Goldhagenizing the Catholic Church

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What may seem an utterly baffling mystery is the thinking of Martin Peretz and of other neocons who are presently pulling out all stops to attack Christianity. At least some of this group wish to have their cake and to eat it at the same time: to incite American Christians against a Muslim danger to the "West’ while simultaneously shaming these Christians about their past.

Why would Peretz at this particular time be devoting a forthcoming issue of The New Republic to the accusations of Daniel J. Goldhagen, who, having produced a mostly invented account of how all the Germans by the 1930s were "eliminationist" anti-Semites, has turned the same tirades against the "Christian West"? Does Peretz really believe that Goldhagen’s recycling of the arguments of John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope, in a manner that even Cornwell considers "over the top," represents the work of "a thorough, relentless, and daring historian"?

Almost every page of Cornwell’s totally unfounded depiction of Pius as a Nazi sympathizer has been subject to devastating criticism, starting with the misleading picture on the cover that deliberately makes the future pope’s visit to the president of the German Weimar Republic in 1926 look like an act of obeisance to Hitler.

Goldhagen’s remarks in an interview with the London Times (published on January 13) that he is taking Cornwell’s "moral reckoning" even further, treating Pius not only as a Nazi sympathizer but as the very symbol of Christianity’s "dishonorable past," makes it clear exactly where he’s headed. As always, Goldhagen is moving into the realm of hallucinatory victimology. With some luck he may even reach the sales of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, a work that is pitifully short of factual accuracy but cashed in on both ethnic resentment and German self-hate. On the basis of his earlier work, young Goldhagen received a promotion at Harvard as well as amassing a fortune in royalties. Undoubtedly, given the widespread guilt uninformed by historical understanding among generic Christians, Goldhagen should do comparably well with A Moral Reckoning: The Catholic Church during the Holocaust and Today, an opus that Knopf will publish this fall, after Peretz has greased the skids for the author.

Despite his fervent Zionist outpourings, Peretz has no interest in going after the Muslim opponents of Israel in the company of self-affirming Christians. In September of 2001, in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, The New Republic was already offering in editorials the now standard left-liberal comparison between the Taliban and the American Religious Right. Peretz and his friends at Slate and American Prospect, who hold the same general political views, have chosen the present, apparently inopportune, time to accentuate their distance from traditional Christians.

Two of their representatives, Joshua Michael Marshall and Steve Emerson, both of whom are widely featured, professional anti-Islamicists and the second of whom has spent most of his adult life in jerry-built "institutes" funded by Peretz and Mrs. Peretz’s ancestors, are quite candid about where they stand. They are fighting for a secular, feminist democracy.

For such publicists, like the editors and owner of New Republic, there is no "West" worth preserving, except for one that has been thoroughly cleansed of its essentially anti-Semitic religious and cultural heritage. Unfortunately that taint is seen as so pervasive that everything substantive has to be eliminated from the pre-global democratic "Western" heritage, save perhaps for the charms of some archaic architecture, useful literary platitudes, and early references to "human rights." Of course "human rights" in this context have no meaning other than the one assigned by the journalists or intellectuals who are busily pushing their value-preferences and warlike designs.

Having underlined the intention of these anti-Christian global democratic imperialists, it is still necessary to consider why they pursue their geopolitical aims while abusing traditional Christians. Why launch a propaganda offensive against the largest Christian church by featuring already discredited charges about the Papacy and the majority Christian population, at the very time one’s interests should be leading one to appeal to embattled, self-identified Christians against the Muslims?

Allow me to elaborate on this argument. Among those who favor the "war against terrorism," not everyone is holding out for the same kind of extensive war. Some would be happy with ending the struggle once the presumed terrorists who were involved in the events of September 11 have been duly punished; while others, typified by Peretz and his clients, would like to extend the war to include Iraqis and Palestinians, that is, enemies of Israel who are presumed to be also those of the US. The point is not whether these judgments are correct geopolitically or in terms of US security. What matters is that fighting the extended war desired by neoliberals and neoconservatives will require popular enthusiasm and martial ardor, beside huge expenditures of public monies. The question is how to inspire this ardor and enthusiasm, while going about trashing the Western religious heritage. Obviously Peretz believes that one can do both successfully.

The reason for this stand is that Peretz and his circle are relatively honest people. While they hope to seize the present opportunity to beat up on the Palestinians and other Muslim enemies of Israel, they will not lower themselves to express insincere sentiments. That is to say, they will not pretend to embrace groups they really loathe. Unlike Commentary, which went in the eighties from blaming the Holocaust on the "crucifixion myth" to hailing the Religious Right as Zionist allies, the New Republic shows dignity even while exhibiting irrational hate.

Finally I would note that not everyone on the official Right proclaiming the anti-Islamic crusade is aware of the real reasons for why The New Republic and the American Prospect favor an expansion of that struggle. On conservative websites, the war is still being naively built up as a replay of the Battle of Vienna or as a replication of the battle for Jerusalem in the First Crusade. While the conservative war party is certainly correct about anti-Christian feeling on the Muslim side, they are deluding themselves about how the war is being billed on their front. They might do well to listen to Bush and Blair to find out about the American "anti-fascist" principles that cause Muslim terrorists to dislike us.

The most frequently encountered defense of this war is that it is being waged for openness, sensitivity, and democracy (the last term being defined by the first two). This presentation of the "war against terrorism" is one that Peretz would have no trouble accepting, providing that he could also link it to his pet peeve. His showcasing of Goldhagen’s latest temper tantrum, one that seems to extend Cornwell’s extravagant charges against the Vatican to implicate all of Christianity in the Holocaust, is an indication of where Peretz and his friends are coming from.

From their perspective, it is fine if nominally Christian troops do the fighting, so long as those who determine what the fight is about treat the pre-secularist history of the West with at least the same contempt as the Muslim world.

Postscript: While Goldhagen targets explicitly the Church of Rome and treats its condemnations of Nazi anti-Semitism as sheer hypocrisy, it is not clear that he is sparing other Christian confessions. In the opening chapter of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Goldhagen attacks Christianity per se as History’s "major source of anti-Semitism" and as the necessary backdrop of the Holocaust. In subsequent chapters he tries to illustrate his sweeping charge by citing Protestant as well as Catholic sources. It is therefore doubtful that in his new book he will be drawing useful or fictitious distinctions between more and less anti-Semitic forms of Christianity. More likely he is focusing on the Catholic Church as the largest Christian confession and as a stand-in for Christianity in general.

Noting this tiresome hate being paraded as scholarship, a courageous opponent of the Nazis, Gitta Sereny (the step-daughter of Ludwig von Mises), offers this opinion in the London Times: "He has a point of view and looks for something to prove that point of view. This is not how you write history." Frau Sereny is correct in her assessment of someone whom Murray Rothbard would have undoubtedly called the "evil Goldhagen." Unfortunately she is wrong about what now passes for the "writing of history."

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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