Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Anguish of the Jews (3)

This is the third part of my review of Father Edward H. Flannery’s: The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism a manifestation of Catholic grappling with the Holocaust and its implication, very much in the spirit of Vatican II. The previous parts are here and here.

An age of pogroms
In Russia, as part of his general rejection of his assassinated father’s liberal direction, Alexander III, with his virulently anti-Semitic advisor Pobedonostsev, moved Czarist policy in a clearly anti-Semitic direction which was to be maintained across the reigns of him and his son. Pobedonostev’s alleged formula for solving the “Jewish problem” was for one third to emigrate, one third to die and one third to disappear (convert) (P189-90). In 1881, the first of the pogroms occurred which were to be a mark of Russia until the end of the Civil War.

The greatest exodus in Jewish history got underway, with about 100,000 Jews emigrating each year. The regime intervened to stop the first wave of pogroms in 1882, but Ignatiev proclaimed his “temporary laws” which remained in force until 1914. These narrowed the area of the Pale, forbade leases and mortgages to Jews, banned residence in villages, set up a numerus clausus (educational quota) for Jews, and reduced professional quotas for them (p.190).

So did the tradition of Christian-imposed Jewish dhimmitude continue. It is also worth nothing—in considering the horrific post-Romanov history of Russia—how the Czarist regime pioneered the modern use of mass murder as an instrument of domestic policy. Von Plehve said he would drown revolution in Jewish blood (p.192).

It was in this context that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was first concocted (Pp192-3). The antisemitic wave from Russia proper reverberated in Romania and Russian Poland, but not further (p.194). As Flannery points out, it is in this period that the generalisation that Jews were better off under the Crescent than the Cross breaks down with pogroms in Iran (1831, 1834, 1891), Morocco (1912) and worsening conditions for Yemenite Jews (p.194).

The wave of anti-Semitism in Europe led to the creations of various Jewish defence organisations, hopes that assimilation would overcome it and Zionism as a manifestation of the belief that it would not (Pp194-5). Alas, the first principle of Zionism—that Jews were not safe in Europe—was to be horrifically confirmed.

Jews suffered particularly badly from the Great War of 1914-1919. The anti-Jewish temporary laws were abolished in Russia, and Jews served in Russian armies. Jews were suspected of being pro-German and defeated Russian armies turned on Jews as scapegoats with pogroms, shootings and looting. Jews served loyally in Germany but, again, became scapegoats for defeat. Many Jews became refugees.
The outbreak of civil war in Russia led to a new wave of slaughter. The prominence of Jews among the Bolshevik leadership (Trotsky, Kamenev, Radek, Zinoviev) fed the scapegoating of Jews:
The fact that Jewish leaders in the revolution were alienated Jews, that they were later liquidated, that the vast majority of Jews in Russia or elsewhere were either Social-Democrats or nonn-Communist had little influence on the course of the charge (p.198).
To the stresses of war and defeat (the victorious Western powers having either few Jews or little anti-Semitism) were added the stresses of new states and the association of Jews, via a small number of highly prominent Jewish Marxists, with revolution. Pogroms, restrictions, expulsions, scapegoating occurred across central and eastern Europe and in the Islamic Middle East. Flannery conveys a real sense of why Jewish rights seemed so urgent after World War One and the attraction of Zionism: the doctrine that Jews were not safe in Europe already had a lot of evidence to support it. Flannery notes how much antisemitism had expanded beyond its religious roots: economic, political, cultural, racial antisemitism flourished (p.203).

Conversely, Jewish emancipation also seemed to be advancing: they were also already beginning their astonishing, and widely disproportionate, Nobel prize successes.

Flannery sees Germany as the prime source of modern antisemitism, the:
… favoured spawning ground of anti-Jewish activity (p.206).
Given the intellectual vigour of Germany, there is something to this. But one has to be careful not to read history backwards. Organised antisemitism had far more political success in Russia, Austria, Rumania than in Germany before the rise of the Nazis.

The shock of the loss of the war, the collapse of the Imperial order and the establishment of a Weimar Republic many had little attachment to left a poorer and disoriented Germany: Jews were blamed for every ill including, via the “stab in the back” myth, the loss of the War itself (Pp206ff). But it took the stress of the Great Depression and the spectre of Leninism to bring Hitler to power. Flannery is so taken by the ubiquity of antisemitism in Nazi ideology that he does not really note what a limited role in played in Nazi electoral success (activist motivation was a somewhat different matter).

Once Hitler had achieved full power, policy had only one direction, however, and that was ever stronger squeeze on Jews. Outbreaks of violence punctuated ever more restrictive “regularisation” of antisemitism, driving Jews out of public life and into ever smaller orbit of private life. A Judenfrei (Jew-free) Reich was sought, something to be achieved by a Endlosung (final solution).

In peacetime Germany, that was some form of expulsion. With the coming of war and Germany’s astonishing conquest success, Nazi Germany was confronted with the same “Jewish problem” as Czarist Russia, the previous conqueror of most of Poland, had faced but on an even bigger scale. Unlike its Czarist predecessors, however, Nazi Germany was prepared to embrace the exterminationist logic of Jews being the people “who should not exist”.

Hence the Holocaust. The first step was the Einsatzgruppen, the extermination squads operating behind the armies advancing into the Soviet Union. The process expanded into the gassings and ovens.

The Holocaust, in its Jew-killing, was essentially a giant pogrom, but a progrom with the organisational and technological capacity of a modern state behind it. Like all pogroms, it proceeded fitfully and erratically, building up to a climax and dying away.

The racial rhetoric of Nazism, the use of advanced technological and bureaucratic techniques, obscures this reality. As does the inclusion of other victims—homosexuals, gypsies, slavs, ideological and class enemies—and the use of the eugenic euthanasia campaign as a forerunner. Jews were not the only victims: depending on how one counts the numbers, they were not even necessarily a majority of the victims. But they were the motivating victims, the group where animus was most directed against, establishing a logic of eliminationist enmity which was then applied to other categories of people.

Flannery notes that the role of the Churches was very mixed, and that Pope Pius XII was far from the only silent religious leader. Flannery sees the Pope’s silence as the apex of a triangle that includes the wider acquiescence of much of the episcopacy, the apathy or collusion of Catholics with Nazism—itself, as he notes, resting on a history of Catholic anti-Semitism—the wider indifference or antipathy to Jews in Western society while:
… the base of the triangle is reached when we consider the centuries-old Judaeophobia that conditioned the growth of Western civilization almost from its beginnings … Perennial Christian anti-Semitism, now intertwined with vicious racist Judaeophobia, had already taken its toll. We have in this dark symbiosis the deepest root of the “silence of Pius XII”(p.226)
A judicious assessment. Flannery also briefly discusses the controversy among historians on the role of the Church and the controversy over apparent Jewish passivity in the face of the unfolding horror, a passivity that Flannery sees as misconstrued and unfairly criticised (Pp226ff).

Flannery sees the horror as a terrible lesson:
For the first time racial antisemitism was fully seen for what it is: an attack not alone on Jews but on the human personality as such. To the greatest antisemite of history, Adolf Hitler, falls the credit of having stripped antisemitism of all its disguises and shown it in its quintessence. For this lesson by the “master,” the price of 6,000,000 Jewish lives were paid (p.229).
A lesson “poorly learned” since antisemitism survived.

I would take this point further. Just as, in looking at the history of the Jews, one can see the roots of Islamic dhimmitude in the treatment of the Jews as a degraded-but-permitted religious minority in the Christian Roman Empire, so in the Catholic theology of Genesis 19 can we see the notion of God-the-virtuous-exterminator of the morally quarantined. A notion inherent in Catholic teaching to this day, which reached such intensity as in the The Golden Legend, used to justify Catholic imperialism in the Americas and which still parades the same-sex attracted as the people who should not exist, as metaphysically deformed. When a prelate such as Cardinal Pell talks of Catholic teaching being that “men and women were made for each other” that is—in full accord with Church teaching—casting the same-sex attracted out of the realm of the properly human. If one can talk of fellow humans as metaphysically deformed, then one simply has not absorbed the real lessons of the Holocaust, that the pink triangles and yellow stars of the death camps teach the same lesson.

And where did the Church gets this idea of God as the virtuous exterminator of the morally quarantined? From Philo of Alexanddria, a Jewish thinker. This idea of defining the properly human as being smaller than the set of actual humans is a game no one should play because it is a game that can be played against any of us. It is a betrayal of morality at the most fundamental level.

Soviet burdens
Flannery turns his attention to the postwar scene, dealing with “Red antisemitism” in the Soviet bloc, where one confronts the analytical difficulty that:
In the Soviet empire, every non-Communist group suffers oppression of one kind or another (p.231).
Flannery observes:
The cleavage between the Romanov and Communist tyrannies was, in reality, by no means as absolute as some historians would have it. The cleavage is absolute only on paper; in historical fact, similarities between the two regimes are considerable (p.231).
Romanov wavering between forcible russification and xenophobic segregation, Karl Marx’s distrust of the role of Jews in society and C19th socialist complaints about Jewish “unproductiveness” all turn up:
Poorly disguised, these elements—distrust, Russification, xenophobia, economic complaints—all turn up again at one stage or another of the evolution of the Soviet regime (p.231)
Indeed, Bolshevik-Jewish tensions predated the Russian Revolution with the fights between Bundists and Bolsheviks over ethnic and national self-determination. Lenin was particularly scathing about Jewish claims (p.232). Jews were overwhelming non-Bolshevik in their sympathies, the high profile Jews in Bolshevik ranks being thoroughly alienated from Jewish society and identity (Pp232-3).

In power, Lenin condemned antisemitism, with criminal penalties. In part, this was about maximising support but also because:
The principle involved was the illusory conviction that if antisemitism would die out both Jew and anti-Jew would unite in the common supranational solidarity of the classless society (p.233).
And when those with authority find people do not conform to their theories, they typically attack the failing-to-conform people, rather than adjusting their theories: particularly if those theories are basic to their authority.

Jewish religious life suffered particularly under the regime’s drive against all manifestations of religious life. The trauma of collectivisation affected them particularly severely, given their middleman economic role, while they also became scapegoats for enormous suffering collectivisation inflicted. The revival of their business life under the New Economic Policy also engendered animus—both on the grounds of success and in the affront to socialist principles.

After a brief pause in the 1930s, when official policy again strenuously denounced antisemitism, the Great Purges revived it dramatically, given Jewish Bolsheviks were conspicuous targets. The Nazi-Soviet pact naturally did not help. Soviet silence about Nazi Jewish policy meant that Jews were not forewarned when the Nazis invaded. Popular passivity and antisemitism combined to ensure that the Soviet Empire had a lower rate of Jewish rescues than other occupied countries (p.237). Jewish refugees after the war overwhelmingly preferred Poland to the Soviet Union while the Soviet leadership maintained an official silence over the extent of Nazi persecution of Jews (p.238).

The last years of Stalin’s life seem to be leading up to a new antisemitic campaign, building off a strenuous anti-Zionist and “anti-cosmpolitan” campaign that was clearly targeted at Jews in general (Pp238ff). Stalin’s death brought this to an end. Policy shifted to a passive one of denying any form of specifically Jewish self-expression on the grounds that they were now fully assimilated, and so had no need of such. The normal religious discrimination was applied with extra rigour against Judaism (Pp242ff).

Modern Western Jew-hatred
Flannery discusses antisemitism in the US under the chapter heading of “Polite Antisemitism”. When Jews first arrived in the Americas:
… their old-world image was there to greet them (p.249).
Disabilities against voting or holding office persisted in some areas until the C19th. But practise in the opportunity-ridden new society tended to be ahead of the law.

The C19th saw a major influx of Jews, though nativist sentiment tended to be more preoccupied with Catholics, but familiar charges of Jewish disloyalty where made during the Civil War while General Grant quarantined Jews from his military lines. Social discrimination against Jews both expressed resentment against immigration success and assuaged concern about one’s own social identity: a pressure that increased with the mass onset of Jewish immigration fleeing Czarist repression (Pp250ff).

Official policy remained opposed to mal-treatment of minorities, including Jews. But, as Flannery notes:
… the original ideals of freedom and equality for all were officially and publicly paeaned, but now intolerance toward minority groups … was so openly discussed as apparently to enjoy the dignity of a counter-tradition (Pp252-3)
A counter-tradition fully on display in the current controversies over equal rights for the same-sex attracted. The notion that life, liberty and pursuit of happiness only applies to the “in” group.

By the second decade of the C20th, Jews were beginning to “catch up” with African-Americans as focus of prejudiced concern. The hyper-patriotism of the Great War and the xenophobic isolationist disillusion that followed it aggravated these trends. The KuKluxKlan was refounded in 1915 and became a successful mass-organisation with Jews being one of its prime targets. Henry Ford pushed anti-Semitism while immigration from southern and eastern Europe was cut back, leading to a dramatic drop in Jewish immigration. Restrictive covenants (and the beginnings of residential zoning) were used to keep out people of “Hebrew” descent. These general trends were exacerbated by the Great Depression. Father Coughlin, a very popular broadcaster, turned to anti-Semitism after 1936.

Organised and public antisemitism never recovered from the blow of American participation in the Second World War and the revelation of the horrors of Nazi Germany. Antisemitism continued, but increasingly as a fringe manifestation.

Flannery’s conclusion is that the economic opportunities of the US greatly blunted any anti-Semitic trend. Conversely, such circumstances have produced:
… a social hostility that is uniquely American. In an atmosphere of social snobbery and economic class consciousness, the Jew is destined to suffer more discrimination than others, not so much because of his “difference,” but by reason of his achievements. It is an observable fact that discrimination grows in virulence as the group discriminated against enters more vigorously into competition with the discriminators (p.262)
Black-white racism certainly displays this pattern.

Flannery considers more recent history, taking the 1961 trial of Eichmann; the 1965 statement by Vatican II (Nostra Aetate) rejecting the charge of deicide, deploring persecution of Jews and calling for dialogue; and the sympathy for Israel during the 1967 Six Day War as hopeful signs of the dwindling of antisemitism (p.263). But not a hope that has been fulfilled.

Flannery judges Christian antisemitism is declining. Certainly, the pro-Israel sentiment among Evangelical Chrisitians is striking (p.264).

He takes anti-Zionism to be primarily an anti-Jewish phenomena:
At the core of the anti-Zionist rationale is a fallacy and a refusal … defining Jewishness as <>only a religon, not a peoplehood or nation, whereas it is essentially all these; the refusal, in not allowing Jews to define themselves (p.268)
though a phenomenon that also varies greatly in its basis and implications. Criticising Israeli policy and practices is one thing, but to go beyond that:
Martin Luther King saw clearly when, challenging a Black student who attacked “Zionists,” he snapped: “When people criticise Zionists they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism” (p.269)
Which leads naturally into considering Arab antisemitism.

Prospects for Jew-hatred
As Flannery points out, Jew-hatred flourishes openly in the Arab world, building on previous Arab-Nazi links. Including Haj Amir El-Husayni’s approval of the Holocaust. Flannery points out that antisemitism has deep roots in Islam: particularly the concept of dhimmitude:
The intensity of Arab resentment of Israel today cannot be fully understood except in light of this traditional principle and practice that has been turned upside down in our own time by the Israeli presence and successes (p.270).
In other words, the existence and success of the Jewish state is a cosmic insult. Bigotry is always insulted by the notion of equality.

Flannery’s discussion of Soviet antisemitism (Pp27iff) has lost its historical resonance with the collapse of the Soviet Empire. His discussion of the resurgence of antisemitism on the Left, alas, has not. Flannery points out the progenitors of socialist theory (with the exception of Saint Simon) were all bitter antisemites and that there is a clear tension between a goal of egalitarian classlessness and particularist identities (Pp274ff).

To put it another way, Jews were previously attacked for not having a state, now they are attacked for having one.

Flannery judges antisemitism in the West generally, and in Latin America, though still extant, to be in decline though he notes Latin America (particularly Argentina) has quite a nasty record of antisemitic persecutions and violence. Flannery takes limited comfort in this decline, holding that:
A civilization contaminated so long with a toxin so virulent could hardly be detoxified in such short order (p.283)
On that sombre note, Flannery finishes with an analysis of the roots of antisemitism.

He rejects the notion of it being a manifestation of generic prejudice (on the grounds of its intensely distinctive features), being of Providential (a denial of human responsibility) or economic (such always manifesting in the context of already established antisemitism) even though envy and scapegoating certainly played a role.

Flannery holds the reaction to Judaism being the first basis of antisemitism (p.287) and warns firmly against de-Judaizing antisemitism (Pp284ff). But the intensity and persistence of antisemitism he puts down to the deicide accusation and the theological challenge the persistence of Judaism posed to Christianity (p.288).

A challenge it also poses to Islam, of course. Both Christianity and Islam seek to appropriate the Judaic prophetic tradition, thereby turning Jews into inconvenient “squatters” on what each religion has deemed itself to be the new, divinely granted, landlord of.

This theological challenge then created a reason to denigrate those so inconveniently posing the challenge:
In retrospect, it is permitted to wonder whether, humanly speaking, a certain inevitability did not affect this conflict between two faiths laying claim to election by the One True God and to a large extent using the same source of revelation to uphold their claim (p.289).
One just has to consider the status of Jews in and under Islam to answer “yes”.

An objection might be mounted that classical antisemitism lacked any such framing. But the theological culture of Judaism was also a challenge to Hellenic cultural pretensions and Roman claims of divine imperial authority. So Flannery’s general analysis is easily transferrable to classical antisemitism.

Just as the theological culture of Judaism was also a challenge to Enlightenment rationalism. Leading to an antisemitism even more bitter because the option of conversion was foreclosed:
Rationalism abolished not only religious prejudice, but also religious restraints (p.289)
Which led to both Jewish emancipation but also the Holocaust.

As for the connection between Christian and racial antisemitism:
Ontologically considered … Christian and modern racist antisemitism are radically different and opposed: historically they form a continuum. Modern racist antisemitism … would not have been possible without centuries of anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic precedents. … Hitler had his target, the Jews, already set up, defenceless, and discredited. (Pp289-90)

Nazi measures against the Jews paralleled previous Church measures, but took the latter as a starting point. With Jews serving as a new scapegoat: an avenue for attacking Christian perspectives where a direct attack was eschewed for tactical reasons (p.291). Flannery argues that that too has deep historical roots, building from Freud’s observation that:
In its depths anti-Judaism is anti-Christianity (p.292)
As Flannery observes:
It is an observable fact that it is often the rigid Christian who is the most likely candidate for anti-Semitism. … in such cases antisemitism is an attribute of the “super-Christian,” the Christian who overcompensates for his/her unrecognized anti-Christianity (p.293).
There is surely much to this. After all, the second principle of Christianity (love thy neighbour as thy self) is a burdensome one and antisemitism is a great release from its burdens. Just as queer hatred is cathartic for the sexual burdens of traditional Christianity.

One does not have to buy into Freudian psychology to see that projection is a genuine phenomenon:
… to the rigorist … the Jew conveniently serves as a projective screen for the angers generated by rigid standards and at the same time for disowning (by projection) the instinctual self of which his conscience disapproves. Poliakov, interestingly, has extend this interpretation to including Nazi antisemites, several of the most vicious of whom—Himmler, Goebbels, Hoess and others—he finds, were products of families of a “rigid Catholic piety” (p.293)
Antisemitism becomes thus both a conflict between persons and within persons. It is these psychological depths, allied to the theological challenge of Judaism, which Flannery holds provides the deeper unity in antisemitism, regardless of whether it is Christian (or, for that matter, Islamic) or racial.

Flannery is speaking to Catholics particularly, so he stresses how anti-religious this motivation is. If one takes a more Haidtian or theological incorrectness line about religion, this distinction looks more doubtful. But that antisemitism represents a revolt against the injunctions of compassion that are the higher manifestation of religion is clearly true.

Flannery finishes by holding that the history of antisemitism is one that Christians need know of and repentant for (p.295).

The Anguish of the Jews suffers somewhat from irritating errors a good editor should attend to such as dates being a year or two off, holding Hypatia to be Jewish or referring to “Emperor” Frederick II of Prussia. Flannery’s grasp of the classical sources is also somewhat patchy. But it is both a profoundly good-hearted and deeply informative work. Its central thesis is powerful and perceptive: indeed, further consideration of Islamic antisemitism only reinforces it.

Reading The Anguish of the Jews, one can see the patterns and logic of bigotry quite clearly. How bigotry is one of exclusion from the moral community (even the properly human). How truncated the conception of the excluded is. Indeed, how its framings work to keep that conception truncated. How scapegoating is a great simplification. How such exclusion allows people to hold to the effortless virtue of their superiority, to which equality is both an insult and a threat. One doubts that the late Father Flannery would have entirely agreed, but that his points so easily and often translate to queer-hatred display both the enduring logic and patterns of bigotry and the perceptive seriousness with which he approached his task.


  1. Click on the video at the following link and watch Mohommad’s followers of “peaceful” islam carrying out his instructions - direct from the Quran.


    If you censor comments to your posts, what is it exactly that you’re afraid of?

  2. I have not deleted any comments from any of my posts.

  3. Initial comments from new people on most blogs are held until an admin releases them, mainly to prevent the blog being overwhelmed with spam. I know that's what Wordpress does, and I'd be very surprised if Blogger was any different.

  4. Gavin Kennedy's Adam Smith's Lost Legacy recently started admin approval before comments are posted - because he was starting to get a lot of nonsense in the form of posts in Chinese (possibly other stuff as well). These "comments" were mainly incomprehensible even to my Chinese friends from North and South. All relevant comments are posted, even the most adverse and sometimes sarcastic. I am sure that Lorenzo would follow a similar policy. It was on Gavin's blog that first led me to this site, now one of my favourites. I am sure that both of these fine thinkers would agree that freedom of speech is of utmost importance, and that both would say that it is only by allowing even offensive (and patently wrong views such as holocaust denial) can only be counteracted or agued against if you know what they are.
    In Brief, I can't imagine Lorenzo as a censor.
    On the main article I have never understood antisemitism after all all they seem to want is to maintain a cultural heritage. They invented the idea of a creator (a personal view) and everyone that has accepted the idea has turned against the originators. Perhaps it is just that inadequate people have the need to justify their failings by blaming others.
    The most frightening thing to me are strong opinions strongly held, I am right the rest of the universe is wrong etc.

  5. In Brief, I can't imagine Lorenzo as a censor.
    That may be one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said about me, thank you.

    On antisemitism, you are clearly fine with people being different. Sadly, lots of people aren't.