We like to think of hatred of the Jews as a low, base sentiment that is entertained by nasty, ignorant people, wallowing in their own hatefulness. But normally it's not like that. Hatred for the Jews has generally taken the form of a lofty sentiment, instead of a lowly one - a noble feeling embraced by people who believe they stand for the highest and most admirable of moral views.There are other worthwhile observations in the rest of the interview. This one just stood out for me.
In the Middle Ages, Christians felt they were upholding the principles of universal redemption, and they looked on the Jews as terrible people because the Jews had refused the word of God - had insisted on remaining Jews. And so, the loftiest of religious sentiments led to hatred of the Jews.
In the 18th century, the Enlightenment philosophers looked on the Enlightenment itself as the loftiest form of thought - the truest of all possible guides to universal justice and happiness. The Enlightenment philosophers detested Christianity because it was a font of superstition and oppression. But this only led them to despise the Jews even more - no longer because the Jews had refused the message of Christianity, but because the Jews had engendered the message of Christianity. And the damnable Jews insisted on remaining Jews, instead of repudiating religion altogether.
The religious wars wreaked all kinds of damage on Europe. But the Treaty of Westphalia came along in 1648 and put an end to religious wars by establishing a system of states with recognized borders, each state with its own religion. The new Westphalian system embodied yet another Enlightenment idea of lofty ideals - the grandest guarantee of universal peace and justice. But the Jews were scattered throughout Europe, instead of being gathered together in a single state. The new state system was supposed to be a comfortable shoe, and the Jews were a pebble. And they insisted on remaining Jews, instead of helpfully disappearing. So one hated the Jews for failing to conform to the new system of states.
Today we have arrived at yet another idea about how to bring about universal peace and justice - the loftiest, most advanced idea of our own time. Instead of looking on well-established states with solid borders to keep the peace, Westphalia-style, we look on states as a formula for oppression and war. Lofty opinion nowadays calls for post-state political systems, like the European Union. Unfortunately, nowadays the Jews possess a state. Thus one hates the Jews in the name of lofty opinion, no longer because the Jews lack a state but because, on the contrary, they have a state. They seem keen on keeping their state. And once again the Jews are seen to be affirming a principle that high-minded people used to uphold but have now rejected as antiquated.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people with advanced ideas began to look on Christian hatred of the Jews as a retrograde prejudice - and the advanced thinkers embraced, instead, the pseudo-science of racism. They no longer hated the Jews on religious grounds - they hated the Jews on racial grounds. The word "racism" originally applied to hatred of the Jews. Racial hatred seemed up to date. Today, however, racism itself has come to seem like a retrograde prejudice. And so, people with advanced opinions hate the Jews on anti-racist grounds, and they regard the Jews as the world's leading racists.
And so forth. The unstated assumption is always the same. To wit: the universal system for man's happiness has already arrived (namely, Christianity, or else Enlightenment anti-Christianity; the Westphalian state system, or else the post-modern system of international institutions; racial theory, or else the anti-racist doctrine in a certain interpretation). And the universal system for man's happiness would right now have achieved perfection - were it not for the Jews. The Jews are always standing in the way. The higher one's opinion of oneself, the more one detests the Jews.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Antisemitism as 'lofty sentiment'
In an interview with Paul Berman at Z-Word, Berman presents a remarkable description of antisemitism: