The kind of people they are

Ann Coulter mourns the unrepentant Jew-baiter Joe Sobran.

Just in case you wondered what voting for contemporary American “conservatives” means:

Ann Coulter, who remains a welcome guest at every “conservative” gathering, uses her space in the ur-conservative journal. Human Events, which I’ve seen prominently displayed on more than one Republican Congressman’s waiting-room table, to mourn her patron, the unrepentant anti-Semite Joe Sobran. I’m not sure whether Coulter’s comparison of Sobran to another talented and often funny anti-Semite, G.K. Chesterton, was done deliberately with that commonality in mind. But she nowhere suggests that Sobran’s persistent Jew-baiting was anything to regret.

Now Sobran was a strong anti-Zionist, and many of the more fanatical neo-cons tend to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The two are not necessarily connected, but they certainly were co-located in Sobran’s brain; perhaps his biographer can tell us whether he started out disliking Israeli policies and ended up hating Jews, or whether his anti-Zionism flowed from his Jew-hatred, but the latter is not in dispute.  Let’s hear from Sobran himself, writing in 1999:

In intellectual life, Jews have been brilliantly subversive of the cultures of the natives they have lived amongst. Their tendencies, especially in modern times, have been radical and nihilistic. One thinks of Marx, Freud, and many other shapers of modern thought and authors of reductionist ideologies. Even Einstein, the greatest of Jewish scientists, was, unlike Sir Isaac Newton, no mere contemplator of nature’s laws; he helped inspire the development of nuclear weapons and consistently defended the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Any questions?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

20 thoughts on “The kind of people they are”

  1. It's not fair to compare Sobran with Chesterton. Unfair to Chesterton, that is. Hitler transformed the valence of antisemitism, from a mere illiberal quirk to pure criminal intent. That's why Buckley drummed the antisemites out of the conservative movement in the 1950's.

  2. It is even possibly to admire Wagner's music despite his antisemitism, and it is customary when eulogizing a friend, to ignore his bad qualities. Coulter (of whom there is plenty to disdain) spoke only of Sobran's writing ability – had she praised his sense of morality, you would have had a sound basis on which to call her out. That she was aware of and disagreed with his views on Jews and Israel is suggested by what I think is the best paragraph in her post:

    Ironically perhaps, I've often used a Sobran observation to explain why I have a greater affinity to Israel than to the Muslim world after 9/11: Watching a death-match fight on Animal Planet once, Joe said he found himself instinctively rooting for the mammal over the reptile.

    Ironic indeed.

  3. Did Einstein in fact defend the Soviet Union under Stalin? If so, did he continue to do so after the show trials? After the Hitler-Stalin pact?

  4. Wow, a truly sick mind. From the article:

    "Nor does he mention one of the principal incitements to anti-Semitism in this century: Jewish participation in Communism, with its terrifying persecution of Christians. Where is the corresponding statement of Jewish leaders repudiating and repenting the Jewish role in a cause whose crimes dwarf those of Hitler? Did major Jewish spokesmen or organizations condemn Communism as it devoured tens of millions of Christians?"

    Conservative reaction to the liberal emphasis on racism and oppression, while logical from the point of view of authoritarianism, is completely uninterested in the formation of bigotry. This is actually a rare example of a conservative explanation for why anti-semitism exists. By blaming Jews themselves, it is absurd and ironic. But in general, what you tend to get is denial, counter-factuals, or excuses.

    While liberals have spend the better part of 50 years (at least) deconstructing oppression dynamics in a serious way, conservatism has been resoundingly silent – except as a sort of peanut gallery, objecting at every step of the way. Of course, a couple decades later they've completely changed their tune. Having accepting the liberal truth, they then imagine it had been obvious all along (witness the Beck/King rally).

    Yet almost to a person, they still have no grasp of why oppression comes to be in the first place. The reason for this is simple: conservatism has never had any interest in seriously examining where racism and bigotry comes from. And so you have endless superficial denunciations of racism, yet enthusiastic embrace of almost every mechanism from which it grows (see anti-immigrant, anti-muslim, anti-poverty hysteria).

  5. FuzzyFace:

    Praising Sobran as a great writer is like praising Lee Harvey Oswald as a great marksman. In each case, the target matters.

    All Coulter's comment proves is that she's even more bigoted against Arabs than she is against Jews. Note that she accepts Sobran's view that neither Jews nor Arabs are actually human beings.

  6. arsenalroo: just for historical accuracy, there is the Einstein/Szilard letter to FDR, which bears partial credit/blame for establishing the Manhattan Project. On the other hand, Sobran is wrong about Newton too.

  7. One quote in particular brings out the basic character flaw in Ann Coulter, and in many movement conservatives of our day:

    On evolution: "If our furry and scaly friends were still evolving, none of them appeared to be gaining on us."

    Coulter herself has said a number of things about evolution, each one making it clear to anyone who ever took a college level biology class that she never studied the subject at all. What she says about Darwin proves beyond a doubt that she never read a single book he wrote, but she pronounces condemnation of his work with boundless self-confidence anyway.

    Her unpopularity with academic professionals may arise from the fact that every one of them has had students who come to class unprepared, who are too lazy to apply themselves to the difficulties of the subject matter, but who attempt to use glibness and bravado to bluff their way through the class. They resent the fact that the professors are “elitists” who believe that deliberate study and carefully disciplined thought are superior to the free associations that they bring to class after an afternoon of Frisbee and a long evening bull session in the dorm. Professors react viscerally to her because they recognize at once the kind of student who feel entitled to good grades without earning them.

    She is undisciplined. Her thought is slatternly. She has not invested time and effort to learn about natural history, embryology, genetics, and geology, but she feels that her stream of consciousness musings about evolution should deserve more respect than the writings of scientists who have invested years and decades studying in libraries, in laboratories, and in the field.

    Similar things happen when movement conservatives rant about history. The discipline of studying documents, carefully scrutinizing sources, cross-checking references, and re-examining assumptions is all too much for them; they feel that they are entitled to their own opinions and that these opinions are just as good as anyone else’s, regardless of how much work and effort has gone into their formation.

    They expect reward without effort. They resent those who exert effort. They feel entitled to respect that they have not earned.

    That is the kind of people they are.

  8. You are correct about Sobran. Given your desire to link Coulter's praise of him to contemporary American conservatives generally, I think your failure to mention National Review's excommunication of him is a conspicuous omission. Buckley had sought to groom Sobran as something of a protege, but nonetheless cast him out for his latent antisemitism — which I believe only emerged in his later writing — in a much discussed cover story for the magazine. So it would be a mistake to suggest Coulter's praise is reflective of broader conservative sentiment.


  9. Paul,

    Szilard initiated the Einstein letter, even to the point of writing the letter. According to Rhodes, it was likely that the Manhattan Project would have begun in some form even had Einstein declined to sign the letter. The British had their Tube Alloy program and its existence was known on this side of the Atlantic. What the British lacked were the space and resources to carry out the research and development.

    And Isaac Newton was a pretty unsavory character overall. Newton was far from a "mere contemplator of nature." As Warden of the Mint he had a large number of people hung, drawn, and quartered. One of his most famous quotes ("I have stood on the shoulders of giants") is drawn from a letter to Hooke. Hooke was a small, disfigured person that Newton had enmity towards: the comment was really an insult directed at Hooke.

  10. I still regard Freud as pushing a bogus pseudo-science, but I think he's gotten a bad rap from conservatives more familiar with the Frankfurt School Marx to Freud's Hegel. Freud himself, like Ludwig von Mises, was a supporter of the Hapsburgs. He viewed "repression" as a good thing. By nature he may have thought we may have all sorts of deviant subconscious tendencies, but most conservatives believe that we are flawed by nature and require civilizing forces to prevent us from regressing.

    On Einstein and the Soviet Union:

    I actually view "reductionism" as a good thing. Einstein's science was fine (so are nukes!), and Freud wasn't reductionist enough.

  11. And since when has Ann Coulter got anything against nukes? Not only does She feel free to pontificate about subjects she knows nothing about, she feels no need for internal consistency either.

  12. Jonathan Adler is right about Buckley. The story in question was called "In Search of Anti-Semitism," and it took up, if I recall, the whole magazine. Buckley was a good guy on this—and always was: from the outset he was determined that the National Review not be the anti-Semitic American Mercury and banned anti-Semites from the magazine. Buckley thought anti-Semitism was not only bad for the Jews but bad for conservatism.

    Human Events was always regarded with contempt among even self-described movement conservatives. In the 1990s I talked to someone who'd interned there who said that she was told to mumble or omit the name of the publication when she called politicians—even conservative Republican politicians—looking for comment on something. It was widely assumed that the magazine consisted largely of lies.

    The sad part is that someone like Buckley–who had a sense of right and wrong and didn't consider his opponents traitors (merely unpatriotic)–would be considered a wimp by the types who are now the face of the movement and the Republican Party. Ann Coulter is no longer considered a bizarre fringe figure but is a popular speaker before conservative student and activist groups. The grownups aren't in charge anymore; there's nobody who can disassociate "general conservative sentiment" from the haters.

  13. Which is the capital sin that infects Ann Coulter and others like her?

    Andrew Sahl (and others whom I greatly respect) imply that it is wrath, manifested as hatred.

    I propose that it is sloth, manifested as indifference to truth and the unwillingness to expend the effort to discover it.

    Sloth is present both when they talk about things the execrate and things they extol. When they say that liberal values are evil, they are being slovenly, substituting easy polemic for difficult analysis.

    When they say that their values are wonderful, they are being careless again, following the undemanding path of self-approbation and shunning the hard path of self-examination.

    If the essence of something is that which is present in all circumstances in which it is seen, then sloth would seem to be a strong candidate for that essence.

  14. Regarding Jon Adler's point, Buckey and Sobran later reconciled, at least according to Sobran, and no one ever contradicted him. Indeed, Free Republic has honored Sobran and the American Conservative reported that Buckley continued to send Sobran money after the split:…. Adler's failure to mention that might also be considered a conspicuous omission. In any event, modern conservatives take Coulter much more seriously than they do Buckley.

  15. I actually couldn't find anything in Sobran's obituary of Buckley indicating that Buckley continued to send money.

  16. Jonathan —

    Buckley had groomed Sobran as something of a protege, so it should not be a surprise that he continued to be kind to Sobran in a personal capacity, treating Sobran as something like a wayward nephew for whom he retained substantial affection. I don't think Buckley should be faulted for this, any more any of us should be faulted for retaining affection for deeply flawed family members. What matters is that when Sobran's anti-semitism became manifest, their personal relationship did not stop Buckley from effectviely excomunicating Sobran from mainstream conservatism.

    Re: Coulter, I'm not sure how "seriously" she is taken by her flock. Many consider her to be an entertainer more than a serious thinker.


  17. Jonathan H. Adler,

    Buckley had groomed Sobran as something of a protege, so it should not be a surprise that he continued to be kind to Sobran in a personal capacity, treating Sobran as something like a wayward nephew for whom he retained substantial affection.

    It could also be that Buckley was not quite the scourge of anti-Semites that his admirers portray. It may be unfair to say he opposed anti-Semitism only for tactical reasons, but I think he saw it as more of a regrettable character flaw than a serious failing. That would certainly fit with your point about his relationship with Sobran

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