A New Play Reveals the Thread Connecting Fascism, Moral Relativism, and Post-Modern Intellectual Decadence

Jonathan Leaf’s Deconstruction centers on the story of Paul de Man, a native of Antwerp who came to America after World War II, told everyone he met that he had served in the Belgian resistance, launched himself on a dazzling academic career as a literary theorist—eventually landing a professorship at Yale—and became a leading figure in the “deconstructionist” approach to literature. It focuses on de Man’s rumored romance with the novelist Mary McCarthy, who had given him his entrée into academic and literary circles, and his relationship with her friend Hannah Arendt, who was among the first to doubt his story about his wartime activities. In an appreciative review, Thomas McArdle writes:

In Leaf’s telling, McCarthy would eventually find herself expecting de Man’s child, [allowing] her third and current husband to think the child was his. After her miscarriage it would be her husband, not de Man, at her side. De Man would by this time be busy with a twenty-one-year-old Bard College student whom he had also impregnated.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. No, de Man had not fought in the resistance. In fact, he had served the Nazis. Some four years after de Man’s 1983 death, a Belgian scholar would discover more than 100 pro-Nazi articles de Man had published under his own byline in occupied Belgium during the war in the country’s leading newspaper, Le Soir. In one, he recommended a forced exodus of the Jews, remarking that Europe “would lose, in all, a few personalities of mediocre value” and then continue in greatness. De Man’s legion of deconstruction disciples would proclaim the revelations overblown. . . . .

[In the play, faced with Arendt’s accusation about his wartime activities, de Man replies], “As a student of Heidegger, you of all people should know that the notion of objective truth is a philosophical concept. An abstraction. Neither more, nor less.” De Man was taunting Arendt, aware that she’d once been both Heidegger’s student and his lover. (Heidegger’s blatant, public support for the Nazis even after the war has since dimmed his intellectual star a little.)

If there is no real truth, then why be good? Or, as de Man earlier asked McCarthy, “If we cannot prove God’s existence or the moral laws taken from antiquity, then what place is there for traditional morality? You do see the logic at least?” The logic she sees—indeed keenly feels—is the soul-destroying vacuum of love and beauty that de Man leaves in his wake. . . . [W]riting on Rousseau, de Man had [once] claimed we can never distinguish between “fictional discourse and empirical event,” which “makes it possible to excuse the bleakest of crimes.”

Read more at Stream

More about: Arts & Culture, Deconstructionism, Hannah Arendt, Literary criticism, Mary McCarthy, Nazism, Theater

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship