have on earth is being a father. This is not an exclusion of mothers, but an appeal to a society that tends to undervalue men and the role they play as fathers specifically. As a black American, knowing the statistics on fatherlessness in the black community, the weight of being a good father to my own sons is heavier than it has ever been. No matter what their skin-color, however, fatherhood is crucial to every single child’s development.
Even for those who grew up without a father, let this be an encouragement that you can still be the father for your own children that you never had for yourself.
I learned three very crucial lessons from my father that continue to help me navigate through life even as a husband and father myself.
The first lesson was when I was about four years old. My dad was working at least two-and-a-half jobs at the time, and was gone during the working hours of most days. At that time, I would mostly only see him in the evenings before bed, and Sundays when he would take me to church with him to pray, early before the service started. So for this period of time, I would spend the majority of my week with my mother.
At this time, I was going through a phase of challenging my mother’s authority. I blatantly defied her by doing things she made clear I was not allowed to, and not doing those things she told me to do. I was belligerent with my sisters, and an all around nuisance in the house. My mother said that as soon as my father came home from work, I transformed into “the perfect little angel.” No one in the house was more compliant than I was once daddy arrived home. I’m not sure how long this went on for, but my mom was fed up enough to finally tell my father that his little angel was not the same boy when he wasn’t around.
I remember vividly being in my room when my father came in and crouched on the floor where I was sitting. We were face to face as he looked me in the eye and said to me:
“I heard from your mother that when I’m gone, you don’t listen to her; that you run around and do whatever you want. That’s not good enough, son.” He then began to explain to me what integrity meant—doing the right thing whether someone was watching you or not. He continued: “She may be your mother, but she’s also my wife. And if I hear about you acting like that with my wife again, it’s gonna be you and me. You understand me?” Needless to say, I understood.
Even though many of my boyhood memories are somewhat fuzzy, that moment I will never forget.
When people find out that I grew up with five sisters, many articulate the explicit assumption that this must have been a great way for me to learn to respect women. However, simply growing up in a house full of women did not teach me these essential values. Rather, it was my father who taught me the importance of respecting women.
The second lesson came at a time when I could not have needed it more. I was 14 years old, and a karate student at my first out-of-state karate tournament. My father decided it would be good if just the two of us went together. When we arrived, I found myself increasingly nervous and afraid as I watched some of the other students and saw how fast and strong they seemed. Two boys in particular who happened to be in my division, impressed me. I tried my best to hide my fear because I did not want to disappoint my father or my little cousin and his dad who happened to live in the state we were in.
It was time to spar, and as it happened I was pit against those same two boys I was most afraid of, one after the other. The first beat me badly. By the time I got to the second one, I was a little less afraid and went in for a few shots, but I was still beaten pretty badly. After the fights, I held back tears and walked over to where my dad, cousin, and uncle were sitting. They all encouraged me, and I said thank you and smiled, then I went to the restroom to change clothes and sat in one of the stalls and cried my eyes out. I felt incredibly humiliated. I also felt so stupid for how scared I had been, and angry at the arrogance of the two boys. I was embarrassed that my little cousin was watching me get my butt handed to me twice, and that the thousands of kids that were there had witnessed the same thing. But most of all, I was mortified that my father had to sit through watching his son get pummeled. How weak must I have looked to him? That was the main question I kept asking myself in my head.
Later that day, my dad and I ate a quiet dinner together, then took a bus to the movies. Once we got off the bus, we had about a five minute walk to the theater. In those five minutes, my father began to tell me how proud he was of seeing me get back up every single time and throw myself back in to face two guys who were easily twice my size. He told me that watching me persevere and fight on through it all spoke volumes to him; the fact that I would get back up and plunge into the fight again and again meant more to him than me winning or losing. Then he embraced me and we both cried. The movie we saw that night was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, and the thing I remember most from it was the quote: “Bruce, why do we fall?”
The third lesson is more of a theme that continues to repeat itself throughout my life, and is my dad continually telling me, “no matter what, son, always treat people right.” That piece of advice sounds simple enough, but I have seen my father apply that wisdom time and again in his own life. I have seen him treat with the utmost kindness people who have only returned anger and bitterness to him. As a pastor, I’ve seen people spread lies about my father in real time, and him responding by doing nothing but continuing to be kind to them; whether that be praying for them when they ask him to, visiting them or their loved ones in the hospital, or going out of his way to check in with them if he hasn’t seen them in a while.
Now, my father’s personality can be very intense. My dad is not afraid to call something or someone out if need be. This kindness he taught to me is not weakness. It is actually strength. It is an active kindness that sends the message that I am stronger than whatever pettiness seems to be coming between us at the moment. It says that I am stronger than your hate; that my G-d who guides me is stronger than whatever seems to be driving you. Of all the people I’ve seen spurn my father, so many have come back, sometimes years later, apologized, and thanked him for not cutting them off when they deserved it. I’ve seen enough of those types of full circles in my dad’s life to understand the principle, and yet he never ceases to remind me when things come back around. He says, “you see that, son? Always treat people right. No matter what is going on, now matter how you feel, you treat them right.”
With all this said, fathers are not important solely because they can teach certain principles, though that is one big aspect. Fathers are important because they shape a child’s view of who G-d is. From my father, I learned about the character and nature of my heavenly Father. And as I raise my two boys with my wife, I feel the weight of ensuring my sons are trained in the way they should go, just as I was. I pray I’m able to know exactly what to do in those defining moments for my sons, just as my dad knew for me.
Of all of the titles and positions we may have in our lifetime as men, being a father surpasses them all. Why? Because what good is it for me to do all the good I could possibly do for the world, if I raised two boys that did not share those values? What good is it for me to raise children who spurn and destroy everything my wife and I are currently building? There is no good in it. We often speak of creating a legacy and leaving our mark on this earth before we leave it. There is no greater legacy or mark we leave behind than our children.
The stats and sentiments have been repeated by many people now from Tupac Shakur to Barack Obama; men who grow up without fathers are at much higher risk of being in prison, on drugs, in gangs, and killed young. And with a third of children growing up fatherless today, the future seems bleak. On the flip side of that, if those stats are true, then the inverse is also true. If this generation of fathers can determine in our hearts to put our hands to the work of raising our children, and to the best of our ability, we can change the statistics. We can change the trajectory of the entire world.
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: Indoctrination in K-12 Education
As we reach the one-year anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a second pandemic of sorts has infected our public and private K-12 schools. It is the increasingly widespread introduction of “Critical Race Theory” into our elementary and secondary grades. There is no vaccine for this infection. The only cure will be the concerted efforts of enough parents willing to take a public stand and yell, “Stop!”
The attention to CRT indoctrination has largely focused on describing the paradigm shift in our schools’ “mission” from providing our children with a broad-based education intended to fan the spark of learning in each of them as individuals to one of “anti-racism” in which, as one widely quoted parent has said, “It’s just about skin color now.” The competing missions are no longer between the old and new curricula—the CRT proponents within both the individual schools and the larger local and state departments of education have already won the initial battles. The mission that matters now belongs to the parents who must decide whether they or the progressive forces that have taken over our schools will teach their children how to think.
Critical Race Theory is the claim that all American legal, economic, and social institutions—including constitutional law, capitalism, education, even rationalism, and the nuclear family—are founded upon race. It further asserts that “whites” constructed these institutions expressly to maintain their supremacy. This in turn has led to systemic racism, which alone accounts for the disparities in social and economic outcomes between different racial groups.
No longer is it sufficient to judge individuals by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin. CRT stands for the exact opposite—to be actively anti-racist requires you to focus on racial identity above all else.
Furthermore, contrary to the racist atrocities in the south and elsewhere that those of us of a certain age recall seeing on television during the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, systemic racism has morphed into “implicit bias” that exists in all whites and in “multi-racial whites” simply by virtue of race. No longer is it sufficient to judge individuals by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin. CRT stands for the exact opposite—to be actively anti-racist requires you to focus on racial identity above all else.
The adoption of this agenda by both public and private schools has been widespread. Most recently, controversy reached the boiling point at New York’s prestigious K-12 Dalton School. A group of anonymous parents penned an “Open Letter” to Dalton decrying the school’s shift from its proven successful approach to teaching and learning in favor of an “anti-racist curriculum” in which the administration has pledged “allegiance to a new ideology that is untested, and worse yet, untestable.”
The Dalton parents point out that the curriculum in every class, “from science to social studies to physical education,” has been rewritten with an obsessive focus on race and identity, such as “racist cop” reenactments in science and “decentering whiteness” in art class. They explain that this new ideology is extremely exclusionary to “those who choose not to make their racial identity the centerpiece of their family life or their children’s education.” Furthermore, lest anyone dismiss the parents as unaware of what is happening in the classroom, they note that due to the pandemic their homes have actually become the classroom, and they have heard the “pessimistic and age-inappropriate litany of grievances in every class.”
The situation is no different in public schools. During the summer of 2020, California’s State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond explained that they intend to build a training module through which school districts can train educators on “implicit bias.” Of particular concern is that Thurmond also announced that they would partner with the National Equity Project in this new training.
What can California families expect from a partnership with the NEP? A quick glance at their website pretty much tells us the direction their training of California’s teachers will take. Up front and center, the NEP asserts that the current education system “perpetuates inequity by design” because, among other reasons, it was “not created to produce equal outcomes or experiences for everyone.” Consistent with Critical Race Theory, the NEP declares that the current education system is one that is deliberately oppressive and dehumanizing and is actually intended to reinforce the marginalization of certain groups.
The NEP’s position would likely come as a surprise to most California public school teachers who come to work each day intending to provide their students with the best possible learning experience. One can only imagine how many teachers will wonder why they even bother when they are accused of oppression and dehumanization because their efforts do not produce equal outcomes among their students.
Whether one is a parent paying over $50,000 per year to send their first grader to Dalton or has enrolled their child in a neighborhood public school in San Diego, the fundamental question is: Whose hand do you want rocking your child’s cradle? Yours, or that of the NEP or some similar organization? The answer is critically important because it will ultimately determine what your child learns and the sort of adult she becomes.
Arthur Willner is a trial and appellate attorney in Los Angeles handling campus First Amendment and due process cases.
One of the more challenging aspects of contemporary American political culture is the phenomenon of certain words being twisted and tortured until they end up virtually unrecognizable. Unfortunately, this is a practice engaged in by partisans on both sides as well as functionaries all along and around each point on the political spectrum. Granted, the application of a certain amount of strategic rhetorical methodology is a natural, time-honored, and even occasionally desirable technique used to clarify, for instance, policy positions or perhaps even to tweak the opposition in sly ways. Politics ain’t patty-cake, after all, and you must be ready to roll with that at times, especially in a city like Philadelphia. That being said, there are specific words the meanings of which we must agree upon, otherwise we will have an extremely difficult time agreeing upon anything. The result is that we end up in a state of perpetual conflict, where we’re all simply waging various forms of never-ending identity-politics warfare against each other. Sound familiar?
Liberalism in its classical form is the foundation of our free societies, and the philosophy rooted in liberty has been at the base of the greatest systems under which human beings have ever been blessed to live and thrive.
One of the words I’m referring to here is “liberal.” This is a word for which the meaning has been heavily abused by both those who adhere (or at least claim to adhere) to its philosophy, as well as those who see themselves as adherents of other political philosophies, for decades now. Yet the most tragic thing about this situation is that the perversion of this word recently has been carried out mostly by those alleged to be its current standard-bearers, while those who currently fit the traditional definition of the word similarly abuse and disrespect it solely due to past partisan feelings.
Freedom of speech is the basic, underlying value without which no one is truly free.
From a historical perspective, there is no word more honorable than “liberal” when it comes to our political traditions in Western democracies and republics. Liberalism in its classical form is the foundation of our free societies, and the philosophy rooted in liberty has been at the base of the greatest systems under which human beings have ever been blessed to live and thrive. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, our Bill of Rights, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the works of men such as John Locke and Thomas Paine laid the groundwork for this currently much-smeared set of thoughts and beliefs. It is important to once again clarify precisely what liberalism is, and what sets it apart from the illiberal ideologies on the left today that attempt to lay erroneous claim to the venerable heritage it has represented throughout history as a just and beneficial concept that has enabled us to enjoy freedom and liberty while systematically raising our standard of living over time.
Freedom of speech is the basic, underlying value without which no one is truly free. Classical liberals recognize this fact, and fight for it, even (especially!) when the speech in question is abhorrent to our personal beliefs and values. An example of this was when the ACLU, in 1978, defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to hold a march in Illinois. Needless to say, such groups and their rallies are detestable to classical liberals. However, we recognize that if anyone is not free to exercise their rights of free speech and assembly at any given time, then none of us are ultimately free to do so. Once we begin to pick and choose who enjoys these freedoms, and when and where they may (or may not) exercise them, we head down a dangerous and slippery slope. This leads to the mob having a veto over people’s inalienable rights, and from there onto the contemporary phenomenon known as cancel culture, which goes far beyond simply disallowing speech. Those who are “cancelled” have lost jobs and careers for merely expressing thoughts that run contrary to those held by the mobs who have appointed themselves the arbiters of acceptable opinion.
Cancel culture is the province of the contemporary leftist, or those who the British political commentator and anti-extremism activist Maajid Nawaz refers to as the “regressive left.” In contrast to liberals, leftists often openly identify with various strains of socialism or communism, while others tend more toward anarchism and other radical beliefs. These people are commonly so insecure in their values and beliefs that they simply cannot stand coming across opposition to their shaky and often indefensible stances. The way to fight loathsome ideas is to defeat them with facts, reason, and truly liberal values. Not to have people fired from their jobs or expelled from society. This is how one creates even further extremists, not how one creates better societies.
Yet this is unfortunately how contemporary left radicals seek to carry out their goals, while hijacking the label of liberal with the tragic help of certain types in the center and on the center-right. In fact, one does not even need to be outside of the mainstream in order to fall victim to attacks from leftists. The British author J.K. Rowling has often come under fire by leftist mobs recently, for nothing more controversial than daring to state things such as the fact that “people who menstruate” are better referred to as women. People who have not sold hundreds of millions of books worldwide also of course find themselves subject to such attacks, the ramifications of which can be far more serious. The literary agent Colleen Oefelein was fired from her job last month simply for being a known user of social media sites considered to be conservative.
Leftists who have nothing in common with the honorable tradition of classical liberalism have hijacked the word “liberal,” with the unfortunate help of those elsewhere in the political sphere who frankly deserve the label more. Yet those more deserving refuse it as a result of their own historical ignorance and civil carelessness, all while leftists support and make excuses for months of endless riots that have devastated our cities and ruined small businesses—the backbone of America. Liberals intuitively understand that without small business, America is in trouble. Leftists take the position that as long as Amazon and Walmart are on their side in their current culture war campaigns, everything is all good in America. Yet just as recently as a quarter past yesterday, they were (frankly, quite rightly) taking those same companies to task on their abuse of workers and their destruction of our towns and cities, and of working-class America in general.
Leftism is rooted in totalitarianism. It is the antithesis of the venerable tradition of liberalism.
Classical liberals stand with Main Street because they understand that our cities, towns, and neighborhoods are only as healthy as our neighbor’s ability to make a living in a free country absent overbearing government interference. Leftists posing as liberals are completely in agreement with government and corporate tyranny as long as said governments and corporations pay lip service to their so-called values, and as long as governments allow them to violently impose their will upon others, such as in the case of ongoing Antifa and BLM riots, while ignoring their domestic terrorist tendencies.
Leftism is rooted in totalitarianism. It is the antithesis of the venerable tradition of liberalism. As we’ve seen with instances such as crowds of protestors harassing diners and intimidating those who are perceived as less than enthusiastic at having their night out transformed into a political demonstration in which they must participate or else, leftism is based in hatred, intolerance, and the omnipresent threat of violence. Leftism demands lockstep conformity and views free-thinkers as intolerable enemies, whereas liberals welcome and encourage disagreement, as the free exchange of ideas is how people come to agree upon the concepts that make it possible for us all to live together in diverse places.
While there will inevitably be certain conflicts in and amongst our communities, there has never been a better system created than the classically liberal one in which we currently participate. Leftism leads to strife and unrest (in countries such as Venezuela, and in smaller experiments such as Seattle’s CHAZ / CHOP “autonomous zone” during the summer of 2020), and encourages endless grievance, making coexistence impossible. Liberalism seeks to soothe these disagreements to the most agreeable extent possible. Liberalism does not view people’s immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity as destiny, but rather adheres to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream that people “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Liberals adhere to the idea that people have a right to freely live their lives in any way they see fit as long as their choices and actions do not prevent others from doing the same. Leftists believe they have a right to dictate to others how they must live and what they should believe. The difference could not be more clear.
Believe in free speech, and abhor political violence
Believe speech can be violence, and political violence can be speech
A person’s character is what matters most
A person’s immutable characteristics are what matter most
A government or corporation abusing its power is never acceptable
A government or corporation abusing its power is acceptable, and even desirable, as long as it is in service of achieving leftist political goals
Individual and civil liberties are paramount
Conformity and submission to the (approved) collective is a must
Trust in the good judgment and wisdom of individuals to ultimately do what is right for society
View individualism as a threat to the creation of their model society, and often demonstrate totalitarian tendencies
True diversity includes diversity of thought
Diversity of thought is dangerous
Jason D. Paluch is a Contributing Writer for White Rose Magazine.
Individual Freedom is the fundamental and underlying principle supporting the core values of classical liberalism. Liberalism as a political philosophy begins with empowering individuals by placing explicit trust in them to make rational and responsible decisions for themselves. John Stuart Mill, one of classical liberalism’s most influential thinkers, declared “over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign.”
According to classical liberalism, the rights of the individual supersede those of the collective. The individual may choose to put the needs of others such as family or community ahead of one’s own, but such actions remain in the domain of individual freedom to make one’s own choices. This ideal also precludes government from trespassing on those rights through legal coercion or deterrence. This extends even so far as the right to make decisions that may not be in the individual’s best interest, but the right to choose supersedes the question of whether it will prove to be beneficial, and whether government has the right to legislate that choice.
Freedom of Expression
Building on the principle of individual freedom, Freedom of Expression is a natural next step. Classical liberalism holds that the individual, a responsible human being, should be free to make his or her own choices, and so those choices invariably extend toward speech and expression. Not only should individuals be free to express their opinions, they should be free from any repercussions or fear of suppression in doing so. By extension, others have the freedom to choose to hear or to ignore such thoughts or beliefs by an individual.
The government, which is tasked with protecting the rights of the individual, is also expected to protect the individual (author or speaker) as well as the audience from reprisal by other citizens or by the government itself with regards to expressed rhetoric. This is not to say that a person should not be held accountable for expressing controversial beliefs. Quite the contrary: classical liberalism also protects the rights of an individual who wishes to respond, disagree, and counter those ideas. By protecting the freedom of all in regards to the exercise of free expression, liberalism encourages and supports civil discourse and intellectual engagement. This in turn enriches and helps develop a healthy civil society, where all ideas are free to be promoted as well as challenged.
Rule of Law
Hand-in-hand with classical liberalism’s foundational values of individual freedom and freedom of expression comes the core value of the Rule of Law. A free society should be governed by a set of rules that are known to all individuals so they can make choices and take actions while informed of the principles and mechanisms by which conflicts are resolved. The rule of law is not meant to restrict freedom; rather it is a set of rules acting as guidelines to support the individual’s choices toward successful actions.
What maintains an individual’s freedom and liberty in a society governed by the rule of law is the structure within which the government must operate. A critical restriction around the rule of law is that it outlines what the government may not do to its citizens. Another essential tenet of the rule of law is that all individuals, even those who enforce the law, must be held accountable to its dictates, thus ensuring that a free society is ruled by law and not by the arbitrary whims of men.
Recognizing that Pluralism is the natural condition of modern free societies necessitates the active practice of tolerance to ensure the preservation and ongoing existence of these societies. In classical liberalism, this concept comes from understanding that people groups deeply disagree about many things and embrace very different ways of life. One of the goals in exercising toleration is to reciprocally recognize and accept that others may find our own views distasteful or possibly immoral.
To deal with these differences without having to resort to subjugation or oppression of diverse people groups, successful societies have been able to develop “norms of toleration” which allow space for the accommodation of these differences. This is in stark contrast with having the need to reconcile differences for agreement and cultural homogenization. Practiced in conditions of pluralism, toleration compels the understanding of opposing points of view rather than encourages the action of violence in response to that which offends us. In the long run, it establishes a strong framework for a truly good pluralistic society.
Civil Society refers to the way in which people associate when they’re not buying and selling goods or services on the market, and they’re not interacting with the state or participating in the political process. These direct associations between people are categorized in three areas, depending on the level of participation: primary, tertiary, and secondary. Associations between family members and close friends are considered to be primary. Tertiary associations are with groups to which you belong or support in some manner, but you do not necessarily connect directly with other members of those groups. Secondary associations are all the other relationships in which people connect and that are not based on familial relations or on business exchanges.
A robust civil society is most dependent on secondary associations and their role of limiting the power of government through efficiency and morality. The idea of efficiency argues that government is too big to know what people need, and therefore too big to help people in the way they need it. The morality argument is focused on the idea of coercion. That means that even if a person disagrees with how government is handling any particular situation, that person will be coerced into accepting government’s approach. There is no freedom for an individual to exit this relationship with government.
Secondary associations to allow an individual the freedom to move freely between relationships that meet a wide variety of needs, and they also give the individual more freedom to dissent without being coerced into any particular actions. Relying on secondary associations allows people the flexibility to find the relationships that best meet their needs, and this is a hallmark of civil society
Public policy based on organizing the economy around a framework of individual liberty rather than one of economic control is an important component of classical liberalism. Stated simply, Economic Freedom is actualized by allowing individuals to make their own economic decisions rather than outside organizations or government entities doing so. A review of human history with an acknowledgement of the times in which societies flourished and were most prosperous will show that these were not random occurrences, but rather they were periods during which people were free to invent and innovate, and they were encouraged to develop solutions to the challenges of their times. Further, they were incentivized by the guarantee of property rights and the ownership of their ideas and the fruits of their labor.
While it is possible and even appropriate for government to play a role in the maintenance of the economic environment, government’s active participation should be limited. Milton Friedman stated that economic freedom is a prerequisite to political freedom. If public policy defines and drives an economy that inhibits the entrepreneurial impulse, society’s vitality will suffer as surely as if political freedom was inhibited by force.