ON THE APRIL ISSUE:
Civil Rights and Liberalism
To the Editor:
Barton Swaim accurately recounts and ardently supports Christopher Caldwell’s attack on civil-rights excesses, but he shares with Caldwell a failure to distinguish between civil-rights laws and liberalism’s comprehensive corruption of them (“The Closing of the American Experiment,” April). Most congressional Republicans joined the Democrat majority (not including their segregationist brethren) on the understanding, as those laws made clear, that a color-blind approach rather than racial preference lay at the heart of them. To call civil-rights laws into question because liberals corrupted them is the equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Southern politicians may have alleged that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was designed to produce racial quotas, but Senator Hubert Humphrey honestly said that, if so, he would eat the paper the law was written on. I believe he meant what he said, even if President Johnson less than a year later called for “equality as a fact” and not merely as a right or an opportunity.
If arguments against this sidetracking of genuine civil-rights protection failed to nip it in the bud, it was not for want of trying. But, as Caldwell points out, the liberal elite in our public and private institutions quickly jumped on board this misguided train, with all the vile consequences he catalogues.
In several places, Swaim tacitly acknowledges that liberalism, not the civil-rights law, has dragged us into the tyranny of so-called political correctness. He should therefore admit that, like their 19th-century predecessors, today’s Democrats have found a way to defeat the constitutional principle of equality before the law. If the Civil War didn’t end injustice against blacks, it’s because Democrats then did not want to. Democrats’ desire in our time to keep African Americans and others dependent on the administrative state serves the same nefarious purpose.
Richard H. Reeb Jr.
To the Editor:
Barton Swaim has written an excellent essay on Christopher Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement. I look forward to reading the book. As to Swaim’s closing thoughts about why liberal elites seem to be paying Caldwell less mind than they (or their predecessors) did to Allan Bloom, perhaps it’s that they feel less of a need to. The commanding heights of the commentariat, especially in the media and academe, are even less intellectually diverse (and even more smug and self-regarding) now than they were three decades ago when The Closing of the American Mind was published. What happens outside the echo chamber stays outside the echo chamber.
Mark W. Huddleston
University of New Hampshire
Barton Swaim writes:
I thank Mark W. Huddleston for his letter and fear he may be right. Richard H. Reeb Jr. gently faults both me and Christopher Caldwell for “a failure to distinguish between civil-rights laws and liberalism’s comprehensive corruption of them” but also notes that “in several places, Swaim tacitly acknowledges that liberalism, not the civil-rights law, has dragged us into the tyranny of so-called political correctness.” I’m not sure how I tacitly acknowledged something in a written piece, tacit meaning without words, but Mr. Reeb gets to the heart of the problem. On the one hand, no decent American favors Jim Crow or the other forms of discrimination the Civil Rights Act was meant to proscribe. On the other, the law is a blunt instrument with which to outlaw racism, and it fell easily into the hands of liberal elites who then embarked on an eternal quest to destroy whatever stood in their way in the name of “civil rights.” Caldwell explores this terrible paradox with cogency and courage, and I again commend his book.
Rejecting Jewish Refugees
To the Editor:
Andrew Bergman (“The Boys from Laupheim,” April) describes how Hollywood mogul Carl Laemmle served as the financial guarantor to bring numerous German Jews to the United States in the 1930s, at a time when “the Western democracies had no more appetite for Jews than the Nazis.”
Not only did President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration have “no appetite” for Jewish refugees, but they obstructed Laemmle’s rescue effort. In the spring of 1938, the American consul general in Stuttgart informed Laemmle that his financial guarantees would no longer be accepted as support for applications by German citizens for visas to the United States. In an appeal to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Laemmle reported the reason that the consul general gave for rejecting his guarantees: “I am past 71 years of age and I might not live much longer.”
There was nothing in U.S. immigration law that specified an age limit for guarantors. Moreover, the Stuttgart consulate could have asked younger members of Laemmle’s family to co-sign, or it could have required him to pledge a portion of his estate as the guarantee. But the Roosevelt administration’s immigration policy was to suppress Jewish refugee immigration below what the law permitted; in 11 of FDR’s 12 years in the White House, the immigration quota from Germany was unfilled, and in most of those years, less than one-fourth of the quota places were used. Imposing an arbitrary age limit on a financial guarantor was yet another device for furthering this policy. Secretary Hull ignored Laemmle’s appeal.
Director, The David S. Wyman
Institute for Holocaust Studies
Andrew Bergman writes:
I have no disagreement with Rafael Medoff’s letter. Perhaps “no more appetite” was more of an understatement than he would like; however, I went on to say that Carl Laemmle did “more tangible good than the leaders of the so-called free world.” The deeply held anti-Semitism of the State Department has been amply documented, as has the enduring nativism that is, to paraphrase Mr. H. Rap Brown, “as American as cherry pie” and that has resulted in the election of Donald Trump.
The Egyptian Cover-up
To the Editor:
I was disappointed to read Michael Totten’s review of Black Wave, by Kim Ghattas (“The Year the Sky Fell,” April). I took personal issue with the following sentence: “Before 1979, less than a third of Egypt’s women bothered to wear [a headscarf], but a decade later, two-thirds were covering themselves, and today hardly any woman in the whole country dares to go outside without one.”
Your broad remark that “hardly any woman in the whole country dares to go outside without” the hijab could not be further from the truth. My own mother and aunts have never in their life worn the hijab, and many women where I live in Cairo don’t bother to wear one. Your statement and specifically the use of the words dare and whole country strike me as outdated and reductive. Among other things, this statement ignores the significant minority of Coptic Christian Egyptians who (obviously) don’t wear the hijab when going outside.
Hesham M. Mashhour
Michael Totten writes:
I take Hesham M. Mashhour’s point. Rather than writing that “hardly any woman” in Egypt ventures outside without a headscarf, I should have written that only a small minority do. This is true.
The main point stands, of course: Egypt was a much more socially liberal society before 1979 (and especially before Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power) than it is now.
What’s striking about Egyptian women who venture outside without covering their hair is how much they stand out, unlike in, say, Lebanon and Tunisia and Morocco, where they are vastly more numerous. The difference is even more stark between Egypt and Muslim-majority countries such as Albania and Azerbaijan, which are as free of the hijab as Seattle and Paris are.
The Enemy Within
To the Editor:
Karys Rhea and Keren Toledano (“Letting Anti-Semites Be Their Guide,” April) present a compelling corollary to Seth Mandel’s article, in March’s Commentary, about the decline of Jewish organizations. Mandel explored these organizations’ politics-driven refusal to denounce anti-Semitism on the left. But as Rhea and Toledano make clear, groups such as JREJ work closely with anti-Semites and seem to surrender their very agency to them.
The rabbinic reading of Isaiah (49:17), that the Jews’ worst enemies come from within, has rarely rung more true. Neither has Yeats’s lament that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” If our supposed leading lights refuse to defend Jews, even as fringe groups ever more boldly join the bigots, it is time for others to step up.
Richard D. Wilkins
Syracuse, New York