[Marxism] What are the origins/ reasons for the emergence of right-wing Jewish intellectuals in America?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 19 07:36:48 MST 2006


The New York Times, May 5, 1982
Books Of The Times
By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

JEWS WITHOUT MERCY. A Lament. By Earl Shorris. 191 pages. Anchor/Doubleday. 
$14.95.

BY ''Jews Without Mercy,'' the title of his sixth book and third work of 
nonfiction, Earl Shorris means the so-called neoconservatives - Norman 
Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glaser, Midge Decter, Sidney Hook and so 
forth. Why these particular people are ''Jews Without Mercy'' may not be 
immediately apparent to a reader of Mr. Shorris's ''Lament.''

Similarly obscure at first is why neo-conservatives are considered by Mr. 
Shorris to be descended from Big Eddie, the fast-talking, shady, 
liquor-dealing villain of the author's introductory reminscence, in which 
Mr. Shorris is disillusioned as a young boy when the directors of his 
synagogue present Big Eddie with the presidency in exchange for the 
donation of a community center.

''I did not begin to cry,'' writes Mr. Shorris, ''until Big Eddie stood up, 
so red in that somber garden, shaking the hands of the men around him, 
while the beadle of our synagogue stood in the aisle at the end of Big 
Eddie's pew holding the tallith for him. Big Eddie took the tallith as if 
it were a scarf, looping it around his neck. He said no blessing, he did 
not kiss the beginning and the end of the embroidered words, he did not 
cover his head. He strode down the aisle to take his prize, running up the 
five steps to the bimah with the aggressive bounce of a nightclub singer 
beginning his show.''

What has Big Eddie to do with neo-conservatism, we wonder? What has 
neo-conservatism to do with Judaism and mercy? By and by, everything 
becomes clear, as Mr. Shorris wends his way from anecdote to memory to 
diatribe to talmudic disputation and back again. Stripped of its 
embellishments, his argument is finally very simple: The neo-conservatives 
have embraced a set of beliefs wholly at odds with what it means to be a Jew.

''Capitalism is good for the Jews,'' goes the first of some 55 ''tenets'' 
that Mr. Shorris lists as a characterization (and caricature) of 
neo-conservatism. The last of these tenets is that ''Overriding the ethical 
question for Jews is survival, which can only be guaranteed through the 
unabashed pursuit of Jewish interests; in other words, to get what you 
want, do whatever you have to do.''

But Judaism prohibits ''the seeking of power, fame, and wealth,'' Mr. 
Shorris insists. ''The laws of the corners of the field, of gleaning, of 
the jubilee year, and so on, have the explicit purpose of limiting wealth 
and redistributing it to achieve greater equality of outcome.

''The Jewish view of how to treat the poor and the 18th century liberal 
view (even when it comes from David Ricardo, Smith's Jewish disciple), have 
nothing in common,'' Mr. Shorris continued, referring to Adam Smith. 
''Calvinism is a direct contradiction of Hebrew Scripture, which states 
that God loves the poor.'' In short, Jews who embrace capitalism are ''Jews 
Without Mercy.''

Obviously, objections can be raised to Mr. Shorris's polemics. For one 
thing, neo-conservatism is presented in its worst and most oversimplified 
aspect, and is in fact not exclusively a Jewish preoccupation. (What about 
William Barrett, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to 
mention only some of the most obvious exceptions?)

For another thing, it would seem that Mr. Shorris is condemning far more 
than neo-conservatism when he argues that capitalism is antithetical to 
Jewish ethics. Must all Jews necessarily be Socialists? Does some equation 
between Judaism and socialism explain why the author gave his son a trip to 
the Soviet Union in place of a bar mitzvah? (It should be quickly added 
that it was the son and not the author who picked Russia as the trip's 
destination, and that ironically, as Mr. Shorris describes it, the main 
lesson of the journey turned out to be the bravery of Soviet Jews who defy 
the Communist regime by practicing their religion. Still, the point remains 
that something in the boy's upbringing led him to choose Russia over a bar 
mitzvah.)

But in defense of Mr. Shorris: his case is far more complex than such a 
brief review can make it sound. In fact, it is a subtle but passionate 
attempt to excavate the deepest meanings of Judaism. Indeed the book is 
worth far more as the testament of a Jew with mercy than it is as an attack 
on his opponents.

Still, Mr. Shorris does score a number of obvious points against those Jews 
who have endorsed neo-conservatism. Writing at least half a year ago, just 
before his book would have to have gone to the printer in order to have 
been published now, Mr. Shorris warned of the pitfalls of being ''court 
Jews'' to the Reagan Administration. ''What proof did'' the 
neo-conservatives ''have that Reagan had any inclination to follow the 
special view of Israel as a moral issue that has characterized American 
foreign policy for more than 30 years? They knew his view of human rights: 
He was not even neutral; he was more than willing to trade a few lives to 
keep an anticommunist regime in power, and neither he nor his Ambassador to 
the United Nations ever specified that they be non-Jewish lives.''

In an article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, called ''The 
Neo-Conservative Anguish Over Reagan's Foreign Policy,'' Norman Podhoretz, 
the archvillain of Mr. Shorris's story, in effect concedes his critic's 
point. One only prays that the direr warning of Mr. Shorris's ''Lament'' 
will never have to be recalled: ''A Jew without mercy is a man prior to the 
covenant; he belongs to the horde; he invites the desert.''

--

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