Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Apostles by Tom Bissell

The scholar  John Painter proposes a complicated, nuanced view of the likely scenario faced by Paul and the Jerusalem church. He identifies no fewer than six factions within the Jerusalem church and Gentile Christian movement.

The first faction, comprising men like the Christian Pharisees mentioned in Acts and referred to by Paul in Galatians as "false brothers", were Law absolutists fiercely opposed  to Paul's missions to the Gentiles.

 The second faction was made up of those  who "recognized the validity of the two missions but were themselves committed to the mission of and to the circumcision"; the leader of this faction, Painter proposes, was James the brother of Jesus.

 The third faction, led by Peter, also accepted the two missions  but with a greater conceptual openness to Gentiles; from Paul's letter to the Galatians, it seems clear Peter accepted that the two missions  had different ground rules, even if the lines between them sometimes blurred and that Gentiles were theoretically free from aspects of Judaic ritual but Jews were not.

 The fourth faction, which counted among its leaders Paul's friend Barnabas, had a more open-minded philosophy on the Law; "Their policy  was that home rules applied when missions intersected."

 The fifth faction, led by Paul, believed in a gospel that obliterated the distinction between Jew and Gentile.

The sixth faction, which comes glimpsingly into view within some of  Paul's letters, "advocated and absolutely law-free mission recognizing no constraints whatsoever, ritual or moral"; Paul's problems with the first three factions might have stemmed from his being unfairly linked to this last and most radical Gentile Christian faction.

 Painter's vision of early Christianity coheres not only with internal New Testament evidence but with the laws of human nature. In any elaborate human undertaking- and here  the  early Christian mission qualifies marvelously -factionalism of this kind is the rule. There is an argument to be made that the gospels themselves are products of similar factionalism.

.  .  .

Throughout Jewish religious history - throughout the history of all religions - there is an abiding tension between traditionalists and modernizers. Modernizers were probably the first monotheists, because the earliest forms of Jewish worship were demonstrably polytheistic, strains of which remain embedded in the Hebrew Bible. Traditionalists such as the Macabees overthrew the Seleucid modernizers seeking to bring Judaism into a place of accommodation with Hellenism, and traditionalists like the Zealots drove a dagger into the corrupted heart of a collaborationist and thus modernizing Temple aristocracy. When Christianity began to win more pagan converts in the second century, staunch traditionalists such as Tacitus and Celsus were horrified [Tacitus believed the Roman Empire had become too inclusive for its own moral good, a place where "all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular"]. The argument between  traditionalism and modernization lives on today within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is and will always been argument about the past and the future, about the pressures of inheritance and the desire for constancy. Although this ageless argument might twist and turn to unlikely effect (with great modernizers such as Paul being adored by the traditionalists of today),the argument itself will never resolve. It will never fade away. It will emerge over and over again, with different parties wearing similar masks,  for every spiritually engaged community is forced to confront the inevitability of newly arisen beliefs and the drifting tectonic plates of assumed morality.  .  .

I do not regard the stories about James son of Zebedee, or any stories about any apostle, as merely stories. All beliefs have moral insinuation, and all representations have political repercussions. James the infidel slayer was adapted for propagandistic by the Franco regime, after all. I do not believe a discernable form of "good" or acceptable or authentic Christianity stands behind these stories. Christianity, like Judaism before it and Islam after it, has always been and will always  be a less than ideal way to understand the world and our place within it.  At the same time, I know there is no purely rational way of understanding the world. A thousand irrational spasms daily derange us all. God is part of the same formless reality as thought, as real as all bits of data that float invisibly through this world. In this sense, all that moves through us is real. To explain the realness of that which we cannot see, we turn to stories left behind by evangelist writers, working behind their complicated veils of anonymity. The footprints they left behind lead us to places we long to be led.  .  .

High above me, on  the colonnaded veranda on the right side of the Santiago de Compostela, a police officer slowly stalks, carrying what appears to be a sniper rifle. I move closer to the church, ant-like in its presence, moving towards it in an ant time. The closer I get, the more majestically eroded it seems. The overgrown yellow moss allover its facade feels cool and lush and soft. I place my hand flush against the marble.

Nothing in this world suggests our overtures toward God are either wanted or needed. Someday this building will fall and the civilization around t. It is our stories that lay balms across out impermanence. I have long story to tell about Gideon's and my walk and suddenly wonder what would happen if I chose not to tell it, to transform it. What if a story was  enough for a thing to be?

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

* The Catholic position on biblical inerrancy is particularly refreshing. According to the Biblical Commission Instruction of1964, readers are not to understand that the gospels report everything literally or that the events described in them necessarily took place in the manner depicted.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Populism and Conspiracy Theory by Mark Fenster

Democratic politics relies on a gap between the public between  and its elected representatives that is mediated by established political institutions; populism emerges when this gap constitutes a problem, or even a crisis, and when a movement can plausibly offer some more direct or "authentic" means of representation in the name of the people [Panizza, Populism and the Mirror of Democracy]. A populist challenge to an established political order, then, has neither a necessary content nor a necessary relationship to that order. It could be reformist or revolutionary; it could embrace a seemingly more participatory form of democracy; or it could reject democratic processes entirely.

An ever-present element of political action and a rhetorical move available to mainstream and marginal political  actors, populism challenges and subverts more institutionalized, seemingly "mature" political ideologies. Its ongoing and important role in politics demonstrates the failure of a "consensus" model of politics in which stable political parties solicit support from a rational, satisfied public, an economic free market satisfies all demands and preferences, and a technocratic state (whether in a minimal, "night watchman" form or in a social democratic form) corrects any market failures that arise. Unable to resolve all social tensions and political conflicts, and unable to respond to all of the public's passion and to sound definitely in the moral register the public demands, major political parties and mainstream political institutions face continual challenges from populisms of the left, right and independent sort [Chantel Mouffe, On the Political].  Populism offers up and then plays with what Bonnie Honig has called "remainders," unmet demands that inspire the resistance "engendered by every settlement, even by those that are relatively enabling or empowering," excesses left over from attempts to bring social and political order to human activity.  Populist discourse operates in the "perpetual contest, even within an ordered setting" of democratic politics, and in the inevitable fight over the institutional processes of democratic political and social order [Bonnie Honig, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics].

In Hofstadter's - and, at times, the left-progressives' - conceptualization of populism, the excess or remainder of consensus, whether of the margins or of leftist activists seduced into conspiracy theory, is a pathological refusal of normalcy  and the result of economic, political and cultural crisis. Understanding populism as a democratic logic, however, re-conceptualizes it as a production of the political itself, an aspect of the "perpetual contest" of democracy, rather than as a troublingly sick exception to the democratic ideal. Movements that rely on this logic may do so to further left - or - right-wing causes.

Populism operates as " a dimension of political culture in general,  not simply as a particular kind of overall ideological system or type of organization [Peter Worsley, The Concept of Populism]. Populism  "plays the role of the awkward guest," at once functioning as an element of liberal democracy by encouraging engagement in public participation and mobilization and expressing the popular will of a segment of the population, while it also disrupts the "gentrified domain in which politics is enacted." It operates through charisma, unfettered majorities and leadership, and an absolute sense of good and right;  it eschews such institutional, republican virtues as checks and balances, representation, negotiation, counter-majoritarian rights, and deferral of the public will. It promises redemption while it threatens disruption, unsettlement and revolution [Arditi, Populism or Politics at the Edges of Democracy].  .  . .

Conspiracy theory, based on the perceived secret elite domination over and manipulation of the entirety of economic, political and social relations, has played a role of varied importance in many, but by no means all, populist movements. It remains an element with a long tradition in American politics and culture that has been appropriated for different causes at different times. Conspiracy theory is a particularly unstable element in populism based on such profound suspicion and fear that its successful and thorough-going  incorporation within a large populist movement  would most likely occur in authoritarian or fascist regimes.  .  .

As a popular discourse and rhetoric within democratic politics, populism's  understanding of state and private  power as an estrangement of the people from the power bloc can be appropriated and articulated in different ways by different political movements and social forces, for inclusive and/or exclusive purposes and to revolutionary, reformist and/or reactionary ends. As a subset of populism, conspiracy theory constitutes  an integral aspect of American political culture, one that has different effects in different historical periods. In its apocalyptic narrative vision and semiotic apparatus, conspiracy theory assumes the coming end of a moment cursed by secret power and a (never-to-arrive) new beginning where secrecy vanishes and power is transparent and utilize by good people for the good of all. It may appear in a righteous jeremiad that would claim to be acting on behalf of divine or human justice, positing a necessary end to history through dreadful but deserved events that will lead to the victory of the fellow righteous; it may appear as an ironic apocalypse, facing an unavoidable end with distance and cynicism; or it may appear as a sublime vision of an infinite power-inspiring awe, terror, and pleasure, enabling regressive authorities to promise repressive protection from the great hovering threat. Nascent in all of these appearances is a critique of the contemporary social order and a longing for a better one. Conspiracy theory ultimately fails as a universal theory of power and comprehensive approach  to historical and political research, however, because it not only fails to inform us how to move from the end of the uncovered plot to the beginning of a political movement, it is also unable to locate a position at which we can begin to organize and respect people in the complex and diverse world that it simplifies.

Conspiracy theories can help break oneself free from the quotidian humdrum of normative bourgeois subjectivity, help expose the official, dominant political ideologies as the banal covers for the  brutality of power that they truly are;  a paranoid hermeneutic may aid critical practice and yield important insights and strong theory,  but it will not necessarily lead to good theory, correct answers, or better practice.  They can lead one to obsess over the hidden and in doing so miss the phenomena and oppression that exists on the surface.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Melville in Typee by D.H.Lawrence

Melville hated the world: was born hating it. But he was looking for heaven. That is, choosingly. Choosingly he was looking for paradise. Unchoosingly, he was mad with hatred of the world.

Well, the world is hateful. It is as hateful as Melville found it. He was not wrong in hating the world. Dalenta est Chicago. He hated it to a pitch of madness, and not without good reason.

But it is no good persisting in looking for paradise  ‘regained’.

Melville at his best invariably wrote from some sort of  dream self, so that events which he relates as actual fact have indeed a far deeper reference to his own soul, his own inner life.

So in Typee when he tells of his entry into the valley of the dread cannibals of Nukuheva. Down this narrow , steep, horrible dark gorger he slides and struggles as we struggle in a dream, or in the Act of birth, to emerge in the green Eden of the Golden Age, the valley of the cannibal savages. This is a bit of the birth-myth, or re-birth myth, on Melville’s part-unconscious, no doubt, because his running under-consciousness was always mystical and symbolic. He wasn’t aware that he was being mystical.

There he is then, in Typee, among the dreaded cannibal savages. And they are  gentle and  and generous with him, And he is truly in a sort of Eden.

Here at last is Rousseau’s Child of Nature and Chateaubriand’s Noble Savage called upon and found at home. Yes, Melville loves his savage hosts. He finds then gentle, laughing lambs compared to the ravening wolves of his white brothers, left behind in America and on the American whaleship.

The ugliest beast on the earth is the white man, says Melville.

In short, Herman  found in Typee the paradise he was looking for. It is true, the Marquesans were “immoral”, but he rather liked that. Morality was too white a trick to take him in,. Then again, they were cannibals. And it filled him with horror to think of this. But the savages were very private and even fiercely reserved in their cannibalism and he might have spared himself his shudder. No doubt he had partaken of the Christian Sacraments many a time. “This is my body, take and eat. This is my blood. Drink it in remembrance of me.” And if the savages like to partake of their sacrament without raising the transubstantiation quibble, and if they liked to say directly: “This is thy body, which  I take from thee and eat. This is thy blood, which I sip in annihilation of thee”, why surely their sacred ceremony was as awe-inspiring as the one Jesus substituted. But Herman chose to be horrified. I confess, I am not horrified; though, of course, I am not on the spot. But the savage sacrament seems to me more valid than the Christian: less side-tracking about it,. Thirdly, he was shocked by their wild methods of warfare. He died before the great European war, so his shock was comfortable.

Three little quibbles: morality, cannibal sacrament, and stone axes. You must have a fly even in Paradisal ointment. And the first was a ladybird.

But Paradise. He insisted upon it. Paradise. He could even go stark naked, as before the Apple episode. And his Fayaway, and laughing little Eve, naked with him, and hankering after no apple of knowledge, so long as he would just lover her when he felt like it. Plenty to eat, needing no clothes to wear, sunny, happy people, sweet water to swim in: everything that a man can want. Then why wasn’t he happy along with the savages?

Because he wasn’t.

He grizzled in secret, and wanted to escape.

He even pined for Home and Mother, the two things he had run away from as far as ships could carry him. Home and Mother. The two things that were his damnation.

There on the island, where the golden-green great palm trees chinked the sun, and the elegant reed houses let the sea-breeze through, and peoplde went naked and laughed a great deal, and Fayaway put flowers in his hair for him – great red hibiscus flowers, and frangipani – O God, why wasn’t he happy. Why wasn’t he?

Because he wasn’t.

Well, it’s hard to make a man happy.

But I should not have been happy either. One’s soul seems under a vacuum, in the South Seas.

The truth of the matter is, one cannot go back. Some men can: renegade. But Melville couldn’t go back: and Gauguin couldn’t really go back: and I know now that I could never go back. Back towards. Back towards the past, savage life. One cannot go back. It is one’s destiny inside one.

There are these peoples, these “savages”. One does not despise them. One does not feel superior. But there is a gulf. There is a gulf in time and being. I cannot comingle my being with theirs.

There they are, these South Sea Islanders, beautiful big men with their golden limbs and their laughing, graceful laziness. And they will call you brother, choose you as a brother. But why cannot one truly be brother?

There isan invisible hand that grasps my heart and prevents it opening too much to these strangers. They are beautiful, they are like children, they are generous: but they are more than this. They are far off, and in their eyes is an easy darkness of the soft, uncreate past. In a way, they are uncreate. Far be it from me to assume any “white” superiority. But they are savages. They are gentle and laughing and physically very handsome. But it seems to me, that in living so far, through all our bitter centuries of civilization, we have still been living onwards, forwards. God knows it looks like a cul de sac now. But turn to the first negro, and listen to your own soul. And your own soul will tell you that however false and foul our forms and systems are now, still, through the many centuries since Egypt, we have been living and struggling forwards along some road that is no road, and yet is a great life development. We have struggled on, and on we must still go. We may have to smash things. Then let us smash. And our road may have to take a great swerve, that seems a retrogression.

But we can’t go back. Whatever else the South Sea Islander is, he is centuries and centuries behind us in the life-struggle, the consciousness struggle, the struggle of the soul into fullness. There is his woman, with her knotted hair and her dark, inchoate, slightly sardonic eyes. I like her, she is nice. But I would never want to touch her. I could not go back on myself so far. Back to their uncreate condition.

She has soft warm flesh, like warm mud. Nearer the reptile, the Saurian age. Noli me tangere.

We can’t go back. WE can’t go back to the savages: not a stride. WE an be in sympathy with them. We can take a great curve in their direction, onwards. But we cannot turn the current of our life backwards, back towards their soft warm twilight and uncreate mud. Not for a moment. If we do it for a moment, it makes us sick.

We can only do it when we are renegade. The renegade hates life itself. He wants the death of life. So these many ‘reformers” and “idealists” who glorify the savages in America. They are death-birds, life haters. Renegades.

We can’t go back, and Melville couldn’t. Much as he hated the humanity he knew. He couldn’t go back to the savages, he wanted to, he tried to, and he couldn’t.

Because, in the first place, it made him sick; it made him physically ill. He had something wrong with his leg, and this would not heal. It got worse and worse, during his four months on the island. When he escaped, he was in a deplorable condition – sick and miserable, ill, very ill.


But there you are. Try to go back to the savages, and you feel as if your very soul was decomposing inside you. That is what you feel in the South Seas, anyhow: as if your soul was decomposing inside you. And with any savages the same, if you try to go their way, take their current of sympathy.

Yet, as I ay, we must make a great swerve in our onward-going-life-course now, to gather up again the savage mysteries. But this does not mean going back on ourselves.

Going back to the savages made Melville sicker than anything. It made him feel as if he were decomposing. Worse even than Home and Mother.

Ad that is what really happens. If you prostitute your psyche by returning to the savages, you gradually go to pieces. Before you can go back, you have to decompose. And a white man decomposing is a ghastly sight. Even Melville in Typee.

WE have to go on, on, on, even if we must smash our way ahead.

So Melville escaped, and he threw a boat-hook full in the throat of one of his dearest savage friends, and sank him, because the savage was swimming in pursuit. That’s how he felt about the savages when they wanted to detain him. He’d have murdered them one an all, vividly, rather than be kept from escaping. Away from them – he must get away from them – at any price.

And once he had escaped, immediately he begins to sigh and pine for the “Paradise” – Home and Mother being at the other end of his whaling voyage.

When he was really Home with Mother, he found it Purgatory. But Typee must have been even worse than Purgatory, a soft hell, judging from the murderous frenzy which possessed him to escape.

But once aboard the whaler that carried him off from, Nukuheva, he looked back and sighed for the Paradis he had just escaped from in such a fever.

Poor Melville! He was determined Paradise existed. So he was always in Purgatory.

He was born for Purgatory. Some souls are  purgatorial by destiny.

The very freedom of his Typee was a torture to him. Its ease was slowly horrible to him. This time he was the fly in the odorous tropical ointment.

He needed to fight,. It was no good to him, the relaxation of the non-moral tropics. He really didn’t want Eden. He wanted to fight. Like every American. To fight. But with the weapons of the spirit, not the flesh.

That was the top and bottom of it. His soul was in revolt, writhing forever in revolt. When he had something definite to rebel against – like the bad conditions on a whaling ship – then he was much happing his miseries. The mills of God were grinding inside him, and they needed top grind on.

When they could grind on the injustice and folly of the missionaries, or of brutal sea-captains, or of governments, he was easier. The mills of God were grinding  inside him.

They are grinding inside of every American. And they grind exceedingly small.

Why? Heaven knows. But we have got to grind down our old forms, our old selves, grind them very small, to nothingness. Whether a new something will ever start, who knows? Meanwhile the mills of God grind on, in American Melville, and it was himself he ground small” himself and his wife, when he was married. For the present, the South Seas.

He escapes on to the craziest, most impossible whaling ships. Luckily for us Melville makes it fantastic. It must have been pretty sordid.

And anyhow, on the crazy Julia, his leg, that would never heal on Typee, began quickly to get well. His life was falling into its normal pulse. The drain back into the past centuries was over.

Yet, oh, as he sails away from Nukuheva, on the voyage that will ultimately take him to America, oh, the acute and intolerable nostalgia he feels for the island he has left.

The past, the Golden Age of the past – what a nostalgia we all feel for it. Yet we don’t want it when we get it. Try the South Seas.

Melville had to fight, fight against the existing world. Against his very own self. Only he could never quite put the knife in the heart of his paradisal ideal. Somehow, somewhere, somewhen, love should be a fulfilment, and life should be a thing of bliss. That was his fixed ideal. Fata Morgana.

That was the pin  he tortured himself with. Life is never a thing of continuous bliss. There is no paradise. Fight and laugh and feel bitter and feel bliss: and fight again. Fight, fight. That is life.

Why pin ourselves down on a paradisal ideal? It is only ourselves we torture.

Melville did have one great experience, getting away from humanity: the experience of the sea.

The South Sea Islands were not his great experience. They were a glamorous world outside New England. Outside. But it was the sea that was both outside and inside: the universal experience.

Monday, May 16, 2016

At Holy Cross and the U.S. Dept. of Education by Clarence Thomas

I felt surer of myself when I returned to Holy Cross in the fall. Though my first year there had been tougher that I’d expected, I was on the dean’s list, and I proudly informed one of my black classmates that I wanted to go to Harvard Law school. He laughed but I set my jaw and told him I was serious. I wasn’t, not really. Harvard meant nothing to me compared to the prospect of helping to fight the wrongs of segregation. The thought of going there wasn’t much more than an adolescent fantasy, but it had the advantage of being both tangible and ambitious. It wasn’t easy being black at Holy Cross, and without a clear-cut goal to strive for, no matter how unrealistic, I might well have floundered and gone under, as so many of my new friends were to do.

To my knowledge there was no significant difference in the academic records of the white and black students at Holy Cross, and many of the blacks did who went there did superbly well. My friend Gil Hardy, for instance, was a seventeen-year-old freshman from Philadelphia whose slangy talk and self-depreciating, down-to earth demeanor fooled some of his classmates into underestimating him – though not for long. Even as a freshman, Gil took mostly upper-level classes, including Greek and Latin, and his fist semester grade point average of 3.9 won him the nickname Three-Nine. Nor was the administration unaware of the difficulties we faced as the school’s first group of black students. Father John E. Brooks, the vice-president for academic affairs, was especially sensitive to our situation,. And though he refused to water down the school’s stringent academic requirements, he did everything he could to help us meet them.

But for every Gil Hardy, there was another talented black who was losing his way at Holy Cross, and I soon say that merely being smart was no guarantee of success. Some black students gave up and stopped going to class, while others started using drugs or dabbling in cult-like Eastern religions. Their problem was that they lacked the social experience that would it easier for them to leave the comfort zone of segregation and move into the white world.. Many of them, I suspected, might have done better had they gone to schools closer to home or to predominantly black colleges,. Which would have allowed them to grapple with the ordinary challenges of young adulthood without having to simultaneously face the additional challenge of learning how to love among whites. Yet Holy Cross, like other colleges around the country, continued to admit them in fast-growing numbers. When I arrived, there was only one black senior and two juniors; I was one of six blacks admitted in the freshman class. Too many of the latter group did poorly, as did subsequent classes, and some failed outright. Why, I asked, were these gifted young people being sacrificed on an alter of an abstract theory of social justice –and who profited from their failure?

This was my first brush with racial heterodoxy. The next one came when members of the Black Student’s Union voted to set up a separate black living area known as the “black corridor.” Supporters of the plan claimed that because there were so few blacks at Holly Cross, it was important that they live together so as not to feel isolated. I didn’t see it that way. Did we really want to do ourselves  what whites had been doing to us? Besides, I like my white roommate and didn’t want to stop living with him. But the other members of the BSU voted for the corridor, and in the fall of 1969 the administration allowed black upperclassmen to live together on the fourth floor of of one of the dormitories. For the sake of ‘solidarity’, I chose to live there instead of going my own way.

Not all of Holly Cross’s black students moved onto the corridor. Some continued to live off campus, while others objected to the corridor on principle and were ostracized for refusing to live there. I secretly admired their tenacity. I had already stared to notice that many of my fellow blacks found it hard to relate to white students other than confrontationally, and I suspected that the existence of the corridor would make it harder for them to adjust to life at Holy Cross. Even though I was not intimidated by whites, I still felt the tension that arose from my unfamiliarity with white customs, and it may be that the corridor helped me and other black students to deal with this chronic  and predictable problem. Still, I knew we couldn’t have it both ways, at least not for very long. Sooner or later we would all have to learn how top love among whites, and I saw no reason to put it off any longer than was absolutely necessary.

That wasn’t the only thing I disliked about the corridor. I was also troubled by the alacrity with which Holy Cross had yielded to our demands. Some blacks on campus already thought that the mere existence of racial oppression entitled them to a free pass through college, and the administrations apparent willingness to accommodate us now led these black students to assume that they would always be able to get whatever they wanted. But I foresaw when it  would no longer be fashionable to give blacks helping hand, especially after the generation of whites who remembered segregation was gone, and it seemed just as clear to me that Hispanics and women would  soon start making similar claims, thus putting them in competition with blacks.

Preferential policies intended to help blacks adjust to life after segregation were very much on my mind in those days, and now I began to think them through in a more systematic way. Talented blacks stuck on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder clearly deserved such help but the ones who most often took advantage of it were considerably higher up on the ladder. Most of the middle-class blacks with whom I discussed these policies argued that all blacks were equally disadvantaged by virtue of their race alone. I thought that was nonsense. Not only were some blacks more economically successful than others, but many light-skinned blacks believed themselves to be superior to their darker brethren, an attitude that struck me as not much different from white racism. Even know blacks don’t like to talk about that kind of prejudice, but it had been a very real part of my life in Savannah, which was for all intents and purposes segregated by race but also by class and color.  I though that preferential policies should be reserved for the poorer blacks whose plight was used to justify them, not the comfortable middle-class blacks who were better prepared to take advantage of them – and I also thought the same policies should be applied to similarly disadvantaged whites.

On the other hand, I didn’t think it was good idea to make poor blacks, or anyone else, more dependent on government. That would amount to a new kind of enslavement, one which ultimately relied on generosity – and ever changing self-interests – of politicians and activists. It seemed to me that the dependency it fostered might ultimately prove as diabolical as segregation, permanently condemning poor people to the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder by cannibalizing the values without which they had no  long-term hope of improving their lot. At the time, these ideas seemed to me a logical extension of my distrust of “the man,” though in fact they were rooted in the lessons Daddy had taught me [His Grandfather, who honored back-breaking work, self-reliance, making the best of the situation and did not accept racism as an excuse for failure- with a stick if necessary]. I didn’t know how heterodox they were, much less that they were about to lead me away from the radical politics in which I thought I believed.  .  .

When I arrived at the Department of Education, Secretary Bell and his staff were in the process of finalizing a number of higher-education desegregation plans. Rather than focusing solely on increasing the percentage of blacks attending the previously all-white colleges and universities – the longtime goal of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund – the department was trying to place more emphasis on upgrading historically black colleges. These two efforts, I saw at once, contradicted each other: as more black students started going to white schools, fewer would  be available to attend black schools. The leaders of the historically black colleges had privately warned us that the Defense Fund was undermining their attempts to keep these schools afloat. I didn’t believe in supporting black colleges  that did a poor job educating their students, but I couldn’t see why they should be forced to close their doors in the name of a theory of racial integration that would force blacks to be permanent minorities  on predominantly white campuses. To impose mandatory integration policies similar to the ones that had been used in primary and secondary schools seemed to me short-sighted and misguided. My experiences at Holy Cross and Yale Law School had shown me that this approach was no panacea for the problem of black education. Moreover, the historically black colleges and universities had their own traditions, as well as a track record of success .Why, then, wasn’t it enough to upgrade them to the same level of quality as the predominantly white institutions, then let black students decide for themselves which kind of schools would suit them best?

By the time I joined the Board of Trustees at Holy Cross in 1978, very few of the black students graduated at the top of their classes and the attrition rate for blacks at predominantly white colleges and universities throughout America was disturbingly high. Almost half failed to graduate on time, if at all. Nor was we enough attention being paid to the kinds of courses these students were taking, very few studied math, science or engineering. To ignore these unpalatable facts was to missed the whole point of higher education. Merely to enroll a black in a predominantly white college means nothing,. What matters most is what happens next. An education is meaningless unless equips students to have a better life.

In one of my early staff meetings, I asked to see any studies that compared the academic performance of black students in integrated primary and secondary schools with black students in segregated or predominantly black schools. None was forthcoming, and when I pursued the matter, a staffer told me that none existed.

Alone in my office one evening, I rad through the existing reports on the course work and discipline rates for students in integrated schools. They all said the same thing: black students were far less likely by far to enroll in the more challenging courses and more likely to have discipline problems. How could they be expected to learn when they weren’t even taking the right classes? The data also made it clear that black males were dropping out of high school at an alarming rate, and those that remained rarely did well academically. To me the data spelled doom for blacks in America – but I knew that nothing I could do or say about the situation would be heard over the din  of dogmatic racial politics. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness. Members of my race were caught in a cruel trap not of their own making. My own life seemed to be damaged in away I didn’t know how  to repair. It was more than I could take. I sat at my desk and wept.

Part of what overwhelmed me was the knowledge that the disease of blind dogma afflicted both parties.  .  .

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Slaveholders' Union by George William Van Cleve

“Generally, informed contemporaries understood that within the tradition of English thought stemming from the convulsions of the Civil War and Restoration, it was possible to take more than one view of the origin and character of natural rights. Natural rights could be seen as unalterable ‘natural’  or divine restraints on the sovereignty of any government, as in John Locke’s thought, or as rights existing in a state of nature that could be limited by legitimate governments exercising their sovereignty through positive law, as in the work of writers such as Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes.”

 Through-out most of the pre-revolutionary period, during the Revolution when the Articles of Confederations held sway, during and after the debates on the Constitution right up until the battles of the Civil War were officially joined and forever thereafter Americans held and continue to hold different views on this question. Sometimes an individual could hold either view over time  or both  simultaneously  depending on the particular interests – economic or political- he or she wanted to uphold. Constitutionally, the question and conflict between these two basic views has never been resolved. The idea that Africans  held in bondage had a ‘natural right’  to be either free or to possess civil rights on an equal footing with white men was only held by scant minorities  such as the members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and even they were willing to sacrifice this principle on the alters of economic interest and the ‘sacred’ Union.

Through-out the early period in the late 18th and early 19th century the debate surrounding the above conflicting views on what  natural rights were and what role they should play in the institutional structures of the Republic( as they particularly pertained to slavery, the slave trade, fugitive slave laws, abolition, the conditions of free blacks, and the proportional representation of  ‘free’ and slave States in Congress) were mostly carried on in hushed tones out of public view. Any attempt to fully embody one view to the exclusion of the other in Legislation, executive action or judicial ruling were quickly though not always effectively repressed.

“At the time the Constitution was adopted, a majority of Americans had apparently accepted Madison’s argument in Federalist 10 that by pitting interests groups against one another they could create a stable balance between liberty and power. Madison argued that that balance would be stable because the federal government could not be “captured” permanently by any durable faction. When the sectional dispute over Missouri slavery broke out, however, the unstable foundations of the Constitution’s balance between liberty and power were exposed. The Constitution provided no means of controlling the reemergence of sectionalism (Slave vs Free), which had persisted but had been concealed by the rapid and massive westward expansion of the preceding decades. Missouri leaders on both sides rejected Madison’s view that their freedom would be protected by the continuing competition of ‘large republic” interest-group politics.

 [ For example, a comity  had previously been developed on at least formal bans on the importation of slaves because it appeared to be a measure supporting the extinction of slavery for Northern Abolitionists at the same time, from the Southern point of view,  it kept slave prices high in internal slave markets was a good example of Madison’s principle in action.]

“In the contest over the admission of Missouri  leaders began to believe that under the Constitution long-term capture of the federal government by one section or another was entirely possible, and that no reciprocity in governing would then be required, so that the losing side would always be exploited by the victors in a zero-sum game.”

As Senator Rufus King (N.Y.) recounted his own speech during the debate in Congress

I referred the decision of the Restriction on Missouri to the broad principles of the Law of Nature, a law established by the creator . . everywhere, and at all times binding on mankind . . . the foundation of all constitutional, conventional and civil laws, none of which are valid if contrary to the Law of Nature - that according to this law all men are born free, and justly entitled to the possession of Life & Liberty, and to the free pursuit of happiness – hence that man could not enslave man; and that States could not make men Slaves . . . that no such act of the State.  .  . if contrary to natural law could be valid. That political Reason against the extension of Slavery were enough to restrain Congress from consenting to it – but were not this the case, the Law of Nature imposes this Restraint, and as slavery may be prohibited by Congress, they are bound to prohibit this.

Lest the reader be overly impressed with this grand-eloquent statement, Rufus was referring to the life and liberty of white men; specifically, their right to settle in the  State of Missouri  without having to deal with the competition and high land prices occasioned by the presence of slave labor.  And New York had just abolished voting rights for free blacks who numbered @30,000 at the time. Nor did King’s higher law position have any warrant either in the Constitutional Convention debates or in the agreements over slavery in which he had previously participated.

“Senator William Pickney of Maryland (for example) responded to King’s speech at length, describing King’s positions based on ‘deadly speculations’ about the ‘infinite perfectibility of man and his institutions’ that are ‘identical’ with, the worst visions of the political philosophy of France.’ He reviewed the Roman and English legal precedents on which King had relied for his position that “man cannot enslave his fellow man,” and argued (with considerable justification) that none of them supported King’s position that slavery was barred by the law of nature or nations even where sovereign permitted it.

I will omit the details of the ‘persuasive’ and  majoritarian view in both the North and South  by which the Missouri Compromise was effected and  allowed to enter the Union as a slave state, to wit: Africans were a degenerate, irredeemable race whose condition in slavery was advantageous compared to the regions of the planet from which they had sprung and that if freed they would not only become charges on the public purse but represent a criminal and anarchic element in American society to such an extent that race war would the inevitable consequence. Besides, the acceptance of Maine as a free state at the same time was deemed sufficient to postpone a reckoning on this issue.

The author concludes his book ( and this brief and incomplete summary does it but little  justice) thus:

“ The temporizing agreements reached in the Missouri controversy’s maelstrom ratified the long-term existence of slavery, making the slaveholders’ union permanent until it was destroyed in the earthquake of civil war. The success of the Founding generation and its descendants in seeking to defer the sectional problem of slavery for four generations may seem to some to be a credit to the Founders’ wisdom and foresight. But to others their approach to government will suggest the terrible costs that were involuntarily imposed on posterity by such inter-generational transfer of profoundly vexing problems, even by a republic committed to human freedom.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Money Has No Smell by Pierre Razoux

Iran and Iraq took advantage of the lull in fighting on the front  beginning in the spring of 1984 to restock munitions and acquire new weapons, as well as spare parts and motors. The latter market quickly became lucrative, as harsh weather conditions and the nature of the terrain led to countless breakdowns. The price of oil was still high enough to give both the Iranians and the Iraqis some room to maneuver, though their financial reserves were running out, forcing them to make drastic choices.

Iraq did not have as much difficulty getting supplies, given that some thirty countries were willing to directly sell the it the military equipment it required. These countries were comfortable openly selling weapons to Iraq because it had been presented as the victim of the Republic of Iran’s warmongering fanaticism since the summer of 1982. Three of these countries – the USSR, France, and China – met 85% of Iraq’s needs. Initially, the Iraqi regime was primarily concerned with making its suppliers compete with each other to offer better prices. Once its resources began to diminish, its priority was to retain their trust. Tariq Aziz multiplied diplomatic tours to convince his creditors to stagger the Iraqi deb. He did not always succeed; some states, such as Spain and Portugal, quickly turned to Iran when Iraq was no longer able to promptly honor its debts. Fortunately, Baghdad could count on the Gulf States financial support [Saudi Arabia forgive Iraq its debt at the conclusion of the war.] This allowed the Ba’athist regime to avoid buying weapons from parallel-market arms dealer.

Iran, on the other hand, was in a far more delicate position. Though the country was not subject to a formal UN embargo, it was under embargo from the United States, which threatened any nation that shipped war equipment to Tehran with economic retaliation. Only those who really had something to gain and knew they had nothing to fear or expect from Washington openly braved the American prohibition.  These countries could be counted on one hand: Syria, Libya, China, and North Korea. Yet these four countries only met a third of Iran’s military needs. Tehran was forced to be creative to find the other two-thirds. Alternating seduction, pay-offs and veiled threats, Iranian leaders managed to convince twenty-five other nations to provide them with military equipment or, failing that, to turn a blind eye to the activities to the activities of their corporations. In many cases they had to purchase supplies on the parallel markets at significantly higher prices. This put them in business with more or less reliable traffickers, as well as a few high-flying crooks who brazenly cheated them. One such individual was Benham Nodjoumi, who managed top sell the Iranians thirty-four crates of scrap iron by making them believed they contained TOW antitank missiles. Nodjoumi, who lived in London, chose to surrender to British authorities and serve a long prison sentence rather than face the Iranian assassins sent on his trail.

The Iranian government was in most need of ammunition and spare parts, but also light weapons to arm its masses of newly recruited infantrymen. The Iranians dappled the same method to get their supplies, no matter who they were dealing with.. The Supreme Defense Council convened in Tehran every week to examined the bids received. The Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) were overrepresented because the knew that most of the equipment would wind up in their hands. Decisions were taken by consensus. When the council agreed to a bid, the Iranian bureau closest to the bidder was ordered to initiate negotiations with the dealer or his middleman. Tehran was apprised of the progress of discussions and arbitrated disagreements. Business in Europe was subcontracted through Tehran’s backrooms in Frankfurt and London, with the knowledge that the British and German authorities would be indulgent towards Iran for the sake of their own commercial interests.

In this shadow market, London became the hub of arms sales to Iran. Tehran had decided to use London as a base for an important branch of thye National Iranian Oil Company, which served as a screen to pay for European purchases. The Iranian regime also perated through two shell corporations ,both of which were well established in London: JSC International, registered in the Caribbean; and Metro International, 51 percent of whose capital was held by Iran, with the other 49% belonging to a group of Arabs and Pakistani financiers. The system was operated by three individuals. Aziz Nezafatkhan, who was close to Ayatollah Khomeini, served as the commercial attache to the Iranian embassy in Great Britain, and was known as ‘Mister 10%”; Sadegh Tabatabai, who was the Supreme Leader’s son-in-law and Ahmad Khomeini’s close friend, and shuttled between London and Tehran; and Houshang Lavi, an Iranian businessman with far-reaching connections in the city. In the United States the Iranians relied on Balanian Hashemi, an extremely rich businessman who had fled Iran after the fall of the Shah and was now trying to redeem himself by serving as the new regime’s intermediary.

On the arms market, the Iranian regime stopped at nothing to corrupt those who could bring them interesting deals. It could rely on the cupidity of numerous intermediaries ready to ignore their own governments’ prohibitions. Two individuals played a key role in supplyi9ng Iran while explicitly violating their countries’ poliocies: the Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi
[] and the American
Frank Cradock

Another American citizen who hit the headlines for his audacity in similar dealings was Mark Broman, director of the American embassy in Paris’s Office for Military Cooperation. Broman offered to sell the Iranians thirty Phantom fighters in the service of the Egyptian air force, despite the fact that Egypt had taken sides wit h Iraq. His plan was to convince Egypt to purchase an equivalent number of F-16s by offering to buy back their Phantoms. These would then be fictively sold to Paraguay, where the corrupt American diplomat had numerous friend ready to bend any rules for a juicy commission. The deal was exposed and foiled. Its instigator was arrested and given a heavy sentence by an American court. [this is a group that watchdogs the State Dept. offices of Military Assistance which goes by a variety of names:]

Business is Business

Things were much simpler when Tehran dealt with the representatives of states reputed for being neutral and politically respectable. In Europe, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland improved to be valuable partners who had the good taste not to be fussy so long as the petrodollars flowed into their coffers. Austria sold Iran 140 GHN-45 howitzers along with significant stocks of ammunition.  Switzerland delivered fifteen PCV-6 Turbo Portyer utility aircraft,m forty-seven PCV-7 Turbo Trainer training aircraft, cryptology equipment, as well as large quantities of ammunition and electronic components for radars. Though it has passed legislation prohibiting the exports of arms to nations at war, Sweden provided Iran a turnkey munitions factory, 300 portabvle RBS-70 surface-to-air missiles, and forty light motorboats,, which were allocated to the Pasdaran’s naval forces. This weave of orders was manna from heaven for the Karlskoga military-industrial complex, but also the Bofors Corporation, which indiscriminately sold colossal amounts of ammunition for its famous anti-air gun to both belligerents.

These illegal arms sales spurred a long legal investigation that led to the 1987 indictment of two Swedish CEO’s, Mats Lundberg and Karl-Erik Schmitz, for serving as key middleman on the European parallel market. Over the course of the investigation, Swedish customs uncovered the existence of a European cartel shamelessly supplying the mullahs’ regime. This cartel provided more than 30,000 tons of gunpowder and explosives to Tehran, allowing Iran to manufacture mountains of ammunition in its Swedish-supplied factory. It had branches in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Finland and even Norway. A variety of European ports served as hubs for sending out the explosives: Zeebrugge in Belgium, Setubal in Portugal, Santander in Spain, Genoa and Talamone in Italy, and Piraeus in Greece. The cartel’s representatives used several shipping companies and chartered two airlines: Scanco, which was headed by Schmitz, and Santa Lucia Airways, which was registered in the Caribbean. Greece proved to be one of the main channels for moving shipments to Iran. A massive explosion that destroyed a factory in the suburbs of Athens in May 1987 was probably no accident: the factory produced munitions for Iran. Many suspected that the Iraqi special services were involved in the explosion. The Greek legal system quickly closed the case.

In order to surreptitiously sell such large quantities of explosives to Iran, the cartel needed to show the existence of a legal buyer who agreed not to cede them to a third party. The cartel drew up and end-user certificate, which enables one to obtain an export license. The Yugoslavs to care of this end of the deal, taking a 3 percent commission on each contract. Concurrently, the Yugoslav government shipped Iraq a training frigate, three minesweepers, one hundred D-30 guns, 300 mortars, tens of thousands of light weapons, and millions of shells, for a total value of over one billion dollars. The Yugoslav authorities had the best of both worlds.

Even Belgium let itself be tempted when Iran offered to pay generously for fifty old F-104 Starfighter interceptors the Belgian air force was trying to offload. Though the socialist parliamentarians intervened to prevent the last the last moment, the government merely held onto the planes’ frames and sold the Iranians their jet engines. The engines were fitted to the Iranian phantoms (the F-4 and the F-104 had the same engine). Though the Iranians failed to get the Belgian F-104s, they did get twelve Phantoms (f-4Ds) from South Korea and twelve F--5 Tigers from the Ethiopian government, which was ready to do anything to reap a few million dollars.

Iranian buyers ranged wide to procure weapons, covering Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, but also Africa and South America. South Africa and Brazil; also became favored Iranian business partners. South Africa sold Tehran some thirty ultramodern 155 mm howitzers (G5) with the required stock of ammunition. Brazil provided close to 500 Cascavel and Urutu armored vehicles, as well as large quantities of shells.

In all, some forty nations contributed to the Iraqi and Iranian war effort. At some point or the other, half of them provided material support both the Iran and Iraq - including the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. In Europe, only Ireland can boast of having kept itself clean. Every other state was implicated to variouis degrees in selling military equipment to one and often both of the belligerents. It took public disclosure of political-financial scandals to force certain countries, including France and the U.S., to put their affairs in order.

The approximate value of all  official deliveries of war equipment to Iraq by the United States was $250 million, including cooperation in the field of military intelligence, notably in terms of space and radar imagining and ELINT-SIGINT (signal interception and cryptanalysis) data. Delivery of 6 L-100 tans[port planes, 86 Hughes 300/500/530 helicopters and large quantities of fragmentation bombs.

The approximate value of all official deliveries of war equipment to Iran by the United States was $650 million, including spare helicopter parts, F-4, F-5 and f-15 fighters and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, as of 1981. From 1984 to 1986 they delivered (via Israel) 2,500- TOW antitank missiles, 18 Hawk surface-to-air missiles and spare parts o modernize 300 Hawk missiles, as well as supplies of satellite imagery.

Top supplier for Iraq was the Soviet Union, between 30-45 billion dollars worth. Top supplier for Iran was China, $3 billion dollars.



180,000 dead and missing
     125, 000 military
     5,000 civilians
     50,000 Kurds
520,000 wounded and maimed
70,000 prisoners of war captured by the Iranian army.

500,000 dead and missing
     380,000 military and IRGC
     80,000 Basijis (child soldiers)
     10,000 civilians,
     30,000 Iranian Kurds.
1,300,000 wounded and maimed
45,000 prisoners of war captured by the Iraqi army.

A meticulous analysis of the intensity of human and material losses of this absurd and atrociously bloody war reveals that the pace of military operations more or less followed the price of oil (intense when it was high; mild when it was low). This conclusion provides confirmation of the cardinal importance of the economic war. Due to Iran’s isolation and lack of outside financial assistance, Rafsanjani focused on economizing and waged war like “a good family man” – at least on the financial level. Ultimately, the Iranian regime suffered far more from the combined effects of the collapse of oil prices and the drop in the dollar than from attacks on its oil takers and terminals ( the U.S. part in which the author characterizes as piracy). However, Rafsanjani was far more liberal with the only cheap resource he had in abundance: his soldiers lives. Unlike Rafsanjani, Saddam Hussein waged war on credit, drawing on loans from the oil monarchies, bank guarantees from the United States and payment deferments allowed by the Soviets and he West. He proved more sparing  with his soldiers lives.  The total financial cost of the war is estimated at 1,100 billion 1988 dollars (twice the value they have today), 40% spent by Iraq, 60% spent by Iran., a huge brake on the social and economic development of both countries. To the end Saddam Hussein continued to affirm the wat was wholly justified:

‘I had no choice but to start the war, in order to put an end to Iran’s interference. I must insist on this point, because it is essential . . . All this was done for the good of the people and humanity. The people love men for their actions. It also loves symbols, and I am a symbol given that my portrait can be found in the homes of Iraqis all over the country . . . What is important is not what people say or think of me today, but what they will think in 500 or 1,000 years.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lessons of the Holocaust by Michael R. Marrus

Some of the discourse on lessons involves eloquent or rhetorically appropriate commentary. I have always appreciated the radical journalist I.F. Stone’s humane observation : “the lesson of the Holocaust is that to treat other human beings as less than human can lead to the furnaces,” but I do not hear it so much recently. I am less enthusiastic about the Canadian parliamentarian and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler’s frequently declared ‘” the Holocaust is uniquely evil in its genocidal singularity,” the meaning of which escapes me. However, taken as a whole, the category of lessons is remarkably unclear. Part of the problem is that the lessons sometimes contradict each other. Some are predictive. A series of lessons include variations on the themes of Jews being “canaries in the coal mine.” Closely related is the claim that the lessons are universal and should be projected globally. From this comes lessons to the effect that “it” happened to Jews, but it could happen to anyone. Then, different lessons have been crafted that derive from different victims’ experiences. Some survivors, as we know, emerged crushed by brutality and indescribable cruelty; others accented small acts of kindness or selflessness that saved their lives. Contrasting lessons emerge from each group. Some readers of Holocaust history might derive from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen a lesson about incorrigible German “eliminationist” antisemitism. But admirers of author Daniel Mendleson’s finely crafted inquiry into the fate of his murdered relatives in wartime Poland might prefer what the author once told an interviewer for National Public Radio, namely that “anybody is capable of anything” – certainly the most capacious lesson of any I have encountered in my own reading.

To complicate matters, Holocaust lessons change as new problems arise and new generations consider its history. “The horizon is shifting,” I read in a blog produced by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, “With it the role and reach of Holocaust organizations must inevitably evolve.” Maine’s Holocaust Center offers a “suite of free films, panels and workshops to discuss bullying and a related program of restorative justice,” pursuing its mission “to advance  the cause of ethical literacy.” This sounds like admirable work. But some might well be concerned with the way in which those who oversee such programs are increasingly detached from the Holocaust itself, the event from which they claim to take their inspiration . All the easier it is, therefore, to misinterpret, distort and even abandon the history of the Holocaust, the elements of which may seem too remote and to horrifying to pursue without an excessive investment of time and energy. And it is here where we need to underscore the variability of lessons.

This is perhaps best demonstrated through examples. Here are some of the most commonly articulated universal lessons that raise questions for which there are no conclusive answers. I stress that these are examples, hardly an exhaustive list.

The Holocaust as a school for tolerance

This is the explicit commitment of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, in which the main exhibit on the Holocaust is accompanied by a “Tolerancenter”, where “visitors focus on the major issues of intolerance in our daily lives.” I certainly have no quarrel with admirable objectives such as these.. To historians, neve-the less, the idea that “intolerance” or “prejudice is what the Holocaust is all about would be laughable if this were not  a serious matter, maintained seriously by men and women of obvious good will. Let us be clear: people in history have forever been “intolerant” and “prejudiced” by our twenty-first century, North American definitions, without necessarily slaughtering each other and committing genocide in a manner that practically defies belief for any society. The Holocaust is about mass killing, on a continental scale, of a particular group of victims, and not about intolerance and prejudice. Throughout history, societies have commonly stigmatized, exploited, brutalized, punished, and persecuted groups and individuals – and seen worse- without slaughtering them so obsessively or seeking to wipe them of the face of the earth – why and how did the barriers of law and custom and religion seem to collapse under the Third Reich and how did the German’s manage to organize killing on such a vast scale? Narrowing the Holocaust to an issue of intolerance and prejudice not only prompts a misunderstanding od such wrong-doing in our world today, it also misstates the significance of the event, the authority of which we are then borrowing disrespectfully.

It began with words

Public personalities who have called for restrictions on hate speech in the media and on the Internet have historically invoked the Holocaust with the claim that “it began with words,” suggesting that unfettered speech was a fundamental cause of the Holocaust, if not the fundamental cause. Again, demonizing others has unfortunately been common in many societies and for that matter exists in many parts of the world today, without the kind of genocidal massacres we associate with the Holocaust. While no one claims that the subject of antisemitism is unimportant for a study of Nazism, most historians would certainly challenge the idea that it paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power or that it mobilized Germans to a genocidal attack on Jews.

Some years ago, historian William Sheridan Allen summed up a consensus succinctly when he said that more Germans became anti-Semites because they became Nazis than became Nazis because they were anti-Semites. Then, too, claims about the salience of antisemitism dissolve when examined comparatively. Was German antisemitism, for example, any more widespread or venomous than, say, Polish or Hungarian or Romanian antisemitism? Probably not. And how would it compare, for that matter with Canadian antisemitism in the pre-war era? If you were situated in the 1890s and were told that one of the European states of the day would be responsible for a Holocaust, which would you chose? More often than not, anyone who knew anything about European antisemitism would probably select tsarist Russia. And after that , most certainly France. Germany would not be high on the list. So, why Germany?

All it takes for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing

There are few who believe that good men should “do nothing.” But “all it takes?” The slogan is all call for civil courage which that urges us to stand up, to speak against social justice but at the same time assumes a softened version of the Holocaust that is politically safe and even comforting because it involves no killers, only victims and witnesses. In any assessment of the rise of Nazis or the Holocaust it would also be an outrageous misstatement to claim that “good men did nothing” to oppose Nazism- or even, for that matter, to resist the Final Solution. Too few, certainly. Too late, as is so often the case in human affairs . But “all it takes’ and “do nothing”  hardly constitute a serious assessment. It is a childishly simple view of how genocide functions and slights the resistance that did occur to no effect whatsoever.

One person can make a difference

Arguably, the history of the daily lives of Jews under Nazism suggests precisely the opposite- how even the most resourceful, the bravest, those who were willing to hurl themselves against the machinery of destruction, more often than not failed even to slow the killing,. Coming from a religious discourse that may celebrate acts of goodness wherever they appear, this claim probably has more to do with our hunger for a redemptive messages than anything else.  It may gratify us to identify heroes who sacrificed themselves or who became martyrs to a good cause. But formulating such cases lessons of the Holocaust obscures the historical reality of wartime genocide and falsifies the situation that bystanders actually faced.

Siding with victims

“Indifference and inaction always means coming down on the side of the victimizer, never the victim.” Goes another familiar slogan.  There is a considerable historical discourse on what might have been done to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, and there are specialists in Holocaust lessons who relentlessly pursue long-gone actors, charging that they could and should have done more to save the victimized. Who could deny such assertions, in general terms at least? In hindsight, there few instances, and few individuals, for whom this is not true for virtually every human-made catastrophe – either in our personal lives or in public affairs. Afterwards, we can always identify how things might have been done better.

During the Second World War, when so few, including the victims themselves, grasped the reality of the Final Solution, and in the throes of a world-wide conflict of unimaginable destructiveness, people did not have the luxury to act as we might like to think we would act – and it is so easy to imagine them doing now. What is important if we want fully to understand is to assess the situation people faced with as clear-eyed judgment and as a full awareness of the evidence as possible. Disagreement about such things is inevitable and historians are by no means unanimous that, practically speaking, large numbers of Jews could have been saved from the Nazis’ implementation of mass murder and they also disagree on whether prioritizing rescue was a conceivable choice for decision makers involved in a desperate struggle against the Third Reich.

The strongest part of this argument has to do with the Depression years, when Allied immigration [policies turned increasingly towards restrictions in the late 1930s, following the Anschluss with Austria and the events of Kristallnacht.  Still, in country after country where policies towards Jews have been examined, historians have identified fierce opposition to opening the door to refugees in general, Jews in particular. Once the lethal machinery of destruction began to operate Jews were almost completely inaccessible to Allied rescue possibilities, and in any event such ‘humanitarian intervention,” as we came to call it in the 1990s, efforts on behalf of millions of people in wartime, was about as foreign an idea to Allied governments as modern-day human rights might be to nineteenth -century imperial powers. Such notions were generations in the future [which none-the-less refutes the notion that the WWII generation was ‘The Greatest’].

My quarrel is not necessarily with the probity of any of the purported lessons as as various people have drawn them. Some of these may be exemplary. The problem is not with intentions or goals quite true; many are often very well-intentioned, even exemplary; the problem is insufficient acquaintance with Holocaust history. . .  


Marrus's thesis is that more often than not 'lessons' come at the expense of history- they distort and trivialize what actually happened. He does it himself. I was fascinated, in particular by his rejection of Hannah Arendt's observation of Eichmann's representing the banality of evil which on the face of it, in consideration of the revelations of the Sesson interviews long after the trial, seems correct .(…/the-sessen-interviews-by-…)
Raul Hilberg himself rejected Arendt's characterization, as he reflected in the "Politics of Memory" thus:
"She did not recognize the magnitude of what this man had done with a small staff, overseeing and manipulating Jewish councils in various parts of Europe, attaching some of the remaining Jewish property in Germany, Austria, and Bohemia-Moravia, preparing anti-Jewish laws in satellite states, and arranging for the transportation of Jews to shooting sites and death camps. She did not discern the pathways that Eichmann had found in the thicket of the German administrative machine for his unprecedented actions. She did not grasp the dimension of his deeds. There was no "banality" in this "evil"."(…/politics-of-memory-by-rau…)
Yet later in the book, as if looking into the dark mirror of his own past, assembling his own cast of characters in
'Perpetrators Victims and Bystanders' he seems to have made a significant concession to Arendt's idea when he wrote:
" For me, the destruction of the Jews already was the setting, the irremovable reality, and within this extraordinary outburst I looked for all that was ordinary. I had done so from the beginning, when I dealt with everyday bureaucratic procedures, and now I was pursuing the same object as I examined the lives of people. In their daily routines, these individuals, like agencies, sought stability, particularly their own private equilibrium. It did not matter whether they were perpetrators, victims, of bystanders; they all manifested a need for continuity and balance.
The craving for the familiar, the habitual, the normal, emerged as a leitmotif wherever I looked. Psychologically this clinging was aimed at self-preservation, and its manifestation runs like a thread through the upheaval. At a basic level they provide an explanation of how these groups managed to go on - the perpetrators with their ever more drastic activities, the victims with their progressive deprivations, the bystanders with the increasing ambiguity and ambivalence of ther positions. When Sigmund Freud delivered a lecture about war during the first major conflagration of the twentieth century, he said that mankind needed a passing check from the burdens of civilization. What I began to note was the reverse side of this phenomena: the adhesion to time-honored products of this civilization in the midst of unprecedented destruction...."
So,the 'banality of evil' might be revised to 'the banality of tradition in evil times', no? And, might not Eichmann have exaggerated the enthusiasm with which he pursued the destruction of the Jews among his Nazis friends in Argentina in equal proportion to the way he downplayed them annd portrayed himself as an unthinking cog in an irresistible 'machine' when on trial in Jerusalem? He was just 'trying to fit in' in both cases, as far from enacting a Kierkegaardian existentialism as any of us really are and thus equally inept and banal before the 'ultimate', retrospective judgments of history?
So,isn't it true that the 'lessons of the Holocaust' are really the lessons,not of the Holocaust per se, but of all of History, an observation that can be made of "The Present Age', as Soren had it, a character of the 'eternal present' in all human affairs perhaps even during the most revolutionary of upheavals.So easy to see the evil gone by, so difficult to encompass their totality in our own time.

or,maybe,evil is what you don't see, the rest is 'go-along/get along'