My article last week profiling historian Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison was inspired by David Brooks’ column, The Power Elite [NYT, February 18, 2010]. Brooks outlined some of the problems caused by the replacement of Morison’s old Protestant Establishment by what Brooks calls a “meritocratic elite”—actually, as I pointed out, substantially Jewish—more interested in short-term profit-making in than long-term caretaking of the country.
The most central aspect of this process was well described by David Samuels in Assimilation and Its Discontents in New York Magazine (September 28, 2008):
“Future historians will record that the Jews replaced the old Protestant elite, who had run the city [of New York] off and on since the eighteenth century until their power was finally shattered by the cultural metamorphosis of 1968…”
"It takes a certain amount of effort to remember that it was not surprising even into the late sixties for Jews to be excluded from top-tier jobs at the commercial banks, ad agencies, and insurance companies that formed the elite of the city’s business class … The Jews of New York City had their own banks, their own law firms, their own social clubs, and their own charities, which enabled them to function as a kind of parallel elite …"
Since then, there has been a huge diffusion of the talents and values of Jews throughout the financial industry.
Yet, as the New York Times’ Brooks asked, “would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?”
Even more fundamentally, they tolerated criticism of themselves by others. Criticism encourages you to behave better.
Of course, the moribund WASP Establishment’s increasing fair-mindedness had its downsides. One problem with letting other people have their say about you is that they may undermine your power. Samuels writes of
"my own personal sorrow about the fate of the Harvard-educated Brahmins I admired in my youth, who cherished their belief in liberal openness while licking at the bleached bones of their family romances. Their mansions are threadbare and drafty, and stickers on their salt-eaten Volvos advertise the cause of zero population growth. It’s hard to imagine that their ancestors sailed clipper ships to China and wrote great books and built great companies and ran spies behind enemy lines in Europe." (VDARE.COM links added).
But, shouldn’t new elites be held to the same standards of criticism that helped them displace the old elites? Why is it considered admirable for the new establishment to try to destroy the careers of their critics?
For noblesse oblige to work, privileged and influential groups have to be publicly acknowledged to be privileged and influential. If, on the other hand, their main sense of collective identity is that of marginal members of society endangered by the might of the current majority, then the system doesn’t operate.
In 2006, blogger Noah Millman was surprised by a rabbi’s Purim sermon. Not by the message—Write your Congressman about Darfur!—but by the unusual explanation the rabbi offered: noblesse oblige.
"He compared the position of the Jewish community in America today with Queen Esther's position in King Ahashuerus's [Xerxes’s] Persia: that is to say, a position of power or, more precisely, profound influence on those who wield power. And, he said, that power implies responsibility."
"But you (or at least I) rarely hear a Jewish leader saying, in so many words, that Jews must act to prevent this or that injustice because we are powerful, and power implies responsibility." [Gideon's Blog, March 13, 2006]
Instead, Jewish leaders typically exhort Jews with one of three arguments, all based around feelings of communal self-pity. Millman enumerates them:
(1) “We Jews have suffered, so we should be acutely sensitive to others' suffering …;”
(2) “As God liberated the Jews from captivity in Egypt … we have a religious obligation as Jews to help the oppressed”;
(3) “Jews should be aware of our collective vulnerability, historical and continuing, and therefore for our own good always take the other side of the kinds of groups, movements and individuals who have victimized us in the past, and who could threaten us again in the future.”
And yet that plain fact is that in modern America, Jews are the biggest winner among ethnic groups. Although only two percent of the American population, Jews make up about 35 percent of the Forbes 400 wealthiest individuals. (That percentage is from after the financial bubble burst in 2007-2008, so it likely reflects a long-run baseline.)
So jews in America see themselves as Esther in Persia.
Of course it's relevant to point out that Esther used her influence to call for the mass murder of the native Persians, then established her relatives to positions of power to rule over the terrorized survivors of their new dominion.
In the story the jews are free to return to their own land yet they refuse. They are rich and comfortable in Persia and looking to expand their power. Esther enters a "beauty contest" in which she outperforms the other contestants in the sexual acrobatics tryouts and then uses her skills in the sexual arts to manipulate the doddering old king to mass murder his own subjects.
The story of Joseph in Egypt is similar. A foreigner manipulates a mentally feeble old Egyptian king into allowing him to enslave and murder the Egyptian people which, in turn, allows (ultimately) for the plundering of Egypt by the foreigner's people.