Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I think one of the reasons that anti-Semitism is so hard to explain is that there are really two varieties of it that are mistakenly conflated. Once we tease them apart, the phenomenon is more easily understood.

In a certain sense, Jews are a fairly predictable lot. They arrive in some new land with nothing, within a few generations they become conspicuously successful, they are kicked out and they loop back to the beginning of this sentence. Their success pisses off two kinds of people. Most countries are highly stratified both socially and economically. That is, there are well-defined classes and families are typically locked into one of them for many generations.

Both the haves and the have-nots have strong incentive to believe that one is tied to one's class by some cosmic decree. The privileged don't want to feel guilty about their incredible stroke of luck; it's much more comfortable to believe that one's good fortune signifies inherent superiority. The unsuccessful wish to console themselves that their failure to pull themselves up signifies no failing of their own; they'd rather believe that their lack of success is pre-ordained and immune to effort and ability.

The Jews' success in social climbing puts the lie to both fantasies. Earned success is an implicit rebuke to inherited privilege. It is an even more blatant rebuke to inherited despair. Note that the most philo-Semitic countries -- most prominently, the United States -- are those that have the greatest social mobility. And the pockets of anti-Semitism in the U.S. are mainly among patricians like Pat Buchanan and the most hopelessly backward minorities.

Israel seems to be recapitulating in the global economy what Jews have traditionally done in national economies. And sure enough, anti-Semitism on the national level is greatest among the Pat Buchanan countries -- ex-empires gone to seed, whose claims to entitlement on the world scene are rooted more in a history of privilege than any demonstrable virtue -- and the loser countries -- whose sorry excuses for terminal uselessness don't quite match up with Auschwitz.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've been away from the U.S. for too long if you think that Pat Buchanan is a "patrician." His origins are working-class Irish Catholic.

What's more, the real patricians--the WASP elite--aren't anti-Semitic any more. There are guys with beards and yarmulkes working at the best white-shoe law firms and investment banks. WASPs are more likely to marry Jews than to shun them.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Thanks. Your second point strengthens my main point about the lack of anti-Semitism in the U.S. As for Buchanan, I'll leave my post unaltered as testimony to my cluelessness.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

THe reason why the WASP "patriacians" are (largely) no longer anti-semitic is because of the active work of conservatives such as William F. Buckley to rid the conservative movement of the "john birch society" crowd. The Jewish neo-conservatives helped this process along. Let's not forget that as late as the early 1960's Buckley still supported Southern States rights and segregation and viewed negroes in less than flattering terms. But for different political constellations, the conservative movement and its WASPy patrician supporters could have still held onto its anti-semitic leanings

9:48 AM  
Anonymous bar_kochba132 said...

I don't think Pat Buchanan is a bad example. While it is true that he did come from a working-class Irish background, he was a speech writer for Richard Nixon and that administration certainly had a lot of the old WASP Establishment types in it. His policies certainly reflect the old WASP Establishment's values. Another virulent antisemite was Joe Kennedy who also came from an Irish Catholic background, and while he had immense contempt for the WASP Establishment, he certainly came to identify with its values.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous shlomo said...

Nowadays, the U.S. may in fact have less social mobility than other Western countries, not more.

I think a better reason is that for nearly 400 years now Americans have seen themselves as a "promised people" on the positive example of the Jews. This more than anything seems to be at the root of the evangelists' love for Israel, and for the less vocal support of many others.

The lower concentration of Muslims and (compared to Europe in the past) devout Catholics is another big factor.

2:23 AM  

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