Thursday, June 12, 2014

Atavism & Freedom

In a sterling example of ethnic-fetishism, the New York Times has carried a front page story announcing that former (†) "Cardinal O’Connor’s Mother Was Jewish.” 

In a later edition, the editors upped the ante, to proclaim that the Cardinal’s grandfather was a rabbi... on his mother’s side, of course.

Now, the article didn’t explicitly anoint the cardinal as Jewish but that was its unmistakable import.  It quotes the cardinal’s sister as saying:

The basic fact is, my mother was Jewish,  That means my two brothers were Jewish, my sister was Jewish and I am Jewish.”  
Uh huh... and on what is this “basic fact” based?  Per the Times, on none other than “the Jewish matrilineal tradition.”   Uh huh.  So it’s a matter of “you’re Jewish because we say you are, whether you like it or not” ?

Since when do the idiosyncratic choices and doctrines of one cult become elevated into some form of incontestable fact?   This sounds rather like forced baptism to me.

I throw water on you while mumbling some words in Latin and, mirabilis dictu! (literally) this means you are Christian and there ain’t nothing you can do about it? 

Attentive readers might have noted the fudging rolled into the phrase “Jewish matrilineal tradition.”  In fact, there is a patrilineal tradition as well and the “rule” that a person is Jewish if born of a Jewish mother is a relatively recent Talmudic gloss on the Torah. It is nothing chiseled in stone.

Much less is it chiseled in anything else, other than an external locus of control and the doctrinal idiosyncrasies of one cult among others.  Under Catholic doctrine,  birth from a Jewish mother signifies nothing and doesn’t make one anything.  And yet, the Times pronounces on O’Connor’s “Jewishness” as if it were an incontestable fact, even though he was unconscious of it and never practiced that faith. 

Apparently, in the Timesweltanschauung Talmudic law trumps everything else, even in the matter of Catholic cardinals.

Okay... let’s play this game a little longer. According to Stormfront, Marx was “a Jew” notwithstanding that both his parents were Lutheran and he was raised within the established German Church before renouncing all religion altogether.  Supposedly the Times would agree.

But why stop at Marx?  So too was St. Theresa de Avila, a doctor of the Church!  Why, even Torquemada was of converso Jewish descent.  They may convert, they may forget, but

"The source of national feeling ...lies in a man's blood his racio-physico type and in that alone. ...A man's spiritual outlook is primarily determined by his physical structure. For that reason we do not believe in spiritual assimilation. It is inconceivable, from the physical point of view, that a Jew born to a family of pure Jewish blood can become adapted to the spiritual outlook of a German or a Frenchman.  He may be wholly imbued with that German fluid, but the nucleus of his spiritual structure will always remain Jewish."  [1]

No; that’s not Hitler.  It’s Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, the parent organization of the present day Likud Party in Israel.

What Hitler himself said was,

"It is not however by the tie of language, but exclusively by the tie of blood that the members of a race are bound together. And the Jew himself knows this better than any other, seeing that he attaches so little importance to the preservation of his own language while at the same time he strives his utmost to maintain his blood free from intermixture with that of other races. A man may acquire and use a new language without much trouble; but it is only his old ideas that he expresses through the new language. His inner nature is not modified thereby. The best proof of this is furnished by the Jew himself. He may speak a thousand tongues and yet his Jewish nature will remain always one and  the same." [2]

Don’t bark at my door if Jabotinsky and Hitler are in agreement.  Their words speak for themselves; as does the crapola from the New York Times.  I’m just pointing out the nakedness.

Let’s examine the matter still a little further to see what is at issue in the Times’ insinuating gambit.

Although they used slightly different terminology, both Jabotinsky and Hitler posit a distinction between body and soul — between racio-physical structure and spirituality, between innate blood and acquired language.  There is nothing inherently fallacious in the distinction; it’s simply the old “nature versus nurture” polarity.

What is questionable, however, is their espousal of racio-physical determinism — the further proposition that “blood type” is irreversibly determinative of character.  Hitler and Jabotinsky both go beyond holding that “nature” predisposes or influences.  They adapt the Darwinian doctrine criminal types so as to apply it collectively to “races” or ethnic groups as a whole.   They assert categorically that blood determines all and therefore “once a Jew always a Jew.

Now, to speak of matrilineal descent is to speak of something physiological. Again, it does not matter whether one speaks in terms of “blood” or “genes” or “DNA” — the reference is the same: birth in the flesh of a mother. One cannot get more “racio-physico” than that.  But the assertion that one’s character as a person derives from this “blood-fact” is the cornerstone of all racism.

It is probable that a person born of a Jewish mother will be raised in the Jewish faith, just as a person born of a Catholic or Muslim mother will most likely be raised in those religions.   But his emotional and intellectual information arises from his environment and upbringing; not from being issue of his mother’s blood.

If there is a “Jewish Gene” is there one for orthodox Jews and another one for reform Jews and still another one for atheist Jews, like Karl Marx?  How many different Jewish genes are there?  Or, as the Nazis believed, are they all  “basically” the same no matter what any one of them says, does or believes?  

What was it about Cardinal O’Connor that was somehow “typically” or “characteristically" Jewish? The Times article makes a point of noting that the cardinal was always “friendly” to Jews and was appalled by Dachau which he participated in liberating.  

Are we then to conclude that being “friendly” to Jews is a sign of crypto Jewishness?  Does O’Connor’s disgust at Dachau proceed from some inner latency of Jewishness that has nothing to do with his humanity as a Christian?

Why is the Times even howling at this moon?  Is it that desperate to find a “Jewish angle” on everything?

It is true that ethnic groups and races do bear physiological (and hence) genetic markers.  Black people tend to be... uh... black.  Japanese people have characteristic eye shapes, and so on.  It appears that susceptibility to certain diseases is genetically encoded, although the line between the causal effects of genetics and habit remains imprecise. 

It also appears that, among themselves, Ashkenazi Jews (until very recently) shared common genetic markers not shared with any other group.  But these markers were not a “Jewish Gene” because they were  not shared with Sephardic Jews.  In other words, the marker was the mark of a ethnic group as such from the Caucasus — of the “Ashkenazi” but not the “Jew.” 

I am certain that there is no “Buddhist Gene,”  no “Catholic Gene” and no “Jewish Gene” and, therefore, the fact that Cardinal O’Connor may have had a Jewish born mother is absolutely irrelevant to anything I am interested in. 

It ought to be nothing the Times should harp on either, because it points down a dark road. 

Atavism & Freedom

At"a*vism (#), n. [L. atavus an ancestor, fr. avus a grandfather.] (a) The recurrence, or a tendency to a recurrence, of the original type of a species in the progeny of its varieties; ...
It is not enough to point out that racial determinism is simply tribal atavism in modern form.  What is necessary to point out is how fundamentally incompatible such atavism is with Christian notions of redemption and Kantian concepts of Freedom.

The nuanced complexity of the subject may be illustrated by observing that Adam’s Sin is a protean form of atavism and that what Christianity proclaims is a breaking of this typological bond through redemption in Christ.  We can, as Kant would put it, at least believe in freedom.

And yet, at the same time, Saint Luke feels no evident embarrassment in harping on Jesus’s Davidic Descent, which is not only being born of a Jewish mother, but at least twelve of them in succession.  One supposes the Nicene Creed pre-steps this problem by proclaiming that Jesus was actually ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula.

Rather than deal with the issue on a juridico-metaphysical (!) level, it might be more useful to illustrate the matter (and the vileness of what the Times is doing) by recounting the tragicomic story of a German Non-Jew.

Victor Klemperer was another Christian born to Jewish parents in 1881.  His two brothers allegedly adopted Protestantism as a veil of convenience; but for Victor the conversion was, by his own account, sincere. In 1942 he wrote,

"I am German, the [Nazis] are un-German. I must hold on to it: The soul is what matters, not the flesh and blood. I must hold on to it: being a Zionist would sound funny to me, but my christening -- that was not funny, it was something very serious."

In so saying, Klemperer emphatically drew a distinction between himself and the Jabotinksy-Hitler duo. The difference was not simply over whether the soul mattered (or didn’t) but over whether man had actual and effective freedom to chose and to make his own character. Jabotinsky-Hitler denied man that power and asserted racial determinism.  Klemperer insisted on his freedom.

Klemperer’s assertion of freedom fit within the Christian tradition which has always accorded humans the power and the option to convert  — that is, to shape their being and choose their destiny.  But Klemperer was not just a traditional Christian. He was a Son of the Grundeszeit and his modernity took his conflict with the Nazis outside the somewhat trite mold of righteous martyrdoms.

For Christians (as indeed for just about any other faith), choice of religion is not a selection from a shelf of cultural options. It is rather a central choice from which other cultural facts flow as consequences.  The modern sociological view is just the inverse: “religion” is an artifact in a broader array of cultural “objects and attitudes.”
Klemperer was a modern man. His conversion to Lutheranism was an included part of a larger conversion to Germanism which, by the Grundeszeit, had become something of a social and political religion in itself, generally spoken of as Pan Germanism.

Klemperer loved Germany as an historical and cultural  phenomenon and as a gemeinschaft (“living community”). Germanhood was a mode of being, not a group-membership; and, in Klemperer’s educated mind, that mode was “spiritual” or, perhaps more precisely, that mode had its origin in the word.

To understand Klemperer, we have to go back to George Friedrich Herder, the idiosyncratic folk-philosopher of the late 18th century who basically defined Germanism for the 19th and half of the 20th.

At a time when “Germany” did not exist, Herder asked: What is a German anyway, given that Germans were split religiously, divided politically and varied economically.  For Herder, the answer was “German.”  It was he (not Sapir-Worf) who coined the idea that culture and national identity spring from language. 

Spit out the slime of the Seine,” he wrote, “speak German oh ye Germans!

Klemperer was a student and ultimately a professor of German literature.  Germany for him, was the nation of “poets and thinkers” and who else had molded the German language into what it was, other than Martin Luther?  It was all of a cloth. He loved an idea of Germany which was partly a subjective choice and partly informed by objective realities.

It would probably be more accurate to say that Klemperer fell in love the idea of Northern Germany; but this was the Grundeszeit and the North was in ascendance.

Nor, we might add, was Klemperer’s amour a literary conceit. Scharnhorst was as much part of the weave as Bach or Goethe.  When the War broke out, he volunteered and headed off to the battlefields where his courage earned him the Bavarian Cross of Merit.

For Klemperer, “becoming German” went beyond residencies, permits, and passports. It certainly went beyond affectations of convenience.  It entailed a chosen and distinguishable mode of being — analogous to to taking holy orders.

In a tragically ironic way, Klemperer would have made an ideal Nazi.  He desired to be one with the folk community and to be infused by it — “the will to be German,” as he put it.  The immersion of self into the volk gemeinschaft, was perhaps the core tenet of the “Movement.” 

But he and the Nazis broke asunder on the rock of language. For Klemperer language was everything; for the Nazis it was nothing. For them, albeit a Jew spoke German better than a Blood German, “his Jewish nature will remain always one and the same.”  The Nazis denied Klemperer the birthright to be German.  It was an "impossibility" because he had been born of a Jewish mother and (so they decreed) he could not choose otherwise but was forever trapped in his mother's womb. 

However, to say that Klemperer was at fundamental odds with the Nazis should not be confused with thinking that he would have ascribed to modern day multiculturalism.  Most emphatically not. Although Klemperer may have espoused the modern view of culture as encompassing (rather than flowing from) religion, he rejected the notion that true culture can be reduced to the level of incoherence, which is the now-prevailing American view.

Klemperer’s conception of being a German was ideologically and objectively informed.  “Will” did not mean one’s personal potpourri of cultural artifacts but rather one’s personal commitment to a habitus shared with others. Klemperer was not a “Cafeteria German” and concluded that Jewishness and German-ness were incompatibles.

"[E]ver since the experiences of Vienna and Prague, I no longer was convinced that Jewry and German-ness could, under any circumstances, get along with one another. But if, in any way, I have been forced in the past to make a choice, then German-ness meant everything to me and Jewry meant nothing."

I do not read Klemperer as agreeing that Jews were inferior or that they constituted a “bacillus.”  That would have been a separate and further judgement, one which he did not make.  What Klemperer meant was that “Jew” and “German” were each more than accidental labels. Each entailed substantive behaviors, attitudes and allegiances which were, in fundamental ways, not reconcilable  — a view, it might be noted, held by ultra-orthodox Jews themselves.

Because he had served with distinction in the Army and because he was also married to an Aryan German, Klemperer had two precarious protections against deportation and, not without dicey moments, survived the war as a civilian in Germany.  Nevertheless, despite his ardent will to be German, Klemperer was in truth the Nazis’ most fundamental opponent.  He understood that the crux of the matter went beyond anti-semitism and concerned the nature of man.

What is it that differentiates man from brutes?  According to Aristotle it is logos - the ability to utter articulate sounds and thereby  “to distinguish between the just and the unjust, the expedient and the inexpedient.” (Politiks, Bk. I, ch. 2.)  In short, to have knowledge of good and evil.  (Ibid.)

But this ability is not just a question of passive perceptions.  The power to conceptualize implies the power to choose; and so Aristotle goes on to say,

"For man, when perfected, is the best of animals but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous ... Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals. But justice is the bond of men in states... [and] the determination of what is just is the principle of order in political society." (Ibid.)

For Aristotle, “political society” is based on what we distinguish and choose, which is why he also defined man as a “speaking animal”  (zoon logikon).   But the ability to draw distinctions and thus to make political choices is also the ability to make personal ones.  It is from this Aristotelean premise that Immanuel Kant would say that although we may not be able to prove that true freedom exists, we can act as if we were free; and acting, become.

As for Catholics it was “sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea” (speak but the word and my soul shall be healed), so for Herder and Klemperer it was, “I speak therefore I am.”  In contrast, for Jabotinsky and Hitler, neither man nor God himself can change the “inner nature” of man. 
Most essentially, the freedom the Nazis took away was not the freedom to make anti-Hitler jokes, nor the freedom to strike, nor the freedom to join opposition parties. These are, in a sense, superficial deprivations.  What the Nazis took away, most radically, was the freedom to be German. 

Nazi denial of “conversions” went beyond religion and beyond the old and tiresome question of cryptic Jews.  For them it was not an issue of sincerity but of possibility.  Klemperer was denied conversion on the basis of the very fact that triggered his will to be German in the first place: his mother was Jewish.  He was ensnared in a self-justifying primordial atavism.

But Klemperer, who was nothing if not fearlessly honest, was as much at fundamental odds with the Zionists as with Nazis,

"To me the Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of A.D. 70 are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after blood, their ancient "cultural roots," their partly canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether a match for the National Socialists. That is the fantastic thing about the National Socialists, that they simultaneously share in a community of ideas with Soviet Russia and with Zion.”

As much as the Nazis denied him the option to be German, the Zionists denied him the possibility of being not-Jewish.  Both were despotic in their determinism.

The tragicomedy of Klemperer is that, although he stood on the better side on the question of freedom, he fell off his steed on the matter of objectivity.  The Germany which was the object of his will was a figment of his imagination. Like Don Quixote, he had read (and fallen in love with) too much literature.  Towards the end, he sadly confessed, “I do not believe in the value of the things that I fight for."

At last Don Quixote's end came, after he had received all the sacraments, and had in full and forcible terms expressed his detestation of books of chivalry. "

But it was a good fight to fail at; for, if man is anything at all, he is a zoon logistikon endowed with the power of the word to shape himself and his destiny through language, literature, liturgy and law.  The alternative is simply enslavement to mindless tribalisms.

Thus when the New York Times, decides to make much of the fact that Cardinal O’Connor’s mother was Jewish, despite the fact that O’Connor was oblivious to that fact and at no time in his life manifested any will to be Jewish, it is belaboring an accidental fact which is absolutely irrelevant to man’s freedom and which acquires significance only on the basis of racial-determinism.

The New York Times is entitled to pursue whatever cultural and political agenda it wants. But, for shame, it should stop at tribalistic exultations which impose an impersonal destiny on people against their knowledge, freedom and will. 

©WCG 2014

[1] Jabotinsky’s Letter on Autonomy, 1904. Cited in Brenner,  The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism From Jabotinsky to Shamir (London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1984), p.29.

[2] Mein Kampf, Vol I, Ch. 11.


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