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.
One commenter on Brooks' column, CTWood, filled in some missing background on the once-popular notion of noblesse oblige:
"Not too long ago elites lived the ethos that with great wealth and power came great responsibility. The ruthless climbers of the 19th and 20th centuries secured that wealth and/or power then spawned succeeding generations (Republican and Democrat alike) in which public service meant something: Taft, Rockefeller, Kennedy."
Another, Hugo Pirovano, made Brooks' point far more explicitly:
"When the WASPS dominated, their best and brightest performed selflessly and honestly because they felt that in working for their country they were working for themselves. They were not ashamed to want America to win. They were advancing their patrimony."
"Nowadays the best and brightest, are quite equivocal in their feelings for their country. The burden of America's past faults and sins weighs heavily on them. Their sympathies go well beyond America's borders."
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?"
Well, they have certainly acquired an ever-larger share of the GDP!
The theory behind the dusty old concept of noblesse oblige is that a powerful class that thinks of itself as being in the game for the very long run will tend to behave in a more responsible fashion than one that doesn't. As they say, nobody ever washed a rental car.
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.)
By way of comparison, consider Italian-Americans, who arrived in America at roughly the same time as Jewish-Americans and tend to live in similar parts of the country. Today, Italians are fairly well represented in most aspects of American life: movie stars, the Democratic Speaker of the House, two Republican Supreme Court Justices, and so forth. Indeed, Italians make up 5.4 percent of the gentile members of the Forbes 400 and 5.7 percent of the gentile population. For Italian-Americans, on average, life isn't bad.
Yet, Italians are only 1/30th as likely per capita as Jews to be billionaires.
Thirty to one is a big difference.
This ratio isn't proof of conspiracy or even simple discrimination. It is merely proof of Disparate Impact. Federal law makes a very big deal out of Disparate Impact when it involves "Hispanic" ethnicity. If ethnic Hispanics are less than four-fifths as successful as white non-Hispanics, a longstanding EEOC regulation puts the burden of disproving discrimination on employers.
One-thirtieth is a lot smaller than four-fifths. Yet the law doesn't mention any other kind of ethnicity than Hispanic.
You really can't understand modern America without thinking about these sorts of numbers. But, do Americans really want to understand America?
On the rare occasions when the topic of Jewish influence surfaces in the Main Stream Media, attempts to confuse are trotted out over and over—such as theological hair-splitting over Who Is a Jew? and reminders that Not All Jews Agree.
Of course, the exact same points could have been made about the old Protestant elites. Indeed, their disagreements are the stuff of American history, for example the Civil War. For that matter, Henry Ford and George S. Patton believed in reincarnation, but nobody claims they therefore weren't ethnically Protestant.
Just as it was worth understanding the Protestant Establishment, its strengths and weaknesses, it is now worth understanding the Jewish elite.
Yet in the Main Stream Media, mentioning the kind of numbers I just cited is mostly just not done.
One possible reason: roughly 50 percent of the Atlantic 50 list of the most important pundits are Jewish.
Samuels contends "New York Jews circa 2008 are wealthy white people whose protestations of outsiderness inspire blank stares or impatient eye rolling."
But is that really true? Or has the public increasingly internalized Politically Correct ignorance?
The ADL has polled Americans four times on whether or not they agree with the proposition "The movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews". In 1964, 47 percent agreed versus 21 percent who disagreed. By 2008, amazingly, only 22 percent of the public agreed and 63 percent disagreed.
Columnist Joel Stein laughed: "Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood."
In contrast to the Main Stream Media, the Jewish press, such as The Forward and the Jewish Telegraph Agency (which first compiled an estimate of the Jewishness of the 2009 Forbes 400), is usually much more informative on the subject of Jewish influence.
Conclusion: American Jews should start thinking of themselves less as oppressed outcasts who need to go for whatever they can get while the getting is good, and start more accurately thinking of themselves as belonging to the best-connected inner circle of the contemporary American Establishment.
Thus, American Jews should realize that, like the Protestant elite of yore, their privileged position as a de facto leadership caste bestows upon themselves corresponding duties to conserve the long-term well-being of the United States—rather than to indulge in personal and ethnic profit and power maximization.
But that's unlikely to happen until the Jewish elite to begin to tolerate non-Jewish criticism, rather than to continue to try to destroy the careers of critics—or even just honest observers—in what seems to be an instinctive reaction intended to encourage the others.
A group self-image of victimization, combined with a penchant for ideological intensity and powerful ethnocentric lobbies, can lead to bizarre political manifestations—such as the dominant Jewish assumption that proper veneration of their Ellis Island ancestors requires opposition to patriotic immigration reform today.
In contrast, Italian-Americans, who lack institutions such as the ADL, appear to feel themselves freer to make up their own minds about what immigration policy will be best for their American posterity.
Comedians have been snickering for generations about the pretensions of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
It's time for snickering whenever the Sons of Ellis Island start to declaim about immigration based on ancestor worship.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]