Fiddler on the Hot Tin Roof

Fiddler on the Hot Tin Roof (The Media Minstrels)

            The fact that persons of Jewish descent dominate the culture-producing industries, both high and low, is the result of historical happenstance alone. Any other inference is not merely Anti-Semitic, it is suggestive of the very ressentiment that is once again building its political franchise. This ‘undergrowth’, as the narrator to the mostly excellent documentary The Architecture of Doom refers to it in its closing moments, is no longer simply underfoot, to the side, or creeping along unseen beneath a cultured canopy. That Jesus was himself Jewish, or at the least, was perceived as such whatever his paternal pedigree, should not have provided the Anti-Semite with an apical ancestor. But Jewish colleagues have told me that they still overhear, or are even told to their faces, that ‘The Jews killed Jesus’ and so on. Doubtless a personal retribution on the part of a few well-placed priests, the crucifixion hangs itself up on another kind of cross; one that is political through and through. The sandal has been on the other foot ever since. For ideally, being well-placed in a culture means having culture in the first place.

            Due to European property laws, as Marx and Engels pointed out in On the Jewish Question, the diaspora was funneled into service sector trades, including all those associated with accoutrement and requiring consistent and trans-national trade networks, such as jewelry, precious metals, and financing. It should be recalled that the first significant loan in history occurred when the Black Prince borrowed heavily in order to back a war, with the agreement that this debt would be repaid with interest. Needless to say, it was not. What were a group of Italian Jews with not even a militia in their employ going to do about it? By the nineteenth century, people of Jewish descent had become the leading indicators of a globalizing culture that would move from Mendelssohn to Mahler and from Marx to Freud. But at the very moment that ‘the Jews’ seemed to populate the corridors of culture, since, once again, they were barred from politics – mimicking the earlier division of labor between landed luxury and mere luxury items – there arose against this presence, both artistic and intellectual which appeared from above, a vicious counterpoint from below.

            In the Reich’s propaganda, the culture critic is singled out. This was easiest road, the lane of least resistance, for the critic produces in the criticized nothing other than a resentment. Shaw expressed it most famously, and most concisely, showing the critic to be nothing more than a eunuch beside the lovers’ bed. Akin to those who teach, those who can’t do, criticize. Indeed, I have encountered such criticism, resentful in itself, and have found myself saying, ‘write your own book, my friend,’ knowing full well that they were incapable of even that. The priests in the temple, driven from it by some neo-Hebrew and seemingly self-appointed messiah, are the truer apex of this jilted genealogy. Certainly, they got their revenge, but just as certainly, the history of Anti-Semitism, in its Euro-American context at least, begins there. And thus, and thence it is the culture critic who is the one who ‘passes his arrogant judgments’, and represents a wider ethnic group or ‘race’ who is devoid of ‘the very organ of culture’. Yet this could be said, and was said, of anyone who was a critic, Jew or non-Jew alike. The Reich focused nothing more, and nothing other, than an already present resentment, lensing it into an authentic ressentiment. Ironically, it was the artist who was first to heed this new politics, the intrusion of which into his absolutely apolitical, or even anti-political, realm, supposedly transcendent of anything petty at all, was uncommonly resented and rejected heretofore.

            The artist and the intellectual, the scientist and the lawyer, and above all others, so to speak, the physician, flocked to the NSDAP. Doctors as a profession boasted the highest party-member rates, partly due to the new regime’s promotion of eugenics, but also due to the clear-cutting of all Jewish medical professionals. The fact that many prominent members of the culture-producing sectors were of Jewish descent was simply an outcome of their heritage being prevented from pursuing other vocations was somehow lost. Of course, if any specific social group is targeted as being fit only for this or that, they will, over time, excel at it. They will, over time, develop networks internal which favor their in-group participation in a more longitudinal manner. The Nazis were adept at rewriting Germanic history into myth, but Hitler himself had more personal reasons for doing the same with his own biography. Perhaps it was so, that when he took in a performance of Rienzi in 1904, this was the ‘beginning of it all’, but surely it was three years later, with the rejection letter from the Vienna School of Art that set his resentment in motion. How many other art schools were there in Europe at the time? If one was 21st on the list of the very best, where only the top 20 are invited, one would think one would with some clearance actually get into a number of others. This fact too, was lost.

            Even so, it is not entirely fair to say that once those of Jewish descent were purged from cultural production only the mediocre remained. Otto Dix, an anti-Nazi expressionist, is a shining counter-example, one of the great artists of the interwar period and as ‘Aryan’ as they came. And even Hitler himself was a competent limner and a well-studied architect. But his real genius lay in graphic design. To this day, no symbology widens the eyes as does the suite of media bearing the half-twisted swastika; banners, flags, uniforms, standards, letterhead and many others. A whole-souled acolyte of Wagner, whose own anti-Semitism is well-known if potentially equivocal – in its singling out of Jewishness as an instance of the wider problem of ethnicity as a regression, for instance – Hitler became his own impresario. For the German of culture, it was clear that while those who were Jewish had indeed contributed mightily to European dominance, it was equally transparent that Gentiles could carry the torch without their help. Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner, Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger; well, yes, we’ve got some game after all.

            And thus today? The same fomenting fulminations are afoot as were present in the 1920s, this time in the United States and not so much in Germany. The same resentment building itself into a movement of political ressentiment, the same mistrust of government and its minions, the same disdain and mockery of those who create in the arts, the same ignorance of literature and of philosophy – ‘only God knows the truth of things’, that is, their God – and this reiterative refrain begins in the 1980s. Yet we must ask, and at this very moment, is not the same blithe and sometimes even blatant sense of the blasé evident in how those of Jewish descent who do dominate the modern mass media in all of its lower cultural forms, as well as the now much-less targeted high culture, as well a reprise of the same attitude and self-perception present in the bygone Berlin and Vienna sets? Seinfeld defending Israel at Duke? Convocation from an elite culture-producing space, its design and entire look mindful of nothing other than a smallish party rally, with not the king but rather the court jester presiding, cuts a rather febrile figure to my mind. A mimicry and a mockery at once, such events result in some Lovecraftian hybrid, a ‘thing that should not be’.

            Beyond the specific spaces, behind the publisher’s closed doors, within the select circles of Kultur if not the heated tin roof of society itself, the coming victims of Holocaust II await their less chosen fates. And yet this is the happenstance of history repeating itself, without grace and outside of a wider Zeitgeist. People of Jewish descent know, more than any of the rest of us, that there is no Zionist conspiracy. It would then seem prudent if they did not continue to give the impression that there were.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

La Crème de la Crematoria

La Crème de la Crematoria (The Shoah must not go on)

            “Follies seem these thoughts to others, and to philosophy, in truth, they are so.” Said Rienzi; “but all my life long, omen and type and shadow have linked themselves to action and event: and the atmosphere of other men hath not been mine. Life itself is a riddle, why should riddles amaze us?” (Bulwer Lytton, 1840:364).

            In the darker humors of a post-Pythonesque imagination, Malibu Barbie is supplanted by Klaus. One can envisage a MAD-TV sketch, with a Margot Robbie lookalike donning Hugo Boss’s menacing red and black, belting out ‘Under the Double Eagle’ with Ken as they pop-top tour the streets of Lyons. Now Robbie is herself no Nazi, of course, but a good actor should be able to play almost any role. And Mattel’s ubiquitous doll is, after all, ‘very Aryan’, to borrow from Chaplin. She’s a tall lanky blue-eyed blond who epitomizes the ideal whiteness of commercially defined glamor. That the somewhat sartorial film ambushes various clichés which abound in the toy itself is a rather different attempt at a demythology than say, Bruno Ganz’s stellar portrayal of the great dictator in ‘Downfall’. There, we must agree with Ganz’s own assessment, which shocked and dismayed his Jewish friends and colleagues, which can be summed as: ‘I feel I now more truly understand Hitler; I know why he did the things he did, and indeed, my overwhelming reaction to him is one of pity, sympathy and a sense of the tragic.’. But ‘Barbie’ rests its case on popular fiction, and that directed to children to boot. ‘Downfall’ is a dramatization of historical events, as related intimately by Hitler’s personal secretary. It is a memoir writ large, and thus accesses an aspect of the authentically historical. ‘Barbie’ is also a memoir of sorts, but one recessing anything historical into the timeless space of childhood play.

            If only Hitler’s own imagination had remained in that same space. If only he had viewed Rienzi at the tender age of fifteen, and shrugged it off as a reasonable allegory of the political confrontation between the people and the elites, discarding any sense that Wagner – or Lytton for that matter – were somehow in the know about what actually occurred during the republican period of the Roman Empire. Instead, he himself relates that ‘this is where it all began’. Much later, he declares, with his usual rhetorical unction, that, ‘our state is that which rests upon the people’s deep sense of the irrational, and thus it is art which must lead society, and to which we must bend our collective will.’ I am both translating and paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. What he meant was, of course, not the ‘irrational’, but rather the non-rational, as in those feelings and beliefs associated with a religion. He was aware that people were moved more by their hearts than their minds, and as well, that those same non-rational hearts suffered in a way that the rational mind cannot. The Reich arose from such misery, and then trebled its misery by projecting it around the globe, where it resonates to this day.

            In its propaganda, in its diaries, and in its policies, one encounters the leitmotif of ressentiment above all others. This is the same emotion – malicious existential envy – that is the source of the neo-conservative movement and its evangelical vanguard. This is the emotion which Trump has tapped into and channeled, though he as an individual likely feels little of it. Yes, he has been consistently mocked, by none other than Jewish entertainers for the most part, such as David Letterman. Hitler felt himself to be cheated out of a position at the Vienna school of art by the majority Jewish entrance committee, and the fact that the painter Oskar Kokoschka was the 20th and final successful applicant of 1908 and Hitler came in 21st could not have helped. Kokoschka much later suggested in interview that if their positions had been reversed, ‘he would have gone on to become a mediocre painter and I a benign dictator.’ Perhaps not quite benign, as he once created a life-size BDSM doll of Alma Mahler after she had dumped him. But my point is simply this: ressentiment is widespread in any society that markets heavily unattainable ideals, and then also appears to limit certain people’s access to the very resources that would foster gaining such ideals. The phenomenologist Max Scheler is owed the greatest debt in analyzing this dangerous condition, first understood more fully by Nietzsche. The neo-conservatives are those who, in general, have been marginalized by modernity and by modernism, and have, since about 1980, reacted to this growing erosion of their beliefs and individual rights by adopting a chopped-down version of personhood set into a mockery of Christian ethics. In this simplistic sensibility, they have attained a strength of numbers which is politically formidable. If all of the nuances of both Burkean conservatism and authentic Christianity had been maintained, such numbers and their apparent agreement would not have been possible.

            What this means for the rest of us is that we must make a choice between a regression into the same kind of social motion that animated the NSDAP and got them elected, and the usual gang of idiots, to make a second nod to MAD, who populate the corridors of power in so-called liberal democracies. These latter may be incompetent and irresponsible but they are not generally dangerous, so the choice seems clear enough. All the while, those who are most at risk, arguably people of Jewish descent and Black Americans, must together continue their uneasy partnership purveying low-culture (over the) counter-propaganda. If there is even a hint that the entertainment industry has an ethnic-enclave gatekeeping mechanism about it, then it is surely one of utter desperation, even outright fear. The Goyim must be kept distracted, made to laugh, to swoon, to sentimentalize their otherwise barbaric and cruel passions, and in spite of a Black leader’s epithet regarding New York and the case of Bernhard Goetz, amongst many other tensions, these two social groups, through sports and fiction, feel compelled to continue to concoct what is essentially a minstrel’s dire duet.

            It is not a stretch to imagine another Shoah. Hamas and Hezbollah have neither the firepower nor the allies to construct it, but the American neo-conservatives very much do. And for the same reasons that Hitler was enormously popular, seen as a savior, not unlike the recently fetishized Trump, all those who suffer from the ignominy of ressentiment are capable of any act. Scheler makes it clear by distinguishing resentment, which gives way to simple envy, from its more extreme sibling. Resentment tells me I should be like her, have what she has, youth, beauty, admiration, wealth, or what-have-you. But ressentiment tells me that I should be her, which implies that she herself should be dead and I have replaced her with myself. In all those breasts which have been sidelined by science, by art, by education, and by the economy, malicious existential envy rages, and rages on. And it is the arrogance of cultural – though not necessarily actually cultured – elites which performs the final straw on such a social stage. A common plaintiff of Goebbels’s films is that ‘the Jews’ have ‘passed their arrogant judgments’ upon art and life alike. Art history itself is not at issue. Even the long-suffering Red Army shrugged it off, sending some 200 Hitler Youth fighters back home to their surviving parents and their leader, a professor of art history, back to his academic position, after their ludicrous attempt at defending the Olympic stadium in Berlin. But the neo-conservatives, unlike the Nazis, have interest in neither art nor culture. Imagine then, in a yet darker humor, a sheer simple madness this time and not the great Al Jaffee’s crew, a Reich in which there is no art, no culture, and no thought. For after all, no less than Heidegger himself, arguably the world’s greatest living thinker, was invited to become state philosopher, a posting he toyed with for several months before wisely turning it down. Richard Strauss, one of the world’s two greatest living composers, became the Reich’s arts director. For all of their ressentiment, the Nazis still knew who was good.

            Not so this reprise movement. There is not the faintest sign or signage that culture of any sort is present in its minions. Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is naked, my blushes. Judy Blume talks teen sex, how disgusting. And uh, no Margaret, I’m actually dead, remember? Quit your bitching and leave me in peace. Give me the Nazis any day of the year, one is tempted to say. They not only celebrated the naked form – well, if you looked like Margot Robbie at least – they avidly listened to Bruckner. They disdained swing music, as do I. Of course, their ‘taste’ in such things was incorrectly sourced in the idea of authorship. The big bands were often helmed by Jewish musicians, and after all, Mahler himself was born a Jew. Speaking of Gustav this time and not his wife, Mahler gave the Nazis conniptions, with many listening to him discreetly, since they loved his art but publicly had to hate his person. And while I wouldn’t have turned the Tchaikovsky Museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as the SS did whilst temporarily in the neighborhood, I do think Bruckner is the superior composer, as did they. It is sage to recall Putin’s recent comment about there being ‘no gays in Russia’. Maybe not now, but then there was Peter Ilyich. To extend our satire, the SS may have been taken aback to know that Tchaikovsky might well have admired men on motorbikes.

            All of this would be anathema to the neo-cons, and thus none, including any sense of humor, would be present in the Fourth Reich. Let’s not fool ourselves into hoping that such desires shall pass, and without a fight. Ressentiment is present in all of us. Our hearts feel its minor fuel each time we are denied something we had been promised, that we knew we had earned, that we are owed by another, by a social institution, by government, or perhaps even by life itself. And though it may be true that ‘deserves got nothing to do with it’, our basic will to that very life can conflate chance and destiny, belief and opinion, even fact and fiction. When it does, go look in the mirror and tell yourself that you would never, ever, be a death camp guard.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Is there a ‘Jewish Question’?

Is there a ‘Jewish Question’? (a god with a human interest)

            At first glance, Bauer’s 1843 thesis, in which the now notorious phrase of ‘the Jewish question’ is introduced to modernity, bears little difference from many other Enlightenment political analyses in that it declares that religious demands are by their very nature incompatible with, and thus inadmissible to, a secular state. Political emancipation can only occur if these pre-modern statuses conferred upon the social group in question are abandoned. None less than Marx and Engels were quick to critique this thesis in the following year, arguing instead that Bauer had failed to distinguish between political freedom and a more general human freedom, and that the secular state, far from being emancipatory, actually presupposed religion in its self-made ‘civil religion’, and that its demands were structurally no different than the demands of a deity, real or imagined. Indeed, since for these writers gods were but human projections, the state was actually far less free of an apparatus, since it has a material reality about it, even though its general conception is almost as abstract as that of Godhead itself.

            For Marx, both the question of God and that of human freedom through a political entity were false questions, and thus any specifically Jewish rendition of such a question was, at best, a red herring. Why single out a particular ethnic group in any case, as Bauer had done, when it came to unemancipated cultures enthralled to pre-modern moral demands? Even in our own day, there remain many such communities, some contrived, as in the popular usage of the term ‘cult’, and others traditional or at least, historical in scope and in pedigree. In fact, much of world conflict may be understood as an ongoing clash between loyalties to mysticism and the demands of rational discourses, though I would caution a too-heavy reliance upon this tension, as it often can overlay, either by default or by design, other more palpable stressors, such as access to resources, political power, and enfranchisement in modern institutional discourses, no more so than those of the applied sciences and thence their technical miracles.

            If Bauer’s thesis was more or less immediately dismissed as a Bourgeois fraud – similarly, the 1789 revolution in France was seen by Marx and Engels as a half-step towards human freedom; no secular state based upon the new French model could hope to deliver the more radical authenticity of freedom from the reduction of the species-being to its labor power under capital (this is a point that must be borne in mind in any discussion of Israel as a modern state populated with apparently emancipated Jewish citizens) – it is not otherwise clear how Marx advanced the question philosophically beyond the vague sense, at the time, that communism would at once clear the decks of both any ideas of God and such theo-political demands that religion made upon believers and the more worldly demand of wage-slavery itself. What is more certain, is that Bauer’s introduction of the phrase got stuck in a darker corner of European political discourse and was thence embarked on a criminal career.

            It could be seen as anti-Semitic to point to the Jews and suggest that they remained the epitome of moral backsliding, assuming that all other cultures and ethnic groups had rushed headlong into Enlightenment freedoms. This is hardly the case even today, when rather what we observe is a general regression of all cultures and classes into a nostalgic fantasy of premodernity, replete with the very demands Bauer and Marx agreed must be shed, with their essential difference being, as stated, that the latter saw this as only a first step and not an ethical terminus. Marx was himself Jewish of course, though he, like Freud after him, had perhaps ironically ‘heeded’ the advice Wagner had given to his virtuoso musicians, a cadre of cultured elites who had developed a great, and for them, emancipatory, faith in the composer’s art and even his politics, which too were anti-Semitic, and had thus ‘shed their Jewishness’. It is always somewhat awry to accuse someone of Jewish descent of anti-Semitism, and yet one is always capable of writing and working against one’s own culture. And it is this point, at this moment, that we are made more aware of the possibility that there could be an authentically Jewish question after all.

            I think that there is, and it would be: Is it possible that there could exist a God with a human interest? There were many mascot gods in the Near East and Levant at the time the Hebrews occupied a semi-nomadic subsistence which included warfare with neighboring groups. Weber argues that the ancient Hebrews were both a ‘pariah’ people and a guest people. They were quite familiar with others’ gods and were explicitly told by Yahweh not to worship them. It should be immediately noted that Weber uses the term ‘pariah’ only in the most technical sense, and not as a derogation. Even so, the sense that the Jewry were always somehow an ‘attachment’ to a dominant regional culture no matter where they had rusticated historically had engendered a dangerous disdain for them. Partisans of both Christianity and the later secularism Bauer exhorts, began to make suspicious claims against the Jews, at first because they refused conversion, and then refused nationalism. Marx would certainly say that these refusals amounted to the same thing in the end; that the ‘chosen people’ owed nothing to anyone or anything other than Yahweh Himself.

            Seen only in this light, the modern state of Israel is both emancipatory politically and religiously, something that for nineteenth-century thought is precisely impossible. Hence the problem of regression in its objective circumstance; the secular state must be overthrown by a theocracy – this is the evangelical line  – or the secular disguise of the theocratic demand must be overthrown by revolution – this is the communist goal. While the former is clearly backward looking, we cannot be certain that the latter aims at a more humane future since all major attempts thus far have turned backward upon themselves. One might object that if one understands Marx and Engels authentically, a real human freedom is at hand, but one could make the same claim for the Gospels. Indeed, Marx often comes across as the modernist Jesus, and for that matter, in all three great critiques of Enlightenment thinking, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, a replacement gospel is in fact sought, as if these iconoclastic thinkers had reached back around modernity itself in order to turn it inside out.

            But if there were mascot gods aplenty in antiquity, ignored or tolerated to a point by the official imperial belief systems, arranged much as folk religions and syncretisms range in contrast to the Catholic church, only Yahweh was the deity whose interest became historical. Yahweh was the God who apparently had an interest in a small slice of humanity, and then in the most radical act in the history of Western religion, instantiated Himself on earth as a human being the form of Christ, according to Christian tenets. Interest in humanity had, in one revolutionary stroke, been embodied in a human interest. I would suggest that our entire idea of revolution begins at this juncture, and so any authentically Jewish question is one that involves, at least now, all of humanity and not only its source culture.

            And yet, by definition, a god cannot have a human interest, so in appearing on earth as the Son of God, this immaculate birthing, rather fittingly, did not kill the mother but instead the father. We can read, perhaps at least literarily if not literally, that this was the reason why Jesus received no answer from his father when on the cross. Indeed, his father had not forsaken his son at all, for the former was already dead. I have argued elsewhere why an ethical god cannot exist, even if we cannot be certain that a metaphysical one does not, as atheists claim so vehemently. If this is correct, the Christian God is in essence but the afterlife of the Hebrew deity, nothing more.

            But surely also nothing less. And this is where the perduring quality of the Jewish question resides; even if we must answer ‘no’ to its original formulation, we cannot dismiss so easily the consequences of believing in an ethical godhead. On the lighter side, we discover a sensibility that all human beings are in principle a value, and thus have value, no matter their relative status, ignorance, enlightenment. On that darker, we are burdened with the sense that in order to transmute that base value into the precious material of the elect one must believe in a certain set of none other than religious demands, has lent itself to criminal abuses, even genocide. What must be acknowledged is that both the blessing and the curse are built into this structure from the beginning; indeed, they have been ‘placed before us’ and we have in fact chosen not between them but rather both at once.

            The Jewish question, seen in this way, has nothing to do with emancipation of a specific cultural group, but puts forward the very idea of human freedom in a world that, then as now, is mostly unfamiliar with, and even suspicious of, this auto-soteriological genius. If this question can be abused and turned to regression, it can also be exulted and evolved to engage the species in a radical freedom. If it remains human, then it cannot transcend history itself, but instead invites us to overcome our own specific histories, which is also the most charitable manner of interpreting remarks like Wagner’s and analyses like Marx and Engels’. Even if we must answer in the negative to its first formulation, in so doing, we must also understand that same question as suddenly a metaphorical interrogative, and one that remains immaculately pregnant with the future of the species entire.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.