Nietzsche and the Jews
August 27, 2010

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882; One of ...
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It was inevitable that we were going to have to talk about Nietzsche’s supposed anti-Semitism at some point, so I’m happy to get it out of the way relatively early on. In aphorism 475 of Human, All-Too-Human, the philosopher describes his vision for the future of all the different European ethnic groups, including the Jews. By 19th-century standards, I’d call it fairly progressive, but there is no getting around the fact that it is, by modern standards, pretty damn racist.

The problem for modern readers is that Nietzsche uncritically accepts the notion that racial bloodlines play some huge deterministic role in character, intelligence, and moral fortitude. So after predicting that “as a consequence of continual intermarriage there must develop a mixed race, that of the European man,” he concludes that the best way to deal with this is by doing everything to ensure that the right mixture of ingredients go into the stew.

That’s where the Jews come in. Nietzsche says “unpleasant, even dangerous qualities can be found in every nation and every individual,” and concedes to anti-Semites the possibility that “these qualities may even be dangerous and revolting to an unusual degree” in the European Jew, but nonetheless insists that “the Jew is just as useful and desirable an ingredient as any other national remnant.” After all: “One owes to them the noblest man (Christ), the purest sage (Spinoza), the most powerful book, and the most effective moral law in the world.”

It’s possible to condemn Nietzsche’s proto-eugenics while also acknowledging that he is far from the “prophet of Nazism” some of his modern detractors claim him to be. If anything, his views on Asia are far more troubling than his attitude towards the Jews—in his view, one of the great accomplishments of Judaism has been its defense of European values against eastern influence.

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Racism is the New “Enhanced Interrogation”
July 31, 2010

Arguing with Idiots was published by Simon and...
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I take no joy in writing this, but if the latest column from the always-frustrating Charles Blow is an indication, then Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart and their comrades are winning the racism debate.

Well, that’s not exactly true. They’re winning insofar as there’s a debate in the first place, once which, predictably, plays out like so in Blow’s column:

Americans are engaged in a war over a word: racism.

Mature commentary on the subject has descended into tribal tirades, hypersensitive defenses and rapid-fire finger-pointing. The very definition of the word seems under assault, being bent and twisted back on itself and stretched and pulled beyond recognition.

Many on the left have taken an absolutist stance, that the anti-Obama sentiment reeks of racism and denial only served to confirm guilt. Many on the right feel as though they have been convicted without proof — that tossing “racism” their way is itself racist.

And so on. This is how it plays out, and will continue to play out, in every major newspaper and on every major television network: “Both sides are calling each other racist! What a crazy debate! And who am I, just a humble columnist for the most prestigious Op-Ed page on the planet, to evaluate their claims against one another? All I know is that they’re both being very, very indecorous.”

If that pungent aroma you smell is bringing back memories of the Bush era, it’s because the right has used this exact same tactic before—most famously when they successfully obfuscated the meaning of the word “torture,” and passive, compliant news agencies played along. Now they’re doing the same thing with “racism,” and even “lynching” (For those keeping score at home, “to lynch” now means “To criticize a white person on the Internet.”).

I have slightly more respect for the nihilists who at least admit their complete lack of moral principles. This is something different: Rather than ever admit to violating a moral principle, or even engaging in a debate over whether or not they violated a moral principle, they instead argue over the meaning of the words used to articulate that principle.

It’s pretty amazing how far they’ve taken it, but I think they could go further. If Breitbart were ever caught beating an unarmed homeless man to death, he could probably extend the trial by at least a few months by calling it, “enhanced robust preemptive self-defense,” and accusing liberal bloggers “high-tech murder” for condemning his actions. Then Charles Blow could write a column about how nobody can agree on the definition of the word “murder,” and we should just agree that no American is a murderer anymore, ever.


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A Question For the ADL
July 30, 2010

Your organization was presumably founded to combat anti-Semitism. So let me ask you this: What happens to anti-Semitism when an organization claiming to represent the American Jewish community endorses a policy founded on anti-Muslim bigotry?

At this point, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the Anti-Defamation League is bad for the Jews. But more the point, it’s just plain bad. And it sure as shit doesn’t speak for me.

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