Degrees of Assimilation

by Mark English

In a recent essay, Daniel Kaufman recalled the days when he and a couple of friends used to climb through a hole in the perimeter fence of their junior high school on Long Island and have lunch at Andel’s Kosher Delicatessen – “Hebrew National hot dogs, potato knishes, and half-sour pickles, washing it all down with Dr. Brown’s cherry, cream, or celery soda.” The delicatessen – emblematic of another time, another age – is now gone. “God, do I miss that place,” the writer confided, “… and that time.”

The anecdote led into a discussion of some of the unfortunate changes which have occurred within the general sphere of public education, but it was the references to New York Jewish culture that most caught my attention and brought to mind Philip Roth’s notion of ‘Jews with force’. The parallel is far from perfect, as Roth is referencing New York City whereas Dan Kaufman is focused on the North Shore of Long Island, but I thought it might be worthwhile to pick up Roth’s observation as a prelude to making a few observations of my own on the general theme of degrees of cultural integration.

The protagonist of Roth’s 1990 novel, Deception, a middle-aged American writer called Philip, is speaking to his English lover: “In England, whenever I’m in a public place, a restaurant, a party, the theater, and someone happens to mention the word ‘Jew’, I notice that the voice always drops just a little… [That’s how] you all say ‘Jew’. Jews included.”

Philip longs for his personal homeland, New York City, a heimish territory populated by his kind of Jew… “Jews with force… Jews with appetite. Jews without shame… Unaccommodating Jews, full of anger, insult, argument, and impudence.”

Roth’s comments could be taken as an acute but essentially light piece of social observation. The contrast is between English Jews of a certain class or type whose Jewishness is constrained (at least in social terms) by their Englishness and New York Jews who are not constrained in this way. The reactions and judgments of the authorial persona are amusing, seemingly more a matter of character and personality than serious social or ethical commentary. But, given the subject matter – and specifically the oblique reference to anti-Semitism – it is difficult entirely to avoid the more serious questions and issues which lie just beneath the surface.

My own observations are not incompatible with what Roth has observed. But, at the risk of being pedantic, it is clear that his dichotomy is a rhetorically-driven simplification. There are countless ways of expressing – or not expressing – minority ethnic or religious status, Jewish or otherwise and, like any community, Jewish communities are not homogeneous. This lack of homogeneity springs not only from individual personality differences but also from other factors.

One such factor relates to the fact that immigration often occurs in waves and earlier and later waves have significant cultural differences. One of the key differences here relates to the way later arrivals relate to and are perceived by earlier arrivals. The typical pattern (for obvious reasons) is that the earlier arrivals tend to be more inclined to adopt the social mores of the host community. As a consequence, early arrivals often had (or have) a disapproving attitude to subsequent waves of immigrants who are less knowledgeable – and sometimes less respectful – of the host culture. They may see the later arrivals as something of an embarrassment or perhaps as a threat to their own status and standing.

A friend of mine whose ancestors were Russian Jews who settled in Melbourne, Australia, in the early 20th century told me that she and her family tended to disapprove of many of the later arrivals because of their tendency to disrespect (or not conform to) mainstream social mores. My friend and her family kept up Jewish traditions, but in a fairly low-key kind of way.

Similar patterns and tensions were in play in German-speaking lands in the early 20th century, though the stakes were much higher, of course. David Berlinski sums up one perspective well – if a little provocatively – in his account (as given in his book The Advent of the Algorithm) of Gottlob Frege’s attitudes.

Frege was married for many years and the death of his wife during the First World War further darkened a personality that was, in Berlinski’s words, “already dark, lonely, crabbed, solitary, and withdrawn.”

We have evidence from his private diaries of this period of Frege’s political views. He did not speak out publicly or engage in political activity. But he certainly had very strong opinions.

“[Frege] seems to have been – in plain fact, he was,” writes Berlinski, “a ferocious anti-Semite, seeing in Germany’s sad, doomed, cultured German Jews an alien and unwanted presence, and, no doubt, regarding the turbulent wave of eastern European Jewry, which had washed over Germany early in the century and with outstandingly bad judgement come to rest in Leipzig or Dresden or in Weimar itself, with feelings akin to frank revulsion. Disliking Jews, Frege disliked Catholics as well, the ink of his indignation ecumenical in its nature.”

And he was deeply devoted to the German monarchy, “its preposterous and dangerous kaiser” (as Berlinski puts it) receiving from Frege “the respectful sentiments that he had nowhere else to discharge.”

It is no surprise that differences both within and between ethnic, cultural and religious groups rouse the passions. A sense of identity is often at stake. On the one hand, the host culture is inevitably changed by immigration; on the other, immigrants who wish to retain their original cultural identity realize that concessions to the host culture can lead over time to the dilution, weakening and eventual merging of the guest culture into the broader community.

The family of Ludwig Wittgenstein – by descent, largely Jewish – had, by all appearances, assimilated completely into the Austro-Hungarian mainstream by the end of the 19th century. Not only had Ludwig (like his parents and siblings) been baptized a Catholic, at one stage during his adult life he had seriously considered becoming a priest.

The Wittgenstein name (an old German aristocratic name) had been adopted by the family some generations before. Wittgenstein’s father, an industrialist, was one of the richest men in Austria. The family was extremely cultivated and strongly associated with the arts, especially music.

It is no surprise, then, that Ludwig – who served with honor in the Great War – was flabbergasted when he found out that the Nazis had designated the family as Jewish. It may be that in his early years he was not even fully aware of his Jewish background. At certain times he seemed to deny it, but in later life he regretted trying to disguise or downplay his family’s Jewish heritage.

The case of Karl Popper is equally interesting and controversial. The Poppers were more recently assimilated than the Wittgensteins and more conscious of their Jewishness. They were Lutherans, not Catholics, but Popper made it clear that his Lutheranism was something of a formality, and certainly not in any way dogmatic. He believed in some kind of religious or spiritual reality but saw actual religions as very imperfect expressions of this broader religious point of view. As far as I am aware, Popper did not write directly about these issues – in fact, he deliberately avoided doing so. But a few reported remarks which I have come across suggest that he was acutely aware of (and embarrassed by), if not his Jewish background, then at least certain Jewish stereotypes which he sought studiously to avoid replicating in his own behavior. Some of his reported statements come across today as quite anti-Semitic. For example, he apparently suggested that non-assimilating Jews were in part responsible for the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

The Jews amongst my own ancestors – there are clusters of Jewish names in my family tree – failed to transmit any unambiguous or substantive element of specifically Jewish culture to my own or my parents’ generation. For me this is a matter of some regret. But I don’t blame them or disrespect their decisions. I think it’s absurd for us to make retrospective judgments about these kinds of things. They did what they did in situations which are impossible for us to reconstruct. Whether or not they chose to assimilate, or to what degree, they had their reasons, probably revolving around self-interest and the perceived interest of their families. Who can argue with that?

And those who chose to assimilate made their decisions knowing full well what the long-term consequences would be. Moreover, the more reflective and sensitive amongst them would have felt much stronger pangs of regret than I, as a non-Jew, could possibly feel as they contemplated the implications of their decision: the irrevocable end, for their branch of the family, of the rich and venerable religious and cultural tradition which had to a large extent formed them and made them what they were.

It might seem as if I am surreptitiously siding here with my assimilating ancestors and implicitly criticizing more determined and forceful Jews. This is not the case.

As I have made clear, I find it absurd and distasteful to criticize the decisions – on these sorts of personal matters – of past generations whose circumstances we can never fully understand.

Moreover, I am very reluctant to draw any conclusions from this analysis regarding current practices and current issues. This is because the situation in Western countries has, as I see it, changed radically in recent years. The status quo is now very different from what it was during the times I have been discussing. The key difference is that the traditional mainstream culture – previously both the goal and the driving force of the assimilation process – appears to be losing its power to command respect and allegiance.

And this changes everything.

28 Comments »

  1. Post Holocaust, I doubt that many, if any, Jews are going to try to assimilate in the way that Wittgenstein’s family tried to.

    Like myself, they may not attend synagogue, observe any Jewish religious practices or even have any contact with the organized Jewish community, but post-Holocaust and for a long time into the future, they are going to identify as Jews and stand up for the Jews politically. I know a lot of Jews who are atheists and like myself, have zero interest in the Jewish religion and even in the organized Jewish community, but all of them now identify as Jews and none of them try to assimilate completely.

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  2. 1. On Jewish delis in New York City people might find this clip of Yale historian Paul Freedman interesting (one audience member asks about the causes of decline in Jewish delis in New York City, I have linked to the point when he starts asking the question, the answer is about 3 minutes long):

    2. One should seriously consider, and this applies to all immigrant communities, that people who assimilate do so partly because they dislike their cultural heritage. The default assumption is everyone should be proud of their non-mainstream background, which is by no means obvious. In that sense I fully understand your Australian friend’s reaction.

    3. Freedman in his answer notes that German food was America’s first ethnic cuisine and that nowadays has largely disappeared. German immigration might be a useful comparative case to Jewish immigrants.

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  3. Well, Mark, I am going to be rather more judgmental than you.

    First, let’s be clear about what constitutes reasonable assimilation, and what constitutes the ugly version of it.

    If by ‘assimilate’ one means things like being loyal to your new country; developing enthusiasms for some of the national pastimes; embracing national mores and values, then immigrants should assimilate, and Jews very much have into American society. A play/film like Brighton Beach Memoirs shows this very well.

    If, however, by ‘assimilate’ one means erasing one’s past identity; trying to pass for something one is not; abandoning every element of one’s original faith, ethnicity, culture, and the like, then not only should immigrants not do this, but if they do, they should be ashamed, if only because of those of your people who have been martyred for being what you attempt to hide.

    Indeed, Wittgenstein’s family’s assimilation shames them and him. And it is one of the central obstacles to my embracing him fully, as a philosopher. There are even passages in Culture and Value, which strike me as anti-Semitic.

    I’m not sure that someone whose people have not been subjected to mass extermination or slavery can really grasp this point and why it matters so much.

    There is the further point of futility. The Wittgenstein’s experience with the Nazis illustrates it perfectly. To assimilate in the pernicious sense, out of fear of the majority culture does no good, as they are never going to accept your transformation. My father knew such Jews in Germany and they went straight to the gas chambers, just as fast as the most obvious Hasid.

    The shame, then, is doubled. It is shameful to be a coward and a traitor to one’s people. But it’s even worse to be one for no damned good reason.

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  4. In defense of the Wittgenstein family (and of Karl Marx whose “On the Jewish Question” is openly anti-semitic), they could not have imagined what was in store for European Jews. They imagined (as did most people) that the world or at least Europe was advancing towards progress, prosperity, peace and greater freedom and that being Jewish was “old-fashioned” or “pre-modern”.

    Post-Holocaust, no one is likely to fall into that kind of illusion and as you say, now, post-Holocaust denying one’s Jewishness is shameful. One thing that you know, but that I will point out to non-Jews is that there is no Ashkenazi Jewish family which did not lose most of its members in the Holocaust. That makes Jews who deny being Jewish not only a shame to one’s people, but also to one’s own family.

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  5. S. Wallerstein:
    What do you make of Jewish men who marry ‘out’ and thereby end a potential Jewish lineage (in the rigorist definition)?

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  6. I agree with Daniel K. above that to deny one’s Jewish identity today is cowardly or opportunistic. For example, I live in Chile and many times Chileans use the word “judío” (Jew) to refer to someone who is “only in it for the money”. When I hear that expression,
    I always or almost always correct the person who uses it: I’m sure that by doing that I’ve lost some opportunities to network, some potential clients (I’m a freelance tutor in English as a foreign or second language) and some social invitations.

    Now in a Holocaust-type situation every Jew has the right to lie to save their own life or those of their family or friends. There is no duty to be a martyr. My mother had a cousin in the Czech Republic who became a Catholic nun and somehow the other nuns in the convent hid her during the Nazi occupation. Another cousin of my mother made his way to the Soviet Union where he became a fervent communist to save his life, and that seems fine to me too.

    As to marrying a non-Jew, first of all, I don’t believe much in the institution of marriage, although I’m not on a crusade against marriage if others chose it as their option. Anyway, people should chose their mates according to deep affinities in personality and secondly, sexual attraction. I don’t see that there is any duty to chose one’s mate to perpetuate any given people or culture. In addition, not everyone who has a long-term mate has children, and lots of Jews are gay.

    What I value in the Jews is that every or almost every Jew that I’ve met values intelligence, learning and culture. Even a Jew who appears to be a shady businessman, “in it only for the money”, will willingly sit down and discuss ideas and will value the fact that a “loser” like myself “lives in the world of ideas” and will listen to me when I talk about them. While obviously, there are non-Jews who value intelligence, learning and culture, many of them don’t and in fact, are scornful of them.

    So more than mixing my neurotic Jewish genes with the genes of another Jewish family, I’d like to transmit that respect for intelligence, learning and culture to my children. I’ve given up on transmitting it to humanity in general.

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  7. > If, however, by ‘assimilate’ one means erasing one’s past identity; trying to pass for something one is not; abandoning every element of one’s original faith, ethnicity, culture, and the like, then not only should immigrants not do this, but if they do, they should be ashamed, if only because of those of your people who have been martyred for being what you attempt to hide.

    Not being Jewish, I have nothing to say about the last part of this sentence. If I were Jewish, I think – but I don’t know – that, after the Holocaust, the last thing I would hide would be the fact that I was a Jew.

    But I don’t understand why people, in general, should be “ashamed” if they “erase” their “past identity”. My grandfather on my father’s side was an immigrant from Austria, and the fact that I’m one quarter Austrian leaves me stone cold.

    My father wasn’t allowed to forget he was half Austrian. My mother’s family opposed their marriage, and my grandmother on my mother’s side never forgave her that she married a foreigner. But he never showed the slightest emotional attachment to Austria, except for the cuisine. Perhaps he was lucky he didn’t live in a time when “identity” was already invented.

    Once in a while I wonder how life was in the home village of my paternal grandfather. But more often I wonder what motivated my maternal grandfather when he escaped from occupied territory in WW I and went to work in a field hospital in the north of France. He was 17 years old.

    I don’t know why I should be ashamed of my attitude, or the attitude of my father. I don’t erase my past identity and don’t try to pass for something I’m not. I’m from a working class background and I’ll never deny it. But my roots somewhere in distant Steiermark (Styria)? If somebody doesn’t remind me of it, I almost never think about it. I’ve been in Austria once in my life, to hike in the mountains. I was a stranger, more than I’ve ever been in France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Romania or even Syria.

    In fact, I thoroughly dislike Austria. On the other hand, perhaps that makes me thoroughly Austrian. A friend pointed out that it’s not uncommon for Austrians to be a *Nestbeschmutzer* and offered the playwright Thomas Bernhard as a prime example.

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  8. I would imagine that no one has ever made an “anti-Austrian” remark in your presence. People in general don’t have prejudices against Austrians. However, people do have prejudices against Jews, and even people who are not anti-semitic, have ideas and opinions about Jews, which may even be positive ideas. For example, a non-Jewish girl friend of mine was firmly convinced that Jews are more intelligent than non-Jews. Another non-Jewish girl friend of mine believed Jews to be more trustworthy than non-Jews. I don’t believe that most people have especially positive or even negative opinions about Austrians.

    So a Jew is born into a world where non-Jewish people are going to have strong opinions about Jews, at times negative and at times positive. When he or she reveals that he or she is Jewish, that is going to make an impression one way or another: very few people are neutral about Jews.

    So it seems that non-Jews, by fencing off Jews as a special category, make it difficult for a Jew to not have a Jewish identity. He or she would have to pretend that others do not see him or her as Jewish, but as a “regular person” and that pretending would be dishonest. Sartre has a very good discussion of that in his little book “On the Jewish Question” (the title of the translation varies).

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  9. S. Wallerstein

    “Post Holocaust, I doubt that many, if any, Jews are going to try to assimilate in the way that Wittgenstein’s family tried to.”

    Yes, the situation has changed dramatically since the 19th century – and of course since the Holocaust.

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  10. Parallax

    Thanks for the video reference on the disappearing delicatessens.

    “One should seriously consider, and this applies to all immigrant communities, that people who assimilate do so partly because they dislike their cultural heritage. The default assumption is everyone should be proud of their non-mainstream background, which is by no means obvious.”

    I agree that to believe that people *should* be proud of their heritage is problematic. And many who are not will do what they can to distance themselves from that background. But such actions can be open to criticism (depending on the details of the situation).

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  11. Dan

    “If by ‘assimilate’ one means things like being loyal to your new country; developing enthusiasms for some of the national pastimes; embracing national mores and values, then immigrants should assimilate, and Jews very much have into American society. A play/film like Brighton Beach Memoirs shows this very well.”

    I agree entirely.

    “If, however, by ‘assimilate’ one means erasing one’s past identity; trying to pass for something one is not; abandoning every element of one’s original faith, ethnicity, culture, and the like, then not only should immigrants not do this, but if they do, they should be ashamed, if only because of those of your people who have been martyred for being what you attempt to hide.”

    I see nothing intrinsically wrong with doing many of these things if one is talking in general terms. It all depends on the specific situation and the specific identity which is being rejected and the manner of that rejection.

    “Indeed, Wittgenstein’s family’s assimilation shames them and him. And it is one of the central obstacles to my embracing him fully, as a philosopher.”

    On the issue of judging and shame, as I explained in the essay I have problems with this, especially in respect of decisions regarding religious affiliation etc. taken by people in times and situations we cannot fully know or understand. Sure, we might have views on various kinds of assimilation/ways of assimilating (some are more acceptable than others).

    “There are even passages in Culture and Value, which strike me as anti-Semitic.”

    I am not sure which passages you are thinking of here. For a future discussion, perhaps?

    “There is the further point of futility. The Wittgensteins experience with the Nazis illustrates it perfectly. To assimilate in the pernicious sense, out of fear of the majority culture does no good, as they are never going to accept your transformation.”

    In the *short* term, perhaps (and in some instances in the long term in the Nazi period). But it’s not as if there is some kind of definitive marker – genetic or otherwise – involved. Many, many branches of many, many Jewish families have merged into the wider culture, changing it in subtle (and often positive) ways.

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  12. >>> Thanks for the video reference on the disappearing delicatessens.

    You are welcome, it was lucky I had watched that video not that long ago.

    >>> I agree that to believe that people *should* be proud of their heritage is problematic. And many who are not will do what they can to distance themselves from that background. But such actions can be open to criticism (depending on the details of the situation).

    Setting aside Jews because the unique historical background (no homeland, long history of discrimination culminating in genocide) I really see any legitimate criticism in other cases, or do we not believe in freedom of association?

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  13. (Corrected Copy):

    Mark,
    I echo DanK’s first two comments here. It is a well written essay; but there are problems raised by it.

    In a comment to DanK’s recent “Bits and Pieces” article, I noted the following (which is drawn from a reading of Mein Kampf):

    “Hitler did not simply want to destroy the Jews, he wanted to wipe Jewishness from the face of the earth, to completely empty out the class of ‘all things Jewish.’ After which the term ‘Jew’ could no longer designate a class, and would be ‘invalidated’ in any discussion of population identification. And the Nazis wanted the Jews to know this in their degradation in the camps, long before the gas chambers opened.”

    The various strands of antisemitism in Germany converged, first in Krystal Nacht, then in Auschwitz. In the face of that denial of the very existence of the ethnic minority in question, what assimilation was possible?

    In the US, there have been several periods when African Americans have shown a complete willingness to assimilate into the main-stream culture – and were told every time that they were simply *not* wanted, they’re assimilation was not wanted. That is one reason racism remains the great stain on American politics today.

    It tool a hundred and some years before the Irish were allowed to assimilate into American culture, with often painful (and often questionable) politics. . But Irish skin is white, and Irish Catholics are Christian.

    I don’t know how recent immigrant Muslims will integrate into our culture. Older Muslims here followed the example of Orthodox Jews, forming close-knit, self-subsistent communities.

    A complex, heterogeneous society has to allow negotiated difference between ethnic or religious communities – especially if it aspires to some form of democracy. But that doesn’t mean that anybody will be happy with it.

    But perhaps that’s not necessary. Perhaps the truth of democratic republics is that they are the states of permanent unhappiness. It is just that any other society is somehow worse off.

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  14. I posted the following elsewhere in a discussion on immigration but it applies equally to assimilation (emphasis added):

    Mukand, Sharun and Rodrik, Dani, The Political Economy of Liberal Democracy (April 24, 2017). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 6433. Available at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2973082

    Abstract. We distinguish between three sets of rights – property rights, political rights, and civil rights – and provide a taxonomy of political regimes. The distinctive nature of liberal democracy is that it protects civil rights (equality before the law for minorities) in addition to the other two. When democratic transitions are the product of a settlement between the elite (who care mostly about property rights) and the majority (who care mostly about political rights), they generically fail to produce liberal democracy. This is because the minority has neither the resources nor the numbers to make a contribution to the settlement. We develop a formal model to sharpen the contrast between electoral and liberal democracies and highlight circumstances under which liberal democracy can emerge. We show that liberal democracy requires quite special circumstances: mild levels of income inequality as well as weak identity cleavages. We provide some evidence consistent with this result, and also present a new classification of countries as electoral or liberal democracies.

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  15. Mark,
    The key difference is that the traditional mainstream culture – previously both the goal and the driving force of the assimilation process – appears to be losing its power to command respect and allegiance.

    Yes, yes and yes again. The forces of alienation are becoming stronger than the forces of assimilation. Smug, prescriptive liberalism is a powerfully alienating force.

    To that I would add that a new nation consisting of immigrant groups is naturally more tolerant and inclusive. Assimilation, in such a case is a mutual process. Then, as time passes it develops its own distinctive host culture with the result that assimilation becomes one sided. One sided assimilation is more difficult.

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  16. S.Wallerstein, you write:

    What I value in the Jews is that every or almost every Jew that I’ve met values intelligence, learning and culture. Even a Jew who appears to be a shady businessman, “in it only for the money”, will willingly sit down and discuss ideas and will value the fact that a “loser” like myself “lives in the world of ideas” and will listen to me when I talk about them. While obviously, there are non-Jews who value intelligence, learning and culture, many of them don’t and in fact, are scornful of them.

    Sounds like an excellent motive for marrying ‘in’ or partnering ‘in’. Culture runs deeper than we realise when young. For most people that bank of understanding avoids strife. I’m generally for ‘in’ myself even arranged marriages.

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  17. I’m not so young myself: I’m 71.

    Your comment about arranged marriages is probably ironic, so I’ll not answer it.

    Sure, it is probably true that partnering within a defined cultural group on the average has more chances of establishing a lasting bond.

    However, above I was addressing another question: whether Jewish males have some kind of obligation to partner with Jewish females to preserve the Jewish people, and I don’t believe that that is the case.

    But, yes, it is often true that it would be wiser to partner with people who share your culture, although in a society as diverse as contemporary society we generally participate in many different subcultures, and one is very unlikely to run into someone with all the same cultural codes as one has.

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  18. S. Wallerstein

    I agree that one of the most attractive features of Jewish culture is the value placed on learning and intellectual pursuits.

    I also strongly agree with your point that “there is no duty to be a martyr.”

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  19. couvent2104

    Nestbeschmutzer. Very expressive. Hadn’t come across it.

    On your Austrian heritage… There is often that odd-grandparent-out, and people often talk about percentages or fractions – which makes sense genetically but not culturally. Robert Lowell told Jonathan Miller – “felt the need to assure me,” as Miller put it – that he was one-eighth Jewish!

    Wittgenstein had one non-Jewish grandparent. A Chinese-Indonesian friend of mine is (unlike you) proud of her foreign (Dutch) grandfather – though she doesn’t identify as Dutch or European.

    I looked up Bernhard. He does certainly seem to accentuate the negative. Austria is “a brutal and stupid nation … a mindless, cultureless sewer which spreads its penetrating stench all over Europe.”

    Or: “Mozart’s music is … full of petticoat and frilly undies kitsch.”

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  20. Parallax.

    “[Quoting me] “I agree that to believe that people *should* be proud of their heritage is problematic. And many who are not will do what they can to distance themselves from that background. But such actions can be open to criticism (depending on the details of the situation).” Setting aside Jews because the unique historical background (no homeland, long history of discrimination culminating in genocide) I [don’t] really see any legitimate criticism in other cases, or do we not believe in freedom of association?”

    As Dan points out, not all criticisms need be morally based. Sometimes you could say that attempts to obscure or deny one’s background are just futile or silly or ill-conceived.

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  21. Mark: As Dan points out, not all criticisms need be morally based. Sometimes you could say that attempts to obscure or deny one’s background are just futile or silly or ill-conceived.

    Granted, the execution could be criticized but the intent to escape one’s background seems beyond any criticism in vast majority of cases.

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  22. ejwinner

    You indicate that your comments are based in part on an interpretation of Mein Kampf. I won’t attempt to discuss the book here.

    “Hitler did not simply want to destroy the Jews, he wanted to wipe Jewishness from the face of the earth, to completely empty out the class of ‘all things Jewish.’ After which the term ‘Jew’ could no longer designate a class, and would be ‘invalidated’ in any discussion of population identification… And the Nazis wanted the Jews to know this in their degradation in the camps, long before the gas chambers opened.”

    I accept, of course, that deliberate degradation was a feature of the Nazi approach.

    “The various strands of antisemitism in Germany converged, first in Krystal Nacht, then in Auschwitz. In the face of that denial of the very existence of the ethnic minority in question, what assimilation was possible?”

    And this, presumably, helps explain the subsequent revival of Jewish nationalistic sentiment.

    You go on to talk about the assimilation of various groups within the US.

    “… A complex, heterogeneous society has to allow negotiated difference between ethnic or religious communities – especially if it aspires to some form of democracy. But that doesn’t mean that anybody will be happy with it… But perhaps that’s not necessary. Perhaps the truth of democratic republics is that they are the states of permanent unhappiness. It is just that any other society is somehow worse off.”

    I agree that politics is a very limited thing. Political solutions can’t deliver happiness or human fulfilment; though they may clear the way for certain individuals or groups to find these things.

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  23. Labnut

    “The forces of alienation are becoming stronger than the forces of assimilation. Smug, prescriptive liberalism is a powerfully alienating force.”

    To unpack this would, I suspect, be opening a can of (Marxist-Conservative?) worms.

    “To that I would add that a new nation consisting of immigrant groups is naturally more tolerant and inclusive. Assimilation, in such a case is a mutual process. Then, as time passes it develops its own distinctive host culture with the result that assimilation becomes one sided. One sided assimilation is more difficult.”

    I guess I tend to see the one-sided kind as basic to the meaning of the term – where you have a more-or-less established mainstream culture with indigenous groups and/or immigrants being *assimilated into* this culture. But, of course, the mainstream culture is always modified whenever groups with different histories are brought in.

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  24. Mark,
    To unpack this would, I suspect, be opening a can of (Marxist-Conservative?) worms.

    Marxist-Conservative?

    That is one of the kinder things that have been said about me though I am also a quaintly old-fashioned liberal, the kind that believes in tolerance.

    My home country(South Africa) is an interesting case study in assimilation. We have four large population groups, Black, Coloured, White and Indian. We have a majority, rural population that is rapidly urbanising after a bitter conflict. This is a fraught, Dickensian process hugely complicated by the run-away corruption of the new ruling classes, led by an openly criminal, thuggish president, Jacob Zuma. This population is nevertheless assimilating Western values and learning to operate Western institutions, which provide the binding force for our diverse population groups(eleven official languages).

    The result is that we have a working democracy and the rule of law, underpinned by a respected judiciary. Given the bitter conflict between Black and White, this is an astonishing result. Even more astonishing is the change in attitudes of Blacks towards Whites.

    The Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town conducted a study: Attitudes and Perceptions of Black South Africans towards Jewish People (March 2017).

    See http://www.kaplancentre.uct.ac.za/kaplancentre/news/A-Study-of-Attitudes-towards-Jews-among-Black-South-Africans

    The study contrasted the attitudes of Blacks to other population groups with their attitudes towards Jews and in the process revealed the attitudes of Blacks towards Whites. The result is astonishing, given our recent history:

    Net favourability rating by Blacks of other population groups (favourable% – unfavourable%)

    66% – Whites
    26% – White foreigners
    11% – Black foreigners
    9% – Muslims
    -4% – Jews
    -9% – Indians

    How do we explain this surprising result? In part it can be seen as the result of Blacks aspiring towards Western culture and values, something they regard as very desirable. Whites are seen as the standard bearers of these values and benefit from their halo effect. They are also seen as most likely to help others and most likely to help the poor.

    Another unexpected result is the negative attitude towards Jews. The study shows that very few Blacks have had any interaction with Jews so this reflects an unfortunate prevailing cultural stereotype. I suspect this is mostly the result of the attitude of Blacks towards Indians. They dominate the lower end of business that interacts with Blacks and are regarded as rapacious, unscrupulous businessmen. Since Jews are regarded as being mostly a business class it is possible they are tainted by association.

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