Thursday, April 02, 2009

Nothing to do with the G20 summit

Archie Green, a mentsh:
Archie Green, a shipwright turned folklorist whose interest in union workers and their culture transformed the study of American folklore and who single-handedly persuaded Congress to create the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, died last Sunday at his home in San Francisco. He was 91.

Archie Green in 1962 with Dock Walsh, a banjoist he interviewed for a study of “hillbilly” music.

Mr. Green, a shipwright and carpenter by trade, drew on a childhood enthusiasm for cowboy songs and a devotion to the union movement to construct a singular academic career. Returning to college at 40, he began studying what he called laborlore: the work songs, slang, craft techniques and tales that helped to define the trade unions and create a sense of group identity.[...]
[h/t Jogo]

Miscellaneous other things

Four from the AWL: an obituary for Steve Cohen, challenging Israeli militarism and absolute anti-Zionism, Cathy Nugent on Jade Goody - defying anti-working class prejudice, and looking left - on UAF's populist bungling. Also relevant to that last one: Darren on the SWP's numbers game.

Also: George Szirtes on Hannah Arendt and refugees. Freeborn John and Islamo-fascism (the punchline is about right: "So while I defend totally the right of those scumbags to publish and demonstrate, if they try to come into my house to do so I'm going to remove them, by force if necessary.") Max Dunbar on Kenan Malik on Salman Rushdie. Ophelia Benson on communitythink.

Soundtrack to this post: Skip James, Doris Day, Dub Syndicate.


The Contentious Centrist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Contentious Centrist said...

As per: Arendt

I recently read this recent essay in The New Yorker in which the author tries to explain her complexity, the sharp ironic tone which she reserves almost entirely for when she discusses Jews. In seems it was a sort of linguistic shield she put on, in order to avoid sentimentality and bathos, all too easy to slide into when we discuss Jewish history. Yiddish, I often think, is a lachrymose-sounding language. I would assume she found something quite intolerable about that language. I wonder if she ever wrote about it. Does anybody know?

I began to re-read "Eichmann in Jerusalem" not long ago and found myself unable to read beyond p. 5. In the introductory pages she managed to squeeze so much contempt towards the Israeli establishment and the prosecutors, mingled with a very faulty understanding of Jewish law.

For example she insouciantly proclaims that Jews are the last persons to be outraged by Nazi racial laws, as, according to Judaism, there can be no intermarriage between a Jew and non-Jew and their offspring is considered a bastard. There is so much vicious ignorance expressed in this stipulated truth that you wonder how many of her readers go away from the book having internalized that sort of utterly false equivalence.

She certainly was prone to pass off rumours and innuendos as facts, such as when she refers to Heidrich as being half-Jewish, something that was completely rebutted by historians and that she should have been aware of.

On the other hand, I am always guided by her insight into historical processes in which Jews played pivotal role by just being there. Her understanding of "The exceptional Jew" crosses time and borders and is much more intimate and valid then the cruder terms "Court Jew" or "self-hating Jew".

She remains a jumble of contradictions for me. My main beef with her is her proneness to accept ugly stereotypes of Jews as true representative of Jews, and to recycle hearsay as facts. Sometimes I wonder, had she not had the good fortune to be born Jewish, what would she be in Nazi Germany?

Perhaps she was, after all is said and done, lucky to have been born a Jew, and to have gained her reputation as someone resisting the Third Reich rather than assisting it.


The Contentious Centrist said...

"During that time Tamar spoke thirteen times in nine cities"

Isn't Tamar a busy little bunny?

I tend to be very cynical about such activities. I mean, if she wants to change Israelis' perceptions of Palestinians, wouldn't it make much more sense to speak to Israeli audiences who resist this sort of opinion? Where would her standpoint be more effective, in Israel, or among the boycotting circles of the UK?

And what would she do if her position were to gain all the sympathy she craves and let's say, 50% of Israel's consriptable youths were to follow her example? Who would be left to defend her?

Toronto Real Estate said...

That's sad news, Mr. Green was an interesting person, I loved reading about him.

Take care, Elli

bob said...

Noga, thanks for Arendt comments, which are very spot-on. I have become suspicious of Arendt since she has been so easily put to use by Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler. I haven't read Eichman in a while, but can relate to your response. (I recently started reading the collection Arendt in Jerusalem which I'd recommend.)

Nonetheless, she remains my intellectual and political hero on so many issues. "Exceptional Jew" is a great tool for thinking about the likes of Butler and Rose... (See this review of Rose.)

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Nonetheless, she remains my intellectual and political hero"

Yes, as she is mine.

"I have become suspicious of Arendt since she has been so easily put to use by Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler. "

I honestly think they do not understand her. They only take into account that ironic sharpness of her tone and her criticism of Israel, thus shrinking her import.

I think they deliberately ignore what she said in the famous interview with Gunter Gaus on German TV, 1964:

" pays dearly for freedom. The specifically Jewish humanity signified by [Jewish] worldlessness was something very beautiful... it was something very beautiful , this sundering aside of all social connections, the complete open-mindedness and absence of prejudice that i experienced... Of course a great deal was lost with the passing of all that. One pays for liberation. I once said in my Lessing speech. . .

Gaus: Hamburg in 1959 . . .

Arendt: Yes, there I said that "this humanity... has never yet survived the hour of liberation, of freedom, by so much as minute" You see, that has also happened to us.

Gaus: You wouldn't like to undo it?

Arendt: No. I know that one has to pay a price for freedom. But I cannot say that I like to pay."

Anonymous said...

Arendt was a Jew who strongly, if secretly, wished she had not been born one. Like her contemporary Simone Weil, she internalized the anti-Semitism around her, and cravenly accepted as valid many of the categories which anti-Semites use to view the world. She thus had no problem with being the lover of someone like Heidegger. And she didn't really want justice for the Jews, and had no compunction about being unjust both to Jewish individuals and collectives.

Her contempt for the Israeli political establishment, Ben Gurion in particular, was an expression of her negative feelings towards her Jewish identity. As a privileged member of the intelligentsia she was allowed entry to the USA while the Holocaust was raging around her. Thus she lived, while most everyone else died. Ben Gurion, meanwhile, was preparing the Yishuv for the war that he foresaw, a war necessitated by the destruction of European Jewry. A man of extraordinary courage and a true free spirit who sought sovereign power for the Jews, he naturally attracted the hatred of those who lacked these qualities.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"She thus had no problem with being the lover of someone like Heidegger. And she didn't really want justice for the Jews, and had no compunction about being unjust both to Jewish individuals and collectives."

She was 18 when she was a student and it was 1924 when their affair began. It was not the first time a talented student fell hard for a charismatic teacher much older than herself. And in 1924 it was not at all clear what the future would bring.

As for "she didn't really want justice for the Jews", it is hard to see how such a harsh judgment of her can be maintained when she went on record writing in 1941,

“One truth that is unfamiliar to the Jewish people, though they are beginning to learn it, is that you can only defend yourself as the person you are attacked as. A person attacked as a Jew cannot defend himself as an Englishman or Frenchman. The world would only conclude that he is simply not defending himself.”

She was complex and riven with contradictions. She is also unshrinkable to this or that truth. Her irony was turned against herself as well. No doubt she couldn't help seeing in herself the mirror reflection of Rahel Varnhagen when she wrote those famous letters from Jerusalem to her friend Karl Jaspers in which she said:

"“On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.”

You know, some of the most vicious portrayals of Jews came from the pen of George Orwell. Yet he cured himself of his antisemitic disease by becoming aware and resisting it. Which is what truly decent and thoughtful men do. I think Arendt was equally a decent human being, much aware of her own personal "exceptional Jew" propensities. What she said in that Gaus interview which I quoted above tells me that she did want justice for Jews, that she knew it would come at a price and that she still wouldn't have it any other way, even if it was not a price she wanted to pay herself. It shows a clear, cold and alert awareness of the dialectic between her lofty cosmopolitan inclinations and her actual membership in Jewish peoplehood.

I prefer this kind of honesty and courage to that of others who lament the fate of Jews while stating that their own personal choice has been never to live in a Jewish milieu or to ever desire to live in the proximity of Jews.

Anonymous said...

A Jew with no Jewish education or religious upbringing, Hannah Arendt wrote her first dissertation on St. Augustine's Conception of Love. Her book on Varnhagen was about the Jewish question, but analyzed purely from a secular and sociological point of view. Though a self-declared Zionist, she failed to shake off a common German-Jewish trait of obsequiousness to the (non-Jewish) political and intellectual elites of her country, whether Germany or America. Her insights in the Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition on the nature of freedom, politics and so on were neither original, deep or convincing, and did not deserve the acclaim she received for them. She often fabricated or invented history to advance her judgements. Her analysis of Eichmann's personality in Eichmann In Jerusalem was based on the the most superficial and flimsy base of knowledge. It is a mark of her breathtaking contempt for others and of her fathomless self-esteem that she even dared to express an opinion on this matter; Jacob Robinson in The Crooked Shall be Made Straight demolished her totally.

Arendt's indifference to justice and truth also found expression, earlier, when she villified Menachem Begin as a fascist, even though he was by far the most liberal and democratically minded of his generation of Israeli leaders. All this was theatre to curry favour with the in-crowd, the likes of Mary McCarthy and the WASP elite, who needed reliable Jews who would scorn and denigrate their fellow-Jews, and thus help obfuscate the anti-Jewish record of the US. Elzbietta Ettinger shows in her book about them how Arendt tried to whitewash Nazi sympathiser and anti-Semite Heidegger, her lover for 4 years, after the war, even as she continued to denigrate the conduct of the hapless Jewish victims of the Germans.

As for Orwell, during the war he worked for the BBC as a propagandist, where all employees were under orders not to broadcast information about the extermination of the Jews. Like almost all his colleagues in that organization, he had no trouble in obeying these orders, despite his anarchist credentials. After the war he wrote a pathetic critique of anti-Semitism, full of comments about the trades and occupations which Jews were involved in, but still with no mention of the genocide that they had endured. Compare him with his cousin Orde Wingate, a true hero and a true friend of the Jews.

Bob said...

Anonymous, your understanding of Arendt is extremely partial; I would strongly suggest you take her more seriously and actually read what she writes before dismissing her in these simplistic terms. What Noga says about her is exactly spot on.

How we can know what Arendt "secretly" wished, I don't know. But a lot of her intimate writings - letters to close friends, for example - are in the public sphere now, and they do not suggest someone who "strongly... wished she had not been born [a Jew]". On the contrary, she spoke of gratitude for the simple fact of her birth as Jewish.

It is true that Arendt had relatively little Jewish content in her upbringing and that she had the audacity to be interested in St Augustine, but that, it seems to me, is utterly besides the point in assessing whether she was some kind of self-hater. I don't suppose that you regard Neturei Karta more highly politically than Avraham Stern (a Latin studies scholar) because they are deeper versed in Yidishkayt and more phobic about Christianity?

Yes, her book on Varnhagen was "from a secular and sociological point of view" - drawing also on psychoanalysis and philosophy. How does that invalidate it? It was based on a close reading of Varnhagen's own letters, on Varnhagen's own psychological state. It was also heavily influenced by Kurt Blumenfeld. And the result: a searing critique of assimilationism.

I see evidence of high regard for a German intellectual tradition in her work, and for the American republican political system, but no "obsequiousness to the (non-Jewish) political and intellectual elites" of these countries. Can you give an example?

Personally, I find ''Origins of Totalitarianism'' and ''The Human Condition'' deep and convincing. There may be some factual errors in them, but what kind of historical evidence did she fabricate?

Her understanding of Eichman was based on at least as much "evidence" as anyone else's: sitting watching him in the courtroom, fairly extensive reading of both the primary and secondary literature around the destruction of Europe's Jews. Of course, we know more now than they did then about many aspects of that history. Of course we can argue with her analysis of Eichman. But your notion that it expressed contempt to "even dare to express an opinion on this matter" is way off the mark. What are we allowed to express opinions on, in your more humble opinion?

On Begin as a fascist: if he was indeed the most liberal and democratic of Israeli leaders of the time, then maybe the hopes people like Arendt and Magnes had for peace were doomed from the start. So, were her fellow signatories of that letter, like Einstein, Zelig Harris and Rabbi Jessurun Cardozo also merely self-haters out to curry favour with the wasps?

And Mary McCarthy as the representative of the WASP elite? First, according to the matrilinial prejudices of traditional Judaism, McCarthy was Jewish: she was brought up by her Jewish maternal grandmother. She came from a pretty un-elite background. She was politically out of step with the American establishment all her life, far to the left of the mainstream to be acceptable to most, too critical of the Soviet Union to be accepted amongst liberal fellow-travellers. But more to the point, Arendt and her were utterly genuinely friends on the deepest level. Their friendship, as their letters reveal, was one based on the sharpest of intellectual and political disagreements. The idea of Arendt adopting positions to "curry favour" with McCarthy, as some representative of the WASP in-crowd, is totally absurd.

Arendt and Heidegger: yes, Arendt never properly came to a reckoning with her former lover/mentor's Nazism. This fact was one of the things that caused her the deepest psychic pain in the post-war years, and is the endless topic of her correspondence with Jaspers. However, this was a very human failing, and hardly amounts to evidence she was some kind of enemy of the Jewish people.

Orwell. That's another complex issue, which I could go into at length. Suffice to say, I do not find his post-war writings on antisemitism pathetic, but rather insightful. If you want to deal with antisemitism seriously, you should take them seriously too. In your world, it seems, there is no real use in understanding antisemitism, because the world will always hate the Jews forever, and all we can do is fight back as brutally as we can. I do not share that worldview.

Btw, Weil, to my mind, is also complicated, but a very different case from Arendt.

P.S. I am writing all this on the assumption that you are the same Anonymous who commented on the Bundist post and thinks I am too soft on the Israel boycotters? It would be nice if you picked a pseudonym you could use here, and that would make our conversation easier.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Arendt's indifference to justice and truth"

Her understanding of justice was bereft of any sentimentality, which is probably why some would mistake it for "indifference". By this I mean that she had no patience for justice when it was almost indistinguishable from pity. Pity accomodates cruelty as the means for restoring humanity. “Par pitié, par amour pour l’humanité, soyez inhumains!” was something Robespierre said.

It is an approach you find reverberating today through much of the Indecent Left as they try to provided justification for terrorism.

Arendt focused on Robespierre, the great pitier of the French multitudes, under whose leadership, “justice” soon degraded into pity as soon as it found an open public sphere for its expression. As emotions and suffering welled over, he responded by losing a capacity for maintaining any considerations of friendship, singularity, moral leadership or universal principles. The “pity-inspired” justice, unleashed in Robespierre’s chaotic rule of terror, shook the foundations of impartial justice, which Arendt defined as “the application of the same rules to those who sleep in palaces and those who sleep under the bridges of Paris”.

Her implacable view of what authentic justice means can seem quite shocking. She leaves no room, no consideration, for human gratifications, like revenge. But that is not indifference. Quite the contrary.

Brigada Flores Magon said...

Re: Green: he gets a good write up from Franklin Rosemont in his 'Joe Hill, the IWW and the Making of a Working Class Counter-Culture' as someone who went to the trouble of recording the testimony of old wobblies. Like Hamish Henderson in another area of working class life he was a vital link between one generation and the next, a link that has handed on something important to new generations.

mingreli (formerly anonymous) said...


You read things in what I write which are just not there, and fill in some blanks wrongly.

There is nothing wrong with Arendt being interested in the celibate priest St. Augustine's opinions about love. Or in the fact that her writings about Rachel Varnhagen were secular and sociological in attitude. The point I was making is that Arendt wasn't interested in Jewish religion, culture, literature and philosophy; she was a de facto assimilationist, though she (obviously) knew how problematic that was. Beyond that, her lack of affect for her kin was noted by people who knew her, and caused a rupture in her friendship with, for example, Gershom Scholem. It is true that she was brought up to be proud of her Jewish origins, but it was a pride without roots that disappeared later in her life.

Her writings against Ben Gurion in Eichmann in Jerusalem are an example of her obsequiousness towards the powers that be. As was her public attack on Begin in 1948. In both cases she threw truth and justice to the winds and joined in an aleihum against Zionist leaders who were detested and despised by anti-Jewish Anglo-Saxon elites. The fact that other prominent US Jews joined in some of these calumnies, as you yourself do when you blame Begin for the fact that there is no peace, does not change the fact that these were calumnies. She certainly never used similar vitriol in any writings against the leaders of the countries in which she lived, many of whom truly deserved them. Yes, that's obsequiousness. Perhaps even self-hatred, though I don't like using the term.

Mary McCarthy (again, obviously) was not a WASP. But she was part of the in-crowd that Arendt joined, and all of these circles were dominated by the then ruling WASP elite which was strongly antipathetic to Jews.

Historical falsification - well, she grossly misrepresented Eichmann in the near past; and she posited an ancient Greek political world and an American Revolution which just never existed.

"What are we allowed to express opinions about, in your more humble opinion?" you ask. Read Jacob Robinson, and you'll figure it out. It might also cause you to revise your view that loving an unrepentent Nazi is a very human failing.

But my main gripe about Arendt is that she expresses injudicious contempt for many Jews and does not seem to feel real hatred for their Nazi tormentors. She is right in believing that justice must be universal, and perhaps even right in believing that retribution should not be a part of justice, but she does not acknowledge that bringing the Nazi powerful to justice required great effort, and that the Jews who made that effort, without much help from the nations of the world, deserve moral support, not denigration.

As for Orwell, the article he wrote that I refer to makes no mention of the Holocaust. This was quite common at the time - I read a very similar post-war "analysis" from the SPGB. I am not aware of any serious attempt by him to address the Holocaust as a political and historic event, and that is true of most of his contemporaries. It is quite deliberate, since the Holocaust did not cause many on the left to change their opinions about anything, least of all about the needs of the Jewish people.

On a lighter note, you and CC might want to read Gunter Grass's parody of Heidegger in The Tin Drum - it is truly funny. I wonder what Arendt thought of it.

bob said...

Mingreli, thanks for taking a name, and for filling in some of the blanks. Apologies for misreading some of what you wrote. I think I also agree with you, at least partially, on your main gripe with Arendt, and I think that this is what was captured by the Contentious Centrist when she sparked off this debate.

Yes, it is true that Arendt had little interest in Jewish religion, culture, literature and philosophy. For example, in her famous Jew as pariah essay, she takes examples from Kafka and Chaplin (latter not Jewish, although, like Arendt, took that identity when it was under attack, in solidarity with his Jewish half-brother), rather than from, say, Sholem Aleichem, whose examples would have worked as well.

I don't think that she was a "de facto assimilationist"; rather, she was "de facto assimilated". Other assimilated Western Jews (Nathan Birnbaum, Jacob De Haan, Gershom Scholem, Bernard Lazare) de-assimilated (if that is the right word) and Arendt did not take this path.

I think her rift with Gershom Scholem is fascinating - interesting, and perhaps in support of your case, that she insisted on continuing to call him Gerhardt. But I think you are reading it too simplistically: it is a lot more complicated than you are making out.

To be honest, I don't know enough about Ben Gurion and Begin and exactly what Arendt said about them to really respond there. I have read her criticisms of labour Zionism in the Menorah Journal articles collected in the book The Jew as Pariah, but can't remember the details any longer: I'm genuinely interested in what lies she told.

I am unsure of the extent to which "Anglo-Saxon anti-Jewish elites" held Begin and Ben Gurion in particularly low esteem at that time. Begin became an important figure for Western anti-Zionists later, but it is my sense that in 1948 attacking him wouldn't have generated that much political capital in the West. And my sense is that Ben Gurion was fairly popular in liberal circles at the time. Again, I don't know enough to really comment though.

It is true that she did not write with too much vitriol towards any American leader after she moved there, although she did weigh in passionately on many issues, often against the grain of mainstream opinion. (Her criticisms of desegregation at Little Rock were notorious and alienated her from many liberals.) She did, though, pull her punches to some extent, partly out of an on-going sense that she was a "guest" in America. However, she was uncompromising in her attack on Naziism in her native country, and after the war wrote and publicly said a lot that made Germans very uncomfortable.

I am not sure about your examples of historical falsifications. It is true that her writings on ancient Greece and the American (and French) revolutions would not be reliable sources for history students. But she did not write them as historical accounts; she wrote them to discuss important philosophical issues. You may agree or disagree with her philosophical conclusions, but quibbling about her use of Greek and 18th century sources is beside the point. Quibbling with her account of Eichmann is more valid: she wrote that as an exercise in bearing witness to history, so inaccuracies there undermine her project more fundamentally.

On Orwell, I think he fundamentally changed his views as a result of the Holocaust, even if, as you say, he did not directly reflect on it. Very, very few writers, including very few Jewish writers, really wrote about the meaning or significance of the Holocaust for some time afterwards, and Orwell, of course, died in early 1950.

I think Orwell's writings on antisemitism should be quite sharply contrasted to orthodox Marxist writers. The latter, as you say, produced "analysis" without understanding, and the shortcomings of those analyses marks the limits of (orthodox) Marxism. (Norman Geras has argued this very well, and Alex Callinicos has, unsuccessfully to my mind, tried to argue back.) Late Orwell, in contrast, took antisemitism seriously, as something that exceeded any "economic-in-the-final-analysis" explanation.

mingreli said...

I'll add one short comment, about ancient Greece, and America at the time of the revolution. These societies had two things in common - a highly evolved and deeply intellectual philosophical and political culture, and slavery. We should more condemn them for the second than praise them for the first, especially over the next few days.

Chag Herut Sameach.

nwo said...

Yet slavery was abolished in one and not the other.

Continue with your misguided condemnation over applause.