Jack Ross writes:
Last night my friend Richard and I watched my DVD of Arguing The
World, which I had not watched in almost two years. It has been on the
basis of my knowledge of neoconservatism, which I was pleased to
realize is intact and not being sapped by my current project on the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, that I
often take exception to Phil Weiss's emphasis on Jewish motivation over
ideological motivation for the neocons. But watching this film for the
first time in a long while gives me pause in that assessment.
I had known, or half remembered at least, that the film makes not one mention of Israel or ,
and may not even barely acknowledge the Jewish parochial motivation for
opposing affirmative action, for example. Indeed, you would barely
realize (well, not quite, but you get the point) from the film that its
subjects are Jewish, and that the story is about little more then a
group of 30s radicals who fell in love with America, never mind that
their abstract America was another world from the real America.
Arguing The World is a product of the 90s, with no anticipation of how
relevant its subject would suddenly become in the next decade. Equally
dated is the film's ultimate emphasis on a legacy in American domestic
But a few things are clearly evident from the film:
the roots of their pathologies are ultimately cultural, not
ideological, and the film does a disservice by treating ideology in the
abstract – in other words, as Richard said to me, the film would have
had a much more compelling dramatic arc if it actually took a position
of its own.
When we consider the absence of any discussion of
Zionism, there may be an either deliberate or subconscious obfuscation
of this fact, but Zionism was just another product of that scene, and
thus does one realize the real place of the radical saga of the 30s.
Zionism was what won hearts and minds. Socialism in whatever variety
never stood a chance. This may be little different from the triumph of
nationalism over classical everywhere else, and yet . . .
stand by what I have always said about the order in which Jewish
parochialism and ideology rule – yes, Israel is the royal road to
neoconservatism, but except for those who are obviously Zionists first and foremost (Abe Foxman, Marty Peretz, ) they are ideologists (neocons either left or right) first and Jews of whatever stripe second.
however, ignores the larger question to which Arguing The World cries
out in deafening silence – how did Judaism become so interchangeable
with secular ideology, whether socialist in days of yore (or going even
further back, to the Enlightenment) or Zionist and/or neocon in our own
This is where it all comes back home for me as a writer. Years ago I originally envisioned, following a complete history of the
I may still do it in 15 or 20 years (and I'm certainly not writing off
the other two). The point is, at a time when I was so narrowly focused
on the history of politics and felt deeply ambivalent at best about Judaism and Jewish identity, I understood that this was the holy grail.
this is why I became like a man possessed in the last year and a half
upon learning of the history of the American Council for Judaism and
the whole preceding history of Classical . You can not understand the pivotal 20th century
where it all came together without understanding Classical Reform
Judaism and why it collapsed, and in the ACJ it was nothing short of a
revelation to discover those who asked all the right questions at the
critical hour, whatever can be said of their answers.
So my half-fantasy now is that I'll be like Robert Caro, with the biography of Rabbi Elmer Berger [an ACJ leader] serving as a springboard like the Robert Moses book and then spending most of my remaining life on neoconservatism at a snail's pace a la Caro and LBJ.