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Edward Gibbon’s “Jewish Problem”: Can a Great Historian’s Anti-Semitism Be Exonerated?

Feb. 15 2017

In his recent Naïve Readings, Ralph Lerner offers essays on eight masters of rhetoric, ranging from Francis Bacon to Abraham Lincoln, and including the medieval Jewish philosophers Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides. Among them is an analysis of the treatment of the Jews in the work of the 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon. Steven Lenzner writes in his review:

[The essay] “Gibbon’s Jewish Problem” . . . presents Lerner with a problem: how to deal with a great author who denigrates (in a manner unworthy of himself) a noble people that has too often been the victim of thoughtless scorn. To be sure, Lerner would not tarry with an author who would engage in thoughtless scorn, but what of thoughtful and rhetorically allusive scorn? In a subtle and nuanced reading of the self-styled “philosophic historian,” Lerner reveals how Gibbon, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, employed the Jews as a useful foil indirectly to criticize Christianity, of which he was no admirer and which could not, at that time, be subjected to frontal attack. . . .

Lerner clearly admires Gibbon, but he struggles to reconcile that admiration with his entirely reasonable disapproval of Gibbon’s embrace of a rhetoric that could (and would) be employed to render “Jews less than fully human.”

Lerner reaches a reconciliation—insofar as he can—in two ways. First, he draws attention to other elements of Gibbon’s writings and actions that point to a more thoroughgoing humanity: “In calling [the Jews] an unfortunate and unhappy people, the ‘philosophic historian’ displays more than a symptom of compassion.” The second way is by pointing beyond Gibbon to a contemporary “who had the vision and fortitude to declare openly an enlarged and liberal policy [beyond toleration] that he commended to the rest of mankind as worthy of imitation.” That would be George Washington.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Ancient Rome, Anti-Semitism, Christianity, George Washington, History & Ideas

 

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen