You are one of the prominent popularizers of Carl Schmitt today in the United States. Is the liberal elite frightened by his theories? If so, is it because, as Alain de Benoist suggests, he correctly assesses that an amplification of the spectre of global terror (as performed by the Bush administration) destroys democracy by rendering a permanent state of exception?
I don’t think that American liberals fear or even think much about Carl Schmitt. They simply use association with his ideas or the failure of some of his exponents to attack Schmitt sufficiently as evidence of fascist sympathies. This has been done not only in my case but also to Straussians, on the basis of their teacher’s interest while in Germany in Schmitt’s Concept of the Political.
National movements are frequently associated with anti-semitism. As a Jew, have you personally experienced anti-semitism by nationalist groups? If so, please share an experience or two.
Although I have never been attacked by leaders of European nationalist movements, it is possible to see why Jews of a certain age (most of whom are dead by now) might have associated anti-Semitism with certain forms of nationalism. In Europe in the early twentieth century nationalism did carry conspicuous anti-Semitic strains but except for the Russian far Right those strains don’t seem to be integral to most European nationalisms today. But as Jews overreact to these forms of reawakened nationalism, and even line up on the side of Islamicist immigrants against the native population, nationalist movements of the Right may move again for understandable reasons in an anti-Jewish direction.
You’ve written on the campaign against the Junge Freiheit and limitations on free speech in supposedly free Germany including the virtual media blackout attending the firebombing of their offices. Can we expect something similar for independent media in the United States?
I couldn’t imagine that Americans (although this may be a failure of imagination) would ever allow themselves to be jerked around in quite the same fashion as the Germans. Americans generally feel good about their country, which they identify with human rights and democracy. Germans by contrast see themselves as the descendants of genocidal murderers, whose entire past up until the postwar American occupation was full of bigotry and belligerence. There is nothing that Germans could do, or so their media and democratically elected leaders tell them, to cleanse themselves entirely of their collective guilt toward Jews and their neighbors. The German mainstream media and academic world are far more antipatriotic than even those whom FOX commentators condemn as the “hate America” crowd.
Your Ph.D. thesis on Catholic Romanticism in Munich received scant notice in your book. Do you no longer believe in the positive potential of such an ideal (assuming you ever did, if not, why did you chose to focus on that topic)?
I simply lost interest in my dissertation topic after I expanded it into a book. This did not come about because of a philosophical decision or because of any existential turning point.
In your response to Kevin MacDonald you state that he overemphasizes “the importance assigned to Jewish efforts to ‘deethnicize’ Western Christian societies,” noting the inherent liberalism attending both Canadian Catholic and Pennsylvania Anabaptist communities. Kevin MacDonald disputes, however, that there is corresponding evidence for an internal WASP implosion. Do you find WASP culture subject to the same problems as other Christian sects?
I’ve no idea what kinds of WASPs Kevin has encountered recently. At my college the overwhelmingly WASP faculty voted last week overwhelmingly to attend diversity training classes and to require students to discuss their homophobia, sexism and racism in special classes reserved for this purpose. This seems necessary in response to outbursts of Christian bigotry directed against “religious and ethnic minorities,” incidents that never occurred.Part of the solution to our raging bigotry proposed by my WASP colleagues is to fill our college with minority students, brought from neighboring inner cities. Has Kevin, by the way, read the social statements of mainline Protestant denominations and even of Evangelicals? They are full of lamentations about lingering racism and statements identifying sin with politically incorrect attitudes.
What about Catholic culture?
I’ve always been skeptical of the view, which was widespread in the 1950s, that the Catholic Church or Catholicism is going to save the American Right from the clutches of the Left. From where I stand, it seems that the Church can’t even manage her own flock. Most American, English and Canadian Catholics hold more leftist social and cultural positions (not to mention voting patterns) than their Protestant fellow-citizens. I wish that weren’t the case but it is.
In your recent autobiography you state a personal affinity for certain aspects of Calvinism. Is there any reason why you don’t accept the religious doctrines of Calvinism?
I am indeed attracted to Calvinism as both a theological system and a formative culture for the early American Republic. It is an impressive attempt to give architectonic form to a Hebraic vision of an all-powerful God, who expresses Himself as sovereign will. It also avoids the simplistic notion of ethical rationalists, that one can teach human beings to be good by appealing to their shared reason. Calvinists understand the fallen and depraved side of the human personality, and they also grasp that doing good requires an exercise of will that can only be accomplished through divine intervention aka grace. The problem with the system is that in saving divine sovereignty , Calvinism must also attribute the presence and operation of evil and sin to a divine souce. Any other understanding of the origin of evil would infringe on the majesty of God. Calvinism is additionally predicated on the acceptance of a fundamental Christian tenet that runs counter to my understanding of God’s otherness. I am referring here to the key Christian teaching that God humbled Himself to die on the cross for our sins. Although I concede that God could act in this way, given his infinite power and total freedom of action, it is hard for me to reconcile such a belief with His dignity. Perhaps at the end of the day I’m too much of an Old Testament Jew to accept this act of divine self-debasement as a ransom for our sins.
You’ve criticized Russell Kirk’s attempts to re-appropriate an aristocratic political culture which did not exist. Even assuming you are correct, are there ‘permanent things’ worth defending and advocating for in the present time? If so, what are they?
Note that my criticism of “value conservatism” and Kirk’s appeal to aristocratic Tory ideals is never used to justify value relativism. In fact I suggest several times in Conservatism in America that I am not a value relativist and that I am scornful of those who are inconsistent enough to embrace this self-description. I also make an attempt in this book to distinguish classical and biblical virtues from modern “political values” rooted in the changing preferences or fixations of journalists. For example, I can appreciate the attempts to approximate in our communal lives such qualities as justice, truth, piety and sobriety. But such approximations arise out of the practices and traditions of communities and out of philosophical reflection. They are not journalistic slogans or the hothouse creations of modern ideologues.