This is how the right shapes the debate: yes, that letter to The Wall Street Journal in which venture capitalist Thomas Perkins described attacks on the 1% as Nazi-esque was widely mocked, and it seemed as if we'd all agreed that his harangue was ovwer the top and ridiculous. But the Journal editorial page isn't backing down -- the right is going to inject this idea into the debate come hell or high water, working it until Jake Tapper or Ruth Marcus or Matt Bai is seriously asking, "Is attacking the 1% like attackling the Jews in Hitler's Germany?" So today the Journal editorial page gives us Harvard's Ruth R. Wisse saying that we can laugh all we want, but critics of increasing economic inequality are actually worse than Hitler:
... is there something to be said for [Perkins's] comparison -- not of Germany and the United States, of course, but of the politics at work in the two situations? The place to begin is at the starting point: with the rise of anti-Semitism....If I'm reading that right, Wisse is saying that, yeah, Hitler was awful, but he didn't arise in a vacuum -- it was that dirty hippie Wilhelm Marr who created Hitler's ideology; Hitler just practiced what Marr preached. So if you're looking for someone to blame for the Holocaust, don't just blame the actual Nazis -- blame Marr, who sounds an awful lot like a certain movement I could mention that really, really likes drum circles.
The German political activist Wilhelm Marr, originally a man of the left, organized a movement in the 1870s that charged Jews with using their skills "to conquer Germany from within." ...
These were some of its typical ploys: Are you unemployed? The Jews have your jobs. Is your family mired in poverty? The Rothschilds have your money. Do you feel more insecure in the city than you did on the land? The Jews are trapping you in factories and charging you exorbitant rents.
... though the origins of modern anti-Semitism may be traced to Germany, anti-Semitism itself remains sui generis and cannot be simply conflated with either Germany or Hitler. True, the latter gained power on a platform of anti-Semitism and then proceeded to put his Final Solution into effect, but the modern organization of politics against the Jews is independent of Nazism....
From there Wisse's argument degenerates further, into group slander. Because some lefties have exhibited signs of anti-Semitism (and opposition to the settlements counts as anti-Semitic), any and all lefties who critique the wealthy -- some of whom, after all, are Jews -- can be presumed guilty of anti-Semitism, even though anti-Semitism is just the tip of the iceberg:
The parallel that Tom Perkins drew in his letter was especially irksome to his respondents on the left, many of whom are supporters of President Obama's sallies against Wall Street and the "one percent." These critics might profitably consult Robert Wistrich, today's leading historian of anti-Semitism. His "From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel" (2012) documents the often profound anti-Semitism that has affected socialists and leftists from Karl Marx to today's anti-Israel movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions. It was Marx who said, "The bill of exchange is the Jew's actual god," putting a Jewish face on capitalism and accusing both Judaism and capitalism of converting man and nature into "alienable and saleable objects."It doesn't matter if you never utter a racist word, because just grumbling about inequality and the increasing wealth of the rich risks setting off a Holocaust:
Herein lies one structural connection between a politics of blame directed specifically at Jews and a politics of grievance directed against "the rich." ...
I say this not only, and not even primarily, because some of those beneficiaries happen also to be Jews.
The ranks of those harping on "unfairly" high earners include figures in American political life at all levels who have been entrusted with the care of our open society; in channeling blame for today's deep-rooted and seemingly intractable problems toward the beneficiaries of that society's competitive freedoms, they are playing with fire....Y'know, I can think of a big movement right now "that is organized negatively -- against rather than for":
My point is broader: Stoking class envy is a step in a familiar, dangerous and highly incendiary process. Any ideology or movement, right or left, that is organized negatively -- against rather than for -- enjoys an inherent advantage in politics, mobilizing unappeasable energies that never have to default on their announced goal of cleansing the body politic of its alleged poisons.
I look forward to Wisse's Wall Street Journal op-ed denouncing the tea party, though I'm not holding my breath.
I learn from Wisse's Wikipedia page that in 2010 she defended Marty Peretz (again on the Wall Street Journal editorial page) when a Harvard speech of his was canceled after he wrote in a blog post, "Muslim life is cheap, especially to other Muslims." (Wisse holds a chair at Harvard endowed by and named after Peretz.) Wisse herself has described Palestinians as "people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery." Also, in 1997, she wrote this:
Women's Liberation, if not the most extreme, then certainly the most influential neo-Marxist movement in America, has done to the American home what communism did to the Russian economy, and most of the ruin is irreversible. By defining between men and women in terms of power and competition instead of reciprocity and co-operation, the movement tore apart the most basic and fragile contract in human society, the unit from which all other social institutions draw their strength.But she's a Harvard professor, not some hack pundit, so the Beltway hacks will pause and ask themselves whether Attention Must Be Paid. The right is very, very good at setting or altering the terms of the debate this way, especially when liberals and Democrats aren't fighting back very hard; expect to see a serious reconsideration of this Occupy = Hitler meme very soon.