Monday, October 18, 2010

The Limits of Noblesse Oblige

Chris Roach echoes Steve Sailer’s prescription:

[A] self-conscious development among Jews and other emerging elites of a sense of noblesse oblige, that is a sense of self-conscious responsibility for what is now their society coupled with public expressions of gratitude for this society’s opportunities.

I thought of Edward Parsons Smith, who attempted to prevent the lynching of accused rapist Willie Brown:

About 11 o'clock, when the frenzy was at its height, Mayor Edward Smith came out of the east door of the courthouse [where Willie Brown was in custody] into Seventeenth Street. He had been in the burning building for hours. As he emerged from the doorway, a shot rang out.

"He shot me. Mayor Smith shot me," a young man in the uniform of a United States soldier yelled. The crowd surged toward the mayor. He fought them. One man hit the mayor on the head with a baseball bat. Another slipped the noose of a rope around his neck. The crowd started to drag him away.

"If you must hang somebody, then let it be me," the mayor said.

The mob dragged the mayor into Harney Street. A woman reached out and tore the noose from his neck. Men in the mob replaced it. Spectators wrestled the mayor from his captors and placed him in a police automobile. The throng overturned the car and grabbed him again. Once more, the rope encircled the mayor's neck. He was carried to Sixteenth and Harney Streets. There he was hanged from the metal arm of a traffic signal tower.

Mayor Smith was suspended in the air when State Agent Ben Danbaum drove a high-powered automobile into the throng right to the base of the signal tower. In the car with Danbaum were City Detectives Al Anderson, Charles Van Deusen and Lloyd Toland. They grasped the mayor and Russell Norgard untied the noose. The detectives brought the mayor to Ford Hospital. There he lingered between life and death for several days, finally recovering. "They shall not get him. Mob rule will not prevail in Omaha," the mayor kept muttering during his delirium.

Unless this account is somehow incomplete, the proper interpretation of these events strikes me as straightforward:  a crime was committed; a suspect was arrested and charged.  The wheels of justice were in motion, and there is no hint here that due process would not secure a conviction and punishment.  Omaha’s chief executive had an obligation to see that due process was followed, and Edward Smith showed great courage in attempting to fulfill that obligation.


There is another interpretation.  The riot did not occur in a vacuum:

After keeping the mayorship for three terms in a row, Dahlman lost the 1918 election to Edward P. Smith, a reformist Republican who was supported by the powerful Omaha Church Federation and the Douglas County Dry League. Smith focused his slate on making Omaha a dry city, cleaning up the "vice" elements of the city, and securing a positive future for the city's businesses. Smith and the city commission that shared his reformist objectives were the bane of Tom Dennison.

From the riot article:

Three weeks before the riot, federal investigators had noted that "a clash was imminent owing to ill-feeling between white and black workers in the stockyards."[1] The number of blacks in Omaha doubled during the decade 1910-1920, as they were recruited to work in the meatpacking industry, and competing workers noticed. In 1910 Omaha had the third largest black population among the new western cities that had become destinations following Reconstruction. By 1920 the black population more than doubled to more than 10,000, second only to Los Angeles with nearly 16,000. It was ahead of San Francisco and Oakland, Topeka and Denver.[2] [3]

The major meatpacking plants hired blacks as strikebreakers in 1917. Hostility against them was high among working class whites in the city, who were mostly Catholic immigrants of southern and eastern Europe, or descendants of immigrants, and who lived chiefly in South Omaha.

This kind of background provides a very different light in which to view Smith’s actions.  Smith, a WASP, was an ally of Omaha’s business interests.  Those interests, with Smith’s support, had aggressively recruited non-white immigrants from the South to break strikes and depress the wages of working-class Catholics.  The number of those non-whites were as a result ballooning in Omaha.  And finally, when those non-whites committed crimes, Smith’s primary concern was to . . . protect them! 

Noah Millman summarizes Jewish attitudes:

Either (1) we Jews have suffered, so we should be acutely sensitive to others' suffering, and not accept the excuses of those who either perpetrate or ignore that suffering; or (2) as God liberated the Jews from captivity in Egypt, and as we are enjoined to imitate God in His striving for justice, we have a religious obligation as Jews to help the oppressed; or (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.

Early twentieth century WASPs didn’t carry around a sense of their own past victimization, but otherwise it’s fairly easy to see the commonalities between the Jews of today and such WASPs as Edward Smith.  When exercised about suffering and oppression, their instincts are to reach past the middle and working classes (i.e. the classes most likely to challenge their power and prestige) and make common cause with the lumpenproletariat.  Thus, it is very easy to imagine Jews saying their definition of noblesse oblige requires support for civil rights and the advancement and protection of racial and cultural minorities.

Noblesse oblige is no guarantee of patriotism, and is likely orthogonal to solidarity with middle-class whites.


Default User said...

Noblesse oblige is no guarantee of patriotism, and is likely orthogonal to solidarity with middle-class whites.

A good and interesting point.

Justin said...

Interestingly, WASPs themselves had a well-founded persecution complex. It used to be taught quite openly as America's civic religion, it's why Catholics formed their own school systems, for example. WASPs were persecuted by kings, popes, bishops, and nobility of all kind. Hell, they kicked the Jews out of England in the 1200s because they were tired of being exploited by them. I think we, being young, forget what a big deal JFK being elected was (the first Catholic prez). It was of the same magnitude as the B.O. election.

When you get right down to it, the entire history of America is the story of business interests aggressively recruiting immigrants as laborers to drive down the wages of the natives.

Elites never gave a shit about the commoners, ever. Sailer's noblesse oblige of the WASP elite is complete fiction.