There’s a convention in column-writing that makes us shrink from mentioning the accomplishments of our op-ed page confreres. None of us wants to come across as a groupie in print. Instead, we send each other cool, congratulatory private e-mails—“Hey, kudos on the new book, I hear it’s a hoot”—and leave it at that.
But I can’t keep my mouth shut about George Jonas’s new book, Beethoven’s Mask: Notes on My Life and Times, excerpts from which ran in these pages recently. Full disclosure, as they say: Even though we’ve only met twice, and briefly at that, I’ve been a George Jonas groupie ever since his thriller, Vengeance —a non-fiction recreation of Israel’s revenge on the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, which rivals Le Carre for literacy and pace—kept me in thrall with no sleep breaks to the very last page.
So indulge me by reading this totally biased promotion of Beethoven’s Mask. It’s a brilliant read, and why should I be prevented from saying so just because—I flatter myself here, I know—we’re colleagues?
Beethoven’s Mask is an absorbing, illuminating political and philosophical memoir: an entertaining, kitsch-free chronicle of a genuinely interesting life, and a surgically precise vivisection of the 20th-century ideologies and cultural clashes that have, as Jonas puts it in relation to the war on Islamist terror, set “the Old Witch of history on her broomstick again” in the 21st.
Jonas considers himself a “classic liberal,” which most people today read as “neo-conservative.” If he were an American—and he very nearly was—he’d enjoy the company of a critical mass of like-minded peers and a sizeable target market for his views. Amongst Canada’s overwhelmingly leftish media and academic elites, though, he is an intellectual outlier. Herewith a sampler from Beethoven’s Mask as to why he will offend many Canadians:
– On Europhobia in the universities: “… seats of higher learning, whatever they may do for enlightenment and knowledge, are ever-reliable instruments for spreading darkness and ignorance”;
– “whether or not religion was the opiate of the masses, as Marx had it, in the 20th century Marxism took over as the opiate of the intellectuals”;
– On the Vietnam War: “I would have volunteered”;
– “The European Union mimics a nation like a homosexual union mimics a marriage”;
– On diversity: “promoting separation between diverse groups … is likely to result in more harmony than promoting dialogue”;
– “‘The Canadian Way’ has shed the crude trappings of . It is the glossiest, the most sophisticated, and the most up-to-date version of the illiberal state”;
– On judicial activism: “Beware of anyone talking about ‘evolving law.’ Expressions like ‘the living constitution’ usually signal a person intending to use the law for an instrument of social engineering”;
– “Since the 1960s, Canada has tried to achieve moral leadership in the world by observing strict neutrality between good and evil.”
Unlike most ivory-tower intellectuals, Jonas arrived at his understanding of contemporary history through events as they unfurled. It was his (writer’s) lucky fate to have been positioned in his formative years at an important crossroads in history. As a Hungarian of Jewish origin, he was liberated from the scourge of Fascism, only to be thrust under Communism’s ugly yoke. He saw an entire Jewish civilization reduced to rubble, while auditing virtual seminars on Israel’s destiny through debates between his passionately Zionist uncle and non-Zionist father (remarkably prescient on current Middle Eastern turmoil). He witnessed Europhilia dying in the flames of the Second World War, then the Europhobia of anti-Western elites rising up from its ashes.
Jonas has always felt himself to be an outsider—“Not exactly anti-social, not exactly friendless, perhaps not even unpopular, only profoundly alien….” Perhaps it is because he has lived in a continual state of cultural and geographic deracination: He was first deprived of his Jewish heritage through his family’s assimilation, then of his European heritage by Fascism and Communism. Next came immigration to Canada and the alienating effects of multiculturalism and political correctness. He left his parents behind in Hungary, while the family he created—he has a married son and a grandchild—became fragmented through divorce, distance and temperamental incompatibility (“I marvel at the discontinuity between myself and my descendants”).
At one point Jonas reflects: “There is always an element of sadness in being above, or beyond belonging. The true cosmopolitan is a lonely figure.” Jonas is a rare breed of intellectual: He’s a risk-taking man of action, who raced motorcycles and loved to fly light planes. As a pilot/intellectual, he sees the forest, not the trees, and horizons others can’t, but, as he notes, charting your own course and taking the long view often means flying solo.