Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception: Part 5. Self-Deception in Jewish Participation in Politics

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Part 5: Self-Deception in Jewish Participation in Politics

Like Jewish participation in secular culture, since the Enlightenment Jewish participation in politics has been a prime context for self-deception. Scholar Eleanor Sterling argues that since the Enlightenment the spotlight of the modern state fell on the Jews, demanding their honest assimilation. In response, Jews failed to ‘honestly’ assimilate; instead driving many of Judaism’s outward features, like ethnic solidarity, into an internal, psychological realm. Sterling writes that the key elements of Judaism were never purged from the secular, assimilated Jew, but “became part of the inner life of the individual, a kind of psychological ghetto.”[1]

I would argue that it was this ‘psychological ghetto’ which formed the breeding ground for Jewish self-deception in its modern form, along with developments concurrent with this self-deception such as radical Jewish sub-cultures and intellectual movements.

The main features of this self-deception are also similar to that seen in participation in culture. Simply put, these features typically manifest in an outward denial of the influence of ‘Jewishness’ on the activities of participants. These denials are, crucially, nonetheless accompanied by abundant evidence that the same participants engage in narcissism about the nature of historical Judaism and are deeply hostile to European peoples and their traditions. Sterling points out that politically active ‘secular’ Jews in early nineteenth-century Europe “argued that Judaism, unlike Christianity, never separated science from revelation…, that Judaism was more in tune with the rationalist and scientific trends of contemporary ideological developments than was Christianity…, that it was closer to the humanistic trends of eighteenth century enlightenment…, and was more ‘universal and human.’”[2] The list is not only massively delusional given the strong ethnocentric particularism so characteristic Judaism in all historical eras, but internally incoherent given that separating science from revelation was central to the scientific revolution in the West.

When not critiquing Christianity and portraying Judaism as a kind of world-saving religion for all mankind, the same activists expressed their intellectual resistance to complete assimilation by “their conspicuously strong participation in contemporary rationalist and idealist movements and in their predominantly critical attitude towards society.”[3] It is argued here, in my reflections and thoughts on Jewish political involvement in the 1960s ‘New Left,’  that perhaps the most dominant ‘trait’ of Jewish self-deception in politics is narcissism, and many of the ‘enablers’ outlined in earlier parts of this essay are employed to that end.

In modern politics, self-deception and narcissism have been predominant in Jewish participations in movements or on behalf of causes that clearly benefit Jewish interests or act to undermine the ideological or culture supports of the surrounding society. These participations are invariably accompanied by vigorous denials that the Jewishness of the individuals concerned has anything to do with such participation beyond the fact that Judaism’s ‘moral code’ or the Jews’ historical identity ‘as victim’ demands that they work to ‘improve’ the world around them.

The ‘moral code’ argument is essentially a theologically-derived argument for the moral superiority of Jews. The more secular variation on this theme is the sociologically-derived fiction that Jews possess superior insight and judgment capabilities because of their unique place within historical and contemporary society. I pointed to an excellent example of this line of thinking in the Part 1 of this essay:

In Creating a Judaism without Religion: A Postmodern Jewish Possibility, S. Daniel Breslauer states that American Jews see themselves “as insiders who are also outsiders,” and that this ambiguous status gives them a unique insight into American society and the world at large. Breslauer claims that “as both insiders and outsiders Jews can look at both sides of [a given social problem],”[4] lauds American Jewry an “ethical hero” which thanks to its uniquely objective take on American society can “be discriminating in the choice of heroic action.”[5]

Jews have been at the forefront of what they see as ‘heroic action’ action in the nation-states of the European peoples, and nowhere has this been more in evidence in recent times that in the era of the ‘New Left.’ Some time ago I read a 1980 study conducted by the Jewish academics S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman on ‘Jewish Ethnicity and Radical Culture: A Social Psychological Study of Political Activists.’ I found the ‘study’ particularly interesting reading because of what it told me about its subjects and its authors. The first point to remark upon is the fact that in its random sampling of rank-and-file individuals associated with the New Left Lichter and Rothman found that “75% of the radical subjects were ethnic Jews compared to…3% of the American populace.”[6]

This is certainly an astonishing level of over-representation, but what I found even more intriguing was the self-deception engaged in by these Jews and the Jewish academics behind the study. There is a flat denial regarding the role of Jewishness in driving the ‘heroic’ participation of Jews in the movement, and both subject and the academics studying them seem keen to deny that ethnic solidarity or interests played any role in it. Lichter and Rothman write that “the critical mass for the creation of the New Left consisted of deracinated American Jews, who had rejected their religious heritage” [emphasis added].

Lichter and Rothman’s implication that a specifically Jewish identity can only be religious should be seen as part of what Michael Neumann has called “the venerable shell-game of Jewish identity: Look! We’re a religion! No! A race! No! A cultural identity! Sorry – a religion!”[7] Lichter and Rothman employ “the shell game” to argue that these Jews were “deracinated” as well as secular, but the study in fact failed to systematically, or critically, probe how the respondents felt about their ethnic or racial heritage. That these Jews who renounced their religion to become unattached, ‘universalist’ world-citizens is simply taken for granted. The academics weakly claim that “we lack the statistical power to examine the effect of Jewishness within the adult sample,” neatly avoiding having to venture deeper into the role of race and ethnicity.[8] In CofC, Kevin MacDonald noted similar untested assertions being employed by Jewish scholars in relation to Jewish involvement in the Bolshevik party and early Soviet governments. MacDonald points out that such assertions, given the evidence, “are questionable at best.”[9] Equally interesting are the assertions of those Jewish subjects who apparently volunteered information about their identification with Judaism. The vast majority argued that they “no longer identified with their ethnic or religious heritage.”[10] The Jewish ‘New Left,’ thus appears strikingly similar to the German-Jewish subculture of the Auerbach era — a community of Jews, whose actions are tainted and driven by Jewishness and Jewish interests which somehow remains “invisible to itself.”

That the New Left, indisputably a Jewish subculture, could retain a vision of itself as devoid of ethnic character is really a great indicator of the strength of self-deception within the group. Take, for example, the figure of Jerry Rubin who was prone to portraying himself as an “an all-American kid” and claimed he was more influenced by the Lone Ranger than Lenin.[11] Indeed, Rafael Medoff notes that Rubin very seldom identified himself as Jewish.[12] However, Catherine Albanese states that Rubin had “solidly Jewish roots” and that after receiving his baccalaureate “he attended Hebrew University and later returned to Israel to spend a year there with his brother.”[13] During the 1960s Rubin was an anti-war activist, a ‘Black power’ advocate, and a campaigner for the legalization of marijuana. His ‘Youth International Party,’ or Yippies, was co-founded with fellow Jewish radicals Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. He married a Jewish woman, Mimi Leonard.

When Rubin’s mask did slip, it often did so in spectacular style, and his conception of himself as a Jew, and his view of the ‘obligations’ inherent in that Jewishness, became starkly apparent. Most clearly, Rubin conceived of himself as being at war with the White race—hatred by any other name. By his own admission, Rubin stated that in forming the ‘Yippie’ movement he had “dropped out of the white race and the Amerikan [sic] nation.”[14] Rubin believed that Jews in particular were “obligated to resist the fascism of whiteness.”[15] Despite the palpable hatred, he was clearly motivated by narcissistic notions of Jewish moral superiority, indicating a strong identification with his fellows Jews.

However, his self-deception remained to some extent in his weak insistence that Jewish radicals were both “ex-Amerikans” and, crucially, “ex-Jews.” In a book he wrote while in County Jail, he noted that “It is the Jew who should always be on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the underdog, the wretched of the earth. … And thousands of ex-Amerikan, ex-Jews are. Three of the kids killed at Kent State were Jews. An unusually high proportion of hippies and revolutionaries are Jews.”[16]

So here Rubin is fluctuating wildly in his interpretation of what exactly is going on in the New Left: are these hippies “Jews” fulfilling their role as moral paragons, or are they participating as “ex-Amerikan ex-Jews”? Rubin is himself confused or in denial about the role of Jewishness in their activism.

The self-deception engaged in by the Yippies’ co-founder, Abbie Hoffman, is equally clear. Hoffman too was said to have “considered himself an American,”[17] and it’s fascinating that, like Rubin, he also appealed to superheroes in American popular culture to express how he perceived his own ‘heroic’ role in society. Whereas Rubin said he was motivated by The Lone Ranger, Hoffman claimed “I’m just the guy who flies around in a cape and has the hots for Lois Lane.”[18]

Obviously there’s a narcissistic hero-messiah complex here. In terms of identity, despite having no attachment to the religious content of Judaism, Hoffman was undoubtedly deeply connected to his Jewishness and the “invisible” Jewish subculture. Indeed, in Hoffman we can detect tangible, organic links between the Frankfurt School and the New Left. He attended Brandeis University at a time when it was basically a refuge for blacklisted Jewish academics, such as the Frankfurt School’s Herbert Marcuse, that had been rooted out from Harvard and MIT as ‘subversive’ by McCarthy. Brandeis survived the purge unscathed because McCarthy refused to target the university for fear of being branded anti-Semitic.[19] One of his psychology professors was Abraham Maslow, who imparted to the young Hoffman that society needed changing, and that nonconformity was “a positive sign of mental health.”[20]

Marty Jezer indicates that Maslow was a typical Jewish guru figure, idolized by his Jewish students, and convinced of his own potential to save the world. For example, Maslow claimed that he could teach humans “how to be brotherly, cooperative, peaceful, courageous, and just,” and during a speech to the American Psychological Association in 1955 said that “I sometimes think that the world will either be saved by psychologists, or it will not be saved at all.”[21] It doesn’t take much of an intellectual stretch to surmise that Maslow was referring to Frankfurt School psychologists. Hoffman adored Maslow, later reflecting on his Brandeis days by stating, “Most of all I loved Abe Maslow.”[22] During Hoffman’s attendance at Brandeis, Maslow formed a committee of correspondence which widened the circle of Jewish intellectuals who would essentially incubate the younger generation of Jewish radicals who would comprise the new Jewish subculture. As Gerald Sorin puts it, “Jewish overrepresentation in New Left movements looked like Jewish overrepresentation in old left movements.”[23]

Maslow began corresponding with fellow Jewish gurus Eric Fromm, Kurt Goldstein, Paul Goodman, Ashley Montagu, and David Reisman among others, and together they founded The Journal of Humanistic Psychology. As just one example from this group, when not comparing himself to Erasmus, Paul Goodman convened his “little band of disciples.”[24] Josh Lambert writes that Goodman was “embraced by the radical student movements of the 1960s. With Growing up Absurd (1960), and other works of cultural criticism, … Goodman provided intellectual and psychological inspiration for much of what was done on college campuses during the tumultuous 1960s.”[25] Lambert writes that “Jewish experience underwrote his philosophy.”[26] Hoffman, awed by these fellow-ethnic subculture figures, referred to them as “giants” who “walked in the space of my intellectual world.”[27] Despite never dabbling at all in the religious content of Judaism, Hoffman was clearly engrossed in other expressions of Jewish identity and in the Jewish subculture. He wrote in his autobiography that “I came into this world acutely aware of being Jewish and I’m sure I’ll go out that way.”[28] Hoffman ‘went out’ via a drug overdose in 1989.

It’s equally difficult to deny the strong Jewish identity of Lee Weiner, another leading member of the ‘counterculture,’ and one of the six Jews (including Rubin and Hoffman) who formed the bulk of the Chicago Seven. The Chicago Seven were a collection of anti-war agitators who mounted a protest in an attempt to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968 and subsequently went on trial for crossing state lines with the intent to incite and carry on a riot. Weiner, a Northwestern University sociology professor who had been a street organizer for the group, was known as “the quiet one” during the trial because unlike Rubin and Hoffman he didn’t engage in theatrics. Weiner has remained “quiet” in the sense that he hasn’t written a great deal about his involvement in the New Left. A 1976 article in Mother Jones reported that Weiner “is said to be somewhere near New York, leading a quiet life, sorting out what being Jewish means to him.”[29]

Obviously it meant a great deal. Our ‘quiet’ Mr. Weiner later began working for the Anti-Defamation League where, according to Spencer Tucker, he has been directing “special projects” for years.[30] Still self-deluded, when contacted in 2007 by Jeff Kisseloff for a phone interview, Weiner responded that he was still serving purely universal ideals by “raising money to fight hate.”[31] Far from regarding himself as assimilated into American culture, Weiner states that his family is “the diversity” in Fairfield, Connecticut, a predominantly White area where he lives.[32]

Even David Dellinger, a gentile from North Carolina who was one of the older members of the Chicago Seven, appears to have been immersed to an unusual extent in Judaism and a Jewish milieu. As a student he visited Berlin during the Olympic games of 1936, where he scoured “Jewish bookstores searching for the works of Heinrich Heine, one of my favorite poets.”[33] In the spring of 1937 he returned to Germany, where he stayed with Jews.[34] While at Yale, Dellinger came under the tutelage of Walt Rostow, a leftist Jew, and the pair formed a “sort of student-teacher relationship with Dellinger acting as the pupil and Rostow the instructor.”[35] Andrew Hunt writes that Rostow “routinely lent Dellinger books and articles presenting the orthodox Marxist position on some of the most important political subjects of the day.”[36] Hunt adds that “Rostow’s influence on Dellinger’s thinking was undeniable.”[37] During the 1940s, Dellinger and his wife socialized almost exclusively with Jews, particularly Austrian socialists Julius and Esther Eichel.[38]

*    *    *

Despite the overwhelming evidence for the role of Jewish identity in shaping and directing intellectual and political involvement in the New Left, self-deception remains rampant among Jewish scholars examining the phenomenon. Andrew Heinze argues explicitly that the concept of the Jewish ‘subculture’ may be valid in some parts of European history, but that it should be “avoided in American history.”[39] Heinze, rather strangely, describes modernization in Europe as “grudging and fitful,” and that “rational” European Jews only formed subcultures to escape from “irrational” gentile romanticism and volkish nationalism.[40] Heinze argues that there were never Jewish subcultures in America because modernization in the United States was more rapid and complete.

Thus, in Heinze’s reading, the ‘responsibility’ for the creation of Jewish subcultures lies with non-Jews, specifically those in Europe. Heinze vehemently argues against the “false idea of American Jews existing in a more internally cogent social and cultural world than was possible for most people of European descent in the U.S.”[41]

Jewish historians who have touched on the New Left have been at pains to play the “shell game” of Jewish identity, pointing out the lack of religious convictions among this Jewish network of subversives or corrupters as evidence of a lack of Jewish identity. David Forman argues weakly that Hoffman and his ilk were “uninformed” about Judaism,[42] and others are keen to emphasize their unorthodox upbringing — as if a family tale about eating seafood on a Saturday can overcome the weight of evidence that the Jewish identity of these figures remained crucial to their catastrophic participation in bringing about the greatest wave of cultural decay the European peoples have ever been subjected to.

Given the nature of the subculture, these historians and political activists may be doing a great job at lying to themselves — all the better to lie to us.

End of Part 5 of 5.

[1] E. Sterling, ‘Jewish Reactions to Jew-Hatred in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,’ Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, 1958, 3 (1): 103-121, p.104.
[2] Ibid, p.105.
[3] Ibid, p.106.
[4] S. D. Breslauer, Creating a Judaism without Religion: A Postmodern Jewish Possibility (University Presses of America, 2001),
[5] Ibid.
[6] S.R. Lichter and S. Rothman, ‘Jewish Ethnicity and Radical Culture: A Social Psychological Study of Political Activists,’ Political
, Vol.3, No.1, (Spring 1981), p.127.
[7] M. Neumann, ‘What is anti-Semitism?’ in, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (Counterpunch, 2003), p.1.
[8] Lichter and Rothman, p.135.
[9] MacDonald, CofC, p.80.
[10] Ibid, p.119.
[11] J. Stratton, Jewish Identity in Western Pop Culture, (Palgrave, 2008), p.171.
[12] R. Medoff, Jewish Americans and Political Participation: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO, 2002), p.95.
[13] C. Albanese, American Spritualities: A Reader (Indiana University Press, 2001), p.253.
[14] E. Sundquist, Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America, (Harvard University Press, 2005), p.350.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] M. Jezer, Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutgers University Press, 1993), p. 8.
[18] Ibid, p.2.
[19] Ibid, p.21.
[20] Ibid, p.22.
[21] Ibid, p.23.
[22] Ibid, p.22.
[23] G. Sorin, Tradition Transformed: The Jewish Experience in America (John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p.223.
[24] T. Stoehr, Here Now Next: Paul Goodman and the Origins of Gestalt Therapy, p.38.
[25] J. Lambert, American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide, p.63.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Jezer, p.25.
[28] Ibid, p.8.
[29] Mother Jones Magazine, Aug 1976, p.8.
[30] M. Van Der Goot, After Freedom: How Boomers Pursued Freedom, Questioned Virtue, and Still Search for Meaning,
(Cascade, 2012), p.28. S. Tucker, The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (ABC-CLIO, 2011), p.192.
[31] J. Kisseloff, Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s, An Oral History (University Press of Kentucky, 1997), p.83.
[32] Ibid.
[33] A.E. Hunt, David Dellinger, The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Revolutionary (p.33).
[34] Ibid, p.35.
[35] Ibid, p.22.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid, p.80.
[39] A. Heinze, Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life …, Volume 5, p.47.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] D. Forman, 50 Ways to be Jewish, p.55.

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