I usually try not to use the word “liberal,” because (a) it has enough separate meanings, most of which have nothing to do with one another and the rest of which are mutually contradictory, to drive William Empson into a psychotic break; and (b) it makes me sound like Rush Limbaugh. However, after Wednesday’s bizarre anti-American screed, I feel like I’m on a roll and thought I might try and drive away my other three readers.
So we’ll give it a spin. Of course, what I mean by “liberalism” is just good old cryptocalvinism.
Is that what Jonah Goldberg means by it? Frankly, I have no idea. Let’s not forget, here, that we’re talking about a man who went to a women’s college—one year after it went coed. Can we fault Mr. Goldberg for that? We certainly cannot. Can we trust him farther than we can throw him? My suspicion is that he’s a little guy, if you know what I mean, so this may already be placing too much confidence in the fellow.
Obviously, unlike Daniel Larison, I am much too intellectually honest to engage in the notorious pastime of “insulting upward.” (And Daniel, really. Your blog used to be good and now it is starting to suck, because you are turning into a pundit. I’m sure you are quite aware that it is an astonishing abuse of history to describe Hegel, who really made no distinction at all between God, himself, and the State, as a “moderately liberal constitutional monarchist.” Nor is this an isolated misdemeanor. If you could just stop cruelly mocking Jonah, who is not as smart as you and doesn’t deserve to be treated this way, they would probably let you onto the Corner, where I’m beginning to think you’d fit in perfectly.)
In any case. Enough of this bitchery. Let’s talk about Goldberg’s “liberal fascism.”
In the first place, is there any such thing as liberal fascism? Is it even responsible to use this phrase? Does it make any more sense than, say, “rhinoceros apartheid”? We know there are rhinoceri, we know there was apartheid, and we know that the government of Vorster and Botha maintained a strict policy of segregating black and white rhinos. In order to use such a phrase with a straight face, however, we have to demonstrate some kind of an actual connection between the two phenomena—preferably exceeding the level of a pun.
I can certainly imagine how Goldberg goes from Hegel to fascism, and how he goes from Hegel to liberalism. But Whole Foods? It baffles me, it really does—especially since the CEO of Whole Foods is a well-known libertarian. And in any case, you can go from Newton to fascism and Newton to liberalism. This does not make fascists liberals, liberals fascists, or either of them deist alchemist-Bibliolatrists.
For example, I think most people would agree that one important component of fascism is an association between a political movement and racist paramilitary gangs, such as the squadristi in Italy or the Sturmabteilung in Germany. Heck, even Stalin was a bank robber.
If there is such a thing as “liberal fascism,” where is the liberal SA? I mean, I live in San Francisco, which, if liberals are fascists, pretty much has to be the liberal Fiume or Munich. And yes—leather legwear is oddly popular here. But I haven’t noticed any torchlight marches, nobody seems to be being dosed with castor oil, and political opponents of Gavin Newsom, Chris Daly or Bruce Brugmann are seldom found floating bound and gagged in the Bay.
In fact, liberalism is deeply involved with racist paramilitary gangs. Like both Mussolini and Hitler, liberals used the gangs to come to power and have since mostly abandoned them. However, links still remain, especially to Third World gangsters.
We (“as a society,” as a liberal might say) have just agreed not to notice this fact. Not because it’s debatable in any way, shape or form, but simply because it’s too upsetting.
The most famous of the liberals’ racist paramilitary gangs was, of course, the Black Panthers. But there were many others, such as the Black Muslims (who once tried to ethnically cleanse San Francisco) the Blackstone Rangers and Latin Kings in Chicago, the Young Lords in New York, and so on. There were of course white gangs as well, such as the SLA, although they were not white nationalist but anti-white nationalist. The classic story of the relationship is Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic, though of course if one is so inclined one can also read David Horowitz.
In the period perhaps best described as the Hippie Coup (featuring wonderfully Orwellian incidents such as that famous peace rally, the Days of Rage), liberals deployed the racist gangs as political weapons, adding a little kick to their Gramscian march through the institutions. The idea was simply to intimidate their “Establishment” enemies, who were of course just the previous generation of cryptocalvinists, by offering them a choice between surrender and chaos. Few found the choice difficult—the capture of Yale by the Panthers is typical. The Hippie Coup, which is the origin of the Polygon as we know it today, was a sort of generational autogolpe by the Brahmin elite against itself.
One of today’s leading liberal politicians was involved with the Panthers’ attack on Yale. Hint: it ain’t Hegel.
As in both Fascism and National Socialism, direct links between politicians and gangs in the course of the Hippie Coup lasted only as long as it took to seize power. Of course the gangs are still around, and of course they are still politically protected. (I think it goes without saying that racist paramilitary gangs are not a normal element of a healthy society, but I’ll say it anyway.) And there are presumably some links. If Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright don’t know any gang leaders, I’m sure they know people who do. But the gangs have served their purpose—they are no longer deployed as political weapons to intimidate the opponents of liberalism. There is no need for any such crudity in our new “post-partisan” era.
The most significant surviving remnants of the hippies’ paramilitary wing are the racist-studies programs, which no official university is now without. Establishing these centers of so-called learning was one of the main demands of the Hippie Coup, and not without reason. They now serve as cadre training programs, dedicating most of America’s most talented minorities to careers in social activism, i.e., working as political soldiers for the Polygon. However, since the rise of what Wolfe called Mau-Mauing (I prefer the South African term, toyi-toyi), actual physical violence is almost never necessary. The racist-studies cadre are also available to make trouble on campus when a Larry Summers or the like needs to be gotten rid of. Again, castor oil is not required, as we have long since learned that offering any resistance to any kind of a mob is incompatible with our great American tradition of civil liberties.
However, we can see the liberal-gangster alliance in its active, reproducing phase when we look at ties from liberals in the US and Europe, to gangsters in the Third World.
Your basic definition of a Third World country is that it’s a country run by racist gangsters. The “para” drops off the “military.” Robert Mugabe, for example, is a racist gangster, and the longstanding links between him and the World Council of Churches are typical of this bizarre, yet strangely rational, alliance. Presumably if Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton had ever succeeded in establishing a Panther republic in North America, as many quite sensible people once thought they would (the closest thing was really Marion Barry’s Chocolate City), it would have resembled the regimes established by the period’s many other “liberation fronts.”
But it gets worse. Last weekend there was a wonderfully illustrative front-page essay, which I really hope does not disappear behind a firewall, in the Wall Street Journal. The essay was by one Lucette Lagnado, adapted from her new book, and it was called Searching for My Father’s Lost City.
This article really must be read to be believed. Because I’m afraid the link will break, I will quote bits of it here. These bits are simply not credible on their own, however, and if I read them out of context I would have to assume they were taken out of context.
Okay, brief history of modern Egypt: captured by Napoleon in 1798, by the British in 1801, administered by the latter for the next 150 years, during which it became a charming and extremely multicultural Levantine entrepôt—see, for example, Lawrence Durrell. I know it sounds bizarre, but ordinary people could just move there and live an ordinary productive life in which they had no thought of being shot, blown up or shredded on the street by rampaging nationalist mobs. Apparently this was called “colonialism.”
All this changed in 1952, when the British Empire was disintegrating, and the peaceful monarchy of King Farouk—who, thanks to Hunter S. Thompson, I always envision in a huge white convertible—was overthrown by gunfire, explosions, and rampaging nationalist mobs. Naturally, all right-thinking people in the West, who felt about colonialists pretty much the way Eldridge Cleaver felt about white people, applauded this liberation, which was essentially a racist pogrom in which everyone not of Arab descent was forced to leave the country or die. The result being the liberated paradise that is Egypt today.
One of the families driven out with baggage alone was Lucette Lagnado’s. Her family was Jewish, probably Salonican Sephardic by the name. (Many Salonican Jews moved to Egypt during the century-and-a-half that Britain kept the peace there, not least because they were driven out by the charming Greek nationalist gangs whom previous generations of British liberals had chosen to sponsor. Of course, the mandate in Egypt was not run by Byrons and Shelleys, but by loyal Optimates like Lord Cromer, whose views on the “liberation of Iraq” I’m sure would be grimly hilarious.)
Lagnado opens her piece thus:
As my car pulled into Suleiman Pasha Square in the heart of downtown Cairo, I spotted it immediately—Groppi’s, the patisserie that was really so much more: A palace of pleasure, the hub of elegant European social life, the city at its most vibrant and cosmopolitan. It seemed exactly as I remembered it when I’d last seen it as a little girl more than 40 years earlier, its name in that charming old-fashioned scrawl, the entrance covered by colorful mosaics and, inside, the same cool, high-ceilinged, marble elegance and pale pink walls.
Or maybe not the same.
The shelves were almost bare. No one stood in line at the ancient cash register. The few trays of pastries, which seemed neither French nor Middle Eastern, looked thoroughly unappetizing. The dining area had dozens of tables and almost no diners.
I was only six when my family left Egypt in 1963, among tens of thousands of Jews forced to leave in a modern-day exodus. After we fled, first to Paris then New York, I grew up on a diet of stories about our lost life. Many featured Groppi’s: Part pastry-shop, part paradise, a favorite of kings, colonialists and privileged Cairenes.
Now, Groppi’s was like the rest of Cairo—a museum to a bygone era.
She then works through the history. Her take is a little different from mine:
Egypt’s efforts to chart an economic and political course separate from old colonial powers was important, many Egyptians believe, for the country to purge itself of foreigners whose influence and power were seen as oppressive. It was necessary for the country to pursue its own destiny.
I swear, folks, I do not make this stuff up. (On my last post one commenter, with tongue in cheek I hope, accused me of passing off a juicy bit of Mein Kampf as Rousseau. Au contraire, mon frere. But then again, there’s a reason Jimmy Page sounds like Robert Johnson.)
For anyone who has serious difficulty with the obvious, you can try pasting Lagnado’s essay into Notepad and replacing the word “Egypt” with “Germany”:
In January 1952, in what became known as “Black Saturday,” angry crowds rushed through the streets of fashionable downtown Cairo torching all the symbols of luxury and foreign excess: department stores, cinemas, airline offices, banks, restaurants, private clubs and hotels. Among the victims: Shepheard’s, Groppi’s and Cinema Metro. They had made the average Cairene feel like a stranger in his own land, because for those who were neither foreign nor rich nor Jewish much of the city – even a patisserie like Groppi’s—was off limits. The vast majority of Egyptians never felt welcome and most couldn’t afford it.
I ask you, reader: is there anything you can’t afford? Is there anywhere you don’t feel welcome? Have you ever rushed through the streets torching these symbols of luxury? Not to mention foreign excess? Of course, you’re probably not an Arab. I hear they’re excitable.
Fortunately, idealism and rent control come to the rescue:
Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leader of the coup, took over in 1954 and set out to remake Egypt. Neither foreigners nor Jews were welcome—even those who were born there or had lived there for decades. They were forced out as Nasser nationalized industries, sequestered businesses and put military people in charge. Driven in part by idealism, he instituted land reforms that took land away from the rich and imposed rent control laws to protect the poor.
There’s only a small downside to this liberation of the Egyptian people:
Within a space of 19 years, nearly all of Egypt’s 80,000 Jews left. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans also fled—British and French who were ordered out, as well as others who held foreign passports and had no choice but to leave because they had been stripped of their businesses and livelihood.
One upon a time, Cairo had more than 30 working synagogues, along with dozens of small “shuls” where men gathered to pray and study. There were Jewish schools, nursing homes, an Hôpital Israelite and a vast ancient Jewish cemetery where mystics were buried. These days, only about a dozen synagogues are left in Cairo and most lie vacant and neglected. The cemetery has been plundered of most marble headstones, so that it is almost impossible to identify graves of loved ones.
What’s a little grave-robbing after 150 years of tyrannical Judeo-British oppression?
In Egypt, the Jews’ departure went hand in hand with the ouster of foreigners who had settled years earlier and turned Cairo into a capital of all-night cafes and open-air cinemas, where it was possible to hear people conversing in four or five languages—French, English, Italian, Greek, Arabic—in the same breath. According to Khairi Abaza, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as many as a million Europeans once called Egypt home, every bit as much as Paris or London or Athens. Their influence was profound: From British clubs and legendary hotels like Shepheards with its graceful terrace to elegant streets and buildings designed to resemble Parisian boulevards and cafes that served Greek appetizers. The French, about 40,000 strong, were intent on spreading their culture. French became the second language for privileged Egyptians. A large community of Greeks, numbering from 200,000–400,000, prospered in the food and hospitality business, running hotels and selling groceries, wine and liquor. There were also 100,000–150,000 Italians who specialized in import-export, accounting or finance. A Belgian industrialist helped build the swank suburb of Heliopolis. About 100,000 Armenians lived in Egypt, and many distinguished themselves as craftsmen and merchants. Then there were Jewish entrepreneurs like my father.
Ah, multiculturalism. But there was a dark underside to this paradise of diversity:
Many ordinary Egyptians were mired in poverty, cut off from the cafes and nightlife. Beggars roamed the streets.
But Nasser fixed that! Oh, no, wait, he didn’t:
Economically, the decline relative to other countries has been steep. In 1950, prior to the revolution, Egypt’s per capita income was 80% that of Greece’s and 45% of Italy’s; now, says Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a nonprofit think tank, Egypt has 11% of Greece’s per capita income, and 6% of Italy’s.
But at least ordinary Egyptians aren’t cut off from the cafes and nightlife. Or, at least, Yehia El-Gamal isn’t:
“No Egyptian would like the colonial powers to come back to Cairo – either British or French. We struggled for our independence,” says Yehia El-Gamal, an attorney and law professor in Cairo who first came to the city in the 1940s.
Great Britain’s constant interference in Egyptian politics fueled this rising tide of nationalism—a sense by the average Egyptian that they weren’t the masters of their fate. Egyptians, says Mr. Abaza, who comes from a family of politicians, “felt humiliated,” and resented the fact that the British had been trying to control the political processes since the 19th century.
In other news, the Pope is Catholic and bears are frequently seen shitting in the woods. Someday Westerners will learn that what matters about a government is what it does, and what doesn’t matter is the race, creed, color, sexual preference, or country of origin of its employees. Unfortunately, I suspect we may have to learn it the hard way. Egypt sure did.
The ending is most precious of all. Heedless of the copyright mafia, I paste at length:
From the moment I got off the plane at Cairo International Airport, I wanted to go to Queen Nazli Street, to the house where I was born.
No one called it Queen Nazli Street anymore. After the 1952 revolution, Cairo’s streets were renamed to eliminate any mention of the monarchy. Stately King Fuad Street became known as “26th of July Street,” the day of the revolution. Queen Nazli Street was named Ramses Street, after the old pharaoh. My family like so many others always used the old name.
My father had moved to Queen Nazli Street as a bachelor in 1938, renting a spacious ground-floor apartment. He brought my mom there when they married in the 1940s. A handsome movie star lived upstairs, a popular heartthrob of the Egyptian cinema. My family paid three Egyptian pounds, or $6.90, a month. The front entrance was as imposing as I remembered it, though graffiti marred the building’s facade. I pushed the door open and found myself in a dark, dingy hallway with a large staircase. Glancing at the stairs, I noticed with a sinking feeling how dusty and broken down they were. The walls were filthy.
I knocked on the door marked #2—my home—and almost immediately, a man answered. It was Wageeh Androus, the son of the amiable Coptic Christian couple that took over our lease in 1963. His father had died a few years earlier, but Wageeh still lived there with his aging mother. Mother and son told me they were paying 20 Egyptian pounds, $3.50 or so, in monthly rent. The low rent reflects the continued grip of Egypt’s rent-control laws, even as Cairo’s population has exploded from six million in 1965 shortly after I left to about 16 million today.
The apartment seemed worn but much as I’d remembered it. The Androus family told me an old woman upstairs, known as Om Sayeda (“Mother Sayeda”), wanted to meet me. She had been living in the building for more than 60 years and had known my family.
I knocked on the door and found an old woman seated in a velvet arm chair, a frail, regal figure with her hair swept under a white head covering. I went over to shake her hand, but she reached out to embrace me instead, her arms wrapping around me as she kissed both my cheeks, and brought me close to her chest.
“You look exactly like your mother,” she declared. “You are the same as I remember her.”
The old woman herself rose and beckoned me to join her at a balcony which she clearly loved with its ornate canopy and panoramic views of Queen Nazli Street.
As I prepared to leave, Om Sayeda suddenly shouted: “Wait.” I stopped to look at her.
“I am old and I am lonely,” she cried. “There is only me and my daughter here, and I have so many rooms.”
“Why don’t you stay?” she said. “Why don’t you move in here? You can have any room you want,” she added.
I looked at her, stunned. I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance to move back to Queen Nazli Street.
I didn’t take her up on her offer. But when I ran to embrace the old woman, and she took both my hands in hers, I understood my father and his lament, “Ragaouna Masr,” take us back to Cairo.
Groppi’s, Queen Nazli Street, Cairo—they hadn’t simply been places, but a state of mind. They were home—filled with mercy and compassion, tenderness and grace, those qualities that make and keep us human.
Those qualities that make and keep us human! “I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance…”
Try and complete that sentence with the aid of a little counterfactual history. “I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance to move back to the Horst-Wessel-Strasse.” Or change both nationalities. “I, a Mexican Catholic, was being offered a chance to move back to Dolores Street.” We are so far from Planet Reality that we may simply choose to live out our lives here, in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud.
It is not just that Lagnado does not form, or even sympathize with, the Alexandrian Liberation Front, whose suicide-bombers regularly self-detonate in Egyptian mass-transit facilities, demanding a “right of return.” It is that she actually thinks the destruction of civilization in Egypt by racist mobs and military gangsters, and the expulsion of her family and herself, was a good thing. (One wonders if her father feels the same way.)
Clearly, the American educational system has done a real number on Ms. Lagnado. Maybe she went to Yale. After all, it takes a village to raise a child…