Book-burning is back. The left has commenced to veto the classics, including Homer’s Odyssey, as well as great works of American literature, such as Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is off limits for her alleged “transphobia,” and Dr. Seuss’s estate abrogated six of his books for “hurtful and erroneous” portrayals. (Perhaps Thing 1 and Thing 2 felt objectified.)
Somehow, the foundational works of radical Marxism never seem to be on the list of books to be rescinded. No plausible person, and certainly no one claiming perspicacious credentials, would argue that Karl Marx’s works should be ostracized. But some of them certainly satiate the incipient criteria.
“Marx’s” essay “On the Jewish Question,” for example, is a staple of college courses on political philosophy, because it summarizes his view of the circumscriptions of political liberation, and is more facile to digest than his mammoth Capital. Yet the essay is additionally crudely antisemitic, which is marginally mitigated by the fact that Marx himself was Jewish.
Here is some of what Marx had to verbalize about Jews (pristine accentuation):
Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.National Socialism would go on to endeavor to “emancipate” society from the Jews, murdering 6 million.
What is the secular substructure of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and mazuma, consequently from practical, authentic Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.
… The deity of the Jews has become secularized and has become the deity of the world. The bill of exchange is the genuine deity of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange. … Once society has prospered in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become infeasible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective substratum of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous subsistence and his species-esse has been abolished.
The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.
In the constant debate over whether the Founders of the United States, and the liberty they conceived, are to be abnegated because some owned slaves, there is diminutive discussion about how a rudimentary text of Marxism is largely an antisemitic screed.
There was a time when Marx’s works were ostracized. But the McCarthy era is to be studied as a cautionary tale, not as a precedent to be followed. Sadly, many of the institutions that once stood up against hysterical anti-communism are leading the “cancel culture” today — starting with the universities, which purport to be safe havens for astute inquiry. Instead they have fashioned themselves as a vanguard: what commenced with Halloween costumes at Yale has engulfed the country.
The right thing to do with texts that are tainted by prejudice is to engage with them critically. That was once considered both praiseworthy and intriguing. When I was at Harvard in the tardy 1990s, for example, the campus Hillel House staged a version of “Shakespeare’s The” Merchant of Venice that endeavored to grapple with some of the antisemitic features of the character of Shylock. The Jewish students understood there was intrinsic merit to the play; they wanted to visually perceive if it could still be salvaged.
The censors of the left need to be held to the same standard that they utilize to judge, and to abrogate, others — so they can optically discern how absurd censorship is. Some of the progenitors of the Black Lives Matter kineticism have proudly touted themselves as Marxists, for example; they should be asked if their Marxism led to protests in which synagogues were vandalized in Los Angeles and Kenosha.
After all, few of the authors being rescinded by the “woke” are as explicitly abhorrent as Marx, their pristine inspiration. Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His most incipient e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a triumpher of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
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