[Update, 10-1-13: I have come around to rejecting the word “totalitarianism”, but possibly for different reasons than Heni’s. I also agree that the Holocaust, like fascism, was historically unique. I.e., I am comfortable with historicism. But the distinctiveness of the Holocaust does not preclude a new attempt to murder “the Jews.” ]
A new journal on the history of antisemitism has just appeared, featuring a stellar advisory board of scholars, and purporting to be philosemitic and pro-Israel. It is part of their intellectual mission to distinguish antisemitism from “prejudice” or “racism, ” but also to attack the theory of “totalitarianism” that would equate Nazi and Soviet forms of terror. Clemens Heni, one of their authors and a founding member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, in his blog “The Prague Declaration, Trivialization of the Holocaust, and Antisemitism,” argues that the moral equivalence of Stalinist and Hitlerian murder denies the uniqueness of the Holocaust; indeed that habit is taken to be a mini-form of Holocaust denial! As if Stalin had not had his own plans for the Jews, embodied in the Doctor’s Plot and cut short only by his death in 1953. (For details on Soviet treatment of Jews during the second world war, see Niall Ferguson’s War of the World.)
You can find the first issue at http://jsantisemitism.org/pdf/jsa_1-1.pdf. I have read Dr. Heni’s article, “Antisemitism as a Specific Phenomenon,” who writes of the irrationality of antisemitism: “No group of people but the Jews has ever been singled out and blamed even for opposite developments, such as both capitalism and communism, and being weak-willed but powerful enough to take over the planet.” (Heni took his degree in political science, and was for a year a post-doctoral researcher at YIISA (The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. One of his two books is Salonfähig der Neuen Rechten–a sarcastic title indicating that the author is writing from somewhere on the Left.)
It is my view that we are in the murky territory of the moderate men again. [Added 3-22-10: When I wrote this blog, I had not studied the Burke revival in the twentieth century. It was particular organic conservatives (following Burke) who twinned Nazism and Stalinism, constantly using the term “totalitarianism.” Both Nazism and Communism were seen as the effluent of puffed-up Jacobins and other mechanical materialists, displacing religion by worshipping the Goddess of Reason, re-inventing the State and hence usurping God. Cf. Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.] It depends on what we mean by rationalism and irrationalism. “Irrational” suggests to me that the theory of projection, advocated by social psychologists allied to moderate conservatism, is in play. (See my prior blog on Adorno’s harmonizing of Freud’s theory of incessant conflict, substituting in its place of constant struggle to achieve civilized behavior, a “balance” between id, ego, and superego; the happy outcome would be “genuine liberalism;” see that chapter in The Authoritarian Personality and https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/. In other words, what is presented as a bold new approach to the history of antisemitism is probably yet another defense of “moderate” statism, hence the outrage at equating Nazism and Stalinism. Nazism is usually hung on “the Right” or “fascist Republicans” by Stalinists. But see R. Palme Dutte blaming social democrats in 1934, prior to the Popular Front.)
Take the quote from Heni’s article, above, describing the “irrationality” of antisemitism for confusing capitalists and communists–a claim I have seen countless times elsewhere. Convinced antisemites had no trouble with this supposed cognitive dissonance: Gentlemanly organic conservatives understood that atheistic science-plagued modernity had bred lucre-loving capitalists, and then in reaction to their [typically “Jewish” capitalist greed and exploitation] communism raised its ugly head. The solution to the onset of a disenchanted modern world would be a Christianized capitalism. Look no further than Christian Socialism, Bismarck’s welfare state, the Fabians in Britain, Rerum Novarum ( the encyclical issued by Leo XIII in 1891) or the social gospel movement in America, followed here by populism and progressivism. Hitler himself advocated a “third way” between capitalism and communism,* meanwhile opposing “Jewish Bolshevism” in the Soviet Union as a mere front for “finance capital” and not socialism at all. My point is that these mostly European movements were reacting against the displacement of an aristocratic elite by the new men—the moderns, whose elevation of hard science, hard work, novel financial instruments, and free markets threatened the property and lifestyles of the landowning class and their employees, dependents, and allies. In Britain, Young England represented a coalition between aristocrats and the working class against the rising industrial bourgeoisie (see Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations for their outlook; detail here: https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/).
So far I have mentioned as examples of rationality (as opposed to ostensible antisemitic irrationality) the Third Way of the moderate men. But think now of the benefits to Nazis and other antisemites if the Jews were either removed from their regions (as in Israel) or from their nations (as in the Third Reich): the expropriation of Jewish property and the elimination of Jewish rivals in business and the professions, or relief from the unpredictable chaos brought about by political and technical innovations in general, let alone the restless and “skeptical” Jewish mind that so frazzled Hitler and probably Stalin. Think especially of antisemitism as backlash against the emancipation of the Jews after the French Revolution, with all the reasons just mentioned.
*[From Hitler’s Table Talk:] The English have to settle certain social problems which are ripe to be settled. At present these problems can still be solved from above, in a reasonable manner. I tremble for them if they don’t do it now. For if it’s left to the people to take the initiative, the road is open to madness and destruction. Men like Mosley would have had no difficulty in solving the problem, by finding a compromise between Conservatism and Socialism, by opening the road to the masses but without depriving the élite of their rights. Class prejudices can’t be maintained in a socially advanced State like ours, in which the proletariat produces men of such superiority. Every reasonably conducted organization is bound to favour the development of beings of worth. It has been my wish that the educative organisations of the Party should enable the poorest child to lay claim to the highest functions, if he has enough talent. The Party must see to it, on the other hand, that society is not compartmentalized so that everyone can quickly assert his gifts. Otherwise discontent raises its head, and the Jew finds himself in just the right situation to exploit it. It’s essential that a balance should be struck, in such a way that dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives may be abolished as well as Jewish and Bolshevik anarchists….(Jan. 27, 1942, p. 253).
[Illustrated: Picasso’s La Dama de Azul, with the Pierrot mask as I read it]