Monday, September 01, 2008

Liberals and Antisemites

Quote from Jean Paul Sartre: "Anti-Semite and Jew"

Thus the Jew is in the situation of a Jew because he lives in a society that takes him for a Jew. He has passionate enemies, and defenders lacking in passion. The democrat professes moderation; he blames or admonishes while synagogues are being set on fire. He is tolerant by profession; he is, indeed, snobbish about the tolerance and even extends it to the enemies of democracy. Wasn't it the style among radicals of the Left to consider Mauras a genius? How can the democrat fail to understand the anti-Semite? It is as if he were fascinated by all who plot his downfall. Perhaps at the bottom of his heart he yearns for the violence which he has denied himself.

In any case, the struggle is not equal. If the democrat were to put some warmth into pleading the cause of the Jew, he would have to be Manichean too, and equate the Jew with the principle of Good. But how could he do this? The democrat is no fool. He makes himself the advocate of the Jew because he sees him as a member of humanity; since humanity has other members who he must also defend, the democrat has much to do; he concerns himself with the Jew when he has time. But the anti-Semite has only one enemy, and he can think of him all the time. This it is he who calls the turn. Vigorously attacked, feebly defended, the Jew feels himself in danger in a society in which anti-Semitism is the continual temptation. This is what we must look at more closely.


At 5:43 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some have accused Sartre himself of being fascinated by violence. Strange to hear him condemn it in others. He supported Zionism when Lehi was carrying out a violent insurgency against the British, and became silent thereafter.

Just as liberals (Sartre's "the democrat") support Jews for theoretical reasons such as espousal of equality and universalism, so too did Sartre himself. As an atheist he detested Jewish religion, and as a leftist he could not enthuse about Jewish Nationalism. Nothing that was particular to Jews collectively was considered a positive attribute in his philosophy.

At 6:00 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Lehi was not a representative of Zionism. It was a marginal group with marginal support in the Jewish establishment in then Palestine. And it was rapidly suppressed after the declaration of Israel's independence.

Isn't that a contradiction, when you say he supported Zionism but not "Jewish Nationalism"?

If he was an atheist, he would have been a hypocrite had he concerned himself with the fortunes of Judaism. I am content with the analysis and understanding he offers about the relative disatvantage of of the Jew in a liberal world.

"Vigorously attacked, feebly defended, the Jew feels himself in danger in a society in which anti-Semitism is the continual temptation"

At 8:33 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sartre supported Lehi's Zionism because it was engaging in anti-Imperialist violence, not because he liked Jewish Nationalism. It was the only Zionist faction he ever spoke in favor of.

Sartre's "passion" in defense of Jews was decidedly muted, temporary and conditional; just like that of the "democrats" he sneers at.

At 8:51 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

I mentioned nothing about "Passion". His book is written in an unsentimental language and pretty neutral emotional pitch. I think he directs a cool and incisive look into the dynamics of antiSemite/Jew which is much more useful than any lachrymose philosemitic account. He does not pretend that he is outside this dynamic or that he brings any new solutions. He states the paradox in which the very essence of the liberal ethos is staked against a full confrontation with antisemitism.

At 10:52 PM EDT, Blogger Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Sartre does talk about passion:

He [the Jew] has passionate enemies, and defenders lacking in passion.

Now if the defenders of the Jewish people are so lacking in passion, how is it they beat Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson to a pulp? Unless Faurisson's attackers were themselves Jewish -- but that can't be, the Jews don't use violence, they are defenseless citizens in an antisemitic society.

At 1:05 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sartre's article is ostensibly an analysis and critique of "defenders lacking in passion". He would like to be seen as different and better. But he ends up finally showing himself to be no better than the objects of his disdain.

He does not explicitly espouse violent action. But he does write "the democrat professes moderation while synagogues burn", surely implying that immoderation is called for. In this way he claims that he is different from the "moderates", and a truer enemy of anti-Semitism. And perhaps for a few weeks in his life he was.

One is not obliged to be lachrymose on behalf of Jews, but Sartre's record of general coldness and alienation are ugly. In this book he has definitely embarked on the slippery slope of "to understand all is to forgive all"; the idea being that we forgive him for behaving like everyone else in Europe. For under the surface of this tract he is principally engaged in a sophisticated argument justifying his own conduct during WW2. The fact that he does not pretend to be "outside the dynamic" is not so much a tribute to his character as a moral failing. His "apercu" that Jews are vigorously attacked and feebly defended is trite - even if true - and his own feebleness in this regard is evidence of it.


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