As the sun set last night, we commenced our observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is a day devoted to atonement, introspection and self-examination. This year its observance is tinged with rage and sorrow over the genocidal murder of Israelis in Haifa.
Sitting in services yesterday evening I thought about a remarkable passage on the Jews in Nietzsche’s book The Dawn, originally published in 1881. The passage is too long for me to quote in its entirety, but let me quote enough to give you the flavor:
“Among the spectacles to which the next century invites us is the decision on the fate of the European Jews[!]….Every Jew has in the history of his fathers and grandfathers a mine of examples of the coldest composure and steadfastness in terrible situations….
“There has been an effort to make them contemptible by treating them contemptibly for two thousand years and by barring them from access to all honors and everything honorable, thus pushing them that much deeper into the dirtier trades; and under this procedure they have certainly not become cleaner. But contemptible? They themselves have never ceased to believe in their calling to the highest things, and the virtues of all who suffer have never ceased to adorn them….”
Nietzsche is of course also the author of the pregnant phrase “the transvaluation of values,” meaning something like the reordering or overturning of values. Prior to the transvaluation of values, however, came the transformation of principles of right and wrong into “values” or personal preferences.
This transformation is a function of nineteenth century German philosophy and social science that has had devastating consequences even in the United States; it is a transformation that is alien to the principles that informed the founding of the United States and that are expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
The founders did not hold “freedom” and “virtue” as “values,” for example; they held freedom as a “right” flowing from man’s nature and nature’s God, and “virtue” as the excellence of man’s character or the perfection of human nature.
Nevertheless, in thinking about contemporary liberalism, “the transvaluation of values” is a useful concept. The project of contemporary liberalism is predicated on the abrogation of human nature. Under this liberalism, everything is permitted; but so that we will be persuaded that everything should be permitted, everything good must be castigated as evil.
Thus have homosexuality and abortion become positive goods; thus have the Boy Scouts — the Boy Scouts! — become a great villain. It is quite an accomplishment.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
“Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” Inscription on the Liberty Bell