Jews can be oversensitive, as any man might who’s been set upon by thugs and nearly killed once a year for a whole lifetime. You don’t look for easygoing complacency in such a man. In nearly every generation, Jews have been condemned to death and turned over to the executioner, only to be pardoned after much suffering in the nick of time; and the Haggada thanks God for this favor! (Admittedly, with a heavy irony that, if Jews at the seder table sometimes miss it, is surely clear to the Lord. This particular passage could not possibly be one of His favorites.)
I’ve just published a book that attempts to explain Judaism’s view of life in the universe in terms of a few deep images, which have grown and deepened over thousands of years into brooding, beautiful thunderheads. But along the way I also make these assertions: the Jews are the senior nation of the Western world. Judaism is the most important intellectual development in Western history. The best ideas we have come straight from Judaism.
The book has been bitterly attacked (by Jews) for arrogance and chauvinism. No surprise; every book is attacked. But these attacks are notable for their tone and for the suggestion some imply that my assertions are too wrong even to consider and must be sent back (so to speak) unopened. Now, if you compliment someone, he might find your compliments unmerited or undiplomatic or in bad taste–or, if you yourself are included in them, boastful. But he’s unlikely (ordinarily) to react with bitterness or fury. Nevertheless: some Jews are unusual in their tendency to respond to praise with a burst of machine-gun fire.
That the Jews are the senior nation of the Western world is a fact of history: no other nation has survived since pre-classical antiquity as a coherent group with continuous religious, cultural, historical, and linguistic traditions. That Judaism is the most important intellectual development in Western history can only be a subjective idea, “not meant [the book says] to provoke Christians or Moslems or anyone else but to provoke thought. … Those who disagree with my judgment should offer their own candidate for `most important intellectual development’ and compare. … The point of the game is not the decision but the process of reaching it. “ (My reasons follow.) That “the best ideas we have come straight from Judaism” is an assertion based narrowly on a certain group of statements from the Bible and one from the Talmud.
Of course, my assertions might be wrong; but some Jews see them as not merely wrong but crazy, destructive, unworthy of serious consideration. Why?
In some cases the answer is, at least in part, Jewish self-hatred–which is a well-studied sickness. No people singled out for hatred and violence from age to age can resist flirting with the idea that its enemies might be right. It’s inevitable, also, that some Jews in every generation will suffer from sparrow-think: the conviction that your only defense from predators is to blend into the background.
Moreover, it’s bad manners to boast or to draw attention to your accomplishments. And many Jews are obsessed with good manners, because wherever they are—even, some of them, in their own state—they feel like guests who must always be on their very best behavior.
But nowadays there’s more at issue than these ancient plagues. PC and multiculturalism play a special role among Jews
It’s true that, to virtually everyone of European or Mediterranean descent who is proud of his national or religious or cultural community, the spirit of the age whispers “sit on it.” If some young Jews are indignant at any assertion of Jewish greatness, some young Americans are likewise about America, and some young Europeans have evidently lost the national or cultural will to live. (Dissolving your nation like salt into the EU Sea is one easy route to national suicide.)
Not only is everything Western presumed guilty, but abstractions and generalizations are evil in themselves, lest someone whisper that blacks are like this or women like that. Of course thinking without generalizing is like walking without moving, but virtuous young people know that it’s far better not to think than to think wrong thoughts. “If your thinking offend you, cut it out” is the motto of modern education. In House of Meetings (2007), Martin Amis’s narrator remarks of European young people that “they’re so terrorstricken by generalizations that they can’t even manage a declarative sentence. ‘I went to the store? To buy orange juice?’”
But multiculturalism among Jews has a special, tragic resonance. It is a wickedly tempting overdose of morphine to a patient who has suffered too long.
Jews have said they are God’s chosen people–and many are desperate to unsay it. History has proved their chosenness again and again; the Jews are God’s lightning rod, and mankind has struck them with explosive rage in every generation—rage at the idea that man must not be a mere animal satisfying his animal wants; that man doesn’t merely live but performs in a theater of God and must judge himself by God’s own standards. Rage over the invention of conscience. The Jews have paid dearly for their influence, their importance, their centrality to the history of the West and the world. Can you blame them for wanting, desperately, that soothing syringe-full of oblivion? Multiculturalism is uniquely appealing to Jews in its idea that, after all, all nations are the same, all are equally good and equally bad; multiculturalism is the perfect way for Jews to atone for the sin of chosenness. The last thing Jews want is to hear that they have been vindicated by history, have been right all along, because that means they must go on living. Must go on being Jews. And in every generation, b’kol dor va’dor, evil men will rise up against them and against their children.
Of course boasting is bad whoever does it. Chauvinism is bad. Arrogance is bad. But it’s also bad not to know who you are. The Jews owe it to their ancestors, their children, and their own selves to know how they have changed history. Having figured it out, they must speak of it without arrogance or preening, but they must speak. Young Jews in America are increasingly in danger of valuing at zero the continued survival of the Jewish people—or of valuing it at the price of some folk music, some recipes, a few stale crumbs of Yiddish and a pocketful of loose Chanukah gelt.
So I say again: the Jews are the senior nation of the Western world. Judaism is the most important intellectual development in Western history. The best ideas we have come straight from Judaism. My reasons are in the book. If you disagree, tell me why these ideas are false, not how much you wish they were.