Once more, with passion …
In his book “Natural Right and History,” Leo Strauss, who taught many of the men who taught me political philosophy, coined the phrase “reductio ad Hitlerum” meaning that a view is not “refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.” One of my pet peeves about American political discourse is the popularity of this fallacy, one result of which is the cheap and disproportionate (in several ways) use of the Third Reich and the Holocaust in the making of simple points about the much-lower stakes of American and Western politics (see also Godwin’s Law on the Internet). I’m more liable to take the invocation of the Third Reich or the Holocaust as proof that the invoker has lost his mind or has no point to make.
It has now officially happened with THE PASSION — Mel Gibson is the Hitler Youth. At the end of the article is this truly deranged quote: “This is how it began in Germany,” she said, “with the Hitler youth venom.” At the rally in question, the instigator was hardly more serious, saying that THE PASSION “really takes us back to the Dark Ages, plain and simple … Mel Gibson is turning the clock back to the Dark Ages.”
How does one respond to tripe like that? Can 1,000 years of history really be undone “plain and simple” by one movie. Does Ms. Moskowits really believe that the Americans she lives among are just itching for the right excuse to kill all the Jews? There are such people in the world, but they are generally virulently anti-American too, and they will likely not see THE PASSION (since it contradicts the Koran on the fate of Jesus).
As I’ve noted here before, based on what one can know outside the movie, I’m not persuaded by arguments made thus far that the film is anti-Semitic. But I recognize the possibility that I could be wrong, or even that I am not, but the film will be misinterpreted. It is possible, I suppose, that some yobbo will misunderstand the film and go beat up a yeshiva student as they leave the theater. But ask yourself, “what would happen after that?” Is there any doubt that said hypothetical incident will be widely reported, and the ADL et al will even take the lead in publicizing it and commenting upon it? That Mel Gibson and his distributors will denounce the perpetrator unequivocally? That police will spare no effort to track down the attacker in this high-profile case? That, in many if not most jurisdictions, the attacker would risk *extra* jail time for attacking a Jew-qua-Jew, rather than the wrist-slap or less that Jim Crow-era Southern juries gave lynchers?
Now, this course of events would be unfortunate, but hardly a Holocaust (or even a Kristallnacht, a Nuremberg law, or the routine of an American country club, circa 1920). The Holocaust didn’t just happen in a fit of absent-mindedness and desensitization from too many readings of the MERCHANT OF VENICE. It happened because Germany put into power a totalitarian government with genocidal plans which it then carried out. Get some sense of proportion, people. The United States in 2003 is not Weimar or Nazi Germany, no matter what one woman’s memories might be or how many times “Hitler” is invoked. Nor is the Dark Ages one anti-Semitic filmmaker away. Some anti-Semitism exists, of course, but it has no political or cultural cachet. And a few dementos will always exist.
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