Anti-Semitism, Jews and the Alt-Right

Anti-Semitism, Jews and the Alt-Right

by

Howard Adelman

The torch-bearing men in Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally screaming, “Jews will not replace us,” provide an indicator of the core belief of White Nationalists. Many, if not most, commentators on the tragedy in Charlottesville tended not to zero in on the canary in the coal mine. Anti-Semitism was pushed to the side as the focus became primarily racism and gender rights.  The liberal-left media readily concluded that coddling of the alt-right by allegedly conservative parties, parties permeated with an uncoded racism, was mainly responsible for the rise of the alt-right. On the other hand, the view of the Jewish right that the world is made up of us versus them, that the world has always hated Jews, was reinforced by the efforts of the alt-right. However, if we liberal-leftists do not recognize that we are also infected, then our failure to be accountable, indeed our intellectual dishonesty, will doom liberalism as well as true “conservatism”.

Eric K. Ward, a Black activist civil rights worker, who studied the alt-right and worked to document its character since 1990, recently reaffirmed that, “American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.” (my italics) Antisemitism is the lynchpin of the White nationalist belief system. Jews are blamed for the globalist forces that put nationalist zealotry on the defensive. Sigmund Freud was incorrect about many things, but not when he insisted that the roots of anti-Semitism can be found in resentment of Jewish existence, and, to go further, in resentment that the roots of their own nationalist and extremist zealotry itself can be traced in part back to Judaism in the narrative of the nationalist zealot, Pinchas or Phineas (Numbers 25:10 – 30:1).

Friedrich Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals traced the roots of hatred to powerlessness that grows into something “enormous and uncanny,” “something most spiritual and most poisonous.” The expression of that hatred is “the spirit of revenge” that grows out of a slave revolt. When the country one lives in is not the one described, it becomes very difficult to identify the one that does. Denied fulfillment, blocked from realizing a vision, the loss of an ideal, however false and misplaced, means that losses can only be compensated for through revenge, revenge of the alt-right on Jews and resentment of the alt-left on Zionism and Israel as the religious caricature of the Jew first morphed into a racial one and, more currently, into a political one. Nay-saying supersedes yea-saying as extremists dedicate themselves “to go to the ends of the earth to hunt down the last of Satan’s spawns.” (The Turner Diaries)

Over the last fifty years, multiculturalism had displaced the monochromatic ideal, feminists and LGBTQ activists have almost buried misogyny, globalization continues to win even as economic nationalism has reasserted itself. For the right, there must be a cabal, a mythological secret conspiracy, a fantasy of an invisible power, to have won so much and so fast, to emerge and become so influential in the media and the establishment political class in Washington, whether Republican or Democrat. Jews are not simply convenient scapegoats. They are at the core.

But anti-Semitism had declined. Jews have been accepted like never before in history. In just over fifty years, anti-Semitism, already having diminished, was cut by almost a further 50%. However, over the last two years there has been a dramatic spike upwards. This is not simply because the alt-right has been given permission by authorities in power to act out its heinous ideology. That is simply the surface explanation. The deeper roots are to be found in the politics of resentment, not simply in resentment that the core figure in their own Christian belief system was a practicing Jew, but that the core of their nationalist zealotry can be traced back to Judaism. One should not be surprised that Richard Kelly Hoskins Vigilantes of Christendom takes as its hero the Phineas who, as a Hebrew zealot, stabbed an intermarried couple through with a single spear to prevent idolatry and intermarriage with the Midianites.

The politics of ressentiment, the conclusion that society has failed us, that we live in a time when the promise not simply remains unfulfilled but cannot be fulfilled, is not simply a belief deeply embedded in the right. The liberal-left have also been deeply disappointed. Efforts to create a world government answerable to a higher standard have failed. The dream of Jews and Palestinians creating a united federated state or a two-state solution in which they live side-by-side in peace, is proving daily to be a chimera, a chimera that can be blamed on the right, but also must and should be placed at the feet of the darlings of the left. If anti-Semitism is represented by White Nationalists on the right, it is also at work in the new form of anti-Israel double standards and activism on the liberal left. Anti-Semitism is at the core of the alt-right. The failure of both the conservative right coddlers and the liberal-left critics to zero in on that central finding is cause for great concern.

I focus, not on those who express outright antisemitism and call the pre-Trump governments in Washington the Zionist Occupied Government or ZOG, nor on Kevin MacDonald, who rails against multiculturalism while longing for a “white” civilization and opposing Jewish influence and identity. The 1488er neo-Nazis with its 14 word credo to secure the White Race and its promotion of the eighth letter of the alphabet repeated, that is, HH for Heil Hitler, The (((echo))) which claims that, “all Jewish surnames echo throughout history,” David Duke as the born-again Ku-Klux-Klaner who focuses on “Jewish supremacism,” and the neo-Nazi group, The Order, that bombed synagogues in Washington state and murdered Alan Berg, a radio talk show host, are all set aside. So are the so-called “more moderate” alt-right leaders, Richard Spencer, Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor. I focus on those who support the alt-right who are Jews or, like Stephen Bannon, philo-Jews.

Many leaders of the alt-right have made outreach to Jews a priority – sometimes just tactical, at other times strategic, but often enough substantive. Yet the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) labeled Breitbart as “the premier website of the alt-right” with its “white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.” How does one reconcile the overt anti-antisemitism of a significant part of the alt-right while its semi-establishment leaders so frequently overtly coddle the movement? In November 2016, Bannon boasted to The Washington Post that “Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right”. The overt support and not just coddling was most recently evident in Bannon’s vocal support for former Alabama Chief Justice, Roy Moore.

Breitbart News, that Bannon runs, was started by Jews, the late Andrew Breitbart and his co-founder and successor, Larry Solov. The news organization routinely plays up lies with a built-in racism (Obama was not born in the U.S.) and promotes conspiracy theories allegedly originating on the left. Aaron Klein, a Jew, is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and its senior investigative reporter in the Middle East. He also has his own New York radio show with a weekly audience of about a million. Author of a best-seller, The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists, he makes Trump’s assault on Obama look benign.

Aaron Klein might reply to accusations that he, and Breitbart News more generally, coddles extremism by insisting (correctly) that he has done more work interviewing terrorists (Islamic ones mind you), than any reporter in America; Klein interviewed both Ahmed Yousef, Hamas’ chief political advisor, and Mahmoud al-Zahar, the chief of Hamas. Klein insists that he recognizes extremism and the left-liberals who coddle Islamicists. The issue is not simply a credo. Klein authored The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don’t Want You to Know. He uniquely made Libya an important issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Before the third presidential debate, Aaron Klein painted Hilary Clinton with Bill Clinton’s infidelities (and lies) by bringing one of Clinton’s accusers, Leslie Millwee, a former Arkansas TV reporter, on his radio show.

What is Aaron Klein, a “good” Jewish boy who grew up in a tight-knit orthodox Jewish community, attended the Torah Academy Boys High School in Philadelphia and went onto study English at Yeshiva University, doing in an organization that supports sympathizers of the alt-right?

Aaron Klein, Andrew Breitbart and Steve Bannon all openly declared that they reject the “ethno-nationalism” of the alt-right and certainly any manifestations of its anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, Bannon champions the alt-right more generally even as Breitbart disassociated himself by defining its white-nationalism. (At the same time, leaked emails suggested that Breitbart News was marketing neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology.) Why Jews?

The core is Israel. Breitbart started his far-right news network in 2007 with “the aim of starting a site that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel. We were sick of the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media and J-Street.” Steven Bannon was one of the strongest advocates for moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Trump’s insistence that the decision does not pre-empt any determination of borders appears to have originated in the State Department and/or his security advisers.) Though Breitbart and its allies mainly target the establishment in the Republican Party, all aspects of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media (including Hollywood), the core concern has been Israel and the mistreatment of Israel by these three main targets. They are accused of being pusillanimous and prejudiced against Israel.

A pro-Israel policy and anti-Semitism can possibly be reconciled. If Israel were defeated, Jewish refugees from Israel would flee to the U.S. This is the inverse of the belief that evangelical Christians only support Israel because they believe the restoration of Israel is a necessary prerequisite to the second coming of Christ. However, the excuse does not hold up. Most supporters and promoters of the alt-right (not alt-right members) are both pro-Israel and pro-Jewish. The leading propaganda forum is controlled and largely managed by Jews. Aaron Klein for the last 12 years has called Tel Aviv home. They support Israel, not only for its dynamism and creativity, not only because it is a haven for Jews, but because it is an outpost in the Islamic world of western democracy and European cultural values, and mostly because of the alleged unfair treatment of Israel by the liberal-left.

The core conundrum is that anti-Semitism lies at the theoretical core of the alt-right, yet the main publicists and umbrellas are supplied by organizations run mainly by Jews with philo-Jews playing a major role. If we understand the roots of that conundrum, we will also be in a better place to understand why its anti-Semitic outrages quickly became peripheral in the accounts of the mainstream press repeatedly critical of Trump and Bannon. If the new establishment coddles the alt-right and ignores the anti-Semitism at its core, the left-liberal press rejects the alt-right, but also relegates its own core anti-Semitism to the periphery. The coddlers ignore the anti-Semitism and the liberal-left minimize its significance in themselves.

I attribute the rise of the alt-right first and foremost to our failure to understand that the alt-right at its centre is anti-Semitic, that both the non-alt-right coddlers and the anti-alt-right critics tend to deny this reality. In this essay, I have not developed three additional propositions: our failure to see that the roots of nationalist zealotry itself can be found in Judaism; that somehow and for some reasons, Canada has mostly escaped that blight; and, finally, but not entirely, anti-Semitism continues to lurk in the reeds of the swamp of anti-Zionism in the public policies that continue to be adopted towards Israel. But these are all arguments for another day.

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On Dreaming and Morality: Va-y’chi Genesis 47:28-50:26

On Dreaming and Morality: Va-y’chi Genesis 47:28-50:26

by

Howard Adelman

In the last few blogs, as well as some earlier ones, I wrote about dreamers, individuals who marry personal ambition and self-sacrifice to realize their dreams (La La Land), and those who translate and transform dreamers and dreaming into brilliant works of art (Guillermo del Toro who wrote, produced and directed The Shape of Water). Dreamers belong to a Dionysian world of the imagination, an imagination which insists that reality is complex and not a world of simple and simplistic maxims characteristic of the Apollonian world of reason and Occam’s razor. Reality for the dreamer is about grace rather than gravity.

I repeated the refrain from La La Land about “The Fools Who Dream”:

Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that ache

Here’s to the mess we make.

Dreamers are fools – or so they seem. They break hearts and make messes. But Elisa in The Shape of Water mends hearts (and as her gills restored), not only her own, but the hearts of the sensitive souls around her. Further, she does not appear to be a mess-maker. After all, she works as a cleaning woman who may, in her imagination, live in la la land, but this Chaplinesque hapless heroine proves that she can be as conniving and courageous, even more so, than the stick figures that rule over her daytime drudgery.

The longest narrative in Genesis is about a person who is purportedly one of the great dreamers of all time, but not a dreamer like his father Jacob. The latter, when fleeing his brother Esau whose blessing from his father he had stolen (going well beyond his treacherous bargaining for his brother’s birthright when he was younger), had a dream. It is a vertical dream of a ladder that reaches up towards the heavens on the rungs of which angels clamber up and down. (Genesis 28: 10-19)

Jacob’s dream is radically opposed to the dreams in the Joseph story. When Joseph was a teenager, he “prophesied” in a perilous pair of dreams that he would lord it over his brothers, though the meaning of the dreams was so plain that he did not have to interpret or divine their meaning. In total insensitivity to his brothers’ natural reaction, he followed his story of his first dream with another dream with the same interpretation. No wonder his father was annoyed with him. When Joseph later interpreted the dreams of the cook and the butler, Joseph did interpret and foretold their radically opposite futures. The situation was similar, though with far greater global and historical consequences, when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s two dreams.

Joseph’s horizontal dreams, in contrast to Jacob’s vertical one, stretched into the future rather than towards the heavens. In the case of Pharaoh’s dreams, they adumbrated first seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of want. Joseph’s dreams were used for self-elevation and were those of a diviner. Jacob’s dreams were those of one chosen by God. He was guided by predictions delivered by God’s messengers. In contrast, Joseph is the deliverer of the interpretations of messages attributed to God. “Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (41:16) But God does not interpret the dreams for Joseph. Joseph’s story belongs to the wisdom literature of diviners rather than the prophetic literature of the Israelites. As Pharaoh says, and he is not corrected by Joseph, “there is none so discerning and as wise as you.” (41:39)

God spoke to Jacob as he did subsequently to Moses and as he had to Abraham. However, as often as Joseph cites God as the author and the authority behind his dreams, Joseph is never addressed by God. God does not speak to Joseph, even to chastise him, as he does Jonah. God does not reprimand Joseph for engaging in malicious gossip about his brothers when he was a teenager or his enigmatic accusations of their being spies and thieves, and, most significantly, his puzzling demand that they return home and come back to Egypt with their brother Benjamin. He continues this mistreatment, but under the guise of charity, at the end of Genesis. And the irony!

בראשית נ:יט וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף אַל תִּירָאוּ כִּי הֲתַחַת אֱלֹהִים אָנִי. נ:כ וְאַתֶּם חֲשַׁבְתֶּם עָלַי רָעָה אֱלֹהִים חֲשָׁבָהּ לְטֹבָה לְמַעַן עֲשֹׂה כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה לְהַחֲיֹת עַם רָב.. Joseph said to them, “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result – the survival of many people. (Genesis 50:19-20; my italics)

The intentions of his brothers do not matter in moral judgments. For Joseph, a good will is not the only good without qualification and a bad will may even be an expression of God’s will. The divinely inspired dream of Jacob is radically different than the divination dreams of Joseph. Jacob’s dream humbles him. Joseph’s dreams, and even more so, his expertise in interpreting dreams, inflate his ego to proportions well-beyond the narcissistic fabulism of his teenage years. That arrogance is best illustrated when Joseph, in a false humility, claims that his dreams of divination are divinely inspired, that they are not his dreams, but dreams that come unbidden and, therefore, are supposedly delivered by God. He makes this assertion, not God.

Look more closely at the contrasts between Jacob’s dream and those of Joseph or the ones of others that he interprets. Jacob, like most prophetic figures in the bible, is his mother Rebecca’s boy; Joseph is his father’s favourite. Jacob in his flight from his brother Esau travels from west to east, having fled Beersheba for Haran. Joseph is transported from east to west and, not only settles in Egypt, but entices his whole family to leave the Promised Land and resettle alongside himself in Goshen. Jacob’s dream belonged to a certain place and came at a specific time, after he fell asleep at dusk with his head on a rock. Joseph’s dreams are more akin to daydreams and embrace vast territories of space and time rather than having a specific locale at a very specific time. There is no spot that is regarded as holy. There is no encounter with God’s messengers. Jacob’s vision is the guilt dream of a deceiver. Joseph’s dream is that of an achiever, a revealer who never feels a spark of guilt or recognizes his own role in deceiving others and deceiving himself.

Jacob was hated by his brother Esau, Joseph was hated by his ten half-brothers. Esau vowed to kill his brother after their father died; Joseph’s brothers are determined to kill him when Jacob was still very much alive. Joseph is saved at the last minute by Judah who sells him into slavery; Jacob flees towards his dream and purportedly comes to realize his mistakes and their consequences, though he can never accept that his brother loved him and forgave him. Joseph is transported away from his dream; it is his brothers who never cease distrusting him even when Joseph excuses their actions and insists that everything happened according to God’s will. They were not accountable and, by implication, neither was he. We are all mere instruments of divine will, according to Joseph.

The story of Jacob is one of self-transformation. Look at the harsh blessing he gives his sons before he dies compared to those Isaac bestowed on both him and his brother, Esau. The story of Joseph is radically different again. It is a tale of a brilliant administrator who saves the nations under the rule of Pharaoh, but then deprives Egyptians of their autonomy, of their status as freeholders of land. Joseph’s policies reduce them to serfs.

Jacob pursues freedom; Joseph does not, as his dream seemed to foretell, accept his brothers’ offer to become his slaves. But neither does he ever expressly forgive them or hold them accountable for what they did. Instead, he proclaims that there is no autonomy. There is no freedom. We are all instruments of a divine unfolding plan, a plan that made him viceroy over Egypt and the saviour of his family. Joseph claims – God never says it – “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.” (45:7, my italics) Joseph sounds like Donald Trump praising his own fabulous contribution, not recognizing that he, Joseph, would be the agent that delivered the Hebrews into years of slavery by a people that resented what Joseph had done to them.

Joseph, unlike Jacob, never hears the words of God, because he is so caught up in his own beauty and brilliance while, at the same time, taking no responsibility for his own actions or assigning responsibility to others for their actions. Joseph is akin to ones who hear the words of the Delphic oracle and can interpret the puzzle, but Joseph cannot hear the words of God that are always direct and straightforward. Further, Joseph always remains totally oblivious of the ironic ultimate meaning of his dream even as he demonstrates the cleverness of a shrewd mind. At the end of Genesis, he claims to understand his dreams as God’s communicating his divine plan to him and, thereby, reveals himself to be a diviner without a prophetic bone in his body.

Jacob goes to sleep at sunset and by sunrise, following his dream, he has moved from distress and angst to the path of deliverance. But in the Joseph story, though there is a deliverance from starvation, there is no moral deliverance. There is no autonomy. There is no responsibility. There is no accountability. But most of all, there is no forgiveness. And forgiveness – the ability to give it and to hold it back – is the highest expression of our freedom. Joseph never has to struggle. Jacob, in contrast, struggled with both humans and God. For those struggles, Jacob, meaning trickery and deceit, was renamed Israel, from שרה, “to strive with” and אל (El), God..

בראשית לב:כח וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַה שְּׁמֶךָ וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב. לב:כט וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי שָׂרִיתָ עִם אֱלֹהִים וְעִם אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל. Said the Other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” 32:29 Said He, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28-29)

Israel henceforth struggled and tried to be open and straight. But Joseph practiced even greater trickery on his brothers and was not straight. Joseph did not struggle even when he was a slave of Potiphar (Pharaoh’s steward). Potiphar’s wife repeatedly tried to seduce him when he had risen to the status of running the family household and Joseph had been such a blessing to that household. (Joseph would later rise to the status of running the whole of the Pharaonic kingdom.) God was always at Joseph’s side, but God never intervened on his behalf. The text reads:

בראשית לט:ב וַיְהִי יְ-הוָה אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיְהִי אִישׁ מַצְלִיחַ וַיְהִי בְּבֵית אֲדֹנָיו הַמִּצְרִי. לט:ג וַיַּרְא אֲדֹנָיו כִּי יְ-הוָה אִתּוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר הוּא עֹשֶׂה יְ-הוָה מַצְלִיחַ בְּיָדוֹ… לט:ה וַיְהִי מֵאָז הִפְקִיד אֹתוֹ בְּבֵיתוֹ וְעַל כָּל אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ לוֹ וַיְבָרֶךְ יְ-הוָה אֶת בֵּית הַמִּצְרִי בִּגְלַל יוֹסֵף וַיְהִי בִּרְכַּת יְ-הוָה בְּכָל אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ לוֹ בַּבַּיִת וּבַשָּׂדֶה. YHWH was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he stayed in the house of his Egyptian master. And when his master saw that YHWH was with him and that YHWH lent success to everything he undertook… And from the time that the Egyptian put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, YHWH blessed his house for Joseph’s sake, so that the blessing of YHWH was upon everything that he owned, in the house and outside. (Genesis 39: 2-5)

Joseph rejected the advances of Potiphar’s wife, a theme of wisdom rather than prophetic literature. Why? Because, as he claimed, Potiphar has placed his complete trust in Joseph and put everything, except his wife, in his hands. How could Joseph make her husband a cuckold? That would be wicked and a sin before God. (Genesis 39:9) Joseph escapes, but leaves his coat behind. Potiphar’s wife uses it as evidence that Joseph had tried to sleep with her, just as Joseph’s brothers once used his coat of many colours to cover it with blood and claim that animals had probably killed Joseph.

Again, at another disastrous negative turn in his life, God evidently intervenes again. Joseph is delivered and raised up to a higher status. Is that because he declined to do a wicked thing with Potiphar’s wife? But if each turn and twist is about God’s predetermined plan, then he cannot take credit for his good fortune. Nor does he deserve any credit, even without God’s help, for he makes clear that he rejects her offers to sleep with her because he does not want to jeopardize his social and economic status. Jacob betrayed his brother’s and his father’s trust. Joseph, much sharper politically, refused to make that mistake, but is unjustly thrown into jail for his efforts. He repeatedly professes his innocence. At four different points in the overall story, he insists that everything that takes place is a manifestation of the guiding hand of God.

God, not Joseph, brought these events to pass. Joseph insists that he was not responsible for the good that emerged. But then neither could he be held responsible for the bad. And, because of the blindness of his soul, rather than that of his eyes, he will bring about the greatest calamity for the Israelites – their departure from the Promised Land and their eventual enslavement in Egypt, resented as they must have been by the Egyptians who had been reduced from freemen to serfs by Joseph. When Joseph introduces his father to his two sons when Israel’s eyes “were dim with age,” Israel switches the blessing in contrast to the trickery of his own father, he blesses the younger before the older. And he blesses Joseph and is no longer capable of struggling with God. He blesses Joseph and prophesizes, “God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.” (48:21) But, as it turns out, only to bury his father and then to resettle the Israelites in a foreign land.

Immanuel Kant insisted that the categorical imperative to treat others never as means to an end only is the sine qua non without which there can be no moral code. Others must be respected. Others must be recognized for being free men responsible for their own actions. This is the fundamental principle without which there can be no moral behaviour. Freedom is the essence of morality, freedom which directs one’s attention to the needs of others rather than one’s own passions and desires. Joseph is oblivious of others’ needs, even though he emerged as a remarkable diviner and administrator.

Forgiveness is both the recognition of the other’s flaws and the error of their ways as well as the recognition of their autonomy and their need to take responsibility for their deeds. Joseph never gives his brothers an opportunity to repent and never offers them forgiveness. Instead, he relies on the old empty maxim that God is responsible for all that is and for all that takes place. None of us are responsible for our own actions. Joseph carries this principle forward to provide a ground for converting the status of free and autonomous Egyptian farmers to serfs and, therefore, indirectly to the recompense to the Hebrews when they are made slaves in Egypt.ut Kant was not a dreamer. For it is reason which provides the foundation for morality. It is reason that provides the foundation for the recognition of beauty. In this way, rather than Apollo being at loggerheads with Dionysius, reason permits scientific knowledge, morality and aesthetics to be complementary and consistent. In Kant’s world of ends and final causes, in his teleological worldview and recognition of judgment as the ultimate arbiter, science and morality can be reconciled. Kant cannot bless the ones who dream, cannot bless those who are foolish, cannot bless those who fall from grace from his lofty perch of his pure practical moral reasoning based on a maxim that is the ultimate expression of Occam’s razor. Kant cannot bless those whose hearts ache for the other, and, ultimately, cannot accept the mess they make.

However, rationalists like Kant are not the only enemies of dreamers. Diviners who pose as dreamers are even greater foes. They deny freedom by viewing the future as pre-determined by a divine hand. They deny freedom by eliminating forgiveness from their vocabulary. They deny freedom by eliminating the principle that each one of us is responsible and accountable for his or her own actions.

The Underpinnings of Canada’s Civic Religion

The Underpinnings of Canada’s Civic Religion

by

Howard Adelman

Last week in Ottawa, I attended an interfaith conference called, “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th.” My talk, indeed the panel I was on, addressed the issue of immigration and refugees. A short report on my talk can be found in Peter Stockland’s article, “How Faith Fosters Civility,” in the magazine, Convivium, 19 May 2017:  https://www.convivium.ca/articles/how-faith-fosters-civility. I will elaborate on the talk I gave in a subsequent blog.

There are five in this series:

  1. Underpinnings
  2. Undercutting and Reinforcing
  3. Democratic Deficit
  4. Political Communication
  5. Canada’s Civic Religion

In this blog, I want to deal with the presumptions underpinning my observations of Canada’s civic religion. If you are disinterested in philosophical grounding, skip this blog. In subsequent blogs in the series, I will point to the conclusions of various communication sciences to indicate why the values of Canada’s civic religion, as best articulated in interfaith dialogue, will not save Canada from the disaster afflicting America. Only then will I provide a more comprehensive articulation of the norms of that civic religion and offer a critique.

The term “civic religion” may seem inherently contradictory. After all, we live in the Western world where there is a strict separation of religion and the state. Civic, in the sense used here, refers to civic duties of citizens of a state. Thus, we have a moral duty to vote, not as an inherent belief of one’s religion, but as a member of a democratic polity. Civic duties are about this world. Religious duties are often conceived to be about the world to come or about the transcendental power of a divine being that manifests itself in different beliefs and practices and, indeed, worship. Reason is purportedly the language of politics; faith is the language of religion. That religion has values which are used to inform conduct in this world. However, it is precisely this separation of the religious and secular worlds that is in play.

Immanuel Kant wrote that his efforts were undertaken to define the boundaries of reason and of knowledge to make room for faith. But his perspective shifted over his period of intellectual development. After the peak of his intellectual output for which he is best known, his voluminous three Critiques, published between 1787 and 1790, propounded the view in the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason that, “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” Subsequently, his definition of limits to reason and knowledge to make room for faith began to make room for a more subversive position. He asserted that religion was and had to be rational and had to provide the foundations of our values. Religion permeated civil and political society to constitute the core values of a society. God emerged from this intellectual journey as immanent rather than transcendent. This series of blogs is an exploration of how this took place in Canada.

There are many reasons offered for this shift, including non-rational ones, such as his resentment against the Prussian Junkers under Frederick William II for attempting to censor his writings on religion – Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. There were also cultural influences – his initial pietism stressing biblical study and moral behaviour, but later rejection of the side of pietism that celebrated external religious displays. His inherited Enlightenment convictions concerning the rule of reason led first to his rejection of creationism, and later his rejection of the belief that religion, and even science as a pursuit rather than a method, could be founded on reason alone. He became convinced that a rationally-based religion was not possible; religion was a matter of non-rational faith and had to retreat to make room for the universal truths of Newtonian science as he pursued the goal of rooting science in reason alone independent of an omniscient and perfect divine being. Finally, there was also the influence of Hume’s scepticism that rooted both religious faith and even scientific pursuits on habits forged by history and culture.

How are the dimensions of reason and empiricism, as well as reason and faith, reconciled? As he articulated his doctrine in his triad of great books, the Critiques, the reconciliation lay in the necessary preconditions for both faith and reason, of both empirical (the premise of causation) and deductive methods. For all were rooted in the necessary conditions for any thinking as revealed in his unique transcendental method that allowed for faith outside but ethical behaviour within the bounds of reason. Scientific reason, moral behaviour and practical judgement, even as they relied on experiential input, were all based fundamentally on a priori premises that were universally valid and a precondition of any thought whatsoever.

What emerged was the development of an ethical religion. For an adherent, it did not matter whether one was a Jew or a Lutheran. Both could worship the same God in defence of the same set of values that were themselves as universal as any religious creed. Establishment Jews in large numbers in Germany – the Polanyi, the Stern, the Baum families, abut whom I have been writing – converted to Lutheranism to practice the common ethical moralism of German society, ignoring entirely the deep roots of antisemitism in the writings of Martin Luther, the founder of that church. Of course, conversion also was opportunistic since the formal rules often banned Jews from taking up professorships in universities at one time. Karl Polanyi would develop an ethical economics, Fritz Stern an ethical history of Germany, Gregory Baum an ethical sociology and theology. Kant had introduced a seismic revolution for both Christianity and Judaism to allow both to live on the surface in imperfect harmony.

The superficiality of that harmony was revealed by Hegel and was ripped asunder by Friedrich Nietzsche. Emil Fackenheim, in The Religious Dimensions of Hegel’s Thought, pointed out that Hegel’s central critique of Kant was that the latter had failed, and failed absolutely, to reconcile faith and reason. And not just in thought, but in political and religious institutions. Kant facilitated mindblindness. Revolutionary forces were underway and Kant provided a rationale that allowed a positive ethical external religion to provide a cover that left the dynamics of ecstasy and action as well as the enthusiastic creative energy of spirit behind. Life throbbed. Kant only offered lifeless thought.

Hegel showed that philosophy, rather than being divorced from history in abstract thought, was, and had to be, understood as thoroughly rooted in context. Time and space were not abstract dimensions of sensibility and thought, but the experiential realities from which even barren thought arose. History was about resolving incongruences, not just the abstract ones at the core of Kantianism. History was about desire and passion, about power and economic needs, and, in the end, about conflict between old, outmoded institutions and the demands (and shortcomings) of the new. Philosophy was historical, not ahistorical. Further, life and philosophy were inherently religious as will become clear by the end of this series of blogs. And the comprehending activity of religion had itself to be critiqued and comprehended. The absolute was with us in every age and time and we comprehend the divine and the shortcomings of our comprehension through the examination of the absolutes of our time.

All our gods, all our absolutes, have failed and must be resurrected anew for each period. Judaism, unlike the Christianity of Kant’s Prussia or the Weimar Republic over a century later, understood that all these gods were different aspects of the one God that revealed himself in history while Christianity was a repeated effort to flee that insight, to flee its basic foundation, in favour of Greek abstract and ahistorical thought and theology. In reality, God descends, becomes immanent and sacrifices Himself in different modes in different times. Those who dub this as a progressive transformation are blind to the destructive forces let loose by the process of transformation as we experience at each stage the death of god and are required to go through a period of suffering and sacrifice.

In Hegel’s time, and in our own almost universally, man has once again repeated the ultimate sin, the sin of idolatry, the sin of narcissism, the sin of regarding and worshipping himself as divine. The alternative to the vision of an omniscient and omnipotent god need not be worship of the self and the ability of the individual to engage in self-realization and self-transformation. The latter sin and that idolatry, as well as the cover up for it, must be observed in the particulars of our time and the thought in which and through which history is understood and reflected. What we must search for and uncover is the partiality of all thought. Every attempt to comprehend it all will be doomed to be shattered as much as we may have faith in its overarching vision. Spirit itself as revealed in time is always partial and explains why we can never see and confront the face of God head on.

At the very beginning of the nineteenth century, Hegel defended twelve theses at a formal Disputation to earn his right to offer university lectures. The problem of philosophy was not the search for eternal and infinite wisdom, but the effort to reconcile the vision of the perfect with the reality of the imperfect, insisting that Kant had become frozen in carrying through the radicalism of Hume’s scepticism and had carried rational philosophy to a dead end by finding an absolute in itself, and becoming uncritical of itself.

In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the last section follows the section on Spirit with a portion on Religion, that discusses how we manifest our abstract religious beliefs and values in everyday life. Consciousness is institutionalized. And consciousness is merely the reflection of and reflection into human experience. Morality that is certain of itself becomes the distillation of that religious consciousness.

If Marx became the anti-Hegel by sacrificing religion in worship of the material realm, Nietzsche became the anti-Hegel by sacrificing religion to save spirit. Nietzsche’s enemy was Christianity, that element of and phase of Judaism that failed to recover from its exile in Babylon and return. Instead, Judaism turned inwards and became frightened. Nietzsche challenged the retreat into oneself in favour of the transvaluation of values, in favour of radical inversion of morality managed solely by the heroic individual. Instead, he opted to return to a form of paganism as he expressed in Ecce Homo, the need to develop a new breed of men, an elite, not one that led the workers of the world in revolt, but ones dedicated to taking humanity to a higher level. The premise, which challenged both the Judeo-Christian precepts and Kantian morality, was a denial, not simply as Hegel contended that humans were unequal in different ways at different times in their spiritual epic journey, but that salvation, as Marx insisted, depended on an avant-garde, an elite that led humanity into transforming itself fundamentally.

In Nietzsche’s view, Judaism once embraced this spirit of conquest, this consciousness of the necessity of power, both over others and to transform oneself, and the joy and hope to be found therein. But that spirit of self-transformation had been lost with rabbinic Judaism and its turn inward to legalism and with Christianity in the absolute submission of man in service of a divine Other. It was then that Jews sold themselves short and sold out to legalism and were sold out in turn and subsequently became the victims of persecution of those who rejected the rule of law in favour of suffering and sacrifice and the need of a scapegoat to escape that outcome for themselves. Diaspora Jews, who could and were in a position to save humanity and resurrect the life spirit according to Friedrich Nietzsche, largely cowered in fear and accommodated themselves to the dominating force of authority instead of expressing their historical dynamism by returning to nature, by returning to their roots in the land to once again become the strongest and toughest people on earth. Nietzsche did not live to see the rise of Zionism.

How were humans to accomplish this? Not by receding from history in service to the eternal and not by accommodating the dominant ethos of the status quo. Nor by expressing resentment concerning a disillusioned secular world, a world that had lost its sense of enchantment and awe to find deliverance either in the ecstatic escape of unreason or an escape into reason, individualism, self-making and self-overcoming.

Hitler declared, and Donald Trump now concurs, that, “The national government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. Christianity is the foundation of our national morality and the family the basis of national life.” Hitler and Trump offered a mystical brew of pseudo-religion and purported self-interest that would soon reveal itself as the interest of the few and the deception and seduction of the many. What we need to examine is how, following Hegel, the dialectic of history has come to be interpreted pragmatically in the form of a set of overriding Kantian values for our time, and how that set of values, while inspiring high moral accomplishments, also blinds us the weaknesses of our own position as we are appalled at the values that we see articulated by Hitler copycats.

In Hegel’s time, it meant that Protestant clergy remained hostile to the truly liberal state as well as to Jews who refused to convert. Today, it means that this clergy embraces the values of the liberal state as well as their Jewish brethren. They have thrown overboard the doctrine of supersession in favour of shared beliefs, not only with Judaism, but with all other faiths. Some commentators believe that Democrats believe that all American Democrats need to do is copy Canadians and articulate the core values of the American civic religion in terms of historical connections and metaphors that touch their constituents.

An examination, first of our underlying nature and of various sciences, especially those involving communication, will try to show why that will not work (tomorrow), while, in the final blog in this series, a critique of Canadian interfaith values will try to delineate the shortcomings in terms of the population they do not reach and the declining power and efficaciousness of the civic religion of Canada.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

History Matters

History Matters

by

Howard Adelman

There is an irony that I find, one which Friedrich Nietzsche failed to address when he wrote his short book, The Use and Abuse of History. History is subject to severe abuse when agents wish to rewrite history. It does not matter whether one is writing heroic history and acclaiming that the glorious record of the past has produced the wonders of the present that will guarantee a magnificent future (progressive/heroic history) or whether one has a dystopic view of the immediate past and puts forth an argument that the past betrayed an idyllic beginning so that the course of history needs to be radically altered otherwise the current trajectory will carry a nation into the dustbin of history (dystopic history).

There are two other possible pure patterns, only one of which can be found in frequent practice. Unlike the two models of history above running from an idyllic past either to a heroic or dystopic future, one possible model traces history directly from a heroic past without blemish to a heroic future. I can think of no concrete practice that follows this pattern. However, I do find histories written in terms of an immoral past which continues to corrupt events leading to the horrors of the present and to future shock – unless, of course, we lift up our moral game. This is not simply an historical account to which values are applied, but a historical record molded and cast in terms of the ethical format applied to the case. In this case, ‘corrupt” has a double irony, both applied to the record offered and to the moral mold applied to interpreting history.

The four patterns of history, which are not patterns of actual history, can be represented as follows, the first having no cases so it is listed first and separately:

Nil Examples of Heroic History: Heroic Past to Heroic Present

Actual Examples

  1. Heroic History: from Idyllic Past to Heroic Present
  2. Dystopic History: from Idyllic Past to Dystopic Present
  3. Corrupt History: from Horrific Past to Dystopic Present

Yesterday, Donald Trump once again gave witness that he was a member of the dystopic school of abusers of history. He ran on a slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which carried the message that America was once a great nation, that it had seriously declined, but could be saved and restored to greatness once again. To make that case, he has repeatedly deformed the immediate past, whether he was making claims about individuals – Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. – or whether he was making a general statement about a collectivity – Blacks live in decrepit crime-ridden neighbourhoods. He did not say that rundown and crime ridden neighbourhoods were often populated by Blacks and Hispanics – itself somewhat of a distortion since the opioid epidemic is currently flourishing in small town white America.

However, yesterday he made a counterfactual claim about the past when America was not so great, when America had deteriorated into civil war.  In an interview with Salena Zito of the Washington Examiner, when referring to the portrait of Andrew Jackson that hangs on the wall of his office, he posited the thesis that the Civil War would not have happened if Andrew Jackson had been president in the 1850s rather than two decades earlier. This was a Republican president denouncing the founding president of his party (Abraham Lincoln) for being an inadequate leader and one who helped bring about the civil war that ravaged America just over a century and a half ago. The edited transcript reads as follows:

[Jackson] was a swashbuckler. But when his wife died, did you know he visited her grave every day? I visited her grave actually, because I was in Tennessee…had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that — he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Even though this is a counterfactual hypothesis about an alternative path that history could have followed, the speculation entailed several historical falsehoods – about Frederick Douglass and about a non-existent Civil War battle. In the above quote, there are the claims about Jackson’s character: he was a swashbuckler, very tough but with a big heart. This is a matter of interpretation, and certainly apparently outlandish with respect to Jackson having a “big heart” considering his initiative at ethnic cleaning of the Cherokee and other tribes in the incident known as the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern U.S. to the western plains. However, to assert, in absolute certainty, that, had Jackson been in the presidency, there would have been no Civil War is an exercise in dogmatic retrospective futurology when the one lesson history teaches is that, if the path of history is notoriously difficult to predict, retrospectively rewriting the past in terms of a specific alternative is a virtual impossibility.

The statement that Jackson “saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War” and said, “There’s no reason for this (my italics)” is also preposterously and demonstrably false. Jackson died in 1845, sixteen years before the war started. Further, if anything, Jackson helped set the groundwork for the Civil War when South Carolina threatened to secede – the first state to make such a threat – not over slavery, but over the new tariffs Jackson had imposed as a mercantilist opposed to free trade. The export of the products of South Carolina were very adversely affected. But when has Donald Trump ever been stymied by the realities of history?

Last week, in an interview he opined that, “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever. So we’re looking at that, and we’re also looking at the potential of going to Saudi Arabia.” Other than the difficulty of trying to decipher precisely what this statement means – is he suggesting that he is looking towards the Saudi plan to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? – the claim that “there is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and Palestinians” goes even further than utopian progressivists in Scandinavia and elsewhere who argue that the explanation for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that Europe decided to resolve its “Jewish problem” by exporting that so-called problem to the Middle East.

The latter is known as the “Dumping Thesis.” The problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back to European antisemitism. The later version of the dumping thesis was that Europe, because of guilt over the Shoah, supported the creation of Israel. Europe displaced its Jewish problem by supporting Zionism and the movement of Jews from Europe to the Middle East.

I was reminded of this thesis when Gregory Baum very recently sent me his memoir called, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway. (I will review the book, specifically its marriage of Augustinian and liberation theology, in a future blog.) I first met Gregory in 1955. I was hitching a ride at the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Bathurst to the University of Toronto where I was enrolled in the premedical program. Gregory was driving his beaten-up old Volkswagen from the Augustinian monastery in Marylake in King City north of Toronto off Keele Street. The thousand acres once belonged to the estate of Sir Henry Pellatt who built Casa Loma, a current popular tourist attraction two blocks from my home for the past fifty years. Gregory was a priest. He lived in the monastery at Marylake. By the time we reached the university, we had become friends.

Gregory is a beautiful man truly with a great heart. His broad smile lights up a room and he credits his “inner smile” to the warmth and love of his mother, on the one hand, and his “blindness” to the horrors of the world on the other hand. He was born in Berlin fifteen years before my mother gave birth to me in Toronto. His family had been prosperous industrialists in Germany and his father, a nominal Protestant, died when he was a year old because of the aftereffects of wounds he suffered as a German army officer in WWI. Gregory’s father had in part been responsible for the gas attacks on the allied forces and had received the Iron Cross. He had also been an assistant to Dr. Fritz Haber, also a nominal Protestant, but of Jewish origin. Haber received a Nobel Prize in 1919, awarded in 1918, for his innovations in chemistry, in particular, “the synthesis of ammonia from its elements.” He was also the inventor of the cyanide-based gas, Zyklon B, used in the extermination camps in the Shoah.

Though Gregory’s grandparents on both sides had been Jewish, he had been raised celebrating Christmas and Easter in an avowedly secular home. German culture had been the religion of his family. However, when Hitler came to power, he was designated as a Jew because his mother and grandparents were Jewish, but he escaped Germany with his step-father who had international business connections, first to Britain, where he was part of the children’s transport. Subsequently, he was interned with many other German Jews in Canada during the early years of the war where he became a close friend of Emil Fackenheim who supervised my MA thesis on Hegel and Nietzsche.

As students, we shared the anecdote that Rabbi Fackenheim had been responsible for converting Gregory Baum to Catholicism because Emil had introduced Gregory to the Mediaeval Institute at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. Gregory’s memoir destroyed that ironic anecdote for me, but it was true that his education in the Canadian internment camp for “German citizens”, from which he was released in 1942, woke up his intellectual probing.

Gregory Baum was baptized in 1946 and would go on to become a leading figure in the Catholic Church in liberation theology. He was a seminal figure in Vatican II initiated by Pope John XXIII that convened between 1962 and 1965 when it was closed by Pope Paul VI, who was a participant, but subsequently systematically set out to subvert many of its reformist measures, though not its call for holy renewal or the introduction of vernacular languages in the church services. Gregory was a peritus, a mavin serving as theological adviser at the Ecumenical Secretariat.

In 1976, Gregory was forced to resign from the priesthood and the Augustinian Order, but for awhile remained a professor of sociology at St. Michael’s College before he moved to Montreal and McGill University. It was during that period that we had a long argument in my home study near Casa Loma. He and Cranford Pratt, who passed away last year, along with John Burbidge (a fellow Hegelian and member of the Toronto Hegelian group with myself) and William Dunphy, had authored a pamphlet entitled, “Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Christian Perspective.” None of them were either historians or philosophers of history. Cran and Gregory had come over to my study to discuss a draft they had written and had forwarded to me and to get my reaction. The argument we had did not change their minds. They did not change mine.

The central debate concerned their contention that Europe had a prime responsibility for the Israeli-Arab conflict and had dumped its problem with the Jews on the Palestinians in the Middle East. When I read his memoir, I was sorry to learn that in all these years he had never corrected what I considered to be major historical and factual errors in the Pamphlet that he and Cran Pratt had come to discuss back in the seventies.

Tomorrow, I will analyze Gregory Baum’s version of Israeli history. While Trump offered us a dystopic view of the American past, Gregory offered the world a horrific account of Israeli history. He wrote corrupt history. Both Trump and Baum interpreted history with a cavalier approach to historical facts.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Is Donald Trump a Fascist? Part II

Is Donald Trump a Fascist? Part II

by

Howard Adelman

Trump doesn’t believe in tradition. He does not believe in science. He does not believe in thinking. So what does he believe in? Well, he doesn’t believe in dissent – “Throw him out.” He believes in “Me”. BELIEVE ME is his motto as he claims to be the voice of the frustrated middle class stalled or even dropping down in the competitive climb upwards of the modern age. He believes in manipulating the aggravations and exasperations of the discontented and the infuriated to build a movement founded in resentment. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, the politics of resentment is built on a foundation of feeling powerless and seeing oneself as a victim of the actions of others. Trump targets elites who he claims live off the avails of politics – and, as he openly admits, he should know because he personally preyed upon and used that self-serving politics of the elite. He is the epitome of the glaring inequities in wealth and taking advantage of the tax code to pay as little tax as legally possible – which can be very little. He is the epitome of privilege. And he became the voice of the disintegration of the Republican Party that increasingly relied on vitriolic, uncompromising take no-prisoners rhetoric. He showed that he could do it better than any of the rest of his competitors.

When violence assaults us daily and appears both immovable and persistent, precisely at a time when political rhetoric is most needed that is temperate and cool, it is easy to stoke the coals of burning resentment into a wildfire that is as unstable and unpredictable as that which destroyed a good part of Fort McMurray this past spring. Resentment erupts like a volcano, and once the lava starts to flow profusely, it is virtually impossible to stop. One only prays that the quantity present will not be in such profuse proportions that it will destroy civilization as we know it.

But the resentment was there. Donald Trump did not manufacture it. Bernie Sanders tapped into the same vein of those who feel powerless, who feel exploited, who feel that they have become outsiders in a country in which they previously constituted the core of the American dream both in their status and in their values. They have become bitter and unloving and may now be immune to the Democratic Party appeal to hope and love and positive thinking and a deep belief that everyone can benefit from a rising tide. They certainly have not.

It is because of the politics of resentment that a famous journalist less than one hundred years ago in the first half of the twentieth century, H.I. Mencken, had such a jaundiced view of the voting public and recognized the appeal of fear-mongering to a populace full of repressed anger, those whom Mencken disparagingly referred to as the booboisie in contrast to the bourgeoisie, to the gullible public wide open to the appeal of a verbal soothsayer who sews fear and paints a picture of an apocalypse that so conforms to their inner feelings about self and the state of the world. Mencken understood the politics of resentment because he had read Friedrich Nietzsche and even wrote about him. Mencken knew a mountebank when he saw one because Mencken had the same dismissive temperament but, in comparison, excelled in the art of dissing. Politicians were mainly swindlers or oafs. Most voters had a herd mentality, were incapable of rational thought and looked totally ready to be led to the slaughter by the first “shepherd” who came along, the first savior who promised a form of salvation as he led them on a death march.

Donald Trump replaced the crusading and corrupt evangelist preachers of a former era so it is no real surprise that he can appeal to the evangelical crowd in spite of his blaring non-Christian values. His appeal to evangelicals is more powerful than that of Ted Cruz because he taps into a deeper core of hatred and resentment. For far deeper than the love of mankind, Mencken argued, was the hatred for “one’s betters,” the intense distaste for privilege. What better one to lead them than a Moses who grew up as an outsider in that realm of privilege and came down from that mountain to lead them into the wilderness by depicting the elites as exploiters and enslavers, as abusers and misusers, so that even the surrounding other nations get painted with the same brush as misled idolaters climbing upward at their expense. In the mind of the populist, the moral uplift of the Democratic Convention can be regarded as so much bunkum.

What Trump had going for him is that, like Mencken who dissed democracy without limit, Trump too has a sense of glee in the whole affair. A good part of him regards the whole exercise as an effort in stirring up amusement, as an opportunity to bathe in his own cussing and cursing, as an opportunity for whimsical and irreverent expression disguised as thinking. For Trump, all declarations of truths are simply fictions, simply fabrications, simply illusions, and he is as capable of contributing as any trained scientist. He is a post-modern man indifferent to the gap between conception and sensibility. So, of course, the fact that the truth-checkers can find as much as twenty-five outright lies in his speech to the Republican Convention, the fact that he utters explicit falsehoods at an average of two or three a day, is totally irrelevant. Correction is totally irrelevant and its uselessness proves that the whole idea of truth is itself an invention of the devil. The neo-liberal cosmopolitan dream is just as much a deceit as nativism and protectionism, but at least the latter will allegedly benefit those who have been abandoned and left behind.

Why, Donald asks, should one believe Hillary? She has been a major contributor to the neo-liberal internationalist fraud, but now claims to love you, to care for you, that she will introduce protective measures that will reverse the downward drift. Believe her and you can believe me, Trump proclaims, and you can believe me much more because I recognize your hatred and resentment and do not engage in the fraudulent appeal to love.

No more apathy. We need to create an army that rebels against the elites Trump cries out. I know you are frightened, Trump tells them. I recognize that you feel imperiled. I recognize that you have been pushed into a corner of apathy and acquiescence. Well it is time to open every window and shout, “We won’t take it anymore,” and make the walls of Jericho come crashing down. Did I rise by sincerity or by sin? Did I rise by believing in, “We the people?” I exemplify the exposure of the lie and that is why I am best to lead you, supposedly to the land of milk and honey, but, in reality, into the wilderness. That is why you, the vulnerable, can count on me as your voice. NOT because I feel what you do, but because I express what you feel and I epitomize and understand the manipulation to which you have been subjected. I will lead you to drowning the rich and the ostentatious in a sea of reeds. So do not be surprised that they resent me. Do not be surprised that my class and my peers turn against me. For at heart I am an outsider who has risen into their ranks and have now set out to destroy the royal order.

We the people? Self-government? Self-legislation? Are you kidding? This is the very guise on which the rich and the powerful have acquired their wealth and accumulated their power. Respect the other? Conduct yourself with dignity? No. Rebel and throw mud in their faces. Problem solving? Pragmatism? Political policy debates? These are all cover-ups for a renewed power grab. The winners teach falsifiability only to repress real and deep criticism. Trust us because we know we err, they pronounce. Does Trump say that he knows we cannot always achieve what we promise? Does Trump announce that he knows that we are fallible? No. No more. Trust me, not that collective brew of liars and thieves. Trust me because I am a liar and a thief and know the ropes. Only I can lead you out of slavery to a system built on lies. I know idolatry when I see it because I have made the mass of my wealth by building those idols.

Education, social interaction, discussion and debate – these are all frauds and if you expect me to beat Hillary Clinton under such a rigged system, you have to think again. But you won’t. You are too deeply immersed in your false vision of a land of milk and honey for all. I can deliver that land because I truly understand that you cannot simply nip the elites at the tips of their fingers and their ears. You have to drown them. You have to destroy them. You have to seize their wealth and power even as you offer them more tax breaks to limit the use of their money in opposing you. That is my route to leading you to paradise. And it will be built on the power and energy erupting from your deep resentment. And on my recognition and cultivation of that resentment. I deserve to lead you because I refuse to be a patrician but am not a plebian but myself come from the monied aristocracy. I have demonstrated I can lead you by conquering the bastion of the patricians, the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and the pretense that all men are born equal as the cover for increasing inequality and repression. I can lead you because I am strong and recognize your weakness. That is why you need and can count of me as a charismatic ruler. With your help, I and only I am capable of seizing that power. Believe me.

And count on this. Hillary promises to beat the Islamic fanatics as they grow in strength and in their destructiveness. But Hillary does not – nor do even our establishment generals – recognize that you already possess the tools to do so. For any battle waged with fanatics cannot be won with rational calculation, clever strategies and well thought-out plans. For this is where we the people come in. The people must offer a counter-martyrdom, a willingness to die for an alternate cause, a willingness to set aside fine distinctions between loyal Muslims and extremism, a willingness to brand the whole lot of them as extremist.

And this is where Donald Trump fails as a fascist. He is unwilling to spell out that need for self-sacrifice, the need for martyrdom, that this is perceived as a fight to the finish, not only one in which the other must not be left with one soldier standing, but by a willingness to sacrifice the whole herd in the cause of fighting the alien Others. Trump lacks the insight of Jean Jacques Rousseau that what is required is a general will to oppose both common sense on the one hand and total and absolute common insensitivity on the other hand. For those are the two parties really engaged in battle.

That is why I appeal to your nativism, Trump might explain, why I elevate our national identity into a cult, why I trace our origins to our membership in the same country and pinpoint outliers as enemies, why I paint a portrait of a conspiracy, a deliberate plan, to keep you oppressed, why it is an international plot rather than one attributable to Russia or China, let alone North Korea and Turkey. That is why xenophobia is not to be discarded but embraced. You feel besieged because you are besieged by a cosmopolitan conspiracy of globalization. And in league with Muslims, a far better target for Americans than Jews. Like Leon Trotsky, like Mao Zeduog of the cultural revolution, revolution, revolt and the enhancing the belief that the other are truly revolting, requires a permanent commitment, a permanent revolution. A campaign had to be forged on breaking one’s teeth by biting the air and regarding human flesh as disposable and ready to be sacrificed as a scorched-earth burnt offering.

So is Trump a fascist? Certainly ha has many of the traits. Certainly there is a family resemblance between himself and Putin, between himself and Erdoğan, between himself and Mussolini, between himself and Hitler. But it is only a family resemblance. Donald Trump is on the same range of leaders in the politics of resentment, but he is at the other extreme from Hitler, though he shares none of Hitler’s traits, but some of the characteristics of those who mediate between Hitler and himself and increasingly carry a bit more of Trump’s character the closer they stand shoulder to shoulder with him. In the serial and uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between Trump and Hitler, we find the suspicions of fascism, but as we near the Trump terminus, the core elements are missing. That is why we may be prone to labeling Trump as a fascist, but also why he is not one and why, in labeling him that way as a slogan rather than as a conclusion of empirical analysis and critique, we lose by falling onto the same practice of false labeling which is his forte.

The reality, in the end, is that Donald Trump lacks enough of the qualities to make him a true fascistic leader.

With the help of Alex Zisman