Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: A Critique [Part Three]

“Sartre’s analysis is mere gossip parading as well-reasoned, irrefutable phenomenological argument.”
Pierre Birnbaum, 1999.

Sartre on ‘the anti-Semite’

As noted previously, the ambivalent response to Sartre’s thoughts on ‘the Jew’ is in stark contrast to the much-more positively received section of the text dealing with ‘the anti-Semite.’ Indeed, Michael Walzer states that this portrait of the anti-Semite is “rightly taken to be the strongest part of the book.”[1] Jack Kugelmass has described it as a “key text for Jewish cultural studies.”[2] Herbert Spiegelberg, meanwhile, argues that Sartre’s interpretation of the anti-Semite is “persuasive and brilliant.”[3] Such appraisals, it will be demonstrated, can be based only on the value of Sartre’s conclusions as an ideological weapon: that the anti-Semite is a highly pathological individual, and that Jews and their behavior have absolutely no bearing on the opinions of Jews formed in the minds of the surrounding population. This conclusion is nowhere summarized more succinctly than in Sartre’s formulation: “Far from experience producing his idea of the Jew, it was the latter which explained his experience. If the Jew did not exist the anti-Semite would invent him.”[4] It is argued here that Sartre’s dubious critique of ‘the anti-Semite’ has enjoyed significant praise solely because the author provided Jews with the strength of his own personal reputation as a public intellectual, as well as a relatively novel and valuable theory of anti-Semitism which denied it any social or political legitimacy and heavily stigmatized individuals associated with it. It is further argued that, in terms of methodology and historical awareness, Sartre’s ‘portrait of the anti-Semite’ is perhaps the weakest and most ignorant text ever produced on the subject of anti-Semitism.

Sartre’s anti-Semite is an overwhelmingly negative presence in society, and the philosopher’s interpretation of anti-Semitism is overwhelmingly beneficial to the reputation of Jews. Sartre argues that it is wrong to examine external causes when attempting to understand why host populations develop antagonistic attitudes to Jews. He writes that anti-Semitism cannot be explained as “an impersonal phenomenon which can be expressed by figures and averages, one which is conditioned by economic, historical, and political constants.”[5] He adds that it is merely the idea of the Jew that causes anti-Semitism and that history can tell us nothing about the phenomenon: “No external factor  can induce anti-Semitism in the anti-Semite.”[6] Joseph Sungolowsky summarizes it thus: “Sartre contends that anti-Semitism is a self-sufficient psychological process taking the form of a passion that is not motivated by any external cause, but rather the idea that has been formed of the Jew.”[7] Read more

Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: A Critique [Part Two]

“Sartre almost always swallowed huge quantities of amphetamines when writing non-fiction.”
    John Gerassi, 1989.[1]

Sartre on ‘the Jew’

Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew is divided into four sections, concerned as it is with four actors, or character profiles: the anti-Semite, the democrat, the inauthentic Jew, and the authentic Jew. Existing criticism of the book has almost exclusively concerned Sartre’s treatment of Jews (in Sartre’s jargon, both ‘inauthentic’ and ‘authentic’), while the most highly praised aspect of the book has been his incredibly negative characterization of the anti-Semite. Since Sartre’s comments on ‘the democrat’ are generally regarded as the most meagre and the least consequential, this critique is concerned only with Sartre’s comments on both the Jew and the anti-Semite. We will start with a summary of problems in his theory of Jewishness.

Other than swallowing huge amounts speed, a habit that would ultimately lead to several debilitating strokes, Sartre conducted no preparations before writing Anti-Semite and Jew, telling Benny Levy in 1980: “I wrote without documentation, without reading one book about Jews.”[2] Sartre also failed to conduct any research into the history of anti-Semitism, or to read widely the arguments put forth by anti-Semites. He would later state that his opinions on anti-Semitism had been shaped for the most part by his reaction to reading a handful of contemporary French anti-Semitic pamphlets.[3] It is notable that while Sartre’s lack of research on the history and nature of anti-Semitism hasn’t prevented his commentary on anti-Semitism being portrayed as a “a classic,” his lack of research on Jews and their history has been pointed out as highly problematic. Indeed, from the moment of its publication Jews have been torn between a desire to adopt Sartre’s ‘weapon’ against the anti-Semite, and their unease at Sartre’s treatment of their own sense of identity.

Jewish criticisms of Sartre have for the most part revolved around his Marxist/existentialist interpretation of Jewish identity, and to a large extent these criticism are valid. It was argued in the first section of this essay that Sartre was beholden to an image of Jews and Jewishness as useful allies in his subconscious quest for social and cultural revenge. For Sartre this would necessarily involve denying Jews and their history any specificity which may exclude him. Predictably then, he advanced a theory that ‘the Jew’ was not a member of a rigid ethnic group defined by blood, history, and culture, but was instead a mere abstract compilation of Jewish ‘traits’ — the Jew as ‘intellectual,’ ‘urban,’ ‘social critic,’ ‘marginal,’ and ‘disruptive’—traits which he would himself come to embody, so one might label his book an exercise in narcissism. In his haste to portray Jews as a picture of innocence in relation to the origins of anti-Semitism, Sartre essentially suggested that the Jews themselves didn’t even exist, or if they did, it was in a largely ‘inauthentic’ form. In Anti-Semite and Jew Sartre writes that Jews are neither a national or religious community, but merely “an abstract historical community.”[4] Jews are not united with each other, or made Jews, by their history or religion, but “because they have in common the situation of a Jew, that is, they live in a community which takes them for Jews.”[5] Jews are thus, like Sartre himself, ‘created’ from exclusion and marginalization. Read more

Sartre’s “Anti-Semite and Jew”: A Critique [Part One]

“That book is a declaration of war against anti-Semites, nothing more.”
 Jean-Paul Sartre, 1980.

A little over a decade ago I decided to research the Jewish Question in earnest. The precise chain of events leading to this decision was complex, but the main engine driving it was sheer intellectual curiosity. Here was a subject at once profound and deeply entwined with European history, and yet also obscure and apparently also half-sunk in a quagmire of shame. As a young developing scholar in the Arts, I felt the Jewish clash with Europeans had it all — economic aspects, religious factors, the opinions of philosophical giants, the dictates of kings and the risings of peasants. Here was history in raw, perpetually political form. As a result, I found myself haunting college and public libraries, slowly absorbing the topic’s mainstream texts, along with the not so mainstream, until one day I came across a small, unassuming volume just barely visible between two much larger books.

The name of the author brought about a spark of recognition, but it was the title that made me reach for it. There was something about Anti-Semite and Jew (1946) that suggested a personal approach to the subject that I felt had been hitherto lacking in the works I’d consulted. I took Sartre’s slim monograph to a nearby table where I devoted an afternoon to some but not all of its contents. I couldn’t finish it. Materially sparse and logically recondite, the book disappointed all initial hopes. I returned it to the shelves, and for the next ten years never felt the need to consult Sartre’s contribution to the discussion of anti-Semitism.

Until now. Prompted by a public radio discussion on Sartre (mainly focussing on his childhood and private life), around three months ago I decided to return to the Frenchman’s ideas on anti-Semitism — not because of any value inherent in the ideas themselves, but because of what a thorough critical treatment of them might tell us about Sartre and about philo-Semitic apologetics in general. During that time, I examined the text in full, making notes as I progressed. These notes eventually formed the following essay, which is, as far as I am aware, the first time that an ‘anti-Semite’ has replied to Sartre’s work.

The Significance of Anti-Semite and Jew

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) was a French philosopher, writer, political activist, and literary critic. In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for his literary work but refused it on the grounds it was a cultural symbol with which he did not wish to be associated. He is perhaps best known as one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, an area of philosophy which contends that Man is a self-creating being who is not initially endowed with a character and goals but must choose them by acts of pure decision — existential ‘leaps.’ Sartre was born into a bourgeois Parisian family of comfortable means but would go on to be generally regarded as one of the most important Marxist philosophers of the 20th century. His father died when he was 15 months old, something which I believe profoundly affected the philosopher, consciously or not, throughout his life.

Sartre may be usefully characterized as someone in several respects at war with his roots, a fact demonstrated in stories (almost certainly apocryphal) from his autobiography and related to friends. Among them, for example, is an account of Sartre throwing his family tree into a waste basket.[1] Much of his future intellectual work could be seen as a rebellion against his own deeply bourgeois roots and perhaps even a form of self-loathing or an attempt to escape the Self. Never growing more than five feet tall, and painfully aware from a young age of his physical unattractiveness, Sartre invested a great deal of time on philosophical speculations on ugliness. Importantly, he viewed his ugliness as a form of social marginalization. It is particularly interesting that in these discussions he linked ugliness to other forms of perceived social marginalization, and even more interesting that he sometimes used the formulation “Aryan/Jew, handsome/ugly.”[2] Read more

Jews Versus the Alt Right: Lessons from History


“The anti-Semitic movement is essentially a reaction against the abnormal growth in Jewish power, and the new strength of anti-Semitism is largely due to the Jews themselves.” Hillaire Belloc, The Jews (1922)

Just over a week ago, Hillary Clinton gave a speech attacking Donald Trump’s alleged associations with the Alt Right. In that boring and over-wrought piece of public speaking, Angela Merkel’s rival as the matriarch of mendacity described the Alt Right as a barely coherent whirlwind of “race-baiting,” “anti-woman,” “anti-Muslim,” and “anti-immigrant ideas.”

Predictably, it was revealed shortly after the speech that parts of it had been cribbed directly from an April propaganda piece by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Originating with an organization that makes a living by peddling horror stories, fantasies, and libels, it was no surprise that the speech relayed exaggerated and contradictory messages about this “emerging racist ideology.” According to Clinton, the Alt Right is “loose” but also “organized.” Its membership is “mostly online,” but also on our streets in droves in the form of a “rising tide of hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world.”

So far, so banal. However, by mentioning Trump’s alleged Twitter usage of “an anti-Semitic image — a Star of David imposed over a sea of dollar bills,” along with “anti-Semitic slurs and death threats coming from his supporters,” Clinton clumsily broke what seems to have been a long-standing convention that kept Jews and anti-Semitism off discussion tables at the highest level. After decades on the wings, political anti-Semitism had made it to the main stage. Read more

Britain’s accidental “red pill” moment

If you think Donald Trump is getting a hard time from an openly one-sided media, then consider what is happening in Britain where the Labour Party has been punished for months for the temerity to reject the Jewish political agenda.

But now the law of unintended consequences has finally caught up with the manufactured “Labour anti-Semitism” pseudo-crisis. No-one could have predicted that it would backfire so deliciously — or that it would turn into such a potential “red pill” moment on the realities of Jewish power in Britain today.

It happened during a BBC interview with leading Labour left-winger and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. He was being interrogated about a witless female Muslim Labour MP who had lost her job over a re-tweet she made two years ago, despite apologising in public four times. Pressed to repent, Livingstone finally snapped and came out with the fated words.

Hitler was supporting Zionism… Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel.

For good measure he then said the woman, Naz Shah, was the victim of a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby” and repeated it all later. Read more

A Review of “Why the Germans? Why the Jews?” — Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Götz Aly’s selective application of his “pathological envy” thesis

While asserting that German hostility toward Jews has its origins in a pathological “envy,” as a fervent leftist Aly would never extend this line of reasoning to account for the hostility of American Blacks or other non-White groups toward Whites. Aly can safely posit that “intellectually inferior” Germans who “lacked confidence in their identity” had an envy-driven hatred for “intellectually superior” and upwardly mobile Jews, yet never assert that intellectually inferior Blacks have an envy-driven hatred for intellectually superior and upwardly mobile Whites. Instead he would doubtless affirm the bogus narrative that Black hostility to Whites is a legitimate response to an insidious White “racism” that has impeded their social and economic advancement. This, of course, is despite that fact that this supposedly ubiquitous and malign force has somehow failed to hinder the social and economic advancement of East Asians in Western societies.

A National Socialist poster: “Bolshevism is Jewry”

A National Socialist poster: “Bolshevism is Jewry”


Nor would Aly extrapolate his pathological envy thesis of intergroup hostility to explain the vastly disproportionate Jewish participation in the Bolshevik Revolution and the other oppressive communist regimes of Eastern Europe. This despite that fact that, in response to legal restrictions in Tsarist Russia that limited their economic and educational opportunities, millions of Jews gravitated to Zionism and Communism. That envy and resentment were key factors behind the overwhelming Jewish attraction to radical left was obvious to Norman Cantor who noted:

The Bolshevik Revolution and some of its aftermath represented, from one perspective, Jewish revenge. During the heyday of the Cold War, American Jewish publicists spent a lot of time denying that—as 1930s anti-Semites claimed—Jews played a disproportionately important role in Soviet and world Communism. The truth is until the early 1950s Jews did play such a role, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. In time Jews will learn to take pride in the record of the Jewish Communists in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. It was a species of striking back.[i]

Read more

A Review of “The Devil That Never Dies” by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Part 3

 Part 1
Part 2

Jews and Communism

Goldhagen angrily declares that any claim that Jews “were responsible for the Russian Revolution and its predations” is a “calumny” and that: “If you associate Jews with communism, or worse, hold communism to be a Jewish invention and weapon, every time the theme, let alone the threat, of communism, Marxism, revolution, or the Soviet Union comes up, it also conjures, reinforces, even deepens thinking prejudicially about Jews and the animus against Jews in one’s country.”[1]

So any linkage made between Jews and communism is, for Goldhagen, a “calumny” despite the fact that mainstream Jewish historians readily confirm that Jews were vastly disproportionate participants in providing the ideological basis for, and the governance and administration of, the murderous communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe.  Bernhard Wasserman, professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Chicago, notes, for example, that “the European left was in large measure a Jewish creation. In Germany in the mid-nineteenth century Marx, Hess, and Lassalle, all three of Jewish origin, had founded and shaped the socialist movement.”[2] Further,  the Jewish historian Norman Cantor pointed out that “In the first half of the twentieth century, Marxist-Leninist communism ran like an electromagnetic lightning flash through Jewish societies from Moscow to Western Europe, the United States and Canada, gaining the lifelong adherence of brilliant, passionately dedicated Jewish men and women.’[3]

The prominent Jewish intellectual and writer Chaim Bermant observed that, “To many minds, at the beginning of this [twentieth] century, the very words radical and Jew were almost one, and many a left-wing thinker or politician was taken to be Jewish through the very fact of his radicalism.” He also observed that “When, after the chaos of World War I, revolutions finally erupted all over Europe, Jews were everywhere at the helm”[4] To take just one example, of the forty-nine commissars who governed Bela Kun’s short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, thirty-one were Jewish.[5] Read more