Antisemitism in Civil Society: Modern
With the advent of constitutional democracies, with the American and French revolutions, we find a fundamental shift in the attitude towards Jews. Rather than the built-in hostility of prime divider societies, we find two major mutations in the gentile attitude. On the one hand, secular (post-) Christian Westerners felt, reasonably, that if all people were to be free, that should include the Jews, whom they emancipated from the legal and social inferiority to which Christian Europe had relegated them. Jews could now join in the open, meritocratic competition for professional and economic advancement. On the other, specifically in those Christian millennial circles most closely allied with democratic thinking, we find a peculiar innovation in the apocalyptic scenario. Whereas medieval Christianity had viewed any Jewish messianic activity as the “work of the Antichrist,” a strain of Protestantism viewed the return of the Jews to Israel as a necessary and positive step in the preparation for Jesus’ return. Although this scenario still involved the ultimate conversion of the Jews to Christianity, it delayed it significantly, and interjected a lengthy period of mutual cooperation and respect between Jews and Christians before that day of reckoning.
By the calculations of the secular democrats, the emancipation of the Jews should have led to their rapid assimilation and ultimate disappearance. In a sense this constituted a secular version of Lutheranism – the Jews had understandably rejected the superstitious nonsense of the Christians, but now they would become citizens and leave behind their own superstitions. Civic commitments to the rule and protections of the law prevented the disappointment that many “modern” gentiles felt in the persistence of Judaism, but hostility nonetheless flourished. Ironically, one of the few things that the enlightened thinkers of 18th and 19th centuries did not reject from Christianity was that religion’s attitude towards the Jews (Voltaire, Gibbon, Fichte).
Far more serious than this “polite” Antisemitism, however, the modern age gave birth to a still more virulent version that resulted from a development that surprised everyone, gentile and Jew. When the gentiles emancipated the Jews, they thought they were doing a favor to a shriveled population fossilized in their ancient superstitions. At best they expected them to gratefully vanish into the powerful currents of the modern age. What they did not realize (and I suspect the rabbis of the time did not realize either), was that they had just adopted rules of the game (equality before the law, including intellectual meritocracy) that Jews had been playing by for over three millennia. It turns out that, despite the democrats’ initial sense that these rules are self-evident, these rules of civil society are difficult rules, whose implications continue to unfold in an ever-changing scene over the course of centuries. The Jews therefore had an enormous advantage once the surrounding culture adopted them.
As a result one of the greatest unanticipated consequences of modernity, was the immense, astonishing success of Jews. Far from being swallowed up in the process, Jews rose to great prominence in all walks of life – the professions (especially law and medicine), academia, finance, commerce, journalism. Indeed, any profession that called for opening oneself to stiff criticism (academia, science, law, journalism) was a site of predilection for Jews, trained in a “culture of Machloket” [dispute] and the “love of rebuke” (Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 6).
Nor was this “mere” stiff competition. Jews not only played the game well, they changed the rules. Marx, Freud and Einstein literally changed the way that we think about the world and ourselves. Nor did this only happen at the level of the elites. Poor Jews, Eastern Europeans fleeing the pogroms to Western Europe and the US, became a particularly active laboring group with a distinct predilection for socialist and communist thought. Finally, perhaps at the conjunction of the elites and the commoners, “modern” Jews showed a particular interest and talent in the rapidly emerging world of the “public sphere” – the world of newspapers, pamphlets, journals; later, radio, film, television. Jewish prominence in all aspects of this central new dimension of modern life created a sense among some gentiles that the defining elements of their culture had been taken over by the Jews.
This exceptional success alarmed many. Above all, it deeply disturbed those members of an older aristocratic elite who found themselves deeply handicapped by the modern egalitarian rule-set, and further hemmed in by their increasing transparency under the public gaze of journalists. It also alarmed those below the prime divider, whose “medieval” identities had, in significant part been formed around their sense of superiority to the even more lowly Jews. To crabs in the basket, the sight of Jews getting out from underneath them created emotional turmoil. Just as the Christians and Muslims legislated that no one could build a higher house of worship than their own, they needed to make sure that they had a population inferior to them, a bone to gnaw on in their misery. And they did not like losing the Jews whom they ritually humiliated and occasionally battered just to reassure themselves that they were not the bottom of the barrel.
But even those in the new elite found themselves in a disturbing and unexpected competition with these newcomers. Some chose to continue to play by their rules, despite their confusion about Jews, their talents, their intentions, their loyalties. These elites, including the Jews they tolerate, have come – very slowly – to dominate most Western academic circles, constituting one of the most vital and creative elements of modern culture, and drawing in their wake even those who would rather not play by modern rules in the academy. Here again we find the biblical formula illustrated: those who bless you (Western academy) will be blessed; those who curse you (Nazi, Soviet, Arab universities) will be cursed.
But the story is never-ending. Just as the triumph of civil society seems both assured and spectacular, we begin to find the reemergence of the dominant form of anti-semitism in the medieval world, now mutated under the conditions of modernity, in these circles of “semi-modernized” (ultimately anti-modern) intellectuals. These people were committed to modern (“civc”) rule sets only because they were the established game. They had more profound commitments to the prime-divider values of incumbency and honor at others’ expense. They resented competition, especially from foreigners whom they did not understand, who hated the humiliation of losing control. (Sartre makes this point in Antisemite and Jew.)
Whereas in medieval culture, the authoritarians who played by the rules of the dominating imperative controlled political and public voice and legislated against Jews to assure their humiliation, in modern culture these people found themselves increasingly under pressure, either marginalized, or under growing scrutiny while they watched the Jews grow steadily in influence. And of course the printing press (both in books and newspapers) proved one of the most sensitive areas where this new configuration of conflict played itself out. The older authoritarians found the greatest threat to them in the arena precisely which attracted Jews with great commitment to the civic values of free speech, the transparency and criticism of elites and the de-mystification of power, the education and exposure of the larger public to a wide range of opinions and information. For these authoritarians who watched their power wane precisely as that of the Jews waxed, only one answer made sense: Conspiracy… conspiracy not to create democracy but, in classic projective style, to enslave mankind.
Modernity as a Conspiracy to Enslave Mankind: The Protocols Reveal True “Jewish” Goals
Theories about a conspiracy of illuminati who secretly sought to take over and rule the world go back to the 18th century, and initially focus on the secret society of the Masons. To some extent they may well be right. To judge from Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791), written at the height of enthusiasm about the French Revolution, the Masons constituted a secret society dedicated to getting rid the authoritarian elites and their monarchical systems that ruled Europe at the time.
“He is a prince!” gushes one character about Tamino. “He is more than a prince, he’s a man (Mensch),” corrects the Mason. Just as Rip Van Winkle noticed when he awakened after the American Revolution and found that the caps (commoners) no longer showed deference to the hats (gentlemen), the Masons sought a world in which deference was gone, a world where the prime divider had ceded to world of equality in which all men “can walk upright.”
The key issue, of course, concerned the purpose of this overthrow. For the elites who felt threatened, the secret work of the Masons could only signify the work of men who, like themselves, sought to dominate others. Thus the purpose of a vision of world “liberation” on the part of the Masons could only mean the intention of world “domination” to the prime divider elites. Thus they heard such “noble-sounding” sentiments as merely the trap, the weapon whereby these people planned to disarm their opposition. Only an imbecile would possibly believe in such ideas as “Liberty, equality, fraternity.”
Thus the intelligent elites who were taking over were using these notions to gull the foolish and greedy masses. These duped mobs who overthrew their aristocracies for promises of freedom and prosperity had a nasty surprise awaiting them. After losing their only real, if iron-fisted, protector, they would be at the mercy of forces over which they had no control, especially those of the technologically enhanced market place. When these new manipulators had achieved their goal – constitutional democracies everywhere, they would then engineer a global crisis that would then permit them to enslave the entire world. At its simplest, these conspiracies represented a political argument made explicit by Plato and Thucydides: the painful order of prime divider society is better than chaos and enslavement of democracy.
And of course, the reaction of the French Revolutionaries to the threat that the united monarchies of Europe posed to this newest outbreak of an attempt to legislate civil society – the cannibalistic paranoia of the Terror and the imperialist megalomania of Napoleon – confirmed the fears of these older elites. This “democratic” conspiracy represented not a genuine drive for freedom, but a new face to an old foe, the “others’” drive for dominion. Nietzsche was right: behind the slave morality that whines about fairness and equality, lies a deep and corrupt ressentiment that cannot wait for the opportunity to do onto others as others now do onto them.
It held just as true in the 19th century, as it did in the 5th century BCE when the Athenians explained it to the Melians before destroying them: all these fine phrases about fairness and tolerance merely identify the ideology of losers. Winners know that it is a law of mankind that “the powerful do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” Over the course of the 19th century, as the forces of the prime divider struggled with the recurring outbreaks of the forces of civil society – 1830, 1848, 1870 – these conspiracy theories became more elaborate and widespread. The more the older aristocracy found itself replaced either by these punctuated revolutionary upheavals, or the slow attrition that an increasingly meritocratic intellectual and technologically adept culture worked on them, the more they elaborated this conspiracy theory in which their loss represented the last greatest hope for social stability.
At the turn of the century, one of the most powerful forgeries of history identified the Jews as the real power behind the conspiracy to use democracy in order to enslave mankind. The circumstances of its emergence bear brief discussion. In 1894, in the France of the “Third Republic”, the military condemned an Alsatian Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, for treason. In 1898 Emile Zola published in a well-known daily newspaper, his famous J’Accuse, a devastating attack on the army for framing Dreyfus and exonerating the true traitor, Esterhazy; and in 1899 the army conducted a new trial, in which, although the army, with the enthusiastic support of the Catholic Church, prevailed and found Dreyfus guilty again, the battle for public opinion was lost. The president of the Republic granted him a pardon, and the anti-Dreyfusards were left to lick their wounds and suffer the constant attack of the proponents of modern democracy.
The trial brought out all the of the most virulent contradictions in the Third Republic – the deep conservatism of both the army and the Church, their immense hostility to the principles of egalitarianism and the transparency of power, to a free press capable of criticizing the government to the public, to the meddling of intellectuals in “affairs of state.” The contrast between prime-divider politics could not appear with greater clarity: justice for the individual based on an honest and scientific examination of the evidence (handwriting analysis played a key role in Dreyfus’ exoneration) vs. the necessities of state, the honor of the army (Zola fled to avoid imprisonment for libeling the army) and the government, the importance of appearances, the danger of admitting to error.
Not surprisingly, the supporters of the army, especially the Catholic Church, argued that a great Jewish conspiracy had created the Dreyfus case precisely to attack the forces of order in society. In typical fashion for prime-divider elites, they prized image over reality (Esterhazy remained in office and free to continue his treason). And they blamed the malevolence of others for errors that they themselves had made in a violent effort to avoid admitting error.
Everyone who has learned the history of Zionism knows that Herzl’s astonishment at the virulence of the anti Jewish opinion at the first Dreyfus trial (1894) shattered his faith in the promises of the enlightenment (real equality in exchange for assimilation), and convinced him that the only way for Jews to become free and escape the virulent hatreds of European society was to become an independent people. In 1895 he wrote The Jewish State and in 1897 he presided over the first Zionist conference in Basel, Switzerland, setting in motion the first modern Jewish political movement, Zionism.
All of the principles of progressive liberalism were on display: the aim of the Jewish state was to guarantee those promises made so generously in the Declaration of the Rights of Man – liberty and equality – and kept so grudgingly from Jews who applied. Constitutional government, free press, freedom of religion, just courts committed to equality before the law – all the classic values of modernity were on display in the Zionist enterprise. Indeed, some of the enthusiastic participants in the movement, many of them from an educated proletariat, took these commitments to equality far beyond the liberal notions of equality before the law and equality of opportunity, to the socialist and communist notions of equality of property and wealth, producing, among other exceptional institutions, the kibbutz, the largest and most successful communal movement in history.
What the history of Zionism does not often mention, is that in 1904 a pamphlet appeared claiming to publish the secret proceedings of the Zionist conference of 1897, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here, for the first time in a form that quickly grew to be the dominant one, the conspiracy of the Illuminati became the millennia-old conspiracy of the Jews against mankind. The forgers of this document, large parts of which were taken almost verbatim from an anti-Napoleonic tract from the 1860s, identify the enemy as this evil cabal of Jews who, in the privacy of their secret deliberations, openly embrace the principle of the dominating imperative, and present the Jewish support of democracy and other principles of modernity as a trap to gull the foolish gentiles to their doom.
These power-hungry Jews use democracy as a trap to seduce the commoners into overthrowing their natural protectors, the “gentile aristocracy,” a class too powerful for the weak and small Jewish people to take on directly. Once they succeed (revolutions of the late 18th and 19th centuries), the natural chaos that democracy inevitably engenders, will enable the Jews, masters of the market, to bring about a crisis and collapse and enslave all of mankind. The Jews, in other words, are the ultimate demopaths — using democracy to enslave.
The author who first “leaked” this intercepted secret protocol of the Jewish cabal to the world, Serge Nilus, presented it in apocalyptic terms. This was the conspiracy of Antichrist, aimed at destroying Christianity (Darwin and Nietzsche are Jewish pawns because they deny Christian scripture), and its progress was now so great that the Jews had almost closed the circle and enslaved everyone. Only the most urgent and drastic action, it argued, could possibly save the world. Only an orgy of violence in which the parasitic evil that secretly lives among us, sucking out our life-blood, rendering us impotent victims, could possibly save us now.
The victory of the communists in Russia in 1917 confirmed the belief that the atheist forces hostile to the gentile aristocracy and determined to subject all of mankind to a devastating slavery, confirmed all the greatest fears the Protocols stirred. And when the Nazis took over these ideas within a more secular, modern framework of the technology of death and the science of racial dominion, the apocalyptic meltdown of genocidal warfare ensued. Under the pressures and anxieties of modernity, the dominating imperative had mutated into the paranoid imperative: “exterminate or be exterminated.” Co-existence was impossible.
Like the medieval “blood libel,” the modern conspiracy theory systematically misreads Judaism and the values that have permitted it to survive from the ancient world and to feel so at home in the modern one. It takes every honest commitment to values of fairness and equity in Judaism and reads them as their opposite – malevolent hatred and desire for dominion. It projects onto the Jews the same ressentiment of the weak who only call for tolerance and equity because they are weak. It is the quintessential product of a culture of ressentiment in which demopaths — in an act of malevolent projection — accuse democrats of their own demopathy.
Indeed, since the Holocaust, Western society has kept this text under ban. As Norman Cohn, one of the too few authors to study this text commented in his title, this forgery has served as a Warrant for Genocide. It is the cultural equivalent of germ warfare. Who would experiment with such corrupting and catastrophic material? Certainly who would do so openly?
And yet, the success of the Protocols constitutes one of the most important phenomena of the 20th century, both before and after the Holocaust, and now, unfortunately, into the 21st century. No serious analysis of Western, and now global history, can do without an understanding of why this patent forgery has enjoyed such enormous popularity in so many different cultural and political climates – right wing, left wing, European, Arab, Japanese, secular, religious. Its appeal lies specifically with all those who feel threatened by the advance of modernity, of a meritocratic society based on the principle of equality before the law.
This includes not only the older prime-divider elites who rule by old-boy incumbency networks and Mafioso intimidation, but also the numerous people who feel enormous anxiety at the prospects – common in “modern” conditions – of not knowing what the future holds, who feel diminished by the success of others, who prefer to pull down whatever crabs seek to escape the basket lest, in escaping, they make those who remain behind look (and therefore suddenly feel) like lazy failures. How can one view oneself and one’s fellow commoners as tragic figures who accept with grace their ineluctable misery when some – the lowest – show how one can choose success.
The visceral appeal of anti-semitism lies in its ability to trigger the worst elements of human self-destructiveness: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schadenfreude
(pleasure in someone else’s failure or pain), envy, scapegoating… in brief, all those who believe in the dominating imperative, both those who dominate, and those who, in deep and abiding ressentiment, hate those who oppress them even as they identify with these aggressors. Those who curse you will be cursed.
Conspiracy brings us face to face with the core issue: self-criticism. The prime divider is built on projection of blame. The opacity and mystery of the elites serves, among other things, to hide their abuse of power to their own advantage; their monopoly on violence permits them to eliminate anyone who criticizes them publicly; their monopoly on communications technology and public space permits them to dominate the public voice with their own narratives. And, of course, the commoners then bear the burden of the society’s sins. In every prime-divider society, theodicy must explain why the commoner suffers, and most often, whether it comes as a karmic punishment (they behaved badly “last time around”), or the consequence of “original sin,” it is the commoner’s fault.
Jewish culture, on the other hand, constitutes the most highly self-critical culture in the world, a point to which we will return in a discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Where one finds an instinctive recourse to conspiracy theories to explain the course of events, one finds people who will not accept any responsibility for their situation, people who project their own worst intentions onto scapegoats and demonize them rather than self-criticize. It projects the most depraved desires of the believer in conspiracies onto the “other.” As the Nazis screamed about the Jews’ desire to enslave mankind, they set about to do just that. As Chip Berlet put it: “A conspiracy theory is a narrative that victimizers tell themselves in order to claim the status of (future) victims, and justify striking out as a preemptive move.” A warrant for genocide.