Scribe Books had a surprise bestseller last year with David Brock’s
Blinded by the Right
. The book tells the rather sordid story of how elements of the American Right, mostly associated with The American Spectator
and including Brock a that time, obsessively pursued various real and imagined scandals and faults of Bill Clinton and other ‘liberals’. Brock was rather loose with the truth, and in the end the American public seemed rather forgiving of Clinton’s foibles. In the process, The American Spectator
, once a fine publication, become a scandal sheet. Blinded by the Right
is Brock’s book length confession.
The healthy sales of his book in chattering class bookstores was curious, because there is little sign that it was read as a parable. Surely the Australian analogy with the Clinton obsession is the chattering class’s obsessive hatred of Howard. As Miranda Devine pointed out this week
, all the denunciations of Howard seem to do him more good than harm.
In an odd sort of way, though the Left in Australia are incessantly political in their choice of conversation subjects (giving us their opinions on refugees, Iraq etc in the routine way others talk about the weather), they are not political in the sense of having a plausible strategy to achieve political goals. That their tactics in recent years have been so unsuccessful doesn’t seem to prompt much strategic reflection. Is it because for them politics is part of their personal identity, an end in itself that does not require it to have any effect on the world?
Not aiming high enough
Labor's new education policy, Aim Higher
, was released on Wednesday. It's certainly better than the policies they took to the last two elections. Parts of it are better than the Coalition's policy, as there are fewer proposals to micromanage student numbers, governance structures, and non-academic services. But it is a policy of fine-tuning a system that needs replacing, and so for all its faults the Coalition package is better. My take on the Labor package is in The Australian today
Department of corrections
In my blog below on Miranda Devine's article on wacky PhD topics I repeated her claim that someone had written a thesis on whether Jesus was gay. According to a cleverly titled piece on Media Watch last night, 'Devine sexuality', this is not true
, it was a small part of a larger thesis on gay spirituality. I doubt this would change Miranda's mind, but it is important to get the detail right.
Ann Coulter and Matt Drudge?
comments on the recent NY Times profile
of Ann Coulter:
I'm picking up a weird vibe here. I'm trying to picture exactly what kind of relationship there is between Ann Coulter and Matt Drudge that would maker her move to Miami to be close to him, but I keep coming up with "Does Not Compute." I mean Matt's a bachelor, but I've long assumed he's one of nature's bachelors, right? I guess he's the new David Brock.
'Nature's bachelors' - heh, nice coinage. Maybe she's trying to convert him to the other side ...
Your taxes at work
I made another token right-winger appearance at a university conference last Friday, this time a postgraduate social science student event called Creating Spaces
. They were in a huff about a Miranda Devine
article in Sunday week back’s Sun-Herald
, in which she made fun of several dubious PhD topics, such as whether Jesus was gay, the desirability of the blonde through history, and the Kidman-Cruise divorce. One of my fellow speakers was also outraged that the Howard government had set up a review of the National Museum.
For people who insist on 'critiquing' and 'problematising' everyone else they seemed rather reluctant to accept criticism. Playing the part for which I had been brought along, I said that I thought that Devine had a point. Some of these topics might be worth a magazine article, but a book length thesis that will cost taxpayers $60,000+? Surprisingly and encouragingly, a woman whose topic had been singled out by Devine agreed with me that they should justify themselves, though of course she believed that her topic was worthwhile. But I think she was the exception among people who saw no need to explain themselves to the people who pay for their intellectual self-indulgence.
Gerard Jackson on free trade
Gerard Jackson is back with a revamped writing style (at least it seems to me) and a solid article
defending free trade. He also has a few harsh words about a certain right wing blogger who was recently engaged in controversy (as disclosure he has also had harsh words on me in the past in his old website:
I was disappointed in Tim Blair's defence of free trade which basically amounted to sticking his tongue out at Dick Smith, a well known Australian protectionist.
As Bastiat pointed out so many years ago: "The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skilfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended." Defending free trade by simply accusing protectionists like Smith of stupidity or hypocrisy is no defence at all. It's nothing more than a cheap ad hominem attack. The free trade cause deserves better than this. But we can scarcely expect more from a man who cannot distinguish between free market warriors and 'free market' wimps.
Racial identity and cognitive dissonance
I'm currently reading Hitler's Jewish soldiers
, an important and disturbing book I've blogged about before but hadn't actually been able to get hold of until now (I bought a copy at Waterstone's, an excellent book store chain here in London). This work fascinates me as much for its study of human psychology and as a work that really fits as much into that misused term 'cultural studies' as it does into military history. The book examines the plight of the 'Mischlinge' ('partial Jews') who served in the German military during Hitler's reign. Why did they do it? Apparently because of one or more of these motives
1) Some were themselves anti-semitic, Nazi supporters and strong German nationalists who were unaware of their Jewish ancestry until the Nuremberg laws brought it to their attention - ironically in some cases this was because the Jewish parent or grandparent was of Orthodox background and had become cut off from their community after marrying Goyim
2) Some were aware of their Jewish ancestry and had some concern for their relatives but were proud patriots, probably mildly culturally anti-semitic, and took the view of 'my country, right or wrong'. Some may even have had Nazi sympathies, and were unaware, at least initially, of the depth of the Nazi agenda, tending to project their own cultural nationalist beliefs into it rather than the essentialist-racist agenda that Nazism really was.
This attitude was in fact also not uncommon among the more conservative, assimilated Jews who thought that the 'Eastern Jews' streaming in from Poland and elsewhere were giving German Jews a bad reputation because of their alien ways. For instance, the book documents that the prominent leader of the right wing nationalist Jews, Dr Max Naumann, wrote to Hitler to urge him to deport the 'Eastern Jews' from Germany.
A more extreme and almost perverse version of this distinction was held by the interesting and contradictory character, Wilhelm Kube, a loyal Nazi governor who had no problem sending Eastern Jews to their death in concentration camps but who, in a strange display of moral courage. started protesting to his superiors when he discovered that German Jews were also being exterminated - he thought that this was wrong because the latter were 'culturally German' and therefore no longer subhuman.
3) Some were aware of their Jewish ancestry and heritage, identified with the heritage and were deeply concerned about their relatives. They thought that the best way to protect their family was to demonstrate their 'deservingness' by serving with distinction in the army and therefore obtaining exemptions for their family.
There are some truly fascinating and in some cases chilling case studies and anecdotes reported in this book. I was particularly interested in the cognitive dissonance that many of these Mischlinge and their relatives had to get used to living in those insane times. These people were in an awkward position, being caught between two worlds (they were rejected by the Jewish community too who thought they had forsaken their heritage by 'sucking up' to the German side and then only turning to them when there was trouble). For instance, the book relates the case of one half-Jewish soldier, Rolf von Sydow, who writes after watching the anti-semitic Nazi propaganda film Jud Suss:
This film doesn't characterise me at all. I'm not a Jew. I don't go to synagogue ... I don't betray other people ... I don't look Jewish. I'm from the aristocracy ... I'm better than the others ... I hate my grandparents because they're guilty. I hate my friends because they're Aryans. I hate the world. I hate myself.
Some Mischlinge were driven to overcompensate because of propaganda about their inferiority:
Young Mischlinge tried hard to excel, particularly in athletics. Hans-Geert Falkenberg was taught at school that Mischlinge and Jews were inferior. In response he 'compensated ... I was the best long distance runner, the best boxer, the best swimmer, the best goalie ... Not because I was a natural athlete; only to prove that everything they taught was absolute nonsense'
The family dynamics this situation created was at times unique, to say the least. The book reports the case of Dieter Bergmann, a Mischlinge who had a Nazi aunt. The aunt wrote to him as follows:
My dear boy, I think people like you must be exterminated if our fatherland is to remain pure and victorious against the Marxist-Jewish conspiracy. Sorry, my dear boy. You know I love you.