Striking at a King

In a disastrous interview with the New York Times last week, Iowa congressman Steve King put his foot in his mouth (and not for the first time) by asking this imprudent question: "White nationalists, white supremacists, Western civilization, how did that language become offensive?  Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"  Put charitably (and I have no reason to attribute malice as opposed to stunning verbal ineptitude to the speaker), Congressman King wished to tell us that at one time, our teachers spoke with respect about the merits of our shared civilization.  No one back then when he and I were in school attacked our civilization because it was created mostly by white men.

Establishment conservative journalists have gone after King as a vicious bigot, who has no place in their conservative movement.  They also tried to set matters right by underlining the supposed fact that, in the words of John Podhoretz, "Western civilization isn't a white thing."  But then the counter-model being proposed doesn't really seem to work.  Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, informs us that whites could not have singlehandedly given us our civilization because "ancient Jerusalem is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity and its residents were certainly of a darker hue."  Further, Alexander Hamilton, who came from Nevis in the West Indies, "might either be of a Jewish or black stock."

One looks at these statements with wonder.  Ancient Semites who lived in Jerusalem were Caucasians, but not Indo-Europeans (which I think is the term Podhoretz might have chosen if he understood the distinction).  Caucasians have long resided in Europe, including Basques and the original Hungarians and Finns.  But, like Semites, many Caucasians are not members of the Indo-European subgroup that settled in Europe around 4,000 years ago.  What evidence can Podhoretz come up with that Alexander Hamilton was black?  (Even the musical Hamilton doesn't claim that, since the celebrated American statesman is played there by a white actor.)

Also doubtful is that Hamilton had Jewish blood.  His natural father, James Hamilton, was a landowner of Scottish noble ancestry.  The rumor about Hamilton's highly unlikely Jewish antecedents originated from the fact that his mother was then married to a Danish trader, John Michael Lavien, whose name has sometimes been mistakenly identified with the Jewish "Levine."  Among other obstacles facing him, Hamilton had to rise above the shame of having a loose woman as a mother.  But let's give Podhoretz credit for correctly telling us that St. Augustine had Berber ancestors.  Although Augustine's father's family was of Roman origin, his mother, the future St. Monica, was indeed a North African Berber.

None of this disproves that Western civilization was mostly the work of "white people," broadly understood, providing we allow for exceptions (like the Russian poet Pushkin, who was of Ethiopian descent, and Alexander Dumas, who was part black).  

Podhoretz, however, writes like a polymath next to his friend Jonah Goldberg, who is even more upset by King's bringing up the race question.  According to Goldberg, we have no moral right to associate the West with people called "white" because "at the beginning of the twentieth century" all sorts of ethnic groups in the U.S. were not viewed as whites: e.g. Jews, Southern Italians, Czechs, Poles, Greeks, and Hungarians.  Goldberg is trying to forbid us to use a term on the grounds that someone's neighbors once tried to insult that person by saying counterfactually that he wasn't white.  He also mentions that a Congressional Immigration Commission in 1911 drew from a dictionary on ethnic groups derogatory references to Czechs and other Europeans.  What Goldberg doesn't prove is that these references prevented the recognition of these European immigrants as white.

The Naturalization Act passed by Congress in 1790 opened settlement in the newly formed United States to all European nationalities.  This doesn't mean that all those groups that took advantage of the act enjoyed the same social treatment. But from a legal standpoint, all of them were considered white "at the beginning of the twentieth century."  They also not incidentally were found on professional sports teams at a time when blacks were barred from them.  Moreover, while it is possible to recognize the appeal of Western cultural achievements outside the West, that doesn't mean these achievements were not primarily produced by certain groups rather than other ones.  Christianity is a universal religion, but it also came out of an ancient Semitic world.  Plato, Aristotle, and Aeschylus have been read throughout most of the world, but were also identifiably Hellenic.  Why is it verboten to note such facts?

Perhaps the most controversial screed written by an authorized conservative against Steve King came from Ben Shapiro.  After replicating most of his friends' tirades, Shapiro called on Congress to censure the offending Iowa lawmaker.  The Hill takes note of this as some kind of critical event.  Shapiro, it would appear, is eager to join the black caucus and others on the left who are already on the warpath against King. Shapiro wants us to know that he's a moderate conservative, who is just trying to police the right, that is, exclude from his movement those whom he deems undesirable.  To the applause of his devotees, he has already excoriated Trump and Pat Buchanan for not fitting his fastidious definition of a proper conservative.

We might ask Shapiro whether he intends to call for a congressional censure of Maxine Waters for inciting violence against GOP lawmakers. What about censuring members of the black caucus who slobber over Louis Farrakhan, who has regularly ranted against whites and especially Jews?  And that young congresswoman from southwest Detroit who used obscenities in calling for Trump's removal?  Perhaps Shapiro might censure her as well.  Mind you, I'm not keen on having Congress censure any of its members.  I'm just suggesting that some socially acceptable conservatives adopt more of a sense of proportion before they pile on colleagues on the right whom the left is already piling up on.

In a disastrous interview with the New York Times last week, Iowa congressman Steve King put his foot in his mouth (and not for the first time) by asking this imprudent question: "White nationalists, white supremacists, Western civilization, how did that language become offensive?  Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"  Put charitably (and I have no reason to attribute malice as opposed to stunning verbal ineptitude to the speaker), Congressman King wished to tell us that at one time, our teachers spoke with respect about the merits of our shared civilization.  No one back then when he and I were in school attacked our civilization because it was created mostly by white men.

Establishment conservative journalists have gone after King as a vicious bigot, who has no place in their conservative movement.  They also tried to set matters right by underlining the supposed fact that, in the words of John Podhoretz, "Western civilization isn't a white thing."  But then the counter-model being proposed doesn't really seem to work.  Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, informs us that whites could not have singlehandedly given us our civilization because "ancient Jerusalem is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity and its residents were certainly of a darker hue."  Further, Alexander Hamilton, who came from Nevis in the West Indies, "might either be of a Jewish or black stock."

One looks at these statements with wonder.  Ancient Semites who lived in Jerusalem were Caucasians, but not Indo-Europeans (which I think is the term Podhoretz might have chosen if he understood the distinction).  Caucasians have long resided in Europe, including Basques and the original Hungarians and Finns.  But, like Semites, many Caucasians are not members of the Indo-European subgroup that settled in Europe around 4,000 years ago.  What evidence can Podhoretz come up with that Alexander Hamilton was black?  (Even the musical Hamilton doesn't claim that, since the celebrated American statesman is played there by a white actor.)

Also doubtful is that Hamilton had Jewish blood.  His natural father, James Hamilton, was a landowner of Scottish noble ancestry.  The rumor about Hamilton's highly unlikely Jewish antecedents originated from the fact that his mother was then married to a Danish trader, John Michael Lavien, whose name has sometimes been mistakenly identified with the Jewish "Levine."  Among other obstacles facing him, Hamilton had to rise above the shame of having a loose woman as a mother.  But let's give Podhoretz credit for correctly telling us that St. Augustine had Berber ancestors.  Although Augustine's father's family was of Roman origin, his mother, the future St. Monica, was indeed a North African Berber.

None of this disproves that Western civilization was mostly the work of "white people," broadly understood, providing we allow for exceptions (like the Russian poet Pushkin, who was of Ethiopian descent, and Alexander Dumas, who was part black).  

Podhoretz, however, writes like a polymath next to his friend Jonah Goldberg, who is even more upset by King's bringing up the race question.  According to Goldberg, we have no moral right to associate the West with people called "white" because "at the beginning of the twentieth century" all sorts of ethnic groups in the U.S. were not viewed as whites: e.g. Jews, Southern Italians, Czechs, Poles, Greeks, and Hungarians.  Goldberg is trying to forbid us to use a term on the grounds that someone's neighbors once tried to insult that person by saying counterfactually that he wasn't white.  He also mentions that a Congressional Immigration Commission in 1911 drew from a dictionary on ethnic groups derogatory references to Czechs and other Europeans.  What Goldberg doesn't prove is that these references prevented the recognition of these European immigrants as white.

The Naturalization Act passed by Congress in 1790 opened settlement in the newly formed United States to all European nationalities.  This doesn't mean that all those groups that took advantage of the act enjoyed the same social treatment. But from a legal standpoint, all of them were considered white "at the beginning of the twentieth century."  They also not incidentally were found on professional sports teams at a time when blacks were barred from them.  Moreover, while it is possible to recognize the appeal of Western cultural achievements outside the West, that doesn't mean these achievements were not primarily produced by certain groups rather than other ones.  Christianity is a universal religion, but it also came out of an ancient Semitic world.  Plato, Aristotle, and Aeschylus have been read throughout most of the world, but were also identifiably Hellenic.  Why is it verboten to note such facts?

Perhaps the most controversial screed written by an authorized conservative against Steve King came from Ben Shapiro.  After replicating most of his friends' tirades, Shapiro called on Congress to censure the offending Iowa lawmaker.  The Hill takes note of this as some kind of critical event.  Shapiro, it would appear, is eager to join the black caucus and others on the left who are already on the warpath against King. Shapiro wants us to know that he's a moderate conservative, who is just trying to police the right, that is, exclude from his movement those whom he deems undesirable.  To the applause of his devotees, he has already excoriated Trump and Pat Buchanan for not fitting his fastidious definition of a proper conservative.

We might ask Shapiro whether he intends to call for a congressional censure of Maxine Waters for inciting violence against GOP lawmakers. What about censuring members of the black caucus who slobber over Louis Farrakhan, who has regularly ranted against whites and especially Jews?  And that young congresswoman from southwest Detroit who used obscenities in calling for Trump's removal?  Perhaps Shapiro might censure her as well.  Mind you, I'm not keen on having Congress censure any of its members.  I'm just suggesting that some socially acceptable conservatives adopt more of a sense of proportion before they pile on colleagues on the right whom the left is already piling up on.