February 14, 2005 by AK
Paul Cella discusses Disraeli the Nationalist, quoting David Gelernter. The latter, I have to agree with the former, is a “formidable writer” indeed (I did learn a few things from his Weekly Standard article), and Lord Beaconsfield as subject matter needs grand style, yet Gelernter does get bombastic and tasteless at times. The very juxta- an op-position of Marx and Disraeli seems in bad taste to me — in two simple words, Marx wasn’t all that bad and Disraeli wasn’t that good — and it’s self-contradictory to say someone “invented,” rather than simply verbalized, modern conservatism.
Disraeli had some unorthodox views on race — unorthodox by today’s measure but common in his time — while some of his contemporaries persisted in calling him a Jew despite his baptism (not that he was ashamed of his origin): apparently, they perceived Jewishness in racial terms. Accordingly, anti-Semitism must have started to take on a racial meaning in the second half of the 19th century, to evolve into pure racism from an expression, sometimes extreme, of religious intolerance.
I couldn’t help commenting at Cella’s Review, of course:
The saddest thing about Disraeli’s foreign policy is his opposition to Czarist Russia exactly as it was going through the decades of great reforms (under Alexander II, 1856–1881). This culminated in Disraeli’s sending the navy to prevent the Russian army from seizing Constantinople in January 1878. One could go as far as to claim that, had it not been for Britain’s interference, Constantinople and the Straits would be in Christian, mostly likely Greek hands now. (Part of the blame should go to Alexander II for backing down, haunted by a ghost of the Crimean War.)
Disraeli’s line was perfectly conservative — propping up the dying Porte against Russia had been a pillar of British Eastern politics — but it turned up myopic. Without the treaties of Berlin (1878 ) and Lausanne (1923), there would be no Turkey as we know it and no Turkish problem for Europe.
Greeks in Byzantium, Italian colonists in Anatolia, Great Armenia restored, and a Kurdish state… sweet dreams… But it’s far, far too late now.
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