Recently I wrote to an Israeli friend of mine about the resurgence of anti-Jewish hatred and propaganda. Anti-Semitism is like a many-headed hydra of ignorance and prejudice. Courage and knowledge are needed to combat it so as not to repeat the catastrophic mistakes and omissions of the past. I believe anti-Semitic hatred is like Socialism ultimately rooted in jealousy and deep envy.
There is a fable, recounted by Gilbert Highet in THE CLASSICAL TRADITION of a dispute between a spider and a bee.
The spider reproaches the bee, who has broken his web, with being a homeless vagabond with no possessions, living on loot; and he boasts that he himself is the architect of his own castle, having both designed it and spun the material out of his own body. (This was the reproach which the moderns aimed at the ancients, calling them copyists, the thieves of other’s thoughts. while themselves claimed to be entirely original in all they wrote). The bee replies that it is possible to rely exclusively on one’s own genius, but that any creative artist who does will produce only ingenious cobwebs, with the addition of the poison of selfishness and vanity; while the bee, ranging with infinite labour throughout all nature, brings home honey and wax to furnish humanity with sweetness and light.p285-286 The Classical Tradition
Cultures which are too inward or closed, feeding and engendering on themselves alone are often marked with hubris and the deep venom of prejudice and hatred for others who are more successful politically, militarily, technically or economically. The bee is a metaphor for not only the indefatigable worker but the undogmatic cosmopolitan thinker who ranges with infinite labor throughout the whole world and its history and thought. Swift, to whom we owe the fable did not directly mention Horace but Highet detected in his work the echo of Horace’s poem in which “he compared himself to the hard-working bee, gathering sweetness from innumerable flowers.”
I have an ancient and proud heritage, but my people did not invent the alphabet nor the Ten Commandments. I am in awe of the Gifts of the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans and the English people too and the Americans who are my adopted people. The life of the mind we owe to the Greeks. The life of political order and justice we owe to the Romans, English and Americans. The life of love and faith we owe to the Jews and the Great Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who was, of course, a Jew.
If we believe, falsely that we owe nothing to others or other nations we are vain and wrong. It is truthful and humble to admit that the heritage of mankind is very diverse but there are great apogees of cultural achievement of which my race and line were only observers and minor players. Perhaps one thing my primitive people -we were as Toynbee noted the last White Barbarians of Europe- gave to the world was a sense of justice, deep loyalty, deep memory and deep courage in defense and above all a willingness to make the supreme sacrifice for our families, our communities our nation our gallant allies. Yes, perhaps the Gael has been eclipsed by other more talented, more temperate and inspired nations in most fields of human endeavor. But in the ancient Mire-catha (Battle Frenzy) in the cause of his brothers and sisters, in the cause of freedom and Independence others perhaps equal the Gael in righteous combat but none surpasses him. We may not understand all the wisdom of the great but we love and revere great discoverers and minds greater than our own. Yes, many people surpass the Gaels in many things but in gratitude to our teachers, friends and forefolk and in remembrance of their achievements and sacrifice few equal our passion, devotion and love. The great compliment, my grandfather taught me was to be a Highland Gentleman, a leal n’ true mon (an duine dileas). A Highlander is leal n’ true to his word,to his Regiment,to his family clan, his Nation, his nation’s Allies, to his God. “Dread God and obey his commandments; that is the whole duty of man.” That is the Munro motto and the oldest Bible reference I ever knew. From my earliest boyhood I knew the foundation of our civilization and moral culture began with the Old Book which my father called the Hebrew Scriptures. I knew the Bible was not an English book at all but a translation from the Jews, Romans and Greeks. I have tried to understand anti-Semitism but it never made any sense to me that any Christian should be an anti-Semite because Mary, Jesus and Joseph and all the apostles and their ancestors and family were Jews. But I think my people (I am speaking of the Gaels or Scots) were a cosmopolitan hard-working people who ranged throughout the world. They knew English was not the only language nor the oldest language of the world so they learned other languages wherever they went. They knew England was beautiful,admirable in many ways, successful, rich and powerful but it was not the only country in the world nor was it best at ALL THINGS; in fact the genius of the British people was that it adapted the best of many peoples. They knew there was much to admire and love in other countries were they lived and worked -Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Cuba, Spain, Italy, India and Africa. It is, perhaps peculiar to the Scot (or Gael) of all classes, that he remembers and cherishes the memories of his forefolk good or bad; and there burns in him a sense of identity with the dead of his race and line even to the tenth or twentieth generation. “Cuimhnich air na daoine bho tainig tusa” (remember the people you came from was a saying I heard hundreds of times until it was etched into my memory and soul). My Israeli friend said to me: “I’m not sure where to start so as to answer your beautifully written post, so I’ll start by saying that you are too modest!
Every nation has good people and bad people and, while it is true that the percentage of Jewish Nobel Prize winners is extremely high for the very small percentage of the Jewish population in the world, there is a beautiful Jewish saying:
Behaving correctly comes before studying the Torah.
We are (were?) the People of the Book, but it is far more important to be leal’n true like your brave nation, the Gaels .” Aye an’ when one kens what that means and has meant it gars ane to greet. (stirs the bosom and brings tears to the eyes, aye saut tears blin’ the e’e). “La a’bhlair, ‘s math na cairdean” ON THE DAY OF BATTLE ‘TIS GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS ; this every Highland soldier knew. And it was a terrible burden for the survivors to remember the courage, sacrifice, suffering, blood, toil, sweat and tears all for the sake of freedom and independence. Freeman’s blood and tears have always told our story. Bydan Free (forever free!)
NE OBLIVISCARSIS…not not forget.
Yes, if there is one thing I learned from my father and grandfather who were both Scotsmen born and bred with deep roots in Gaeldom, it was that the highest and most noble virtue a man could aspire to was being a good man, a brave man, a loving man, a generous man and a man who was “leal n’ true” to those who loved him and whom he loved. Until the death.
OUT of the womb of time and dust of the years forgotten,
Spirit and fire enclosed in mutable flesh and bone,
Came by a road unknown the thing that is me forever,
The lonely soul of a man that stands by itself alone.
This is the right of my race, the heritage won by my fathers.
Theirs by the years of fighting, theirs by the price they paid,
Making a son like them, careless of hell or heaven,
A man that can look in the face of the gods and be not afraid.
Poor and weak is my strength and I cannot war against heaven.
Strong, too strong are the gods; but there is one thing that
Claim like a man unashamed, the full reward of my virtues,
Pay like a man the price for the sins I sinned as a man.
Now is the time of trial, the end of the years of fighting,
And the echoing gates roll back on the country I cannot see
If it be life that waits I shall live forever unconquered.
If death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free.
Vimy Ridge, 1916
From “CREED” in A Highland Regiment (1917)
Ewart Alan Mackintosh
Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh MC -TOSH- to his men (4 March 1893 – 21 November 1917) was a war poet and an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders from December 1914. Mackintosh was killed whilst observing the second day of the second Battle of Cambrai, 21 November 1917. NE OBLIVISCARIS…do not forget.