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The Nazis’ Supernatural Obsession Eric Kurlander provides an exhaustive examination of the supernatural history of the Third Reich. By Andrew Stuttaford

Adolf Hitler once argued that National Socialism represented “a cool and highly reasoned approach to reality based on the greatest of scientific knowledge and its spiritual expression.” If there are any people foolish enough still to fall for that, they will not enjoy this book. While the enthusiasm of some Nazi leaders, most notoriously Himmler, for the occult has been a staple of pop culture and the more disreputable corners of historical “investigation” for years, Eric Kurlander’s book, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, shows that many others felt much the same way.

Kurlander depicts a Third Reich in which, despite uneven and often ambiguous efforts to rein them in, seers, magicians, and psychics flourished. Buddha was drafted into the master race, parapsychology “so long as it comported with ‘Nordic-Germanic feeling’” was recognized as legitimate, and the grounds were laid for an “Ario-Germanic” national religion as a syncretic (it wouldn’t all be Wotan) “substitute for Christianity.” Meanwhile, charlatan-historians and charlatan-folklorists hunted for proof that large swathes of Europe were part of an ancestral German homeland, charlatan-archeologists searched for evidence of “the Nordic origins of Asian civilization,” charlatan-doctors worked on monstrous human experiments, and charlatan-scientists struggled to develop weapons designed to draw on mysterious untapped electromagnetic forces. This arsenal was intended to include death rays, sound weapons, and anti-gravity devices — an absurdity and a waste made all the more grotesque by the contrast with the remarkably sophisticated technology successfully deployed by Germany during the war.

If the magical weapons proved harmless, the same cannot be said of the mix of superstition and pseudoscience that ran through the Nazis’ thinking about race, a mix that goes some way to accounting for both the intensity of their anti-Semitism and the meticulousness of the slaughter that followed. “Traditional” anti-Semitism rested on a distrust of difference reinforced by religious and then economic resentment. It generated exclusion, violence, and, as time went by, increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories. But the notion of Jews as perpetual enemies of an advanced “Aryan” race was a fairly new confection, dating back only to the mid 19th century.

Kurlander is an excellent guide to the complex and often conflicting “histories” of the Aryans’ origins, versions of which featured sex with angels, God-men from Tibet, a descent from heaven, moons made of ice crashing into the earth (the weirdly popular “World Ice Theory,” in which Hitler was one of numerous believers), and much more besides. These narratives also incorporated tales of a fall: The original Aryans had been scattered. Their racial integrity had been diluted by intermingling with “lesser breeds.” They had been preyed upon by — whom else? — the Jews, routinely smeared as parasitic and as a disease but also in terms that sometimes appeared to be more than metaphor: Hitler dubbed Jews the children of the devil and believed that forestalling the “Jewish apocalypse was our duty, our God-given mission.”

Gotham Crime Story The long history of policing in New York City has many surprises and lessons for today. Clark Whelton

Bruce Chadwick begins his fascinating, data-packed history of “law and disorder” in mid-nineteenth century New York City with a gripping account of the anti-abolitionist riot of 1834. A mix-up over the use of a chapel on Chatham Street for a gathering of black leaders and abolitionists led to an all-out attack by several hundred anti-abolitionists. Slavery was legal in New York State until 1827, and thousands of city residents had been sorry to see it go. The abolitionists, however, gave no ground.

For four days, rioters swept back and forth across the city, which at that time stretched from the Battery to 14th Street. Seven churches and a school for black children were burned. The Bowery Theater was heavily damaged. Businesses and houses went up in flames, and the homes of prominent abolitionist leaders were sacked and looted.

In the midst of the furious mob, vainly attempting to bring the rampage under control, was the city’s feeble company of constables. Untrained, unarmed, and unpaid, these political appointees in plainclothes worked for rewards and bonuses, and for the bribes they received from the city’s underworld; some constables even served as procurers in the city’s flesh trade. These amateur officers were good at making money and many lived in style, but they were not good at enforcing the law. Mayor Cornelius Lawrence summoned the state militia, which arrived on horseback. The militiamen warned the mob to disperse, then opened fire: several people were killed and dozens wounded, ending the riot.

For the City of New York, however, an unprecedented wave of crime and chaos had just begun. In 1835, a close mayoral election sent political gangs storming down Broadway. In 1837, a mob protesting reports of profiteering threw 500 barrels of flour into the street. Almost any rabble-rousing tale of injustice could bring hordes of irate “rogues and rascals” streaming through Manhattan. Rumors that an English actor had insulted America filled the streets with incensed New Yorkers, for whom rioting had become a patriotic duty.

In the 1820s, New York’s newspapers turned up their noses at graphic stories of crime, sin, and degradation. All that changed with the arrival of Scottish immigrant James Gordon Bennett and his penny newspaper, the New York Herald. Bennett seized on the gruesome ax murder of a prostitute to introduce a new form of crusading journalism. Instead of brief news items, Bennett published lengthy interviews with hookers and madams, scandalizing respectable New Yorkers—and tripling the Herald’s circulation. Following Bennet’s lead, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and nine other dailies joined the battle for newsstand dominance. Not unlike their modern tabloid descendants, they all claimed to be shocked by the lurid crime stories of rape and robbery that were making them rich, and they all called for a larger, better-trained police force.

But the need for cops outpaced the supply. About 70 percent of immigrants to America landed in New York. Some 30,000 a year were arriving from Ireland alone, causing a dramatic shift in religious and cultural demographics that soon raised Catholic-Protestant tensions to a boiling point. Churches were burned, and the home of Bishop John Hughes was partly destroyed by an anti-Catholic mob. Ethnic and religious firebrands egged the rioters on.

The new immigrants crowded into squalid and dangerous wards like Five Points, a notorious intersection of five streets where Columbus Park stands in Chinatown today. So infamous was this warren of alleys and passageways that, in 1842, a darkly curious Charles Dickens insisted on seeing the wicked slum for himself.

More police, better training, better weapons (such as Samuel Colt’s new revolver), and putting the cops into uniform had little effect on the crime rate. Rioters continued to rule the streets and murders went unsolved. Hotheads and agitators still found it easy to manipulate volatile crowds, and the state militia still replied in kind. When a longstanding feud between two actors brought 10,000 demonstrators to the area around the old Astor Opera House at Lafayette and East 8th Streets, the police lost control. The militia was called. Warning shots were fired. Rocks and bottles flew. A volley was then aimed directly into the crowd. At least 25 people were killed, and a hundred injured. When the anti-draft riots swept the city 14 years later, President Lincoln had to order federal troops to quell the violence.


Tuvia Tenenbom, that most acute and incendiary observer of what’s festering beneath the surface of polite society, has turned his attention to Germany’s “refugees”. To his surprise and no little dismay, what he has found out is not so much about these migrants but about Germany itself, and it isn’t pretty at all.http://www.melaniephillips.com/hello-refugees/

In his new book Hello Refugees, he adopts his now familiar but no less devastating tactic of trading on his blond hair, Falstaffian girth and indeterminate accent to conceal the fact that he was born and brought up in an ultra-orthodox family in Israel. He derives his unique insights from the fact that many of those to whom he addresses his faux-naïf but devastatingly direct questions assume he is an antisemite — just like them. And so they open up to him in a uniquely frank manner.

In Hello Refugees “Toby the German”, his previous persona, has become “Toby the Jordanian”. Posing as the son of Jordanian and European parentage, he uses his fluent Arabic to gain access to refugee camps in Germany where access is routinely denied to the media.

What he discovers shocks him deeply. He finds migrants effectively warehoused in wholly inadequate conditions, housed twelve to a “room” in what are no more than, and indeed described as, “containers”. Existing on disgusting food, jobless and with no apparent means of emerging from these holding pens, these migrants have in effect been abandoned by the German state.

Everywhere he goes, people tell him the same thing: that Chancellor Angela Merkel famously invited in more than one million migrants in order to erase the moral stain of Germany’s Nazi past. He concludes that this was not an act of conscience. How could it have been when these people have been left so abandoned? It was instead a move to show the world — and themselves — that this former Nazi state has become the world’s conscience. In other words, it was a cynical move that evacuates the word conscience of all meaning.

Worse than that, Tenenbom also discovers that this public advertisement of collective “conscience” has legitimised and provoked open antisemitism. Repeatedly and gratuitously, Germans tell him that they are now morally superior to the Jews and to the State of Israel which is described as uniquely racist and murderous.

He doesn’t get any of this from the Syrian refugees or other migrants. He gets it only from the Germans. He finds that “anti-racist”, “human rights” activists extolling Germany’s humanitarian gesture and calling for yet more refugees to be allowed in are in fact deep-dyed racists and antisemites.

Tenenbom knew already that Germany is still teeming with Jew-hatred; he has remorselessly chronicled this dismal finding in his previous work. But now, he tells me, it’s much more open and brazen. And that, he says, is because the act of taking in the migrants has allowed Germany to feel it has finally shaken off the stigma of its past. Now it is free to hate Jews again.

Ian Buruma: A Jihad Apologist at the Helm of the New York Review of Books By Bruce Bawer

The New York Review of Books was founded during a newspaper strike in 1963 and was edited by Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers until her death in 2006, then edited solely by Silvers until he died earlier this year. Throughout its existence, it’s been the object of obsequious praise. I never got it. From the time I was in college, wandering the aisles of the library’s periodicals section and excitedly perusing one literary journal after another, I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for the NYRB. It somehow managed to make everything dull: with few exceptions (Gore Vidal, Joan Didion), the articles all read as if they were written by some fusty old Oxbridge don who was also what the Brits call a champagne socialist.

Tom Wolfe, in his famous 1970 essay “Radical Chic,” called the NYRB “[t]he chief theoretical organ of Radical Chic.” In 1967, it printed a diagram showing how to make a Molotov cocktail. Later it spun off a sister rag, the London Review of Books, which after 9/11 published what must have been one of the most reprehensible issues of a magazine ever to see print: the contributors all sought to outdo one another in blaming the terrorist attacks on U.S. imperialism and capitalism.

In The Last Intellectuals (1987), Russell Jaboby described the NYRB as a closed shop that kept publishing the same big-name leftists (Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, I.F. Stone, Tony Judt) and that ran so many British professors that it was redolent more of “Oxford teas rather than New York delis.” Also, it had no interest in developing younger talent. (I must have sensed that, because when I left grad school and started writing for New York literary journals, I don’t think I even tried the NYRB.) In a 2014 article, Jacoby raised a question: although Silvers, then eighty-four, had been “unwilling or unable to groom successors,” eventually “he will have to give up the reins, but when and who will take over?”

The answer came this year. Silvers died, presenting an opportunity to open the NYRB up to non-academic – and even non-leftist! – writers living on the far side of the Hudson. No such luck: it was soon announced that Silvers’s job would be filled by Ian Buruma, a Dutch-born Oxford fellow who is sixty-five and has been a NYRB writer since 1987. For me, above all, he’s the man who wrote Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (2006), pretty much the only book about the Islamization of Europe to receive the imprimatur of the New York literary establishment.

Buruma had been critical of Islam. But in Murder in Amsterdam, a survey of Dutch critics and defenders of Islam, he fell into total PC lockstep on the subject. It was a disgraceful display. As I put it in my own book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (2009), he strove “to make the supporters of jihadist butchery look sensitive, reflective, and reasonable, and to make people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali – who saw that butchery for what it was and who had no interest in trying to finesse it away – look inflexible, hard-nosed, and egoistic.”

He wrote about Hirsi Ali’s devotion to freedom as if it were a psychological disorder; for his part, he believed that the Netherlands should tacitly allow behavior on the part of Muslims – such as the oppression of Muslim women by Muslim men – that it would never accept from non-Muslims.

That book wasn’t the end of it: in 2007, the New York Times Magazine published a glowing profile by Buruma of Tariq Ramadan, the slippery champion of so-called “Euro-Islam.”

How a Democratic New York City Councilwoman Became a Crusader for School Choice Shocked by her firsthand experience of the city’s failing public schools, the author put her career on the line to do something about the problem. By Eva Moskowitz

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir. It is reprinted here with permission.

I was hopeful my Education Committee’s hearings would contribute to real changes in the teachers’-union contract, which had expired in May 2003 and was now being renegotiated. Throughout 2003 and 2004, the city held firm, refusing to sign a contract that preserved “lockstep pay, seniority, and life tenure,” which, said Chancellor of New York City Schools Joel Klein, were “handcuffs” that prevented him from properly managing the system. In June 2005, however, the United Federation of Teachers brought 20,000 teachers to a rally at Madison Square Garden, where Randy Weingarten demanded a new contract and Mayor Bloomberg’s prospective Democratic opponents in the upcoming mayoral election spoke. The message was obvious: Sign a new contract or we’ll back your Democratic opponent. In October, the city capitulated, signing a new contract with none of the fundamental reforms sought by Klein.

This development accelerated a shift in my views on public education. I already supported charter schools, but I’d nonetheless held the conventional view that most public schools would and should be district run. I’d begun, however, to question that view. Every year, more children attended charter schools and you didn’t have to be Einstein to see that there would come a day when most did if this trend continued. Maybe, I thought, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe a public-school system consisting principally of charter schools would be an improvement.

This change of heart wasn’t sudden. I didn’t go to sleep one night believing in traditional public schools and wake up the next morning believing in charters. Rather, my views on school choice evolved gradually from profound skepticism, to open-mindedness, to cautious support, and were the products of decades of experience with public schools as a student and then as an elected official.

At the very first school I attended, PS 36 in Harlem, I saw just how poorly some students were being educated. Through my work with Cambodian refugees in high school, I saw that good public education was largely reserved for those who could afford expensive housing. As a council member, I increasingly came to understand how the public-school system’s design contributed to segregation and inequality.

While it won’t come as news to most readers of this book that schools in poor communities tend to be worse, understand that there is a difference between reading about this in the newspaper or a book and coming face-to-face with a mother who is desperate because she knows her son isn’t learning anything at the failing school he is attending. Understand that there is a difference between knowing in the abstract that there are schools at which only 5 percent of the children are reading proficiently and actually visiting such a school and seeing hundreds of children who are just as precious to their parents as mine are to me but who you know won’t have a fair chance in life because of the inadequate education they are receiving. Firsthand experiences like these cause you to reexamine your views carefully, to make absolutely certain they aren’t based on faulty assumptions or prejudices or wishful thinking.

As a council member, I’d also become increasingly aware of the school system’s dysfunction. In this book, I’ve recounted some of what I saw: textbooks that arrived halfway through the school year; construction mishaps; forcing prospective teachers to waste half a day getting fingerprinted. Know, however, that these are just a few selected examples of a mountain of evidence that came to my attention from 100 hearings, 300 school visits, and thousands of parent complaints that came to me as chair of the Education Committee.

Moreover, even at their best, the district schools weren’t innovative or well run, a point made by the late Albert Shanker, who was head of the American Federation of Teachers:

Public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve; it more resembles the communist economy than our market economy.

While I was already convinced that the district schools weren’t in good shape, preparing for the contract hearings was nonetheless an eye-opener for me. Interviewing principals, superintendents, and teachers helped me understand just how impossible it was for them to succeed given the labor contracts, and how job protections created a vicious cycle. Teachers felt they’ve been dealt an impossible hand: their principal was incompetent or their students were already woefully behind or their textbooks hadn’t arrived or all of the above. They didn’t feel they should be held accountable for failing to do the impossible so they understandably wanted job protections. However, since these job protections made success even harder for principals who were already struggling with other aspects of the system’s dysfunctionality to achieve, they too wanted job protections. Nobody wanted to be held accountable in a dysfunctional system, but the system couldn’t be cured of its dysfunction until everyone was held accountable.

Some felt the problem was that the people entering the teaching profession tended to be weak, but I’d seen plenty of idealistic and intelligent teachers on my school visits. The system’s dysfunction, however, took its toll on them. Some became so dispirited or went to a suburban school; others burned out and became mediocre clock punchers; some heroically soldiered on, but even they barely became the teachers they could have been.

Others claimed the solution was to increase education funds and reduce class size. There are limits, however, to how much we can afford to spend on education, and it’s not clear it would make much of a difference anyway. Take PS 241, which is co-located with one of our schools. In the 2014–2015 school year, it had an average size of just 12.7 students and spent $4,239,478 on one hundred kids, $42,394 per student, but only two of those students passed the reading test that year.

In order to have any chance at fixing this system, I came to believe, we needed to radically change the labor contracts, which in turn required having elected officials who were willing to disagree with the United Federation of Teachers and stand up for children. I hoped to advance that goal by showing that even if you were independent of the United Federation of Teachers, you could survive politically. Obviously, that plan failed and the result was the opposite of what I’d hoped. Elected officials were more afraid of the United Federation of Teachers than ever and would tell Chancellor Klein, “I ain’t gonna get Eva’d.”

— Eva Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. She served on the New York City Council from 1999 to 2005. © 2017 HarperCollins Publishers

How Did Hillary Lose? Let Us Count the Ways By Rick Moran

We’ve been reading excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, for weeks now and the litany of excuses she’s made for her loss.

As it turns out, the book isn’t so much about “what happened” as it is about “who screwed me over.” But I don’t think that title would have been a best seller, even if it is more accurate.

Clinton appeared on CBS Sunday Morning and was interviewed by one of her friends, Jane Pauley. What makes this particular interview so valuable is that by watching it, we don’t have to go out and spend any money on her book. You can just watch the video and get the highlights.

How did Clinton cope with her loss?

Off I went, into a frenzy of closet cleaning, and long walks in the woods, playing with my dogs, and, as I write– yoga, alternate nostril breathing, which I highly recommend, tryin’ to calm myself down. And– you know, my share of Chardonnay.

So alternate nostril breathing and getting drunk. If it was me, I’d do a lot more of the latter than the former.

But how did Hillary lose the election? Let is count the ways.

1.The fact that I’m a woman did me in.

“I started the campaign knowing that I would have to work extra hard to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president,” she said. “It doesn’t fit into the– the stereotypes we all carry around in our head. And a lot of the sexism and the misogyny was in service of these attitudes. Like, you know, ‘We really don’t want a woman commander in chief.'”

If a single Republican or surrogate of Donald Trump had even hinted at that, they would have been tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail. Of the teeny tiny percentage of voters who cared that she was a woman, most supported her because of her sex.

2. White supremacism

“He was quite successful in referencing a nostalgia that would give hope, comfort, settle grievances, for millions of people who were upset about gains that were made by others because—” Clinton said.

“What you’re saying is millions of white people,” Pauley said.

“Millions of white people, yeah,” Clinton replied. “Millions of white people.”

3. The Russians were coming!

“The forces that were at work in 2016 were unlike anything that I’ve ever seen or read about. It was a perfect storm,” Clinton said.

4. Comey, Comey, Comey

“I don’t know quite what audience he was playing to, other than– maybe some, you know, right-wing commentators, right-wing members of Congress, whatever,” Clinton said.

A Grim Portrayal of Syria at War by Amir Taheri

The blurb of Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria presents the author, Nikolas Van Dam, as an experienced Dutch diplomat with a direct knowledge of the Middle East.

Having served as Holland’s Ambassador to Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, Van Dam also had a stint (in 2015-16) as his country’s Special Envoy for Syria. In that last assignment Van Dam monitored the situation from a base in neighboring Turkey.

Van Dam’s diplomatic background is clear throughout his book as he desperately tries, not always with success, to be fair to “all sides” which means taking no sides, while weaving arguments around the old cliché of “the only way out is through dialogue”.

Thus he is critical of Western democracies, which according to him, deceived the Syrian opposition by making promises to it, including military intervention, which they had no intention of delivering. He is especially critical of former US President Barack Obama who launched the mantra “Assad must go” and set “red line” which the Syrian despot ended up by crossing with impunity.

The first half of the book consists of a fast-paced narrative of Syrian history before the popular uprising started in the spring of 2011. The picture that emerges is that of a Syria in the throes of instability and frequent outburst of violence including sectarian conflict. Van Dam then juxtaposes that with Syria as it was reshaped under President Hafez al-Assad, who seized power in 1970, and his son and successor Bashar al-Assad.

“Under Hafez and Bashar, Syria experienced more internal security and stability than ever before since independence,” Van Dam asserts.

But isn’t Van Dam confusing terror with security and stagnation with stability?

Leaving aside the past six years that, according to Van Dam, have claimed almost half a million Syrian lives, the previous four decades of rule by the two Assads were anything but a model of security and stability. In all those years, Syria lived under Emergency Rules while thousands were imprisoned and/or tortured and executed. The absence of genuine security and stability meant that the Ba’athist regime was unable to build the durable institutions of a modern state. That’s why Syrian society at large saw its creative energies stifled, something that none of the previous dictators, from Hosni a-Zaim onwards, had managed or, perhaps, even intended to do.

In other words, contrary to Van Dam’s assertion, the two Assads destroyed chances of Syria building the political, not to mention the ethical, infrastructure of genuine security and stability.

Van Dam tries to portray Syria as a society that had always been ridden by sectarian violence, and frequently refers to “the killing of Alawites” by Arab Sunni Muslims. However, the only example he cites is that of the mass murder of Alawite military cadets in Aleppo which took place during Hafez al-Assad’s rule. The biggest “mass killing” of that epoch was the week-long carnage of unarmed civilians by Assad’s troops in Hama in 1982 which, according to Van Dam, claimed up to 25,000 lives, almost all of them Arab Sunni Muslims.

Liberals, Shipwrecked Democrat Mark Lilla seeks an alternative to identity politics, but it’s a lonely quest.

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, by Mark Lilla (Harper, 160 pp., $24.99)

In his new book, Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla laments the phrase “speaking as an X.” Ubiquitous in academia for years, but now increasingly prevalent in general discourse, it is an introductory clause that

sets up a wall against questions, which by definition come from a non-X perspective. And it turns the encounter into a power relation: the winner of the argument will be whoever has invoked the morally superior identity and expressed the most outrage at being questioned. So classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means there is no impartial space for dialogue.

The passage makes plain what Lilla is up to—and up against. He wants the Democratic Party to abandon identity politics for the sake of its electoral viability. Effecting beneficial changes requires wielding power, he argues, and in democracies, securing power requires winning elections. In America—vast, diverse, and unruly—such victories can be secured only through “the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from [oneself] to join a common effort.” Lilla thus finds it necessary to instruct fellow Democrats that elections are neither prayer meetings nor therapy sessions nor seminars nor “teaching moments.”

What is identity politics? As a chapter epigraph, Lilla cites a statement from the Combahee River Collective, a 1970s group whose raison d’etre—black lesbians’ issues and perspectives were getting short shrift from existing civil rights, gay rights, and feminist organizations—sounds like a parody of the problem Lilla describes. “This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics,” the statement said. “We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.”

This rejection of the very idea of an impartial dialogue is, Lilla believes, how the noble legacy of “large classes of people—African-Americans, women—seeking to redress major historical wrongs by mobilizing and then working through our political institutions” gave way, by the 1980s, to “a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition.” Inherent in it is identitarians’ “disdain” for the “ordinary democratic politics” of “engaging with and persuading people unlike themselves” in favor of “delivering sermons to the unwashed from a raised pulpit.”

Rather than gratefully accept this enlightenment and path to redemption, however, the unwashed are likely to demand an identity politics of their own. “As soon as you cast an issue exclusively in terms of identity,” Lilla warns, “you invite your adversary to do the same.” Thus, Donald Trump’s victory and Lilla’s book, which grew out of a New York Times op-ed he wrote the week after the 2016 election. He was “sick and tired of noble defeats,” Lilla told interviewers then. Lilla’s article prompted many denunciations, the most venomous coming from a Columbia law professor who compared him, unfavorably, with David Duke.

Such reactions give strong reason to doubt that we will soon see a post- or anti-identity politics emerging the Democratic Party. And yet, an even stronger reason exists. The feasibility of Lilla’s project depends on the plausibility of his analysis. If identity politics is an affliction that happened to liberalism, as he sees it, then it’s realistic to activate Democratic antibodies to reject the pathogen. If, however, identity politics is a condition to which liberalism is inherently susceptible, or even disposed, then identity politics is not the Democrats’ problem but their destiny. Unfortunately for Lilla, the evidence points in this direction.

Something came between the New Deal Democratic Party, summoned to pride and patriotism by Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, and today’s Democratic Party, micro-targeting so many distinct constituencies that, to Lilla, it seems better prepared to govern Lebanon than America. In between came McGovernism—not just George McGovern’s 1972 campaign but also the whole style and substance of 1960s and 1970s liberalism: from John F. Kennedy’s cool to Robert Kennedy’s zeal; from civil rights to Black Power; from the counterculture, New Left, and antiwar movements to feminism and environmentalism. The result, says Lilla, turned Joe Sixpack’s Democratic Party into Jessica Yogamat’s. Democrats uncritically embraced the constituencies and passions brought to the fore in the 1960s—often at the expense of common sense, political and governmental. In these years, Lilla writes, “liberals, fearful of ‘blaming the victim,’ refused to speak about the new culture of dependency, or about the tremendous rise in violent crime in the 1960s.”

M. A. Casey Living in Truth in Democracy A Tribute to Václav Havel

The most essential principle for living in truth in a democracy: first and foremost, the obligation to speak the truth and not adapt ourselves to falsehoods. This is precisely where the power of the powerless lies or, as Vaclav Havel put it, “the moral life starts at the moment we refuse to lie”.

“The Power of the Powerless” was a long essay written by Václav Havel in the summer of 1978 that began circulating in samizdat in 1979. It is justly famous for the influence it had in the decade leading up to the revolutions of 1989. Its central idea was “living in truth”, and it proved to be immensely powerful. The assessment of the Economist, in its obituary for Havel in 2011, was that “no single phrase did more to inspire those trying to subvert and overthrow the communist empire in Europe”[1].

The first words of Havel’s manifesto mocked another famous phrase, the first words of The Communist Manifesto (“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism”). His appeal “to live in the truth” helped to vanquish this spectre in Europe. Perhaps it can help to vanquish some of the spectres that haunt our own times. Whether this is a possibility that is open to us depends on what it means to live in truth in democracy. Considering this question can also shed another light on the public character of religion in liberal democracy, as what should be one of the pre-eminent means of living in the truth.

The origins of “The Power of the Powerless”

Havel made his appeal in very different conditions from our own. He wrote “The Power of the Powerless” at his summer home in Hrádeček (two hours north-east of Prague) under conditions of intensifying police harassment. Police stationed conspicuously on the road leading to his house stopped all visitors, sometimes fined them and confiscated their licences, and warned them that they entered “at their own risk”. Policemen accompanied Havel “wherever he went, shopping in town or walking his dog” and even into the sauna. By the end of the year they had built an observation tower across the road from his house and were sabotaging the heating and plumbing[2]. As his biographer Michael Zantovsky observes, Havel “fared better than other activists at this time”, who were subjected to “bullying, beatings, blackmail intended to make them leave the country, kidnappings [and] illegal house raids and searches”[3]; but by the end of May the following year he would be back in jail.

Havel’s first stint in jail was at the beginning of 1977. He was arrested as one of the spokesmen for Charter 77, which issued a short document calling on the government of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic to abide by its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which it had acceded in 1976 under the Helsinki Accords. Shortly after Charter 77’s declaration was published in the West the communist leadership condemned the declaration as “an anti-state, counter-revolutionary document” and its signatories as “adversaries of socialism”. A ferocious public campaign was generated against Charter 77 and anyone suspected of being involved with it. In schools and workplaces around the country, people were required to attend meetings “where their task was to outdo one another in condemning the Charter and expressing their moral disgust with its signatories”. At the end of January hundreds of actors, musicians and artists attended a televised meeting to sign a declaration condemning “renegades and traitors”. Thousands “signed this and similar declarations at a number of public meetings convened in theatres, publishing houses, universities, scientific institutes and other places suspected of harbouring intellectuals”, although some resisted the intimidation and pressure to do so[4]. As Havel noted in “The Power of the Powerless”, the government collected “millions of signatures” in its “campaign to compel the entire nation to declare that Charter 77 was wrong”, which in itself proved the truth of the claims Charter 77 made[5].

House searches and interrogations of those suspected of being involved with Charter 77 accompanied this campaign. Another of Charter 77’s spokesmen, the philosopher Jan Patočka, was called in for interrogation nearly every day from early January 1977. After an interrogation on March 4 lasting eleven hours he was admitted to hospital with chest pains and died a week later. Police then disrupted his funeral[6]. Havel remained in detention until May 20. He was subjected to intense psychological pressure to repudiate Charter 77 and to resign as a spokesman. The experience left him feeling deeply compromised and humiliated, which seems to be precisely what the secret police intended in his case[7].

Following a trial in October, three other Charter 77 signatories were imprisoned while Havel was given a suspended sentence. This was probably also intended to discredit Havel and to deepen recriminations and division among Charter 77 supporters[8]. These efforts were not successful. Havel continued his work with others against the regime, signing petitions and open letters and taking part in the establishment of the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS) in April 1978. In August and September he attended illegal meetings with the Polish Workers’ Defence Committee (KOR) in the Krkonoše mountains on the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia[9]. By the end of October he had completed “The Power of the Powerless”.

The indivisibility of freedom

As Havel explains in his essay, the catalyst for Charter 77 and what followed from it was the 1976 trial of an underground rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe[10]. These musicians operated illegally, outside the closely regulated channels for officially approved rock music, and the lyrics of their songs and their demeanour and lifestyle reflected this[11]. For Havel, they were like any number of rock groups that exist in a free society:

They had no political past, or even any well-defined political positions. They were simply young people who wanted to live in their own way, to make music they liked, [and] to sing what they wanted to sing, to live in harmony with themselves and to express themselves in a truthful way[12].

The attack on them was “camouflaged as an attack on criminality”, “a judicial attack”, but in Havel’s eyes it was “an attack by the totalitarian system on life itself, on the very essence of human freedom and integrity”. For if the regime could punish musicians simply for playing the music they liked, especially without this being noticed, it “could well start locking up everyone who thought independently and who expressed himself independently, even if he did so only in private”[13].

Getting Settled: EvelynGordon’s Review of ‘City on a Hilltop’ By Sara Yael Hirschhorn

Sara Yael Hirschhorn’s City on a Hilltop starts with two eminently reasonable premises. First: If you want to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you must understand Israeli settlers, since they’re one of the players. Second: If you want to understand the settlers, you must move beyond the popular caricature of them as ultra-nationalist, ultra-religious fanatics, since most are neither.https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/getting-settled/

Hirschhorn’s book is an attempt to do exactly that, which is all the more admirable given her own political views: She characterizes any Jewish presence beyond the 1949 armistice lines—including the large Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, whose tens of thousands of residents she also labels “settlers” (in a footnote)—as an illegitimate colonialist occupation. Yet despite the obvious sincerity of her effort, her inability to rise above her own biases ends up undermining the final product.

Hirschhorn explores the settlement movement by focusing on one particular subset of it: American immigrants from what she terms “the 1967 generation.” This has the obvious advantage of making her subjects more recognizable to non-Israeli readers.

As she notes, these immigrants grew up in the same towns, attended the same colleges, followed the same career paths, marched for the same liberal causes, and even voted for the same party as their peers who remained in America; even today, when Republicans have replaced Democrats as the more pro-Israel party and are far more supportive of the settlements, only one of her interviewees self-identified as Republican. And while popular perception dictates that most settlers, and especially most American settlers, are Orthodox, most of the settlers in Hirschhorn’s focus group were non-Orthodox.

The only major difference between the two groups is that most of the settlers whom Hirschhorn looked at came from “strongly Jewish” backgrounds that were “highly atypical of Jewish-American households at the time.”

The downside of this narrow focus is that it makes American immigrants seem far more important to the settlement movement than they actually are. For instance, over half the book is devoted to in-depth descriptions of how American Jews co-founded three settlements. That may sound impressive, until you realize there are currently more than 120 settlements, the vast majority of which were founded by Israelis with no American help. Indeed, as the book itself makes clear, even those three settlements would probably never have arisen had the Americans not had Israeli partners, since the Israelis were the ones who knew how to work the government bureaucracy.

The same goes for Hirschhorn’s estimate that Americans make up 15 percent of the total settler population (about 60,000 out of 400,000), which she repeatedly cites as proof of their importance. The accuracy of that estimate is open to question; she admits that no “accurate and objective headcount” exists and that she herself is “neither a professional statistician nor a demographer.” But even if she’s right, that still means there are 340,000 non-American settlers. In other words, the settlement movement would be flourishing even if it didn’t include a single American.

Hirschhorn also hypes the role that Americans have played in vigilante terror, despite correctly acknowledging that most American settlers—and most settlers in general—shun such vigilantism. For instance, she spends seven pages on one American involved in the Jewish Underground (1980–87) without ever explicitly saying that the other 26 suspects were Israelis.

But the book’s far more serious problem is that readers emerge from it with no clear understanding of what drives the settlement movement. This isn’t surprising, since Hirschhorn admits in her conclusion that she herself has no such understanding: “After discussions with dozens of Jewish-American immigrants in the occupied territories, I still struggled to understand how they saw themselves and their role within the Israeli settlement enterprise.”