Philosophy

Anti antisemitism

Wednesday is Holocaust Memorial Day. Michael Gove (in the Telegraph) writes that in many ways we are still in its shadow:

Originally it was the Jewish people’s religious identity which came under attack, and the Church led a programme of forced conversion. Then, as society replaced religion with science as a source of authority, anti-Semitism mutated so that the Jewish people came under attack on racial grounds. Now it is Jewish identity expressed through the right of Israel to self-determination which is the focus of anti-Semitism. Israel, like any state, makes mistakes. Sometimes grievous ones. But many of Israel’s enemies now risk repeating one of the greatest errors of history by infusing anti-Semitism with a new and toxic vibrancy. We see it in some of those who have attached themselves to recent anti-war campaigns, with Britons marching through the streets of London declaring “We are all Hezbollah now” even though Hezbollah is a fascist organisation whose leader is a Holocaust-denier who believes the Jews are “grandsons of apes and pigs”. And we also see the apparent mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in comments such as those of a former ambassador who recently objected to the composition of the Iraq inquiry team because two of its members were Jewish.

And in the JC, Douglas Carswell explains why the British left hates Israel:

The contemporary left appears to meander behind the 18th-century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The founding father of cultural relativism, Rousseau contended that the primitive and pre-industrial were more noble than advanced Western society. Israel’s very existence demonstrates that the western way of life is more rewarding than other, primitive forms, and is a repudiation of cultural relativism. Along with common law, property rights, women’s equality, liberalism and democracy in the space of a single generation, a new state turned desert into fertile land. Within two generations, high-tech business parks have sprung up in downtown Tel Aviv to rival anything in California. And what, meantime, of Israel’s neighbours? Precisely.

Two races

There have always been, and there always will be, two races in the world, and the boundary between them is more important than any other; crucifiers and crucified, oppressors and oppressed, persecutors and persecuted. Of course, in history the roles can be reversed but that does not alter the truth. Today Christians are being persecuted as in the early centuries. Today Jews are being persecuted as so often before in history. These facts are worth thinking about. Russian anti-semites, living in a condition of morbid emotion and obsession, allege that the Jews rule Russia and oppress the Christians there. This assertion is deliberately false. It was not the Jews in particular who were at the head of militant atheism; ‘Aryan’ Russians also played an active part. I am even inclined to believe that this movement represents a specifically Russian phenomenon. A nobleman, the anarchist Bakunin, was one of its extreme representatives, as was Lenin too. It was precisely on the subject of Russian nihilism and the inner dialectic of its nature, that Dostoievsky made such sensational revelations.

Nicholas Berdyaev, 1938

Brodsky on Evil

“Evil, especially political evil, is always a bad stylist.”

“Evil takes root when one man starts to think that he is better than another.”

“The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even –  if you will – eccentricity. That is, something that can’t be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn’t be happy with.”

“Life, the way it really is, is a battle not between Bad and Good but between Bad and Worse.”

“Auden’s lines: ‘Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return’ should be tattooed on every baby’s chest.”

 

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Statistics

“Obviously, in those parts of the world which have not yet come under the totalitarian yoke, this peculiar logic has not had all its implications worked out. The statistical method is, as it were, dumped down well outside the gates of the palace of art, but for how long? It is permissible, at least, to ask whether in this realm, as in many others, the totalitarian countries, with their brutal way of freezing out the nonconforming artist, have not merely confined themselves to drawing the proper conclusions from premises that are, in fact, accepted by everybody for whom statistics provide a sufficient criterion for the administration of human affairs.”

Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, Vol. I (1950)

Creative Fidelity

“On the threshold of the catacombs which may soon swallow us up, it should be remembered that it is basically the same power of creative fidelity concentrated in more favourable times in architecture, music and poetry, which tomorrow will strengthen the fierce resolution of those who reject the consummation by themselves or others of man’s denial of man, or to formulate this in a more profound way, the denial of the more than human by the less than human.”

Gabriel Marcel (1940)

The Flesh

The idealist is bound in the end to substitute himself for the Mind and then we have an individual to deal with. Let us confront him with the (as he thinks) shocking spectacle of a Christian astronomer. How can an astronomer believe in the Incarnation or go to Mass? The idealist’s only hope is to put up a distinction. As an astronomer, this monster (or rather this amphibian) is a man of the twentieth century and the idealist can greet him as a contemporary. As a man who believes in the Incarnation, however, and goes to Mass, he is behaving like a mediaeval or a child; and this is a pity. When we ask the philosopher to justify his extraordinary dichotomy, he may call upon Reason and Mind till he is black in the face, but he will not convince us; especially when we see that he does not scruple to use psychological and even sociological arguments to account for these survivals in the astronomer, while he absolutely forbids us turn such arguments or analyses upon himself. He is a man of 1930 from top to toe. And yet he is still invoking an eternal Mind, but a Mind which has none the less been born; who Its next incarnation will be, Heaven only knows. Frankly, I find all this extremely incoherent. If a Marxist, for example, were to tackle the idealist and tell him plainly that his Mind was a purely bourgeois product begotten of economic leisure, the idealist would have to take refuge in the realm of completely bloodless abstractions. I think myself that idealism of this kind cannot help being cornered, with concrete religious philosophy hemming it in on one side, and historical materialism on the other. For it is in fact impotent when confronted with history any real history, even if it is just the history of a single life. It has no feeling for tragedy, and (what is worse) no feeling for flesh and blood either. Personally, I think that people who substitute the Cartesian concept of matter for the richly confused idea of the flesh which is embedded in all Christian philosophy are doing anything but progressing in their metaphysics. There is an almost untouched task here, and pure metaphysicians would do well to focus all their attention upon it, or so I think: the task of describing the evolution and progressive confusion of the notions of flesh and fleshly existence in the history of philosophical thought.At bottom, this idealism is a purely professorial doctrine, and falls directly under Schopenhauer’s partially unjust criticism of the academic philosophers of his day. (It was partially unjust, because there is a real feeling for concreteness and human drama in such writers as Schelling and Hegel.) In point of fact, philosophical idealism would very likely have had no appreciable effect upon the development of human thought, had it not found a redoubtable ally in all forms of applied science. I believe that the spirit of applied science is really in itself the most serious obstacle, for many perfectly candid minds, to the acceptance of the notion of religious life, or rather religious truth.

(from: Gabriel Marcel: Some Remarks on the Irreligion of Today, 1930)

Marxism

To my mind, the most serious objection that can be raised to such a doctrine as Marxism is this: that it can maintain itself only in the struggle for its own supremacy; as soon as it is supreme, it destroys itself and makes way for nothing better than coarse hedonism. That is why many of the young people whom you see among you today, professing to be Communists, would, I am sure, go over to the Opposition at once if Communism were to win the day.

Gabriel Marcel (1930)