Some puzzled comments have cropped up online about last weekend’s right-wing demonstration in Charlottesville. Why, people wonder, if the point was a statue of Robert E. Lee and Confederate heritage, was there all that shouting about Jews?
One explanation has been around for some time, near the end of Mary McCarthy’s “Artists in Uniform,” published in Harper’s in 1953. Reflecting on an encounter with an anti-Semitic Army colonel on a train, McCarthy concludes: “It came to me, as we sat there, glumly ordering lunch, that for extremely stupid people anti-Semitism was a form of intellectuality, the sole form of intellectuality of which they were capable. It represented, in a rudimentary way, the ability to make categories, to generalize.”
So, for white supremacists, anti-Semitism provides a comprehensive worldview. Whites are genetically superior to Jews and African-Americans (whose rights have gotten Jewish support for a century)? That’s science. Your life has not turned out to be the success you expected? Then it’s that cabal of international Jewish bankers. That’s economics. You think there’s Jewish control of the media and government? That’s history and political science rolled into one. And always in the background has been the availability of Christianity to supply a veneer of religion.
You see? It explains everything.
It is possible that the people making use of anti-Semitism are true believers, but one can easily imagine that some have cynically found it a useful device for practicing on the simple.
But it is ignorant, and it is odious. Germany, which bears the scars of where it leads, will not tolerate it. Christianity has repented of its shameful past. The United States has struggled, and continues to struggle, to live up to its ideals.
And if enough people of intelligence and sanity remain in the Republic, no ragtag assemblage of torch-bearing noisy bigots will ever prevail.