Daniel Bell: Jewish Conservative and Jewish Radical

The prominent sociologist and writer Daniel Bell, who died in 2011, would have celebrated his one-hundredth birthday last Friday. In a thoughtful reminiscence, his son David A. Bell argues that his career was characterized by a constant, creative tension between radicalism—absorbed from the Yiddish-speaking socialists of his childhood on the Lower East Side—and a fundamentally conservative temperament. But the latter, writes the younger Bell, was as much a product of deeply held Jewish commitments as the former:

[M]y father’s political experiences after 1932 only seemed to confirm what he had first felt on reading [as a teenager about the Soviet regime’s bloody repression of dissenters]. There was the unfathomable degree of murder, pillage, cruelty, and suffering of Stalin’s purges, and the show trials, and the Great Terror, followed by the war and the Holocaust. And even after the Holocaust ended and the war was won, a threat still remained. Stalinists took power in Eastern Europe, with more purges, more show trials, more terror, and even, at the end of Stalin’s life, the threat of renewed persecution of the Jews. . . .

He continued to recoil against political extremism throughout his life, because of a deeply personal revulsion at the violence and cruelty that could so easily overwhelm civilization’s weak defenses. . . . This conservatism found its way into his work, above all in [his 1976] The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. From its very first paragraphs, he warned about “the unraveling of the threads which had once held the culture and the economy together,” and about the destructive effects of the “hedonism” he saw embodied in popular culture. . . . While he may have been referring most immediately to the youth culture of the 1960s, it is hard for me not to hear in the words an echo of [what he elsewhere called] the “sweeping, unrestrained impulses to break the law” that he saw Jewish theology as struggling to contain. The law mattered. Order mattered. . . .

At the same time, there was also, still, much Yiddish radicalism in him. He did not himself encounter the sort of fierce, radicalizing humiliation that his Jewish counterparts had earlier faced in Poland and Russia. . . . Even so, especially when he traveled outside New York, he encountered his share of genteel anti-Semitic humiliation. He didn’t like to talk about these moments, but they were certainly there, and they stung. [But] he often spoke, with a certain mischievous pride, of the time he and a friend broke out into a loud chorus of “The Internationale,” in Yiddish, in that inner sanctum of Englishness, the Reform Club in London. For him, the response to humiliation was to force the people who wanted to exclude him to accept him.

It was this stubborn Yiddish radicalism which, as much as anything, kept him from following his friend Irving Kristol into neoconservatism. . . .

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish conservatism, Judaism, New York Intellectuals, Socialism

 

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy