Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: Bacevich, and Spinoza,
on the Error of Exceptionalism via Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss on

Last night I watched Andrew Bacevich on C-Span's About Books program.
(Some of it anyway; I surf.) The most interesting point he made is that
the U.S. has to give up its sense of its own exceptionalism. We should
be like other countries, and understand we're no better. The way I
heard it is: We truly were better than other countries not long ago;
right now we're actually not. So apart from the irritating arrogance
that burns other people up, of saying you're exceptional, it's not the
reality. So it's a delusion interfering with statecraft. What's your
real role in the world?

Two years ago at Yivo I heard a great panel on Spinoza's
excommunication by the Amsterdam rabbis in 1656. One point the scholars
on the panel made was that Spinoza was urging the Jews to stop thinking
of themselves as the chosen people. Yes, you were once chosen: but this
was not a divine chosenness, you had the best laws in all civilization,
and this led your society to prosper. But in liberal Europe, or the
liberal Europe that Spinoza helped to imagine, that religious
chosenness wasn't helpful. The rabbis didn't like that.

It occured to me last night, listening to Bacevich, that I as an
assimilating Jew am deeply involved with issues of Jewish
exceptionalism. I grew up with Jewish exceptionalism out the wazoo. We
are smarter, we are better! We were right about Vietnam! And then the
meritocracy valorized these feelings of exceptionalism when in essence
we crowded the turrets of the Establishment. Helped run the country. 30
percent of all Supreme Court clerks are Jews, hot damn. Why even
Charles Murray says we're the geniuses. And Slezkine says it's the
Jewish century; it's our time. While David Mamet says it's our peculiar
association with highfunctioning Asperger's syndrome that was
genetically centered near Prague--or some such theory of racial
superiority. While Jewish law itself, which survived Spinoza, says that
Jewish life is more precious than other life, per Israel Shahak.

Well to paraphrase Bacevich and Spinoza, it ain't happenin' baby. We
gave the U.S. the Iraq war. We are doing a lousy job with the
Palestinians both in Israeli society and the West Bank; and we have set
up a system of apartheid and called it righteous, and the world is
watching us do it. The Jewish elite is just as hidebound in its way as
the WASP elite before it.

Of course Obama is offering a new idea of American exceptionalism.
Post-racial, post-identity politics. Get thee behind me, exceptionalism!

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