If not Jew and White, then which?
It is a curious fact that in the Current Year, the Alt Right understands the Jews better than the Jews understand themselves. While legions of ersatz Larry Davids and Brooklyn-accented Californian soccer moms gather in the hallways of the ADL to issue hollow, self-abnegating proclamations that what it is to be a Jew is to be a refugee (1,2),it is only the purported anti-Semites who share the common sense of Herzl in recognizing that the Jews are “a people – one people” (3).
Richard Spencer took this point for granted when, at a recent press conference, he suggested that it would be an insult to call a Jew a European, for to call him a European would be to deny him his heritage (4). To call a Jew a European, on Spencer’s view, is to cut him off from his people, and to suggest that Jews will form a part of a future pan-European ethnostate is do an injustice to the destiny and struggle of the Jews as much as to the struggle and destiny of the Europeans.
Spencer’s view presupposes, of course, that Jewish identity cannot be an instance of European identity in the same way that French identity, for example, is. If this is right, then it must be the case that Jewish identity and European identity are in fact incompatible in such a way that to identify as a Jew is to link oneself to an entirely different people and history than the people and history to which one links oneself in identifying as a European.
There is good reason to think that Spencer is right on this count. To identify oneself as a Jew is to think of oneself as an historical heir to the kingdoms of David and Solomon; it is to think of oneself as kin to Judah Maccabeus, and as having a share in that same historical struggle for independence for which he is remembered; to identify as a Jew is to make the Six-Day War both one’s Thermopylae and one’s Gaugamela. To identify as a Jew is not, however, to think of oneself as kin to Charlemagne and Richard the Lionheart, nor is it to think of oneself as the heir to the dominions of Caesar and Pericles. To attempt to identify oneself both as a Jew and yet also with these hallmarks of European identity would be to identify with such a scattered and confused history that one’s own identity would indeed become incoherent.
Hence, Spencer is right to suggest that Jewish identity and European identity cannot simultaneously be held. In this respect, his position is not unlike that of many of the great figures of Zionism, who recognized early on that no assimilation into European society would be possible in which Jews still maintained their identity as Jews. Indeed, Herzl took this position implicitly himself: when reminded that many European Jews considered themselves assimilated Frenchman, Germans, Austrians and so forth, and on that basis would not leave their adoptive homelands for the land of Israel, Herzl admonished those Jews to mind their own business – “this is a private affair,” he wrote, “for the Jews alone” (5). The implicature is clear: one is either a Jew and a Jew alone, or not a Jew at all.
But the conclusion warranted by this sort of reasoning is no more than the one stated above: that no individual who identifies simultaneously as a Jew and a European can maintain a coherent racial identity. Ironically, this very fact may indeed bring the Jews closer than they would otherwise be to their European neighbors, the overwhelming majority of whom no longer wish to have a coherent racial identity. So it stands, at least, in the Current Year. But in the Coming Year, as Jew (6) and gentile (7) alike have noted, we shall all face the dire need to adopt a coherent racial identity. And Spencer’s Herzlian conclusion is silent on the matter of which identity the Jews may adopt.
For while no individual Jew may adopt both a Jewish and a European identity, and it is clear that he is entitled to adopt a Jewish one, it is not clear that he is not entitled to adopt a European one instead, should he so chose. Two millennia of cohabitation in Europe have linked the Ashkenazi Jews of the West to their European neighbors in remarkably close ways. The Ashkenazim are, in terms of genetic similarity, as close to many Italians as they are to their Jewish compatriots from the East (8), and recent genetic studies suggest that nearly half of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is European in origin. Their traditional cuisine, dress, language and music are those of Eastern Europe, and the history and mythology of Europe are ingrained into their culture as well as any other. Their contributions to European arts, science, and letters are innumerable: the best music written in the Protestant American spirit is that of (((Aaron Copland))); in the past century, the most influential philosopher in the Greco-Roman tradition was none other than (((Ludwig Wittgenstein))); the existence of serious psychological study of the hereditary determinants of IQ, that darling of the Alt Right, is owed in large part to (((Noam Chomsky))).
Pace Spencer, then, to call a Western Jew a European is not to insult him, for his genetic, cultural, and intellectual heritage are so closely and intricately linked to those of Europeans as to be nearly inextricable. It is, at worst, an honest mistake. For while Jews can accept the validity of Spencer’s Herzlian claim, this will not prevent them from feeling a deep affinity with the European people and their history and identity. Jews in the West have inherited a tortured, confused, and two-sided heritage, and it is the tortured burden of each Jew to decide which one side of this inheritance he is to claim. But any Jew who earnestly chooses to identify himself as a European, and no longer as a Jew, should not face any obstacle in doing so. As for us Jews, who must content ourselves to partake in European civilization from the sideline, we will say the kaddish on his behalf.