Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Norman Podhoretz & Jewish Power

Norman Podhoretz has published a new book:

World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Doubleday.

In a review, I found this:- is worth pondering why Jews have played such a prominent part in the short history of neoconservatism, despite the fact that most American Jews would still regard themselves as liberals. Much has already been written on this topic, some of it scurrilous; conspiracies and so forth. Could it have something to do with an old attraction to utopian visions of universal liberty, which once drew many Jews to the left? Or with the traditional appeal of strong, benevolent empires, from the monarchy of Franz Joseph to George W. Bush's republic, as shields against bigots, racists, and tyrants? Of course, the specter of 1938, of not nipping a mortal danger in the bud, has special resonance among many Jews. Then there is the matter of Israel. Podhoretz, for one, felt deeply betrayed by the American left, not to mention "the Europeans," who became critical of the Jewish state after the 1967 war, and even more so after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

But none of these factors quite explains the obsession with power, specifically US power, and the constant angst that it is being undermined by an elite of treacherous liberals. In his latest book, Podhoretz refers to the "Vietnam syndrome" as an example of "neo-isolationism" and "pacifist sentiment" that are supposedly rife in "the elite institutions of American culture." This elite appears to be made up largely of that old bugbear of the paranoid right: clever people in New York who run the media, that "effete corps of impudent snobs," in the words of former Vice President Spiro Agnew. To shore up US power, it is essential to mobilize the common, decent, right-thinking people of America against this decadent elite... his famous essay "My Negro Problem—and Ours."...When Podhoretz grew up in Brooklyn, the common assumption was that Jews were rich and Negroes were persecuted. This was not how things looked to Podhoretz on the playground of his local public school, where poor Jewish boys like him were regularly being beaten up by Negroes: "There is a fight, they win, and we retreat, half whimpering, half with bravado. My first experience of cowardice." Negroes, he goes on, "made one feel inadequate. But most important of all, they were tough, beautifully, enviably tough, not giving a damn for anyone or anything.... This is what I envied and feared in the Negro...." And then there were the effete snobs, "the writers and intellectuals and artists who romanticize the Negroes, and pander to them," and "all the white liberals who permit the Negroes to blackmail them into adopting a double standard of moral judgment...."

The key to Podhoretz's politics seems to me to lie right there: the longing for power, for toughness, for the Shtarker who doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything, and hatred of the contemptible, cowardly liberals with their pandering ways and their double standards. Since Podhoretz, himself a bookish man, can never be a Shtarker, his government must fill that role, and not give a damn about anyone or anything. And not only the US government, but Israel too. Arik Sharon was a typical Shtarker, and thus much admired. Bibi Netanyahu tries hard to be a Shtarker.

That's something to mull about.

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