"On the Political Stupidity of Jews"
Jude Wanniski
December 8, 1999


Memo To: Minister Louis Farrakhan
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Irving Kristol

I'm sure you remember one of our long discussions about the reason you have had so much trouble finding reconciliation with the American Jewish community during the last 15 years, since you were first labeled a "black Hitler" by prominent leaders of that community. I told you that it was because American Jews are politically inept. The way I put it was that in practically every field of endeavor they have been superior, pound for pound, to all other classifications of mankind -- especially the arts and sciences, finance, and enterprise. In politics, the worst mistake you can make is in not knowing who your friends are and who are your enemies. Instead of seeing you as a potential ally from the Muslim world, a Partnership you have offered for 15 years, they insist on demonizing you, casting you as "the embodiment of evil," as Edgar Bronfman of the World Jewish Congress put it in 1996. When I bounced this idea off Reuven Brenner, who got his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Israel, he laughed and said "Of course you are right, but that's because everyone else has had states to run for thousands of years, and we've only been doing it for fifty years."

Now I've come across an article recently published in the quarterly journal Azure, "On the Political Stupidity of the Jews," by Irving Kristol. We run it with the permission of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank that puts out Azure, where the original (full-length) essay appeared. You can contact Dan Polisar, Azure's new Editor-in-Chief, at his e-mail address: dpolisar@shalem.org.il I think it would be helpful if you also contacted Adam Pruzan, whose periodical, Toward Tradition, republished the article here in their Summer 1999 issue. Mr. Pruzan (apruzan@towardtradition.org) e-mailed me the other day when I called to find out what his organization is about, and he told me it is an educational foundation dedicated to creating a national movement of Jews allied with Christians who want to apply traditional ideas to America's cultural, political and economic life. He said he was happy to hear that some Jewish rabbis had recently reached out to you. I directed him to the story in the Final Call. He also said he thought his organization probably should have reached out to you before. Maybe it can result in the inclusion of American Muslims in the goals of their organization. It's worth a try, no?

As for Irving Kristol, you may remember me telling you he is my intellectual "godfather." I even address him "Don Corleone," for all that he has done for me. Of all the people I have met in my lifetime, outside my family, he is probably the man I respect the most. (He was on the original list of ten people I most admire that I published on my website, which included you, Min. Farrakhan.) He's pushing 80 years of age and is still able to discard beliefs of a lifetime when he finds a better one -- truly a man who does not allow other people to do his thinking. Here is his essay, which will further help you understand the view from this side of the white/black racial divide. It is followed by an "Editorial Afterward" that I presume was written by Mr. Polisar.

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"On the Political Stupidity of the Jews," by Irving Kristol

In general, the political handling of controversial religious and moral issues in the United States prior to World War II was a triumph of reasoned experience over abstract dogmatism. Unfortunately, since around 1950, it is abstract dogmatism that has triumphed over reasoned experience in American public life. As everyone knows, this unwarranted and unfortunate reversal has provoked a constitutional crisis where there had never been one before. And much as I regret to say this, the sad fact is that American Jews have played a very important role -- in some ways a crucial role -- in creating this crisis.

It is a fairly extraordinary story when one stops to think about it. In the decades after World War II, as anti-Semitism declined precipitously, as Jews moved massively into the mainstream of American life, the official Jewish organizations took advantage of these new circumstances to prosecute an aggressive campaign against any public recognition, however slight, of the fact that most Americans are Christian.

It is not that the leaders of the Jewish organizations were anti-religious. Most of the Jewish advocates of a secularized "public square" were themselves members of Jewish congregations. They believed, in all sincerity, that religion should be the private affair of the individual. Religion belonged in the home, in the church and synagogue, and nowhere else. And they believed in this despite the fact that no society in history has ever acceded to the complete privatization of a religion embraced by the overwhelming majority of its members.

The truth, of course, is that there is no way that religion can be obliterated from public life when 95 percent of the population is Christian. There is no way of preventing the Christian holidays, for instance, from spilling over into public life. But again, before World War II, there were practically no Jews who cared about such things. I went to a public school, where the children sang carols at Christmastime. Even among those Jews who sang them, I never knew a single one who was drawn to the practice of Christianity by them. Sometimes, the schools sponsored Nativity plays, and the response of the Jews was simply not to participate in them.

There was no public "issue" until the American Civil Liberties Union -- which is financed primarily by Jews -- arrived on the scene with the discovery that Christmas carols and pageants were a violation of the Constitution. As a matter of fact, our Jewish population in the United States believed this so passionately that when the Supreme Court, having been prodded by the ACLU, ruled it unconstitutional for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in a public school, the Jewish organizations found this ruling unobjectionable. People who wanted their children to know about the Ten Commandments could send their children to heder.

Since there was a powerful secularizing trend among American Christians after World War II, there was far less outrage over all this than one might have anticipated. The Jewish campaign against any suggestion that America was a Christian nation won one battle after another; eventually it made sufficient headway in the media and the legal profession -- most importantly on the Supreme Court -- that today there is widespread popular acceptance of the belief that this kind of secularism, which is tolerant of religion only so long as it is practiced privately and very discreetly, was indigenously and authoritatively "American," and has always been so.

Of course, it has not always been so, and Americans have always thought of themselves as a Christian nation -- one with a secular government, which was equally tolerant of all religions so long as they were congruent with traditional Judeo-Christian morality. But equal toleration under the law never meant perfect equality of status in fact. Christianity is not the legally established religion in the United States, but is established informally, nevertheless. And in the past forty years, this informal establishment in American society has grown more secure, even as the legal position of religion in public life has been attenuated.

In this respect, the United States differs markedly from the democracies of Western Europe, where religion continues steadily to decline and is regarded as an anachronism grudgingly tolerated. In the United States, religion is more popular today than it was in the 1960s, and its influence is growing, so the difference between the United States and Europe becomes more evident with every passing year. Europeans are baffled and a little frightened by the religious revival in America, while Americans take the continuing decline of religion in Europe as just another symptom of European decadence.

Even as the Christian revival in the United States gathers strength, the Jewish community is experiencing a modest religious revival of its own. Alarmed by a rate of intermarriage approaching 50 percent, the money and energy that used to go into fighting anti-Semitism, or Israel Bonds, is now being channeled into Jewish education. Jewish day schools have become more popular, and the ritual in both Reform and Conservative synagogues has become more traditional.

But this Jewish revival does not prevent American Jews from being intensely and automatically hostile to the concurrent Christian revival. It is fair to say that American Jews wish to be more Jewish while at the same time being frightened at the prospect of American Christians becoming more Christian. It is also fair to say that American Jews see nothing odd in this attitude. Intoxicated with their economic, political and judicial success over the past half-century, American Jews seem to have no reluctance in expressing their vision of an ideal America: A country where Christians are purely nominal, if that, in their Christianity, while they want the Jews to remain a flourishing religious community.

One can easily understand the attractiveness of this vision to Jews. What is less easy to understand is the chutzpah of American Jews in publicly embracing this dual vision. Such arrogance is, I would suggest, a peculiarly Jewish form of political stupidity. For the time being, American Jews are getting away with this arrogance. Indeed, American Christians -- and most especially the rising Evangelical movements -- are extraordinarily tolerant, if more than a little puzzled, by this novel Jewish posture. And the lack of any negative Christian reaction has only encouraged American Jews in the belief that they have discovered some kind of universally applicable formula for dealing with non-Jews.

Editorial Afterward

Toward Tradition: The Cure for Jewish Political Stupidity

America is the best and safest home Jews have known in two thousand years. Our political wisdom therefore begins by trying to understand why this is so, and how such a unique home can be preserved. Four pillars of the American system stand out clearly: The Judeo-Christian ethical tradition, the rule of law, representative democracy, and free-market capitalism. The "mainstream" Jewish organizations, and too many of the most prominent Jewish individuals, have for the last several decades relentlessly attacked these pillars. Toward Tradition works, instead, to defend them.

The Judeo-Christian ethical tradition cannot be upheld by secular humanists, but only by believing Jews and Christians. Therefore it is vital that Jews and Christians work together, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, to defend our shared moral principles against what the Pope has called, "a culture of death." Toward Tradition is perhaps America's leading forum for interfaith social and political cooperation in defense of traditional values.

The greatest threat to representative democracy is judicial activism, which Jewish organizations have avidly promoted, and in which Jewish judges have -- to their shame -- played a leading role. As Justice Antonin Scalia has warned, judicial activism also undermines the rule of law -- which is ultimately the only protection minorities have. Toward Tradition works to restore democracy and the rule of law by advocating a return to the "reasoned experience" Irving Kristol praises, and opposing the "abstract dogmatism" that has taken its place.

Finally, although few American Jews today consider themselves socialists, or even enemies of the free market, many policies advocated by the secularist Jewish organizations would seriously erode economic freedom. Furthermore, older generations of American Jews were predominantly businessmen, and thus had an instinctive appreciation for the market economy. As their children and grandchildren moved more and more into the professions, they lost that visceral understanding of business and its values. In the new century, educational efforts to restore an appreciation of free-market principles will be desperately needed, and Toward Tradition will be in the forefront of those efforts.