The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler

Benjamin Weinthal and I have an op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal. Here are the links (as well as some of the material that got cut from the original submission (1250 words). Some of the wording may not correspond exactly to that in the published piece, and bold text does not appear in the article.

The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler

On Sept. 11, a German organization will reward the American scholar and anti-Israel activist.

In 1938, shortly after philosopher Martin Buber, formerly of the University of Frankfurt, came to Israel to teach at Hebrew University, a reporter asked how his Hebrew was. He replied: “Good, but not good enough to be obscure in.”

The joke, apparently, is on the city of Frankfurt, which tomorrow—Sept. 11, incidentally—will hand its prestigious Adorno Prize for excellence in philosophy, music, theater and film to Judith Butler. Ms. Butler, an American philosopher and anti-Israel activist, is a great admirer of Buber and the 1998 recipient of the “Bad Writing Prize” for her impenetrable prose.

Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

  • The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton remarked that “it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’.”

objections to award: SPME Germany statement; summary article in JPost; extensive criticism and responses to Butler’s defense at SPME Faculty Forum.

circumcision bans,

submarines to the newly belligerent Egypt,

ugly revelations of German behavior in the Munich Olympics terror attack.

Felix Semmelroth, Deputy Mayor of Frankfurt, insisted

most revered living figure in Queer Studies,”

impenetrable jargon.

virulently anti-Israel Jewish website to place her self-defense.


and admirers in Germany both on the air, and in petitions.

Germany’s central council of Jews

and Frankfurt’s Jewish community,

Frankfurt’s first Jewish mayor Peter Feldmann, announced

Jacques Schuster, a journalist from Die Welt, retracted

And the head of the American Academy in Berlin, Gary Smith, reportedly declined an invitation to replace Schuster.

Some try and separate politics from academic content

JMB_Michael Blumenthal letter

The theory views Western civilization

Post-colonial theory tells her that the Israelis

Her interpretation of diasporic Judaism tells her

It may be that bi-nationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it.”

And in her messianic fervor to dismantle the Jewish state, she consorts with people whose motivations for destroying Israel do not include helping the Jewish people reach their highest philosophical potential.

Few matters illustrate the folly involved here better than Butler’s inadvertent position on Hamas and Hizbullah (H&H), in part because the case occurs far from the convoluted sand castles of theory, but rather where the rubber hits the road.

Participating in an “Anti-War [sic] Teach-in” in Berkeley in the fall of 2006, Butler answered a question

These are two of the most belligerent movements…

  1. Both (Hamas most egregiously) engage in the kind of anti-Semitism that is indistinguishable from the Nazi variety: paranoidracistexterminationisthatemongering.
  2. Both believe a theocratic principle that considers any independent, non-Muslim state within the heart of historic Dar-al-Islam, (especially Israel), is an unbearable defamation of history; and are, therefore fully dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
  3. Both are notoriously patriarchal and oppressive in their treatment of women (including honor-murders).
  4. Both share a violent homophobia (to be found all over Muslim Arab lands), favoring the Sharia laws that call for the stoning of homosexuals.
  5. Both have made a cult of death and killing, in which killing yourself if only you can kill your enemies, is the highest good.
  6. Both participate in a larger, global imperialist project to subject the entire world to Sharia, a medieval code of law that establishes a religious and gender apartheid regime in which women and independent minds (kufar – those who “cover” the [Islamic] truth) are systematically and legally disenfranchised.

Butler spoke of the “extreme importance of understanding them as a socially progressive movement and as part of the global Left.”

Why? Because, she explains, they say they’re anti-imperialist

Even her supporters distance themselves from this silliness that mistakes as allies, the most imperialist religious movement on the planet today.


Whether Hamas does indeed define itself as “anti-imperialist” I do not know or care, and I do not know why Butler cares. Hitler defined himself as that contradiction in terms, a “national socialist.” The Japanese Empire was hostile to Western imperialism, preferring its own imperialism. Salafists of the Al Qaeda stripe would like to replace one empire with another, their own. So? There can be no doubt that Hamas, for example, is both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic; it cites the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious czarist forgery, in its charter. In what she calls her descriptive remark, Butler obfuscates—unhelpfully.

German Petition:

Wir meinen zwar, dass Antiimperialismus keine hinreichende Bestimmung linker Politik ist: im Gegenteil, nur allzu oft ist Antiimperialismus ein Vorwand für reaktionären Traditionalismus und oft auch Antisemitismus.

[Actually, we believe that anti-imperialism is not a sufficient indicator of Left politics: on the contrary, all too often anti-imperialism is a pretext for reactionary traditionalism, and even anti-Semitism.]

It doesn’t take a Sherlock to figure out that they only oppose rival, Western imperialism not the sacred task of dominating infidels

On the contrary, rather than attack lethal homophobia that shows up among some segments of the German Muslim population, she went out of her way to publicly humiliate a gay organization in Berlin for their “Islamophobia.” 

Ironically, she resembles her mentor in matters of “power and hegemony,” Michel Foucault, who in 1979 had his brief love affair with revolutionary comrade Khoumeini, as did Marx with the Taiping (whose uprising ended with tens of millions dead). She was seduced by the very thing she morally denounces – homophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, fascist use of violence. Unlike Foucault, she remains a technical virgin, thanks to her personal reservations about violence. But like Foucault and so many other intellectuals who dabble in politics, including her heroine Hannah Arendt, Butler is  “a reckless mind.”

It is, to use a favorite deconstructionist term, “always-already” the West’s fault.

What if that enemy embraces a savage form of “loving themselves and hating us” (Wala wa’bara)…

Butler defends herself by trivializing, by mis-stating the criticism, by changing the subject to herself and her sincerity: How can she be an anti-Semite, when she loves [her version] of Judaism?… that she’s the useful idiot of anti-Semites, that she allows them to “Jew-wash” their genocidal hatreds with her good name.

A. Jay Adler invokes Graham Greene in her regard: Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm. But harm Judith Butler and her emancipatory colleagues have done and continue to do the world over. In their bottomless resentment of American “hegemony,” they cheer on Jihadi monsters, like French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, who only days after 9-11 wrote, “they did it, we wanted” In their gnawing Israel derangement, they encourage a discourse of hatred against Jews that ultimately will target them as well.

They are sorcerer’s apprentices stirring up some of the most destructive forces in human history, the very religious zealotry they will (when speaking of Christianity past) passionately denounce. Their claim to speak for the “progressive Left” has resulted in catastrophic and inexplicable losses in a debate in the global public sphere between Western democratic culture and Jihadi theocracy.

Ironically, Butler will receive her Adorno Prize on 9-11. How inappropriate, on such a date, for a German intellectual organization to honor a garrulous leper who has thrown away her bell. Of course, since intellectual aand moral derangement are diseases of the soul, and the Jewish “Days of Awe” begin only five days later, there’s still time for repentance.

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