Jacques Maritain May 28, 2014 - 3:52pm
People don't like being told of atrocities. They don't like atrocious problems. They don't like problems which might perchance result in some self-examination. They would prefer to ignore the problem of anti-Semitism, yet nazi ferocity obliges them to confront it. Indeed anti-semitism is at the very core of the outburst of barbarism which today makes bloody the world.
In order to propound some views on this problem, I shall avail myself of two recently published books, the contributors to which are tor the most part Jewish scholars and of the reflections that the reading of these books provoked in me. Such surveys are of interest both for the Jew and the Gentile. By endeavoring to analyze in a rational and objective manner a phenomenon of irrational emotionalism, which has today become a monstrous collective disease, the contributors to these two volumes, whose personal points of view and scholarly fields are widely diverse, offer rich material for thought. They do not pretend to provide us with an exhaustive solution. Yet the data which have been gathered by them are of real value for a more profound outlook.
Anti-Semitism may be considered as a problem for the Christian and as a problem for the Jew. In the first perspective, the general diagnosis is rather simple. Anti-Semitism has been, throughout the Christian centuries, the result of the entanglement of religious and spiritual matters with the flesh and blood trends which relate to the psychological, social, political, economic conditions of earthly life and depend upon what Saint Paul calls the animalis homo. Christianity, in its spiritual essence, has never been and cannot be anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitic abuses were among the blemishes which proceeded from the intermingling of human weakness or human sin with
Christianity in the sacral regime of the middle ages. In this way the Jews bore the burden of that enormous bulk of human harshness which has not been renewed and purified by Christianity in Christian societies.
The genuine Christian interpretation of history, that is the Pauline one, is utterly repugnant to any anti-Semitism, as Carl Mayer points out. Anti-Semitism in the middle ages (above all in the later middle ages) and in the decay of feudalism was diametrically different in nature from the anti-Semitism of today, though it often aroused similar cruelties. Except in the degenerated passions of the mob, it did not involve any contempt for the very race from which Christ came forth and whose name, Israel, was looked upon as the most glorious among the earth's peoples. In the background of anti-Jewish measures and antiJewish outbursts lay the great spiritual drama between the Church and the Synagogue, her "little sister," soror nostra parva, as she was sometimes called—the former worshipping that very Spouse and Messiah whom the latter ignored. The Jew, when baptized, was received with full rights into the Christian commonwealth; moreover, the Christian people awaited with impatient expectation that coming of the Jews, that reconciling of the Synagogue and the Church, which was to be, according to Saint Paul, the splendor of the world and life from the dead. The very name "anti Semitism" was unknown at that time. The religious-minded anti-Jewish prejudice and fanaticism of old was the shameful spot in Christian history, it was not a self-glorification and self delectation in animal blood and a helpless denial of mankind's unity as is the racial-minded antiSemitism of today.
From the Jewish point of view
It is from the second point of view, from the point of view of anti-Semitism as a problem for the Jew, that the two books I am considering provide us with the most stirring questions. A first question concerns the impact of anti-Semitism upon some parts of the Jewish conscience itself, a sorrowful question to which I. S. Wechsler and Z. Diesendruch dedicate some weighty and valuable observations. The worst phenomenon here is that split attitude and that peculiar self-consciousness which sometimes lead the Jew to selfnegation. "Self accusation is inverted apologetics, and to the disillusionment of the latter corresponds the tragedy of self-condemnation. Both root ultimately in the experience of the inefficacy of the rational" (Diesendruck, "Essays,'' p. 196-197) . In this respect it may be said that the atrocious German racism, revealing antiSemitism in all its nakedness, will free the Jewish conscience of diseases which were born out of the reverberation of the contemner's baseness upon the soul of the humiliated. "The self-deriding Jewish comedian is out of work, and the atmosphere is certainly not favorable for the growth of a Maximiolian Harden or Karl Kraus or Otto Weininger. The German catastrophe is at least not reflected any more in a tragic conflict wi hin the Jew."
Another question deals with the nature of antiSemitism itself. The hated, humiliated and hunted man cannot help but wonder what are the reasons for the iniquitous wound which is inflicted upon human nature within him. The answer was quite simple for the pious Jew of old, convinced as he was of the divine election of his people. Nat so for the rationalistic-minded Jew of today. It is sad to see how many of them f eel internally disarmed in the face of the very monstrosity, all the more crushing as it is rationally inexplicable. All the contributors to “Essays” and to “Jews in a Gentile World” point out quite rightly that anti-Semitism is a wild outburst of irrationality, a group neurosis. Yet the majority try to explain this very neurosis by means of the ordinary weapons of sociological, psychological, socialscientific, economic analysis, which are perhaps able to account for the crass imperialistic anti-Semitism of a Cicero ("religious scruples, my dear Laelius, are primarily national concerns..."), but which can touch only the externals of the world psychosis we are con fronted with today. A much more profound and realistic outlook is to be found in the views expressed by Carl J. Friedrich which seem to me entirely just, and in the chapter on "Religious and Political Aspects of anti-Judaism" by Carl Mayer. "In a sense," he writes, "anti-Judaism is the expression of a fear of specters." And the root of this fear is the obscure feeling that the Jews are set apart, that "they do not fit into any of the usual pigeon holes which we employ in our attempts at understanding"; for indeed "Jewish existence, in its ambiguity, strangeness and inconceivability must be understood as the most powerful expression of the fact that the world is still not yet the kingdom of God." In short, such a fear is the very fear of Israel's Messiah—this is how I understand the saying of Z. Diesendruck: "We are more feared for our strength than despised for our weakness.” In the last analysis, as Carl J. Friedrich points out, "the haters of the Jews are in a very real sense the haters of Christ and Christianity." Maurice Samuel's book, "The Great Hatred," bears testimony to the all important fact that the Jewish conscience becomes aware of this reality: "It is of Christ that the nazi-fascists are afraid; it is in his omnipotence that they believe; it is him that they are determined madly to obliterate. But the names of Christ and Christianity are too overwhelming, and the habit of submission to them is too deeply ingrained after centuries and centuries of teaching. Therefore they must make their assault on those who were responsible for the birth and spread of Christianity. They must spit on the Jews as the 'Christ-killers' because they long to spit on the Jews as the Christ-givers."
Finally there is a third question, which is the most crucial and concerns the main issue: the attitude of the Jew himself in the midst of a Gentile world. If what is known as assimilation were completely to extinguish the Jewish problem, it would be in the sense indicated by Max Nordau, when he said that if there were no Jews there would be no anti-Semitism; that is to say: if the Jews give up their soul and the vocation of their people, the Gentile world would be placated. Such a solution, which is rather candidly suggested by one of the contributors to "Jews in a Gentile World" (Professor J. F. Brown) , is not a solution, but a disappearance, and it is moreover thoroughly impossible, as J. O. Hertzler clearly points out. Not only does human dignity oblige the Jew to preserve his identity, but this is the very condition of Israel's survival. On this condition pressure itself becomes a factor "for, not against" preservation. Martin Buber was right in remarking, "The Jewish people has become the eternal people not because it was allowed to live, but because it was not allowed to live. Just because it was asked to give more than life, it won life."
There is, moreover, no incompatibility between maintenance of self-identity and actual fellowship with others in a common life and a common work. The more you are yourself, the more you are able to cooperate.
But here the question is: What is this self? Who am I? This is the enigma which the sphinx of the Gentile world summons the Jew to answer. As far as a non-Jew is allowed to discuss the issue, I see four possible attitudes in this connection.
The pious Jew of old, with his uncut beard and his peis, the Chassid or his antagonist the Talmud lover, knew the answer, but this answer, which walled them up in their perpetual strangeness as a people, in their sacred seclusion from the world, was possible—at what a terrible price—in a "sacral" civilization like the medieval one; not only does it sound archaic in a lay or "profane" civilization like our own, but it runs the risk of playing the game of anti-Semitism, in cutting off the Jews from the common work of culture and human society, and in enclosing them within a kind of spiritual ghetto.
The use of persecution
The Christian Jew also knows the answer; moreover, as I believe, he knows the definitive answer. Yet for him the problem has been transcended. Belonging more than ever to his people and loving it more than ever, if he truly lives by faith, he nevertheless has entered the realm of Christ's universality. Racist hat red provides him with the privilege of being persecuted with Israel, and of remaining, not only spiritually, but in his flesh too, in the communion of Israel's sufferings, yet he is no longer involved, unless spiritually, in the problems of Israel's earthly community.
The tragedy of the secularized Jew, of the Jew whom rationalism and positivism have deprived of the religious Jewish leaven, is that he can not find any answer. He looks around, wondering who he is, and asking history, sociology and psychology in vain for some suggestion. Sincere and honest-minded as he may be, he feels all the more helpless. If he endeavors to vindicate his identity, he veers toward an "ethnocentrism," the raison d'etre of which he ceaselessly questions. Here appears the sorrowful internal conflict which the modern Jew suffers. "Actually the Jew tried to adapt himself without changing. He would be a Jew and non-Jew at the same time. He literally tried to eat the cake and to have it, and it simply cannot be done" (I. S. Wechsler, "Essays," p. I73). Truth to tell, many modern Jewish intellectuals have adapted and assimilated themselves to the hard-boiled rationalistic mentality of the contemporary Gentile world with such success that they surpass any goysche kop in their attachment to the narrow-minded prejudices of a self -styled "science" which cuts itself off from wisdom. And what may become of a Jew if he does not long for wisdom? Thus not only do those secularized Jews keep on perpetuating old antagonisms in modern terms; not only are they unable to distinguish Christianity itself from that social impact of flesh and blood upon Christianity of which I spoke at the outset, and not only do they express themselves about religious matters, as some contributors to the books which I am reviewing occasionally do, in a manner which pains the faith of their Christian fellow men; but they remain impotent in the face of their own problems and renounce their very roots. It is disheartening to read such pages in which anti-Semitic rabidness and the fate of the Jewish people are explained in terms of social conditioning, and the divine election of the chosen people is "scientifically" looked upon as an illusory phenomenon of compensation, a superstitious heritage terribly burdensome indeed.
There is a fourth attitude, which may be considered as a spiritualization and a widening of the first one. The Jew who is aware of the temporal mission of his people in human history, and who understands it in spiritual terms, is able to give answer as to his own identity. This answer pre supposes religious convictions, of course, or at least respect for and understanding of the world of spiritual realities. The Jew of whom I am speaking knows that by virtue of an ineradicable vocation he is a stranger to the world and none the less immersed in the world, and that Israel is assigned a task of earthly activation of the mass of the world, that Israel has to stimulate the movement of history, and to teach the world to be discontented as long as the world does not have God. As he has understood that the God of Israel is also the God of mankind, he has like wise understood that in the face of the tidal wave of pagan blood surging up today, our civilization is revealed as a Judeo-Christian civilization, and that this civilization will perish unless both Christian and Jew come better to perceive the vital part each one plays in its total pattern. By the same token, mutual understanding is required of them. Carl J. Friedrich (who is himself a non-Jew) is right in writing that "the 'scientific' cynicism about religion and morality has prepared the ground for the anti-Christian anti-Semitism of our day." Prominent liberals like H. G. Wells—not to speak of Voltaire—have no small responsibility by their deriding of what the former calls "the dogmatic Judeo-Christian mythology." As Carl J. Friedrich goes on to say, "the whole vast school of pragmatists, positivists, skeptics and gentle cynics is here involved. We have all had a share. The Jews have recognized to an increasing extent the paradox of emancipation in this respect. The crisis has brought to light, once again, that the Jews have a definite spiritual function. The role of Zionism appears particularly import ant as well as problematic in this connection. If Zionism is conceived according to a merely national and political pattern, it runs the risk of providing anti-Semitic fakers with the false-hearted—and moreover unfeasible—solution (all Jews sent back to Palestine or considered as Palestinian citizens) for which their hat red is searching. If Zionism is based above all on the consciousness of a great spiritual task, it may become an animating center for all dispersed Jewry.
Attacked and slandered everywhere in the most hideous fashion, the Jews have to defend themselves and to oppose fanaticism and calumny by appropriate means. Yet, though necessary, the best defensive efforts and organizations are quite insufficient—in addition to the fact that the Jewish ones are often curiously awkward, ignoring their sincerest friends and sometimes choosing unfortunate supporters in the Gentile world. Merely defensive positions are always bad.
Doubtless, the Jews have also to conduct an examination of conscience and to find again the most genuine energies of their own souls—such a work of "purifying the sources" imposes itself naturally upon everyone persecuted. What is the use of the persecutor, if not to make the victim more worthy of the human race, and nearer God? There are things wrong about the Jew, as about all men. But it is not these which create antiSemitism! Anti-Semitism fears and pursues and wishes to exterminate what is best in the Jews, the gift of God and the mission of God in them. If the Jew belittles himself and extenuates himself, his foes will strike him all the more relentlessly. Nothing is more absurd than trying to appease anti-Semitism, in giving up the privilege of being the "chosen people" and every kind of human pride. (Yet the notion of a "chosen people" is acceptable only from a religious and supernatural point of view, and here is the predicament for the irreligious Jew. If this notion comes down to a naturalistic level, it degenerates into racial pride: if there is to be found on the earth a monstrous corruption of the idea of a chosen people, it is indeed German and ''Aryan" racism.) The antagonism between Jew and Gentile is, moreover, inevitable. It should take on a shape worthy of ma n, appear in the form of that tension which develops within fellowship and cooperation, and which makes human effort more fruitful and noble. To the shame of our time, it assumes to day the bestial form of racism. Meanwhile, as Erich Kahler pointed out in 1933, "the Jewish man of today is the most endangered human being, spiritually, of our time." The ordeals of our epoch are testing his strength. Another Jewish writer, Waldo Frank, recently emphasized the necessity for the Jews of rediscovering this strength and reawakening the spirit of Israel. They have to adopt an offensive position against anti-Semitism ; the only one which is left to them, yet not the weakest, and which will be victorious in the long run, is to overcome spiritually this unheard of evil, through the virtue of intelligence, wisdom and superiority of soul, through the old unshakable stand of their prophets and martyrs. In this way they have a chance of helping the Gentile world to become less ignominious, and the Christians to become aware of their own duties.
In concluding his essay, Zevi Diesendruch wrote: "Let us give up the apologetic squinting; let us free ourselves from the burden of proof for the right of our existence and also from the burden of finding and removing the causes of that which is itself a prime cause. When called to the last ac count-it is not we who are the defendants. Let us submit to our fate with reserve and dignity." Yet submission to fate does not mea n enough. Israel's conscience is able to overcome fate, through the fire of its indestructible hope.”
Indeed the anti-Semitic corruption is more disastrous to the Christian world than to Jewry. The bloody atrocities that the Jews suffer throughout the world are a visible but weak image of the invisible devastation and degradation of souls that a Gentile world crazy with persecution or indifferent to justice and brotherhood is now suffering. Anti-Semitism is a crucial problem for the Christian as well as for the Jew. "Anti-Semitism, deeply rooted in the spiritual decadence of Western society, has a quadruple significance; though explicitly directed against the Jews, it is of much broader scope. Anti-Semitism is the core of an attack against (1) democracy (2) Christianity (3) the idea of right and wrong, law and ethics (4) civilization in any form. Whenever and wherever it appears, it should be viewed as a most definite danger sign" (Carl J. Friedrich). "Anti-Semitism clearly being a 'disease' of the Gentile nations, only a heal thy reaction of the non-Jewish body politic may effectively counteract the spread of its fatal germs" (Salo W. Baron). The emancipation of the Jews has been a conquest of justice and civilization not only as regards the Jews, but also, and above all, as regards the Gentile world. As for the Jews, "it has not 'solved' the Jewish problem, not even provisionally.... If emancipation has failed, it can be attributed to the fact that it tried to emancipate the Jews yet did not try to emancipate the Jewish people" (Carl Mayer). If nazism is defeated and if a more human world is to be built up, we must hope that a personalist and pluralist democracy will create among the diverse groups and traditions involved in the common welfare "an intercultural fellowship," a pattern of which is offered by the American multi-national community, "which might go a long way toward alleviating the shock which their mutual impact inevitably produces." It has been said that the tragedy of Israel is the tragedy of mankind. It may be said that "the Jew's hope"-which in the mystical sense has been from the very beginning, and still remains, even in darkness, a hope for supreme liberation—“is humanity's hope" (Jacob R. Marcus). It concerns also the present crisis of civilization and the present struggle for freedom in the world.