Yes, Jody rightly draws attention to the role of anti-Semitism in the sort of modern conservatism that sees history, tradition, and place as anchors of sanity. By my reading, however, that role is complicated and full of ironies.
One irony comes from the Stalinist era. Rootless cosmopolitans was formulated as a term of abuse in the late 1940s as part of a campaign against Jews in the Soviet Union. When you think of it, the anathema is odd. Isnt communism the destiny of all humanity? Doesnt the revolutionary vanguard serve all humanity? Arent true Marxists cosmopolitans, those who have thrown off the false consciousness of nationalism and who are loyal to Universal History?
It turns out that Jews were a problem in the Christian West, not because they were vaporous, ethereal, airy cosmopolitans, but instead because they had thick identities that seemed endlessly resistant to absorption and assimilation. It was the rootedness that grated, not the rootlessness. Thats why Germans (and other Europeans as well) in the nineteenth and early twentieth were so unsettled by the efforts of modern Jews to assimilate. They didnt believe it was possible, not because they denied that a strangers children and grand-children could take on local identity, but because they suspected Jews of maintaining a deeper, more profound, and more permanent identityeven against their conscious intentions. The same was true of many nineteenth century philo-Semites, as Gertrude Himmelfarbs recent book, The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot , illustrates.
Anti-Semitism is a concoction of different ingredients, and its always seemed to me to be a secret recipe. Jewish rootedness could manifest itself as rootlessness, at least in the eyes of some. I think secular Jews were existentially frightening to many nineteenth century Germans, whose own sense of national (and religious) identity was quite fragile. How could such people deny their heritageand still survive emotionally, psychologically, intellectually? Of course, time passed, and the notion of the secular Jew devoted to progressive causes became a cliche. In retrospect it is now obvious that for more than one hundred years, supposedly secular Jews were reconstituting their identities around a new, modernist Torah.
Jews had lots of good reasons to embrace various forms of modernity. The universalism promised the end of persecution. But as modern anti-Semites intuited, secular Jews were uniquely capable of becoming vanguard modernists. Denied a stable place and role in European culture, Jews found rootedness in the mobile domain of law. This created a place for new laws to quickly take rootthe ethical laws of Kant, the historical laws of Marx, the scientific laws of Comte, the psychological laws of Freud.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Now Jews are a problem in post-Christian Western culture because they refuse to become rootless cosmopolitans. Zionism is the new Nazism. The State of Israel an Apartheid regime. The God of Abraham the patriarchal oppressor without peer. Jews cant win for losing. This time, however, conservative Christians are on their side. The same often holds for conservative traditionalists whose cherished traditions were not so long ago besmirched with anti-Semitism.
I think this alliance will grow. As I look into my crystal ball, I do not see localists fighting against localists, rooted Christians persecuting rooted Jews, patriotic Americans rattling sabers against patriotic Germans. Instead, I see an emerging conflict between the Kantians and the Aristotelians, between postmoderns who imagine humanity flourishing under a regime of global commerce and human rights, and those who defend the inevitably particular (and, as Jody points out, negating and judgmental) visions of human flourishing.
A fully orbed life of virtue is necessarily ethnocentric. A modern conservative intellectual must see this necessityand in a double way. First, we should recognize that the necessity of ethnocentrism for human flourishing puts faith and loyalty above critical self-consciousness (or better, it makes faith and loyalty the final fruit of critical self-consciousness). This same recognition of the necessity of ethnocentrism also underwrites a sympathy foreven an envious appreciation ofthe loyalties of strangers and outsiders.
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