The Jews did not invent modernity

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.

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