Alan Dershowitz's vicious and repeated characterization of Jimmy Carter, a great man who builds homes for poor people among other activities, as a "bigot" is of a piece with Marty Peretz saying two years back that Carter will go down in history as a "Jew-hater." Jeffrey Goldberg has made similar sorts of statements.
Carter's ostracism from respectable society points to the "naming" power of Jews in our culture.The evidence is all around us in the remarkable numbers of my people in media, political life, and the movies. But I would point to a fascinating historical example of this power in the book Science, Jews, and Secular Culture, by Berkeley sociologist David Hollinger.
Hollinger writes about the miraculous transformation into a liberal icon of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the mid-20th century. In fact, Holmes (1841-1935) was actually something of a reactionary in his political values. For instance, he celebrated "an unthinking and unquestioning obedience to orders and a vindication of violence for its role in 'the breeding of a race fit for headship and command,'" Hollinger says. Yet Holmes became the darling of a group of progressive "egalitarian, anti-imperialist intellectuals," and these men gave Holmes the sterling reputation that he enjoys to this day.
Hollinger says that there was "an ethnic dimension to the process by which Holmes became an icon for American liberal intellectuals. This ethnic dimension consists largely in the selective appreciation and use of Holmes's 'tough-mindedness' by young Jewish intellectuals."
In a word, Holmes loved Jews, and it paid off for him. Five Jews in particular–Justice Felix Frankfurter, Judge Jerome Frank, English political theorist Harold Laski, journalist Max Lerner and lawyer/philosopher Morris Cohen–helped to create our image of Holmes as a "Great Man." Two years after Holmes's death, Lerner declared him to be "perhaps the most complete personality in the history of American thought."
These men were swayed, Hollinger argues, by Holmes's remarkable philosemitism at a time when Jews were excluded from the American establishment. Holmes had no problem with Jews. "He even answered their letters." For instance, Cohen was ignored by most older jurists, but suddenly found himself in a correspondence with Holmes that would later be published in two volumes. Hollinger suggests that these men were "looking for a fully American father" in Holmes, who for his part was childless, and they became his friends and overlooked his "pessimism, his fatalism, his respect for brute force" and other traits that made him actually illiberal.
"His 'tough-mindedness' seemed directed against the notorious 'genteel tradition.' He could be seen as an enemy of exactly those aspects of the New England WASP tradition most threatening to young Jewish intellectuals in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. He kept his distance from the cultural provincialism of Bston and was aloof from Anglo-Saxon nativism…. [He was] open to the entrance of new social groups into the mainstream of American life."
Hollinger's book is about Jewish cultural power. He writes about the Jewish intellectuals who participated in an "anti-provincial revolt" in the beginning of the last century and thus played a central role in forming "the particular, liberal vision of American culture that became a common possession of the American intelligentsia" by 1950 or so.
In short, my people had great cultural/intellectual power then. We have even more today. And as reluctant as I am to grant Dershowitz and Peretz power, I wonder whether Jimmy Carter won't be in the historical doghouse for a long, long time to come. A recent profile of Carter in New York Magazine
tends to underline the point. It was filled with contempt for the former president expressed by this
rightwing Jew and that one, while the article's author's view that Carter was
"prophetic" was reserved for late in the piece.
The one great thing about this is: I really don't think Carter cares, he will do his thing. But how many other actors fear that sort of power?