By William K. Black. This article was first published on New Economic Perspectives.
I chose not to respond to Thomas Perkins’ original letter to the Wall Street Journal claiming that the opponents of income inequality are “progressives” on the road to holding Kristallnacht on Wall Street. He was too obvious a troll and the general rule is not to feed trolls.
The WSJ has decided, however, to make this claim its meme. It is not clear to me why efforts to reduce our record levels of income inequality would be limited to “progressives.” Surveys show that proposals such as providing jobs to everyone willing and able to work and providing a livable minimum wage have majority support among Republicans. The WSJ, of course, is appalled that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement (a) generated a huge upsurge in the recognition of how severe inequality has become and (b) led the Democrats (finally) to pushing proposals such as the minimum wage that are favored by strong majorities of Americans. They have three responses. They repeat the economic claim that minimum wages can only damage lower-income workers. The economic literature is increasingly dubious of that claim, and it does not convince many Americans. The second response is that it is a Marxist interference with free markets. That convinces a tiny percentage of Americans, and they were already convinced by the neo-classical economic dogma.
The third response is facially crazy, so it is a powerful diagnostic of how badly the WSJ thinks things are going that it has decided to highlight the claim that being appalled by the record, and still rising, income and wealth inequality and supporting a higher minimum wage and job guarantee programs makes one “anti-Semitic.”
Enter Dr. Ruth Wisse, Stage Ultra-Right
The WSJ has wheeled out its heavy artillery with expertise on the minimum wage and job guarantee programs – a professor of Yiddish studies, Professor Ruth Wisse (pronounced “Wise”). She tried to resurrect Perkins, who had embarrassed not only himself but his fellow Plutocrats. In this first of a series of articles on Wisse and her effort to paint the wealthiest and most powerful Americans as the “victims” of anti-Semitism I explain that Wisse’s specialty was once Yiddish but has now become making comparisons in which the “victim” plays the role of the Jew assaulted by Nazis and the Communists (collectively, the “Nazunists”). Her special twist on these metaphors is that she casts the weaker group as the Nazunists and the vastly more powerful group as the “victims.” In her op-ed she suggested that Perkins was imprecise – those of us striving to reduce inequality are anti-Semitic but we’re more like Marxists than Nazis.
Wisses’ explanation of how feminism and feminists are Nazunists
Wisse was a strong supporter of Larry Summers when he was Harvard’s president, particularly when he decided to “speculate” in 2005 about whether women were genetically inferior in their quantitative skills.
“Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature, said she told the faculty yesterday that the reaction to Summers’s remarks on women ‘was the closest thing to a Soviet show trial that we are likely to see in our lifetimes.’”
If we take her words literally we should be of immensely good cheer. If faculty criticism of Summer’s comments is in fact “the closest thing to a Soviet show trial that we are likely to see in our lifetimes,” then we will never see anything remotely close to a Soviet show trial in our lifetimes.
Of course, Wisse ramped up her rhetoric for Fox News, so there is also this version of her Nazunist metaphor.
“Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature, said ‘women’s groups are bringing shame to the profession in which we are engaged. This is a show trial to beat all show trials.’”
In her Fox frenzy, Summers was subjected to the worst show trial in world history and the perpetrators are “women’s groups” who are “bringing shame to [their academic] profession.” In Stalin’s show trials, the victims (a) were innocent, (b) were tortured, (c) were threatened that if they did not confess their loved ones could be killed, (d) were frequently selected for murder because they were Jewish, (e) were convicted on the basis of fabricated evidence and forced “confessions” designed to humiliate and discredit them, (f) were “judged” by party hacks who read scripts provided by Stalin’s government, and (g) were murdered.
In 2005, Summers suffered the “show trial to beat all show trials.” And then in the third year his career rose from the (not so) dead as he was miraculously resurrected in 2008 as President Obama’s chief economic advisor. Before and after his 2005 “show trial” Summers was made wealthy by the finance industry for $50,000+ luncheon speeches. I know Wisse criticizes the play Fiddler on the Roof for its departures from the original short story, but I’m with Tevye. If Summers’ life has been cursed by those darn female faculty at Harvard to a Stalinist lynching in 2005, then may G-d smite us all with such a career curse – and may we never recover!
“Women’s Libbers”are Feminazunists
Wisse has a very nice smile, and very strong hates. In her defense of President Bush she explained the critical need to label one’s enemies as “evil.”
She detests progressives and feminists. The title of one of her books’ charges liberals with “betray[ing]” the Jews and Israel. Her passion is similarly strong against the conjoined evil of feminists and feminism.
“Women’s liberation, if not the most extreme then certainly the most influential neo-Marxist movement in America, has done to the American home what communism did to the Russian economy, and most of the ruin is irreversible. By defining relations between men and women in terms of power and competition instead of reciprocity and cooperation, the movement tore apart the most basic and fragile contract in human society, the unit from which all other social institutions draw their strength.”
Actually, it didn’t do any such thing. Indeed, it is dramatic changes in what Wisse celebrates as the “free markets” and the insanity of the drug wars that have largely driven family changes, particularly the negative changes. My spouse (June Carbone) and her co-author, Naomi Cahn, are two of the experts in this field. Readers who wish to explore the changes may wish to read “Red Families v. Blue Families” and their forthcoming book on the family, the economy, and inequality.
Wisse’s effort to explain to her cleaning lady why a feminist is not “a woman”
Part of the trade for literary scholars like Wisse is explaining anachronistic language to their students and readers. In 2007, Wisse took everyone back four decades by trying to explain to her Brazilian cleaning lady this evil incarnate – the “Women’s Libber.” The context was that her cleaning lady had expected that Wisse would be happy that Harvard had chosen a woman (Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust) to lead the University. Wisse, of course, viewed the choice with alarm – and as a vindication of her warnings against feminists and feminism.
“When the Women’s Lib movement started up in America in the 1960′s, I predicted it would do as much damage here as Bolshevism had done in Russia. I felt almost vindicated in my fears when I watched the feminist culture of grievance at Harvard help to topple President Lawrence Summers ….
My Portuguese is not up to E.’s English, so I cannot explain to her the difference between a woman and a Women’s Libber.”
It is essential to understand what “damage” Wisse believes “Bolshevism” did “in Russia.” In addition to the usual things that historians focus on – the mass murders, deportation, torture, gulags, the police state, the attacks on and corruption of faith, churches, and synagogues, the separate piece in World War I, the cynical deal with Hitler to divide up Poland, the Katyn massacre – and that is before we get to economics – Wisse also views Bolshevism as a special enemy of, and corrupter of, the Jews. So, when Wisse warned that “Libbers” would cause as much damage to America as Bolshevism did to Russia, we can understand the desperation underlying that “predict[ion].” By Bolshevism, she means an evil even greater than Hitler’s Third Reich.
One can only agree with her. Having Summers step down as Harvard’s president did cause such catastrophic damage to the world that it exceeded that of Stalin or Hitler. Who could disagree with such a sober assessment?
The tragic loss of Summers’ leadership was not the sole devastation wrought by “Women’s Lib.” Wisse’s column about her Brazilian cleaning lady reveals the even greater horror inflicted by the Feminazunists. Women’s Lib” transformed (formerly) “women” females and created a new Frankenstein creation – the “Women’s Libber,” which was “different” (but not as in vive la différence) from “women.” Real women embrace being paid far less for doing the same work as men (vive la inequality) and having the entire burden of childbearing and childrearing. This was the “complementary” style – with the occasional “compliment” from your husband on your pot roast. He was freed from any emasculating “competition” from a wife entering the paid workforce. The working class male could earn enough money to support the entire family. (Yes, even by the 1960s this was often a myth, but it was still true for an auto worker.) This was the world that crippled women’s careers without any accommodations by the state or employers for pregnancy and childrearing that could minimize the degree to which mothers were put in such an often unnecessary dilemma. American “Libbers” (née “women”) who worked to reduce these dilemmas proved from the 1960s to today how akin they were to Stalin (even if they waxed to try to hide their Stalinesque mustaches).
Wisse’s “Portuguese” isn’t her limitation in explaining how feminism has been as destructive to America as Communism was to the former Soviet Union and the “difference” between “ a women” and a feminist. Logic, facts, bigotry, and history are her limitations.
The Feminazunists are “feminizing” Harvard
Wisse doesn’t have the courage of her convictions to say that Harvard is now a degraded institution of higher learning because it is overrun with women as tenured faculty who were selected despite the fact that they were inferior scholars because they were chosen for their gender and their “ideological conformism” to the liberal betrayal of Israel and everything that once made America great. Wisse could try to make that case by citing the latest statistics about this spread of “diversity hires” at the expense of superior Harvard faculty men.
How far has Harvard fallen in the nine years since the feminists’ launched their attacks on Summers (to quote Wisse) decision to “speculate” about the genetic inferiority of women? In her 2007 article about her Brazilian cleaning lady she quoted with approval the claim that the feminist takeover of Harvard was “imminent.”
In her April 2005 attack on her female colleagues at Harvard who overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to the President of their University deciding he should speculate that they were genetically inferior, Wisse warned that hiring female faculty was a threat to the “soft” fields. The “palpable byproduct of this strategy” (hiring brilliantly qualified women) was that terror of all terrors – the “feminization” of education. Worse, the women were liberals eager to betray the Jews. Clearly anyone “wise” would “scrutinize” such a dread change before allowing it to proceed.
“[The] palpable byproduct of this strategy — feminization referring not just to the numbers but to what and how women who ostensibly share the ideological disposition of the Women’s Caucus tend to teach. Does this not necessarily reshape the nature of higher learning in ways that we would be wise to scrutinize?”
Well, if it is a “palpable byproduct” it must be very real and very scary. The phrase is meant to sound toxic. Many of my fellow academics roll their eyes when feminist or gay colleagues refer to how the discipline assumes that the straight, white, male perspective is “normal” and “scientific” mode that does not require examination. Any change – by bringing in scholars who were previously excluded – is presumptively bad and should not implemented before we (the majority straight white males in the department) can “scrutinize” whether we think it is acceptable to allow other approaches. Wisse’s words demonstrate that there are scholars who speak in precisely these terms.
In 2007, in her article about her Brazilian cleaning woman, Wisse quoted with approval a claim that the feminist takeover of Harvard was “imminent.” By 2013, the percentage of tenured Harvard faculty who were women was the same as in 2005 – 23 percent.
In early 2005, Wisse explained that women were not underrepresented as faculty; they simply “just happen” not to want such jobs. Here was her metaphor:
“Nor is Larry Summers the first to point out that, in general, and without causing anyone undue alarm, certain groups just happen to be “underrepresented” in certain activities: Catholics in investment banking, white men in the National Basketball Association, Jews in farming and agriculture.”
The reader has doubtless already figured out that none of these three examples has anything to do with intellectual inferiority. Jews are not underrepresented in farming and agriculture in the U.S. because they lack the brains to farm. Catholics do not lack the brains to do investment banking. Whites do not lack the brains to play basketball. Women have the brains for any scholastic field. Women are not failing to be hired at Harvard as faculty because they disproportionately lack the brains to excel. Blacks are not arrested vastly more often while driving in majority-white neighborhoods because they are disproportionately bad drivers. The Irish did not starve because they were lazy and stupid. Blacks were not enslaved because they were stupid. For someone who largely writes these days warning about bigotry, Wisse is bizarrely unfamiliar with most manifestations of it.
Feminazunists: Like Marx on Estrogen
In 2001, Wisse explained why feminists in literature are to women as Marx was to workers
“The problem of feminist criticism of the ideological kind … derives from the relation of women to feminism, which is the same as the relation of workers to Marxism: each group is championed by an ideology guaranteed to worsen its condition.
The ideologues seek power in their constituencies though the cultivation of a politics of resentment. But just as Marxism’s ideological distortion of capitalism made it impossible to properly analyze the effects of major socioeconomic developments, so modern feminism’s critique of ’patriarchy’ makes it impossible to properly analyze the changes in modern society that affect women and the role of gender.
And feminist theory – again like Marxism – is especially apt to distort the condition of Jews.
Thanks to the distortions of feminist criticism, the very subjects that are badly in need of investigation are less likely than ever to receive intelligent treatment.”
To sum it up, feminists are just like Marxists because they are sure to harm the groups they purport to care about. Feminists are ideologues, they are so wrong substantively that it is “impossible” for them to “properly analyze” and so “distort[s]” their studies (particularly any study related to Jews) that they are incapable of attaining the “intelligent treatment” of the issues they purport to study. Wisse, of course, is free of ideology and bias, is dedicated to helping women in a way that will prove successful, and is substantively correct. Collectively, these traits allow her to ensure the “intelligent treatment” of subjects in need of investigation. How many of her female colleagues at Harvard are feminists? Wisse says they are virtually all feminists. Now we can understand the horror of the “feminization” of Harvard by these Feminazunists ideologues pretending to scholarship who are “again like Marxism.”