Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Antisemitism in the Catholic Herald: serious or not?

Back in February, Michael Davis, the Catholic Herald's US editor, decided to fling about a few conventional, though bitter, accusations against traditional Catholics: or the 'older generation' of traditional Catholics. They were, he said, in the habit of 'going out of their way to be nasty', and, yes you guessed it, tainted by 'repugnant anti-Semitism'.

When I hear that kind of accusation made by anyone, of anyone, I want to know: does this person raise this issue because he thinks it is serious, or because he thinks it is trivial?

Is it because it is so easy to make the accusation? And it is. Making it provides the accuser with a kind of first-mover's immunity from criticism, endowing him with an immediate aura of virtue, whereas the victim is going to look shifty and defensive regardless of what they say. Davis provides absolutely no evidence for his claim: the 'traditional Catholic' is left guilty until proved innocent, but how can you even argue against evidence which has not been specified?

Or is it, instead, because, the accusation is such a weighty one? Is Davis so concerned about this semi-hidden menace in the bosom of the Church that he feels that, painful as it may be, it must be probed fearlessly and confronted?

The Christmas issue of the Catholic Herald provided the answer. One of the star turns of the US edition of the Catholic Herald which is Davis' specific responsibility, but whose article also appeared in the UK edition, is Taki, as in Taki Theodoracopulos: or, as Private Eye calls him, 'Takealotofcokeupthenos' (he once spent 3 months in prison for possession of cocaine).

Catholic Herald 21 Dec 2018
Taki delighted the readers of the Catholic Herald over the Christmas break by suggesting, in one of his characteristic, rambling 'Diary' type columns, that the New York Times under-reported sex-abuse cases in the Jewish community in New York because of the influence of their Jewish readership. This is not the most extreme example of anti-semitic speech, but it is an exceptionally clear one: a text-book case, in fact, combining the two key characteristics of popular anti-semitism, (1) the idea that Jews as a group are guilty of some particularly serious moral depravity, and (2) that they get away with it because of their shadowy network of influence. Oh, and it's also completely untrue: the New York Times has reported on those cases in a perfectly normal way.

But Michael Davis and whoever else is responsible at the Catholic Herald let this go through. Why? It is presumably because they have taken on the attitude which has protected Taki, now in his eighties, during decades of outrageous remarks in columns and, no doubt, private conversation, in establishment right-wing circles. The cartoon decorating this column appeared in Private Eye in 2003: this isn't exactly new news.

What is the attraction? Taki's columns have been floating past my ken for about a quarter of a century, mostly in The Spectator. They are consistently and intensely boring. Never once, I think, have I read anything which could be described as perceptive, or even particularly well-expressed. What he offers readers, instead, is a glimpse into his 'High' life (the name of his long-standing Spectator column is, of course, a pun). Taki moves in a circle with other rich, famous, and outrageous people. Political ideas or personalities are condemned if Taki and his chums make boorish jokes about them, because they don't fit in to their glittering life-style. If you, the reader, laugh along, you may have a fleeting sense that you can be part of the star-dusted gang. All you need, it would seem, is to adopt their amusing prejudices and you can pretend you drink champagne out of high-heel shoes and snort coke with rolled-up hundred dollar bills: just like the beautiful people.

I have always found this kind of political and social 'conservatism' nauseating. It is completely lacking not only in spirituality, but in even the pretence of intellectual seriousness. It seeks to adopt classical culture and religion as a thin disguise of its venality and selfishness, and leaves them tarnished by the association. It lurks at the heart of politically conservative groups and publications like the rotten centre of an apple. No one who wants to showcase Taki, who thinks 'oh but he's terribly amusing and glamorous', has the remotest idea of what conservatism really means. Conservatism, if it has any place at the table of debate, is not about the attempt to preserve the privileges of the decadent by defensive snootiness, but the restoration of the living springs of society--the family, spirituality, culture of all kinds--which cannot function effectively when morally corrupted.

Does it come as any kind of surprise to find that Taki is a casual anti-semite? Not at all: no one who has been paying attention for any part of the last thirty years has any right to be surprised. What is surprising is that the editors of the Catholic Herald, so self-confidently accusing others, who cannot respond, of anti-semitism, cannot recognise the phenomenon when they see it in the pages of their own magazine.

But then it was never serious, after all, was it? Accusing people of anti-semitism, for Michael Davis, wasn't about getting to the bottom of a serious problem. It's about flinging around a nice long word, feeling the warm glow of a borrowed virtue, and getting on the right side of one of the neuralgic issues of the day.

Michael Davis never apologised for accusing 'older traditionalists' of anti-semitism. I wonder if he will apologise for publishing anti-semitic rants in his own magazine. I suspect he will prefer to sit the issue out without comment. After all, how serious is it?

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  1. I am an American who, several years ago, cancelled my subscription to the NY Times because of its manifest anti-Catholicism. I also prefer the Tridentine Mass. However, I have never seen much evidence of anti-semitism in the "traddies" I know. Most of the anti-semitism I see in this country is connected to the political and cultural left (wherein the NYT is situated) and tied to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Despite what much of the media says, the hard right (including the hard Catholic right) in the U.S. is miniscule and risible. On the other hand, there seems to be some interest in Catholicism's Jewish roots among orthodox practicing Catholics. I am thinking of scholars such as Brant Pitre as well as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

  2. I agree with the first post. The author here should be more concerned with the mass media and Jews’ and atheists’ terrible anti-Catholicism rather than picking on Taki. It’s implausible for this author to suggest that Jews cannot or can never be criticized.

  3. I once worked in a traditionalist (SSPX) school, which publicly displayed a poster attributing the financial crisis to the Jews. The pupils also very much berated the Allies of WW2 while defending Petain and the Axis. I left very swiftly out of disgust. The allegation is quite true.

  4. It was indeed France.

  5. There are many valid reasons to criticise the SSPX, but wikipedia? Really! Mary, you need to read some history and stop being such a snowflake!

  6. Thanks, Mary. Things are not like that in the country I'm glad to say, and it was about Britain that I was writing.

  7. Via email:

    Writing as one who would be considered an 'ultra-orthodox' Jew, I find the entire charge to be without merit. I was close with quite a few LMS folks while at University and have maintained contact with many since then. With one foolish exception, I did not encounter even the slightest hint of antisemitism. Perhaps I am simply able to understand that disagreement does not equal condemnation or hatred; I don't know. As per the Chairman's implication above, the exception I mention had spent his formative years in France. In fact, I have encountered far more 'dinner party' antisemitism from the more post-conciliar crew. Are there *some* Traditionalist Catholics who are antisemites? I dunno. Probably somewhere. But I would find it difficult to believe that it had anything to do with them being a Traditionalist Catholic, which itself is more of a barrier to antisemitism than modernity is.

    Re. the NY Times. Most of its Jewish readership is secular-liberal or Modern Orthodox. Neither of whom will, generally, shed tears over haredi-slamming articles. Even my fellow haredim would not, generally, consider the stories to be an attack. My suspicion is that the NY Times is simply losing out to the NY Post on these stories. Additionally, these are different times: when the big wave of abuse stories came out of the Church, print media was still the norm. If a newspaper did not cover all the news fit for print, then it was an impediment of sorts to its readership. Most of the orthodox abuse stories (still, thankfully, very few in number) emerged when online news is the norm. One will not cancel a newspaper subscription if they miss one-or-two stories that can be accessed easily elsewhere.