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 https://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 https://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. https://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 https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/.

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1899

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1899

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September 23, 2010

Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism vs. Obama’s

Woodrow Wilson on his feet

Many persons believe Barack  Obama is a crypto-communist; while others believe he is a crypto-Muslim. Both believe he is out to destroy this country. I see him as an inheritor of the Progressive tradition, especially as exemplified by Woodrow Wilson, who unsuccessfully attempted to get the USA to join the League of Nations. Wilson’s contemporaries were among the first to develop the tenets of multiculturalism, conceived as super-ethnicity (i.e., self-determination that defied individualism by elevating groupiness, nationalism, and cultural relativism) and deliberately designed as an antidemocratic panacea to the Enlightenment and the secular revolutions that were feared by all sorts of aristocrats, including “social democrats.” What follows are my research notes based on readings from Wilson’s major biographers.

[This blog has been heavily augmented. Here is the first version:]

Arthur Link’s Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era (1954) ends with a chapter “From Peace Without Victory To War”.  Hollywood liberals would profit from this detailed political history, not least because it dismisses the old Left cry that Wilson’s war was for the benefit of Wall Street and the merchants of war (i.e., J.P. Morgan and munitions makers). Link’s conclusion is partly reproduced here, in order to contrast Wilson’s vision of a [Christianized] democratic world with the hazy multicultural one articulated by Obama today before the United Nations.  I will place the key phrase that distinguishes their notions of democracy in bold face. [Obama’s view was that the desired democracy would be rooted in the cultural traditions of each people. This is the standard view of “rooted cosmopolitanism” not to be confused with the rootless cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment and science. Not that Wilson was anything but an organic conservative and a racist, but his ethics were ostensibly universalist.]

[Arthur Link, pp.281-82] : The German decision to gamble on all-out victory or complete ruin…alone compelled Wilson to break diplomatic relations, to adopt a policy of armed neutrality, and finally to ask for a declaration of war–because American ships were being sunk and American citizens were being killed on the high seas, and because armed neutrality seemed no longer possible. Considerations of America’s alleged economic stake in an Allied victory did not influence Wilson’s thoughts during the critical weeks from February 1 to April 2, 1917. Nor did considerations of the national interest, or of the great ideological issues at stake in the conflict.

[Link, cont.: Wilson’s message to a joint session of Congress, April 2:] He reviewed the recent German warfare against commerce, which he termed “warfare against mankind.” He declared that armed neutrality was no longer feasible and that …the recent course of the Imperial German government was war against the United States. …The American people now knew the Imperial government, like all autocracies, was a natural foe of liberty. Therefore, “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.” And then, with one great peroration, which has gone ringing down the years, the long ordeal of neutrality was over:

[quoting Wilson:] It is a distressing and oppressive duty, Gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, [white, C.S.] civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts,—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other. [end Wilson quote]

Wilson’s anti-imperialism cannot be understood, however, without acknowledgment of his racism. His advocacy of “self-determination” was probably grounded in a fear of merging with primitives in wars of conquest. With such a view, he reiterated the feelings and fears of earlier upper-class Americans who had opposed the Mexican war (and of course any annexation of a territory with non-white inhabitants).  But in this particular message to Congress, he was speaking from the universalist Christian (Presbyterian, Calvinist) side of his ideology, not the Southern racist side.

Second version: (For more on Wilson’s anti-materialist organicism views, see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. For more on the anti-materialist Counter-Reformation tendency in cultural studies see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.)

I began a close study of Woodrow Wilson years ago while writing my book on the Melville Revival (Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival). His often eccentric conduct as a young man was brought out in Henry Wilkinson Bragdon’s revealing biography of Wilson at Princeton, for instance, some homoeroticism, cross-dressing and explicit antisemitism, but most important is WW’s dim view of science. He was ever the organic conservative adapting his overtly aristocratic social views later to agree with the populist and progressive mood of middle-class do-gooders in a rapidly industrializing society. That is what makes the final judgment of WW’s character in John Morton Blum’s important book, Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality (1956) so interesting, for Blum reads him as a monomaniac, closed off to the moderation that would have secured The League of Nations, in his final assessment of WW’s diplomacy:

[Blum, pp197-98:]” …His basic, lifelong faith was in the individual as a distinct moral agent, inspired by and accountable to God; in the individual as the special object of a Christian education; in this individual, so accountable and so educated, as the judicious artificer of his own political and economic life. This was the essential belief of the America of Wilson’s time, a belief derived from Calvin and Adam Smith and Emerson at least. It presumed, as Wilson did, that normative man was a kind of William Gladstone, that a normative nation consisted of a mass of separate human particles, each like him. But within the United States in the twentieth century, giving these particles a chance to compete was not enough; they needed also help and cohesion. Particularly in this century, moreover, liberal constitutionalism was not everywhere a possible or an attractive prospect. Some products of Wilson’s faith therefore, had unwholesome, unintended consequences.”

Earlier in the book, Blum had said that WW paved the way for the New Deal (that he proudly supports). Blum undoubtedly knew of the German Romantic conception of Bildung, but the organicism of German Romantic culture is invisible to him as he lists WW’s precessors. Nor will he nor any other progressive historian call out the social psychologists of the New Deal for their copying of Nazi methods of mind-management to promote social “cohesion.” Nor will he be alarmed by the Carl Schmitt critique of (liberal?) constitutionalism in favor of the executive decree. Blum, like the invisible helpers to progressive thought described elsewhere on this website, contrasted social responsibility with the atomic “particles” who would explode social bonds, refusing “compromise” and realism in foreign policy. So WW had to be taken down a peg, but just a little.

Rewriting an earlier book on Wilsonian diplomacy, Arthur S. Link, also ignored the German side of Wilson’s social thought. In Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War and Peace (1979), Link began by lauding WW’s “splendid synthesis of Anglo-American democratic theories and traditions.” Then he tackles WW’s view of a necessarily disciplined human nature:

[Link, p.5] Everything depended upon Wilson’s view of the nature and capacities of humankind. He believed that all peoples were capable of self-government because all were endowed with inherent character and capacity for growth. He was too good a student of history to be visionary in these beliefs. He repudiated and condemned utopianism and taught that people learn democracy only by long years of disciplined experience.  As early as 1885, we hear him saying:

[Link quoting  Wilson:] “Democracy is, of course, wrongly conceived when treated as merely a body of doctrine. It is a stage of development. It is not created by aspirations or by new faith; it is built up by slow habit. Its process is experience, its basis old wont, its meaning national organic oneness and effectual life. It comes, like manhood, as the fruit of youth: immature peoples cannot have it, and the maturity to which it is vouchsafed is the maturity of freedom and self-control, and no other.”

[Link, cont.] Even so, Wilson deeply believed that all peoples, whether Mexican peons or Russian peasants, whites, blacks, or Orientals, were capable in the long run of being trained or self-trained in the disciplines of democracy and of learning to govern themselves. “When properly directed,” he said in 1914, “there is no people not fitted for self-government.”

Note that Wilson conflates a “people” with the “self” who governs itself. Here is the double bind, or call it the disappearing body if you like. It is apparent that no one should impute to Wilson any linkage to the concept of the rootless cosmopolitan, the figure embodied in the “mad scientist” or to the Adam Smithian participant in market societies and their peculiar notion of “liberty” and “individualism.” What connection is there then between Wilson’s internationalism and Barack Obama’s in his address to the United Nations? I cannot find any difference, for both are indebted to the volkisch ideas of German Romanticism, updated now by collectivist progressives, with their dubious genealogy dating back to Herder and Goethe discreetly erased by such eminent historians as Link and Blum.

On competing notions of individuality see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/11/karl-marx-on-individuality/, retitled “Individuality: the impossible dream?” The turn toward “culturalism” and groupiness was a novelty of the New Deal. For instance, historian Carl Becker turned Jefferson on his head, construing him as a defender of the positive, not the negative State, which brought agrarianism in line with New Deal statism.

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