IN HIS 2004 NOVEL, The Plot Against America, Philip Roth imagines an alternative history issuing from the 1940 defeat of incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the isolationist and America First candidate, Charles Lindbergh. An instance of the genre uchronia, a compound literally meaning “no time,” The Plot Against America supplies in a US setting roughly what Camus’ La Peste did over a generation earlier in a fictional 1940s Algeria: a depiction of human rot inexorably overtaking a previously sane (one is tempted in this connection to say sanitary) society.
This theme was on my mind as I absorbed the broad and vicious “truther” campaign whose present focus is Gene Rosen. Who is it that first said that no good deed goes unpunished? Mr. Rosen is the last and latest in a long queue illustrating the wisdom of this ancient dictum. Within days of the Newtown shooting, one of Iranian Press TV’s many American commentators supplied the observation that these murders were an Israeli retaliation for the Obama administration’s policies — nicely conflating anti-Jewish and anti-Obama sentiments.
The varied Sandy Hook conspiracies join a long list of comparable, laboured mind castles: the 9/11 inside job, the faked Apollo moon landings, the Kennedy assassination cover-ups, the Kenyan-Marxist President, and on and on. In each of these cases, as in many others I could itemize, certain familiar themes predominate. Foremost on the list of themes are the New World Order, secret societies, international finance, and the complicity of the MSM, or mainstream media, with government hoaxes. But the lightning rod which is Gene Rosen reminds us, if we require the reminding, that into the forefront of each of these discrete but related instances of paranoia may be pressed (and usually is pressed) the menacing figure of the Jew.
The force of Roth’s novel, as he himself acknowledged in a September 2004 New York Times essay, is in service of an affirmation:
The American triumph is that despite the institutionalized anti-Semitic discrimination of the Protestant hierarchy at that time, despite the virulent Jew hatred of the German-American Bund and the Christian Front, despite the repellent Christian supremacy preached by Henry Ford and Father Coughlin and the Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith, despite the casual distaste for Jews expressed by journalists like Westbrook Pegler and Fulton Lewis, despite the blindly self-loving Aryan anti-Semitism of Lindbergh himself, it didn’t happen here.
There has been no fascist dictatorship, nor a reaching for the Final Solution of the Judenfrage, on US soil — and it is improbable that there will be any time soon, fears of Obamacare aside. As Clive James put it, “the insuperable problem with The Plot Against America is that America is against the plot.” Roth’s “American triumph” and James’s “insuperable problem” duly noted, there has nonetheless always been a virulent strain of American Jew hatred, and it is above all in the bellwether of the conspiracy theorists, as far back as Henry Ford and even further, that you will discern its movements.
Are pro-tempore conspiracy theories mere recrudescences of the underlying and ancient disease of anti-Jewish animus? Perhaps not. Yet, how often it is when one discerns a predeliction for the actively suppressed and all-encompassing, all explaining truth that a certain fixation with international Jewry abides. This (I suspect) ineradicable itch now and then calls forth the fingernail — or, to employ Camus’ metaphor, the rats long hidden from view eventually emerge into the light of the day.
Just so, this week the reek of the mental sewer is on the air. From every crack inhabited by the paranoid and hateful, the attacks upon Mr. Rosen issue. But they are not merely attacks upon a man, just as anti-Semitism is an attack not limited in its scope to Jews. These are attacks on human decency and civility. To paraphrase Camus, all I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, to repudiate the pestilences.