Monday, May 14, 2012

What Neoconservatives Are Reading

Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews. Princeton University Press, 2010. 272 pages. $24.95.

Although the author, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America, does not openly identify with neoconservatism, his book has received favorable reviews in the major journals of that persuasion. Since neoconservatism, the belief that capitalism can be saved even if all other cultural markers are erased, has become the prevalent ideology in national Republican circles, Capitalism and the Jews is a book that even paleoconservatives should read, at least in part. (This reviewer recommends, however, borrowing a library copy, not buying it.)

Capitalism and the Jews, less comprehensive than the title suggests, is a collection of four essays, all but one of which of which are especially noteworthy. (The last essay, "The Economics of Nationalism and the Fate of the Jews in Twentieth-Century Europe," takes Ernest Gellner's concept of nationalism and uses it to supplement the work of Hannah Arendt.)

"The Long Shadow of Usury" explores the belief that while industry and farming are productive, commerce and finance are unproductive, even parasitic. This is tracked back to the medieval period, but found to be alive in all following epochs. In Muller's words, "The economic value of gathering and analyzing information went unrecognized, and not only by those who lived off the land or worked with their hands" (p. 116). This attitude was so ingrained as to find its way even into the early writings of Marx. (Muller mentions more than once that Marx was born into a family of Jews who converted to Christianity, but all of his biographers agree that he was fundamentally an atheist.)

"The Jewish Response to Capitalism" addresses the apparent paradox, noted by Milton Friedman, that Jews have been the foremost critics of capitalism despite their having been liberated and empowered by it. Muller disagrees, adducing evidence that the Jews, all the way back to David Ricardo, have been among the primary defenders of capitalism. Friedman himself was the most prominent of American academic defenders of capitalism, while Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises were its foremost publicists.

"Radical Anticapitalism" is the chapter which will be most interesting to paleoconservative readers. Muller goes into a detailed examination of the disproportionate representation of Jews in the Communist leadership in Eastern European countries. He notes "the inverted pyramid pattern" (p. 147) by which Jews were more represented in the higher and highest ranks of the various Communist parties.

Muller considers only Eastern Europe, not the United States, where half of active Marxist-Leninists have always been Jews. He also favors the theory that the Jews rushed into the ranks of Communism as a reaction to anti-Semitism. The fact should be taken into consideration that Jews were disproportionately represented in the radical left long before 1879, the year when Wilhelm Marr coined the term "anti-Semitism." This fact, however, does not justify the assumption that the overrepresentation was the result of a conspiracy.

The most reasonable explanation for the overrepresentation of Jews in the Marxist ranks is that these Jews had become convinced that capitalism was a system that would soon come to an end. Instead, capitalism finally triumphed even in Russia, where 6 of the 7 "oligarchs" who owned most of Russia's natural resources were themselves Jews.

Once again, fairly or not, Jews are identified in the mass mind with usury capitalism, an economic system that has been plunged into crisis. Muller offers no speculation on that topic, but he does note that Jews are most threatened by "integral nationalism," the type of country where national identity is sharply defined in ethnic and cultural terms. The U.S.A., which Jewish publicists have propagandized as "a nation of immigrants" (i.e., not a nation at all), has drifted far away from integral nationalism. That makes the U.S.A. a place that is good for the Jews, but will their luck hold if usury remains in crisis? The masses of working class gentiles may grow increasingly impatient with the endless chatter about capitalism versus socialism. Are they not losers under either system?

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