YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 14, 2010

The ABC’s of Antisemitism

19th C. image of The Wandering Jew

[For an index to many of my blogs on antisemitism, see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/.]

Antisemitism entails much more than a direct assault upon Jewish life. But as a multifaceted part of the imagination, certain aspects of this phobia emerge at different moments in the history of the West.  These notes are a crude, first attempt to locate particular aspects of modern antisemitism in the turning points listed below. I list them so that readers can identify certain tropes that evoke images of the Bad Jew* even when Jews themselves are not directly under investigation.

It is widely recognized that Jews have come to represent modernity in the eyes of their enemies, but the entire history of the West contributes to the power of the antagonism.

Legacy of Greek antiquity: gloom and narcissism. Narcissus was in love with himself, hence deaf to cries from community, self-destructs. Matthew Arnold famously contrasted gloomy Hebraism with the sweetness and light of Hellenism, a distinction that Herman Melville, for one, internalized.

Legacy of New Testament antisemitism: lucre-loving hence materialistic, demonic, legalistic and unforgiving (Shylock); Christ-hating hence antithesis to Christian love; carnal “Chosen People” seek subjugation of all non-Jews. The Jewish God is wrathful and genocidal, transmitting these characteristics  to his “chosen” ones. Hence, “Wall Street” under the guise of “wealth creation” is out to “slaughter” the (non-Jewish) “middle class.” A Jewified (modern, secular) world is infested with bloodsucking vampires. (I do not deny that many Christians have denounced this legacy, and now stand with Jews against antisemitism and against anti-Israel policies. See http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-jews-should-know-about-christians.html).

Legacy of Reformation: Protestants seen as Church-destroying Jews, and as such lack reverence for established authority. These Faustians focus on worldliness as opposed to other-worldliness. The Christian myth of the repentant, indestructible Wandering Jew takes hold (see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/). Jews will always be alien, “a people apart,” even if they convert or are born into a family of converts.  They can never be rooted in the nation, no matter how assimilated they may appear to be (see the Nazi movie Der ewige Jude with its emphasis on the masked Jew).

Legacy of Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and market societies/capitalism: the innovating (mad) scientist seeking perfection and direct contact with reality (cf. the contrasting views of Plato, Matthew Arnold, Nathaniel Hawthorne). The Jew becomes associated with the rise of the moral mother (Locke says mothers imprint tabula rasa), and misogyny results as woman becomes the Jew of the Home, the voice of conscience: clinging, criticizing, and kvetching. Romantic poets are attracted to Prometheus and the Romantic Wandering Jew myth as limited revolt against philistine (Jewish) materialists and their “leveling,” historicizing (i.e., desacralizing) analyses of the Bible, of “traditional” social structures and ideologies, with their utopian mishegas.

Legacy of German Romanticism/Aufklärung: Jews are natural destroyers of the Volk, Gemeinschaft (the organic community mystically bound by language, blood and soil). Jew becomes incarnation of selfish individualism, universal ethics, and resistance to the national, ethical, racial state. In Germany’s case, Deutschland is chosen by Fate to purify the world of the “Jewish” idea of individual responsibility and free will. The German Romantic idea of “national character” (the primacy of ethnicity over class) takes hold in American universities during the late 1960s, but was already trotted out in the nineteen teens by Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen, in the latter case to oppose the rootless cosmopolitanism advocated by “proletarian internationalism.”

The Bolshevik triumph of October 1917. Antisemites often view all Jews as either communists or potential communists, latter-day self-righteous Jacobins bending human nature to make the new man and heaven on earth.** Even as conservative businessmen, Jews are agents of modernity, and modernity, having given birth to a new industrial working class,  spawned the likes of Marx and Lenin. Scholars of Hitler and the Nazis frequently neglect mentioning this crucial component of their antisemitism. Similarly, many Jewish scholars think it is irrational to conflate themselves as liberal capitalists with communists, whom they often vigorously oppose to protect social democracy.

Prominence of “Jewish” Communists in civil rights movement. It is no secret that persons of Jewish ancestry were prominent supporters of blacks in the civil rights movement–even during the 1930s, though with the rise of black nationalism, that relationship became strained to the breaking point. Although “Jews” who joined the Communist Party gave up their “particularist” Jewish identity to join “proletarian internationalism,” that renunciation means nothing to far right racists, whose antisemitism is intertwined with white supremacy. For them, Jews are not white people at all, but the red enemy who supports either the Democratic Party or some leftist variant. They may seize upon the supposedly “Jewish” Frankfurt School critical theorists as the source of decadence, though these same individuals (e.g. Adorno and Horkheimer) bonded with mainstream Protestant-progressive social psychologists, and abjured the “materialist” Enlightenment.

*By “Bad Jew” I do not mean a non-observant Jew as judged by orthodox Jews, but rather the antithesis of the Good Jew who is considered “useful” to European ruling classes, or who joins with upper-class businessmen as “socially responsible capitalists.” Hence the Good Jew is accepted insofar as s/he is “assimilated.” For more, see my blog Good Jews, Bad Jews, and Wandering Jews. http://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/.

**Crane Brinton, the influential Harvard historian characterized the Jacobins as possessed by “Hebraic fury” and in their self-deceiving, fanatical, revolutionary virtue, were allied to Calvinism. This link between the angry God of the Old Testament Jews and Calvinism is often applied to puritanism in general by organic conservative scholars. It is entirely ahistoric, for there is no one brand of puritanism. For a case study of how colonial puritans have been lumped together and stigmatized as persecuting, see http://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/.

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21 Comments »

  1. […] to identify the multiform manifestations of antisemitism throughout the history of the West. (See http://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/ […]

    Pingback by The Myth of Jewish Solidarity | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 25, 2014 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

  2. [...] So, it is my view that when Friedländer describes the centrality of the complete extermination of the Jews in the Nazi project, he is arguing against the functionalist school of interpretation. He is not ignoring other factors that all students of German history are aware of. In his recorded lecture, you will hear him explain what he characterizes as his own view and the evidence for it, for instance, the timing of the extermination (as opposed to deportation and enslavement) moves in response to the entry of the Americans after Pearl Harbor and the counter-attack against the German invasion by the Soviets in late 1941. Hitler was now surrounded by “the Jews” on two fronts, not to speak of the enemy within. He also mentions Jeffrey Herf’s recent book [The Jewish Enemy, 2006] that shows the image of the Jew becoming ever more ominous (in concert with a flood of Nazi propaganda depicting the Jews as instigators of the war and their intention to exterminate Germany). Friedländer makes a nice comment on this point: whereas Nazi propaganda depicts the Jews as a monolithic demonic force, Jews were drastically divided among themselves throughout “the years of extermination,” to the detriment of all. And scariest of all, he points out that the knowledge of the final solution as it was taking place was broadly known by elites in every field (including the churches) and yet nearly all remained publicly silent. I bring this out because we may be in a comparable position today with respect to the terrorist threat emanating from Islamists and the dissemination of such horrors as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf throughout the Arab and Muslim world. (On the understudied subject of antisemitism see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/.) [...]

    Pingback by The centrality of the Holocaust to Nazi war aims | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 10, 2013 @ 10:30 pm | Reply

  3. I am not the intellectual or educated equal to any of the commenters here so I would appreciate some help understanding what you all seem to be saying. I am a Christian – I read my Bible, both the Old and the New Testament daily – have for longer than I suspect most of you have been alive. Could you give me specific citations in the New Testament that reflects the antisemitism you seem to say is there? I can’t find it. Also please know, this old Christian lady, living in the heart of America stand with Israel and Jews everywhere – in front of them if it ever comes to that. You know why? Because my Bible tells me to.

    Comment by Ruth — January 9, 2013 @ 2:38 am | Reply

    • It is not true that there were Jewish money-changers in the temple, necessarily chased out by Jesus. Money-changing was done outside the temple. There is a massive literature on Christian antisemitism, much of it created by the patristic Church fathers. Rosemary Radford Reuther wrote a famous book about them: Faith and Fratricide.

      Comment by clarespark — January 9, 2013 @ 2:44 am | Reply

  4. [...] for demagogues, narcissism, Jacobin bloodthirstiness, etc. For a comprehensive survey see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/. shoebox sculpture Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Leave a [...]

    Pingback by Unity and utopia: the case of David Horowitz « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 6, 2012 @ 12:00 am | Reply

  5. thank you for your scholarly tracing of anti-semitism clare… question: where do liberal, far left, or anarchistic anti-semitic or anti-israel jews fit in your analysis…

    Comment by Larry — March 30, 2012 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

    • People need to be queried on a one-to-one basis. I can’t come up with grand ideological abstractions, but I can say that populism and progressivism were from the start anticapitalist, and to the extent that an individual views the capitalist as archetypally Jewish, that person has to be to some degree antisemitic. As for the far Left, they follow lines laid down by whatever faction they are in. For most, however, the villain is finance capital, and the source for that view is J. A. Hobson, a profound influence on Lenin. Anarchists I have known seem to view modernity as inherently ecocidal and statist, mowing down everything in its path, i.e. mowing down the green grass of their environmentalism.

      Comment by clarespark — March 30, 2012 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  6. [...] reading of the Christian Bible could support such a sharp antithesis between Jew and Christian. See http://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/, especially the note on Harvard historian Crane Brinton, who associated Jacobins with "Hebraic [...]

    Pingback by Moral atheists? « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 26, 2012 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  7. Is there an an antonym of antisemitism?

    Comment by Bill K — September 21, 2011 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

    • Some Jews regard “philosemitism” as the antonym, but I don’t buy it. The whole Jewish question is so embedded in the psyche and in real world politics, and it raises its head in multiple disguises. Then there is the often unexplored issue of antisemitism and misogyny, particularly unresolved relationships with the mother. It is utterly amazing to me that scholars of Jewish ancestry are often so oblivious, but that is the way the academy works these days. Keep it simple, keep those lines between victimizer and oppressed vague enough so that anything can be projected upon “the Jews.”

      Comment by clarespark — September 21, 2011 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  8. P.J. O’Rourke wrote that of all the isms of the twentieth century, all but one foundered on human nature. But Zionism understood that civilized people liked to kill Jews and were going to do more of it unless someone did something about it.

    Comment by Alex Bensky — September 3, 2011 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  9. But the simple truth is, they were sent their in mass exodus’s early last century – escaping their own annihilation and didn’t have many choices about where they could go. England? South America? New York? Chicago?

    It took Hitler (by accident) to shame us into allowing them Israel, which has a rocky start. Now they have it, and the exodus’s from many country’s on that side of the world (and people don’t get up and leave their homes unless they are forced to) took them to Isael, where they are now, and their enemies are still unhappy with their location? Where are they to go? Israel’s enemie’s have said repeatedly they would like to push them into the sea, and their enemy leaders have said this in every war. They said they would wipe out every Jew that was of foreign decent, and probably more in the war.

    They lost.

    Comment by Dave — January 19, 2011 @ 3:35 am | Reply

    • Dave, have you read this blog of mine on oil politics and Obama’s view of Israel? The link is on About Clare Spark. I’ll write more in response to your comment when I return to Los Angeles tomorrow.

      Comment by clarespark — January 19, 2011 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

  10. Clare,

    I’m wondering, why do you consider antisemitism unusual? In the twentiety century, we saw multiple genocides. First the Muslim Turks killed the Christian Armenians. Then atheist Russian Communists, among whom were a great number of secular Jews, murdered millions of Ukrainians. The Pagan Germans in turn murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies etc. With Russia’s active support, the communist, Mao, murdered millions of Chinese. In Cambodia the Communists, under Pol Pot, murdered millions more of their fellow country men. In Rwanda, the Hutus murdered the Tutsis. The Arabs in Sudan have murdered thousands or millions of the Christian and Animist, black Africans, in southern Sudan and are now murdering black Muslim Sudanese. There are many more genocides I could mention. The Jews are not alone.

    Perhaps the question is not why people hate Jews, but why are people so cruel to each other, regardless of the ethnicity? It seems that hatred, sadism, and murder are normal human behaviors which only disappear when they are actively suppressed by a strong moral culture. When the cultural restraints break down, genocide rapidly reappears. Perhaps one reason for antisemitism is that people who find the moral restraints of our Judeo-Christian culture onerous will naturally hate Jews, since Jews have made such outstanding contributions to our moral culture.

    Comment by Dennis — January 2, 2011 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

    • It is one thing when societies that are pre-modern and barbaric kill their enemies. It is quite another when societies that pride themselves on being civilized turn against Jews. In my view, it is the Jews are representatives of both moral culture, as you say (and as Freud did too), and as symbols of modernity, which means unpredictable innovation and displacement of traditional ruling elites. In the case of antisemitism, I would guess that there is a large, lingering medieval component against “usury” and money. Which is why Ayn Rand’s golden dollar sign was such a scandal, as was her character D’Anconia’s lengthy speech about the value of money as the linchpin in industrial society, and ultimately the ascendance of the individual and of her/his standard of living.

      Comment by clarespark — January 2, 2011 @ 9:45 pm | Reply

    • There are 14 million Jews in the world today. Were it not for 20 centuries of Christian inspired antisemitism rooted in the New Testament and the 20 centuries of genocide which followed, there would be well over 200 million. Know of another genocide similar to that? If you want to learn more, you can check out at your local library a book by Dennis Prager entitled, Why the Jews? I think you will find your answer.

      Comment by GARY MULLENNIX — September 4, 2011 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

      • Thanks, Gary. Christian antisemitism is not the only source of Jew-hatred, though its influence should not be underestimated. That is why I attempted a compilation of other factors based on years of research.

        Comment by clarespark — September 4, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

  11. if you consider Andalusia as the west, let us not forget the status of the Dhimi Jews who refused to accept Mohamed as the ultimate prophet. Great article.

    Comment by Maimon Chocron — November 16, 2010 @ 3:38 am | Reply

  12. Some hard reading. This is a subject I’d actually like to study. It’s almost incomprehensible, anti-semitism. It has astounded me how it is denied by some. I read a book that had many quotes by the leaders of the country’s in various wars mean to exterminate Israel. They meant it.

    If one leaves out the one simple truth about why Israel is what they are today (why they occupy the lands they do), they deny Israel their only hope to defend themselves in simple debate, and you have their enemies propaganda.

    Comment by Dave — November 15, 2010 @ 5:08 am | Reply

    • Great blog. I’ve come to reread it and rethink it. I’m still a new to aspects of this discussion – it’s all astonishing.

      Comment by Dave — September 26, 2011 @ 4:36 pm | Reply


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