Saturday, May 21, 2005

What is Enmerdement?

Ralph Sorensen, a biologist friend of mine currently on sabbatical writes:
“Being in Germany, I reflect on the question of how so bright, charming, and sly a group of people could have, in the person of their parents and grandparents, been seduced by Nazism. This leads me to reflect on Bush and the current American zeitgeist I am presently avoiding. I am awaiting publication of "The Eternal Liberal," given the vacuity of a term as abused by people who appear oblivious of a) the enlightenment b) the etymology of the term, and c) the fallacy of reducing all political thought to a single axis. Yes, being a "liberal" is not constitutive, but, rather, facultative (existential, not essential), but the definition of "Jew" had the same flexibility, did it not?”

What saddens me is the way in which the erstwhile liberals, eternal or temporary, duplicate so many of the responses of the German Jews to their own demonization, including insincere conversions to the religion of their oppressors, gratuitous professions of loyalty to the Reich, and endless self criticism. Nobody spends more time and ingenuity figuring out ways to bad mouth the Enlightenment and its values than liberal public intellectuals. The right-wing press harps on liberal arrogance and elitism, but it is the liberals themselves who compulsively elaborate the theme and provide the demagogues with complicated historical analyses explaining what’s wrong with progress and rationality. After all, the red-state folks don’t know much about the historical period or movement traditionally called the Enlightenment. At most they’ve heard the term someplace and don’t like the sound of it because it gives them the same bad feeling they get from the expression “Civil Liberties.”

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