Sheldon — Conservative Money, the New Face of American Judaism, & Election 2012

$100,000,000 is a lot of cash to blow on defeating President Obama in November, but not for Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate whose wealth is estimated at $25,000,000,000. Is this too the future face of American Judaism, of the American Jewish community? I think all the talk about the Israel Lobby and Jewish power out and about in the world today is a lot of yak. That said, I can’t see how this kind of money in these kinds of amounts can be good for American politics or “good for the Jews.”

Setting aside for the moment that narrow parochial-Jewish or poltical-partisan interest, what interests me about this story has to do with the public profile of a community, the types of subjectivities that can appear in a political “space of appearance,” defined by Hannah Arendt as the space “where I appear to others as others appear to me, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things, but to make their appearance explicitly” (Arendt, The Human Condition, 198). I think this is what happens when the space of appearance is opened to huge infusions of private cash.

I guess it’s a free country, which means that you won’t always like what you see in the mirror.The face of Jewish politics in this country was always more public-minded, and this is true if we are talking about liberal, leftwing, or neoconservative politics. Things change, and it’s not always pretty. Watch what happens. As the election cycle rolls along, there’s going to be more and more critical attention paid to Sheldon Adelson.

It’s stomach churning, the new intersection between politics and conservative money, and the way a Jewish face is part of it and is likely going to be a part of the discussion. I know that this is going to cough up a lot of anti-Semitism, and that the Jewish cultural-political right is going to schrei gevalt at the very mention of “Sheldon.” But I think it’s incumbent upon those of us who care about the future of American Judaism and liberal Judaism to be honest and forthright about the impact of money in and upon the American and the American-Jewish public spheres.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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5 Responses to Sheldon — Conservative Money, the New Face of American Judaism, & Election 2012

  1. joesix says:

    I sensed some anti-Semitism during Glenn Beck’s attack on George Soros, but I didn’t realize Sheldon Adelson was MOT until just now.

  2. Menachem Feuer says:

    What’s the difference between conservative money and liberal money? Both sides have tons of dough?

    • zjb says:

      From my own partisan perspective I’d suggest these differences about contemporary conservatives: they tend to have more money; they tend to think that corporations are people; they tend not to want to restrict the flow of private campaign dollars into the public sphere for partisan interests; they tend to restrict access to the public sphere by turning it into something private. I’m trying not to sound too whiny, but that’s how I hear it from over here.

  3. Menachem Feuer says:

    At a conference I presented last Friday, one of my fellow panelists evoked Arendt’s language from the Human Condition regarding how the public sphere has gradually become the private sphere. So now the public sphere is about, as it was in Rome and post-Rome an Oikos-nomos where the economy(necessity) is the law. And where the family reigns supreme. (He used movies to demonstrate this case and added a twist with the distortion of prophesy in this private/public sphere.) In this scenario, the country is thought of and run like a household. I taught the Human Condition and am very familiar with Arendt’s claims about space and politics – the history of their shift from the Greek to the Latin mode. I see these claims echoed in much of Agabmen’s work, too. But I wonder about her argument. It is the case that families are the basis of a society and that economics matters. But is the public sphere, for her the space of freedom, being totally effaced by economic concerns? And, in today’s environment, aren’t politicians being forced (here and in Europe) to think economically? How would Arendt see this? I suppose she would shrug her shoulders. Remember, even on the left leaning side, she didn’t like Marx as he reduced man to a laboring animal (animal laborans) and, as Lyotard might say, emulated the ‘economic genre’.

  4. hayyim rothman says:

    I don’t, in principle, have an issue with the public sphere being an economic one. In theory, I see money as a common denominator and, as such, an equalizing force or, at least, an object with respect to which equality can be considered without too much theoretical complication. Keep in mind that the Greek common was not an equal commons; theirs was a highly stratified society. The economizing of the commons is not, in itself a bad thing. The problem I see is precisely where ZJB is pointing: when the economic quality of the space of appearance becomes one in which private territories can be carved out economically so that it ceases to be a common space of appearance. This is the essence of conservative political doctrine. Even where money is expended in large amounts for liberal causes, the aim is precisely to restore the public quality of the space of appearance; it is, at least in word, an effort to resist privatization. I don’t think it would be fair or accurate to claim that resistance to privatization is itself a form of privatization.

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