This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Thank God Passover and Easter are over – and the peace process, too. Not to worry, though, just like Passover and Easter, the peace process will return one day. Maybe soon.
But while the various stand-offs remain, life goes on. The oppression of the Palestinians continues as it has and the persecution of Jewish dissidents in solidarity with Palestinians hasn’t let up either. No rest for the wicked.
The great inversion of Jewish life is permanent, though with each peace process we hope against hope.
What are we to hope for today?
Hope springs eternal – perhaps this is the real message of Passover and Easter – but hope has to be somehow grounded in reality, otherwise it becomes fake. Cynicism can’t be too far around that bend. So, please, no resurrection/liberation language allowed in a thoroughly unredeemed/unliberated world.
This brings me to my Passover reading of the new biography of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the great Jewish literary critic and philosopher of the first half of the 20th century. Interestingly, in his lifetime, Benjamin was never able to secure an academic appointment. That says a lot about him and a lot about the academy of his day. So different from the universities of our day?
Benjamin’s thought matured in the late 1920 and early 1930s as he lived through the tumultuous times that eventually led to the rise of the Nazis and Adolph Hitler. He lived his last years in exile. In 1940, seeking to escape from Nazi-controlled Europe and increasingly despondent about his own future and the world’s, Benjamin committed suicide.
Today I am reading about Benjamin’s transition to politics in 1929 as the stock market crashed and Germany’s post-World War I experiment with democracy faltered. It was at this point that Benjamin wrote a review of a book edited by the leading voice of the intellectual radical right, Ernst Junger. Benjamin’s review is titled, “Theories of German Fascism.” The authors of the Benjamin biography, Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, describe Benjamin’s review:
Benjamin’s review, “Theories of German Fascism,” seeks to unmask the strategies at work in the war mysticism – abstract, male-oriented, “impious” – of Junger and his circle. In their vision of the “imperial” warrior he finds a transmutation of the postwar German Freikorps mercenaries, those steel-gray “war engineers of the ruling class” who are essentially the counterparts of the “managerial functionaries in their cutaways”; in their vision of the “nation” he discerns an apology for the ruling class that is supported by this caste of warriors, a ruling class contemptuous of international law and accountable to no one, least of all to itself, and which “bears the sphinx-like countenance of the producer who very soon promises to be the sole consumer of his commodities.” The authors in this collection, comments Benjamin, are incapable of calling things by their names, preferring instead to imbue everything with the heroic features of German idealism.
Benjamin’s review was written a long time ago and seems theoretical, though it was written in anything but a theoretical situation. His review may seem outdated – unless we flash forward to the Jewish scene today.
In the above quote, try substituting Jewish for German and Israel for nation. Now substitute Abraham Foxman or Alan Dershowitz for Junger. There are differences, of course, since Foxman and Dershowitz are not leaders of the Jewish radical right wing. It would be a huge and telling mistake to think of either as right-wing or conservative. To my mind, this makes it worse. There is an entire literature on liberal fascism, though to date little of that literature has turned its eyes to Jewish power.
Of course there are Jews who today apply Benjamin’s critique inwardly with or without knowledge of Benjamin himself. The book in the news now that comes closest is – you guessed it – Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
If Goliath isn’t a book about fascism, then give me another name. At least we can have a discussion.
I hope Blumenthal isn’t looking for an academic appointment.
While Jewish leaders “imbue everything with the heroic features of Jewish idealism,” Blumenthal, along with other Jews of Conscience are, in Benjamin fashion, fixing their eyes on the facts on the ground. When idealism is oppression on the ground, theory won’t do. Therefore we need an updated review: “Theories of Jewish Fascism.”
Yes I’m aware that Jews can’t be fascists – or torturers or ethnic cleansers. We can’t be – what we have become. Is this because we are (no longer) capable of calling things by their names?