Will T.S. Eliot’s Anti-Semitism Diminish His Aura?

June 10 2022

Reviewing the newly released second volume of a biography of T.S. Eliot, Philip Hensher finds himself asking if the dean of modernist poetry really deserved the prominence that he attained in his own lifetime, and has held onto after his death. One of the “cracks” that Hensher finds appearing in Eliot’s “once unassailable reputation” involves his anti-Semitism, which showed up occasionally in his verse.

In [the poet’s] lifetime, challenges were made to some directly anti-Semitic lines in the poetry (“The rats are underneath the piles/ The Jew is underneath the lot”) and the essays: “Reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable [in society].” Private statements that have since emerged are worse still: “Why is there something diabolic about so many Jews?” “There are enough Jews in the English universities as it is.”

Many similar statements can be found in other writers, but what puts Eliot on another level was his continuing to make them and, even in the face of the Third Reich, commending an article talking of “so-called anti-Semitism,” or expressing a concern about the arrival of refugees: “Jews in the mass are antipathetic.” When one refugee child was adopted by a friend, Eliot was happy to note that “it” was “not at all objectionably Jewish to look at.”

His was the worst kind of anti-Semitism, being elevated to an idiotic sort of principle. Of the Holocaust he suavely observed: “To suggest that the Jewish problem may be simplified because so many will have been killed off is trifling: a few generations of security, and they will be as numerous as ever.” His own view of this was clear: his writing would only seem “anti-Semitic” to “the Semite.”

I don’t see how this horrible accumulation of evidence can do anything but close the long debate. We can accept the mastery of the poetry and the immense good that it and Eliot himself did in the world, but the ugly stain is not going to go away. Wagner, who took care to exclude explicit anti-Semitic statements from his artistic productions, has survived. Eliot, who did not, may in time be downgraded.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Poetry, T.S. Eliot

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship