When Conservatives Didn’t Get Tough on Crime: National Review on the Eichmann Trial (Updated)

by Corey Robin on February 11, 2015

Elizabeth Kolbert has a chilling and heartbreaking article in this week’s The New Yorker about the attempt to bring the surviving apparatchiks of the Holocaust to justice, seven decades after the Second World War’s ending.

She writes of three generations of effort to prosecute and try these men and women. In the second phase, many—most of them mid-level perpetrators—got off.

In 1974, an Auschwitz commander named Willi Sawatzki was put on trial for having participated in the murder of four hundred Hungarian Jewish children, who were pushed into a pit and burned alive. (The camp’s supply of Zyklon B had run short.) Sawatzki was acquitted after the prosecution’s key witness was deemed unfit to testify.

Approximately a million Jews were killed at Auschwitz, and along with them at least a hundred thousand Polish, Roma, and Soviet prisoners. According to Andreas Eichmüller, a German historian in Munich, sixty-five hundred S.S. members who served at the camp survived the war. Of these, fewer than a hundred were ever tried for their crimes in German courts, and only fifty were convicted.


But now we’re into the third generation, where there is less forgiveness, more of a desire to see justice done. The problem, of course, is that almost all of these murderers and their accomplices are dead or dying.

 

In response to the verdict [of John Demjanjuk, at his second trial, in 2011], Germany’s central office for investigating Nazi crimes announced that it was looking to build cases against fifty former Auschwitz guards. “In view of the monstrosity of these crimes, one owes it to the survivors and the victims not to simply say ‘a certain time has passed,’ ” the head of the office, Kurt Schrimm, said.

But, of course, time had passed—from an actuarial point of view, way too much time. In September, 2013, the office announced that nine of the fifty guards on the roster had, in the intervening months, died. Others simply could not be located. The list of possible defendants was whittled down to thirty. In February, 2014, investigators presented twelve of the suspects with search warrants; the youngest was eighty-eight, the oldest a hundred. Three were taken into custody, then quickly released. One former Auschwitz guard, Johann Breyer, was living in Philadelphia. A judge ordered his extradition, only to be informed that Breyer had died the night before the extradition order was signed. Meanwhile, Demjanjuk, too, had died, in a nursing home outside Munich, while awaiting his case’s appeal.

In principle, the Demjanjuk verdict opened up “hundreds of thousands” to prosecution; as a practical matter, hardly any were left. And this makes it difficult to know how to feel about the latest wave of investigations. Is it a final reckoning with German guilt, or just the opposite? What does it say about the law’s capacity for self-correction that the correction came only when it no longer really matters?

Martin Luther King is eloquent on the long arc of justice and also on the short time available for action: “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.”


I recommend the whole article.

The piece also made me think, though, about the initial reaction to Israel’s decision to try Adolf Eichmann.

The response to that decision, as historians like Peter Novick and Deborah Lipstadt have shown, was rife with anti-Semitism. The Wall Street Journal warned darkly of “an atmosphere of Old Testament retribution.” A Unitarian minister, according to Novick, claimed “he could see little ethical difference between ‘the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi-pursuing Jew.’” Those unitarian universalists.

The worst offender, though, was National Review. Combining all the elements of anticommunism, Christian homiletics, and ancient Jew-hatred, William F. Buckley’s magazine castigated the Israelis—really, the Jews, those Shylocks of vengeance and memory—for their inability to let bygones be bygones.

In one editorial, the magazine wrote:

We are in for a great deal of Eichmann in the weeks ahead….We predict the country will tire of it all, and for perfectly healthy reasons. The Christian Church focuses hard on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for only one week out of the year. Three months—that is the minimum estimate made by the Israeli Government for the duration of the trial—is too long….Everyone knows the facts, and has known them for years. There is no more drama or suspense in store for us. …Beyond that there are the luridities….The counting of corpses, and gas ovens, and kilos of gold wrenched out of dead men’s teeth….There is under way a studied attempt to cast suspicion upon Germany….it is all there: bitterness, distrust, the refusal to forgive, the advancement of Communist aims.

From the magazine that asks us to get tough on crime.

Update (2 pm)

On Twitter, Michael Moynihan, who’s a columnist at The Daily Beast, tweeted at me several times about that National Review editorial:

 It’s a terrible editorial. And Novick’s book is good. But those ellipses make it worse than it is.

advancement of communist aims” is a response to something in the New Statesman, not trial in general

Again, terrible piece. But it changes some of the context, like the “advancement of communist aims” line


At first, we parried over his “worse than it is.” The implication being that restoring the context of the lengthy National Review quote, eliminating those ellipses, would make the editorial seem better than it is. Which I, focusing more on the anti-Semitism, found hard to believe.

Then Moynihan tweeted this

What I meant: bowdlerized quote makes it sound like the idea of prosecuting Eichmann was a victory for communism.

—and kindly sent me a pdf of the entire editorial, which I’ve uploaded and you can read here.

In the editorial, National Review asks, “What are some of the political and legal ramifications of the Eichmann trial?” It proceeds to answer that “there is under way a studied attempt to cast suspicion on Germany” and then offers a lengthy quote—also with many ellipses—from a letter to the New Statesman and Nation, a left-wing magazine in Britain. The letter that the National Review cites makes some rather unremarkable claims about the continuity in government personnel between Nazi and postwar Germany (a well known fact) but dresses that up with some overblown, albeit qualified, rhetoric about the Germans under Adenauer sharing the same aims as the Germans under Hitler.

At the conclusion of the quote from that letter, the National Review editorial says this:

That—let us hope—is an extreme statement of the spirit that will be promoted by the trial. But it is all there: bitterness, distrust, the refusal to forgive, the advancement of Communist aims, the cultivation of pacifism . . .

So that’s the quote that Moynihan thinks, when read in context, is not as bad as the quote that Novick cites from his book.

I disagree. When read in context, it’s clear that the editorial is making two claims: first, that the letter writer and the perpetrators of the Eichmann trial share the same spirit; second, that the best one can hope for is that the letter writer is only exhibiting a more extreme version of the spirit that animates the perpetrators of the trial. In other words, the anti-German spirit and anticommunist contribution of the trial may well wind up being as extreme as that of the letter writer.

Long story, short: National Review is in fact saying that the advancement of Communist aims is among the elements of the Eichmann trial.

But there’s a little bonus in that editorial, if you read through to the end:

And finally, who will undertake to give as much publicity to those wretched persons, Jews and non-Jews, who are alive today, but will be dead before this trial is over—the continuing victims of Communist persecution, in China and Russia and Laos and Indonesia and Tibet and Hungary?

Got that?

In response to Israel’s decision to capture and try Eichmann in a court of law, National Review replied, “What about Tibet?” Sound familiar? Why are you singling out Eichmann?

{ 143 comments }

1

Charles R 02.11.15 at 5:57 pm

It’s interesting how often the bureaucratic insistence on retaining the hard memories (the papers retained from the “Third Reich’s meticulous record-keeping”) serves to also support, or ground, these stones as another remembering in hard memories.

As much as the pervasive surveillance and gathering of data has become, such details might help those who only see the Big Brother to think about the great-granddaughter waiting in the future who remembers and writes and returns back to what we today are losing.

I’d like to think this is not wishful thinking, but maybe that, too, is wishful thinking.

2

Rich Puchalsky 02.11.15 at 6:18 pm

CR: “The response to that decision, as historians like Peter Novick and Deborah Lipstadt have shown, was rife with anti-Semitism. The Wall Street Journal warned darkly of “an atmosphere of Old Testament retribution.” A Unitarian minister, according to Novick, claimed “he could see little ethical difference between ‘the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi-pursuing Jew.’” Those unitarian universalists.”

You’ve elsewhere expressed your opinion about the virtues of reading primary texts before expressing judgements on them. Here’s as much of the text (apparently by Paul Killinger, “Mercy for Mass Murder”) as I can find surviving on the net:

In the ethical sense I can see little difference between the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi- pursuing Jew. Granted that the Israeli agents felt justice must be done, I cannot imagine they were motivated by humility, love, or compassion in their long search. They did not seek out Eichmann to obtain his confession and attempt his conversion to an ethical way of life. In this case, the ancient God of just retribution seems to have won the upper hand.

The most ethical answer to murder is mercy. The extinction of one life does not breathe back another. There is only one way to be certain mass murder never will take place again.

That is by a basic act of will which rejects violence and asserts the profound worth of each human personality and the inability of any human being to stand in absolute, final judgment upon human actions. As evil often is collective, so also good often is individual. Thus arises today’s need for great souls whose will to do the deeds of love and compassion remains unaffected by social demands.

This case again gives evidence of the degradation of human potential when our minds slip into the easy patterns of stereotyped, scapegoat thinking. We live in a collective world where it is easy to think in such manner—but projecting our own troubles and inadequacies upon Jews, Negroes, Nazis, or Communists points merely to another brutality.

I can easily imagine very exasperated disagreement with this text, for any number of reasons. Is it anti-Semitic? Does it justify “those unitarian universalists” in this context?

3

TM 02.11.15 at 7:07 pm

“The most ethical answer to murder is mercy.”

Maybe this minister upheld this view consistently. But it is certainly a view supported by only the tiniest fractions of Americans. My question therefore would be, how did the public react to this demand for Jewish mercy for a mass-murderer of Jews, as compared to how it reacts to the suggestion that the US justice system should treat murderers with mercy?

4

Corey Robin 02.11.15 at 7:13 pm

Rich:

Actually, “those unitarian universalists” was a bit of a joke, which I hesitated about.

But reading this full (or fuller) statement now, I think I was actually right. Certainly more right than I realized. This seems like a universalism run amok, completely unable to stare at the particular facts that are in front of its face. Eichmann was a scapegoat (for what, I wonder?) — by the way, he tried to present himself in that way, too! — and the Israelis, in trying him, were like white racists project their own inadequacies onto blacks? The Israelis are ethically no different (or little different) from the Nazis in that they both hunt their quarry? Neither of them showed mercy toward their enemy, or sought their conversion?

As for the anti-Semitism charge, well, it has been a consistent feature of Christian anti-Semitism — or Christology — to deride the Jews for their Old Testament insistence on retribution, their lack of compassion, their absence of mercy (a big theme in The Merchant of Venice, as you know), and so on. And while people often take the actions of the Israeli state as a proxy for the Jewish people as a whole (indeed, the Israeli state does that), in this instance, that moves takes a sinister turn. Just like those ancient Jews, brooding on their desire for retribution, with their inability to forgive, so goes the Israeli state. So I don’t think anti-Semitism is an unfair charge in this instance.

Thank you, though, for bringing the original text here. I wouldn’t have thought to look for it! You’re right: it’s very useful and important.

5

Barry 02.11.15 at 7:14 pm

Charles R: “As much as the pervasive surveillance and gathering of data has become, such details might help those who only see the Big Brother to think about the great-granddaughter waiting in the future who remembers and writes and returns back to what we today are losing.”

(a) People like this don’t worry too much about losing.
(b) People like this usually retain enough clout so that even after they lose, the victors have to be very careful in punishing them.
(c) People like this figure that they’ll be dead by the time that the grandchildren of their victims could take revenge.

6

Barry 02.11.15 at 7:16 pm

Rich, quoting Paul Killinger :

“In the ethical sense I can see little difference between the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi- pursuing Jew. Granted that the Israeli agents felt justice must be done, I cannot imagine they were motivated by humility, love, or compassion in their long search. They did not seek out Eichmann to obtain his confession and attempt his conversion to an ethical way of life. In this case, the ancient God of just retribution seems to have won the upper hand.”

How the f*ck can you read this and support it?

The first sentence (the thesis) is a lie. Pure and simple, and is at best a confession that he has no moral sense whatsoever (regardless of what he thinks should be done).

The second sentence equates Nazi lies with the truth about what the Nazis did and why they did it.

7

TM 02.11.15 at 7:23 pm

The outrageous excuses employed by the West German justice system to shield Nazis from persecution merit a long post of their own. One detail I remember is that although Germany changed the statute of limitation so that certain murder cases would not lapse, the hurdles for prosecution were very high and required proof of a certain kind of malice. Now there was a case of a Nazi who had personally killed dozens of Jewish children. But the judges could not find the malice required to convict him. The argument was, and bear with me, I’m not making this up, that this murderer had shown no personal hate towards these children. He just believed that Jews should be killed. And he was cleared.

8

Rich Puchalsky 02.11.15 at 7:24 pm

CR: “This seems like a universalism run amok, completely unable to stare at the particular facts that are in front of its face.”

Yes, I certainly agree with that. And I also picked out “the ancient God of just retribution” as a warning sign right away. I forget what the term is for the belief that an “advanced” Christianity replaced a “primitive” Judaism: something often mixed up by people from a Christian background with an idea of general moral progressivism.

But reading this, I guess I’d class it as an attempt at moral universalism run amok with unfortunate cultural overtones, and as not really qualifying as anti-Semitism in its own right. I don’t have any large argument with people who think otherwise, though, now that you’ve read it.

9

Miriam 02.11.15 at 7:42 pm

“I forget what the term is for the belief that an “advanced” Christianity replaced a “primitive” Judaism: something often mixed up by people from a Christian background with an idea of general moral progressivism.”

Supersessionism is the term you’re looking for.

10

Jeff Martin 02.11.15 at 7:42 pm

I could be mistaken, of course, but I suspect that anti-communism was the animating force in that NR editorial on the trial, the efficient and final causes, if you will, with everything else roped-in as padding. Probably some old-school WASP patrician anti-Semitism was worked in as well, but NR has always been solicitous of Israeli interests in the Middle East, so I cannot be certain on this point. Anti-communism authorized every sort of humbug, every sort of crime.

11

Rich Puchalsky 02.11.15 at 7:43 pm

Miriam: “Supersessionism is the term you’re looking for.”

Thank you! It was bothering me to no end that I couldn’t remember.

12

alkali 02.11.15 at 7:44 pm

@4/8: “Univeralism” for purposes of “Unitarian Univeralism” means something very different than the meaning you ascribe to it here. Nor is it reasonable to assume that a Unitarian minister subscribes to a Christian triumphalist world view. This passage is more likely an expression of radical pacifism, to which I don’t subscribe, but which was popular among Unitarians in this period. In any event, on this evidence, the original post’s slap at Unitarian Universalists seems unwarranted.

13

Ben 02.11.15 at 8:00 pm

I read the (ironically named) Killinger text as entirely about capital punishment. (In the sense of a community, not necessarily a state, killing someone through a process.)

[. . . ] They did not seek out Eichmann to obtain his confession and attempt his conversion to an ethical way of life [. They sought him out to kill him] [. . .]

The most ethical answer to murder is mercy. The extinction of one life does not breathe back another. There is only one way to be certain mass murder never will take place again.

That is by a basic act of will which rejects violence and asserts the profound worth of each human personality and the inability of any human being to stand in absolute, final judgment upon human actions.

The ethical principle being defended is “human beings should never kill other human beings.” And Killinger seems to judge the death of every human by the hands of fellow humans as wrong. The final paragraph is about the mindset that allows a human being “to stand in absolute, final judgement upon human actions.”

I mean. . . it might not be right, it might go too far, but it’s not ludicrous, and it’s worthy of argument, not sputtering incredulity.

14

LFC 02.11.15 at 8:01 pm

Jeff Martin @10
I could be mistaken, of course, but I suspect that anti-communism was the animating force in that NR editorial on the trial, the efficient and final causes, if you will, with everything else roped-in as padding.

Yes, this. What that NR editorial shows most clearly, the most striking and obvious point that emerges from reading it, is the extent to which the Cold War, and NR’s position on it, influenced and shaped NR’s position on an event, i.e. the Eichmann trial, that on any sane view had only the most tenuous connections (if that) to the Cold War. The only evidence adduced in “support” is one letter-to-the-editor of a British left-wing magazine.

In fact, iirc, postwar German govts and the state of Israel had quite close official relations (w the Fed. Rep. Germany paying reparations, among other things), and the notion, implied by the NR editorial, that the trial of Eichmann would somehow be used to attack the Adenauer govt (and lend strength to its left-wing opponents) strikes me as very weird, to say the least. And the graph in the NR editorial re ‘what’s to stop Israel from capturing and trying Ezra Pound?’ is also more than a tad bizarre.

15

Ben 02.11.15 at 8:06 pm

Bah, “the extinction of . . . ” and ” the inability of . . . ” in the quote shoulda been bolded.

Also, probably should add I agree the “ancient God” phrasing is questionable.

16

LFC 02.11.15 at 8:06 pm

p.s. especially since one usu. doesn’t think of NR as a defender of the procedural requirements and niceties of int’l law.

17

Anderson 02.11.15 at 8:11 pm

So, in this editorial, NR’s axiom is that everything else – even the cataclysmic injustice that was the Holocaust – takes second chair to anti-Communism and has to be judged by whether it helps or hurts in that regard.

Fine, at least it’s an ethos.

So I gather that the same editorial spirit, when posed with the argument that Southern segregationism was boosting Red propaganda and that redressing racial injustice was important to the fight against Communism, …

Well, you see where that goes. Not such an ethos after all, was it?

18

Corey Robin 02.11.15 at 8:21 pm

Ben at 13: “I read the (ironically named) Killinger text as entirely about capital punishment.”

I’m afraid you and I read differently. Killinger is not simply questioning the desire to execute Eichmann; he’s questioning the entire pursuit of justice for Eichmann. He thinks the Israelis — or whomever — should show Eichmann mercy, seek his “conversion to an ethical way of life,” and abandon that “the ancient God of just retribution.” He doesn’t think they should put him on trial or give him a punishment short of hanging; he thinks the very enterprise of judgment is, I don’t know, un-Christian or something. But it’s very clear that he thinks the very idea of seeking justice for mass murder is a sign of a morally benighted mind. If not people.

Look, there were many people at the time — not least of which, many Israelis, including, believe it or not, Ben-Gurion himself, who was almost persuaded, it seems, by a conversation he had with Martin Buber — who had qualms about hanging Eichmann. There’s nothing at all remarkable about a Unitarian, or anyone for that matter, questioning the application of capital punishment in this instance. Though how Killinger knew that this was the purpose of the Israelis’ capture and putting on trial of Eichmann — he wrote this text in October 1960; the trial hadn’t even begun; indeed, Eichmann hadn’t yet even been charged — I don’t really know. It wasn’t clear, even to the Israelis, that he’d get the death penalty until quite late in the game. It certainly wasn’t clear to Eichmann or his lawyers.

But that’s just the point. Killinger sees the pursuit of justice for Eichmann — not the execution of Eichmann, but merely the pursuit — as part of some of ancient ritualistic Old Testament push for retribution. And that is a classic trope of anti-Semitism throughout the ages.

As for sputtering incredulity, yeah, consider me guilty. I’m always dumbstruck by people who think that someone who helped arrange the gratuitous murder of millions of innocent people — whether it be Eichmann or Kissinger — should be left to the tender mercies of those administering “ethical conversions.” (And to whose ethics, I wonder, is our former mass murderer meant to convert to? Surely not those ancient Jewish ethics, with all their desire for justice.)

19

gianni 02.11.15 at 8:31 pm

‘antisemitism’ will come off as too strong in a discussion that begins with the actual Holocaust, but there are definitely parts of Christian doctrine which encourage negative stereotypes of Jews.

and reading the passage that Rich P posted above, I was struck by how the first paragraph stands in stark contrast to the remainder of the passage – which is a rather anodyne expression of mercy and nonviolence.

As I read it, some sort of implicit animus on the part of the author gives us this gap in the rhetoric. Even if one gives the first sentence a bit of a pass for being the 20th century version of ‘clickbait’, the “ancient God of just retribution” line taps into a version of the stereotyped thinking that the author later condemns.

20

Anderson 02.11.15 at 8:43 pm

18/19: the language does indeed echo that antisemitic attack, and to me is eerily reminiscent of the rhetoric that George Steiner puts into Hitler’s defense speech in The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.

21

Phil 02.11.15 at 8:51 pm

I forget what the term is for the belief that an “advanced” Christianity replaced a “primitive” Judaism

I think it’s called Matthew 5:38-39. The idea that the old covenant and the old chosen people have been superseded by the new – and that the new covenant is much more about the turning of the other cheek than the old ever used to be – is a pretty mainstream Xtian belief.

I did once hear an Anglican lay reader call on God to help His people Israel, by which he meant precisely what you or I would mean by Israel (who had recently launched Operation Peace For Galilee). Not sure what was going on there, theologically speaking (the politics is more straightforward).

22

TM 02.11.15 at 8:58 pm

There is no excuse – universalist or otherwise – for that first sentence: “In the ethical sense I can see little difference between the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi- pursuing Jew.” What I’m wondering though is whether Killinger’s article is representative for anything other than a tiny church of little cultural influence, certainly no match for NR and WSJ. It would be interesting though if there had been some wider reception.

23

Ben 02.11.15 at 9:08 pm

Corey,

I think the italicized / (supposed to have been) bolded parts of the quote (final, absolute judgment, etc.) more than demonstrate he’s talking solely about killing, and doesn’t condemn seeking justice after being wronged eg imprisonment (even eventually for the rest of natural life). He’s clearly, almost explicitly, saying that he’s taking issue with the equation of justice with killing.

But our readings differ, fair enough.

The point about the timing of the writing is a good one. And I agree wholeheartedly with gianni at 19. That “granted” in the second sentence . . .

24

Rich Puchalsky 02.11.15 at 9:09 pm

I don’t think that the first sentence that I quoted above is actually the first sentence in the original article. I can’t really imagine the article starting there without any preliminaries that make it clear what it’s talking about. I think it’s more likely that the surviving excerpt starts there because it’s such a noticeable sentence.

Corey Robin’s #18 does change my reading of it. I didn’t have the Novick book available and didn’t have the citation to what year the piece was written, so I took it to be against capital punishment rather than pursuit and trial as such. In that sense, I was more inclined to give it a pass, as more similar to what Gandhi wrote about the Holocaust and so on.

25

Harold 02.11.15 at 9:15 pm

Several prominent members of the Nazi occupation of Italy sought refuge in Catholic monasteries, converted, and were sheltered by the Church on the grounds they had seen the light and turned over a new leaf. According to the Vatican, that was that. All focus should now be on defeating Communism.

What we are talking about here is the validity of the secular state and its judicial institutions.

26

Abbe Faria 02.11.15 at 9:21 pm

“Though how Killinger knew that [the application of capital punishment] was the purpose of the Israelis’ capture and putting on trial of Eichmann — he wrote this text in October 1960; the trial hadn’t even begun; indeed, Eichmann hadn’t yet even been charged — I don’t really know… But that’s just the point.”

I admit to knowing little about the historical context, but that’s an awful criticism of Killinger. Bluntly, if you correctly predict something (in this case Eichmann’s hanging) that is uncertain well in advance of it happening based your understanding of the dynamics of the situation – that supports your pov. That’s why you don’t get people saying, “I don’t really know how Edmond Halley knew the comet would return in 1758, what an idiot that guy was” .

27

Colin Danby 02.11.15 at 9:36 pm

“I admit to knowing little about the historical context”

Possibly-relevant parts of the historical context: Eichman was a fugitive from justice, and received a full trial in Israel. Nor were the charges he faced minor.

When someone like Killinger omits these key facts and condenses the story to fit the “ancient God of just retribution” plotline, we have a problem.

28

derrida derider 02.11.15 at 9:40 pm

Give up, Corey – you were caught red handed taking a passage out of context in order to sustain a (very weak) charge of antisemitism, and against a far-from-rightwing person. And while I’ve no time for the Buckleys you haven’t made any sort of a case that they are or were motivated by antisemitism either.

And once again there’s this dishonest and offensive conflation of anti-Israeli and antisemite – “William F. Buckley’s magazine castigated the Israelis—really, the Jews, those Shylocks of vengeance and memory”. It is just bullshit. And ironic too because as, as others have pointed out, NR has usually been a great supporter of Israel.

29

Fuzzy Dunlop 02.11.15 at 9:58 pm

@28 ““I can see little difference between the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi- pursuing Jew”

So basically, this line is fine, no antisemitism to see here, and the Buckley rag saying the Eichmann trial would be boring (maybe even banal!) wasn’t antisemitic because it supported Israel for decades afterwards?

30

MPAVictoria 02.11.15 at 10:07 pm

“So basically, this line is fine, no antisemitism to see here, and the Buckley rag saying the Eichmann trial would be boring (maybe even banal!) wasn’t antisemitic because it supported Israel for decades afterwards?”

Pretty much this.

31

LFC 02.11.15 at 10:43 pm

Two thoughts:

1) I don’t read the NR editorial as overtly antisemitic (though there are perhaps undertones), but as both dumb and remarkably uninterested in what might remain (as of 1961) unknown. The editorial’s stance that “we” already know everything about the Holocaust, that the trial will be a “show trial,” etc., are strange; esp. viewed in hindsight from 2015, as historians are still uncovering new facts about the Holocaust and the period as a whole.

2) The editorial’s general (at least implied) position on accountability for past crimes vs humanity seems to have largely, though I’m sure not completely, faded away (prob. even among conservatives). I suspect NR did not run an editorial after, say, the Rwanda genocide arguing that there should be no form of accountability for the leading perpetrators, or w/r/t the former Yugoslavia. Or Cambodia. Just to mention a few prominent, relatively recent examples. But in 1961 things were apparently different: note the editorial’s emphasis on the lurid (“vivid in a harsh or shocking way; startling; sensational” as the dictionary has it), as if the trial were mainly going to appeal to some base instinct or appetite or other (this cuts vs the suggestion, above, that the editorial is saying the trial wd be boring). Part of the explanation, as already mentioned, was the overriding impact of NR’s anti-Communism and the CW. But as a speculation, I wonder whether the change, in part, also reflects evolving attitudes not only about genocide and other crimes vs humanity but about ‘human rights’ in general, starting (as S. Moyn has argued on the latter) from the ’70s. But, as I say, speculation.

32

LFC 02.11.15 at 10:44 pm

grammar correction above:
The editorial’s stance… is strange, not “are strange”

33

stevenjohnson 02.11.15 at 10:55 pm

I have no idea how Novick convinced himself that a MANAS journal discussion of an article in the October 1960 Unitarian Register was as useful a marker of reactions to the prospect of Eichmann’s trial as the Wall Street Journal or National Review. Perhaps a form of the “even The New Republic” gambit? Perhaps not.

Moving on from the hopeless task of deciding why Rev. Killinger was deemed so significant, let’s assume that the MANAS journal was an opinion former like WSJ and NR, with all its nuances formed with long experience in the delicate interplay between agenda and it mass audience. Killinger wrote “…the inability of any human being to stand in absolute, final judgment upon human actions…” Denying an Israeli tribunal the moral authority to exercise capital punishment falls within this principle, and context requires it to be interpreted this way.

But of course “(i)n this case, the ancient God of just retribution seems to have won the upper hand,” is also context. And this is where the question of the audience comes in. When the WSJ and NR talk like this, we can be fairly certain their audience believed in constructs like “Judeo-Christian heritage,” or whatever period appropriate cliches might apply. Taking occasion to suddenly divide Judaism and Christianity from their joint approbation of the American Way surely meant something, I think. But in the Unitarian Register, this is almost certainly harks to old criticisms of mainstream Christian denominations. Perhaps not, but there is no evidence justifying claims to the contrary.

But enough of that. Personally I don’t hold with pacifism, dissident Christian or not. I’m not sure how a scholar could be so unacquainted with the amazing conclusions of consistent pacifists but I sympathize with their belated shock that some people think like this.

“Christian anti-Semitism — or Christology” in this context is rather interesting. Christology=anti-Semitism? This notion that the very concept of Christ, as the fulfilmet of Jewish scriptures sans Jews, is intrinsically anti-Semitic unfortunately is extremely dubious.

First, this kind of essentialism (or whatever you want to call it,) is I think a defective kind of thinking, that defines people by metaphysical qualities attributed rather than discovered in the real world. I don’t believe in the kind of Christendom and Jewry tacitly assumed here.

Second, it further attributes to ideas a causal power I believe unjustified by the study of real society and history. To make this an even greater lapse in judgment, it is attributing power to ideas that are not held by individuals, for which one can try to make a case by evidence. But it is attributing causal power to “ideas” held by collective entities posited without evidence.

Third, the equation of anti-Semitism and Christology, which is really the assertion that Christianity is opposed to Judaism, is not much relevant to anything, especially questions of truth. After all, believing that Judaism is essentially opposed to Christianity is the same as saying that Judaism is essentially opposed to Christianity. This view could presumably be held by Jews. How can that be anti-Semitic? It’s not even clear that atheistic or non-observant cultural Jews could logically object. After all, if the one side thinks they are right, and the other side thinks they are right, they can still agree on being separate peoples, instead of one common humanity.

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stevenjohnson 02.11.15 at 10:58 pm

“After all, believing that Judaism is essentially opposed to Christianity is the same as saying that Judaism is essentially opposed to Christianity.” was supposed to read ” After all, believing that Christianity is essentially opposed to Judaism is the same as saying that Judaism is essentially opposed to Christianity.” It’s very hard to keep the wording between two fundamentally identical concepts straight, but I’m still sorry.

35

AB 02.11.15 at 11:01 pm

The Christian Church focuses hard on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for only one week out of the year.

Is this the most spectacular own goal in the history of analogies?

But seriously, atonement, mercy, conversion to the ethical life…this for the man who “will leap into the grave laughing, because I have the murder of five million Jews on my conscience.”

I can’t even.

Wrong us, shall we not revenge?

36

bianca steele 02.11.15 at 11:09 pm

What we are talking about here is the validity of the secular state and its judicial institutions.

This is one interpretation of a clergyman’s condemnation of the workings of the criminal justice system. While a legitimate state (one which grants a high place to the church and gives at least lip service to religion’s authority over the sovereign) has the right to keep the peace, a secular one does not. This isn’t an idea you see very often, however. Most frequently, the right of the state to keep order, and the responsibility of church members to obey the law of the state, are strenuously asserted. There are few Christian churches that encourage ordinary people to do as they like or to disrespect the police and so on (though possibly there are some).

That said, it’s a possible position that ordinary people shouldn’t criticize the government or involve themselves in it. The Nazis were the government of a country once, somewhere (a country that’s our ally now). Is this sufficient reason to leave them alone?

And it’s expected to hear preached the ideal of getting along with neighbors. But is it to be expected that there are Nazis in the US who ought to be considered neighbors and got along with? Or Nazi communities?

And how far might this go? Surely we wouldn’t need to consider that the post-WWII momentum might reverse and we’d have a Nazi government here in the US, and so Nazis should be treated as potential if not probable governments.

What I find interesting along these lines, though, assuming the correct interpretation is that this is preaching to a congregation of ordinary people without worldly power, would be the ordinary Christian’s taking it upon himself to lecture every Jew in the world, including the government of the state of Israel, on the need to leave government to the legitimate leaders. The problems with such an idea are, I think, obvious. It’s not that the ideal of forgiveness is a stupid one. It’s that no minister would lecture a Christian leader in that way.

37

Rich Puchalsky 02.11.15 at 11:10 pm

stevenjohnson: “Moving on from the hopeless task of deciding why Rev. Killinger was deemed so significant […]”

It’s that first sentence in the excerpt. No one can resist a sentence that seems to illustrate exactly what is to be illustrated. The sentence’s exact aptness and symmetry is why I was motivated to look up the text in the first place.

Going back to the issue of MANAS journal that discusses this (was this Novick’s source? I still don’t have his citation), that article claims that Killinger “makes a tight ethical argument against the execution of Adolf Eichmann”, if that bears on the question of whether it was capital punishment that was being objected to. It does make sense that this is why there would appear to be foreknowledge: it wasn’t foreknowledge, it was a claim that execution shouldn’t be done.

38

bianca steele 02.11.15 at 11:11 pm

On supersessionism, my understanding is that this is an extremely harsh interpretation of the relationship between Jews and Christians, and that it’s by far the predominant interpretation in most churches today (though I take I think Phil’s point that even if not dominant the interpretation always remains available as one choice among others).

39

someguy88 02.11.15 at 11:40 pm

Regarding anti-semitism and the NR

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-rights-israel-turn/

Corey,

‘ disagree. When read in context, it’s clear that the editorial is making two claims: first, that the letter writer and the perpetrators of the Eichmann trial share the same spirit; second, that the best one can hope for is that the letter writer is only exhibiting a more extreme version of the spirit that animates the perpetrators of the trial. In other words, the anti-German spirit and anticommunist contribution of the trial may well wind up being as extreme as that of the letter writer.’

No.

‘What are some of the political and legal ramifications
of the Eichmann trial?

A lot people will scream Eichmann Globke Germany still the same do not re-arm them! An over stated but not a completely implausible fear. Obviously NR wants people to forget about the past and scream communists!

‘That—let us hope—is an extreme statement of the spirit that will be promoted by the trial.’

Let’s hope that those are the most extreme political sentiments/ramifications that will be promoted by the trial. Not the main stream sentiment. Again not a completely crazy worry.

Every political sentiment we fear could be promoted by the trail – ‘ bitterness, distrust, the refusal to forgive, the advancement of Communist aims, the cultivation of pacifism . . .’

Forgive and forget Germany’s continuity. Don’t let whatever great evil was commited in the past lead to any ill feeling towards Germany that might keep us from rearming Germany against the current Communist menace. Let the past be the past the Communists threaten us now.

That is the correct reading.

40

TM 02.12.15 at 12:08 am

37, we are still in the dark concerning the contemporary reception of Killinger. His statement stands out but did anybody actually read it at the time?

41

bianca steele 02.12.15 at 12:25 am

@38 and that it’s by far the predominant interpretation in most churches today – damn, I meant “far from the predominant interpretation”

42

Colin Danby 02.12.15 at 12:58 am

Once more.

Both Killinger and the NR (WFB? It certainly has his stylistic tics and right-Catholic worldview):

1. Distinguish Christian from Jewish approaches to evil .
2. Explicitly adopt the Christian understanding, against the (alleged) Jewish one.
3. Using that stance, rebuke the trial of Eichmann as a specimen of Jewish inability to forgive and forget.
4. Ignore the functions of fact-finding and accounting in a public trial, reducing it to vengeance and horror.

So yes, of course, these are deeply antisemitic writings. They are not “overt” in the sense of crude insults: this is the antisemitism of sophisticated people. Stories matter (see again Corey’s “worst offender” paragraph.) Assumptions matter. The way a speaker positions self and audience against others matters.

43

Corey Robin 02.12.15 at 1:15 am

Two issues that have come up here.

1. Why the Killinger article; what is its representativeness?

As I said in my OP, I got the quote from Peter Novick, who was a major historian at the University of Chicago, and whose history of the reception of the Holocaust in postwar American life is considered one of the path-breaking books in US historiography of the last quarter-century. The Eichmann trial is a chapter in that history.

Novick argues that one of the two immediate and common responses to the trial was “that it illustrated the difference between Christian forgiveness and ‘Jewish vengefulness.'” Novick cites a litany of examples of that response in the media. One frequent place where that sort of response was found was in Christian publications.

So he cites a long statement from a Catholic newspaper called The Tablet: “All this Eichmann business that has been filling the papers lately sadly reminds us that there are still some influential people around who — like Shylock of old — demand their pound of flesh….This identical thinking was back of the notorious Nuremberg trials. And the same believers in ‘an eye for an eye’ continue today unregenerate and unashamed. Forgiveness is not in their makeup, not even forgiveness of the completely vanquished. For these warped minds there is no such word as pardon.”

This was some of the uglier stuff in the Christian press that Novick found. In his footnotes, he cites a lot more from the Christian press. Less ugly, but the same theme. So, for example, this from a Jesuit periodical: “A sound and healthy world community cannot rest solidly on fear and the spirit of vengeance.”

This is the context in which the Killinger editorial is quoted: a pervasive opposition in the media, both Christian and secular,drawn between a Christian spirit of forgiveness and compassion and a Jewish spirit of retribution, vengeance, and justice.

You can try to read or wave away the elements of that opposition in the Killinger editorial — to see it as some anodyne plea for world peace or anti-violence or whatever; and I’m sure that among other things, it does partake of that spirit as well — but when read in the context of these other publications, and when you attend to the tropes that Killinger himself uses, it seems pretty clear that his editorial partakes of what is, in fact, an ancient theme in Christian anti-Semitism.

And again that it is but one piece of evidence that Novick cites.

2. On National Review. There’s no doubt that anticommunism played a part in its response to the Eichmann trial. But to say that that is all, and that antiSemitism is not also part of that response, ignores two facts.

First, that in the imagination of that sector of the Right, the Jew and the Communist were often inextricably mixed. They were thought to be interchangeable: the Jew Communist.

One of the reasons that Buckley ultimately had to fight so hard against anti-Semitism within the circles of National Review was precisely b/c it was such a malignant presence around conservative anticommunism more generally. (As late as the early 1990s, he was still fighting that fight within National Review, incidentally. Joseph Sobran was a senior editor at National Review till 1993, when Buckley finally had to fire him for his consistent and pervasive anti-Semitism.)

Second, and more important, Novick cites extensively from a multiplicity of National Review editorials at the time that were explicitly anti-Semitic around this issue of the Eichmann trial. I only cited one — the one that replays that theme of Christian forgiveness versus Jewish vengeance — but in his notes Novick provides evidence of at least eight more editorials over a two-year period.

Here are some examples. One editorial called the trial “an international apparatus of vengeance.” Another one (called “The Gold Problem”) Novick describes as follows: “The magazine presented the imagined conversation of a vulgar Jewish couple: ‘Sylvia’ spoke to ‘Myron’ about Eichmann (and gold, and hairdressers) in their Central Park West apartment while ‘doing her nails…on an enormous crescent-shaped, gold-on-gold, French provincial Castro convertible.'”

In another article, the magazine noted that the NY broadcasting company that had been contracted by the Israelis to distribute the film of the Eichmann trial to the networks had lowered their prices. Why was this worthy of comment? B/c, says Novick, “it gave the magazine the chance to observe, ‘They must have known a chap who could get it for them wholesale.'” Get it: cause Jews know how to get things cheap.

Around the same time, says Novick, the magazine editorialized against “a mob of Jews” who had “hurled insults” against the leader of the American Nazi Party.

So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say that National Review had a problem with anti-Semitism and that that problem found its way into its coverage of the Eichmann trial. Including the lengthy quote I cited in my OP.

44

Corey Robin 02.12.15 at 1:18 am

Rich: Novick’s source for the Killinger article is the article itself, which he cites as appearing in *Unitarian Register* in October 1960, on p. 6.

45

P O'Neill 02.12.15 at 1:38 am

It’s strange to read this thread and suspect a need to point out that the Israel of 1961 is not the Bibi lovefest for conservatives of Israel today. Just 5 years after the suez debacle, and the kibbutz philosophy a much more animating force in the country. Plenty for old line republicans not to like. Also, the Holocaust is such a monstrous crime that any legal process was not going to leave a sense of justice being done,another entry point for critics of the trial. A sense of real justice may come down to Eric’s Argentina excursion in X-Men First Class.

46

Jerry Vinokurov 02.12.15 at 1:44 am

I’m so glad a deep thinker like stevenjohnson has showed up to explain to silly Jewish me about how patently anti-Semitic tropes are actually just meaningless theological differences. I expect in short order he will also explain how cartoons depicting Barack Obama eating watermelon are just indicators of his dietary preference rather than racist trash.

So yes, of course, these are deeply antisemitic writings. They are not “overt” in the sense of crude insults: this is the antisemitism of sophisticated people. Stories matter (see again Corey’s “worst offender” paragraph.) Assumptions matter. The way a speaker positions self and audience against others matters.

This, a thousand times this.

47

dn 02.12.15 at 2:06 am

Is it fair to read Killinger as anti-Semitic? Yeah, I’d say so. Most of what Killinger says in the quoted passage is pretty clearly based on a pretty standard liberal reading of the New Testament – one that is plausible but hardly irrefutable. But that’s hardly an excuse. Supersessionism is a topic with many theological wrinkles, but suffice it to say that basically any version of Christianity, however liberal, can hardly get around it if it takes its basis in the New Testament seriously. It’s just impossible to avoid the fact that the NT is in large part made up of polemics against certain strands of ancient Judaism. Trying to apply the arguments of 2000-year-old polemical texts to contemporary circumstances is an inherently fraught enterprise, but those are the texts Christians have to work with. (One more reason to just drop the whole biblical edifice, that’s how I look at it.)

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.15 at 2:13 am

“Rich: Novick’s source for the Killinger article is the article itself, which he cites as appearing in *Unitarian Register* in October 1960, on p. 6.”

Thanks. Then after looking at all of this, I’m inclined to trust Novick’s original interpretation. I realize that I could have shortened this process considerably.

For what it’s worth, I might as well report back from the various google searches I did that Killinger was almost certainly this person and this person.

49

Harold 02.12.15 at 2:28 am

If he was a Unitarian, Killinger was almost certainly very liberal and by no means a doctrinaire Christian (Unitarians are not even considered Christian by Trinitarian Christians, who comprise the bulk of the sect). But the quote illustrates how much, in contrast to today, Jews were viewed as “other” and alien in the years before 196o and their concerns as relatively unimportant. Many Jews prominent in the entertainment world were not “out”, Jack Benny and Jerry Lewis spring to mind, and tried to pass as “WASP”, a category they played a part in inventing.

50

LFC 02.12.15 at 2:31 am

The context for the NR editorial that CoreyR gives from Novick @43 is helpful. It’s unavoidably somewhat hazardous and potentially misleading to read one brief editorial in isolation. One statement of the ‘forgiveness v. vengeance’ thing could have been written off as insignificant, but not if it was stated, as it apparently was, repeatedly.

51

john c. halasz 02.12.15 at 2:35 am

T.S. Eliot was brought up Unitarian. It tended to be an upper crust WASP sect.

52

bianca steele 02.12.15 at 2:39 am

The Unitarians were more or less the established church in New England after Emerson’s time. Harvard is Unitarian. In towns around here, the biggest among the oldest churches, in the most central location, is the UU one. Or course people moved around a lot since Emerson’s time.

53

Harold 02.12.15 at 2:40 am

West German Chancellor (1949-63) Konrad Adenauer, a devout Catholic and opponent of Protestantism, promoted Christianity itself as an antidote to Communism and Socialism, which he considered “materialistic”. And though he stated he agreed that war criminals should be punished, he also condemned “de-Nazification” and promised a general amnesty for former Nazis (if I read wikipedia aright).

54

bianca steele 02.12.15 at 2:42 am

Not really on-topic, but Killinger’s use of the term “human potential” is also notable, and there’s a strain of therapeutic language running all through the text.

55

Harold 02.12.15 at 2:44 am

But T.S. Eliot came from St. Louis, not Massachusetts, and was Southern in his racial and social attitudes. S. T. Coleridge was also Unitarian (an ordained minister if I am not mistaken), and like Eliot converted to reactionary politics and Trinitarianism.

New England Unitarians were the direct descendants of Calvinists, against whose harsh doctrines they rebelled.

56

bianca steele 02.12.15 at 2:48 am

Harold, the Wikipedia uses the words “old Yankee family” w/r/t Eliot.

Actually, the Baptist churches are often bigger than the UU ones, and built around the same time (1820s). But not as centrally located.

57

dn 02.12.15 at 2:52 am

I think it’s worth distinguishing between “Unitarian” and “Unitarian-Universalist” here. Historically, the latter was formed by the 1961 merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists, which were both extremely liberal denominations but still generally self-identified as Christian. Since the merger they have become more fully non-dogmatic and no longer strictly a Christian organization. As Harold notes, back then Jews were definitely more of an out-group than they are today, but “cultural Christianity” was also a stronger force; even if you were far from a dogmatic believer, you were still basically a part of Christendom and probably had an ethical upbringing that was more or less explicitly rooted in the New Testament.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.15 at 3:00 am

UUism is, as dn says above, now non-Christian, and (at least according to adherents.com) is now considered one of the major religions of the world now that it is no longer subsumed in Christianity.

59

Harold 02.12.15 at 3:09 am

They may have self identified as Christian, but Trinitarians did not accept them as such.

60

dn 02.12.15 at 3:18 am

Trinitarians don’t accept Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christadelphians as Christian either, but all of the above are still “culturally Christian” and still base their worldviews in the NT, which is suffused with polemics against unbelieving Jews. That was my point.

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Harold 02.12.15 at 3:24 am

@60 Agreed.

62

Omri 02.12.15 at 3:48 am

The outrageous excuses employed by the West German justice system to shield Nazis from persecution merit a long post of their own.

Indeed they do. As does the Jewish response, which is particularly pertinent to the case of the Eichmann trial. West Germany’s actions to protect Nazis from prosecution, and in particular the grotesque arguments given for doing so, were establishing in essence a legal finding that the Holocaust was not a crime at all. THAT was what drove the Israelis to capture and try Eichmann. Not a desire by the atavistic bloodthirsty Jews of the antisemitic imagination for their pound of flesh. Simply a desire to establish that the Holocaust was a crime, and its dead, therefore, human.

The National Review’s characterization of the trial is refuted by a simple observation: Nuremberg, Dachau, and Berlin: they exist as cities today, not as lumps of trinitite.

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LFC 02.12.15 at 4:03 am

bianca s.:
The Unitarians were more or less the established church in New England after Emerson’s time. Harvard is Unitarian.

According to Wiki, “although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregation­alist [i.e., a particular strain of Calvinist] and Unitarian clergy.” (The timing presumably was Congregationalist first, Unitarian after.)

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Harold 02.12.15 at 4:12 am

@52 Just a quibble. Emerson broke with the Unitarian Church and became a Transcendentalist; Theodore Parker, the inspiration for Martin Luther King, and a member of the “Secret Six” was excommunicated for being too radical.

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Omri 02.12.15 at 4:26 am

But that’s just the point. Killinger sees the pursuit of justice for Eichmann — not the execution of Eichmann, but merely the pursuit — as part of some of ancient ritualistic Old Testament push for retribution. And that is a classic trope of anti-Semitism throughout the ages.

That’s the thing with those supercessionist tropes: they remained part of the structure of Christian ethical thinking long after Christians gave up any connection between the tropes and the Jews in them (for lack of hate or for lack of Jews..) 40 years before Killinger’s exercise in love of the sound of one’s own voice, there was an uproar in Boston about the artist Sargent putting in a mural in the BPL, featuring a pictorial supercessionist trope: Ecclesia and Synagoga. Sargent was no antisemite. He just had no idea that real life Jews don’t quite like being a rhetorical or literary device.

I imagine today’s Samaritans (700 of them, still around) are not pleased at the implication that there is only one Good one.

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dn 02.12.15 at 5:07 am

What Omri says. “Part of the structure of Christian ethical thinking” nails it. That a cultural Christian would speak or write in terms similar to Killinger’s is no surprise, nor is it necessarily a sign of virulent hatred of flesh-and-blood Jews, but the implicit stereotyping of Judaism is impossible to avoid when a person tries to think through ethics in explicitly Christian terms. Jewish strawmen are the primary antagonists of both Jesus and Paul; they’re part and parcel of the New Testament’s ethical logic.

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derrida derider 02.12.15 at 6:28 am

Well of course if you’re going to condemn Xtians for believing (somewhat inaccurately)that the NT preaches forgiveness and the OT doesn’t, you’d have to condemn them for believing (even more inaccurately) that everyone else’s religion preaches vengeance too – especially Muslims. A kind of bigotry, maybe, but it aint specifically anti-Semitic.

Of course the whole POINT of believing in a religion – at least any Abrahamic one – is that you are right and everyone else is wrong. So much the worse for religion.

Oh, and ” Jewish strawmen are the primary antagonists of both Jesus and Paul” says dn@66. Are you claiming they were self-hating Jews? Paul maybe (though mostly he sounds to me like a self-hating closet gay) but not plausibly Jesus. After all the only safe examples, straw or otherwise, available to Jesus were Jews – using Roman ones would get him rather quickly killed.

None of this is to deny that the sort of old-fashioned snobbish anti-Semitism, quite similar to contemporary snobbish anti-Hibernian anti-Catholic sentiment, was probably alive and well in New England country clubs in 1961 (for all I know it may still be). Its just that NR’s commentary on the Eichmann trial and especially Killinger’s confused musings on forgiveness (he taught theology? really?) don’t provide a lot of evidence for it.

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dn 02.12.15 at 8:11 am

derrida derider @67 – “Are you claiming they were self-hating Jews?” Nothing of the sort. I’m talking about the literary characters Jesus and Paul. I have zero interest in speculating on what the historical Jesus or Paul may have been like.

And the bigotry I’m describing is unquestionably a specifically anti-Jewish bigotry. The failure of most Jews to convert to Christianity is a major preoccupation of the New Testament; thus non-acceptance of a Christian viewpoint becomes coded as specifically Jewish. (The ur-text here is Romans 9-11.) Once you begin to conceptualize “Christianity” in ethical terms, as has been fairly common historically, it becomes natural to read back into the text the corresponding idea of a less-enlightened “Jewish” ethic. The scribes and Pharisees are the bad guys; Christian readers attribute to them whatever hard-hearted or unforgiving moral views they happen to object to. (Ur-text: the Pericope Adulterae.)

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Belle Waring 02.12.15 at 11:17 am

NR: we are pricks, yet do we not bleed?
More seriously, has any of you toeing the “the accidental anti-Semite–he just wanted to call attention to the New Covenant between man and God after the Redeemer came, but he chanced to make this salient moral observation at exactly the moment at which he would defend Eichmann from the blood-thirsty Jews” line read Corey’s comment 43? It’s totally, completely, the most ‘gadzooks, you got refuted’ refutation I have seen in a while. I feel I ought to bring some gel-packs from the freezer with my husband’s clean athlethic socks on them (this being the balm applied to all wounds in our home; the currency of healing right up to the point where you lose the argument about going to the hospital), and I don’t even really like some of y’all. Respond to the religio-contextual claim and the well-attested anti-semitism that was a feature of the American right for many, many years. The identification of ‘the Jew’ with ‘the communist’ was likewise of long duration, and inherited from European right-wing governments. Even today, you will all be happy to know, it flourishes among the ‘race realists’, PUAs, and MGTOW who eagerly await the zombie apocalypse with the gratified certainty that all those bitches will have to come to them for protection now. There’s a pretty big far-right web community that thinks Israel is right in killing Muslims and should carry right on, but that we are dupes for paying them since they must do it perforce, and that the Left and SJWs have neutered Republican politicians so they can’t express the proper views on Jewish people (you can fill in the rest of the bingo card yourself.)

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.15 at 12:54 pm

BW: “More seriously, has any of you toeing the “the accidental anti-Semite–he just wanted to call attention to the New Covenant between man and God after the Redeemer came, but he chanced to make this salient moral observation at exactly the moment at which he would defend Eichmann from the blood-thirsty Jews” line read Corey’s comment 43?”

I don’t know, have you really been following the argument?

I’m not addressing the NR part. Killinger wrote an anti-Semitic piece, but he didn’t do so as someone on the right, and he didn’t suddenly come out with religious sentiments for it. He was a minister who had to write a sermon every week, and I’m sure that a large number of those sermons had to do with Christian ideas of forgiveness: it’s not like he thought of Eichmann and then wrote the forgiveness part as a cover that he’d otherwise never return to. I have no idea where the blend in the latter part of your paragraph is going, but the parts that apply to NR don’t apply to Killinger: the two random links that I turned up show him founding a Planned Parenthood clinic and (kind of ineffectually) defending a Young Socialists Alliance protest.

I’m a Jew, as are many other people in this thread, and I’m not going to apologize for looking up a source and then arguing about it. It’s kind of one of the cultural things we do. I don’t think Corey Robin’s #43 on Killinger is extremely strong — as I’ve alluded to above, you could look at some of Gandhi’s writings on the Holocaust and say that this is universalism run amuk, and wow he’s saying that the Jews should have all killed themselves rather than resisted — and there are indications that Killinger studied Gandhi. But Killinger uses anti-Semitic tropes where Gandhi doesn’t, and I’m willing to accept that the historian who made the original judgement call on this was right because he read the whole article. That’s not really the slam dunk that you seem to think it is.

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someguy88 02.12.15 at 1:00 pm

Belle,

No.

Corey reached for his magic wand and has retreated into a sea of ellipses. Once unpacked the first ellipse really didn’t seem quite as bad as it did as an ellipse. That is the thing with ellipses. Buckley was battling against the right’s anti-semitism. Yes. Therefore we can expect to see anti-semitism in right wing writing. Yes. Including the right wing NR. Yes. And we even if these ellipses aren’t as bad as they seem it really looks like we can see anti-semitism in the NR. Yes. Therefore every NR piece, even those explicitly endorsed and with input for WB, who was battling anti-semitism on the right, must be read in the most tortured and convoluted manner possible to highlight maximum anti-semitism. No. A big No.

Sometimes anti communism bits are just anti communist and not anti Jewish.

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Alex K--- 02.12.15 at 1:57 pm

@Corey Robin: “he thinks the very enterprise of judgment is, I don’t know, un-Christian or something.”

I think he is saying, “judging humans rather their deeds is un-Christian,” and in saying that, he represents an ancient tradition within Christianity. Not the mainstream line perhaps but an influential mode of thought (and feeling) that has never died out. Recall Tolstoy’s rants against earthly justice, denounced as unorthodox and un-Orthodox. On a closer look though, Tolstoy not only resembles some early Protestants but could probably claim support from some Church fathers, at least Eastern ones, such as Isaac of Syria.

For a serious Eastern Orthodox believer as well as for many Catholics, it is a tenet of faith that one should only judge one’s neighbor’s deeds, not the neighbor herself. That Christian might accept human justice as necessary to keep up social order and, perhaps, provide a moral example, but he would be aware that imagining himself to be “better” or “more righteous” or “less sinful” than Eichmann is plainly wrong.

It’s not the theology that is the problem here – it’s the hypocrisy. Killinger is holding Israel to an impossibly high standard but lets Christian nations off the hook. It was a time when most Christian countries executed people for a tiny fraction of what Eichmann had done. Had Eichmann played the same role in a large-scale massacre of Americans, no one would have castigated American authorities for lack of compassion in bringing the villain to justice. Even today, while some people worry that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial may be unfair and want his life spared, no one is seriously imploring the feds to “forgive” the man.

@dn: “Once you begin to conceptualize “Christianity” in ethical terms, as has been fairly common historically, it becomes natural to read back into the text the corresponding idea of a less-enlightened “Jewish” ethic. The scribes and Pharisees are the bad guys…”

Natural, yes, and has naturally been done since time immemorial. But still, an incorrect inference from the Christian narrative, where the scribes and the Pharisees are cast as the Jewish establishment of the time. In contrast, it’s various Jewish outcasts and commoners that accept Christ early on, plus a maverick Sanhedrin member and a few Romans.

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Jerry Vinokurov 02.12.15 at 2:16 pm

you could look at some of Gandhi’s writings on the Holocaust and say that this is universalism run amuk, and wow he’s saying that the Jews should have all killed themselves rather than resisted

What do tou mean, “could?” That pretty much is what he said (oh, I’m sorry, I’m eliding the assuredly vast difference between literally killing yourself and allowing someone to do it).

74

TM 02.12.15 at 3:13 pm

Thanks Corey for bringing this topic up.

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Jerry Vinokurov 02.12.15 at 3:22 pm

Sometimes anti communism bits are just anti communist and not anti Jewish.

I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that HUAC investigators dragged in Jews to testify in disproportionate numbers.

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bianca steele 02.12.15 at 3:38 pm

LFC @ 63

I can’t find the page that quote comes from. If it’s referring to Harvard’s founding, IIRC around 1700 the Calvinist Puritans hadn’t formally broken off from the Anglican church: it’s standard to say they considered themselves part of the Church of England. Of course the Crown established official Anglican churches here too, under different governance, so the congregations under independent governance were “Congregationalist.” The official churches then became Episcopalian.

The web site of the UU church in my town notes that in 1826 the town gave up running the church, and in 1830 there was a schism and some members went to a new Congregationalist church across the Common (which doesn’t appear to be continuous with the church that’s there now). The people in the older building kept the name, which I think was common at the time, though I thought I had a historical web page for another town which I can’t find right now. (The Baptist church was built in 1826.)

Harold: yes, I was confusing something about much of the Harvard elite following Emerson

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.15 at 3:38 pm

Jerry Vinokurov: “What do tou mean, “could?” That pretty much is what he said (oh, I’m sorry, I’m eliding the assuredly vast difference between literally killing yourself and allowing someone to do it).”

This is pretty much what he said, but it’s not being interpreted as Killinger is because Killinger adds extra tropes. If someone is going to say that Gandhi is anti-Semitic rather than Killinger, that’s where the real push-back is going to come. Having a radical pacifist view that people completely disagree with is not anti-Semitic, even if it leads someone to say something that you think is ridiculous or infuriating. Are you making that argument?

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bianca steele 02.12.15 at 3:40 pm

I mean, not “the people in the older building kept the name” but “the Unitarians kept the older building, also the name “First Parish Church.””

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Jerry Vinokurov 02.12.15 at 3:45 pm

This is pretty much what he said, but it’s not being interpreted as Killinger is because Killinger adds extra tropes. If someone is going to say that Gandhi is anti-Semitic rather than Killinger, that’s where the real push-back is going to come. Having a radical pacifist view that people completely disagree with is not anti-Semitic, even if it leads someone to say something that you think is ridiculous or infuriating. Are you making that argument?

I don’t think Gandhi was being anti-Semitic so much as, yes, ridiculous and infuriating. The tropes, as you say, make the difference: as far as I know, there’s nothing in particular in Gandhi’s writing that references those anti-Semitic tropes, so he’s just advocating a preposterous view. Gandhi wouldn’t have been steeped in that Christian culture anyway, so it’s unlikely that he would have had the frame of reference in which those tropes would have made sense.

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bianca steele 02.12.15 at 3:47 pm

Rich,

This isn’t Jerry’s argument, but there are a number of statements in Killinger’s text that are very specifically Christian. In particular, the idea of “seek[ing] out [a famous sinner] to obtain his confession and attempt his conversion to an ethical way of life” is quite peculiar, and may be Christian, but I wouldn’t use that quote myself without checking it out with an expert. To the extent that Killinger is attacking Jews for not being Christians (universalism gone wild, assuming everyone has the same beliefs), isn’t it fair to call that antisemitic?

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.15 at 3:51 pm

Jerry Vinokurov: “I don’t think Gandhi was being anti-Semitic so much as, yes, ridiculous and infuriating.”

Then I think we’re really in complete agreement.

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Jerry Vinokurov 02.12.15 at 4:10 pm

This isn’t Jerry’s argument, but there are a number of statements in Killinger’s text that are very specifically Christian. In particular, the idea of “seek[ing] out [a famous sinner] to obtain his confession and attempt his conversion to an ethical way of life” is quite peculiar, and may be Christian, but I wouldn’t use that quote myself without checking it out with an expert. To the extent that Killinger is attacking Jews for not being Christians (universalism gone wild, assuming everyone has the same beliefs), isn’t it fair to call that antisemitic?

Actually, I think that’s a pretty good summary of what I think. The history of Christian writing is replete with examples of Jews as being painted as primitive and deceitful Others whose morals and metaphysics are incompatible with Christian society. I don’t even think Killinger is necessarily anti-Semitic on a personal level; from Rich’s links it seems like his politics were more or less in the right place on many questions. At the same time, he’s preaching from a tradition in which Jews are negatively counterposed to Christians and drawing on those tropes, probably unconsciously.

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MPAVictoria 02.12.15 at 4:21 pm

Very sad topic but I feel like I am learning a lot. So thank you everyone.

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LFC 02.12.15 at 4:30 pm

bianca s.:
I can’t find the page that quote comes from

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_University
third sentence (the phrase in brackets was mine)

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dn 02.12.15 at 5:36 pm

“But still, an incorrect inference from the Christian narrative, where the scribes and the Pharisees are cast as the Jewish establishment of the time. In contrast, it’s various Jewish outcasts and commoners that accept Christ early on, plus a maverick Sanhedrin member and a few Romans.”

But that’s just the point: various outcasts and commoners accept Christ. The Jewish establishment does not. Paul has a detailed explanation for this, which is, in short, that obstinate, sinful Israel has been “hardened” (Paul’s word) until such time as God wills to bring them into the fold. What is modern Israel if not the Jewish establishment? And what is Killinger’s criticism if not that “they have zeal for God, but it is not discerning” (Paul again)?

The opposition of the old Israel to the new Israel, Christianity, is pretty well hardwired into the NT’s narrative. Without a Jewish establishment for Jesus to oppose what would that narrative amount to? Yes, there’s some ambiguity as to what the opposition exactly entails, in particular whether the supersession envisioned by the NT writers is purely cultic or whether it involves a moral shift as well. But the moral rhetoric of the NT makes the latter a perfectly plausible reading, one that has been made by Christians from time immemorial.

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Phil 02.12.15 at 8:49 pm

I think some form of supersessionism is hard-wired into Xtianity – both in the sense of Christ’s mission to the world having superseded God’s covenant with his chosen people (which is pretty much you-say-potato when you get down to it, particularly given the number of rival Xtian claimants) and, perhaps more seriously, in the ethical sense articulated by Matthew: we say ‘forgive everyone’, they don’t, our religion is better. Which itself isn’t much more than a harmless superstition, until the point where it’s projected onto actual Jews.

Which most Christians, most of the time, would have the good sense not to do. But, in half-hearted defence of Killinger, I think the establishment of the state of Israel did something weird to mid-C20 Xtians’ world view. Some went straight to seeing it as the fulfilment of prophecy (although which prophecy is unclear; a quick google throws up references to books ranging from Deuteronomy to Matthew, not all of which are renowned for their apocalypses). Some seem to have thought “here’s a great big object lesson in Judaism playing itself out in the world” – whether it be Killinger denouncing the eye-for-an-eye stuff or my lay reader @21 getting off on all the smiting. I guess you can call that anti-semitism; it’s certainly essentialism.

While we’re talking ethical universalism, can anyone match the parable of the Good Samaritan in other religious traditions? (In terms of the ethical value of making a difference in this world, regardless of the other guy’s creed or nation.)

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Harold 02.12.15 at 9:01 pm

The idea of progress was hardwired both into Christianity and Judaism and though it had been questioned was then even more than now part of the zeitgeist of 1960, when it was still pretty much agreed that the torch of enlightenment had been passed directly from Athens to Greece to the Italian Renaissance to the Anglophone, Christian, male world (culminating in the British Empire in about 1890) and coming to a full stop (the end of history).

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Harold 02.12.15 at 9:16 pm

“Such is the Lampadephoria, or torch-race, of the nations. Greece stretches forth her hand to Italy; Italy consigns the sacred fire to Northern Europe; the people of the North pass on the flame to America, to India, and the Australasian isles.” — John Addington Symonds, The Renaissance in Italy, Volume 2 (of 7), The Revival of Learning , p. 399.

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Ze Kraggash 02.12.15 at 9:43 pm

@87, that’s right, the zeitgeist of the 1960s.

I now remember what this reminded me of, the film I watched recently The Experiment, 2010 remake. I found the quote, Adrien Brody’s character was saying this: “Justice is what starts wars. And eye for and eye for an eye. It takes a turning of the cheek for this species to evolve.

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alkali 02.12.15 at 9:44 pm

The assumption that a Unitarian minister in the 1960s has basically the same theological world view as a Protestant Christian, and that his remarks should properly be interpreted in that context, is wildly misguided. In particular, the idea that Christ is at the center of all Unitarian theology is very strange: they’re called Unitarians for a reason.

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dn 02.12.15 at 9:59 pm

But historically speaking, Unitarianism is an outgrowth of Protestant Christianity. The centrality of “Christ” per se, in a trinitarian sense, is not what is really at issue. What is at issue is the centrality of a distinctively Christian ethic. The purported absence of such an ethic in the pursuit of Eichmann is what Killinger attacks.

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William Berry 02.12.15 at 10:15 pm

@Phil: I’m sure it’s super[c]essionism, from supercede.*

“Supersessionism” made me think of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s epic jam LP.

*Just a minor typo, I know, but I thought it was sorta funny.

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Corey Robin 02.12.15 at 10:21 pm

A lot of this discussion reminds me of how a lot of non-Jews try to sell me on Christmas by saying it has absolutely nothing — nothing! — to do with Christianity. It never seems to dawn on them that things might seem a little different to a Jew. Or at least this Jew.

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Harold 02.12.15 at 11:29 pm

Actually, Unitarianism originated together with Protestantism rather than evolving out of it and was considered heretical by both Protestants and Catholics alike. It was started in Venice by two Italians (of Sienese origin): Lelius Socinius, a Catholic priest, and his nephew, Faustus. After the Spanish-born Unitarian physician and theologian, Servetus, was burned at the stake in Geneva by Calvin in 1553, it went underground. Lelius took up residence in Zurich, where he died, while Faustus and others found refuge in Poland and Transylvania, where Unitarianism continued to flourish until the middle of the 17th century. Polish Unitarians observed the Sabbath on Saturday, rather than Sunday, I understand.

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LFC 02.12.15 at 11:40 pm

Harold @94: Interesting; I knew nothing about Unitarianism’s origins and just assumed it had emerged later.

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Harold 02.12.15 at 11:51 pm

Well, it sort of went into abeyance and was revived in the eighteenth century. Interestingly, the composer Bela Bartok converted to Unitarianism while collecting folk songs in Transylvania. His older son is (or was) head of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, the younger son, Peter, worked for Moe Asch of Folkways Records, if I remember correctly. I don’t know any of the details about the theology, not being a Unitarian myself, though I have relatives who are, or were.

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dn 02.13.15 at 1:03 am

Hmm. Interesting. Wiki claims that Unitarianism actually developed independently in many locations, including colonial America in the 1700s. I don’t know that it really affects my position on this particular debate, but fun to learn more history in any case.

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Harold 02.13.15 at 1:55 am

@97, dn, I don’t know too much about the continuity of Unitarianism in Transylvania and Poland. I think Rome was alarmed by it and it was suppressed or partially suppressed in the mid-seventeenth c., but it was remembered — and denounced for years. So it did spring up again more or less independently in various places, but the new manifestations didn’t disown Socinius (or Servetus). One of the notes to the wikipedia article quotes : James Hastings Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics: Algonquins-Art [1908] p 785 – 2001: “The first Unitarians were Italians, and the majority took refuge in Poland, where the laxity of the laws and the independence of the nobility secured for them a toleration which would have been denied to their views in other countries.”

I like to think of it starting off in Venice, whose University of Padua (under Venetian control) was famous for its free thought and school of medicine, and where (a bit later) Galileo would hold the chair in mathematics.

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bianca steele 02.13.15 at 2:09 am

It’s interesting, though, that all those Calvinists and New England revivalists found ways to split and re-form their churches and never to my knowledge called their opponents “Jews.” In fact isn’t Calvinism the doctrine that accepting Christianity isn’t enough to guarantee salvation?

Similarly, Eliot may have seen Jews as conniving landlords, but when he imagined malevolent, unforgiving persecutors that’s not the direction he went in.

I’m going to blame my logic/typing errors earlier on the broken furnace.

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dn 02.13.15 at 2:51 am

bianca – on the contrary, Calvinism is pretty much the most thoroughgoing version of sola fide doctrine. You may be thinking of Arminianism, Calvinism’s chief competitor in Reformed circles.

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sharculese 02.13.15 at 3:00 am

@Corey 93

Maybe (almost probably) it’s a consequence of growing up with a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, neither of whom is religious, it’s never been hard to me to imagine a fun, completely secular Christmas, because we’ve had one of those every years since I was 5 or so.

But y’know, I get how if you didn’t grow up with that kind of thing it can’t seem that way. I will say though that one of my mom’s best friends is openly jealous that she married a gentile and gets to celebrate Christmas, because she (the friend) always found Christmas to be really neat.

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bianca steele 02.13.15 at 3:18 am

dn,

No, I don’t think so. Though I may be confusing election in the sense of church membership or baptism, and election in the sense of whether some people who are baptized are actually justified or not. And I was thinking of the things Calvinism and Arminianism have in common, not the differences. And I think I’m being influenced by Max Weber’s argument, which relies on the question whether anyone can tell who’s saved (maybe by how much money they made) or whether no one can tell. But maybe Weber’s misleading.

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dn 02.13.15 at 3:25 am

bianca – ah, predestination. Everybody’s favorite incomprehensible theological subject. I’m pretty sure classical Calvinism includes irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints (i.e. if God picks you, you can never fall away; if you fall away, God must not actually have picked you).

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Mike Schilling 02.13.15 at 4:44 am

I forget what the term is for the belief that an “advanced” Christianity replaced a “primitive” Judaism

The precise term is “bullshit”.

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Alex K--- 02.13.15 at 7:29 am

@dn (85):
“Paul has a detailed explanation for this, which is, in short, that obstinate, sinful Israel has been “hardened” (Paul’s word) until such time as God wills to bring them into the fold. What is modern Israel if not the Jewish establishment? And what is Killinger’s criticism if not that “they have zeal for God, but it is not discerning” (Paul again)?”

Paul can be placed within the OT tradition of prophets denouncing Israel’s kings and councilors and sometimes the whole nation for repeated breaches of the Covenant and for being sinful and stiff-necked. I think it’s fair to say it’s a recurrent theme in the OT, as in Ezekiel: “But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.” Paul’s remedy is more radical, though, than the repentance prescribed by OT prophets.

My beef with Killinger is that he is using what could or should be at the core of Christian ethics – mercy is infinitely greater than justice and judging other people is soul-destroying – as a judge’s gavel to condemn a nation he does not like. In a hypocritical way, too, as he demands of Israel what no one in one’s right mind would demand of any nation, Christian or not.

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dax 02.13.15 at 1:29 pm

Leave aside Buckley et al. Surely one can think, “It would be better not to punish a 100-year old for what he did 70 years ago than pursue him,” without being anti-Semitic? Not to “forgive” or to show “mercy”, but just let the thing go. It’s over. It’s not justice any more.

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TM 02.13.15 at 4:33 pm

I don’t think this got spelled out in this discussion (maybe I missed it) but this seems obvious to me: Proclaiming an ethics based on mercy and forgiveness and opposed to punishment in general is one thing. Proclaiming that ethics then and only when the punishment of a mass murderer of Jews is at question is a different matter and might reasonably lead one to question the purity of the sentiment. And claiming that seeking punishment is a Jewish kind of thing that Christians would never do is both an obvious lie and antisemitic.

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MPAVictoria 02.13.15 at 4:36 pm

“Surely one can think, “It would be better not to punish a 100-year old for what he did 70 years ago than pursue him,” without being anti-Semitic? Not to “forgive” or to show “mercy”, but just let the thing go. It’s over. It’s not justice any more.”

I kind of come down on this side a little bit. I wouldn’t expect someone whose family died during the Holocaust to agree with me though.

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dax 02.13.15 at 5:26 pm

“I kind of come down on this side a little bit. I wouldn’t expect someone whose family died during the Holocaust to agree with me though.”

Why would you think I’m not someone like that?

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MPAVictoria 02.13.15 at 5:41 pm

Sorry, I wasn’t referring to you specifically dax. It was meant more generally. No offence intended.

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Corey Robin 02.13.15 at 5:44 pm

Dax: “Leave aside Buckley et al. Surely one can think, ‘It would be better not to punish a 100-year old for what he did 70 years ago than pursue him,’ without being anti-Semitic? Not to ‘forgive’ or to show ‘mercy’, but just let the thing go. It’s over. It’s not justice any more.”

What someone “did 70 years ago”? “Just let things go.” “It’s over.”

Wow, just wow. I wouldn’t call that phrasing (set aside the position itself) anti-Semitic. I’d call it moral nescience — a kind of ethical fog, the sort of spiritual density and dumbness that Arendt so often talked about. Not, let me stress, a lack of intelligence; that’s not at all what she meant. But a kind of callowness.

You put 400 children in a pit, doused them in kerosene, and burned them alive? Let it go. That was 70 years ago. You were young, stupid, didn’t know what you were doing. But it’s over. Let’s move on. Not dwell in the past.

The fact that we as a society have allowed you to live out your life, to enjoy those 70 years in material comfort, to grow old with grace and dignity: hey, just let it go.

Yeah, sorry, anti-Semite is much too highfalutin a term for what I think that sensibility displays.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.15 at 6:21 pm

The “oh it was 70 years ago” bit is horrible. But there’s something about this conversation that’s still not really acknowledging the influence of ideas on this that sound very similar. I’ll just quote Gandhi from a different source:

I am sorry to say that I cannot give the reassurance required. For I did make the remark put into my mouth by Shri Pyarelal. Hardly a paper comes to me from the West which does not describe the agony of the Jews who demand retribution by the democratic Powers for German atrocities. Nor do I see anything wrong in the attitude. The Jews are not angels. My point was they were not non-violent in the sense meant by me. Their non-violence had and has no love in it. It is passive. They do not resist because they know that they cannot resist with any degree of success. In their place, unless there were active non-violence in me, I should certainly call down upon my persecutors the curses of Heaven. It is not contended by my correspondents that the German Jews do not want the big Powers like England, America and France to prevent the atrocities, if need be, even by war against Germany. I happen to have a Jewish friend living with me. He has an intellectual belief in non-violence. But he says he cannot pray for Hitler. He is so full of anger over the German atrocities that he cannot speak of them with restraint. I do not quarrel with him over his anger. He wants to be non-violent, but the sufferings of fellow Jews are too much for him to bear. What is true of him is true of thousands of Jews who have no thought even of “loving the enemy”. With them as with millions “revenge is sweet, to forgive is divine.”

(From this site.) OK, there it is, the revenge trope. Unconnected to Christian supercessionism, but certainly connected to Gandhi’s belief in the religious superiority of his own way of thought. Gandhi is not doing a lot of the objectionable things that other sources do: there’s no “oh that was long ago”, there’s no demanding forgiveness that he doesn’t advocate for everyone, there’s no denial that atrocities are in fact atrocities or treating all cases of violence as equal. But if you’re looking at vaguely left religion in the U.S. — which Killinger’s piece qualifies as, anti-Semitic and all — you have to expect to find the influence of this.

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Corey Robin 02.13.15 at 6:33 pm

It’s true, I haven’t been engaging with Gandhi’s position, mostly b/c I know it only superficially. I would stress, though, that for people who might find that position as it’s articulated in Rich’s quotation above, attractive, that they look at the date: February 18, 1939.

When he’s talking about atrocities he’s talking about Kristallnacht. He’s talking about the Nuremburg Laws. He’s talking about the off-again, on-again pogroms of the first six years of the Nazi regime, in Germany, then Austria, then Czechoslovakia. At best he’s talking about Dachau and Buchenwald.

He’s not talking about Auschwitz, Treblinka, the Einsatzgruppen, and more. There’s no 400 children being thrown in a pit and doused in kerosene b/c there the supply of Zyklon B has run short. The invasion of Poland hasn’t even happened yet. I don’t think Hitler’s even made his speech warning that if war comes with international Jewry it will mean the end of international Jewry.

I’m not saying he would have changed his mind once he learned the full extent of the Holocaust (and given that most people’s awareness of the Holocaust, as an event independent of the more general barbarity of World War II, came much later, long after Gandhi had been murdered) — and again, my knowledge of his arguments is way too superficial to comment on them — but I am saying that that statement in particular can give one the very false impression that he was referring to what happened between 1940 and 1945.

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dax 02.13.15 at 7:09 pm

What’s horrible about “it was 70 years ago”. 70 years is such a long time in a person’s life that the distance between who that person is now, and who that person was then, could be, if not is, extremely tenuous. Perhaps you believe in an immutable soul; I don’t. Otherwise, I don’t see how you can justify punishment except as vengeance.

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Corey Robin 02.13.15 at 7:15 pm

Imagine a person commits a murder. And then undergoes a Dostoevsky-style repentance. Full-on moral transformation. So grief-stricken is he that he can’t sleep, he seeks spiritual guidance, and within a year, he’s really a changed person. Does good works. Heals the sick, tends to the poor, the full nine yards. And in fact it happened so quickly, relatively speaking, precisely b/c he was so grief stricken. And he is, as I say, a changed person. By your lights: get out of jail free card, huh?

Beyond all that, you see not to have grasped the magnitude of the deeds in question. So fixated are you on the inner spirit, the beating heart, of the doer — is it reformed, has he been spiritually cleansed — that you can’t even see the deed.

Like I said, there’s a kind of moral nescience at work here that I find almost impossible to fathom.

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dax 02.13.15 at 7:30 pm

By your lights: get out of jail free card, huh? Yes.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.15 at 7:34 pm

Sorry, I should have put the date here as well as linking to it. (Gandhi also later withdrew the statement, not because he’d changed his mind, but because of an evidentiary challenge.)

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dax 02.13.15 at 7:38 pm

And my turn to ask a question. Suppose the 100-year old doesn’t even remember what he had done 70 years before. Would you still punish him?

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Z 02.13.15 at 7:51 pm

And my turn to ask a question. Suppose the 100-year old doesn’t even remember what he had done 70 years before. Would you still punish him?

Yes (I personally don’t use the word punishment, but yes, I hope he’s convicted in a fair trial and put to jail for the rest of his life).

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Barry 02.13.15 at 7:54 pm

TM 02.13.15 at 4:33 pm
“I don’t think this got spelled out in this discussion (maybe I missed it) but this seems obvious to me: Proclaiming an ethics based on mercy and forgiveness and opposed to punishment in general is one thing. Proclaiming that ethics then and only when the punishment of a mass murderer of Jews is at question is a different matter and might reasonably lead one to question the purity of the sentiment. And claiming that seeking punishment is a Jewish kind of thing that Christians would never do is both an obvious lie and antisemitic.”

And when a trained public speaker starts off that piece of writing with seeing no difference between Nazis and those hunting them, he’s certainly worked to make a particular point.

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adam.smith 02.13.15 at 8:03 pm

Well, as for “doesn’t remember.” If you actually don’t remember committing acts of mass murder, say if you suffer from advanced Alzheimer’s, most civilized countries would consider you unfit to stand trial. That would certainly be my position, too.

The idea that a person without a severe degenerative disease just “doesn’t remember” acts of massive cruelty committed in their 20s and 30s is patently absurd.

122

Ze Kraggash 02.13.15 at 8:11 pm

Interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed that so many of you here are strict retributionists. Very conservative of you (not that anything’s wrong with that).

123

TM 02.13.15 at 8:53 pm

I probably shouldn’t ask lest this is just trolling but: Which 100 year old are you talking about, in a post about the Eichmann trial?

Further re 107, this is only tangentially relevant but I know of no justice system that more openly espouses vindictiveness rather than rehabilitation than the United States’, and some Christian forces in this country openly support that vindictiveness. It is quite remarkable to read American right-wingers argue against punitive justice, whether out of Christian charity or anti-communism, in this particular case.

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TM 02.13.15 at 8:54 pm

… and accuse others of Old Testament retributionism when they insist that people who committed actual monstrous atrocities should be brought to justice.

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LFC 02.13.15 at 8:57 pm

bianca steele:
I think I’m being influenced by Max Weber’s argument, which relies on the question whether anyone can tell who’s saved (maybe by how much money they made) or whether no one can tell. But maybe Weber’s misleading.

The point, I think, as dn suggests @103, is that Calvinists believed (and perhaps still do?) that one can’t tell who is saved and who isn’t, because good works don’t guarantee salvation or even have anything to do with it. One of Weber’s arguments in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, if I recall correctly, is that precisely because one couldn’t tell who’s saved, money-making came to have a religious aura: even though, theologically, wealth couldn’t be a sign of election/salvation (since there are no such external signs of election in Calvinist doctrine), in psychological/practical terms it came to function as a sign, at least for some people. And in the conclusion of The Protestant Ethic Weber argues that one of the effects of modernity, of “the disenchantment of the world,” is that money-making loses the religious aura and significance it once had.

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bianca steele 02.13.15 at 9:12 pm

LFC:

Indeed. There are a number of potted stories about how Calvinism played out in everyday life, like Weber’s, or like Perry Miller’s (I think) about the drop-off in sanctity among later generations of New England Puritans–which caused a shortage of men qualified to hold office. And then there are the nineteenth century revivals, which I think appealed primarily to a less wealthy class.

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parse 02.13.15 at 9:32 pm

I probably shouldn’t ask lest this is just trolling but: Which 100 year old are you talking about, in a post about the Eichmann trial?

The post isn’t just about the Eichmann trial but also about current prosecutions. I can understand the view that even aged killers should be subjected to justice, but the notion that it’s a problem that some of them have died already and therefore cannot be put on trial strikes me as absurd.

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dax 02.13.15 at 9:35 pm

@123 who asked “Which 100 year old are you talking about, in a post about the Eichmann trial?”

In the post you can read:
“In February, 2014, investigators presented twelve of the suspects with search warrants; the youngest was eighty-eight, the oldest a hundred.”

@121
“The idea that a person without a severe degenerative disease just “doesn’t remember” acts of massive cruelty committed in their 20s and 30s is patently absurd.”
I have no expertise on the topic, and my example is meant only to flesh out Corey’s position. But I did think people are able to block out horrible memories so the result is they can’t remember, without having a severe degenerative disease.

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dn 02.13.15 at 9:38 pm

Alex K @105 – “Paul can be placed within the OT tradition of prophets denouncing Israel’s kings and councilors and sometimes the whole nation for repeated breaches of the Covenant and for being sinful and stiff-necked.” For sure. I’ve even seen it argued, quite plausibly, that large portions of the Pauline corpus may in fact be a cleverly-done midrashic rewriting of passages from the OT prophets (and that Mark’s gospel is similarly a rewrite of the Elijah-Elisha cycle in the books of Kings). And of course Rom 9-11 contains abundant direct OT quotations.

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Peter T 02.13.15 at 11:08 pm

A person who experienced a full, Dostoyevsky-style repentance would want to publicly atone for their sins. IIRC, at the end of Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov departs for Siberia, convicted and accepting his sentence. He does not serve his time as a filing clerk and then collect a pension. And, indeed, most Christian doctrine insists that there can be no true repentance without restitution. The children cannot be resurrected, but how many SS spent the remainder of their lives in service to those they had wronged?

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Leo Casey 02.14.15 at 12:00 am

I have nothing to add to Corey’s argument, which I find very persuasive in this instance, and even more so through the thread of comments.

I would like to add a caution about the view that reads the opposition between the ‘primitive’ and ‘vengeful’ Jew, on the one hand, and the ‘advanced’ and ‘forgiving’ Christian back into the Torah and the New Testament. Although not entirely without justification, there is a danger of contributing to a common narrative that explains the Holocaust and various forms of anti-Semitic persecution to essentialist conceptions of Judaism and Christianity. Two millenia of complex and dynamic Jewish and Christian relations are collapsed into the point of theological origin.

In fact, the idea of the Jew as primitive and backward and Judaism as a religion of myth is at least as much, one could argue, an historical development out of modernizing, reform Christianity, given considerable rein by Luther and Calvin, and in the Enlightenment, such as in Diderot’s Enclycopedie, as it is out of any original theology. Christianity is reconstructed as the religion of reason, in opposition to the religion of the other. We need to understand these historical changes in their specifiity if we are to understand the Holocaust as an historical event, and not some inevitable unfolding of some essential quality.

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J. Parnell Thomas 02.14.15 at 12:12 am

test

Try a second test. You should be out of automoderation, I hope – JQ

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Collin Street 02.14.15 at 12:33 am

The post isn’t just about the Eichmann trial but also about current prosecutions. I can understand the view that even aged killers should be subjected to justice, but the notion that it’s a problem that some of them have died already and therefore cannot be put on trial strikes me as absurd.

It’s not just about punishing the guilty.

One of the really important results of a trial is a declaration, “after full and formal consideration we have determined that this person’s actions were wrongful”. This has been done pretty solidly for the german concentration-camp guards and what-have-you, but for those involved in the fringes of the holocaust — your croat irregulars and so forth — there haven’t been any/as many trials and we don’t have a formal “gee these guys were a whole pile of shitty arseholes” declaration/understanding.

So, yeah, “we can’t put the dead on trial” does actually create real problems, and there really is a need to nail some convictions down before the racist old shits all off and die on us.

[else you get the spain situation, or the confederacy situation: the historical evidence is pretty clear that the CSA leadership were well up with the nazis, some of the most horrible people ever to walk the earth, but because there wasn’t a formal and undeniable declaration of such from people with authority, it’s possible for reasonably-well-informed people to not properly realise this: this makes fixing some of the US’s problems harder than it could otherwise be if, say, Jefferson Davis had been hanged as a war criminal.]

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Harold 02.14.15 at 12:49 am

Not only Croat “irregulars” but Croat and other Balkan national leaders, who are commemorated annually with parades and swastikas and given ceremonial reburials:

http://www.i24news.tv/en/opinion/56297-150101-croatia-commemorates-creator-of-the-auschwitz-of-the-balkans

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Harold 02.14.15 at 12:51 am

I should have said “certain Baltic countries” not “other Balkan”.

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john c. halasz 02.14.15 at 1:07 am

In Hungary, the Jobbik party, pretty much the direct descendants of the Arrow Cross, recently received 20.5% of the vote. There aren’t many people of Jewish descent left in Hungary, but there are plenty of Gypsy/Roma people…

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Harold 02.14.15 at 1:28 am

Greece’s Golden Dawn also won 7 percent of the vote: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31170591

Now its leader, a denier of the gas chambers; most of its MPs, at whose homes Nazi paraphernalia has been found; and dozens of supporters are facing trial for forming a “criminal organisation”.

“When I return home tonight,” said Mr Varoufakis in Berlin, “I shall find myself in a parliament in which the third-largest party is not a neo-Nazi party, it is a Nazi party.”

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Harold 02.14.15 at 2:03 am

Center city Neo-Nazi city marches that glorify wartime Hitler collaborators are now scheduled for all three Baltic states: Estonia, Talllinn, February 24; Latvia, Riga, March 16th; and Lithuania, Kaunas, February 16 and Vilnius, March 11th. (Estonian and Lithuanian events are on national independence day holidays.)

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dn 02.14.15 at 2:23 am

Leo Casey @131 makes a good point, although I’d argue that the conception of Christianity as uniquely a “religion of reason” can be traced a lot further back than the Reformation, at least to the scholastics, maybe back to the neoplatonist Augustine or even before. But absolutely, it’s totally wrong to read the ideology that created the Holocaust into the NT itself, or into any pre-modern Christian thought.

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godoggo 02.14.15 at 2:29 am

test

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Barry 02.14.15 at 5:54 pm

TM: ” It is quite remarkable to read American right-wingers argue against punitive justice, whether out of Christian charity or anti-communism, in this particular case.”

For individuals, this occasionally is due to actual sympathy and compassion, but for the activists, politicians and intellectuals on the rights, from my experience it’s due to sympathy. For example Pat Buchanan was all tearful over the fate of a former concentration camp guard, but otherwise has no sympathy for immigrants who lied to gain entry to the USA.

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Harold 02.14.15 at 8:42 pm

Not age of perpetrators but lack of political will says Efraim Zuroff of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israe. He writes: “During the past 13 years, at least 101 convictions against Nazi war criminals have been obtained, at least 91 new indictments have been filed, and well over 3,000 new investigations have been initiated. ***Despite the somewhat prevalent assumption that it is too late to bring Nazi murderers to justice, the figures clearly prove otherwise***, and we are trying to ensure that at least several of these criminals will to be brought to trial during the coming years. While it is generally assumed that it is the age of the suspects that is the biggest obstacle to prosecution, in many cases ****it is the lack of political will****, more than anything else, that has hindered the efforts to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice, along with the mistaken notion that it was impossible at this point to locate, identify, and convict these criminals. The success achieved by dedicated prosecutors, especially in the United States, Italy and Germany, should be a catalyst for governments all over the world to make a serious effort to maximize justice while it can still be obtained.”

According to Zuroff, “We seek to highlight both the positive results achieved during the period under review [2014] , especially in Germany, as well as the ****failures of countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Ukraine which have consistently failed to hold any Holocaust perpetrators accountable****, primarily due to a lack of the requisite political will, as well as Sweden and Norway which in principle refuse to investigate, let alone prosecute, due to a statute of limitations.”

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TM 02.15.15 at 6:03 am

“The post isn’t just about the Eichmann trial but also about current prosecutions. I can understand the view that even aged killers should be subjected to justice, but the notion that it’s a problem that some of them have died already and therefore cannot be put on trial strikes me as absurd.”

Current prosecutions in Germany result from a 180 degree reversal of longstanding legal doctrine that had required exceedingly high standards of proof for convicting accessories to genocide. The problem is not the current prosecutions; the problem is that these prosecutions were delayed so long that most of the perpetrators as well as surviving victims are long dead. See also my comment at 7.

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