Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The problem of Jewish self-hatred

- and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.
- Numbers 13

Jewish self-hatred is a frequently talked about in hushed tones (like a disease that seems serious yet, at the same time, unreal) and often misunderstood as a social and historical reality. It's a distinctively modern phenomenon sometimes falsely attributed to earlier eras. Although there are recognizable forerunners among Jewish converts to Christianity and Islam (the converso-Inquisition episode and all its consequences - including Spinoza - provide some striking cases), as a full-blown affliction in its own right, it dates from no earlier than the post-Emancipation period in Europe (second quarter of the 19th century). By the early 20th century, there was a growing literature about it, mostly in German (juedische selbsthasse). To become widespread and distinctive, Jewish self-hatred needed a large number of Jews subject to double uprooting and double alienation, both from their origins as Jews but also from the larger gentile society around them. This double alienation creates a personality divided against itself and prone to self-hatred. Humans naturally seek to rationalize such feelings; in this case, the internalization of anti-semitic hate is a convenient solution ready at hand. Most striking is the comparison with other, parallel types of "self-image" pathologies, like the Stockholm and "battered wife" syndromes, and so on, in which people are driven to do irrational things plainly not in their self-interest by a similar division-of-the-self-against-itself. In the 1930s, Freud and other psychoanalysts lumped these phenomena under the heading, "identification with the aggressor." That concept forms a starting point for modern thinking on the subject.*

Taken to its logical conclusion, self-hatred can be regurgitated as a cosmic hatred. In its modern, political form, it takes form in fantasies of revolutionary apocalypse. It constitutes an essential part of the psychology of the modern left, and some of the most famous leftists of the last century and a half are simultaneously striking cases of self-hatred. Start with Marx, whose notorious On the Jewish Question is a classic of regurgitated self-hatred. Step down through the early 20th century to Trotsky; then to our own time, with Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and lesser lights. Nothing about these people and their thinking can be traced in a obvious way to the traditionally claimed source of trouble - poverty or economic class. The same holds for non-Jews exhibiting the same pattern; the details are different there, but the overall picture is similar. In an earlier posting, I mentioned George Soros, a leftist capitalist (an apparent oxymoron) who suffers from messianic delusions of grandeur - in parallel with, say, Jimmy Carter - but, who, unlike Carter, also suffers from clear and repeated signs of self-hatred. (Soros was born a Hungarian Jew and has developed a very peculiar relationship with his past.) The case of a wealthy leftist international currency trader looks odd, until you understand the self-hatred dynamic at work.

To penetrate the smokescreen of leftist rhetoric, listen to the music behind the text, not the text itself. You'll hear the passions at work, and they're not "nice": they include hate, anger, the desire for destruction and revenge. Much of the left is driven by these motives. Liberals pay too much attention to the text, get sucked in by the slogans ("peace," "justice"), and end up compromised with something they didn't expect. They pay insufficient attention to the music. Observe one striking fact: the alienated can be attracted to many things; seeking out and validating hatred directed at one's own society and self is only one possibility. But the self-hating latch on this hatred almost unerringly, of all possible things to latch on to.

After the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, Jewish self-hatred faded into the background - until recently. The revival of anti-semitism that started in Europe and the Middle East in the 1970s reached a new intensity in the late 90s and stimulated a new generation of self-hating Jews to step into politics. (Self-hating Jews rise and fall in prominence in parallel with the rise and fall of anti-semitism, another demonstration of the close connection between the two.) Certain crank figures (like Chomsky) were always there. This new, post-Marxist or "cultural" left gets more traction than it deserves because mainstream (liberal) Jewish organizations have made themselves vulnerable to its dynamic with their faulty self-definition, especially since the end of the Cold War. In many ways, they've painted themselves into a corner. There's a real problem here, one that I'll continue anlayzing in a later posting.
* A lengthy exploration of Jewish self-hatred and self-delusion in this framework is Kenneth Levin's The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege. Scandanavian cities seem to be all over when we stare at this issue.

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