Sunday, July 19, 2009

Slavery was the Cause of the War Between the States

Revisionist historians are forever telling us that slavery had nothing to do with the War Between the States, what the Yankees call "the Civil War." It's an argument that just doesn't hold water.

In a brief note on his brilliant weblog, Scipio wrote:

I am reading another one of those books that works feverishly to prove that the US Civil War was not caused by slavery. Its arguments are the familiar ones—in this case, that the true cause was taxes. The book goes far to show how Lincoln was a military dictator who ignored the Constitution and created an imperial federal government. But behind all of such arguments and all of such books lies a black man in chains. Had not the South been resolved to retain slavery at all costs there would have been no civil war. Any reading of US history from 1781 until 1861 will find that an astounding amount of it revolved around the issue of slavery. And slavery won every single political argument. After Dred Scott it even became legal in every state.

As to those who today suggest that slavery would have eventually died out in the South, they should be aware that the South had long planned a massive expansion of slavery from Mexico to Cuba to Central America. It would have been an act of naked imperialism whose sole purpose was to enslave millions of human beings. Such a thing would have been quite recognizable to an Assyrian king or a Soviet premier. And yet the author of the book calls Lincoln an imperialist. Odd.

Punditarian commented as follows:

Dear Scipio,

Thank you for your interesting thoughts, as always. With respect to slavery as the cause of the War Between the States, as you note, the slavery issue was the over-riding controversy in American politics for over half a century . . . all of the famous major “compromises” of the first half of the XIXth century had slavery as their basis.

Moreover, anyone who doubts what prompted the first secessionist States to leave the union, should consult a very interesting little book, “Apostles of Disunion,” by Charles Dew (University Press of Virginia, 2001). He shows why those States thought they had to secede, in the words of their own ministers plenipotentiary.

Following their secession — in advance of the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, of course, South Carolina and Alabama appointed Commissioners to take their case to other sympathetic States, notably Virginia and North Carolina, to explain why secession was necessary, and why those other States should join them in leaving the Union.

They appeal to none of the revisionist hogwash that today’s apologists for this treason so blithely advance as the “real” cause of the Civil War. They use very explicit language to claim that the slave-holding States must secede in order to preserve the institution of slavery and prevent the Negro from acceding to a level of social equality with his white former masters.

It is sobering reading. The language is not pretty. But these men had no reason to feel they needed to conceal their thinking, nor their feelings, and they wanted to make the most persuasive case they could.

The same thing was stated by John Singleton Mosby well after the War was over: “Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance – Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her Secession proclamation – because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding.”

It is important that we learn to face reality, both about the past and the present predicament. If we are afraid of the truth about yesterday, we will not be strong enough to confront our implacable enemies today.

The first of those major compromises was the Missouri Compromise of 1820. You can read about it here:
The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30' north except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri.
Another major compromise, the Compromise of 1850, was also all about slavery:
The Compromise of 1850 was a series of bills aimed at resolving the territorial and slavery controversies arising from the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). There were five laws which balanced the interests of the slave states of the South and the free states to the north.
Slavery was the most contentious issue in the United States for decades. And the South knew what it was fighting for, even if today's revisionist historians don't want to admit it.

They would do better to take to heart the wisdom of William Faulkner.

When I first saw the overtly lighthearted 1969 movie adaptation of William Faulkner's last great novel, The Reivers, I was struck by the poignant scene in which the young Lucius comes to grips with his shortcomings. I thought that Faulkner was saying something very profound about the way that a Southern Gentleman would have to come to terms with the history of slavery, and I think that his vision of the way forward was just right. It is even better stated in the book itself.

The Wikipedia summarizes the plot, but misses the point:
The basic plot of The Reivers takes place in the first decade of the 20th century. It involves a young boy named Lucius Priest (a distant cousin of the McCaslin/Edmonds family Faulkner wrote about in Go Down, Moses) who accompanies a family friend named Boon Hogganbeck to Memphis, where Boon hopes to woo a prostitute called "Miss Corrie". Since Boon has no way to get to Memphis, he steals (reives [1] thereby becoming a reiver) Lucius's grandfather's car, the first car in Yoknapatawpha County. They discover that Ned McCaslin, a black man who works with Boon at Lucius's grandfather's horse stables, has stowed away with them (Ned is also a blood cousin of the Priests). When they reach Memphis, Boon and Lucius stay in the brothel while Ned disappears into the black part of town. Soon Ned returns, having traded the car for a racehorse.
Written in a very straightforward style, the simplicity of the picaresque story belies its seriousness. Lucius Priest is to me the crystallization of Faulkner's own childhood, and some of the details, such as his grandfather's purchase of the first car in the county, are drawn from Faulkner's own family history. The book was published only about a month before his death.

I think this was a very personal book for Faulkner, and he tried to tell it, this time, as plainly as he could.

Jonathan Yardley put it this way, in a perceptive essay published in the Washington Post in 2004:
One aspect of "The Reivers" that is both interesting and unusual is that it is a coming-of-age novel written not at the beginning of its author's career but at the very end. It has the wisdom of Faulkner's age and experience. What begins as a lark for Lucius turns into the most instructive experience of his life. His parents and grandparents have gone out of town. In their absence Boon persuades Lucius to climb aboard Grandfather Priest's new automobile -- a Winton Flyer that is Boon's "soul's lily maid, the virgin's love of his rough and innocent heart" -- and drive off for high adventure in Memphis. Ned comes along as a stowaway, and the romp is on.
The boy's coming of age comes at a price. As the Wikipedia describes it:

The remainder of the story involves Ned's attempts to race the horse in order to win enough money to help out his relative, and Boon's courtship with Miss Corrie (who is actually called Everbe Corinthia). Lucius, a young, wealthy, and sheltered boy, comes of age in Memphis. He comes into contact for the first time with the underside of society. Much of the novel involves Lucius trying to reconcile his genteel and idealized vision of life with the reality he is faced with on this trip. He meets Corrie's nephew, a boy a few years older than Lucius who acts as his foil and embodies many of the worst aspects of humanity. He degrades women, respects no one, blackmails the brothel owner, steals, and curses. Eventually Lucius, ever the white knight, fights him to defend Corrie's honor. She is so touched at his willingness to stand up for her that she determines to become an honest woman.

The climax comes when Lucius rides the horse (named Coppermine, but called Lightning by Ned) in an illicit race. Coppermine is a fast horse, but he likes to run just behind the other horses so he can see them at all times. Ned convinces him to make a final burst to win the race by bribing him with what may be a sardine. After they win the race, Lucius's grandfather shows up. This time Ned does not do the sardine trick, and Coppermine loses. Ned has bet against Coppermine in this race, and the poor black stable hand is able to get the better of the rich white grandfather.

The wisdom Faulkner imparts comes at the end of the story, when Lucius and his friends return to his home in his little Mississippi hometown, and Lucius has to face up to what has happened.

His father takes him down to the cellar, and is about to give him a whipping with a razor strop, but his grandfather, the "Boss" intervenes. The Boss sends his son upstairs. Faulkner continues:
Then Father was gone, the door closed again. Grandfather sat in the rocking chair: not fat, but with just the right amount of paunch to fill the white waistcoat and make the heavy gold watch chain hang right.

"I lied," I said.

"Come here," he said.

"I cant," I said. "I lied, I tell you."

"I know it," he said.

"Then do something about it. Do anything, just so it's something."

"I cant," he said.

"There aint anything to do? Not anything?"

"I didn't say that," Grandfather said. "I said I couldn't. You can."

"What?" I said. "How can I forget it? Tell me how to."

"You can't," he said. "Nothing is ever forgotten. Nothing is ever lost. It's too valuable."

"Then what can I do?"

"Live with it," Grandfather said.

"Live with it? You mean, forever? For the rest of my life? Not ever to get rid of it? Never? I cant. Dont you see I cant?"

"Yes you can," he said. "you will. A gentleman always does. A gentleman can live through anything. He faces anything. A gentleman accepts the responsibility of his actions and bears the burden of their consequences, even when he did not himself instigate them but only acquiesced to them, didn't say No though he knew he should. Come here." Then I was crying hard, bawling, standing, (no: kneeling; I was that tall now) between his knees, one of his hands at the small of my back, the other at the back of my head holding my face down against his stiff collar and shirt and I could smell him -- the starch and shaving lotion and chewing tobacco and benzine where Grandmother or Delphine had cleaned a spot from his coat, and always a faint smell of whiskey which I always believed was from the first toddy which he took in bed in the morning before he got up.
It is that phrase, about a gentleman accepting "the responsibility of his actions and the burden of their consequences, even when he did not himself instigate them but only acquiesced in them, didn't say No though he knew he should," that makes me think Faulkner is indicating how a moral gentleman would face up to the history of slavery in Mississippi.

Here's that scene in the movie version:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why did the Jews vote for Obama?

Australian polymath JR started our ongoing (if desultory) colloquy by wondering, here, why the Jews, in America, continue to support their political enemies and eschew an alliance with their real friends.

Shmuel Rosner analyzes the 2008 election results at Commentary
, here, and provides I think a fairly good if detailed explanation.

A few highlights:

Once again, Republicans and politically conservative Jews find themselves engaged in wrenching discussions about why the Jewish vote is so unyieldingly Democratic when the GOP can honestly claim it is a far better friend to Israel and the Jewish people than its rival. In fact, its support for Israel has earned it so little in the way of credit from the American Jewish community that it can only be seen as a matter of underlying principle.

The answer may be that there is a continuing, and fundamental, misunderstanding of the political issues that motivate American Jews. According to the American Jewish Committee’s 2008 edition of its annual survey of Jewish opinion, conducted in September, a majority of Jews, 54 percent, wanted the presidential candidates to “talk more” about the economy. By contrast, only a tiny fraction, three percent, wanted to hear more about Israel. Similar evidence of the relative electoral unimportance of Israel comes from a survey taken by J Street, which asked likely Jewish voters to check off the two issues, from a list of thirteen, “most important for you in deciding your vote for President and Congress this November.” Fifty-five percent chose the economy, 33 percent the war in Iraq, 15 percent energy, and 12 percent the environment. Just 8 percent chose Israel.


Obama and his campaign understood they had a weakness they needed to confront, and he began to court the Jewish vote. Speaking regularly to Jewish groups, and giving interviews to the Jewish and Israeli press, Obama emphasized his strong support for Israel’s security (“sacrosanct”), his determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (“no option is off the table”), and even his opposition to the division of Jerusalem (a position from which he almost immediately had to backtrack).

This pattern—of Republican hopes swelled by apparent Jewish concern about Democratic softness on Israel soon dashed by a savvy Democratic response—is now a recurring one. Prior to the 2004 presidential election, some Republican strategists believed that President George W. Bush was likely to outperform his Republican predecessors by receiving a Jewish vote similar to the record share (38 percent) Ronald Reagan received in 1980. In December 2001, a survey by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) went so far as to conclude that “If the election were held today . . . more Jews would vote for Bush—42 percent—than for former presidential candidate Al Gore, who received 39 percent support.”


The fact that Republicans have repeatedly been unable to play the Israel card is not solely due to the fact that Israel is no longer the central issue on the Jewish-American agenda. In the 2008 American Jewish Committee poll, a large majority of Jews still claimed that they felt “very close” (29 percent) or “fairly close” (38 percent) to Israel. The inescapable conclusion is that if a candidate claims to be a friend of Israel, the claim will be accepted and believed, so long as his positions on other issues are deemed acceptable. And given the extent to which the bar has been lowered, all one has to do to qualify as “pro-Israel” is not actively agitate for the country’s demise.


The question now is whether Republicans have any hope of winning the Jewish vote at any point in the future. The answer is: Perhaps. In a generation. If certain demographic trends hold firm. In November, the Orthodox Union compiled a list of precincts “with high-concentrations of Orthodox Jewish voters,” from which it was clear that the Orthodox tend to vote Republican in much higher numbers than the Jewish community overall. Indeed, it is even possible that the Orthodox constitute a majority of the Jews who vote Republican. Given that the Orthodox are younger than the Jewish average, and are proportionally growing much faster, over time one might expect the share of Jews who vote Republican to increase.

This is not to say that the efforts of politically conservative Jews and Jewish organizations to win support for candidates on the Right are of no value. There is a danger, in fact, that if such efforts decline in intensity, Democrats will be freed to take Jewish support entirely for granted whatever the positions they take on Israel and no matter what risky policies they are willing to experiment with that place Israel in peril. Following the Obama landslide among Jews, Republican activists such as Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, argued with some justification that by pressuring Obama on Israel-related issues, his group and others had forced Obama’s hand, leading the Democratic nominee to speak full-throatedly on Israel’s behalf and put himself on record before taking the Oval Office as a President who has committed himself to ensuring Israel’s safety at a uniquely perilous moment.

The entire article is worth reading.

(Having completed an initial reading of Martin Goodman's Rome and Jerusalem, I next propose to present his thesis as to how the Flavian dynasty's need for military credibility inadvertently set in motion 2,000 years of anti-Semitism. Perhaps later today.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thank you, JR

My collegial interlocutor, JR, has a few words in a recent post kindly directing his readers to this blog for more of our discussion of the relative merits of Jewish and English national survival strategies. I will have more to post on the subject soon. Currently I am almost finished reading Martin Goodman's interesting history of the Judean wars and subsequent anti-Jewish persecutions, Rome and Jerusalem, which I think bears on our discussion here. When I sort out my thoughts, I will post them here.

Today JR has a few interesting comments reflecting his interest in onomastics. I would agree that the simple English names preferred by the House of Windsor (formerly the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, formerly the House of Hannover) are best for those in Anglophone countries.

He begins with this statement:
Personal names are rather an interest of mine. I find them revealing. They tell me a lot about people's background. When I hear surnames like Kerkorian or Krikorian or Khachaturian I know, for instance, that the person is of Armenian origin. And a Hryniuk or a Gavrishchuk is of Ukrainian origin etc. The "ian" or the "uk" endings tell the story.
Although that may be generally true, I hope he doesn't take it as an invariable rule. The "ian" ending is also found in many Iranian names, which are not Armenian, including Iranian Jewish names. And even among some Persian Baha'i families who originated as converts from Judaism to Baha'ism (how's that for a jump from the frying pan into the fire!)

A Wikipedia entry on Persian family name states:
Many last names that end in "ian" (or sometimes "yan") are traditionally Persian last names (though this is also common in Armenian last names, which are not related).
In Australia, I would bet that most names that end "ian" are Armenian rather than Persian, so JR's rule of thumb probably works well.

I don't know why he should object to changing a surname, however. As I have hinted, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was not immune to the desire to have a more "English" dynastic name, and the Battenburgs were obliged to become Mountbattens at about the same time. Many immigrants change their surnames to make them easier for their new neighbors. And sometimes families have a reason to renew themselves with a new designation. When Kara George became a the Serbian national hero, it was natural for his heirs to call themselves "Karageorgevic" instead of his old name, "Petrovic."

All the more for cultures which did not, and many which still do not, use family names at all. JR's near neighbors in Java, for example, have a complex and fluid system of names, but most of them use only one name, a given name, without any family name at all.

Whatever works, I guess.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Jewish Commonwealth in The Land of Israel

My interlocutor JR has already posted a response to last night's post, immediately below.

He notes that he is "feeling rather ill today" so I want to begin by wishing him a speedy and complete recovery.

I will respond to his interesting comments at greater length after I have had more time to think about them.

But I did want to post one additional item for consideration.

JR remains committed to the idea that a "nation" represents a people governed by their own government and laws in their own territory.

I want to point out that the Jewish nation certainly met his definition of a nation from the time of Joshua's conquest of the Holy Land to the dissolution of the Jewish commonwealth by the Romans, that is for more than 1500 years.

Which is longer than the English nation has existed in history.

One aspect of what makes the Jewish nation unique in the world's history is that unlike the many other peoples who were uprooted from their homelands and dispersed in the ancient empires of the world, the Jews maintained a national identity during centuries of exile. Even two thousand years later, the Jews were able to re-establish a Jewish commonwealth in their original ancient homeland, using their original ancient language, and maintaining many aspects of their ongoing and original national, cultural, and religious heritage.

JR also raises an important question here:
I am immediately drawn to renew my discussion with Punditarian -- who has just written a long post in support of his contention that Jews are a "nation". I am at something of a loss to know why that seems important to him -- "ethnic group" is the normal appellation -- but I will comment nonetheless.
One reason that this issue is important is that the genocidal Muslim jihadists and their useful idiots among Western leftists try to belittle the Jewish State of Israel as a theocracy or a religiously exclusive government. But the Jewish identity of the State of Israel is a national identity, and not solely a religious identity, although the Jews do have a particular religious culture.

(And of course it is ironic that the jihadists make such a claim, since every Muslim state in the world unselfconsciously proclaims Islam as the basis of its legislation, and they have no qualms about banding together as explicitly Muslim countries. It is the Muslim countries that aspire to univocal religious culture, and in no Muslim state are any other religions truly free and unthreatened. Christian and Muslim Arabs have more civil rights in Israel than they do in any Middle Eastern Arab Muslim country.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What is a nation?

At the end of last year, JR & I were debating several of the points he raised in what I thought was a generally reasonable suggestion that the Jews might learn a thing or two from the English.

I would like to take up one of those subsidiary disagreements here, namely whether or not the Jews are better designated as a "nation" rather than a community of adherents of a particular religion.

JR offers what he takes to be a commonsensical approach:
I think the only area where Punditarian and I disagree is fairly trivial. He wants to call Jews a nation. I have no strong feelings about that at all. My only point is that Jews are not a race and he seems to agree with that. Nonetheless his use of "nation" is a bit peculiar. In ordinary usage, "nation" refers to the people of a particular place under a single government. So Israel is undoubtedly a nation but Jews generally are not. Whether you call Jews a nation, a people or just a group, however, the only really interesting question, it seems to me, is how they are defined. It is of course an old question that has been debated for many years and Israel itself has effectively thrown up its hands over the matter and declared that you are a Jew if you think you are. Being one of those pesky social scientists, however, I still strive to bring a bit of order out of chaos so I still like my definition that you are a Jew either because of your own religion or the religion of one of your recent forebears.
This is the kernel of his approach:
In ordinary usage, "nation" refers to the people of a particular place under a single government.
Like most commonsense perceptions, there is some truth in that. But that definition really only applies subsequent to the XIXth century. Let's look at the history of a few such "nations."

Take Italy, for example. As a "nation" so defined, it did not come into being until 1870 when (taking advantage of the French defeat in the simultaneous Franco-Prussian war) troops loyal to Victor Emmanuel II seized Rome from the Pope. Before that moment, the Italian peninsula had been for centuries not a united nation, but was divided between various Kingdoms, duchies, republics, and the Papal States. But what permitted Italy to become a nation, was the fact that the Italian people had already developed a national consciousness, and hence a national identity. The unification of Italy was the ratification of nationhood.

Something similar could be said about the German nation before Bismarck, or even about the French nation before Napoleon.

In contrast, look at Iraq or Nigeria, two "nations" with defined populations, territories, and governments. To what degree do the Kurds, Shi'as, and Sunni Arabs really consider themselves part of one nation, with one culture, one history, and one destiny? And I am sure JR remembers Biafra and the jihad waged by the Hausas against the Ibos and Ibibios.

To make these tragedies even more poignant, and pertinent perhaps to JR's laudatory comments about the English propensity for "fudging," note that both Iraq and Nigeria were cobbled together by British bureaucrats who arbitrarily drew single national borders around incompatible and even hostile nations. It hasn't really worked in either case, because there is really no Nigerian or Iraqi nationality.

One might counter that the Hausas, Ibos, and Yorubas in Nigeria, or the Kurds, Shi'as, and Sunnis in Iraq, are not nations, but "ethnic groups." But that just underscores my point. In the ancient world, an "ethnos" was in fact a nation. It is interesting in this regard that the Greek Christian Scriptures used the term "ethnos"(Strong's G1484) to translate the Hebrew word "goy," (Strong's H1471) which means "nation." (Not a "people" which in Hebrew would be an "am." Nor a tribe, which in Hebrew whould be a "shevet." An ethnos is a nation.) The Jewish Scriptures conceive of "70 nations" in the world, including the Jewish nation, and recognize that some of those nations are composed of "tribes." And in late antiquity, the "Ethnos" was governed by an "Ethnarch."

Jewish nationality was also recognized by the Imperial government of Rome. The Sebasteion in Aphrodisias contained a temple to the Roman Emperors that was decorated with sculptured personifications of 50 nations in the Empire, each designated as an "ethnos." Among these were the Dacians and the Jews. An extensive list of nations is also given in the Book of Acts.

The Romans did not necessarily conceive of themselves as a nation, however. Cicero stated:
"Omnes nationes servitutem ferre possunt: nostra civitas non potest."
Cicero contrasts the Roman "civitas" with the "nationes" that the Romans conquered. "All nations can bear servitude, but our civitas can not." Evidently he thought that the Romans were "special." Each community of students at the University in Paris in the middle ages who shared a common origin, language, and laws was considered a "natio."

Having maintained a separate identity, with their own language (actually, their own languages), their own laws, their own history, a self-conscious literature, their own particular religion, and having been accepted as a separate community, for better and more ofter for worse, in every empire or territory in which they have lived, the Jews are surely a nation. In fact, I would argue that the Jews are the quintessential nation in world history.

The Jews share their national identity in common; this identity is at least to some extent exclusive, i.e. it is possible to define those who share it and those who don't; this identity is based on ancestry (although like many other nationalities, naturalization is possible); they have a common culture and a shared civil and criminal code of laws; and they have a common and unique religion.

JR's notion that a nation represents a people living under its government in a particular place is however also important.

In the West, the Jew has been considered to be the quintessential landless wanderer, a people without a homeland, forced to move from territory to territory. But in contrast to the Romanies, who at least publicly do not identify any place on earth as their original home, the Jews have never forgotten the Land of Israel or its capital, Jerusalem. The Bible refers again and again to the organic and wholistic identification of the Jewish people with its Promised Land. The Psalmist sang by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137, KJV):
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
And after 75 years of exile, the Jewish people were restored by permission of the Emperor Cyrus to their homeland. A unique and unprecedented event in ancient history.

Even more remarkable has been the return of the Jewish nation to the Jewish homeland after nearly 2,000 years of exile in Christendom and in the Ummah.

To the Jews, living as a free nation in their own land has always been the summum bonum. After the exile they of course recognized that other nations would dispute them. And to the XIth century Bible commentator Rabbi Shelomo Ben Yitzchak (known as Rashi, who incidentally traced his genealogy 33 generations to Rabbi John the Shoemaker, and through him to the House of David) the reason that the Bible begins with the creation of the world, was precisely to provide an indubitable deed for the Land of Israel (paraphrased):
Rabbi Yitzchak [Rashi's father] taught that God might have begun the Torah with Exodus 12:2, the first commandment given to the Jews [this month shall be for your the beginning of the months] but began with the Creation so that if the peoples of the world will say to Israel, "You conquered the lands of the 7 Canaanite nations," Israel will say to them, "All the world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, he created it, and he gave it to the one he deemed worthy."
That quotation also brings us back to the question of religion, and whether the Jews are better identified as adherents of a religion than as a nation. As JR stated it:
I still like my definition that you are a Jew either because of your own religion or the religion of one of your recent forebears.
Why not "your ancient forebears?" Evidently because ancient Jews who lost their religion melted in to the populations that surrounded them, and their descendants are no longer recognized as Jews, and no longer recognize themselves as Jews.

But that obtains because in the absence of their homeland, the Jews maintained a distinctive national identity and culture through the medium of Divinely-commanded behaviors that are commonly considered to be the Jewish "religion." As I mentioned in a previous post, however, many so-called "orthodox" Jewish thinkers do not define Jewishness ("Yiddishkeit") as a religion in the sense that Christianity is a religion. Rather, the Jewish-way-of-life is an all-encompassing national culture, which appears to be a "religion" only because (1) the Jews are in exile from their homeland, and (2) the key features of this way of life are understood to have been ordained by the Creator.

In a sense, it is the Jew's refusal to participate in the whole-world-encompassing "religions" that surround him in the West (Christianity and Islam) which separates him from those worlds, and makes his way of life appear to be a "religion."

One may question whether the ancient Romans, for example, had a "religion." They had a complex way of life in which cult activities were certainly important. But the cults in which they participated included many disparate traditions, and as the Empire grew beyond Rome, the particular cults associated with particular localities continued to co-exist with other traditions that were widespread throughout the Empire. This multiplicity of cultures is characteristic of an Empire, in which many nations are embedded.

Finally, although the Jewish nation includes many sub-groups who do not share all of the same, identical elements (Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrachi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, etc.) all of these sub-groups recognize their membership in the Jewish nation and do share many elements. Even those sub-groups who had lost the use of the Hebrew language (e.g. the Amharic speaking Ethiopians) have regained it in the Land of Israel today.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The English and Jewish Nations, Considered

In attempting to characterize the unique, 4-millenia-long survival of the Jewish nation as a comparative failure, JR first contrasted the meagre number of present-day Jews with the comparatively robust population of Christians. I objected that it was not appropriate to compare the population of a small nation with the numbers of adherents of a multi-national, poly-confessional worldwide religion, many members of which are not even in communion with each other.

JR then offered a contrast between what he views as the successful survival strategies of the English, mainly the practice of always seeking allies and the habit of intellectual fuzziness he calls "fudge" and what he sees as the Jewish propensity to discourage political allies.

Before proceeding, I want to take a moment and underscore why I think that the correct designation of the Jews is not a race, not a community of religious believers, but rather a nation.

What is a "nation?" The most convenient, although not necessarily best, way of approaching this question is to turn to the often untrustworthy but widely accessible Wikipedia for a definition. There we learn that:
Nationhood is an ethical and philosophical doctrine and is the starting point for the ideology of nationalism; a nation is a form of self-defined cultural and social community.[2] Members of a "nation" share a common identity, and usually a common origin, in the sense of history, ancestry, parentage or descent. A nation extends across generations, and includes the dead as full members. Past events are framed in this context: for example, by referring to "our soldiers" in conflicts which took place hundreds of years ago. More vaguely, nations are assumed to include future generations.
I think it is unquestionable to observe that the Jews fit this definition to a "T." Across millenia of living both within their borders and in widely dispersed and often persecuted communities across most of the world, the Jews maintained a self-conscious identity, and recognized themselves as a community, with their own language, their own literary traditions, their own schools and systems of education, their own civil and criminal codes of law, their own particular religion, a shared ancestry, and a sense that across the centuries, they were engaged in the same individual and collective struggles.

The Jews were a nation when the present nations of Europe were roving tribal bands on the eastern steppes, very far from from the borders which define their current nation-states. Most of the locations occupied by European populations today derive from no earlier than the great Voelkerwanderungen of the early Middle Ages. To provide only one example, the Magyars did not arrive in present Hungary before a mere 1,000 years ago.

But let us return to our English.

Regarding the English, JR makes these points, here:

What I did, then, was to look at another group that has not only survived for a significant length of time (c. 1500 years) but done so in style -- without having to endure horrendous pogroms, holocausts and decimating wars -- the English. Their influence on the modern world has been immense so I was comparing Jews not with unsuccessful groups but with an outstandingly successful group. The English may well by now have had their day but how they had such a splendid day is surely of interest. For nearly a thousand years their land has not been invaded. Unlike most other countries and groups, foreign soldiers have not tramped through their land, destroying, stealing, killing and raping women. Instead the English have conquered huge slices of the lands of other people and left those lands in the control of their descendants. Biologically, that is hot stuff, awesome, even. It is certainly without precedent. So we see, for instance, that Richmond-upon-Thames, the affluent southwest London borough has given its name to 55 settlements on three continents.
Previously, he had put the case this way:
Again, however, I think the British offer a safer example -- a way of handling others that any target of hostility should find thought-provoking. The Brits are experts at deflecting hostility. They don't succeed entirely at it of course but their historic civility and their ability to find allies shows that they are pretty good at it nonetheless. And their way is what outsiders often condemn as "British hypocrisy". But it is not really hypocrisy. It is just an attempt to respect the sensitivities of others. And the tools for doing that are compromise and the "fudge". You almost have to be British to understand what a fudge is and probably the best way of finding out is to Google "British fudge" and read some examples of it. It it is basically a partial retreat or concession that is disguised as not being a retreat or a concession. So it means something like "an evasive compromise", "handling a dilemma by vagueness" or "concealing what is really going on by vague or misleading words". It might not be too unkind to describe the whole of British politics as one big fudge.
And he also made these points:
As Winston Churchill said, not for a thousand years has Britain seen the campfires of an invader. While the rest of Europe was tearing itself apart with internecine wars, Britain was securing for itself a couple of continents (Australia and most of North America) plus some rather nice Islands (The British Isles and New Zealand, for instance). And their progeny populate those places to this day.

So how did the British do it? Basically through just one strategy: Allies. The British have always sought allies. That has long been the dominant aim of British foreign policy. Britain never goes it alone. They will even enter wars that really concern them little just in order to preserve alliances (WWI and the Iraq war, for instance). So any description of a war in which Britain has been involved has always been between two sides: "The Allies" and the other guy. But to achieve that, you have to be great compromisers and great propagandists. And the British always have been both. Even Hitler admired British WWI propaganda. But above all you have to VALUE potential allies. And as far as I can see, Jews generally don't. They value their enemies instead. The Iranians may get them yet.
So let us un-pack these comparisons between Zion and Albion, and see whether the comparison makes sense, and who comes out where.

First of all, I want to be very clear that I think that the English have been in fact an extraordinarily successful nation. As an American, I enjoy the traditional freedoms of an Englishman, and I am damn' happy about that. The extraordinary range of the English vocabulary, and the power and beauty of the English language as a means for developing and expressing thought are evident in its ever wider acceptance as the lingua franca, as it were, of more and more of mankind.

But although the English appear to be successful today, it is too early to tell if they will appear to be successful 1,000 or 500 or even 100 years from now. If past history is any guide, in a distant or not-so-distant future when the English nation will have disappeared and the English language as we now know it understandable only by an elite of academic specialists, a small remnant of the Jewish people will persist, preserving their language, laws, religion, and customs in continuity with a past that stretches back, in 2008, for something like 4 millenia.

At what point in history did the English nation, as we now know it, emerge? JR grants the English a history of 1500 years, which I agree is a significant survival. I would argue, however, that the English language and the English nation do not really emerge in history until several centuries after the francophone Norman conquest of the kingdom. Any initial date is somewhat arbitrary, but I think JR would agree that Arthur was not an "English" king but a king of Romanized Britons, that Alfred the Great was not an "English" king but a king of Saxons, and that William the Conqueror was a francophone Norman who never, if memory serves, set foot in England after conquering it. Chaucer is recognizably English, and I would say that the English nation emerges as such by 1400. So it has lasted for 600 years, which is still a good run.

For the first two centuries of that 600 years, the English were occupied with subduing the British Isles, and bringing the Scots and Irish into a United Kingdom (the Welsh, Cornish, and other relict "British" populations having been overpowered earlier by the increasingly unified nation of Anglo-Saxons and Normans that we call "English.") Creation of the grand British Empire began, I would say, in the XVIIth century, and reached its apogee in the XIXth century. The empire collapsed in the XXth century, having lasted in its most magnificent form for less than 200 years, and as I briefly argued in the first post in this series, the future survival of England itself is now in doubt.

To me that is a shame. The governance of the British Empire was in large measure superb, and the legacy of the English language and of English law which the English left behind in places as disparate as the United States, Australia, and India was a superb gift from one civilization to others. JR is well aware, and I think most readers of this exchange are well aware, of the disintegration of traditional English society that is currently underway. The abandonment of Christianity by large parts of the population and even large segments of the Anglican hierarchy in Britain has been chronicled on JR's admirable blog, Dissecting Leftism. The increasing influence of Islamst shariah law, and the ever-increasing deference paid by English institutions to Islamist culture and Islamist norms are nearly daily headlined in the English press. The rapid expansion of the (largely Pakistani and Indian origin) Muslim community in England is a demographic challenge unparalleled in English history.

(Let me add, parenthetically, that the Asian Muslim community in England --in contrast, perhaps, to the Jews-- is indeed an example of a highly endogamous population. As many as two-thirds or three-quarters of marriages among Asian Muslims are contracted between first cousins. The problem of "preferential patrilineal cross-cousin marriage" has been discussed by Stanley Kurtz in a series of articles at the National Review Online. They are well worth reading.)

So in essence, I agree that English history provides much that many peoples in the world could with profit learn from and emulate. I agree that it is a good policy to seek allies, and to understand who one's allies really are. As far as "evasive compromise" is concerned, I would suggest that it is a strategy not altogether unknown to the Jews, but that is another matter.

However, as to whether the persistence of the Jews is a survival "success" when compared to the English, it is just too early in English history to tell. 600 years into their history as a nation, the Jews had defined borders, a language, a distinctive national religion, an hereditary monarchy -- and that was still in the First Temple period. A whole lot of history awaited them in the ensuing 3,000 years, including the Babylonian Captivity and return (a phenomenon absolutely unprecedented and unique in ancient history), conquest by Alexander, the overthrow of the (Seleucid) Greeks (also rather unique), Roman occupation, defeat, destruction of their homeland, and exile in many countries, and among many often hostile nations and empires, for 2,000 years, culminating in the re-establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in the same Land they had ruled for over 1,000 years, with the same language they had then spoken.

When and if (and may Heaven prevent it!) the English have been overpowered in England by the Asian Muslim and African populations, when the English have been for a millenium dispersed into exile in Asia, among peoples who respect what they have taken from English culture, but who despise the English people, when the English communities have been harassed and persecuted, with periodic bloodlettings that reduce their population by 50% or more, we will see what the English can preserve of their national traditions, language, culture, and religion, and we can then put it on one side of the balance over against the survival success of the Jews. Do the gedanken-experiment yourself: what would be left?

What started this exchange was JR's correct observation that today's Jews have important allies among Evangelical Christians in America and elsewhere, but that the Jews in America (less so in Israel) mistrust these Evangelical allies, and instead seek to accommodate secular, trans-national elites who are implacably hostile. I agree that is a mistake. But it is not grounded in Jewish political stupidity, but in the American Jewish community's inability to un-learn old lessons. For 2,000 years, Christianity has been the most important ideology responsible for the persecution of Jews in Christendom. Most American Jews are descended from Jewish communities in Christendom, and therefore the American Jewish community has a long historical problem with Christian persecution. Most American Jews are entirely ignorant about the history of Muslim anti-Semitism, and have been erroneously taught that Muslim Spain, for example, was a "golden age" of multi-cultural tolerance. The love that American Evangelical Christians feel for the Jewish people is something that most American Jews find unexpected and disconcerting, although welcome. In addition, the post-modern, multi-culturalist leftists who control many American Jewish institutions find themselves at odds with most of the political concerns of American Evangelical communities, and actively seek to prevent American Jews from achieving a rapprochement with the Evangelicals who, for example, support Israel.

However, in the interest of the complete truth, I think we have to acknowledge that support for Israel and love for the Jewish people are not unanimously espoused by all Evangelical leaders, and Pastor John Hagee, for example, has written eloquently and frankly about the opposition within the Evangelical community to his efforts in support of Israel. Nevertheless, I do agree that the Jews in the XXIst century have many allies in Christendom, and it would be wise for them to seek out, acknowledge, and work with them.

Finally, remember that the goals of the Jewish nation have not been the same as those of the English nation, nor of the Christian religion. The Jewish nation did not seek to dominate the world, did not seek to impose its laws on the entire world, and did not assert that its way was the only way to live or to worship God. The Jews sought, and seek today, only the right and freedom to live peaceably in their own land, and to themselves live according to the way of life in which they were instructed by the Creator who chose them for that purpose.

Parenthetical Aside: the congruence of genealogy and (population) genetics

In comments to the previous entry, JR graciously conceded that he is willing to retreat from his earlier assertion that "no member of the Ashkenazim can trace their ancestry to the Middle East" and that he does "not of course have any difficulty with SOME genetic material in modern Jews being of ME origin. My point is that ME genes are only one part of modern Jewish genetics."

I don't have any argument with that last statement. The point to be made is not that the Jews are an exclusively endogamous population, but rather that over millenia of living as a national community both within their own Land and in an extended diaspora, the Jews have maintained as much of a cultural, historical, and biological continuity as any other nation -- if not more so.

The definition of the Jewish people as a nation, rather than as a community of adherents of a particular religion or as a "race" will be taken up, I hope, in my next posting here. But before tackling the comparisons and contrasts beween "Zion" and "Albion," I want to offer a brief aside regarding an uncanny congruence between the recorded genealogical history of the Jewish nation, and the (population) genetic data regarding our contemporary Jewish population.

In the Wikipedia entry on Ashkenazi Jewish genetic origins I quoted in the previous entry, the following statement appears:

Recent research indicates that a significant portion of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is also likely of Middle Eastern origin. A 2006 study by Behar et al[1], based on haplotype analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", that were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE. According to the authors, "the observed global pattern of distribution renders very unlikely the possibility that the four aforementioned founder lineages entered the Ashkenazi mtDNA pool via gene flow from a European host population."

In addition, Behar et al have suggested that the rest of Ashkenazi mtDNA is originated from ~150 women, most of those were probably of Middle Eastern origin.

Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only four women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.[1][17]

The interesting part of that discussion concerns the "four founding mtDNAs, likely of near Eastern ancestry." The original paper can be accessed as a pdf, here.

That a significant proportion of contemporary Jews are descended from four Near Eastern women will not surprise students of the Bible, who will also be able to supply their names: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah.

To be sure, the Jews have never been an exclusively endogamous population, and the genetic stock of the population has been augmented and refreshed by the introduction of exogamous strains, from the time that Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of the Egyptian cleric Potipherah. It is nonetheless striking that in good agreement with the Bible, the Ashkenazi Jewish population still carries the genetic signatures of four founding matriarchs.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Initial Reply to JR's Reply

My TAB co-blogger JR has been kind enough to engage in a thoughtful discussion of the points I raised here in response to his reflections on the prospects for survival of the Jewish people here and here.

In brief, and I trust I do not distort his argument very much, he finds that the survival of the Jews is very much in doubt, and contrasts what he sees as the very poor survival of the Jews to date with what he finds comparatively more successful in the floraison of the Christians in general and of the English in particular. In my reply to his first comparison, I argued that it was inappropriate to contrast the surviving numbers (10 to 15 million) of a small, ancient nation, with the numbers of adherents of a worldwide proselytizing religion.

This difference of opinion appears to be a major stumbling block, for JR, who continues to claim that the "biological success" of the Jews should be measured against the "biological success" of Christendom. He insists on defining Jews as adherents of a religion, and does not accept my definition of the Jews as a nation. He states his objections this way:
Christians are members of a religion and Jews are not? What is Judaism then? Judging by the frequency of blue eyes among Askenazi Jews, Jews often are clearly not geneticaly connected to the Middle East. As far as I am aware, in fact, no member of the Ashkenazim can trace their ancestry to the Middle East. And I gather that it would be a rare Jew who identifies Jews as a race. That would make Jewish pride racist and the number of Jews who would wish to wear that label must be vanishingly small. What makes Jews Jews is their religious heritage, even if most Jews are not these days religious. What irreligious Jews trace back to as the source of their Jewishness is not a place but a forebear who identified himself or herself as a follower of the Jewish religion. So I see no invalidity at all in my comparison between Jews and Christians. Lots of Christians are pretty nominal too. My father never went to church but he would always put himself down on forms as "Church of England".
I would contend, however, that the historical definition of the Jewish people is in fact unique in the world, or nearly unique in the world, and that the notion of "the Jews" transcends several categories. Defining "the Jews" as a nation, however, makes the most sense.

Before undertaking to explain how the Jewish national identity differs from the Christian religious identity, let me pause to examine one of JR's more remarkable assertions. He put it this way:
As far as I am aware, in fact, no member of the Ashkenazim can trace their ancestry to the Middle East.
I must admit that I am astonished at this assertion. I had thought JR far more interested in population genetics than that statement appears to reveal, at least as related to I.Q. And of course the subject of Jewish I.Q. values and Jewish genetics is not exactly esoteric.

In so far as "tracing their ancestry" is concerned, all of the Ashkenazic Jews of course trace their ancestry to the Middle East, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in the case of the Levites, to Levi, and in the case of the Kohanim, or hereditary priests, to Aaron.

And the population genetic support for that traditional folk-geneaology has certainly been produced in a number of investigations. As noted in the Wikipedia, for example:

A study of haplotypes of the Y chromosome, published in 2000, addressed the paternal origins of Ashkenazi Jews. Hammer et al[15] found that the Y chromosome of some Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews contained mutations that are also common among Middle Eastern peoples, but uncommon in the general European population. This suggested that the male ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced mostly to the Middle East. The proportion of male genetic admixture in Ashkenazi Jews amounts to less than 0.5% per generation over an estimated 80 generations, with "relatively minor contribution of European Y chromosomes to the Ashkenazim," and a total admixture estimate "very similar to Motulsky's average estimate of 12.5%." This supported the finding that "Diaspora Jews from Europe, Northwest Africa, and the Near East resemble each other more closely than they resemble their non-Jewish neighbors."

Until recently, geneticists had largely attributed the genesis of most of the world's Jewish populations, including the Ashkenazim of Northern and Central Europe, to a founding act by the males who migrated from the Middle East and "by the women from each local population whom they took as wives and converted to Judaism". David Goldstein, now of Duke University, reported in 2002 that the mitochondrial DNA of women in Jewish communities around the world did not seem to be Middle Eastern, and indeed each community had its own genetic pattern. But in some cases the mitochondrial DNA was closely related to that of the host community. But new studies suggest that in addition to the male founders, significant female founder ancestry may also derive from the Middle East.[16]

Recent research indicates that a significant portion of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is also likely of Middle Eastern origin. A 2006 study by Behar et al[1], based on haplotype analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", that were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE. According to the authors, "the observed global pattern of distribution renders very unlikely the possibility that the four aforementioned founder lineages entered the Ashkenazi mtDNA pool via gene flow from a European host population."

In addition, Behar et al have suggested that the rest of Ashkenazi mtDNA is originated from ~150 women, most of those were probably of Middle Eastern origin.

Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only four women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.[1][17]

More, different studies have suggested that some high frequency disease alleles in the Ashkenazi population originated before the separation of Jewish communities in the Near East.[18]
For the purposes of this general discussion, I hope that the Wikipedia's quick summary will suffice to demonstrate that JR has been overly confident in his assertion of the absence of genealogical or genetic evidence linking today's Jews to their Biblical ancestors.

But of course he is right that genetics and lineage are not the sole defining features of Jewish identity. The Prophets of the Bible themselves were not shy about reminding the Jews of their times, that the Jewish people were not an autochthonous lineage, but an amalgam of different ancestries, and the Bible is quite evidently clear that Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, was a citizen of Ur in Chaldea. That is to say, the origins of Jewish nationality and cultural identity come out of the historical experience of a unique individual who had been grounded in a previously thriving and fully developed urban civilization.

But at the same time, the Jews define themselves as the descendants of Abraham, and in that sense do define themselves as a biological, genetically linked community, if not a "race" in the modern, scientific sense, then perhaps a "breed" or a "strain." Proselytes, incidentally, are given the patronymic "son of Abraham" or "daughter of Abraham," and ultra-orthodox Jewish authorities accept that cognomen as more than symbolic, and revere sincere proselytes as having a direct connection to Abraham that is many hundreds of generations removed for the majority of Jews today.

The Jews are indeed not a race in the modern scientific sense of the term. But they are not merely adherents of a religion in the same way that Christians are adherents of Christianity. In fact, many orthodox Jewish thinkers would deny that there is such a religion as Judaism at all, and would argue that the Jewish way of life is not a religion in the same way that Christianity and Islam are religions. The Bible of course never refers to the Jews as adherents of a religion, but to the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, the same categories that are used for the "seventy nations" of the world.

In contrast to Pauline Christianity and to Islam, he Jews have not sought the conversion of the entire world. To be sure, the Prophets did envision a messianic era in which all nations would worship and acknowledge God, but they did not foresee that those nations would become Jews; rather they would worship God according to their own traditions.

JR is right in noting that worship of God is an integral part of Jewish nationhood. That is not a surprising phenomenon. In the ancient world, each city-state had its own God and its own ritual or religious exercises, in which it was assumed that all citizens of the city-state would participate. The Jews were no different from the other peoples of the Middle East, each of which was guided and protected by its tutelary deity. Many of these city-states recorded revelations from their deities, and understood themselves to be following the rules laid down by their deities. Where there is a difference, is that the Jews recognized that the God they worshiped was the Creator of all, the One true God of the universe.

And in the West, the recognition by Christians and Muslims that the Jews do indeed worship the Creator of the universe, Whom they also worship, and that the Creator vouchsafed a particular (and peculiar) relationship to the Jewish people, is precisely what contributes so importantly to the unique role of the Jews in Western history, with all of the glory and suffering that role has entailed.

I will comment on JR's contrast between the Jews and the English in another post.

First Response to JR

This was originally posted at The Astute Bloggers on December 28th.

The Jews Will Survive, but Will Europe?
Our esteemed co-blogger JR, an incisive and iconoclastic thinker, recently wondered here if the Jews will survive. He linked to two longer essays on one of his other blogs, Dissecting Leftism, here and here. There was some controversy in the comments, and I don't wish to turn this blog into an internecine circular firing squad, but I think that JR's observations deserve a little further airing out. If Reliapundit, our host, permits.

In his second posting, JR boiled down his main point in raising the question of Jewish survival to this:
My point is that Jews should be cultivating their allies NOW -- while such allies (American fundamentalist Christians) are available. Fundamentalist Christians are strong people in the face of the hostility of the world and have therefore remained supportive of Israel despite the scornful attitude that many Jews seem to have towards them -- but changing churches is an American tradition and church doctrines themselves have undergone a lot of changes even in my lifetime.
That certainly seems like a useful and unobjectionable observation.

Some of the points he used to support that conclusion, however, are subject to varying interpretations, and survival is something I think that many if not most Jews are very sensitive about. After all, how many members of any other group can honestly say that there are hundreds of millions of people who are instructed to solve the world's problems by killing them off?

In his first posting, JR began by challenging the Jewish view that they have succeeded by surviving a hostile world, wondering if the small number of Jews in the world didn't in fact suggest the opposite. He wrote:

Their small numbers reveal Jews as a biological failure. Reproduction is the prime imperative in biology and reproductive fitness has to be judged by reproductive success. I have always admired the wisdom of Gideon but from a biological viewpoint, strength is in numbers. So the roughly 10 million Jews in the world today is not impressive.
Perhaps JR is not impressed. But that number of 10 million (it may be 15 million, but why quibble?) certainly compares well with the number of Danes, Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians in the world, and is well in excess of the number of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians. Not to mention the Navajos, Dakotas, Cherokees, and Zunis. Does Jewish reproductive success really look so bad when compared with other small nations?

Because of course when compared with the Hittites, Jebusites, Amalekites, Midianites, Moabites, Ugarites, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Scythians, Thracians, Medians, not to mention the Goths, Vandals, Alans, Avars, and other nations of the ancient world, the Jews have been fantastically successful; all of those nations are extinct. (And the cultural identities of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and ancient Rome are also more or less completely vanished.)

JR's confusion is revealed in his next comparison:
By contrast, there are around one billion Christians in the world. So why have Christians flown so far ahead of Jews in reproductive success? Originally, there were a lot more Jews than Christians.
The problem is that he is comparing the number of members of a nation, with the number of adherents of a religion. How many Christians today are the direct biological descendants of the Christians who were alive in the first century? Not many, I'd say. The vast majority of today's Christians are the descendants of proselytes. The success of Christian proselytism is indeed impressive, although it pales in comparison with the success of the Muslims and the socialists. But to expect the Jews, who are a nation, and not a proselytizing religion, to compete in numbers with doctrines who set themselves the goal of mastering the world does not seem to me to be a fair test.

The test of history, of survival in the face of unrelenting suppression and intermittently murderous persecution over 2,000 years, would seem to indicate that the survival of the Jews is a good bet.

But why so much concern with the survival of this admittedly tiny nation? Why not similar articles on the demographic threats facing the Tutsi and the Hutu, the Aymara and the Chechen? Why do the Jews so exercise such fascination?

The answer to that, I think, lies in the abrogation by both the Christians and the Muslims of key aspects of the Jewish tradition. The Christians acknowledge their origin within that Jewish tradition, although they have through most of their history claimed to have superseded it, by replacing the Jews with the Church. The Muslims absurdly claim that their religion antedates the Jewish tradition, and that the Jewish tradition is an illegitimate version of Islam. But both of these religions are, in a sense, profoundly embarrassed by the persistent survival of the Jews, living exemplars that neither Christianity nor Islam is all-encompassing. In parts of the world untouched by Christianity or Islam, the Jews are not such a preoccupation. To the Indian, the Chinese, or the Japanese, the Jewish nation is just another one of the many tiny barbarian cultures in the world, and does not excite much general interest.

There may be another reason. The pseudonymous columnist, "Spengler," who publishes at the online Asia Times, has written many columns over the past few years on the demographic catastrophe that is overtaking Europe. Many European nationalities are no longer reproducing in numbers sufficient to maintain their populations. Their fertility rates have fallen below the critical number that ensures survival. In 100 years, there may be no Italians, no Spaniards, no Germans, and no Russians. In 50 years, the populations of many European nations will have been reduced 15% to 50% to a geriatric remnant. They will have been replaced by Afro-Arab populations that are moving into Europe in numbers more significant than the great Voelkerwanderung of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

According to "Spengler," it was the European nationalities' self-consciousness of their impending doom that moved them to adopt Christianity, and which colors their reactions to the Jews. He notes that half of the world's known languages are going extinct and observes:
Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed toward a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customs have lost their living power.

A sick cat or dog will crawl into a hole to die. The members of sick cultures do not do anything quite so dramatic, but they cease to have children, dull their senses with alcohol and drugs, become despondent, and too frequently do away with themselves. This is not due to an inborn death-drive, contrary to the odious Freud, but rather a symptom of a culture's mortal illness.

That is why pagans become Christians. That is, individuals embrace Christianity when their pre-Christian culture no longer can transmit their memory as well as their genes to future generations. Christianity, in that sense, succeeds precisely where "natural law" fails. Self-confident and secure pagans do not seek life eternal through belief in Jesus Christ, for they are quite happy to believe in themselves. It is when they have reason to cease to believe in themselves, when the depredations of the empires, or the great tide of globalization, overrun their defenses and expose their mortal fragility.
In another column, "Spengler" notes that the Jewish tradition may be the only traditional culture in the world that expresses a sincere liking for life:
The better one gets to know the Jews, the more peculiar they appear. "Remember us unto life, O King who delights in life," they pray on the solemn occasion of their New Year, which this year fell on September 13. Unfeigned and spontaneous delight in life is uniquely Jewish; the standard Jewish toast states, "To life!" while the most characteristic Jewish gibe admonishes, "Get a life!" We are not dealing here with so-called lust for life that involves a pile of broken dishes and a hangover the next morning. Instead, the Jews evince a liking for life as such. That is not only unusual; it is almost unnatural.

Life as such is not that likable. As Mephistopheles taunted Faust in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragedy, life in its totality was fit only for a god, too hard a cracker for ordinary humans to digest. That seems to be the prevalent opinion across epochs and cultures. Socrates told us to despise life and instead to view death as the highest good. Buddhism teaches us to regard it as an illusion to inure ourselves from its attendant pain. From the Spartans to the Vikings, the martial cultures of the pagan world showed contempt for life, for they often fought to the death. Pagans aspired to a glorious death; I can think of not a single instance in the history of the Jews, whose wars of antiquity were frequent and ferocious, of the mention of a "glorious death". The very notion is repulsive to Jewish sensibilities.
He admits that the Chinese also have a life-affirming culture:
Professor David Layman of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, observes that the Jewish outlook is not quite unique. In correspondence with this writer, he notes, "There is one prima facie exception: China. The stereotypical vision of popular religion (the 'folk' customs and traditions that underlay all Chinese practice) is summarized as 'prosperity, progeny, and longevity': wealth, descendants, and long life. But I am not sure that exception carries the full weight of the Jewish formula. In my reading of Chinese religious development, the primal Chinese formula is no different from the Deuteronomic dictum in 30:19: 'This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.'"

Professor Layman adds, "However, at that point [the] Chinese and the Jewish traditions diverge. Deuteronomy 30:20 continues, 'and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' What intervenes, of course, is the supernatural event of the Covenant.
But why are the Jews so content with life? According to "Spengler," because their survival as a people, as a nation, is not in doubt:
It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations. Mephistopheles is right: life as such, the run-of-the-mill business of being born, having children, growing old and dying, is not an attractive proposition. The desire of all nations is eternal life, to be exalted above this muddy vesture of decay. A people that clearly foresees its own end will crawl into a hole and die like a sick animal, as we observe so tragically among aboriginal populations forced into communication with the modern world.

What makes the Jews different is their unique belief that the Covenant gives them eternal life, a belief grounded, to be sure, by thousands of years of history, and survival against all odds against the depredations of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Alexandrine and Roman empires, not to mention more recent unpleasantness. It is not changing the baby's diapers or changing grandma's bedpan to which the Jews refer when they speak of delight in life, but rather the idealized, perpetual life of a kinship community.
Perhaps JR should worry more about the survival of the Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Spaniards, and Italians than about the survival of the Jews.

Blog Reactivated!

I am reactivating this blog to engage in a discussion with JR. Reliapundit has asked us to take it off The Astute Bloggers, since he does not feel the subject falls within that blog's areas. I am going to re-post my first reply to JR here first, and then I will reply to his latest installment.

You can find his initial discussion here, his second installment here, his third installment (a reply to my comments) here, and a synoptic version here.