Bari Weiss’s recent essay in Tablet, “Stop Being Shocked,” is a must-read for anyone hot on the trail of the metaphysical shift going on in American culture. She exposes the threat leftism poses to Jewish self-identity, but at a deeper level, she adds to the growing body of evidence proving the hopeless incompatibility of leftism and liberalism.
Weiss begins with a useful definition of liberalism:
[T]he belief that everyone is equal because everyone is created in the image of God. The belief in the sacredness of the individual over the group or the tribe. The belief that the rule of law — and equality under that law — is the foundation of a free society. The belief that due process and the presumption of innocence are good and that mob violence is bad. The belief that pluralism is a source of our strength; that tolerance is a reason for pride; and that liberty of thought, faith, and speech are the bedrocks of democracy.
She adds, “Crucially, this liberalism relied on the view that the Enlightenment tools of reason and the scientific method might have been designed by dead white guys, but they belonged to everyone, and they were the best tools for human progress that have ever been devised.”
That orientation, that reason can attain objective truths accessible and communicable to all, is what’s under assault from the left. For the left, those dead white guys set up the structures of “reason” and “science” to project their own patriarchal or race-based wills to power. Whatever has been attained by our past shouldn’t be communicated, contemplated, critiqued, or celebrated — the liberal view — but torn down and replaced. That’s the leftist view.
The Hebrew Foundations of Historic Liberalism
Weiss concludes her essay writing, “It is not by chance that Jews thrived in a world in which liberalism prevailed. The idea that we should judge each person not by their station or their family lineage but by their deeds; that human beings have agency — these are revolutionary ideas that are, at root, Hebrew ones.”
She’s being modest, as if Jews happened by chance upon a kindred spirit in Western liberalism. No, the Hebrews are its forebears. To take one example, what did it mean when a nomadic herdsman, Jethro, told Moses to stop trying to be Pharaoh, a top-down ruler embodying divine forces, and set up an objective law from which deputies could adjudicate cases? Hello, rule of law.
More foundational for classical liberalism, however, is the Hebrew use of language. Arguably Jethro’s advice was the advent of a type of language required for a liberal system. The Red Sea separated the Hebrews from a culture in which only a few priests had access to the scores of arcane Egyptian ideograms.
Moses, trained in the court of Pharaoh, consciously rejected that linguistic system. Instead, a new people living under the law would communicate through 22 letters a child can learn. Truth would not be the domain only of an elite reaching beyond the edge of language into archetypal and symbolic territory. (Note how the left regrets this sad development.) No, the law would be accessible to all.
Getting even more foundational, the Hebrew creation account bound external reality to language, setting a tone of cosmic proportions. Along with the creation of each thing was the naming of it, a task which God began and which the one in his image, Adam, completed.
The Hebrew word “dabar” means “word” and “thing.” It’s a profound point — reality corresponds with human speech. All people might access truths that are objective, universal in scope, and communicable. Reality is not a mental construct projected by those with power, but something attainable and communicable through human language.
The Hebrew Law totemized these principles, training the Hebrew mind in disciplines centered on the use, arrangement, and contemplation of the external, written word. One wonders at the dominance of the Jewish mind in academia over the ages. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s their heritage.
Christianity inherited this Hebrew heritage, believing the Word became incarnate, thus totemizing these principles through Christ’s person and in the sacramental life of the church. The Christian Pentecost universalized the Hebraic posture, setting the church to replace the myth-based systems governing the ancient cultures, an ongoing project to this day.
Christ totemizes objective, formed truth, laying the foundation for truth to be seen as something accessible and communicable. Again, the rise of Europe as dominant in the realm of speculative thought didn’t happen in a vacuum. The Judeo-Christian orientation truly is the secret sauce of the West, the basis not only for discussion of various competing philosophies and rationalist systems, but for Enlightenment science, democracy, the idea of universal human rights, and so on. Such things cannot arise but in the cosmic orientation passed on from Sinai.
The First Jew-Haters
Leftism cannot accept that orientation. Theirs is a revolution against the foundations of reality as bestowed by that Judeo-Christian orientation. Ground Zero of that revolution is the correspondence between language and reality. The Judeo-Christian idea that language corresponds with reality, a feature of the classical liberal system, is for the left a bug that the totalitarian boot must crush.
Weiss struggles to put a name to this development, writing:
American liberalism is under siege. There is a new ideology vying to replace it. No one has yet decided on the name for the force that has come to unseat liberalism. Some say it’s ‘Social Justice.’ The author Rod Dreher has called it ‘therapeutic totalitarianism.’ The writer Wesley Yang refers to it as ‘the successor ideology’ — as in, the successor to liberalism. At some point, it will have a formal name, one that properly describes its mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality.
I’ve been arguing for years that the formal name is Gnosticism, something political philosopher Eric Voegelin first articulated. Gnostics were the first Jew-haters, for the very same metaphysical reasons the modern left hates them.
Gnosticism proposes a radical dualism between matter and non-matter. A greater God transcending all thought and names fills the non-material realm. A lesser, fallen deity created and rules the material realm, the known universe with its systems and structures.
Gnosticism believed the Hebrew God of the Old Testament was this lesser deity. His material order, for instance, set things up like “male and female He created them,” thus establishing the gender binary and its corresponding, mind-shackling pronouns (Gnosticism typically sees androgyny as a state of perfection).
It’s more than just gender. Subtle thinkers on the left, finding a kindred spirit in Gnosticism, see this lesser deity’s fingerprints in all existent structures and systems. He’s the source of systemic racism, patriarchalism, and all the fears of “other.” He’s the principle of individualism, territoriality, and nationalism. He underlies all the competing religions. He’s the builder of walls. He shackles minds to his systemic structures through language.
This “Division-God,” who separates matter into distinct things and calls them by a name, also separated one people from the world and called them “chosen.” Now, who would that be?
As one author writes, “The Gnostics who fixed their attention on the biblical tradition identified [in this lesser deity, the ruler of this world] attributes in Yahweh, who would have no other gods before him and who was a jealous God who promised his chosen people specialness in exchange for ethnic purity and obedience to tribal laws. This is an attitude that we can see in every kind of provincialism, in every instance of nationalism, and in all forms of sexism.”
She concludes, “[A]ll of these certainties are tragic illusions, and all they amount to is people without gnosis banding together and reinforcing one another in common delusional systems.” You might be having your “Aha!” moment about now. For these people, the only remedy for systemic, “delusional” thinking is to become “woke.”
Gnostic salvation centers on the woke experience. First, you become woke to the deceptive, underlying systems and structures of this world. Then you escape the world’s stranglehold on the mind. At the end of your ascent, you glimpse the primordial realm of non-differentiated, perfect unity. This gifted insight, in turn, can inform a reimagined politics, a world as one.
The Jews — their tribal, ethnocentric cosmic orientation — are among the first targets of this reimagined politics. After all, they are the metaphysical enemies of Gnosticism and all it implies about language, rationality, the possibility of objective truth, and as Weiss says, “human agency.” You can’t inaugurate the radical new world order without getting at the Hebrew root of the old age.
Introducing the Postmodern, Gnostic-Fascists
Of course, we can’t talk hatred of Jews without doing a bit of argumentum ad Hitlerum. The evidence doesn’t disappoint. In a fascinating series of interviews with Adolf Hitler, erstwhile Fascist Party member Hermann Rauschning records Hitler mouthing almost exactly what today’s leftists are saying, framing things in precisely these Gnostic terms.
He rephrased Hitler’s thought thus: “Was not this degenerate race [the Jews] the protagonist of the independence of the spirit, and thus the mortal enemy of the coming age? … Was not the Jew in political life always on the side of analysis and criticism?”
How far is this from the current leftist critique of free speech and rationality as constructs from a corrupted past getting in the way of their “coming age”? “Analysis and criticism” is exactly the sort of “linear thinking” you’d expect the patriarchy to do, binding and categorizing reality into communicable ideas — just like Jehovah did in the beginning.
Echoing another new development from the left, the belief that science cannot be neutral but is a tool of white supremacy, Rauschning quotes Hitler, saying, “Liberal-Jewish science could only occur in the age of Liberalism.” Science was a “social phenomenon” which should yield to a more “Nordic science” evaluated by the “benefit or injury it confers on the community.”
Nicely exemplifying the posture of all good totalitarians, Hitler summarizes, “Our revolution is not merely a political and social revolution; we are at the outset of a tremendous revolution in moral ideas and in men’s spiritual orientation. Our movement has at last brought the Middle Ages, medieval times, to a close.”
It all must come a-tumbling down. As Weiss writes:
American liberalism is under siege. There is a new ideology vying to replace it. The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game — due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself — must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with — designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.
Replace “dead white males” with “Jews,” and it’s impossible to distinguish the two. Again, “Our revolution is not merely a political and social revolution; we are at the outset of a tremendous revolution in moral ideas and in men’s spiritual orientation.” What leftist would not mouth those very words? How soon before they realize Hitler is their ally?
Pluralism, Not Universalism
Weiss recognizes the threat this revolution poses to her people, astutely observing, “By simply existing as ourselves, Jews undermine the vision of a world without difference.” A “world without difference” is exactly the endgame of all totalitarian movements. It’s that place of undifferentiated oneness, which is the quest of every Gnostic. It’s a universalistic creed, and it has no place in our society.
America is pluralistic, not universalistic. Universalism erases all distinctions and blurs them into a monochrome, collective oneness: “We’re in this together!” It’s the hive mind, and it’s completely un-American because it can only happen by getting rid of the things that make us each distinct: our ideas, beliefs, and values.
Pluralism institutes politically what is a tenet of both the Jewish and Christian religions: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. If I want to live in a political system where I am free to speak, worship, and be as I wish, I have to respect my neighbor as I want to be respected.
Weiss assumed this classically liberal position was embedded deep within our culture, until mounting evidence showed that, for Jews, not so much. We should all heed her “canary in the mine” report. As the saying goes, “First they came for the Jews.”