The Jew as Citizen:
Raymond Aron & Civic Nationalism, Part 3
part 3 of 3
“The Political Masterpiece”: Aron as Jew and Citizen, 1967–1983
Aron’s thinking on the Jewish Question became more coherent and, I would argue, more principled over time, settling into an understated recognition of his Jewish identity and sympathy for Israel, a criticism of the dual loyalty and Israel-centrism of Jewish organizations, and a fully-fledged apology of the ethnically-coherent nation-state (although he only speaks explicitly of “culture”). In the final Aronian vision, a minority can be a good citizen of a democratic republic, but if one goes beyond mere affection for co-ethnics abroad, he must choose foreign citizenship and possibly emigrate.
In a 1972 speech to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, upon being granted an honoris causa doctorate, he declared that: “If I were a Zionist, it seems to me I would become Israeli” (p. 241). He explains his Republican nationalism:
I received from my parents a dark patriotism [patriotisme ombrageux] which I would like to see void of vanity or xenophobia, a demanding and severe patriotism. How could one not be severe with regard to those who one loves and whom one wishes to be close to the ideal image one has of them ? (Essais, 241).
He concedes: “Though I am a Frenchman, I admit that, in certain circumstances, I have with regard to Israel, the State of Israel, a particular love [dilection particulière]” (Essais, 242).
Aron comes to a full-throated defense of the ethnically-homogenous nation-state (at least culturally homogenous as he does not mention race), wherever it is politically practical to create one, in an October 1976 lecture to the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilization on the eventual universalism of nationalism. He defines nationalism well-understood as leading to: “The ideal-typical national State, with this triple character: common will, community of culture, total independence with regard to other political entities” (Essais, 301).
“[T]he ideal-type of the national State . . . is the national State which citizens identify with, that they recognize as their own, and where, furthermore, they are sufficiently united by the community of culture to find normal and satisfying the combination of unity of culture and political unity. The authors of the end of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth Century were right: when this coincidence possible, we obtain the political masterpiece. (Essais, 314)
Aron explains his attachment to Jewish identity thus: “if one day I were to see my grandparents and great-grandparents, who defined themselves as Jews and lived their Jewishness, I would like to be able to present myself to them without shame [sans rougir]” (Essais, 318). However, a Jew who feels foreign to his land of residence should “become an Israeli citizen and then the problem is solved” (Essais, 319).
Aron interestingly mentions the theory of sociologist Marcel Mauss that a genuine nation is an ethnically and racially homogeneous entity with a democratic central government and a national character: “[Mauss] curiously uses the word ‘race’, not by mistake, because in his eyes, the nation ends up creating the race, creating a unique national character” (Essais, 305). Why does Aron evoke this most forward-looking and constructive visions of racial nationalism?
“American Jews are not troubled by the question of dual loyalty.”
In his later years, as I detail in an article on the French Jewish community in The Occidental Observer, Aron became increasingly critical of the hypocritical ethnocentrism of Jewish organizations and of the excessive racial sensitivity of the younger French Jewish generations. He notably says in a text sent to the January 28, 1980 World Jewish Congress:
In the United States, the American Jewish Community, almost always if not always, supports the diplomatic positions adopted by the Israeli government. The French Jews who publish Jewish reviews and are active in Jewish organizations do the same. Whatever is the Israeli party (or coalition) in power, the official representatives of the community support the arguments of the Israeli government. This situation does not strike me as healthy.
I have a hard time understanding why those [French Jews] who consider themselves Israeli first are still French [citizens]. Loyalty to a county is not total or totalitarian, but it is political par excellence, it is constitutive of citizenship. Dual citizenship exists legally, [but] there are difficulties for Jews occupying, in their country, essentially political positions. When Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State, his loyalty, his allegiance was first to the United States. The same is true for French civil servants, for French political commentators.
From the moment that their [Jewish] consciousness binds them to Israel, a State among others even if it has particularities, non-Jewish Frenchmen have a right to ask to which political community they belong to. . . . As citizens of the French Republic, they [Jews] legitimately maintain spiritual or moral ties with the Israelis, but, if these ties with Israel become political and take precedence over French citizenship, then they should logically choose Israeli citizenship. . . .
I meet Jews, old and young, who, so to speak, have not forgiven France or the French for the Jewish statute [the Vichy regime’s race laws] and the vélodrome d’Hiver roundup by the French police . . . . If they have not forgiven France, then it is no longer their nation, but the country in which they agreeably reside. A normal attitude for the old, who cannot start a different existence. But the young who have become indifferent to the fate of their “host country,” their nation, why don’t they choose Israel? (Essais, 323–5)
Aron also asserts that “American Jews are not troubled by the question or accusation of dual loyalty” and mentions a book of interviews with prominent French Jews on their identity in which “[a] good number responded: Jewish first, which most often meant Israeli first” (Essais, 325). He concludes by calling on Israel not to not harass assimilating Jews in other countries as “[t]he destiny of Judaism is too unique for us to delineate with certainty the limits of the Jewish ‘people’” (Essais, 326).
Aron also wrote scathingly against Bernard-Henri Lévy, a so-called “nouveau philosophe” by the 1980s, for his Francophobic screed L’idéologie française, which portrayed French culture and political philosophy as seemingly congenitally hateful, antisemitic and fascistic.
If one objected to Bernard-Henri Lévy that he is violating all the rules of honest interpretation and of the historical method, he would reply with arrogance that he doesn’t care what Ivory Tower watchdogs think. . . . Non-Jewish Frenchmen will conclude that the Jews are even more different from other Frenchmen than they had imagined, because an author acclaimed by Jewish groups shows himself incapable of understanding so many expressions of French thought. . . . By his hysteria, he will feed the hysteria of a fraction of the Jewish community, already inclined towards delirious words and actions. A work of public interest, wrote the conclusion of the review of the Nouvel Observateur. Of public interest, or a public danger?
Significantly, “B.-H.L.” has continued to rise in the French politico-media system despite the widely-recognized nullity of his work, enjoying access and visibility at the highest levels of mass media and the state, including the President and Prime Minister and playing a key role in the destruction of Libya. This is the man Aron feared would stoke Judeophobia in France and, indeed, Lévy has become a central bogeyman as embodying the influential, anti-goy, hypocritical, and warmongering tribalist in the awareness-raising efforts of Alain Soral and Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Aron was also troubled by the political exploitation of “political correctness” against his friends in the mainstream French right. When Prime Minister Raymond Barre was accused of antisemitism because of his response to the 1980 Paris synagogue bombing, Aron condemned “the partisan exploitation of this tragedy” (Essais, 370). He also rejected calls for censorship against the Right: “The assassins of Copernic street [where the bombing took place] pertain to police; the writings of Alain de Benoist or Louis Pauwels, of discussion” (Essais, 374). The Israeli Prime Minister blamed France’s pro-Arab foreign policy, naturally, for stoking antisemitism.
When in September 1983 the Left and the media were outraged about a municipal electoral alliance between the mainstream center-right and the Front National, Aron was indignant. “The men of the left . . . unleashed a propaganda, itself also extreme,” he wrote. “The [center-right] opposition was not changing nature, it was not rallying to the ideas of the National Front, it accepted four of [Jean-Marie] Le Pen’s companions on their [electoral] list – which seems to me to be less grave than accepting four communists in the Council of Ministers.” Socialist President Mitterrand was then governing in a coalition with the French Communist Party (PCF). Aron goes on to ridicule the Left’s claim that this local alliance was a revival of a “fascist threat” against the country.
In 1978, Aron was accused of being a juif de cour (Court Jew) by historian Olivier Todd (father of Emmanuel Todd, a part-Jewish demographer and prominent immigrationist French euroskeptic), when L’Express published an interview with former Commissioner for Jewish Questions Louis Darquier de Pellepoix who made various revisionist claims, saying notably that the 6 million figure “is a pure and simple invention. A Jewish invention, of course. The Jews are like that: they are ready to do anything to get visibility.” And also: “There was gassing in Auschwitz. Yes, it’s true. They gassed the lice.” Aron said he had been opposed to publishing the interview because Darquier was not “an interlocutor with whom one can exchange ideas,” a rare occasion where he indulged in that hateful tribalist impulse to impose the bounds of acceptable discourse (Essais, 359). He then asserts that “we need to stress what belongs to Nazism only, the genocide, the deliberate industrial extermination of an entire people, the Jews, the Gypsies” (Essais, 361–2), thus validating the uniquely Jewish claim of suffering (the Gypsies are there only for show) at the hands of uniquely evil Germans.
Aron’s Final Jewish Identity
It is perhaps significant that Aron concludes what in many ways is his last magnum opus – his two-volume study of Carl von Clausewitz’s philosophy of war – with meditations on National Socialism and Israel:
There is one last illusion to dissipate: after the horrors of the First World War, neither men nor the States have said “farewell to arms.”
The general who wrote [On War], or the young officer who dreamed of glory on the field of battle, knew well the precariousness which the politician dedicates himself to. Already our grandchildren understand with difficulty what we felt, my friend Golo Mann and I, when we watched, on the Kurfürstendamm, Goebbels throwing into the blaze, in a renewed gesture of a distant past, the books of Freud or Musil. I had to delve in the Memoirs or the letters of Gnesenau and Clausewitz to relive Prussian patriots’ passions against Napoleon.
Other men will tomorrow live other passions. A Frenchman, of Jewish origin, how could I forget that France owes her liberation to the strength of her allies, Israel her existence to her weapons, a chance of survival to her resolution and the American resolution to fight, if need be.
Before feeling guilty, I wait that a tribunal should decide who, of the Israelis or the Palestinians, legitimately claims the sacred land of the three religions of the Book.
Intriguingly, Aron also relates in his memoirs that Leo Strauss had appreciated his previous massive work on war and peace: “In a personal letter, Leo Strauss, who I deeply admired and I had seen in Berlin in 1933 but had not met again since, wrote to me, after having written Paix et Guerre, that, to his knowledge, this book was the best one in existence on the subject” (Mémoires, 457).
In a 1983 interview with L’Arche, close to his death, he says: “I do not like Jews’ aggressiveness towards antisemites. . . . Everyone is attached to a culture or an ethnic group” (Essais, 342). He adds: “As it is good that humanity be rich in diversity, I want the Jews to continue to be Jews but not the point of me being considered a soldier in a Judaic army” (Essais, 351).
In his memoirs, Aron again rejects Sartre’s assertion that Jews exist only through the eyes of the antisemite (Mémoires, 501). He quotes Baruch Spinoza saying “there is nothing whatsoever that the Jews can arrogate to themselves above other nations” and then seemingly negates by commenting: “Nothing, I would add, other than misfortune, nor anything which should place them below other nations” (Mémoires, 514). He later extensively quotes a letter from a Strasbourgeois Jew who asserts that Jews do exist as a people, criticizes De Gaulle’s famous phrase by saying “I do not at all believe in elite peoples, those who consider themselves the salt of the earth,” and that the concept of “election” is purely metaphysical (Mémoires, 519).
Conclusion: Raymond Aron, the Reluctant Ethno-Nationalist
What can we can conclude from this lengthy overview? I would personally say that the Aronian itinerary shows us the strengths and limits of the civic nationalist ideal. Civic nationalism, at best, can only function as an implicit ethno-nationalism. The evidence suggests that Aron embraced the French Republican nation-state in part as the best guarantee for the interests of secular French Jews. In one sense, one could consider Aron a particularly precocious, sophisticated, and I dare say honest version of the wider phenomenon of neoconservatism (e.g., those Jews who came to anticommunism and apologia for moderate Western nationalism as serving Jewish interests).
The honest part is in Aron’s recognition of the dilemmas of dual loyalty. He attempts to resolve the contradiction between racial solidarity with one’s kin and loyalty to the state through the principle of mono-citizenship: Those loyal to Israel should become Israeli citizens. The mature Aron is less prone to citing the self-serving and conceited explanations for antisemitism, such as psychoanalysis, and recognizes the conflicts of sentiment and interest. But just in the early years he seemed to accept the Khazar hypothesis discrediting racial antisemitism, he later takes up the holocaust as a unique occurrence justifying Jewish victimology.
Aron’s system collapses in time of crisis and war, as when he wrote: “Left-wing intellectuals, of Jewish origin, have not given up the ground of universalism for that of Israeli nationalism. . . . They had the same experience as Camus” (Essais, 86). Whether it was a Jew in France in 1940, a European in Algeria in 1962, or a Jew anywhere with regard to Israel’s wars, any question of civic community or moral universalism become irrelevant in the face of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic conflicts of interest are inevitable: French Jew and gentile did not have the same interests in the face of Hitler’s conquest, just as the survival of Israel means entirely different things for Jews and gentiles in all countries. Equally, he recognizes the severe dilemma of the “extreme situation” whereby a diaspora would be asked to fight against the mother country: If France and Israel were to go to war, would Jews of French citizenship fight against their co-ethnics? (Essais, 214) These kinds of hypotheticals are less and less abstract as Western nations become increasingly miscegenated and filled with Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans (I have a heard a Muslim on the metro tell a co-religionist that he cannot join Western armed forces because fighting against Muslims is haram, and we obviously know of the Muslims who have joined to fight for the Islamic State).
This is a devastating realization for Aronian civic nationalism, for as honest and elegant as it is, it utterly collapses into chaos and disloyalty when in war and crisis. And if your political ideology becomes useless when the going gets tough, well then what good is it? What best keeps a political community together in times of existential crisis? Legal citizenship, moral principle, or shared blood?
Civic nationalism is then not enough. The contradictions are only resolved with a forward-looking ethno-nationalism which emphasizes the Volk‘s genetic proximity (exogamy within the national community) and quality (eugenics).
Aron’s system also breaks apart when minority elites abuse the “honor system” and become too powerful in promotion of their ethnic interests, as seen with his dismay at the increasingly shameless ethnocentrism of American and French Jewry. The system’s flaws are revealed both by Aron’s unprecedentedly emotional response to De Gaulle’s 1967 press conference and his irritation towards Bernard-Henri Lévy. At best, civic nationalism can only work in peacetime if the majority’s cultural hegemony is secure and disloyalty is taboo.
Aron’s system broke with Aron himself when Israel was at stake. His patriotic affection for France is real, but it is often rather clinical and matter-of-fact, France being just a respectable advanced industrial economy, Western ally, and second-tier power. He fears for France’s civil peace and freedom. Certainly, he could be cold and clinical on “provincial” Israel too, but there was also this mysterious, dark attraction for the Jewish State, and nothing drove him to anger or sadness, perhaps even to his own surprise, than criticism of Jewry and the prospect of the end of Israel. Only on Jewry did he engage in mystical pseudo-paradoxes like: “[t]he destiny of Judaism is too unique for us to delineate with certainty the limits of the Jewish ‘people’” (Essais, 326, although perhaps he was also appealing to his audience’s ethnic pride?). Of course, from an evolutionary and racial point of view, there is nothing mysterious in the slightest in affection for one’s blood kin.
Jewish, notably neoconservative, agitation in the United States and elsewhere on behalf of Israel is perfectly understandable. A good Jew cannot be indifferent to the fate of his six million co-racialists in their nation-state. What is less understandable is why ethnic Europeans allow and go along with such activism in their countries in the first place. Aron’s connection with Strauss has to my knowledge not been explored, perhaps it was only slight, but it does leave open the possibility of self-consciously cryptical action on Aron’s part. (I have not attempted an esoteric reading of Aron, a very straightforward writer to whom any deceit I would think would have to be unconscious, but I may be naïve.)
Aron’s initial unwillingness to engage with the ethnic factor as undermining civic nationalism is evident in his confused and contradictory early writings on the Jewish Question and his own identity, what he himself calls his “Talmudic ratiocinations.” They read rather like Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, so admirably picked apart by Steve Sailer. The minority individual simultaneously wants to assert the legitimacy of ethnic difference and interest, and chastise any in the majority for noticing this ethnic difference and activism and reacting accordingly. These two absolutely contradictory claims necessarily can never be resolved and lead to endless obtuse rationalization of ethnic interest, selective moral indignation, and a psychologically-exhausting verbosity which inevitably ties itself knots. The contradictions can only be papered over through obscurantist pseudo-paradoxes (paralogisms) whose only real logic is that they will consistently put ethnic interest first and absolve the minority of certain duties (double standards).
Aron intriguingly had all the pieces for ethnonationalism. He fully recognized the importance of, at least, cultural-linguistic (and, in a European context, this used to mean basically ethnic) cohesion to the nation-state, that “political masterpiece” and “masterpiece of history.” He was also aware of Shinto as an ethnic religion: “It was a sacralization of Japan itself. It’s one of the religions which lends itself the best to Durkheimian theory” (Essais, 275). He also recognized that genetically-determined differences in temperament and ability between races were possible, as “perhaps hereditary gifts are not uniformly present throughout the human race” (Essais, 196). And he knew of Marcel Mauss’ theory of the (eugenic?) creation of the race through the nation (Essais, 305). In another context, perhaps if he had been born Israeli, would Aron have been one of the most measured, erudite, and eloquent advocates of ethnonationalism?
What is certain is that, at the eve of his life, Aron preached humility and expressed at foreboding at the fate of the West. In his1983 interview with L’Arche he said:
For me, that which is religious is the awareness of the precarious and arbitrary character of the secular order. . . . What I would keep of a religious inspiration is precisely that which refuses to recognize temporal successes, the place in the social hierarchy as the final judgment on individuals and the judgments of each person on themselves. (Essais, 346)
And in a November 1983 speech to Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, he recalled an article he had written in his youth:
I suggested that the intellectual, in doubtful struggles, that is to say most political struggles, seeks the preferable. He tries to understand the arguments of all sides and does not hesitate to take a side without succumbing to the illusion that in each case he is incarnating eternal values. (Essais, 332)
In the conclusion to his memoirs, Aron fears for Europe’s demography:
The Europeans are committing suicide by childlessness. Peoples whose generations do not reproduce themselves are condemned to aging and, at the same time, haunted by a state of mind of abdication, of “fin de siècle.” They can fill the void with foreigners as they did during the “trentes glorieuses,” but, through this very means, risk worsening the tension between immigrants and workers threatened by unemployment. (Mémoires, 350)
He summarizes his political engagement:
If someone were to take the time to read me tomorrow, he would discover the analyses, the aspirations and the doubts which filled the consciousness of a man imbued with history: a French citizen, but a Jew which a half-free French government had excluded from his country by a statute based on racial criteria; citizen of a France member of the European Community, one of the world’s four poles of science and economy, unable to defend itself, hesitating between American protection and the Soviet peace Moscow is offering it at the price of freedom; a Europe more liberal, more libertarian than at any other time, shaped by the revolt against the constraints of industrial society; a perhaps decadent Europe, because civilizations blossom in freedom and wither in unbelief; a European in a humanity which, despite the slowing of economic growth between now and the end of the century, is condemned to the expansion of science and production. (Mémoires, 736-7)
One wonders what might have arrested this decadence besides the Right.
Aron’s Plaidoyer pour l’Europe décadente, his last “polemical” political book, is filled with foreboding about Western individualism and other self-destructive tendencies even as he condemns the Soviet alternative:
Between trade unions in the army and a reproduction rate of 0.7 (markedly less than 2 children per couple even though 2.2. would be necessary to maintain the population), the link may seem indirect and distant; the two phenomena perhaps emanate from the same cause: the hypertrophy of individualism in its utilitarian and selfish expression. . . . Man only finds satisfaction in surpassing himself, in aiming beyond his ephemeral existence, in going to encounter others.
The civilization of pleasure condemns itself to death when it is disinterests itself in the future.
Is that not why we must fight?
1. Raymond Aron, “Provocation,” L’Express, 7–13 February 1981. Reprinted in Essais sur la condition juive contemporaine, pp. 377–83.
2. This can sometimes be truly pathetic. To mention a recent case: former president Nicolas Sarkozy and current President François Hollande have attended Lévy latest play Hôtel Europe, which however has been so unpopular with the general public that it has been canceled six weeks ahead of schedule. “La pièce de BHL s’arrête plus tôt que prévu, faute de spectateurs,” L’Express, October 15, 2014, http://www.lexpress.fr/culture/scene/la-piece-de-bhl-s-arrete-plus-tot-que-prevu-faute-de-spectateurs_1611635.html Dieudonné’s shows, suffering a total media boycott, in contrast are often fully booked.
3. Raymond Aron, “George Dandin,” L’Express, September 16–22, 1983. Reprinted in De Giscard à Mitterrand, 1977–1983 (Paris: Éditions de Fallois, 2005), pp. 858–60.
4. “À Auschwitz, on n’a gazé que les poux,” L’Express, October 28, 1978. PDF scan available online: http://www.arte.tv/static/c3/bousquet/darquier.pdf
5. Raymond Aron, Penser la Guerre, Clausewitz (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1976), vol. II, p, 286.
6. Interestingly, Aron also received a letter from Carl Schmitt, to whom Aron had sent a copy of Paix et guerre, which stated that the book’s analysis of the paradoxes of mutually assured destruction were “brilliantly confirmed” by the Cuban missile crisis.
7. Compare with Franz Kafka’s “Austro-Hungarian” patriotism, presumably in fear of ethnically homogeneous nation-states. https://counter-currents.com/2014/07/kafka-our-folk-comrade/
8. See also, Greg Johnson, “Is Racial Purism Decadent?,” The Occidental Observer, July 10, 2010, http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/authors/Johnson-Is-Racial-Purism-Degenerate.html
9. Steve Sailer, America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s “Story of Race and Inheritance” (Washington, Connecticut: VDare Foundation: 2008).
10. Raymond Aron, Plaidoyer pour l’Europe décadente (Paris: Éditions Robert Lafont, 1977), p. 524.