Jacobins' Ladder - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Jacobins’ Ladder

Thank you for publishing the superb “18th Century Fox” by Helen Rittelmeyer in your November issue. As a scholar of the period, I’m accustomed to seeing essay after essay devoted to the accomplishments of the radical press in the later 18th and early 19th centuries, but studies of the conservative popular press during this formative era of literacy and mass public opinion are as scarce as snowballs in the desert.

I’m sure Ms. Rittelmeyer knows, though your readers might not, that “The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder,” The Anti-Jacobin’s hilarious parody of liberal philanthropy she mentions in her piece, was engraved in brilliant fashion by James Gillray, the visual caricaturist whose images so memorably deflated the rhetorical claims of the French Revolution and its supporters. I glance up every morning in my dining room at my framed copy of the original print, in which the radical reformer—so ready to sympathize with the ragged knife-grinder on the assumption that his bedraggled condition is due to “some rich man” tyrannically exploiting him—glares at him in disgust once he realizes that his “poor old Hat and Breeches” were torn in a scuffle “last night a-drinking at the Chequers.”

Interested readers can access a copy of the engraved print at the British Museum’s website. To me, it perfectly captures the essence of mainstream liberalism old and new: unimaginative, condescending, self-righteous, and without a shred of humor or genuine empathy for those it supposedly seeks to assist. It is the perfect icon to capture the spirit of “limousine liberalism” in our own time, as I delight in pointing out to my liberal colleagues when they inquire about it.

Michael J. Neth
Murfreesboro, TN

The irrepressible Ben Stein writes a love letter to Judaism, America, and (somewhat incongruously) pretty girls half his age (“My Jewish Questions,” TAS, December 2013). While this writer, a male American rabbi, shares his enthusiasm for all three, I personally try to temper my exuberance (for the former two, anyway) with both a Judaic humility, and a conservative sensibility of limits, proportion, and respect for the facts.

The Jews have brought many gifts to the world and to our nation; of this there can be no doubt. We are a talented people of good values: study, hard work, respect for the law, family togetherness. And yes, we are a people of antiquity. But “we have: Six-thousand-plus years of history”? Mr. Stein may wish to consult his Jewish calendar. Dated from what the ancient rabbis calculated to be God’s creation of the universe, we are living today in the year 5774. Adam and Eve? Noah? Every person in Genesis prior to the patriarchs? Not Jews.

The Jewish people came much later. Israel was in fact a latecomer to the world of ancient civilizations, tarrying thousands of years behind Egypt and Mesopotamia. The first historical mention of the Hebrews, contained in Egyptian royal records, dates only from the late 13th century B.C. Abraham, the first Jew, lived in the semi-legendary Patriarchal age, which scholars place no earlier (and perhaps many centuries later) than 2000 B.C. Are four thousand years of continuous Jewish history insufficient to stoke Mr. Stein’s pride? Must we exaggerate it to six thousand?

Must we then go on to claim credit (or blame) for Judaism for being “the religion of psychology, polio vaccine, balanced budgets, uncountable Nobel Prizes” and for giving the world both Marxism and Christianity? In what sense is any of this true? What role, for example, did Judaism play in the life and thought of Karl Marx, a baptized Lutheran atheist and anti-Semite who descended from rabbis? Or does Judaism play in the work of a secular chemistry or physics professor with a Jewish surname who devotes his life to science? One can legitimately say that Judaism gave intellectual birth to Christianity, though only through the most necessary midwife of Hellenism. This was the very same Greek/Oriental multicultural stew, by the way, that created out of “Old Testament” religion the very much different rabbinic Judaism we know today.

On the one hand are the great achievements, and on the other are the even greater sorrows. The Jews, in Mr. Stein’s telling, are “the religion and the people who have been the most persecuted and tormented in all history…(T)here is blood, pain, suffering, torment on every page.” Mr. Stein’s acquaintance with Jewish historiography is many decades out of date. Back in the 1920s, Columbia professor Salo Wittmayer Baron famously challenged what he called “the lachrymose theory of Jewish history.” In the years since, historians have documented much joy, autonomy, and utter quotidian normalcy in the Jewish saga.

One begins to see in Mr. Stein’s musings a troubling dynamic. With our extremely high highs and low lows, the Jewish people begin to look quite different from our fellow Americans, and indeed, strikingly unlike regular human beings.

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“Metaphysical” and “supernatural” are the words Mr. Stein’s friend applies to the overall Jewish experience, and which the author quotes quite approvingly. Not only is this romantic foolishness, it is potentially dangerous foolishness. Mr. Stein references the Holocaust. Was it any more than a small twist of the mind that took the Jewish people from “supernatural” to “demonic”?

I do not wish to be too harsh. In the end, Mr. Stein’s Jewish self-regard strikes me as sweet, naïve, and more than a little old-fashioned. His ethnic boosterism seems more appropriate to the European ghetto or Islamic dhimmitude of old, when Jews toiled under restriction, discrimination, and threat of persecution. But we today live in our beloved America, and, as Mr. Stein so rightly celebrates, life here is very, very good for the Jews.

Rabbi David Osachy
Jacksonville, FL

Ben Stein replies:

First, I thank the learned reb for his corrections. But not all of his corrections are correct.

1) Obviously, those older religions the rabbi mentions are not still functioning, and I believe I said Judaism was the oldest still-practiced religion that we know of. If I did not say that, it seems to me implicit.

2) If the learned rebbe does not think Karl Marx was a Jew, he has that belief pretty much to himself.

3) The rebbe must be blind not to have noticed that for 40 years now I have been writing about how great life is for us Jews in America. Where has he been?

4) If the rebbe really thinks Jews have not won a wildly disproportionate share of Nobel prizes, again, he has that view (not supported by data) totally to himself.

5) I have often written that the success of the Jews has made others angry and envious.

6) It’s not really cricket for the rebbe to simply make up things I didn’t say or make assertions that are obviously contrary to fact, and then condescendingly refute non-existent statements and false assertions. I am sure he is a wonderful man and did great in rabbi school, but again, it’s not really cricket.

7) If the reb does not find attractive young women attractive, of course, he is entitled to that view.

8) Keep coming back, rabbi. It works if you work it. And I am sure your congregants are blessed to have such a learned scholar as their teacher.

Fie on those who tout Senator Cruz as presidential material (“Politics’ Leading Man,” TAS, November 2013). He was born in Canada and is not “natural born” as the Constitution requires in Article II, Section 1. Hark back to the case of George Romney, born in Mexico.

David R. Raynolds
Lander, WY

Kyle Peterson replies:

The constitution does require that the president be a “natural born citizen,” but it does not define the term. Common sense—along with legal and historical analyses, such as a 50-page report created in 2011 by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which summarized American case law, English common law, and the apparent intent of the framers—suggests that a natural born citizen is a person who holds U.S. citizenship at birth, i.e. one who does not have to go through the naturalization process to obtain it.

Uncommon sense (though faddish enough) would exclude some segment of that population: George Romney and John McCain, each born to two American parents abroad; Ted Cruz, born to an American mother and a Cuban father in Canada; Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, born on American soil to parents who were permanent residents but not U.S. citizens. Using the plain language of the Constitution, we might just as easily carve out a disqualification for those delivered via Cesarean section, certainly not a method of natural birth.

Senator Cruz believes himself to be a natural born citizen and has declared himself eligible for the big chair in the Oval Office. Should voters decide to put him there, the cold winds of the Alberta prairie will not hold him back.


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