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The Strangeness of Psychotic Jew-Hatred
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The Strangeness of Psychotic Jew-Hatred

Antisemitism remains astonishingly common, especially in its less feverish expression.

Antisemtic graffiti on the window of an office in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images.)

Antisemitism is a strange prejudice. As the great liberal economist Ludwig von Mises pointed out, most common bigotry—for example, anti-black racism in the United States—is based upon some supposed fault or deficiency in the despised population. Yet antisemites scorn Jews for “vices” that look a lot like virtues: that they are intelligent and pursue education, that they are unusually successful in business and particularly in prestigious businesses such as finance and entertainment, that they have a strong sense of communal responsibility, that they are cosmopolitan, etc.

Of course it is true that, as G. K. Chesterton observed, virtues gone mad can be more dangerous than vices, and the poison is in the dosage: The cultivation of the mind can lead to narrow intellectualism, community-mindedness can become clannishness, the pursuit of success in business can lead to avarice or dishonesty, and these undesirable traits are attributed to Jews by Jew-haters. But Jews are an all-purpose villain, fit for any occasion: American antisemites hated Jews and denounced them as socialists in the 1930s even as European antisemites hated Jews and denounced them as capitalists. The Lindberghers hated Jews for being communists, and the Marxists hated Jews for not being communists. Jew-hatred can present as a progressive psychosis—as we have seen in the late careers of several figures on the right and left—but it is in its milder, less feverish expression that it remains astonishingly common. 

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League and written up in the Washington Post contains some very surprising findings—surprising not because antisemitic beliefs persist but because they are so widespread according to self-reporting. (About the ADL as an organization I have deep reservations, but I do not see any reason to doubt the honesty of the survey.) Some 70 percent of Americans endorsed the belief that Jews “stick together more than other Americans.” Fifty-three percent said that Jews give other Jews preferential treatment in hiring, and 39 percent reported a belief that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States. A third of Americans affirmed that Jews “do not share my values,” while 1 in 5 Americans say that Jews have too much power in the United States and are more willing than members of other groups to use dishonest means to pursue their ends. A quarter of Americans claimed that Jews have too much control over Wall Street.

These are, of course, the “greatest hits” of antisemitism, and you can find such sentiments being voiced over the years by everybody from right-wing knuckle-draggers to literary progressives such as Gore Vidal to every other sophomoric lefty activist on our college campuses

Because we are used to thinking of African Americans as victims of prejudice rather than as practitioners of it, many American political observers are discomfited by the prominence of antisemitism among prominent black politicians and community leaders. What a gift the former Kanye West gave Democrats by linking his own psychotic (literally medically psychotic, one assumes) antisemitism to Donald Trump and various minor goblins from the sewer of right-wing trollery. It is much more difficult for the progressive mind to digest Jesse Jackson’s derision of “Hymietown” or Barack Obama’s nearness to such figures as Louis Farrakhan. Ice Cube remains welcome in polite society in spite of his at times vocal antisemitism. The former Mr. West even credited Mr. Cube for contributing to his own “antisemite vibe,” as he put it. 

About 3 percent of Americans agreed that all of the antisemitic tropes in the ADL survey are “mostly or somewhat true,” suggesting that there are millions more antisemites in the United States than there are Jews. This is not entirely surprising, given the small size of the Jewish population. As one of the study’s reviewers reminds the Washington Post: “Kanye has more followers on Instagram than there are Jewish people in the world.”

Anti-black racism has of course been the most consequential prejudice in American history, but antisemitism remains strangely vital. Like its cousin, anti-Catholicism, antisemitism is more than a prejudice and more than a visceral hatred—it is, in its most extreme form, a kind of “theory of everything” in politics. Anti-black racism may exist with or without an attendant conspiracy theory, but antisemitism is almost without exception rooted in a conspiratorial view of the world. The fact that antisemitic incidents are on the rise on college campuses is entirely predictable in that campus culture is as much conspiracy-driven as talk-radio culture or Fox News culture, with different villains and a slightly more refined rhetoric: not “Jews” pulling the strings from the shadows, but “Zionists.” 

One would think that an all-powerful cabal would have managed to, say, install one of its own in the presidency at least once, but the closest any person of Jewish background has come to the Oval Office was Barry Goldwater—who did not come very close. (And was not very Jewish: At the time of his campaign, the newspaperman Harry Golden cracked, “I always knew that the first Jewish candidate for president would be an Episcopalian.”) But for the conspiracy-minded, everything is evidence for the conspiracy—why bother putting a Jew in the White House when they—they!—can secretly control whatever figurehead they choose and thereby avoid scrutiny? That is kook-fringe stuff, though it is worth noting that perfectly respectable progressives make roughly the same argument about the Vatican and the Supreme Court. 

None of this stands up to any real scrutiny, of course, and none of it makes much sense if you take five minutes to think about it. But for the psychotic Jew-hater and the conspiracy nut, the upside of a political discourse dominated by tropes and memes and social-media exchanges is that nobody does take five minutes to think about it. I think it is far from coincidental that the golden age of liberal democracy was also the golden age of newspapers—the age of social media will produce, and has produced, a different kind of politics, one with more tribalism, more unmoored passion, and, inevitably, more psychotic Jew-hatred. 

Nobody Follows ‘the Science’

Listening to NPR (monitoring enemy frequencies) I rolled my eyes so hard that I almost wrecked my Jeep when The Pulse interviewed UC-Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner about his new book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. It was approximately the river of goo you would expect from that particular confluence—psychologist, Berkeley, “transform your life”—but it stuck in my mind because of the word “science” in the title and because of NPR’s endless recitation of its commitment to “fact-based reporting,” which is a problem in that Professor Keltner from the beginning abandons both fact and science. 

Keltner begins with a very moving account of the death of his brother. He says that as his brother lay dying, he detected “light that radiated from [his] face, it pulsated in concentric circles” and that he comprehended the presence of a force pulling his brother away. The thing is—and I am confident writing this even though I was not there—that did not happen. That isn’t how death works—that isn’t how light works. People’s faces do not emit concentric circles of light when they die, and there was no detectable force in the room pulling Keltner’s brother away—if Keltner believes himself to be in possession of sensory equipment that can detect what the most advanced scientific devices cannot, then this should be put to the test, scientifically, if we are to take seriously the notion that this is the “science” of anything. It may very well be that Keltner imagined he saw concentric circles of light radiating from the face of his brother, but what people imagine they see during moments of great personal stress (as at the death of a loved one) is no kind of basis for a scientific conclusion. Usually, people who voice this kind of nonsense do not believe that they literally saw something but instead are talking in a poetic way about an emotional experience that they do not have more direct and accurate language to describe. 

Whatever that is, it is not science—and it is not fact. It is, at best, metaphor. 

As part of the report, NPR played an older story about the “overview effect,” the emotional sensation one gets when observing a familiar scene from a great height or a great distance. Apparently, the experience of seeing Earth from space has had a profound emotional effect on some astronauts, and the NPR commentator posited—entirely seriously—that we should send world leaders to conduct their negotiations in space on the theory that this would lead them toward making better decisions and reaching more harmonious outcomes. This is, of course, absolute drivel, but drivel that resonates with the proper sensibility is taken seriously. It is impossible to imagine, say, an Evangelical Christian’s claims of some direct encounter with God being given the kind of deference that Keltner’s sentimental hokum receives on “fact-based” public radio. 

This produces some genuinely bad journalistic results. For example, the health benefits of dietary fads that accord with suburban lifestyle progressivism (veganism, for example) are accepted with very little scrutiny, as are claims of meaningful benefits from such vague practices as “mindfulness.” 

These are testable hypotheses, but the evidence does not matter. We have more than a century’s worth of evidence documenting that chiropractic care provides no meaningful medical benefits—which should not surprise us, given that chiropractic is based in late 19th-century metaphysical horsepucky about manipulating mystical energies and “innate intelligence” and other factors that do not actually exist—but we treat chiropractic as though it were a legitimate branch of medicine and even subsidize its practice under various government programs. Under the grievously misnamed Affordable Care Act, we laid the foundations for federal recognition of all sorts of pseudoscientific nonsense, from acupuncture to “energy work.” This from people who will lecture us that we must “follow the science.”

I take a pretty conventional view of climate change and evolution, but I do not want to hear one word about “follow the science” from the editorial board of any newspaper that publishes horoscopes. If you cannot apply the same standards of intellectual rigor to both creationism and yoga, then you are not “following the science”—you are using “the science” as a Kulturkampf cudgel. 

Economics for English Majors

Wage Gains Lag Behind Inflation for Another Year,” reads the top headline in the Wall Street Journal, whose editors should know better. If the wage gains were less than inflation, then there weren’t any wage gains at all—there were wage losses. 

A very useful concept in economics is the real—real wages, real GDP, real median household income over time, etc. Real simply means “adjusted for inflation.” If you aren’t adjusting for inflation, you are not in the realm of the real. 

Money, properly understood, is basically a record-keeping system. Manipulating the records does not change the real world. If you have 100 apples and they cost $10 on Tuesday but cost $20 on Wednesday, you are not twice as wealthy in apple terms as you were the day before—only in dollar terms, and you can’t bake a dollar pie. For the most part, I don’t care if the increased dollar value of my stock portfolio reflects some underlying economic reality, although in the long run it must. We don’t think about that sort of thing too much. But the real economy is not made up of dollars—it is made up of apples, and wheat, and labor, and engineering services, and magazine articles, and all the things we make and do that add up to economic output. A great deal of modern economic policy is oriented toward trying to monkey with the record-keeping system in some clever way, but, in the end, what matters is how much wheat you can grow, how much work you can do, the efficacy of the software you develop, etc. When the record-keeping system becomes too disconnected from the underlying economic reality—as when you send a huge pile of money out of the federal fisc at a time when economic production is in fact stagnant or declining—then you end up with problem inflation, like we have now. 

(Problem deflation can be a problem, too.) 

Shunting money into the economy does not in and of itself add to the number of acres under cultivation or increase the available workforce or induce innovation and creativity. Making money cheaper makes it easier to access credit, which is beneficial to entrepreneurs and young firms—but another way of looking at that is that a policy of artificially cheap money is a tax on savers and a subsidy for debtors. That’s a policy you can follow for a long time, but the correction, which we are probably only beginning to really experience, can be painful. 

What we need is an economic policy that is oriented toward the real economy rather than a policy that is oriented toward trying to goose the economy through government spending during slow times. (The other half of the crude Keynesian practice—tamping down the booms with fiscal restraint and budget-balancing—rarely makes it out of the realm of the merely theoretical in U.S. policy.) But that is harder to do, because when it comes to things like fixing the schools, developing an intelligent energy policy, and providing a stable long-term regulatory and tax regime for investors—it is much easier and much more politically juicy to run willy-nilly from one thing to the next, lurching from crisis to crisis and from policy to policy as though the lurching were not a big part of the problem to begin with. 

Stable money” used to be an important plank in the conservative platform. But some conservatives seem to have lost all sense of why that was and what is now necessary.

Words About Words

About the above: There has been some debate about how to capitalize and punctuate antisemitism—or anti-semitism, or anti-Semitism. From the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance:

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) would like to address the spelling of the term antisemitism, often rendered as ‘anti-Semitism’. The IHRA’s concern is that the hyphenated spelling allows for the possibility of something called ‘Semitism’, which not only legitimizes a form of pseudo-scientific racial classification that was thoroughly discredited by association with Nazi ideology, but also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews.

The Semitic languages famously include both Hebrew and Arabic, but also Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre, Aramaic, and Maltese. But when T. S. Eliot wrote 

But this or such was Bleistein’s way:
A saggy bending of the knees
And elbows, with the palms turned out,
Chicago Semite Viennese.

he wasn’t talking about the Catholics down in sunny Malta. 

Antisemitism seems the right orthography to me. 

RIP

Elsewhere

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In Closing

Who needs a .375 Holland & Holland Magnum?, they said. It’s too much gun, they said. You’ll never need a safari magnum outside of Africa, they said. Well—the ammunition has a picture of a leopard right there on the box! Headline: “Dallas Zoo closes to search for missing clouded leopard. The zoo issued a ‘code blue’ and officials are looking for the animal.” You think Pancake the 5-pound dachshund is going to protect the Williamson homestead from a leopard? I don’t think so.

Pancake having a snooze at the Miami airport.
Pancake having a snooze at the Miami airport.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.