When venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared the attitude of modern Americans towards the wealthy with Kristallnacht, the series of anti-Jewish attacks in 1939 Nazi Germany, he earned himself a heap of scorn. For some strange reason, the Wall Street Journal seems determined to defend his honor.
The latest attempt comes from Ruth Wisse. Unfortunately, Wisse actually misses the point. Perkins was making a direct comparison: he was comparing some acts of vandalism during the Occupy movement to the shattering of glass that gave Kristallnacht its name. Wisse wants to turn it into a slippery slope between liberalism and anti-semitism.
The parallel that Tom Perkins drew in his letter was especially irksome to his respondents on the left, many of whom are supporters of President Obama’s sallies against Wall Street and the “one percent.” These critics might profitably consult Robert Wistrich, today’s leading historian of anti-Semitism. His “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel” (2012) documents the often profound anti-Semitism that has affected socialists and leftists from Karl Marx to today’s anti-Israel movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions. It was Marx who said, “The bill of exchange is the Jew’s actual god,” putting a Jewish face on capitalism and accusing both Judaism and capitalism of converting man and nature into “alienable and saleable objects.”
It’s four steps, but in order to work you have to coat this slippery slope with teflon. Perkins original point had more sense behind it, and he’s since repented.
Perkins argument and Wisse’s defense show the sort of siege mentality that we’re familiar with from Christian culture warriors. Any attempts to curtail the cultural hegemony of Christianity or the economic hegemony of the super-wealthy is seen by the affected group as the first step that will inevitably lead to revolution, persecution and oppression. Every little example, from the removal of a nativity scene from the post office lawn to an act of vandalism during a demonstration, has to be held up as morally identical to voting for Hitler.
Both Perkins and Wisse might find this flowchart handy. Fred Clark posted it.