Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jan/11

19

The Jews did not invent modernity

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someoneShare on TumblrShare on Google+

Glenn Beck’s Jewish Problem:

It’s become clear to me that the Fox commentator Glenn Beck has something of a Jewish problem. Actually, he has something of a modernity problem, and people with modernity problems tend to have problems with Jews, who more or less invented modernity (Einstein, Marx, Freud, Franz Boas, etc.).

Many Jews and anti-Semites are focused on the necessary and sufficient role of the Jewish people in the modern West. In the case of Jews I believe it derives in part from the same sense of national pride which is at the root of embarrassing imitations such as Afrocentrism. But the reality is that Jews did not become part of the mainstream of Western intellectual and cultural life until after their emancipation. For most of Europe this was at some point in the 19th century, and for Jews who did not convert to Christianity it was probably later in the 19th century at that.

To put a not too fine point on it, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, and Rene Descartes were not Jews. Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, and David Hume, were not Jews. John Stuart Mill was not a Jew. There were plenty of gentiles involved in the “invention” of modernity, and because of the social constraints placed upon Jews, there were very few of that people of any note before the 19th century in Western public life. The religious minority often seen to be disproportionately involved in the French Revolution were Protestants, not Jews. The exception to the Jewish abstention from early modernity would probably be Baruch Spinoza (I don’t think Moses Mendelssohn would be noteworthy were he not a Jew, while Spinoza would have been).

The enormous Jewish contribution to the 20th century intellectual world is undeniable. Jews were critically involved in the maturation and ripening of Western modernity. But they were not present at, or instrumental, in its birth. Therefore, it is ludicrous to claim that Jews “invented” Western modernity. Whether the invention of Western modernity is something to be proud of depends on your perspective, of course.

Note: In Catholicism and American Freedom the author argues that after World War II American Jews turned away from the tacit “white ethnic” coalition with Roman Catholics, and aligned themselves with the liberal post-Protestant Eastern Establishment in the incipient culture wars. But the narrative seems to indicate that initially Jews were junior partners in the project, even if they eventually became peers, or even dominant, vis-a-vis the old W.A.S.P. coterie.

22 comments

  • Maju · January 19, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I’d add some more Jews in the invention of modernity, some maybe hidden or convert Jews (Columbus is speculated to be one, for instance). In any case, before the persecutions that inaugurated Modern Age proper there were some notable Jews, specially from Iberia: the Cresques family are particularly notable in opening the minds of Europeans towards exploration. Another pioneer of such intellectual expansion of geography was Benjamin of Tudela a celebrated precursor of Marco Polo.

    However you are essentially right and I’d dare say that since the persecutions beginning in 1492 to the emancipations of the 19th century, only the great Baruch Spinoza looks really relevant in Western thought with a Jewish origin. We’d have to wait to Karl Marx to find another such intellectual giant of similar background.

    Yet since then you do see an explosion of Jewish intellectuals, probably as result of Ashkenazim (almost only) directing their sons to highly successful “liberal” careers in a context of reinforced Jewish (Ashkenazi) ethnic awareness and social and political networks. In a sense it’s comparable of the more recent success of some Asian ethnic minorities by similar means.

  • Don Kenner · January 19, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    The Atlantic is like a lot of liberal/left publications right now in that they feel the need to weigh in on issue of anti-Semitism, focusing (not surprisingly) on the right wing. There’s a constant trickle of stories and blog posts concerning conservative anti-Semitism (or “problem with Jews”), from talk show hosts to the Tea Party.

    While some of these stories have merit — there is anti-Semitism on the right — one cannot help but see a rather transparent attempt to deflect a simple truth of our time: anti-Semitism comes mainly from the left.

    From the universities to the foreign press (and sometimes the domestic press), speaking “truth” to “Jewish” power has become chic again. Defense of radical Islam and the palestinians is often intertwined throughout. Many on the left see this resurgent hatred in their comrades and are no doubt uncomfortable. After all, they are the pillars of tolerance. Therefore, any chance to point out a right-winger’s “Jewish problem” is an opportunity to lighten one’s burden. Good luck with that.

  • Polichinello · January 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    The pettiness of Goldberg’s shows he’s straining to make his point. Horror! Beck points out Bernay’s relationship to Freud! Well, yeah. Whenever someone talks about Francis Galton, they almost invariably point out that his cousin was Charles Darwin. These links are interesting.

    The other thing is that he’s engaged in a bit of classic question begging. Okay, Beck has a problem with modernity, as Goldberg understands it. But then Goldberg sets up the conclusion by putting it into his premise–Jews created modernity. So if you question modernity by pointing to those modernizers (who happen to be Jews), you must be anti-Semitic.

    If we accept Goldberg’s rationale, you’d have to be anti-Teutonic if you disagreed with Hegelian dialectical philosophy, because Germans created that line of thought.

  • OFT · January 19, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    The Jews did invent modernity. They invented it with regard to liberty and government, which Beck knows nothing about. It was Israel that gave the impetus for Calvin and the Reformers to reject the Divine Right of Kings theology, and move to America to form a New Nation, the New Jerusalem, ruled by the Bible.

    The foundation of correct representative Republican government, brought to light by John Calvin in Geneva, then to America by the Puritans, was Israel. The Reformers lived before the men you mentioned.

    As far as Calvin is concerned: written constitutions, separation of powers, literacy through bible reading, regular elections, the secret ballot, the federalist principle, religious toleration and separation of church and state, etc. was nowhere elevated than by Calvinism, exemplified by Puritans in New England.

    Calvin and the Puritans took representative government from the Jews in Exodus 18, and Deuteronomy 1.

    Awesome liberties we enjoy now, the Puritans gave us, spread from Maine to Georgia in the Great Awakening, through reading the Bible.

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    . It was Israel that gave the impetus

    this is a common position, but i don’t think it’s a given. second, “israel” != the jews. it’s not a trivial distinction. “jesus” != the christians.

  • panglos · January 20, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Israel of 1949 fame?

    The Cossacks have a bigger claim to modernity, having established one man/one vote and a republican form of govt. in the midst of the Middle Ages.

    Also, not to nitpick but Freud is derivative from Nietzsche and is Marx a source of pride to anyone?

  • Derek · January 20, 2011 at 5:34 am

    speaking “truth” to “Jewish” power has become chic again

    Perhaps. I diasgree, but you can hardly lump Goldberg in with this group. He’s not buddy buddy with J Street, for example.

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 20, 2011 at 5:41 am

    From the universities to the foreign press (and sometimes the domestic press), speaking “truth” to “Jewish” power has become chic again. Defense of radical Islam and the palestinians is often intertwined throughout. Many on the left see this resurgent hatred in their comrades and are no doubt uncomfortable. After all, they are the pillars of tolerance. Therefore, any chance to point out a right-winger’s “Jewish problem” is an opportunity to lighten one’s burden. Good luck with that.

    derek is right. this has nothing to do with jeffrey goldberg. you sound ignorant.

  • Acilius · January 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I suspect that the relationship between anti-Semitism and modernity is more complex than Goldberg lets on, but I don’t disagree with him. Anti-Semites often do blame the Jews for the loss of community, devaluing of tradition, disenchantment of experience, etc, that characterize the modern world, and prescribe action against Jews as the cure for these ills. When they do this, anti-Semites may think they have found an alternative to modernity, and may promise a way out of the “world grown cold.”. Yet when anti-Semitism comes to power, it exceeds all other ideologies in making the world colder still, smashing whatever communities, traditions, and enchantments remain. The anti-Semite is in this sense the modern of the moderns. Perhaps we should say that anti-Semitism is a symptom of modernity, a symptom that only masquerades as a cure.

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 21, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    hm. re: anti-semitism, there’s something what you’re saying…but pre-modern regimes were plainly anti-semitic. and modern european states have been far more willing to accept jews as citizens. your might have a point, but it is a somewhat opaque one interpreted in a straightforward fashion.

  • panglos · January 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    “Actually, he has something of a modernity problem, and people with modernity problems tend to have problems with Jews, who more or less invented modernity”

    All the Jews that Goldberg mentioned were schooled not in Yeshivas but ancient Christian universities that continue to this day to set standards in education.

    How would the author reconcile the differences in the parochial nature of yeshivas to universities that spawned these Jewish thinker.

    Finally, Einstein’s fans really need to reconcile his many documented cases of plagiarism. Its one thing for the media to declare one a genius – another for academia to do so.

    For instance, most of you firmly believe that Einstein conceived the penultimate equation, E=mc2 however this is a blatant lie.

    The equivalence of matter and energy was actually conceived 2 years prior by an Italian industrialist.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/nov/11/rorycarroll

  • Rich Rostrom · January 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    It is certainly true that Jews did not invent “modernity”.

    But “modernity” coincided with Jewish emancipation and with the subsequent explosion of Jewish achievement in almost every field, and Jews (except some of the Orthodox) naturally identify with “modernity” as a Good Thing.

    Thus Jews became a convenient scapegoat for all those resentful of any aspect of modernity. Hate capitalism? Down with Rothschild! Hate socialism? Down with Marx! Hate science! Down with Einstein! Hate Hollywood? Down with Goldwyn, Mayer, Warner, Selznick! And of course: Down with Freud!

    Or perhaps it might be more correct to say that anti-semites (who are nearly all anti-modernist) used these figures to inflame anti-semitism among other anti-modernists.

    Goldberg’s essay is a rather strained attempt to tar Beck and his audience as crypto-antisemites. He accuses Beck of issuing a “dog-whistle”, but the point of a dog whistle is that the dog hears it. As Goldberg himself notes, hardly anyone knows that Ed Rendell is Jewish (I didn’t), and I don’t think very many know that Piven is (I didn’t). Except for Lippman, Stern, and Sunstein, none of the named people have recognizably “Jewish” names.

    It would be interesting to know how many people that know who Freud was also know that he was Jewish; likewise with Soros. I myself knew of Freud for 20 years or so before learning that he was Jewish.

  • Genius · January 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks, I’ve been arguing for this point that Jews were not particularly influential in bringing about the modern age, and against the idea of Jewish exceptionalism, for many years. Jacob Katz’s book Out of the Ghetto does a rather nice job of situating Jewish emancipation, by the way.

    Another interesting question is whether “modernity” means the same thing in a Christian/European context and a Jewish context. If it does (and you look at these groups separately) I think there’s a good case to be made that Zionism is the Jewish modernism and the Jews didn’t even enter the modern era until 1948.

  • Jacob V. · January 24, 2011 at 8:42 am

    You might want to check out Jonathan I. Israel’s books on the Enlightenment: Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy, and Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752.

    Also see Judaism and Enlightenment by Adam Sutcliffe.

    They make an interesting case that the Jews did play an original role in “inventing” the Englightenment and modernity.

    Here’s a review of one of Jonathan I. Israel’s books:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/enlightenment-contested-by-jonathan-israel-427458.html

  • Acilius · January 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    “pre-modern regimes were plainly anti-semitic”- I wouldn’t put it quite like that. Certainly many pre-modern regimes persecuted Jews and incited violence against them, but what we usually talk about when we talk about “anti-Semitism” in the modern world is in many ways profoundly different from anything that existed before modernity. For example, a pre-modern regime like that of the Inquisition pressed Jews to convert to Christianity. By contrast, the racial definition of Jewishness which defines modern anti-Semitism often leads anti-Semites to regard people who have converted from Judaism to Christianity with special hostility, as if they were spies or something.

  • J. · January 25, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    was nowhere elevated than by Calvinism, exemplified by Puritans in New England.

    The writings of the Founding Fathers are full of anti-calvinist sentiments. Calvinists tended to support the divine right of Kings for one (not sure on numbers but I suspect many puritan/calvinist colonists supported the King). They were not for separation of church and state. Jefferson somewhere claimed the Amer.Rev followed from….”Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney ..”. Not Calvin (and Locke while WASP was not an orthodox calvinist).

    Beck has a Reason problem. He’s not an intellectual. He sells ads (though, while not approving of Goldberg’s latest self-aggrandizing stunt, Beck has at times hinted at anti-semitism, of the crackerbarrel sort).

  • Acilius · January 25, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    “Calvinists tended to support the divine right of Kings”- If so, that wasn’t a particularly strong tendency. Cromwell’s State of England was rooted in Calvinism, and it beheaded Charles I; and of course Calvin’s Geneva was a Republic.

    “I suspect many puritan/calvinist colonists supported the King”- Compared to what? I wouldn’t be surprised if you came up with numbers showing that Calvinists more likely to stay loyal to George in 1775-1781 than were Baptists, but what about Anglicans?

  • J. · January 25, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    The Anglicans were calvinists anyway (for the most part)– the DROK was a big part of the Reformation–via Luther and Calvin, the monarch escapes the control of the papacy.

    Were Cromwell’s Roundheads calvinists? Not sure. They were protestants but more probably like baptist bonehead types. “Enthusiasts” as Locke called them. The Founders’ principles were closer to Lockean ideals than to Calvinist theocracy

    Either way Calvin argued the Divine Right of Kings was scriptural, did he not (unlike Locke who …opposed it). ROmans 13. Obey the Monarch, at least protestant ones. Tho’ if he’s a stinkin’ froggy, behead him. .

  • OFT · January 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    “israel” != the jews. it’s not a trivial distinction. “jesus” != the christians.

    Jesus and the writers of the N.T. were Jews.

    Calvinists tended to support the divine right of Kings

    Calvin rejected Divine Right, for a Republic, and our greatest historian, George Bancroft, a secularist to boot, wrote “Calvin virtually formed America.”

    The entire Republican structure of our government, to which is everything: written constitutions, separation of powers, literacy through bible reading, regular elections, the secret ballot, the federalist principle, Puritan Social Contract in the DOI, religious toleration and separation of church and state, started with Calvin, who took it from Jews.

    This is history given Calvin told us he took these principles from Exodus 18, Deut 1, and the New Testament.

    That comment referring to Jefferson is completely bogus. These Christians were not posting tracks in the Mercury Connecticut Courant The Republic and so on, about rights from Aristotle. They were Protestants, who grew up under reformed theology. TJ was an outlier, completely out of touch with the colonists. His personal ideas are irrelevant anyway. Sydney, whom John Adams wrote ” elucidated all the ideas of liberty”; was a Calvinist.

    The Founders’ principles were closer to Lockean ideals than to Calvinist theocracy

    Calvin formed a Republic ruled by Divine Law.

    He may have believed Divine right was scriptural, but a Republic, ruled by law was better, especially if the Monarch was a tyrant.

  • panglos · January 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    How is modernity being defined here?
    Picasso? Oprah? MultiCulti Diversity? Universal Healthcare (that promotes universal pill popping)?

    I would suggest that modern govt has its basis in Greece, modern infrastructure from Rome, modern architecture/agriculture from Christian empires, and modern industry from western Europe.

  • J. · January 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    The entire Republican structure of our government, to which is everything: written constitutions, separation of powers, literacy through bible reading, regular elections, the secret ballot, the federalist principle, Puritan Social Contract in the DOI, religious toleration and separation of church and state, started with Calvin, who took it from Jews.

    OFT repeats this ad nauseum, but it’s simply incorrect. Republican’s a latin word, for one. The political concepts of the AmerRev. derived from the romans and greeks (as in …the Republic of Plato.). separation of powers. Geneva under the Calvinists was a theocracy (as was puritan England, actually–there were laws forbidding catholics, freethinkers, so forth. They did permit some jews, at least rich ones).

    Jeff. and Madison were not following orders from preachers or their congregations. Madison’s Remonstrance makes that quite obvious, as does the DOI and US-CON–and Federalist papers as well (rarely if ever is…G*d mentioned). The fundamentalists such as P. Henry were the anti-Federalists (tho even some of them were not zealots–tho most pro-slavery).

  • OFT · February 1, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    The political concepts of the AmerRev. derived from the romans and greeks (as in …the Republic of Plato.). separation of powers>

    If that is correct, the framers would have said so. However, they affirmed Republicanism of Ex 18:

    “The gallant Struggle in America, is founded in Principles so indisputable, in the moral Law, in the revealed Law of God, in the true Constitution of great Britain…”
    -John Adams second “Clarendon” letter as printed in the Boston Gazette, 20, Jan. 1766.

    “[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.”
    -Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie and Peck, 1832), p. 6.

    Even the infidel Jefferson understood our rights come from the Bible:

    “”Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion [Christ] . . . .”
    -A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, Section I.

    Here is the Penman of the Revolution:

    “”Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source — from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth.”
    -John Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766.

<<

>>

Theme Design by devolux.nh2.me