From what I understand (or tried to, for a recent paper) the French have something like neoconservatism. It’s quite a bit like the US variety, except that its proponents are more likely to be referred to as “philosophes” than “warmongerers;” proponents of both get called racist. Something else they have in common: according to this Haaretz story by Yair Sheleg (last name=”snow”–I SO know Hebrew!), “A year ago, the weekly Nouvelle Observateur described him as one of the five outstanding intellectuals representing ‘the new right’ (three of them are Jews: Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Levy and Andre Glucksmann), the French parallel to the American neo-conservatives.” Three out of five, huh.

It’s struck me recently (as I’m sure it’s struck others since these terms first appeared) that the terms “left” and “right” are as good as meaningless, at least outside the realm of economics, but perhaps even there. Left and right say nothing about how much government control of domestic life is sought or how much foreign intervention is acceptable. What political slant is a person who believes strongly in “Enlightenment/Western” values, is concerned with liberty and equality, and in favor of a race-blind society? “Classic-liberal-aka-neocon”? Or simply “Jew”?

Sheleg precedes a quote from a talk Finkielkraut gave in Tel Aviv by pointing out, “What he said may sound familiar to Israelis.” The gist of this paper I not long ago handed in was that what Finkielkraut says, more generally, sounds awfully familiar to Americans, and would not raise eyebrows here.

I found this bit interesting:

Although he is a republican zealously devoted to the French national identity, Finkielkraut has been broadcasting a weekly program on the “sectarian” Jewish radio station “because it is hard to share concern for Israel with non-Jews. Israel, after all, is considered a regional power, and people don’t understand this concern.”

Here’s where I get to the point of this post. The responses I get to what I write on Jewish subjects from Jewish readers claiming to speak for the “Jewish community” often strike me as knee-jerk and closed-minded. I sometimes wonder why bother? I disagree with people of this mindset on just about everything other than the need to defend Israel and Jews generally from a world that’s less than enthused by our existence. I like plenty of things that fall under the category of “Jewish”–Israeli music, fashion, and actors; UChicago-inspired American Jewish fiction; French Jewish literature and history–but do not feel “among family” when at campus Jewish events, do not believe that I can truly connect better to Jews than non-Jews, and do not feel guilty when I realize that a High Holiday has come and gone and I had no idea. I do not believe that my less-than-orthodoxy would somehow save me should a new wave of anti-Semitism turn violent. Opinions aren’t what are being attacked in such a context, anyhow.

I’ve realized what’s going on. Commenters to my posts and I are talking past each other. I care about Israel and Jews generally because I am interested in liberty and, as a Jew, this particular form of liberty, the freedom to be Jewish, is one I have more of an understanding of than, say, the freedom to be gay. These commenters care about liberty because it’s important to them to be Jews. I want those Jews who, through choice, outside definition, or both, “count,” not to get persecuted on account of their Jewishness. They want more Jews, and more observant Jews. I believe in the right to be Jewish; they believe in Judaism.

These are two completely different worldviews. I will not go so far as to say that one way of seeing things is no better than the other–if I thought as much, I’d be undecided or indifferent–but without their position, one like mine would not exist, as there’d be no reason for it.

And I may be overstating my position a bit. I perfectly understand being concerned when it appears that an entire civilization is under attack. But, as Alain Finkielkraut pointed out in his Le Juif imaginaire, the damage on that front is done. Asking all who Hitler would have murdered to sacrifice their own freedom today in order to repair the damage (as if this were possible) is not necessarily a good thing.

Crossposted at WWPD.

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