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Daniel Deronda, Conservative Hero

March 21 2017

Reviewing Ruth Wisse’s online course on George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Liel Leibovitz pronounces the lectures “as gripping as anything currently on Netflix” and suggests they “ought to be binged upon as ravenously as one would, say, on a season of House of Cards.” Eliot’s 19th-century novel, he argues, is particularly well suited for our times, and nowhere more so than in its two intertwined plots: the story of Daniel Deronda’s embrace of his Jewish heritage and the story of Gwendolen Harleth—a young, beautiful, and genteel woman faced with her family’s sudden impoverishment:

Some enlightened souls [in Victorian Britain], and there are quite a few of them in the novel, have difficulty understanding why, if England is so keen on embracing its Jews as equals, the Jews should insist on maintaining their differences. Why not marry their Christian neighbors and friends? Why insist on blood and kin and tribe?

The question—and herein lies Eliot’s genius—can be asked of women as easily as it can of the Jews. Although several of her critics had trouble wedding Gwendolen’s story to that of Deronda’s religious awakening, . . . Eliot realized that Jews and women faced the same essential dilemma: will they try to unshackle themselves from their essential nature in a way that is bound to doom them to misery? Or can they achieve a more meaningful emancipation, enjoying equal rights while being permitted to remain true to who they are and wish to continue to be? Gwendolen chooses the former path, Deronda the latter, and their respective fates are a useful lesson in the dangers of deracination.

It’s a lesson, thankfully, that’s likely to shake many modern Jewish readers, who see no other source of light save for the universalist splendor of tikkun olam and who view nationalism, tribalism, and other forms of primordial attachment as a gateway to barbarism and brutality. But a shaking is much needed. With anti-Jewish malice roaring from left and right, we’ve no other prescription but to reject the simpering spinelessness that seeks meaning in other peoples’ values and instead embrace our own. We must now realize, as Eliot and her hero both did, that happiness and survival both depend on loving that which reinforces the best in us, be it the spouse that shares our destiny or the community of which, for better or worse, we will forever be a part.

It’s not a lesson that the cosmopolitans in our midst would readily applaud, but cosmopolitanism, as Eliot bitingly reminds us in the very first page of her novel, is not much more than a rowdy casino, and the only freedom it offers is the thrill of throwing away all that’s truly valuable for an illusory shot at momentary ecstasy. Now more than ever, it’s a thrill we must learn to resist, and in Daniel Deronda, Ruth Wisse gives us what we most desperately need: an upright Jew, a moral man, and a real conservative hero.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Daniel Deronda, Feminism, George Eliot, Jewish conservatism, Judaism, Literature, Universalism

 

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians