“Old Bubba” Got It Right

The public opinion pollsters have failed four times in the last 18 months. They thought that Netanyahu would be defeated in the contest for Israel’s prime ministership. They did not foresee the defeat of the peace referendum in Colombia. They were sure that Brexit would be defeated in Great Britain, and they were equally sure (with the exception of a few outliers like the LA Times longitudinal poll) that Hillary would be our 45th president. In all four cases the surveys reflected the pollsters’ attitudes but not the public’s. Like the New York Times, which has been eating crow over its election coverage, the pollsters need to get out in to the countryside more. The same holds true for the Hillary operatives who were caught by surprise. As a DNC source explained “it was all about analytics with them. . . . They were too reliant on analytics and not enough on instinct and human intel from the ground.”

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Liberalism and Socialism: The Twisted Path to Reconciliation

Fred Siegel’s talk, “Liberalism and Socialism: The Twisted Path to Reconciliation,” was delivered at the 2011 Telos Conference, held in New York City on January 15–16, 2011.

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Taking Communism away from the Communists: The Origins of Modern American Liberalism

Modern liberalism has been defined conceptually as the experimental method applied to politics and as the mentality which insists that culture, not nature, puts the future of humanity in its own hands. In terms of American history, modern liberalism is presented as an adaptation of nineteenth-century laissez-faire liberal individualism to the growth of big business, and as an updated expression of Jacksonian animus to vested interests. There is something substantial in all of these approaches. But, even taken together, they leave out a great deal.

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On the Gaza War

This talk was presented at the 2009 Telos Conference.

When my wife and I arrived in Israel a few days before the Gaza war began, we were taken aback by the focus on the increase in rocket attacks from Gaza after Hamas had decided to end the “truce.” Friends from across the political spectrum were incensed. During the truce, Hamas used the Arabic world for lull as a dozen rockets and mortars a day came into Southern Israel, but the count had jumped to 70 to 80 a day, and Southern Israel was forced to live in constant fear. The attacks were barely mentioned in the Western press.

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Anti- and Anti-Anti-Islamists: The West and the Challenge of Islamic Fanaticism

[The following review, which includes a discussion of Matthias Küntzel’s Jihad and Jew-Hatred (published by Telos Press), first appeared in City Journal on October 19, 2007. Reproduced here by kind permission.]

The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla (Knopf, 352 pp., $26)
The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, by Lee Harris (Basic, 290 pp., $26)
Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, by Matthias Küntzel (Telos, 174 pp., $29.95)

Two new books, Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God and Lee Harris’s The Suicide of Reason, argue that religious extremism imperils the liberal-and, as they see it, fragile-traditions of the West. Both books base much of their analysis on the writings of Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century English philosopher of public order. But they see the extremist danger coming from dramatically different religious directions. For Lilla, it radiates from unresolved tensions in Christianity, which can burst forth at any moment into millenarian madness. Harris, on the other hand, sees the threat coming from an Islamic fanaticism that the rationalist West is unable to comprehend, much less counter. Matthias Küntzel shares Harris’s fears. His Jihad and Jew-Hatred is a compelling historical account of how modern Islamic extremism has been informed by the anti-Semitism of the Third Reich.

Lilla, a Columbia University philosopher, has written the more original of the first two books. Though Lilla never mentions it by name, Norman Cohn’s pathbreaking 1957 book, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, clearly frames his argument. Augustinian Catholicism, Cohn wrote, had insisted that despite the limitations imposed by man’s original sin, the Catholic Church provided a state of spiritual near-perfection on earth. But in the Middle Ages, what Cohn described as an “underworld” of apocalyptic Christians emerged, convinced that the path to salvation was being blocked by nefarious agents of evil-Jews among them-who had to be extirpated. Cohn convincingly argued that twentieth-century totalitarian movements were the underworld’s ideological children, which drew on a “common stock of European social mythology” derived in large part from the biblical book of Revelation. “When this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people,” he explained, “it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history.”

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Revisiting the 1930s with Tony Judt

Last Thursday, October 12, NYU sponsored a forum on “Religion and the Limits of Tolerance” in the Netherlands. On one side were Fritz Bolkestein, an articulate critic of Dutch immigration policy, and the now famed Hirsi Ali, the Somali and Muslim born Dutch woman whose criticism of Islam has produced Islamist death threats so that she’s been forced to live under guard. On the other side were the self-described Leftists, novelist Bas Heijne and NYU professor Tony Judt, who served as both moderator and participant.

Bolkestein, a large thick bodied man in his 60s with a shock of white hair, acknowledged that there should be “leeway for Islamic practices on matters such as slaughtering and burial practices, but not on basic values.” Using as his yardstick the UN Declaration of Human Rights, he said Western culture was far superior to a “fossilized Islam.” “I am judgmental,” he smiled, “I prefer New York to Philadelphia.” Noting that such statements led some to accuse him of “triumphalism,” he quipped that people in the third world shout “Yankee go home, but then add please take me with you.” His comment reminded me of a visit to the Arab village of Um El Fahem, which lies at the narrowest point in Israel right on the Israeli-Palestinian border. It’s a well to do town of beautiful red tiled roofs atop three and four story houses. When I asked the mayor, who is an Islamist, if he wanted, as had been suggested by Israeli rightists, to join Palestine as part of land swap, he replied, “No, we have a very high standard of living here.”

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