Where left and right meet

In the October issue of The American Conservative, Ron Unz asks what high levels of immigration from Latin America to the USA mean for the future of the Republican Party.  Mr Unz, the magazine’s publisher,  disagrees with sometime American Conservative columnist Steve Sailer.  Mr Sailer has argued that as whites become a numerical minority in the USA, they will vote more like other minority groups.  That is to say, all but a small percentage of them will vote for a single party.  The Republican Party already enjoys the support of most white voters; indeed, no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the white vote since 1964.  So if Mr Sailer’s prediction comes true, the Republicans will by midcentury routinely receive 80% or more of the white vote.  To support his prediction, Mr Sailer typically refers to the states of the southeast, where throughout most of American history whites have represented the lowest percentage of the overall population and where today vast majorities of whites vote Republican.  Since in the USA whites are likelier to turn out and vote than are most nonwhite groups, and the regions where whites represent the highest percentage of the population are overrepresented in the electoral system, bloc voting by whites could keep Republicans in power for decades after whites become a minority, even that party makes no inroads with any other ethnic group.  Mr Sailer isn’t particularly happy about this scenario; in a piece about the 2010 elections, he wrote “You’d prefer not to live in a country where whites vote like a minority bloc? Me too! But maybe we should have thought about that before putting whites on the long path to minority status through mass immigration.”

In his response to Mr Sailer, Mr Unz points out that the longstanding racial makeup of the southeastern USA is quite different from the situation emerging in the country today.  The southeast has long been populated by a great many whites, many many African Americans, and a tiny smattering of people of other ethnic groups.  By contrast, neither the people coming to the USA from countries to its south nor their descendants born in the States tend to identify strongly as either white or African American.  So if we want to see what the future might hold for the Republicans, Mr Unz suggests we turn to New Mexico and Hawaii, two states whose demographics are similar to those which are likely to prevail nationally if present trends continue.  The good news is that there isn’t much racial tension in New Mexico or Hawaii.  Whites there do not feel embattled, and do not vote as a minority bloc.  What Mr Unz considers bad news is that the Republicans are definitely the second party in each state.   Mr Unz concludes that the Republicans are likely to fade into irrelevance unless steps are taken to reduce immigration. (Steve Sailer replies to Mr Unz here and here.)

What steps does Mr Unz advise to achieve this result?  He does not suggest fortifying the border, or covering the country with armies of immigration officers, or deporting everyone who speaks Spanish, or requiring everyone in the USA to show that their papers are in order every time a policeman needs a way to pass the time.  He proposes instead a substantial increase in the minimum wage, from the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $10 or $12 per hour.  After all, immigrants come here to work, and those who come from countries where the prevailing wage is significantly lower than the prevailing wage in the USA can improve their standards of living and send substantial cash remittances back to their families by accepting jobs at less than the currently prevailing wage.  So it’s no surprise that in recent decades, as immigration to the USA has increased, median wages in the USA have declined.  Set a floor to wages, and you limit the ability of employers to arbitrage wage differences between the USA and the countries to its south.  Mr Unz writes that “The automatic rejoinder to proposals for hiking the minimum wage is that “jobs will be lost.” But in today’s America a huge fraction of jobs at or near the minimum wage are held by immigrants, often illegal ones. Eliminating those jobs is a central goal of the plan, a feature not a bug.”

Mr Unz’ proposal is quite intriguing.  Defenders of high levels of immigration often point to the harsh measures by which anti-immigration laws are enforced and posit a choice between open borders and a police state.  Raising the minimum wage doesn’t play into that trap.  Indeed, by raising the minimum wage and limiting public benefit to legal residents, it might be possible to scrap all other restrictions on immigration.  That would do away, not only with compromises to civil liberties and inter-ethnic harmony, but also with a great many perverse incentives.  Nowadays, immigration laws increase employers’ power over their undocumented workers, so that they dare not complain to legal authorities when employers violate their rights, lest they face deportation.  So policies that would enforce the immigration laws with more deportations actually weaken employees vis a vis employers, thereby further depressing wages.  Do away with the immigration police, raise the minimum wage, and enforce the minimum wage with jail time for employers who underpay, and you reverse that power relation.  Employers who tried to pay less than minimum wage would be subject to blackmail from their employees.  Nor would there be any need for a Canadian-style points system to ensure that only people with needed skills migrate to the country.  If employers are paying high wages to immigrants, that is a surer sign that those immigrants have skills the employers need than are the results of any government evaluation.

That the publisher of a magazine called The American Conservative would argue for a substantial increase in the minimum wage as a way of reducing the number of nonwhites immigrating to the USA suggests that the far right has circled around the political spectrum and found itself occupying the same spot as the center left.  Indeed, elsewhere in the issue this idea is developed explicitly.  An article by Michael Tracey (subscribers only, sorry) carries the title “Ralph Nader’s Grand Alliance: Progressives Find Hope– in Ron Paul.”  The dash in the subhed acknowledges the unlikelihood that the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman would inspire anything but dismay in lefties, but no less distinguished a campaigner for a more egalitarian America than Ralph Nader has spoken out forcefully for a left-right alliance as the logical outcome of the movement in which Dr Paul is a leader.  Mr Tracey writes: “‘Look at the latitude,’ Nader says, referring to the potential for collaboration between libertarians and the left.  ‘Military budget, foreign wars, empire, Patriot Act, corporate welfare- for starters.  When you add it all up, that’s a foundational convergence.  Progressives should do so good.'”

I admire Mr Nader.  I’m glad to say I voted for him for president in 2000, and I wish I’d had the guts to vote for him again in 2004.  But I don’t quite agree with him on this point.  Our difference can be summed up in his use of the word “foundational.”  To me, saying that there is a “foundational convergence” between two groups would suggest that they are pursuing the same goals and using the same standards of judgment.  That clearly is not the case here.  Left-wingers and libertarians may oppose many of the same things, but they are not for any of the sane things.  A traditionalist conservative like Mr Unz may be for an increased minimum wage and a less intrusive immigration police, but his goal is to keep America’s racial demography from changing.  That’s hardly a goal any leftist could endorse.  For my own part, I would be quite happy to see an America with a much larger Latino and Asian population, especially if that meant that the confrontational racial politics that have long characterized the states of the southeast and many cities in the northeast would lose their tension and follow the relatively easygoing path of Hawaii and New Mexico, even at the price of continued growth in income inequality.  Of course, I would much prefer to reduce both racial hostility and income inequality, and there is a limit to the amount of one that I would accept as a price for reducing the other.  I would be very reluctant to endorse any politics that forced a choice between those evils, and I think most left-of-center Americans would be equally reluctant to do so.  That isn’t to say that the left and the “Old Right” of libertarians and antiwar traditionalists are so far apart that cooperation between them is impossible, but their goals and ideological premises are so utterly different that a coalition between them would be doomed unless it were very modest in its ambitions.

Speaking of race relations in the southeastern USA, I should mention that at the moment, The American Conservative‘s website carries a rather beautiful blog posting on that topic from Rod Dreher.  Mr Dreher is responding to a short piece that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for The Atlantic‘s website about white people who refer to African American neighbors of theirs as “our blacks.”

In the same issue, Samuel Goldman’s review of Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right praises Professor Eagleton’s exposition and defense of Karl Marx’ philosophical theories.  Mr Goldman is obviously not a Marxist, but commends Professor Eagleton for putting to rest many canards that his lazier critics have flung at Marx over the years.  On the other hand, Mr Goldman takes very sharp exception to Professor Eagleton’s attempts to defend the economic record of Marxist regimes.  Towards the end of his review, Mr Goldman discusses Professor Eagleton’s analysis of Marx’ place as an inheritor of classical political theory, stretching back to Aristotle.  He points out that this discussion is not original, but that it treads a path through territory very well explored by Alasdair MacIntyre.  Professor MacIntyre is one of my favorites; I’m always glad to see his name.  The magazine published Mr Goldman’s review under the title “Baby Boomers Make Their Marx,” and Mr Goldman does make a few remarks here and there disparaging “the post-1968 left.”  The idea of Professor Eagleton’s book as a generational statement is the main theme of another review of Professor Eagleton’s book, one that was linked on Arts and Letters Daily earlier this week.  That review appeared in Quadrant, an Australian journal that shares a number of contributors with The American Conservative.

The contextualization fairy

Recently, John Holbo posted two items (here and here) on Crooked Timber about something odd in American politics.  Right-wing politicians in the USA quite often make public statements that would, if taken at face value, suggest that they are far more extreme in their views than they in fact are.  So, Professor Holbo finds remarks from Texas governor Rick Perry which, taken literally, would imply that Mr Perry thought that Texas should secede from the USA, that all federal programs established since 1900 should be abolished, indeed that there should be no government at all.  Mr Perry obviously does not believe any of those things, so obviously that only his committed opponents try to take him to task for making such extreme remarks.  This is not unique to Mr Perry, but is a usual pattern for right-wing US politicians.

What makes this so odd is that, while it is common for right-wing American politicians to exaggerate the radicalism of their views and for the public to realize that this is what they are doing, Professor Holbo can find no examples of their left-leaning counterparts doing the same thing.  A Democratic or leftist candidate who makes a radical-sounding statement likely means that statement to be taken at face value, and it certainly will be taken at face value by most observers.

Many commentators on American politics explain the right-wingers’ habit of making extreme sounding statements for which they do not expect to be held responsible as an effort to move the “Overton Window.”  The Overton Window, named for the late Joseph P. Overton, is the range of ideas that the people who hold sway in a given political culture hold to be acceptable at a particular time.  Only ideas within the window are likely to be put into effect.  The window shifts back and forth, as some ideas that had once seemed outlandish begin to seem mainstream, while other ideas that had once seemed mainstream begin to seem outlandish.

Key to the Overton Window is the idea of contextualization.  The idea of devolving Medicare, the program that ensures that most Americans over the age of 65 will be able to pay for health care, to the states may seem outlandish to many in the USA, but compared to the idea of large states seceding from the Union it is quite moderate.  The idea of shifting the revenues of Social Security, the program that provides a guaranteed income to  most Americans over the age of 65, from current benefits to private savings accounts may seem outlandish to many in the USA, but compared with the idea of abolishing the entire welfare state it is quite moderate.  Other policies favored by powerful interests on the right end of the political spectrum may also seem outlandish, but compared with anarchism they too are quite moderate.  So, within the context of the extreme remarks for which they are not called to account, rightists can gain a hearing for policies which they do seriously advocate.


“Great Universities” and “Great Cities”

The other day, I made a long comment on a post at the blog commonly known as “Gelman.”  The original post is by the blog’s namesake, Professor Andrew Gelman.  Gelman referred to a newspaper piece by Professor Edward Glaeser on the idea of developing an applied sciences center in New York City.  Glaeser makes some rather strong claims for the power of universities to promote economic development in the cities to which they are attached.  Blogger Joseph Delaney had put something up in which he expressed doubts about Glaeser’s general claims, challenging those who would defend them to explain why New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University, is such a dump.

Gelman is impressed by Delaney’s post.  He also picks up on a paragraph in Glaeser’s piece that includes a quote from New York’s late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York is often credited with saying that the way to create a great city is to “create a great university and wait 200 years,” and the body of evidence on the role that universities play in generating urban growth continues to grow.

Gelman doesn’t dwell on Moynihan’s words; he makes it clear in the comments (here and here) that what really interests him is the question of the economic impact of universities on their urban environments in the (moderately) long run.  Many other commenters (for example, this person) expressed doubt as to whether any answer to the question could be tested quantitatively, considering how few “great universities” and “great cities” there are at any point in time.  In my comment, I suggest that if we take Moynihan’s words literally (admittedly, a rather silly thing to do) we might be able to develop a quantitative test of his hypothesis:

Well, if we take Moynihan’s claim literally, what we need are two lists: a list of “the great universities” as of year n, and a list of “the great cities” as of year n + 200. Of course we wouldn’t want to top-of-the-head either of those lists, so as to avoid some kind of Clever Hans effect.

I haven’t looked for any list that anyone has put forward of “the great universities” as of any particular year, but it sounds like the sort of thing many historians would be fond of producing. And lots of people like to make lists of “the great cities.” Once we have a list, however subjectively it was generated, we can look over the items, try to find quantifiable characteristics that most or all items on it share, and having found such characteristics we can refine the list by adding other items that share them or deleting items that don’t share them. So we can try to work backward to foundations.

As for Yale, I doubt very much that you could find any reasonable criterion by which it either was or had been a “great university” in 1811. Nowadays, sure, but in its first centuries it was a backwater. Would any American university have qualified as “great” in 1811? The faculty of the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University, had been home to quite a few distinguished scholars from Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century, and Columbia had produced a lot of impressive alumni by 1811. Still, it would seem a bit much to call either of them a “great university” at that early date.

Other commenters, such as universally beloved public figure Steve Sailer,  have brought up the idea that it isn’t great universities that make the cities attached to them great, but great cities that make the universities attached to them great.  Here again, I’d ask to see two lists: the world’s “great cities” as of year n, and the world’s “great universities” as of year n + whatever number you like. New Haven continues to be a counterexample; while Yale may never have been on any list of the world’s “great universities” until the middle of the twentieth century, it undeniably has a place on any such list today.  Yet New Haven has never been anyone’s idea of a “great city.”  How many seats of the “great universities” have been?

Of course, one challenge in analyzing such lists would be deciding which universities are attached to which cities.  It may not be controversial to say that Cambridge, Massachusetts is part of Boston, and so to give Harvard as an example of a (currently) great university located in (what I’d call) a great city; but what about San Francisco and the two great universities in the Bay Area?  Is Berkeley really part of San Francisco?  You go through Oakland to get from one to the other, and Oakland is most definitely not part of San Francisco.  Is Palo Alto part of San Francisco?  The relationship between Stanford University and San Francisco is often cited as one of the things that makes that city great, but Palo Alto is in fact 35 miles from San Francisco at their closest points, and Stanford’s campus is further than that.  San Jose, a very different city, is only half as far, and it’s southward to and beyond San Jose that Stanford-based tech entrepreneurs have usually gone.


Rushton’s (Divide and) Rule

Racial theorist J. Philippe Rushton has gained notoriety for what blogger Steve Sailer has dubbed “Rushton’s Rule.”  Sailer summarizes Rushton’s Rule in these words: “on a remarkably wide variety of physical, mental, and social measures, you find the African and East Asian averages at opposite ends, with the white average in the mediocre middle.”  Rushton himself speculates that the first population to migrate from Africa and make a go of it in East Asia found itself in a much colder climate than had prevailed in Africa, while the first Europeans found average temperatures midway between those in Africa and those which confronted the first East Asians.  Rushton appeals to adaptations would have enabled those early settlers to leave descendants outside Africa as an explanation for the statistical pattern he has described.

Be that as it may, references to Rushton’s Rule always leave me thinking about something else.  If you keep getting the same answer, it’s probably because you are asking the same question.  Granted that there is “a remarkably wide variety” to the measures which Rushton discusses, mightn’t he in fact have shown that there is an equally remarkable, if less obvious, uniformity to the tests that produce these results?

An unlikely pair

You don’t often hear the names of Susie Bright and Steve Sailer linked (though apparently they both commented on the same article once, Sailer here and Bright here) but the two have each written insightful pieces on the 2010 US national election.  Here is Bright’s piece; here is Sailer’s.

The differences are obvious; while Bright’s dire prediction #4 is that “Racist appeals to quarantine, imprison, deport, and execute will become unrelenting. Look forward to pronouncements like, ‘I’m not a bigot, but brown and bearded people have GOT to be go!’ Four talking heads will then agree on every media channel,” Sailer argues that population growth resulting from high levels of immigration has raised the average cost of living in the US, then predicts that the newly elected Republican politicians will move to raise those levels still higher.

Nonetheless, there’s actually a good deal of overlap in their views.  Both see politicians as spokespersons for powerbrokers behind the scenes; Bright says that “Female GOP candidates are the sign of one thing: The Shitty PR Job that girls always get, while patriarchs elsewhere pull the strings. It’s a sign of how little candidates are worth,” while Sailer explains the reelection of Nevada’s unpopular but well-connected Senator Harry Reid by asking “Could it be possible that some residents of Las Vegas are less motivated by principle than by money? I know it sounds crazy. But I think we have consider that disillusioning possibility about Vegasites.”  Both dread a future in which whites will vote as an ethnic bloc; in her dire prediction #14, Bright declares that whites who see the Republicans as the white party are deluded, since it is controlled by people who care only about the color of money.  Sailer wouldn’t disagree, but he predicts that whites will vote as an ethnic bloc as they move toward minority status in the USA.  “You’d prefer not to live in a country where whites vote like a minority bloc?  Me too! But maybe we should have thought about that before putting whites on the long path to minority status through mass immigration.”

Steve Sailer contradicts himself

Is it gone forever?

Regular readers of this blog know that I often read Steve Sailer’s site, and that I disagree more or less violently with everything I find there.   One of the things that interests me about Sailer are the many ways in which he contradicts himself.  Indeed, a person with nothing better to do could follow Sailer’s output and publish a daily feature called “Steve Sailer Contradicts Himself.”  Usually he’s fairly subtle about his self-contradictions; in this old post, I gave one of my favorite examples. 

Recently, Sailer contradicted himself far more obviously than usual.  On Monday, he mocked the US media for spending time covering Rand Paul’s views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Dr Paul is the Republican nominee for US Senate from Kentucky, and the son of Congressman Ron Paul (no word yet on how he is related to 1990s TV personality RuPaul.)  Sailer’s summary of this coverage is as follows: “assuming the country got into a giant time machine and went a half century back into the past — would Senate candidate’s Rand Paul’s position on laws on the public accommodations portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act be a good thing or not.”

The very same post includes a newspaper article quoting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explaining some recent cases about the use of civil service tests in hiring and promoting municipal firefighters.  The Supreme Court handed down rulings in these cases that appear to contradict each other.  In the second of these rulings, Scalia wrote for a unanimous Court that the problem was at the heart of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and that it can be solved only if Congress revises that law. 

So, the USA may not have to get “into a giant time machine” and travel back to the early 1960s in order for a potential US Senator’s views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act to be relevant.  All nine justices of the Supreme Court just demanded that Congress reopen the law; if Rand Paul is a member of the upper house when that reopening takes place, it is quite likely that he would be in a position to change it, perhaps substantially.

Barack Obama, Secret Agent Man

Yesterday, beloved public figure Steve Sailer posted some circumstantial evidence suggesting that Barack Obama’s parents might have been connected to the Central Intelligence Agency, and that their connections might have been of value to Mr O himself at various points in his career.  The evidence is scattered over three continents and several decades, and as such can hardly be called conclusive.  Sailer mentions that Stanley Ann Dunham’s employment at the US embassy in Jakarta in the late 1960s, when that embassy was regarded throughout the region as the hub for the agency’s activities in Southeast Asia; and that Barack Obama, Senior was a close associate of Tom Mboya, a strongly pro-American political leader in Kenya in the same period.  As for Mr O, after graduating from Columbia in the 80s he took a job at a company called Business International, a newsletter firm which the New York Times in 1977 identified as a CIA front organization.  None of this information is new; Sailer himself has been publicizing it for years.  But it is handy to have it in one place.    

Sailer’s post opens with these sentences:

The more I think about it, the more likely it seems to me that Barack Obama had a little bit of help along the way from the CIA. Yet, the more I think about it, the less important that seems.
If you conceive of the CIA not as an omnipotent puppet-master, but as a player in an international version of the municipal Favor Bank familiar from The Wire and The Bonfire of the Vanities in which various players scratch each others’ backs, then the idea that Obama might have had a little help along the way (e.g., perhaps a recommendation that helped him transfer from Occidental to Columbia’s International Relations program despite spending most of his time at Oxy getting high), the more likely and less significant it seems. 

The concept of the “Favor Bank” is one Sailer has developed at some length.  Among his interests are the traditional strategies various non-Muslim minority communities in Southwest Asia have used to get by in the centuries since the rise of Islam, and the ways offshoots of these communities in the Americas have adapted those traditional strategies to their new social environments.  So he’s always writing about Armenians, Jews, and others.  Sailer’s citations of a TV show and an 80s airport novel show that he isn’t particularly concerned with the scholarly literature on this subject.  He doesn’t have to give citations; he’s a blogger, not an academic.  Still, it would be nice if he occasionally pointed his readers toward some of already-published anthropological and sociological research.  

I want to make two points.  First, rather than the “Favor Bank,” I would invoke C. Wright Mills’ concept of the “Power Elite.”  In his 1956 book of that title, Mills argued that national policy in the USA is formulated by a “Power Elite” consisting of senior figures in business, the military, and politics.  This elite did not spring into existence overnight, but grew up gradually as American capitalism and military power grew.  Thinking of this elite, I would agree with Sailer that the CIA is not an “omnipotent puppet-master,” and not an alien mechanism foisted on the old Republic, but that it is of a piece with the rest of the American establishment. 

I should think it would be rather interesting if Mr O in fact owed part of his rise to cozy relations with an institution so close to the heart of the Power Elite.  That would show that his left-of-center admirers and his right-of-center detractors are equally foolish in their shared belief that he might bring radical change to the USA.  That Sailer does not see this story as interesting tells us, I think, something about his view of the president.  Sailer wrote a book-length analysis of Mr O’s memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  The subtitle “A Story of Race and Inheritance” is clearly music to Sailer’s ears; he occasionally ridicules authors whom he believes to be understating the importance of race in the president’s life story, and race and inheritance are the two lodestars of Sailer’s own writing.  If the idea of Mr O’s CIA connections is getting steadily less interesting to Sailer, therefore, perhaps the reason might be that he wants to reduce the president’s biography to a “Story of Race and Inheritance,” and as Sailer learns more about those connections he finds it ever harder to do that. 

Sailer calls himself a “race realist,” arguing that race, which he defines as “a partly inbred extended biological family,” is by itself capable of explaining many social phenomena, including mean IQ scores among various population groups, crime rates, etc.  If Sailer is right and Mr O did inherit connections to the CIA, then his “Story of Race and Inheritance” suddenly drifts outside the scope of that sort of thinking.  He would have inherited those ties through a bureaucratic organization, not through a network of kinsmen.  While the fact that most of the people he has met would classify the president as African American might have given a particular shape to those connections, we cannot know what that shape might be unless we know a great deal about the institutional culture of the CIA in the later decades of the Cold War and something about the personal interactions among the young Mr O and the CIA men concerned with him. 

So, Sailer, despite his eagerness to identify circumstances in which race stands alone as an explanation of social phenomena, seems to have come upon a story which could serve as a perfect illustration of what social scientists mean when they argue that race and inheritance are not things that stand on their own, but that they exist only as features characterizing particular social encounters.  Ideas about race and customs relating to inheritance may shape a social encounter.  What is real, though, are particular social encounters and people who share them, not the ideas and customs that shape those encounters.

Some connections

How do you pronounce "deeaaaaaaad"?

“Gay Teen Worried He Might be Christian” [The Onion, via Roger Hollander]

Cliff Clavin’s role in the Massachusetts Senate race; or, hold it right there, Doy-enne- it’s a little known fact that some of America’s greatest senators have been naked guys

A novelty Periodic Table lists common uses for particular elements.  Included are such valuable services as being a component of radioactive waste.  Hey, that’s better than anything Senator Naked (R-Massachusetts) is likely to do.  [haha.nu]

Some of Max Fleischer’s early avant-garde animation [Liza Cowan]

Lucy Knisley remembers bottle-base sidewalks.  I remember them too, but Google doesn’t seem to, at least not under that name. 

Conan O’Brien’s Funniest Show [The New York Times, via Steve Sailer]

US counties by most common origin of foreign-born residents

Thanks to Steve Sailer (I know, I know, but he posts lots of interesting stuff) for linking to this New York Times feature.

The American Conservative, 9 March 2009

Benjamin Disraeli as a Young Man
Benjamin Disraeli as a Young Man

A review of Adam Kirsch’s biography of Benjamin Disraeli focuses on Kirsch’s idea that because Disraeli realized he could not stop his fellow nineteenth-century Englishmen from thinking of him primarily in terms of his Jewish ancestry, he “did not attempt to disguise his Jewish background.  He embellished it.”   Disraeli purported to be far more deeply involved with that side of his ancestry than he in fact was, even explaining his active membership in the Church of England as an example of his fealty to “the only Jewish institution that remains… the visible means which embalms the race.”  Meanwhile, the Jewish characters and themes in Disraeli’s novels appall modern sensibilities.  Sidonia, a character in the Young England trilogy (Coningsby, Sybil, and Tancred,) “looks like nothing so much as an anti-Semitic hate figure.  It is amazing, in fact, how Disraeli manages to combine in this one character every malicious slander and paranoid fear that the anti-Semitic imagination can breed.”  Disraeli’s manipulation of the label his fellows had imposed upon him enabled him to become prime minister of the United Kingdom.  Disraeli’s ability to “outline [an] agenda of radical change to be achieved conservatively, a political program that allowed him to reinvent himself as the representative not only of the wealthy and the working class but of the Tory Party, too” has inspired rightist politicians like Richard Nixon and the neocons.      

If Kirsch is right, Disraeli knotted his contemporaries’ perceptions of him around their image of “the Jew,” using their prejudices to transform  himself from a marginal figure unlikely to make a mark in politics into a figure of England’s national mythology.  Another complex of ideas twists around another such image in Brendan O’Neill’s  analysis of the thoughts of some of Israel’s more fervent defenders in the West.  O’Neill argues that the individuals he cites are less interested in Israel as an actual place inhabited by living people than they are in using a particular idea of Israel as a symbol for the values of the Enlightenment.  “In effect, Israel is cynically, and lazily, being turned into a proxy army for a faction in the Western Culture Wars that has lost the ability to defend Enlightenment values on their own terms or even to define and face up to the central problem of anti-Enlightenment tendencies today.”  This use of Israel as a pawn in cultural struggles centered elsewhere shades into philosemitism.  “[A]s Richard S. Levy writes in his book Anti-Semitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, simple philosemitism, like anti-Semitism, also treats the Jews as ‘radically different or exceptional’…  Where anti-Semites project their frustrations with the world and their naked prejudices onto the Jews, and frequently onto Israel, too, the new philosemites project their desperation for political answers, for some clarity, for a return to Enlightenment values onto Israel and the Jews.  Neither is a burden the Jewish people can, or should be expected to, bear.”