Reading Destructive Generation, I kept noticing that Jews were way over represented in the New Left. I’m just talking about the guys and gals with obviously Jewish names. If your name is Tov Schlomo I’m probably on safe ground assuming you are a member of The Tribe. Just looking at the Weathermen, it appears close to half the founding members were Jews. Huey Newton and the Black Panthers were largely brought to life and sustained by Jews in California. Of course, communism in America was very Jewish.
Even accounting for the fact Horowitz may have highlighted the Jews he knew in the movement, it is impossible not to conclude that Jews were way over represented in radical politics. When one percent of the population is 30% of anything, that’s a clue. It’s not just the number. In Horowitz’s telling, Jews more often than not played the defining role in these radical movements. After all, Barak Obama would still be fixing parking tickets in Chicago without the Jewish radicals who sponsored him and nurtured his career.
I was reminded of it the other day, so I put “why are Jews liberal” into the nearest Google-machine and out popped this list of links. When you get 12 million links, it must be an oft-pondered query. But, it is not as popular as that figure would suggest. Change “liberal’ to “midget” and you get 47 million hits. Make of that what you will, but the first link of my original query is something I remembered from way back.
Norman Podhoretz wrote about this in 2009. Podhoretz repeats the old line, “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” Obama captured 78% of the Jewish vote, despite being mildly anti-Semitic and hanging out with raging anti-Semites.
Most American Jews sincerely believe that their liberalism, together with their commitment to the Democratic Party as its main political vehicle, stems from the teachings of Judaism and reflects the heritage of “Jewish values.” But if this theory were valid, the Orthodox would be the most liberal sector of the Jewish community. After all, it is they who are most familiar with the Jewish religious tradition and who shape their lives around its commandments.
Yet the Orthodox enclaves are the only Jewish neighborhoods where Republican candidates get any votes to speak of. Even more telling is that on every single cultural issue, the Orthodox oppose the politically correct liberal positions taken by most other American Jews precisely because these positions conflict with Jewish law. To cite just a few examples: Jewish law permits abortion only to protect the life of the mother; it forbids sex between men; and it prohibits suicide (except when the only alternatives are forced conversion or incest).
The upshot is that in virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews. Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right. And to the dogmas and commandments of this religion they give the kind of steadfast devotion their forefathers gave to the religion of the Hebrew Bible. For many, moving to the right is invested with much the same horror their forefathers felt about conversion to Christianity.
The response to his query and the book that followed was predictable. The NYTimes dragged out an old warhorse to defend the faith, so to speak. First you discredit the man:
Norman Podhoretz loves his people and loves his country, and I salute him for it, since I love the same people and the same country. But this is a dreary book. Its author has a completely axiomatic mind that is quite content to maintain itself in a permanent condition of apocalyptic excitation. His perspective is so settled, so confirmed, that it is a wonder he is not too bored to write.
Then dismiss the argument:
The veracity of everything he believes is so overwhelmingly obvious to him that he no longer troubles to argue for it. Instead there is only bewilderment that others do not see it, too. “Why Are Jews Liberals?” is a document of his bewilderment; and there is a Henry Higgins-like poignancy to his discovery that his brethren are not more like himself. But the refusal of others to assent to his beliefs is portrayed by Podhoretz not as a principled disagreement that is worthy of respect, but as a human failing. Jews are liberals, he concludes, as a consequence of “willful blindness and denial.” He has a philosophy. They have a psychology.
The long and short of it is we have one person, as far as I can tell, asking the obvious question. Why are Jews liberal? His answer is that liberalism has become the religion of The Tribe. That’s a bit of a tautology, but at least it moves the ball down the field. The alternative theory as seen here, here and in the NYTimes book review is the typical boilerplate we see from the cult of modern liberalism every day. “The reason for X is the Cult is the shining city on the hill and down in the valley, where the bad people dwell, is Y.”
I like the Podhoretz’s explanation for a number of reasons. One is it fits with something we know about liberalism. It is clearly a religion for the hard thumping Liberals. This political ideology provides the inner measures traditionally considered to be a religious territory, such as ethics, values, symbols, myths and rituals. At the same time, its attachment to the Standard Social Science Model, appeals to those raised in the Talmudic tradition. Instead of divining God’s will from the Torah, liberals divine the will of “science.”
Successful minority groups the world over have one thing in common. That is they attach themselves to the strongest element of the ruling class. Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, is a good example. Carols is not Mexican. He is Lebanese. He is also tight with the ruling class. He has to be as he controls 90% of the telephone market. If he does not make sure the guys with guns are well compensated, they may decide Carlos needs some competition. In other words, minorities can be useful to the ruling elite.
The trouble with this theory is Jews have been out front in American culture and politics for generations now. The days of Jewish entertainers, for example, passing themselves off as Italians are long gone. Joe Lieberman was a Vice Presidential candidate 15 years ago and probably kept Gore in the race. Lieberman was a very respected political figure and very publicly Jewish. I just don’t see how modern Jews would feel they have to cozy up to the elite for protection. They are the elite and mostly in control of America.
That brings me back Podhoretz. I like his reasoning, but I have a couple of problems with it. Catholics, Episcopalians and Baptists have not followed the same path. Catholics used to be a core Democratic constituency, but that was more class and economics than religion. Plus, when they left their old church, they did not join the new faith. Instead they started voting Republican. Protestants certainly swapped the old religion for the new in many cases. Episcopalians, for example, are mostly moonats these days.
Genetics may hold the key. Jews, as known in the West, are not the same Jews as in the Middle East. Most Jews in the West are Ashkenazim, not Sephardim. Recent studies suggest Ashkenazim descend from the earliest Europeans.
The majority of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from prehistoric European women, according to study published today (October 8) in Nature Communications. While the Jewish religion began in the Near East, and the Ashkenazi Jews were believed to have origins in the early indigenous tribes of this region, new evidence from mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on exclusively from mother to child, suggests that female ancestors of most modern Ashkenazi Jews converted to Judaism in the north Mediterranean around 2,000 years ago and later in west and central Europe.
The new findings contradict previous assertions that Ashkenazi mitochondrial lineages originated in the Near East, or from mass conversions to Judaism in the Khazar kingdom, an empire in the north Caucasus region between Europe and Asia lasting from the 7th century to the 11th century whose leaders adopted Judaism. “We found that most of the maternal lineages don’t trace to the north Caucasus, which would be a proxy for the Khazarians, or to the Near East, but most of them emanate from Europe,” said coauthor Martin Richards, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Huddersfield in the U.K.
Given the state of religion in Europe 2,000 years ago, it is rather amazing that a group of people would elect to become monotheists, much less Jewish. A religion requiring a relatively high degree of literacy and one that comes with a rational legal code is going to make them even more unusual. I don’t think it is too much of a reach to think that Ashkenazim are hard wired to believe and to believe a certain way. Those unique traits and a high degree of endogamy meant those traits were reinforced through mating.
Keep in mind that I’m just trying to reason thorough this inductively. There’s too much missing from my discussion to be more than ruminations. There’s some evidence from genetics that belief is heritable, but not enough to draw too many conclusions. How much of culture is genetic is an area where disagreement is near universal. The fact that Jews and Gypsies have remained culturally unique, despite it all, suggests genetics is a bigger role there than the SSSM crowd would like to believe.
In the end, Jews are liberal because they are biologically tuned to be liberal.