Anti-Semite And Jew: An Exploration Of The Etiology Of Hate, by Jean-Paul Sartre
Yesterday, a friend of mine who shares my passionate interest in anti-Semitism sent me the e-book for this most excellent translation, with a useful preface by Michael Walzer. Let us be blunt, like most subjects I deal with the problem of anti-Semitism from a very pointed perspective, that of a person of mixed-Jewish descent with a passionate love of God’s law (in both its moral and social senses), and with a very strong identification with my own Jewishness. I am not an unbiased observer.
Likewise, I come to this book with an appreciation for Jean-Paul Sartre given my close familiarity with his plays (as a fellow playwright who has performed his play “No Exit”). Despite being a nonfiction book, this slim volume (a deeply thoughtful preface and about 100 pages of text) is in reality more of a psychodrama than it is an essay. There are four main characters in this psychodrama, two of which take up the vast majority of ink: the anti-Semite and the inauthentic Jew. The authentic Jew (which would probably apply to me) and the democrat (meaning someone who believes in universalism and despises ethnic differences in general but defends the rights of universal humans without any particular interest in any particular group of people) take up much less space.
His portrayal of both the inauthentic Jew and the anti-Semite ring true, especially for his French background. The inauthentic Jew is the Marx or the anti-Semitic Jew who hates Jewish law and traditions and seeks to assimilate as rapidly as possible. He may have so thoroughly forgotten his own Jewish culture that he takes on the racist biases of those around him–I have a few family members like that myself. The anti-Semite is often from the lower classes, seeking a form of entitlement that grants automatic dignity or respect simply for the accident of birth and ancestry, and permanently denies it to others. This is a fair interpretation of the Frenchmen who cheers on LePen as well as the nativist American who supports the KKK (like a few of my old neighbors). The portrait of the irrationalist anti-Semite who sees himself as above the law strikes me as a particular element of the libertarian mindset of a Ron Paul or Gary North quite chillingly and accurately. I am familiar with both types rather intimately.
That said, despite the powerful analytical skills that Jean-Paul Sartre brings to the question of anti-semitism, his analysis does suffer from some serious flaws. One of these flaws is that his analysis is colored by his own inauthentic Marxism, which gives him an inadequate worldview from which to begin. The more serious issue is that he fails to understand that authentic Jewish identity does relate to a historical reality, namely the workings of God with man. Anti-Semitism does relate very strongly to political and historical realities. If we recognize that “libertarian” hostility to God’s laws as well as totalitarian ideologies like Nazism and Communism (and Islamism) have always been greatly anti-Semitic, because those who hold to such ideologies are part of the seed of Satan, hostile to God’s ways, we see how the hostility of certain ideologies to the rule of God has led to a hatred of that most visible branch of God’s people, namely the Jews.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that the book fails to understand the true nature of either authentic Judaism or anti-Semitism because of worldview flaws and a lack of understanding of God’s workings in history, the book is nonetheless worthwhile, even if far from the “light reading” that my friend joked when he sent me the link for the e-book. The preface is especially valuable in providing both a fair appraisal of the book’s virtues and an open admission that a lot of its analysis was out-of-date because of Sartre’s own obsolete ideological commitments. But it’s still a worthwhile read anyway, especially to the reader who understands that the same factors that led to the hostility of anti-Semitism during Hitler’s time remain valid in our own. The beast is not finished just yet.