How Leo Strauss and a Great African American Jazz Critic Came to Parallel Conclusions about the Limits of Liberalism

Like Theodor Herzl before him, the German Jewish scholar Leo Strauss formed his ideas about politics after witnessing the failure of the “liberal solution” to what in the 19th century was called “the Jewish question.” That is, granting Jews equality before the law in Germany, Austria, or France failed to eliminate anti-Semitism. Aryeh Tepper sees a similar line of reasoning vis-à-vis racism in the U.S. in the writings of Albert Murray, one of America’s foremost writers on jazz. But the parallels go deeper:

Strauss championed liberal education, whose aim he identified as “reminding oneself of human excellence, of human greatness.” Murray would have nodded in agreement. . . . Most importantly for our story, both thinkers celebrated the virtue of fortitude, or resilience. They were acutely aware of the abiding reality of bigotry—for Strauss, anti-Semitism, for Murray, racism—but it didn’t define their self-perception.

On confronting bigotry, Murray in effect picked up where Strauss left off. And in his writings on music, literature, and culture, Murray offered a sustained reflection on facing adversity in a liberal democratic context—a heroic response that implicitly extends and elaborates Herzl’s recognition that “the enemy is necessary for the highest effort of the personality.”

Murray’s fundamental approach is to cast the challenges one faces in life as opportunities for heroic action: “We’re supposed to live life as if the dragon exists in order to make heroes.” This principle remains true even if the dragon happens to be a bigot. Fighting bigots is a given (that’s how you become a hero), but protesting their existence? Murray isn’t interested: “To protest the existence of dragons (or even hooded or unhooded Grand Dragons for that matter) is . . . naïve.” Naïve, because dragons are a part of life, and protesting isn’t going to change the (Grand) Dragon’s ways.

Murray was well aware that his heroic view cut against the grain of attitudes that were beginning to penetrate the liberal mainstream. Those attitudes don’t embrace stress and strain—struggle—as the condition for self-discovery and self-realization.

Indeed, Murray criticized the approach of the “social science-oriented” thinkers who sought to rid life “of ambivalence, complexity, and strife.” Yet, also like Strauss, Murray was a critic of the liberalism of his day who never abandoned his basic faith in liberal democracy.

Read more at Moment

More about: African Americans, Anti-Semitism, Leo Strauss, liberal democracy, Racism

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University