On History, Religion, and Anti-Semitism: The Disgraceful Legacy of Gavin Langmuir

 A nation can survive its fools, even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within….for the traitor appears not to be a traitor…he rots the soul of a nation…he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.

One of the major themes explored at TOO is that the onslaught on Whites and their culture is massively incentivized. In particular, Kevin MacDonald has pointed out that the multicultural left has created a context “in which many Whites benefit financially from the process of White displacement.” One example is that of White businessmen who are handsomely rewarded in the short-term by immigration because it lowers labor costs. But in the longer-term, these same businessmen are cooperating directly in their own eventual displacement, and helping create a future world in which their genetic descendants will occupy a vulnerable, and probably horrific, role as a victimized minority. MacDonald also pointed to the role played by Whites at colleges and universities, where:

professors who want to move into lucrative positions in administration must be warriors on behalf of non-Whites.  A noteworthy example is Mary Sue Coleman, who earns north of $900,000/year as the president of the University of Michigan and has been a leader in attempting to preserve racial preferences and in promoting the educational benefits of diversity. … At a lower level on the academic food chain, one of the most important criteria for professors is whether they can obtain government grants which then pay them extra salary and pay the university for the costs of administering the grant — a major source of funding for the university and a major factor in tenure decisions. Right now there is a lot of money in grants aimed at improving the educational prospects of Blacks and Latinos and no shortage of White professors eager to get their hands on that money.

The fact that taking part in the diminishment of White demographics, culture and political power is incentivized really can’t be stressed enough. It’s also important to note that it takes place on many levels of society, and on smaller scales. Rewards can be promotions, job opportunities, or even just increased esteem within one’s social or professional circle. To illustrate these more subtle examples, in this essay I want to offer a brief survey of the life and work of a White academic who enjoyed good, but unspectacular, success in his career until he styled himself an historian of “Jewish-Christian relations.” After a number of articles and influential books essentially exonerating Jews of any wrong-doing in their history, and mercilessly pathologizing Whites and Western culture, this academic found himself the darling of the Jewish academic establishment, lavished with plaudits, prizes and esteem. It’s the quintessential story of how taking part in the war on Whites can bring with it an abundance of temporary rewards.

Gavin Langmuir (1924–2005), now remembered as a “worldwide authority on anti-Semitism,” was born into a prominent and successful family in Toronto, Canada. In old age he would recall:

I was raised in an atheistic family that nonetheless went to church (the Canadian version of the Church of England) at Easter and Christmas and utilized religious ceremonies for rites of passage; and as a boy I earned pocket money by singing in the choir. I became familiar with many Christian beliefs and much Christian ceremony and literature – and with some biblical Judaism and Jewish history, in however distorted a form. Although I never became a believer in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, by the time I emerged from adolescence, that transmission of Christian history and beliefs, reinforced by Bach and Handel, had influenced my conception of history and humanity to a considerable extent, although it would be hard to say how and how much.[1]

Langmuir initially had his heart set on a military career and he served in France during World War II. He was so badly wounded during one battle that he was at first believed to be dead by his comrades. Rescued and taken to England to recuperate, Langmuir was given a medical discharge and abandoned his military ambitions before setting his sights on an academic career. He returned to Canada as soon as he was well enough for the journey, completing a BA at the University of Toronto in 1948. From Toronto, he moved to a Harvard graduate school to work on modern diplomatic history. From there, he moved backwards in time, eventually completing a doctoral dissertation in 1955 on the deeper origins and development of the English constitution. After spending three years at Harvard as an instructor, he moved to Stanford in 1958 and remained there for the rest of his career.

After settling in at Stanford, Langmuir’s career consisted of producing articles and books examining somewhat obscure aspects of English legal history. What eventually brought his attention to Jewish subject matter is unclear, although it has been speculated that it was “sparked by a book he reviewed. He went on to write many articles that documented the nature of criminal charges against Jews and how those accusations evolved during the 12th and 13th centuries.” This phase of his work seems to have begun in the early sixties when he published a 1963 article in the journal Traditio on ‘The Jews and the Archives of Angevin England: Reflections on Medieval Anti-Semitism.’

By 1968 Langmuir was getting his work published in Jewish journals like Jewish Social Studies, writing on topics such as ‘Tradition, History, and Prejudice,’ ‘Majority History and Post-Biblical Jews,’ and ‘Anti-Judaism as the Necessary Preparation for Anti-Semitism.’ In all these articles, Langmuir articulated a bizarre mix of psychoanalysis and poor historical method. The works also showed signs of being influenced by The Authoritarian Personality, and post-World War II Jewish apologetics which aimed to define anti-Jewish attitudes as irrational and pathological.

In Fresno, in February 1971, Langmuir stepped up the pro-Semitic aspect of his work when he presented a paper on “The Knight’s Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln” at the annual conference of the Medieval Association of the Pacific. Langmuir gave a skewed representation of Chaucer’s much-maligned Canterbury Tales, a text still so bothersome to Jews that the ADL has produced a “Discussion Guide for Educators” apparently to make sure teachers don’t produce swarms of little anti-Semites. The tale is about a young boy in an Asian city who expressed his devotion to Mary by singing Alma redemptoris, especially when walking to and from school through the Jewish quarter. The enraged Jews cut his throat and threw his body in their privy, but his mother discovered him because Mary miraculously enabled him to continue singing. The singing body was then transported in great procession to the nearest abbey; the provost had the Jews drawn and hanged; and the boy-martyr was buried after his singing had been miraculously explained and stopped.

Langmuir’s explanation of the tale, and of anti-Semitism more generally, participated in developing trends in the ‘study’ of historical anti-Jewish attitudes during the 1960s and 1970s. These decades witnessed a shift away from the study of ‘prejudiced’ individuals – as had been the case from the 1940s–1950s with studies like the Authoritarian Personality. Condemnations of Western culture had certainly been strongly implied in the earlier decades, but works like Jules Isaac’s Has anti-Semitism Roots in Christianity? (1961) and Alan Davies’ Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind (1969), made this even more explicit.

Langmuir benefited from riding the crest of this wave. The new paradigm for psychological explanations of ‘prejudice’ was that whole groups, societies, and cultures (but of course only really the people and culture of the West) could have collective psychological processes like projection and narcissism. Psychoanalysis played a huge part in the development of this pseudo-historiography and, indeed, many of the works produced during this period were penned not by historians or social scientists but by avowed psychoanalysts like Avner Falk. Langmuir’s work mimicked Jewish productions by essentially absolving medieval Jewish populations of any responsibility in provoking negative reactions from their Christian host populations, and by ascribing to Christian/Western society a deep-seated psychological malfunction shot through with fantasy, repression, and sadism.

Despite his actually very limited expertise in medieval legal history, Langmuir saw fit to quickly make grand pronouncements on the nature and origins of anti-Jewish feeling across Europe and over the course of centuries. His works, often with pitifully thin evidence of wider reading, portrayed anti-Semitism as “a primarily Western phenomenon.”[2] He arrogantly claimed to have been able to “define Christianity and categorize its manifestations, including Catholicism, objectively.”[3] He bluntly confessed in his books that “I shall not discuss pagan attitudes to Jews in antiquity.”[4] He dismissively described attempts to come to rational, interest-based, theories of inter-group conflict between Jews and non-Jews as “misguided pseudoscientific efforts of racial theorists,” and even argued that attempts to come to “common sense” explanations of anti-Semitism would prove “disastrous.”[5] Anti-Semitism was instead “both in its origin and in its recent most horrible manifestation … the hostility aroused by irrational thinking about Jews.”[6]

Even for an approach rooted in religion, Langmuir was keen to act as an apologist for Jews and insisted that they didn’t even arouse religious (let alone economic or social) hostility. The scurrilous stories about Jesus and his followers, Toledot Jesu, circulated by Jewish authorities, were only “very brief,” and the persecution of Christians by Jews was only “occasional.”[7] Christians, meanwhile, were from the beginning engaged in a struggle to establish their identity and deal with nonrational doubts: “Christians who were seriously bothered by their own doubts could hardly avoid thinking of Jews.”[8]

Langmuir had refined his approach to anti-Semitism by the mid-70s, maintaining that inter-ethnic violence such as that seen during the First Crusade (Langmuir uncritically accepted the Hebrew sources of these events) was purely religious in motivation and character. It was sparked not by Jewish usury, which was by then rampant, but by the fact Christians were “sensitive to threats to their identity.”[9]

His main argument for maintaining this stance was, rather naively, that Jews were spared if they converted. It doesn’t appear to have occurred to Langmuir that conversion was as much a social and political process as a religious one, or that sparing someone for reasons religious or otherwise doesn’t immediately imply the cause of initial conflict was predominantly religious. Langmuir also argued that the non-Jews of the medieval period perceived religion as the only difference between themselves and Jews, even though it is a commonly known fact that even in the high Middle Ages Europeans had developed a sense of Jewish difference “not rooted only in religious belief and practices, but in the physical nature or biology of Jews themselves.”[10]

Instead, Langmuir’s career for the next 30 years began to be built around his argument that the appearance of anti-Semitism in high medieval Christendom was due to the growth of religious doubt which, when repressed in various social circles, resulted in the irrational projection onto the Jews of all the opposition to Christian faith which Christendom had generated in itself. It’s a theory of anti-Semitism which suits Jewish interests perfectly, since is absolves Jews of any responsibility and, as scholar Hannah Johnson has noted, presents a “one dimensional model of conflict between an intolerant Christian community and its passive Jewish victims.”[11]

Despite their flaws, many of these articles were collected and published in Toward a Definition of Antisemitism (1990), which along with an accompanying volume History, Religion and Anti-Semitism (1990), was said to constitute Langmuir’s magnum opus. In TDA, Langmuir scratched at the surface of anti-Jewish medieval works, condemning the West in sweeping judgments. Take, for his example, his scathing treatment of Thomas of Monmouth for writing the Life of William of Norwich, a tale concerning the alleged murder of a boy by Jews and miraculous events accompanying the discovery of his body:

Thomas of Monmouth was an influential figure in the formation of Western culture. He did not alter the course of battles, politics or the economy. He solved no philosophical or theological problems. Yet … he created a myth that affected Western mentality from the twelfth to the twentieth century, and caused, directly or indirectly, far more deaths than William’s murderer could ever have dreamt of committing.[12]

For writing such facile nonsense, Langmuir was awarded the National Jewish Book Award for scholarship in 1991, and was subject to gushing praise in Jewish academic journals as well as the mainstream press. By the time of his death in 2005, Langmuir was one of the world’s most highly-regarded ‘experts’ on Jewish history.

But a career built on rotten foundations can rarely enjoy an untroubled legacy, and in recent years Langmuir’s work has been utterly savaged by a small number of non-Jewish historians keen to re-inject rationalism into the areas he was so keen to shroud in jargon and psycho-babble. One of the most capable deconstructions of Langmuir’s work has come from the pen of Hannah Johnson, a Princeton-educated medievalist from England who has described the Canadian as “an exemplar of a moralizing imperative in the historiography of the ritual murder libel.”[13] In Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History (2012), Johnson sheds such a glaring light on Langmuir and his work that it is he who emerges as fundamentally pathological. Johnson questions why Langmuir came to occupy his bizarre position in supporting the Jewish narrative: “Because he hails from a background of Christian religious skepticism rather than the Jewish tradition, it might seem as if his investment in a communal memory of Jewish historical suffering would be minimal. … But Langmuir articulates what is surely the most fully developed version of a historiography of moralization in relation to the ritual murder accusation.”[14]

On Langmuir’s comments about Thomas of Monmouth, Johnson writes:

This statement presents us with themes that are problematic from the perspective of the early twenty-first century. ‘Western mentality’ is apparently a unified and describable phenomenon from the twelfth to the twentieth; a simple teleology leading inevitably from medieval acts of violence to the Holocaust is presumed, taken as a matter of common knowledge. And in Langmuir’s rhetoric we can see a desire to assign moral responsibility to particular historical persecutors of Jews, and not just to some anonymous group, but to one in particular, Thomas of Monmouth, who becomes the perverse prime mover behind centuries of cruelty.[15]

Johnson is also fully aware of Langmuir’s place in Jewish intellectual activity. She describes Langmuir as an “heir of historians like Norman Cohn and Joshua Trachtenberg, who understood anti-Semitism as an inherently psychosocial phenomenon bound up in Christians’ neurotic needs.”[16] His “scholarship represents a culmination of psychohistorical analysis that emphasizes the importance of psychological processes like identification and projection.”[17] While playing the impartial historian, Langmuir, like his Jewish colleagues, “writes with the victims in mind, and his work is concerned with both exonerating and remembering those Jews who feared ‘being turned over as prey to the barbarians.’”[18]

Yet Langmuir’s egregious body of work continues to exert an influence on the way in which scholars approach the subject of medieval Jewry. He played a significant role in setting ‘moral’ investigative and theoretical boundaries around the charge of ritual murder. Johnson states that he was crucial among modern historians in maintaining the “long-standing taboo” against any concession that at least a few of the ritual murder accusations had a basis in fact.[19] Langmuir was “deeply suspicious of all rationalizing gestures, which from his point of view came dangerously close to suggesting some realistic basis for the ritual murder accusation.”[20]

Breaking the taboo has proven uncomfortable for Ariel Toaff, son of an Italian rabbi, who produced Pasque Di Sangue (Passovers of Blood) in 2007 (see also Enza Ferreri’s “Who is for free speech? The Ariel Toaff case“). Toaff made the mistake of approaching the topic with a greater than usual amount of objectivity, and discovered that small sects of ultra-orthodox Jews did use blood during Passover rituals, and believed in the magical properties of children’s blood in particular. He also made the incendiary claim that confessions wrought from Jews suspected of killing the three-year old Simon of Trent in 1475 contained information that even the authorities were unaware of until further investigation, thus proving their guilt. After numerous ad hominem attacks, the public questioning of his motives in writing the book, condemnations by the ADL and the Knesset, demands he be prosecuted, and even threats to his life, Toaff withdrew the book a week after its publication.

The treatment experienced by both Langmuir and Toaff really illustrates a profound difference between our culture and that of the Jews. These scholars both departed from their respective traditions to some extent, making claims which were harmful at the very least to the cultural and historical memory of their group. But Jews, obviously more ethnocentric and authoritarian, evidently police their renegades much more efficiently. Toaff probably counts himself lucky to be alive and still have a job. Langmuir, by contrast, was universally praised for a career which poured scorn on his own ancestors and their culture.

The war on Whites is massively incentivized.


[1] G. Langmuir, History, Religion and Antisemitism (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 8.

[2] Ibid, 15.

[3] Ibid, 13.

[4] Ibid, 275.

[5] Ibid, 19 &67.

[6] Ibid, 275.

[7] Ibid, 281-2.

[8] Ibid, 283-4.

[9] Ibid, 291.

[10] I. Resnick, Marks of Distinction: Christian Perceptions of Jews in the High Middle Ages (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 12.

[11] H. Johnson, Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History (Detroit: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 61.

[12] TDA, 234-35.

[13] H. Johnson, Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History (Detroit: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 24.

[14] Ibid, 25.

[15] Ibid, 61.

[16] Ibid, 63.

[17] Ibid, 62.

[18] Ibid, 62.

[19] Ibid, 4.

[20] Ibid, 56.

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