Leon Wieseltier on the Jewish people sounds a lot like Richard Spencer on white people

US Politics
on 40 Comments

Leon Wieseltier has fallen victim to the Harvey Weinstein storm. He has lost funding for his new magazine venture, and he lost his position as a senior editor at The Atlantic. Thanks to a one minute vignette for T-Magazine with Chelsea Handler, back in April 2016, we get a pretty good sense of Wieseltier’s brand of inappropriate sexual-at-work-play. No matter how we view Wieseltier’s alleged sexual transgressions in the workplace, or that T-Magazine vignette, these are not all the sins Wieseltier has to answer for.

Back in August, 2017, Richard Spencer, the White Nationalist who lead the march in Charlottesville, gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 trying to justify what he is about.  “As an Israeli citizen,” Spencer told his Israeli interviewer, “someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me who has analogous feelings about whites. I mean, you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”  

Spencer has been making the analogy for some time now.  E.g. at the University of Texas A & M on December 6, 2016, where he flummoxed Rabbi Matt Rosenberg.  

The comparison hits a nerve with American Jews, as it should.  “It’s an analogy with superficial plausibility. It’s also a malicious lie, and a deliberate one,” said Yair Rosenberg in a Tablet article. But Rosenberg fails to meet Spencer’s challenge head-on. Jane Eisner, the editor-in-chief of the Forward, also took exception. She did no better: “Like the anti-Semitism at its core, this ugly syllogism will not die,” said Eisner.  Ditto for Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. 

So I listened with some interest when I stumbled on a Park Avenue Synagogue Lecture Series interview with Leon Wieseltier (from November 8, 2011) wherein he outlined his fundamental justification for Israel as a Jewish state. Wieseltier, the literary editor for The New Republic from 1983-2014, now at Brookings, is always interesting and worth listening to. He made his comments five years before Richard Spencer provoked Jews with his syllogism, but he made Spencer’s argument for him. 

Everybody knows the latest talking points for defending Israel, lamented Wieseltier back in 2011, but no one knows anymore how to defend Israel as a Jewish state from basic principles. In the video–starting at 12:40–he proceeds to lay out those basic principles from his point of view.  It could be Richard Spencer talking:

  1. There is a people, the Jewish people;
  2. The Jewish people are one of the primary people in the history of the world;
  3. The Jewish people, like all autonomous people, have a unique history; 
  4. In the modern period (i.e. 17th century onwards) “peoples” began to be redefined as nations;
  5. If you are a nation (i.e. people) you should have a state; 
  6. In order to create a nation state, a national movement has to be created; 
  7. Zionism was the national movement for the Jewish people;
  8. Jews have a state like other nations (i.e. peoples) have a state; 
  9. The idea was that cultural boundaries would coincide–they don’t–and this creates a problem of minorities. Nation states always contain some people of “other nations;” and Israel has a problem of minorities no different from any other people. 

That is, in fact, exactly what Richard Spencer says about the United States. Christian Northern White Europeans are a people, they founded America, and its their nation state. We in the U.S. have a pesky problem of minorities–but nothing that can’t be managed by excluding Muslims and people of color from the country, favoring Christianity (“saying Merry Christmas again,” as Trump puts it), and perhaps shipping Jews off to their nation state–Israel. 

But note the sleight of hand in Wieseltier’s argument at points 4-8. He is correct in suggesting that the modern nation state emerged in part from the Peace of Westphalia, which settled a century of sectarian religious wars ignited by the Reformation. We think of the Peace of Westphalia as having established a world order of independent sovereign states. The Peace of Westphalia set forth a norm against interference by states in the internal affairs of other states–not that Putin is listening. Matters of religion, political rights, etc. would be left to each sovereign, who would rule over an area with fixed borders. All this is correct, . . . but this new order did not equate the nation state with “the people making up its majority population.”

Our idea of a modern nation state has come to include other Enlightenment ideas. The Enlightenment, cemented by the American Revolution and the French Revolution, gave us the notion of universal human rights. Napoleon emancipated the Jews and made them equal citizens of the state. France became a nation of its citizens–not the nation of its white Roman Catholic subset, as Wieseltier suggests. The American Revolution declared “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America became a country of its citizens–and after the Civil War of 1861-65 this included everybody. America is not the nation state of its majority white Christian Europeans, as Richard Spencer would have it. 

From the Magna Carta to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, to the American and French revolutions, and  to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a lot has changed and matured in our conception of the nation state. Along the way this Enlightenment tradition jettisoned the notion that the nation state is by and for “peoples” of a particular ethnic or religious grouping. We fought World War 2 in order to defeat the pernicious notion that teutonic Aryan defined a nation state. 

This nine-point Wieseltier argument for Zionism says teutonic Aryan is a nation state. The argument channels the White European Radical Right of the late 19th early 20th century: Ernst Haeckel, Oswald Spengler, Enrico Ferri, et al. His argument provides inadvertent cover for these demons of the White European radical right which are trying to make a come-back in our politics today. We must reject those demons, for America, for Israel, for the world.  

About Roland Nikles

Roland Nikles is a Bay Area writer and attorney. He blogs here: rolandnikles.blogspot.com. And you can follow him on twitter @RolandNikles

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40 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    October 27, 2017, 3:42 pm

    RE: “That is, in fact, exactly what Richard Spencer says about the United States. Christian Northern White Europeans are a people, they founded America, and its their nation state. We in the U.S. have a pesky problem of minorities–but nothing that can’t be managed by excluding Muslims and people of color from the country, favoring Christianity (‘saying Merry Christmas again’, as Trump puts it), and perhaps shipping Jews off to their nation state–Israel. “ ~ Nikles

    AND IT’S ALL PURRFECTLY LEGAL (TO RICHARD SPENCER’S WAY OF THINKING):

    Discovery doctrine
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_doctrine

    [EXCERPT] The Discovery doctrine is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, most notably Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823. Chief Justice John Marshall justified the way in which colonial powers laid claim to lands belonging to foreign sovereign nations during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to lands lay with the government whose subjects travelled to and occupied a territory whose inhabitants were not subjects of a European Christian monarch. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.

    The 1823 case was the result of collusive lawsuits where land speculators worked together to make claims to achieve a desired result.[1][2] John Marshall explained the Court’s reasoning. The decision has been the subject of a number of law review articles and has come under increased scrutiny by modern legal theorists.

    History

    The Doctrine of Discovery was promulgated by European monarchies in order to legitimize the colonization of lands outside of Europe. Between the mid-fifteenth century and the mid-twentieth century, this idea allowed European entities to seize lands inhabited by indigenous peoples under the guise of discovery. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas declared that only non-Christian lands could be colonized under the Discovery Doctrine.

    In 1792, U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson declared that the Doctrine of the Discovery would extend from Europe to the infant U.S. government. The Doctrine and its legacy continue to influence American imperialism and treatment of indigenous peoples.[3]

    Johnson v. M’Intosh

    The plaintiff Johnson had inherited land, originally purchased from the Piankeshaw tribes. Defendant McIntosh claimed the same land, having purchased it under a grant from the United States. . .

    ALSO SEE:
    Inter caetera, 1493https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter_caetera

    ■ Treaty of Tordesillas –
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas

  2. DaBakr
    October 27, 2017, 5:28 pm

    Other then thinking up a dozen reasons why authors acceptance that Spencer’s analogy to white Europeans as a nation “sounds” exactly like Jews as a nation is specious I kept thinking of an image. What about all the white European Muslims that live in the US? are they in or out? Seems to me, since they all obviously converted at some past point retain their so-called ‘peoplehood’ and therefore are ‘in’. Jews are still non humanoid mud people

    • eljay
      October 27, 2017, 6:24 pm

      || @ak @ October 27, 2017, 5:28 pm ||

      Peoplehood or no, a religion-supremacist “Muslim State” is as valid a construct as a religion-supremacist “Jewish State”. IOW, not at all. It’s strange how you Zionists always strive for the lowest possible common denominator (“murderers exist, so it’s OK to rape”).

      • DaBakr
        October 28, 2017, 2:37 am

        @e

        I was referring to wether the neo nazis in the US would consider white Muslims as part of their people. My point being that to a Nazi a Muslim can say they are a Christian and be assorted but a jew is a Jew no matter what they say. I believe this is the logic the neo nazis adhere to

      • eljay
        October 28, 2017, 9:11 am

        || @Daa: @e

        I was referring to wether the neo nazis in the US would consider white Muslims as part of their people. … ||

        I apologize for misunderstanding your point.

      • Annie Robbins
        October 28, 2017, 10:21 am

        why do you believe neo nazi’s are ok with muslims if they are white? what is your definition of white? do you think richard spencer would have no problem with a person named mohammed or hassan if he’s white? many jews say they are christian and no one knows the difference. what informs your logic about what nazis adhere to regarding white muslims. or is this just your hunch.

        gentiles are non humanoid mud people, depending on who you ask.

    • Keith
      October 28, 2017, 11:32 am

      DABAKR- “Jews are still non humanoid mud people”

      So why do Jewish Zionists such as Victoria Nuland support the Ukrainian neo-Nazis? Why does Ukrainian oligarch and Israeli citizen Ihor Kolomoisky employ neo-Nazis?

      • Mooser
        October 28, 2017, 3:08 pm

        “So why do Jewish Zionists such as Victoria Nuland support…”

        “Keith”, when “Dabakr” confesses to the self-image of a classic self-hater, he should get some sympathy and compassion, not more indictments.

  3. Donald Johnson
    October 27, 2017, 6:47 pm

    I am going to do to you the thing I hate when it is done to me. You write a long post and someone sees one line, often tangential, that they strongly disagree with and they jump on that one line and ignore everything else. So to partly make up for what I am about to do, this was a great post.

    Okay, here is the one line—

    “The Peace of Westphalia set forth a norm against interference by states in the internal affairs of other states–not that Putin is listening.”

    I am agnostic on Russia gate, but assuming everything attributed to him was really done by him, what he did was small potatoes compared to what we do and have done. It doesn’t even look big compared to what others do to us. If you have real influence, you don’t need to do the stunts Putin has allegedly done. Politicians of both parties grovel before you.

    • Interested Bystander
      October 28, 2017, 2:44 am

      Thanks Donald. No real quarrel on Putin from me . I think you are correct that it is small potatoes. The fact that 63 million of us voted for DJT is on us. Voter ignorance is a real problem of democracy. It’s worriesome that it’s such a crapshoot.

    • Tuyzentfloot
      October 28, 2017, 5:32 am

      Donald says: I am agnostic on Russia gate, but assuming everything attributed to him was really done by him, what he did was small potatoes compared to what we do and have done.

      The bottom line is not what Russia did but what they want. They want better relations. If you just look at what the other side did, wars wouldn’t end except by complete surrender of the other side.
      And I’m not agnostic about Russiagate. I consider it propaganda, propaganda which has found fertile soil. The press loves it for one.

      • Mooser
        October 28, 2017, 3:46 pm

        “And I’m not agnostic about Russiagate.”

        Perhaps your faith will be rewarded on Monday

      • Tuyzentfloot
        October 30, 2017, 5:24 am

        Mooser says:Perhaps your faith will be rewarded on Monday

        I don’t expect anything to happen on monday which would change my mind. Maybe people even go to jail over it, it still wouldn’t change my mind.
        That should make me wary of course, where’s the falsifiability? What would cause me to change my mind? To what extent am I relying on reporters I trust?
        To what extent am I relying on my own insight?
        But enough of the diagnostic mode. Just trust me. Do you want me to explain your car to you? I can do that too.

    • Citizen
      October 28, 2017, 6:43 am

      @Donald Johnson

      Yes, that throw-away line stuck out for me too. It seems irrelevant here, and also very selective. BTW, I think there is evidence that Putin cherishes the Russian people as much as any other high governmental leader of his/her people cherishes his or her’s..

      • marc b.
        October 28, 2017, 2:04 pm

        It is a bizarre post. The only recent development regarding Leon seems to be his confession, or confession of sorts. (There are crocodile tears and then the superlative weasel tears.). The sub genius, humanist groper subject to an inquisition. So sad. Leon and Harvey can maybe go in for an autoerotic gang bang on a potted plant in the rec room of their treatment center.

      • Annie Robbins
        October 28, 2017, 3:09 pm

        Leon and Harvey can maybe go in for an autoerotic gang bang on a potted plant in the rec room of their treatment center.

        and don’t forget to include MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin —
        busted! http://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-halperin-suspended-20171026-story.html

      • marc b.
        October 28, 2017, 3:45 pm

        Yes, Annie, something is afoot.

      • Mooser
        October 28, 2017, 3:54 pm

        “Yes, Annie, something is afoot.”

        Oh there might be some of that, (I myself cannot resist a well-turned ankle, as the orthopedist once said), but mostly it’ll be about hands-on experience.

      • RoHa
        October 28, 2017, 6:06 pm

        Usually twelve inches.

  4. Bumblebye
    October 27, 2017, 8:58 pm

    Spencer’s white zionism goes even further down israel’s path. He was recently interviewed by Stephen Nolan of bbcR5. He believes the US should have a Law of Return on the basis of America being the nation state of White Europeans (whose home countries are being overrun and spoiled by all those pesky brown people). Haven’t found a link by googling, but shall go try again. Might have been complaints about making it available?

  5. Matt McLaughlin
    October 27, 2017, 11:27 pm

    If it wasn’t for White Supremacy you couldn’t recognize Israel from rest of the ME. Out of the 197 Jews at Basel, 1897, 4 were from Palestine. Don’t cha think you oughtta live there first? Both Ben Gurion & Herzl said Israel not connected to ancients ‘disipation’ and that no nation has uniform race. JUDAISM is not official religion of Israel.

  6. yonah fredman
    October 28, 2017, 2:49 am

    There was a mass emigration from Eastern europe, specifically from czarist ruled lands out and to the west. All the young people, those with an eye to the future were moving west. Jews. And zionism grew in the tumult of that moment. Our future is not here. And as a reaction to this historical phenomenon, zionism declared, let us turn this emigration into a project of self reliance, auto emancipation. Zionism was a reaction to the mass emigration to america, empathetic to the alienation from the czar’s realm, but recasting the urge to leave as individuals for individuals by individuals transformed into a concerted effort for the good of the future of the group.

    • Mooser
      October 28, 2017, 1:12 pm

      ” for the good of the future of the group.”

      So anybody who favors or acts on Zionism is acting for “the good of the group”?
      Funny, isn’t it how Zionism immediately instills honesty, disinterested judgement tempered by compassion, and genius into all its followers and leaders. Oh, and the essence of everything great about Jews and Judaism. Mustn’t forget that.

  7. RoHa
    October 28, 2017, 7:25 am

    “The Jewish people are one of the primary people in the history of the world;”

    What does that mean?

    “The Jewish people, like all autonomous people, have a unique history”

    Autonomous? I thought Jews were usually part of the economic life of the countries they lived in.

    “If you are a nation (i.e. people) you should have a state”

    Is that a prudential “should”, or a moral entitlement? And how is it justified?

    Where do they get these ideas from?

    • Mooser
      October 28, 2017, 1:28 pm

      “Where do they get these ideas from?”

      Oh, “RoHa”, they are just all different ways for us to say, more or less: “We’re white, too!”

    • Mooser
      October 28, 2017, 4:10 pm

      I mean, there’s gotta be some reason we were done down and out of our ancestral lands and state, and all the rest.
      Not like the other groups who have (in that sense, the loss of national land, disruption, persecution) been history’s losers. That wasn’t supposed to happen to us. Somebody always did something to us, that’s got to be it.
      And whoever it was, it wasn’t us!

    • Mooser
      October 28, 2017, 4:28 pm

      “The Jewish people, like all autonomous people, have a unique history”

      Try getting that on one small lapel button!

      • oldgeezer
        October 28, 2017, 11:35 pm

        Why bother. It is false on the face of it. Jews in Africa, Asia amd Europe do not share or have a unique history.

        That extreme lack of common history is what disqualifies them from being an ethnicity

        It is a common religion and no more.

      • Maghlawatan
        October 29, 2017, 8:08 am

        They are one of the few groups to teach mass insanity to their kids having previously taught them justice.

        Anyone can make a mess. Just take so much and make it less.

        https://youtu.be/yMZSxehxHEc

  8. Shai
    October 28, 2017, 10:34 am

    Thanks for digging up Wieseltier’s 2011 talk. This kind of analysis is critical in getting liberal American Jews to wake up.

    You wrote, “America became a country of its citizens–and after the Civil War of 1861-65 this included everybody. ”

    What is your analysis of women’s suffrage in assessing when a country becomes a state of its citizens?

    Also troubling to this day is the racism entrenched in US society that prevents any semblance of equality.

    • Citizen
      October 29, 2017, 1:43 am

      Even more entrenched is the ever growing income gap, which heavily impacts equality the most, not religion or ethnic background

  9. Misterioso
    October 28, 2017, 10:36 am

    “6. In order to create a nation state, a national movement has to be created; ”

    Setting aside the rest of his racist talking points, Wieseltier forgot to finish number 6.

    It should read:

    6. In order to create a nation state, a national movement has to be created and it must be prepared to dispossess and expel the native inhabitants using whatever means necessary, including force of arms, massacres, mass rape and intimidation.

  10. MalcolmLeftly
    October 28, 2017, 3:34 pm

    and don’t forget to include MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin —
    ——————————
    I’m sorry Leon is in trouble (there, I admit it). Halperin is too present in areas I pay attention to, so I’m glad he’ll be taking a long walk off a short pier. In spite of Mica Brzezinski’s “broken heart.”

  11. oldgeezer
    October 28, 2017, 11:34 pm

    He doesn’t sound a lot like spencer. It is identical. The only diff is the ethnic/racial group favoured. Both movements grew out of the same dark racist period when such vile beliefs were considered (by the immoral and emotionally sick) to be some sort of enlightenment. Zionism needs to be buried in the dung heap with the rest of those strains of thought.

    Seriously. You can’t go any lower than those belief systems. You are a mental midget if you can’t believe every human is an equal and all life is precious. Zionism is abhorent in this modern age.

  12. Citizen
    October 29, 2017, 4:10 am

    Sticks and Stones: Free Speech and Punching Politics https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/27/sticks-and-stones-free-speech-and-punching-politics/ by @NatCounterPunch

    White Zionism…

  13. Arby
    November 10, 2017, 2:49 pm

    “The Peace of Westphalia set forth a norm against interference by states in the internal affairs of other states–not that Putin is listening.” This is where I stopped reading.

    https://williamblum.org/essays/read/overthrowing-other-peoples-governments-the-master-list

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