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‘There Shall Be None to Make Him Afraid’
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‘There Shall Be None to Make Him Afraid’

Heretics, trolls, and the defects of illiberal religious politics.

Commentators Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro on set in Nashville, Tennessee, during a taping of "Candace" on March 17, 2021. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

One of the many benefits of political liberalism is that it provides a means of avoiding other, less desirable forms of liberalism, such as theological liberalism and social liberalism. When people are treated equally under the law, when their rights to speak and publish, to worship, and to engage in commerce are all secure, then under the shelter of that political liberalism we discover room for profound disagreements—philosophical, political, moral, religious. 

But first, Ben Shapiro. 

I like Ben. I don’t know him very well, but he has always struck me as a smart and decent guy, and he has helped me promote books over the years. I like to think—and I do hope that I am right about this—that he is basically the Andy Kaufman of the New New Right, that one of these days he’s going to sell his company for a billion dollars or two or six and then sail off into the sunset, two middle fingers raised to all the rage-addled rubes whose money he took over the years. In the earliest days of the Trump phenomenon—back when Breitbart was publishing antisemitic attacks on its former editor-at-large and the Trump campaign was using the Star of David as an emblem of corruption—guys like Ben had a choice: Go big or go home. Ben’s a graduate of Harvard Law—he was going to be just fine if he went home. But he decided to go big on the most lucrative kind of Trumpish and Trump-adjacent political entertainment. I am with Don Corleone on this stuff: I don’t judge a man for how he makes his money, but I know a dirty business when I see one. There’s a difference between profit-seeking and bad faith, but the balance can be delicate. That being said, I’m pretty sure Ben Shapiro hired Candace Owens—and a lot of the other dopes who work for him—because he thought it would be good business, not because he thought she was smart or interesting, that her contributions to the public discourse were going to help right this teetering republic.

But as another big-time gangster put it: You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. 

The messy departure of Candace Owens from Shapiro’s Daily Wire media empire amid disagreements about Israel and accusations of antisemitism has generated a great deal of imbecilic Jew-hater trolling, which, given the history of persistent antisemitism in this political tendency—e.g., Ben Shapiro and Breitbart three paragraphs above—should surprise exactly no one. Naturally, this has, in turn, generated a great deal of gleeful commentary in progressive quarters. (“A dirty business.”) 

One of the odd tics of progressive rhetoric in our time is its heresy-hunting. It isn’t enough to identify bad actors doing bad things; contemporary progressivism needs to understand discrete episodes in terms of some overriding idea, the pollution of which can be usefully attributed to other political targets, however vaguely connected to it. “Great replacement theory” is a version of this. There are some kooks and cranks who believe that shadowy (no doubt Jewish) powers are scheming to replace this country’s ethnically distinct Anglo-American stock (which exists mainly in their imaginations) with swarthy immigrants who can be more readily made into easily controlled welfare dependents. But there are also some well-intentioned and well-informed critics of Democratic political ambitions who observe that progressives have for years sincerely professed a version of something broadly similar: the notion that immigration-driven demographic changes would create an “emerging Democratic majority,” as the famous book put it. (Do check out Ruy Teixeira’s conversation with Jonah Goldberg about his much-discussed and often misunderstood book, co-authored with John Judis.) Of course, many Democrats do indeed believe—and hope—that they will benefit politically from increased Latin American immigration, but point that out and you can bet that some pissy mediocrity writing in New York magazine will brand you a great-replacement theorist, and, as such, a heretic. 

The Shapiro-Owens kerfuffle has caused some progressive writers to turn their attention to “supersessionism,” a Christian doctrinal question involving the relationship between the Old Covenant (the ancient one between God and His chosen people) and the New Covenant (established by the death and resurrection of Jesus). Supersessionism is really more of a rhetorical issue than a religious one: The theological details matter a great deal, of course, but if there is a universally attested bedrock of Christian orthodoxy, it is that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus created a new kind of relationship between God and man, distinct from the relationship God entered into with the Israelites, a particular people. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah spoke of a coming “new covenant,” and Christians maintain that their religion is the fruit of that new covenant. The Epistle to the Hebrews, traditionally attributed to Paul, is the prime supersessionist text, reading, in part: “The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” 

Writing in Slate, Molly Olmstead claims that the Catholic Church “officially rejects” supersessionism, which is not exactly right. What the Catholic Church has been at pains to reject in recent years—and particularly in the work of the Second Vatican Council—is antisemitism and antisemitic doctrines. Supersessionism is not itself inherently antisemitic, but it can be put to antisemitic purposes—as, indeed, can almost everything that is religiously distinctive about Christianity at all, which is what you’d expect from a religion that separated itself from Judaism. 

The theological tension here comes from two Christian beliefs that can be difficult to reconcile: One, that God is faithful, not a breaker of promises, and hence not inclined to revoke His covenant with the Jewish people; two, that Christianity (in Catholic belief, the Catholic Church per se) is the only means to salvation. Without going too deep into the weeds, you can get an idea of the approach from the very straightforwardly titled “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church,” part of a body of work commissioned by Pope John Paul II in 1982, a passage from which I have lightly edited (removing citations of additional church documents) in the interest of legibility:

Church and Judaism cannot … be seen as two parallel ways of salvation, and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

The urgency and importance of precise, objective, and rigorously accurate teaching on Judaism for our faithful follows too from the danger of antisemitism which is always ready to reappear under different guises. The question is not merely to uproot from among the faithful the remains of antisemitism still to be found here and there, but much rather to arouse in them, through educational work, an exact knowledge of the wholly unique bond. which joins us as a Church to the Jews and to Judaism. In this way, they would learn to appreciate and love the latter, who have been chosen by God to prepare the coming of Christ and have preserved everything that was progressively revealed and given in the course of that preparation, notwithstanding their difficulty in recognizing in Him their Messiah.

The question of supersessionism comes up not only in the context of Christian-Jewish relations but also (more often, I estimate) in discussions of prophetic literature, in which there is some debate (and a great deal of genuine doubt) about whether certain references to Israel, Jerusalem, et al. are intended as references to the country in the Middle East or more allegorical references to Christians and the Christian church as God’s people. As a Pole born in 1920, Pope John Paul II was sensitive to antisemitism and to Catholic contributions to it, both cultural and religious. He advised Christians to think of Jews as our “elder brothers in faith,” which seems to me the right way to think about it. But he also insisted on a quite orthodox interpretation of the Christian mission that would have been recognizable to popes who served in office a millennium before he did, as much as they might have been surprised by (even scandalized by) his affectionate attitude toward Jews and Judaism. There is a tendency among us moderns, suffering from the bias of presentism, to think of the last 50 or 60 years as the most relevant epoch of Christianity, a religion now in its 21st century. 

“Witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty,” is advice that depends on political liberalism rather than theological liberalism. 

And my point here is political rather than religious. There is a reason Christianity and Judaism are separate religions: The truth claims of each are mutually exclusive. For Christians, the most important issue is not whether a person is good, nice, decent, or moral—it is his relationship with Jesus. And Christians and Jews disagree about the issue that is most important to Christians, the one that defines Christianity. A Christianity and a Judaism that were religiously compatible with one another would not be Christianity and Judaism—they would be diminished things. 

There are a few different ways to deal with that situation: One version of illiberalism holds that somebody wins and somebody loses, and that Christians, having the upper hand in terms of numbers and political power, are entitled to impose their religion on society at large, to whatever degree they feel necessary and with only those accommodations demanded by their own forbearance. (That this is a profoundly un-Christian attitude has not stopped many Christians from embracing it.) Another version of illiberalism disguises itself as liberalism, and it insists that both Christianity and Judaism be denuded of everything that makes each distinctive, that these and all other religions be reduced to some version of the Church of Niceness, and that this orthodoxy be imposed on society at large, through formal and informal means. Genuine liberalism takes a different approach: It takes for granted that people living in a free and open society of any meaningful size or complexity will have profound, wrenching disagreements about fundamental issues, and that the job of the state and of civic institutions (including the schools) is not to scrub religions, political platforms, and creeds of anything potentially offensive but rather to create a political space in which community life can be lived peaceably. 

There is more to authentic political liberalism than what the law says and what the Supreme Court will allow—it necessarily involves the cultivation of essential civic virtues oriented toward mutual respect, toleration, and a genuine appreciation for the real organic diversity of a society such as ours. There are certain civic duties that naturally fall more heavily on the majority populations (“Why is there no White History Month, huh?”) and on the dominant religious and cultural tendencies, and some civic necessities that fall in a more particular way to minority groups. (There is, after all, an entire religion founded on a very aggressive understanding of supersessionism: Islam. But we take a relatively indulgent view of minority religions, usually for good reasons.) 

In a society with real political liberalism, the question of how Christians think theologically about their Jewish neighbors is not a particularly urgent one for public life. Mature people understand that living with fundamental disagreements is part of being a good citizen: a good Christian citizen, a good Jewish citizen, a good Muslim citizen, a good atheist citizen, etc. But without that political liberalism, what you end up with is either constant bitter conflict or some kind of (ruthlessly) enforced theological and social liberalism, one that tries to deal with the disagreement by eliminating it rather than by respectfully conceding its legitimacy.

While we have enjoyed decades worth of reinforcement of the formal structures of political liberalism—thanks in no small part to the conservative legal movement’s successful advocacy of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and a robust interpretation of the constitutional bulwark of our civil rights—we have lost some of the civic and cultural buttresses of that liberalism that are necessary virtues of citizenship. And there is a certain political tendency within Christianity that has been … not particularly helpful on that front. Owens’ partisans have taken to tweeting “Christ is King” at Shapiro and other Jewish critics—a political statement rather than a religious one. 

(If you really believe that Christ is King, then act like it.)

America has always had more than its share of Jew-hating weirdos, and it still does. But we also look to the example of George Washington, who wrote to the Jewish community at Newport:

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

“Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” If you are looking for a summary of the American way, there it is.

Words about Words

It is remarkable to me that so many professional writers will go to such lengths to avoid the perfectly respectable word “foreign.” E.g., Jim Newell writing in Slate about the proposal to rename Dulles Airport for Donald Trump, who never flies commercial. 

In a way, it could be a perfect passing of the torch. The current namesake, John Foster Dulles, worked to overthrow international governments; his would-be successor, the domestic one.

That’s a good line—clever. 

But there are no “international governments” that can be overthrown—there are “foreign governments” that can. International things are things that are between nations, that involve more than one nation: international agreements, international travel, international trade, etc. 

The government of Germany isn’t international (not in this century, anyway!)—it’s just German, and foreign. Germans are foreign to Americans, and Americans are foreign to the Germans. (Though maybe less foreign-seeming: The world always has Americans in its face, which is why your average resident of Lagos or Bangalore knows a heck of a lot more about Americans than Americans know about the people in Lagos or Bangalore.)

Yes, people sometimes spit foreign as invective. But it is a word that means something, and what it means is not international. Like alien and illegal alien, we need a term for the thing we are talking about, and it is better if that term is a word or words that actually say what they are meant to mean.

A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey is Jonathan Meiburg’s very interesting book about the caracara. Very smart, nicely written, and offering an account of something you probably don’t know much about—what’s not to like? 

Economics for English Majors

Apple is being sued on antitrust grounds, under Ye Olde Sherman Act. 

(Some of our pro-choice friends scoff that current attempts to regulate the distribution of abortifacients under the Comstock Act rely on a “long discredited, arcane 150-year-old law,” as Sen. Tina Smith, a former Planned Parenthood ghoul, put it in the New York Times. The Sherman Act and the Comstock Act both date from the late19th century, and both of them are—inconvenient though the fact may be!—the law of the land, neither “discredited” nor “arcane,” words that do not mean, “politically inconvenient.”)

Apple’s iPhone business is a funny kind of monopoly to be going after: Its worldwide share of the smartphone market is around 20 percent and its domestic market share is about 60 percent—solid, but hardly a monopoly. But our antitrust law doesn’t require an actual trust to be anti-, or a real monopoly, or anything like that. What getting a lawsuit rolling requires at the moment is … more or less anything that Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan can claim is an anti-competitive practice, as though eliminating or reducing competition were not the goal of a whole lot of legitimate business strategies. The FTC wants to regulate smartphones as “platforms,” which essentially means regulating them as though they were utilities, and its lawsuit has an economic theory of Apple’s behavior: 

Limiting the features and functionality created by third-party developers—and therefore available to iPhone users—makes the iPhone worse and deprives Apple of the economic value it would gain as the platform operator. It makes no economic sense for Apple to sacrifice the profits it would earn from new features and functionality unless it has some other compensating reason to do so, such as protecting its monopoly profits.

That isn’t particularly persuasive. But as a purely economic matter, it is not difficult to think of examples of Apple’s forgoing profits for reasons not related to some anti-competitive purpose: Apple famously keeps pornography out of the walled gardens of the App Store and the iTunes Store. There may be a long-term economic argument for that—Steve Jobs had a very particular idea of the kind of user experience he wanted Apple products to offer—but you’d have a hard time quantifying that economically. It is a matter of taste and a hunch about business. A million years ago, when Apple first decided to start selling music, the firm picked a price of 99 cents per song not because that was profit-maximizing but because of a hunch about consumer psychology, i.e., that people who had been stealing musically digitally would pay 99 cents for a better experience and in order to feel like customers rather than scofflaws. There was surely an anti-competitive element in that strategy—but it also created the digital music business and paved the way for the streaming model we now take for granted.

It is difficult to argue that consumers are being ill-treated by innovations in the mobile phone market. Look at it over a timeline that extends past the day before yesterday: That big Motorola brick that Gordon Gekko carried around cost the equivalent of about $12,000 for the handset and a few bucks a minute to make a call—and that was all it did, for the few scant minutes of talk time it offered. Unlike a few other products and services that leap to mind—say, higher education and health care—smartphones and personal technology get cheaper and better every year, a testament to what free-market innovation can accomplish. If college or diabetes treatment had improved in price and quality the same way mobile phones have over the past several decades, we’d be living in a radically different and radically better world

Lina Khan is smart. The markets are smarter, and we should let them work. 

Elsewhere

Simply not being Donald Trump—and being to the centrist side of Bernie Sanders—was enough for Joe Biden to win the election in 2020. It probably won’t be this time around. There may not be enough Trump-weary Republicans to have won Nikki Haley the primary, but there probably are enough to win Joe Biden the general. So, why isn’t he trying to win them over? More in the New York Post, America’s newspaper.

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghetto, here.

You can buy my other books here.

You can see my New York Post columns here.

Please subscribe to The Dispatch if you haven’t.

You can check out “How the World Works,” a series of interviews on work I’m doing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, here.

In Conclusion

I’ve been thinking about antisemitism and its relationship to anti-Israel politics, anti-Israel invective, and anti-Israel bias. Of interest is this working paper from Canadian politician and law professor Irwin Cotler. An excerpt: 

What is intrinsic to each form of Antisemitism—and common to both—is discrimination. All that has happened is that it has moved from discrimination against Jews as individuals in their respective host societies—a classical Antisemitism for which there are indices of measurement; to discrimination against Jews as a People—and Israel as the collective Jew among the nations—a new Antisemitism for which one has yet to develop indices of measurement.

The essay is very much worth reading—and acting on.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.