Wednesday, 21 November 2012

That Tweet

Sorry to be slightly behind with this one, but the last couple of days have been, shall we say, "hectic".

Anyway, whatever did dear old Rupert Murdoch mean? On three continents, his media empire is the leading edge of the logically unimpeachable combination of neoliberal economics, liberal social policy, rigid state secularism (even if accompanied by occasional, and occasionally even by regular, religious observance), and an aggressive military expansionism in that cause, especially in support of those countries which already most fully embody it. Above all, that means, or at least it has meant until recent years, the State of Israel. Since that position is, in a word, American Jewish, and above all New York Jewish.

Yet the undeniable organ of New York Jewish opinion not only has the sheer gall to be a commercial competitor of Murdoch's, but unlike, say, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which one might have thought were the main competitors of The Times and The Sun respectively, the New York Times has the effrontery to behave as such a competitor. Moreover, it expresses deep and deepening doubts about neoliberal economics and about neoconservative foreign policy; the doubts about social liberalism and about state secularism will inevitably follow. And then what? Back to Judaism as defined, not by twentieth-century New York rabbis, but by their predecessors, who were usually their ancestors?

Anglo-Jewry has always been a very different story, for the most part observantly Orthodox well into the post-War period and still very largely so, with the result that even Maurice Glasman, who the last time that I saw him tucked heartily into a Chinese meal full of both pork and shellfish but who was brought up kosher ("Making up for lost time"), can draw on the haggadah and the halacha, the Midrash and the folkways, of the old Yiddish East End in order to form and inform Blue Labour.

In so doing, he finds a natural affinity with Catholic Social Teaching and Distributism, with Radical Orthodoxy, with the Old Labour that owed "more to Methodism than to Marx", with the Anglican-based Tory populism that contributed as much as Nonconformist Radical Liberalism to the emergence of the Labour Movement, with the broader Tory tradition or metatradition behind that (far greater than the Conservative Party, itself in any case a fairly recent, and largely a Whig and Liberal, invention), and even with aspects of Islam as explored by Riyad Karim.

Could there be an American Blue Labour? Chestertonians and Burkeans are said to be on the rise as the Republican Party tries to reconstruct itself. I very much hope that that is true. And the recent elections indicated that the Bobby Kennedy black-blue coalition was now the Democratic majority as surely as was the George McGovern coalition of non-white ethnic minorities with urban and suburban, often Jewish, liberals.

Those last long ago decided that the essence of Jewish identity, and even of Judaism, was to be found in a celebration of dissent, argument, strict state secularism, egalitarian and democratic family structures, avant garde educational methods bound up with psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, internationalism in general and liberal interventionism in particular, an openness to people's and organisation's Marxist pasts and to whatever they might have retained from those days, minimal religious observance and negligible religious instruction, all with a view to the highest or fullest degree of individual freedom and self-realisation, themselves defined in terms of all the foregoing.

Initially, it was America that was idealised as the civic embodiment of those principles, by reference to a very particular reading of the Founding Fathers in such terms, and retaining the more or less explicit view that Jews were to form the liberal vanguard, the natural elite, the national or societal conscience. Later, mostly after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israel also came to be so identified, in that case by so reading people who were in many cases still alive to correct such a wild misrepresentation, yet who rarely, if ever, did so.

This would of course have been unrecognisable and repugnant to its originators' near ancestors in Central and Eastern Europe. That point is made most starkly by the very heavy rewriting of the Yiddish tales of Sholem Aleichem in order to turn them into Fiddler on the Roof, in which a man dressed like the first audience's great-grandfathers articulates that audience's own prejudices rather than those of its great-grandfathers.

A real life Tevye would have held views far more akin to those of a 1960s New York Jew's Catholic neighbours, mostly of Irish and Italian stock, but also German and East European, the blue (i.e., blue-collar, working-class) in the black-blue: unshakeably committed to ecclesial, civil and parental authority, which were inculcated by thoroughly traditional forms of education at the heart of which was the systematic impartation over many years, from early childhood until at least the middle or late teens, of a very extensive body of highly specific religious knowledge which was in no sense up for debate.

In political terms, this issued as much in an utterly uncompromising anti-Communism as in participation in organised labour and community activism, in a commitment to the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and in sympathy for Civil Rights, of which it was in fact often Jews who were more sceptical, although the Communist Party's involvement in things like the NAACP did the cause no favours among the white ethnics in the North, who historically, and at that time well within living memory, had been just as much victims of things like the Ku Klux Klan.

Again, it was America that was idealised as the civic embodiment of those principles; again, by reference to a very particular reading of the Founding Fathers in such terms. A reading which was absolutely ridiculous considering how ferociously anti-Catholic the Founding Fathers were, but there we are. That would remain the fundamental, even if no longer always the conscious, frame of reference for most of the readers of what is now Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, whom he and it have done more than anyone, even before we mention Fox News, to turn into adherents of what the rival, Jewish frame of reference has now become in practical policy terms.

But with even the house journal of that rival position turning against key parts of it, which will in due course lead to an opposition to all of it, then what hope is there of keeping Pat and Carmine, Rosie and Carmela in line? In fact, Pat and Carmine, Rosie and Carmela have already seen through big business social liberalism and its global spread by force of arms, and they are reverting to a pattern of voting accordingly. Even at the Presidential level, which was where there was most desertion from the late 1960s onwards. No wonder that Rupert Murdoch is such an angry old man.

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