The essential “other” and the Jew: from antisemitism to genocide

The essential “other” and the Jew: from antisemitism to genocide

Henri Zukier

The end of the twentieth century has a very disturbing sense of familiarity for many observers. Just when one thought that the Western world was safe at last, that it had found peace after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the dissipation of the bipolar tensions, there is everywhere a resurgence of much older hatreds. These hatreds already had been confidently consigned to the scrap heap of history. As late as 1992, an informed observer such as Francis Fukuyama could proclaim the lasting victory of Western liberal democracy and forecast the irresistible progress of humankind toward a peacable “end of history” (1992).

Fukuyama shared his optimism with most thinkers of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They had confidently proclaimed the advent of a new enlightened era, emancipated from the dark prejudices of the past. No facts, historical or personal, could dampen their irrepressible optimism about the constant progress of mankind. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, Condorcet, the last of the philosophes, wrote his paean exalting the triumph of reason in history and the lofty future of mankind while in hiding from his former Jacobin revolutionary companions. In his Esquisse, Condorcet still affirmed his conviction that prejudice only resulted from a cognitive shortcoming and was, therefore, bound to vanish with the steady increase of knowledge. “In spite of the transitory successes of prejudice,” Condorcet wrote, “truth alone will obtain a lasting victory,” because “nature has joined together indissolubly the progress of knowledge and that of liberty, virtue and respect for the natural rights of man.” Only ignorance and errors have “somewhat retarded or suspended the progress of reason,” and as soon as knowledge will reach the people, “all will be the friends of humanity, all will work together for its perfection and happiness” (Condorcet, 1955, p. 10). Soon after writing these lines, Condorcet was apprehended by sans-culottes and died in captivity.

Until the First World War, the Enlightenment philosophers still might have been right. By then, Europe had enjoyed almost a century without major conflicts and an era of socio-economic and intellectual growth. The twentieth century, with two world wars and other wanton cruelty, came as a shock. The surprise stemmed not from the unknown, but from the known and from this century’s chief characteristic. its bigotry — the rejection of the “other” — and its violence on a world scale. And lest one hope against hope that the world wars were a murderous interlude that ended with the confrontation between the two superpowers, there is the worldwide resurgence of deadly ethnic enmity. The Cold War, it now appears, not only instilled terror in the hearts of people, but also kept in check other dark impulses that lurked there. Old hatreds, like familiar foes, have come back to haunt us in a “return of the repressed.” The return, moreover, is to patterns of violence from the distant rather than from the near past, which nineteenth-century observers dismissed as primitive practices from the Dark Ages and wars of religion.

The Emergence of the Essential Outsider

The Historical Dimension: The Evolution of the Sense of Selfhood

In past centuries, the social order strictly defined the place of every individual in society and confined outsiders to the geographical and mental margins of the group: society regulated social intercourse with outsiders, restricted them to reserved areas in the city, or expelled them altogether from the group’s territory. In the Middle Ages, personal identity was not an expression of individual choice. Society was regarded as one body, whose parts did not have significance on their own as individual elements, but only functioned and took their essential qualities from their relations to the whole. To the medieval mind, a self-contained, personal identity was a meaningless notion. Selfhood was a derivative achievement from participation in the social order. The individual was defined as the focal point of multiple strands of social identity – by his niche in the network of relationships in the feudal, family, and religious order. The medieval individual could only see himself privately as others saw him publicly. Modern society broke the iron grip of bonds of birth and the medieval web of social necessity. Modernity held out a vision of a universe of vast potentialities and of many possible selves (good and bad ones, the stuff of dreams and nightmares). Modernity was also ail invitation for each individual to reclaim “ownership” of his life by designing it freely and imaginatively in light of his values and purposes. Personal identity became a private achievement of self-completion, the expression of one’s chosen life-style. The new ethos also imbued people with a sense of the right to demand recognition by society of the social legitimacy of their way of life. The modern outsider, emboldened by this new entitlement, can press his claims for recognition with unprecedented force. Late twentieth-century technology, especially that of communication and transportation, has created a world in which time and space — the dimensions for the confinement of the outsider — have been abolished. In this “global village,” as McLuhan called it, the outsider no longer remains an “invisible man”; he achieves instant proximity and, in keeping with the temper of the times, insistently demands recognition.

The Psychological Dimension: Psychological Identity As an

Interpersonal Process

In this new limelight, the outsider has become a powerful, magnetic presence, forcing society to redefine its own values. Yet, the antagonism against the outsider is not merely a force of disintegration, but also a struggle for the achievement and the reinforcement of personal or group identity. A common myth, particularly appealing in our individualistic age, asserts that personal identity is formed more or less autonomously through self-directed introspection and conscious choices. Yet, in reality the subjective experience of self hood does not come together naturally with the achievement of physical or other objective autonomy. For individuals and groups, self-consciousness requires not only inner resources; it is foremost an interpersonal experience which is developed through a combination of conflictual relations and identifications with loved and hated others. At birth, the infant is locked in a symbiotic relationship with his mother@ he experiences his connection to her as a form of merger and dual-unity. Psychological growth revolves foremost around issues of personal boundaries and the differentiation between self and others (Mahler, Bergman, and Pine, 1975; Stern, 1987, pp. 240-41). Personal development requires “fission,” an end to togetherness, and involves the gradual separation of the child from his environment in a process which necessarily involves conflict. Psychologically, then, a sense of selfhood is never a solitary, heroic accomplishment. Identity can only be achieved in relation to real or imagined essential others. The lover is born only in the glance of his beloved, the parent in the cry of his child, the victim in the maul of his oppressor. Even God, so the rabbinic commentators on the Bible intimate, solicits the covenantal affirmation of His divinity from man: “‘You are My witnesses, said the Lord, and I am God.’ That is, when you are My witnesses, I am God, but when you are not My witnesses, I am not God. Similarly, you say, `To You, enthroned in heaven, I turn my eyes.’ That is, but for me, You would not be sitting in the heavens” (Sifre Deuteronomy 346; Isaiah 43:12; Psalms 122:1). A person requires an essential other to fulfill his own sense of identity or to actualize his potential selfhood. Every individual must repeat in his own life the biblical struggle of Jacob with the angel at the river Yabbok in order to wrest from the other his own name and dignity.

The Social Dimension: Identity As a Dissociative Process

Conflict with the other, then, also is the crucible in which an individual’s sense of self-worth and self-efficacy are forged. Hegel’s account, in his Phenomenology of the Mind, of the dialectics of lordship and bondage underscores the psychological role of conflict. Individual self-consciousness can only be attained through the experience of conflict with another self. “Self-consciousness exists . . . only by being acknowledged or `recognized'” by another self-consciousness. To achieve this recognition, the protagonists must prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle” (Hegel, 1964, pp. 229, 232).

The role of conflict in shaping national consciousness is evident at numerous historical junctures. In the ancient world, the Greeks did not think of themselves as belonging to a single people. Until the fifth century B.C., they did not entertain the idea of “Greekness.” Instead, individuals viewed themselves as members of a particular ethnic group (the Iliad refers to “Boeotians” or Cretans”) or as citizens of a distinct polis. The emergence of a new collective self-consciousness and of a “Greek” identity occurred in the wake of the Persian Wars (490-479 B.C.), when (a minority of) Greek states banded together to repel the successive invasions by the emperor Darius and his son and successor, Xerxes. Soon thereafter, (Herodotus could for the first time refer to “Hellenikon,” the Hellenic thing,” or “Greekness.” This newly discovered “kinship of all Greeks” was expressed, Herodotus observed, in “blood and speech, and the shrines of gods and the sacrifices that we have in common, and the likeness of our way of life … (Herodotus, Book VIII, 144). A common identity entails a common “other.” Indeed, when the outside threat receded, so did, temporarily, the Greek identity. The century which opened with the successful wars against the Persians came to a close with the Peloponnesian war, the thirty-year conflict between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides already noted in the opening pages of his History that the Hellenic tribes were never united in their early history. In Homer, there is no “mention of Barbarians … dearly because there were as yet no Hellenes opposed to them by a common distinctive name” (Thucydides, History, I, 3). The very idea of “barbarian was founded on opposition to a common Greek identity. It is indeed at around the time of the crystallization of Greek self-consciousness that the pejorative image of the barbarian also emerges.

Conflict is so essential in fostering group cohesion that many emergent nations forged a heroic myth of conflictual origins. Greek nationhood found its emblematic expression in the Iliad (and the Odyssey), Homer’s epic poem which depicts a few brief weeks in the tenth and last year of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Serbian national consciousness at the close of the twentieth century harks back to the 1389 battle of Kosovo against the Ottoman Turks. Indeed, struggle, rather than victory, is essential: the Kosovo battle was a decisive Serbian defeat that put an end to national independence and led to five hundred years of Turkish rule. The 73 C.E. fall of Masada, the last bastion of the Zealots in the Jewish revolt against Rome, similarly has been a symbolic component of Israeli national consciousness. Conversely, real conflicts also become vulnerable to myth if they are linked to dimensions of identity. Thus, Germany’s recent Historikerstreit about the German role during the Second World War illustrated how even some historians may feel impelled to revise their nation’s immediate past in order to secure the national identity of the future. The strength of a group’s religious identity also is considerably enhanced by the group’s ability to cultivate and then decimate enemy or schismatic groups. The historical success of Catholicism in achieving a strong sense of inner cohesion and unity kin contrast, say, to the more diffuse identity of Protestantism) may be due in some measure to Catholicism’s conjuring up many heretic groups throughout the centuries. The Catholic Church initiated its confrontation with heresy almost from its very beginnings, when the movement itself was still an oppressed and persecuted minority and a heretic, dissident Jewish sect. Leaders of the Pauline, Gentile-oriented Church soon denounced the “Judaizers” among Christians, followers of Peter who clung to some practices of Jewish law. In the second century, Catholic censure was turned against the gnostics whose writings were successfully suppressed, not to come to light again until the twentieth century. Around 180 C.E. Irenaeus, bishop at Lyons, wrote a five volume work, Against Heresies, while other prominent Christians, such as Tertulllian and Clement of Alexandria, also vigorously fought heterodoxy ( even if, like Tertullian, they went on to join and then to found schismatic groups of their own).

Similarly, emergent Christianity gained some of its initial strength from the implacable opposition of the Jews. The drastic Jewish repudiation of early Christianity, once it proved not fatal, afforded the schismatic group a strong, separate identity which it might not have achieved otherwise. Jean-Paul Sartre has argued, rightly or wrongly, that Jewish identity is not defined by common bonds to a past or a culture, but rather by the hostility of the surrounding society. The Jew “is to be defined as one whom these nations do not wish to assimilate … it is the anti-Semite who makes the Jew” (Sartre, 1976, p. 69).

The Familiar, Threatening Outsider

The outsider who shows up in most places and periods in history is not only an actual figure, but also a figment of society’s imagination. The Greeks had known plenty of “barbarians” before they constructed their collective pejorative designation. The fundamental change which led to the “discovery” of the barbarian took place primarily in the collective consciousness, a society must invent its outsiders before it can meet them. The struggle against the outsider is foremost a struggle for identity.

The outsider typically is not a total stranger, but a familiar, yet deviant figure, and it is precisely this familiarity which threatens to upset the social order and the group’s sense of inner cohesion and integrity. Historically, the Jew, for instance, has always been more familiar and, therefore, more threatening to Christian society than far-away infidels who knew nothing of the teachings of the Church. A community’s solidarity is articulated and preserved around a set of core values and common interests. For members of the group, these norms have a morally and socially compelling (and coercive) quality. The outsider, in transgressing the group’s cultural imperatives, may expose them as contingent or relative conventions that need not command absolute loyalty. The outsider undermines respect for the group’s fundamental values, blurs the moral distinction between in-group and out-group, and subverts the group’s “collective consciousness.” In this dynamic, the familiar outsider is more threatening, for he is in many respects similar to the dominant group; his rejection occurs, therefore, in full awareness and cannot be attributed either to ignorance or to the outsider’s overall oddity.

Conversely, the dominant group may use the outsider to reaffirm its foundational values by casting the outsider’s violations as a moral scandal, in punishing them, and in mobilizing members against the “enemy.” The outsider helps achieve clarity by producing, through his mere presence, a worldview of simple binary oppositions, in which he represents the polar opposite of the values of society. The outsider is word and values fleshed out. He delineates starkly the boundaries of group identity by embodying its limits and beyond. As a result, the identity of the outsider is different in the extreme. The pair of terms typically is designed to cover and exhaust the universe of possibilities. In this scheme, whoever is not a Greek is bound to be a barbarian, whoever is not a jew is, of course, a gentile. The binary worldview leaves no other alternative, no other reality than the choice between “us” and “them.” As Tacitus observed of the jews. their religion is quite opposed to those of all other religions. The Jews regard as profane all that we hold sacred, on the other hand, they permit all that we abhor” (Historiae V, 4, 1).

In case of need the outsider often is reinvented. The vicissitudes of a medieval anti-Jewish libel – alleging that Jews mutilated and tortured the body of Christ transubstantiated in the consecrated Host or wafer – illustrate this dynamic. The libel first appeared in the thirteenth century, at the very time when the belief in the Eucharist was contested within Christianity. Two centuries earlier, Berengar of Tours had reopened a ninth-century controversy by denying the reality of the presence of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist and treating the sacrament as a figure. Twelfth-century sectarians, such as the Cathari, denied the sacrificial interpretation of the Eucharist altogether; the sacrament was also at the heart of the dispute between Western and Eastern Christendom, which eventually led to the schism between the Latin Church and Constantinople. In response, the Church promulgated the dogma of transubstantiation at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and Pope Urban IV globally instituted the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264, for which Thomas Aquinas reportedly wrote the service.

The anti-Jewish libel further bolstered the Christian public status of the eucharistic belief. In the popular mind, the imagined Jewish crime itself became an acknowledgement of the contested dogma. Presumably, the consecrated Host was attacked by the enemies of the Church precisely because of its pre-eminent Christian significance. For why would Jews torment the Host, at great risk to themselves, unless they too believed in the presence of Christ’s blood and flesh in the wafer? This Christian conviction is reflected in the depiction of Barabas, the sordid jewish merchant in Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, who spontaneously invokes the Host and cries out, “Corpo di Dio” in his confrontation with the Governor of Malta (I, II, 91). Three centuries earlier, Pope Innocent III complained, in a similar spirit, that Jews with Christian nurses in their employ force the women, after they have taken in the body and blood of Jesus Christ” at Easter, to “pour their milk into the latrine for three days before they again give suck to the children” (Grayzel, 1966, p. 115, n. 18). In contrast to the libel of ritual murder, which has persisted through the twentieth century, accusations of Host desecration abated in the sixteenth century at a time when the Eucharist had become less central and less contested within the Catholic church. The outsider does not possess just any features. He incarnates innermost fears and fracture lines of his host society. Throughout Western history, the fate of the Jews has been a reliable symptom of the issues that agitate their host societies.

The Jew As Universal and Intimate Other

In light of the above, we can proceed to consider the vicissitudes of the Jew, and of the outsider in general, in the Western mind. There are several vexed questions in the study of antisemitism on which this analysis has some bearing: the extent of historical continuity in the manifestations of antisemitism, particularly, the relation of modern forms of antisemitism to the teachings of the Church; the causal role, if any, of socio-economic, religious, cultural, and psychological factors in the development of antisemitism and the contribution of Jewish behavior; the relation of antisemitism to other forms of hatred ( is antisemitism but one more form of common xenophobia, or is it, as some have argued, a distinctive phenomenon), finally, the reasons for the “election” of the Jews by the antisemites (why the Jews?) and the related issue of the forced endurance of the Jew in the mind of the West and the extraordinary perseverance of the antisemitic myth through the ages. In modern times, I argue, there is nothing contingent or accidental about the role of the Jew as “other.” His fate and the fate of antisemitism no longer depend on actual behavior, nor are they likely to fade anytime soon. The imaginary Jew is a creature of the mind rather than of economic, social, political, or behavioral circumstances. The Jew has become the most universal and most intimate outsider in the Western mind, the consummate carrier of “differentness.” In this vital function in civilization lies the mystery of endurance of the imaginary Jew. Indeed, this “longest hatred” is a royal road to the Western collective unconscious and to the universal idiom of hatred.

Yet, it need not necessarily have been that way. The fateful role of the Jew was not inevitable; but neither is it an accident of history. In the world of antiquity, the Jew did not have any such privileged grip on the mind of his contemporaries. Tensions between Jews and their neighbors typically reflected concrete conflicts of interest and Greek and Roman resenment at Jewish particularism and both sides, “dislike of the unlike.” Cicero reproached the jews the practice of their sacred rites, which were at variance with the glory of our empire, the dignity of our name, the customs of our ancestors.” And , announcing a modem theme, he added, “You know … how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies” (Pro Flacco, 28: 69). Tacitus similarly deprecated jewish customs which are “base and abominable “and Jewish social separatism. They are “extremely loyal toward one another … but toward every other people they feel only hate and enmity.” Yet, in spite of his thorough animosity toward the jews, Tacitus goes on to attribute their military revolt against Rome not, as might be expected, to a Jewish contentious character, but in considerable measure to the abuses of the Roman governors Antonius Felix and Gessius Florus (Historiae V,4:1, 5:1, 9:1, 10:1; Stern, 1974, Vol. 2, pp. 26, 29, 53; Momigliano, 1987, pp. The turning-point occurred around the twelfth century; it is then that the jew acquired a lease on eternal life as a privileged and essential “other” in the Western mind. Antisemitism, as we know it today, reflects a fundamental new element of sensibility, which penetrated Western culture with the ascendancy of Christianity and then fundamentally transformed the Western mentality. The new perception was not related, however, to the Church’s “teachings of contempt” about the jews. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, higher Church authorities often attempted to protect the jews from extreme physical violence. Rather, the imaginary jew is the unintended, paradoxical, yet foreseeable psychological consequence of the Church’s most humane “teachings-its special kind of universalistic doctrine. The lasting medieval legacy is not to be found in specific contents, but in underlying “mind frames” which endure through modernity. The contents of medieval antisemitism, the specific themes and calls for action usually considered, are indeed different from the modern idiom of hatred and never envisaged extermination. But this discontinuity masks a profound continuity in the underlying mental categories. The ecumenical doctrine of the Church refashioned the Western mental universe and generated a new “mind frame” for thinking and relating to the outsider in society. The new logic opened the mind to, though it did not cause, the modern forms of antisemitism from the thirteenth century on up to and including Nazi Germany. It was a change so profound that its originators probably never understood it.

The Shifting Boundaries of Humanity

The Dynamics of Categorization

There is a fourth, cognitive dimension implicated in the mental structure of antisemitism. The forced endurance of the jews in the mind of the West is linked to the Jew’s historical encounter with Christianity as it was mediated by the psychological dynamics of categorization.

A key element of all thought is people’s ability to divide up the surrounding world into classes and categories – a kind of mental divide et impera. if humans are defined by their ability to think and to speak, as many philosophers have insisted, they are also defined, ipso facto, by their capacity to categorize. Categorization forms mental “in-groups” and “out-groups”; it creates networks of inclusion and exclusion and designates the limits of what (behaviors or qualities) are fit for incorporation. The main issue in categorization is one of inclusion, the determination of who belongs and who does not. Categorization is drawing boundaries and designating the limits of the objects or individuals fit for inclusion. Categories differ in the degree of their inclusiveness. In the common definition, categories are characterized by three dimensions. their intension, their extension, and their permeability. The intension is the set of features that an instance must possess to be considered part of the category. The extension is the group of things that are actually included in the category. The permeability is a measure of the flexibility of the group limits — whether there are firm or “fuzzy” boundaries

Models of Humanity

Categories are not simply inconsequential constructions of the mind; they have a pervasive impact on the world by governing people’s attitudes and behaviors. Categorization is an act of intellectual discrimination and of moral acceptance or rejection. For instance, the modern controversies in medical ethics also revolve around a conflict of categorization. All sides believe in the inviolability of human life but disagree on the boundaries between life and death and between life and pre-life. What features are critical to define death or life? These boundaries shift over time with a change in attitudes or in knowledge. For instance, after it became clear that the traditional criterion of feeling foetal movement was not related to the development of the foetus, it was dropped as a possible marker of human status.

The issue in human relations also is one of categorization. All moral doctrines are founded on a particular image of human nature. what can be expected of a person and what can be done to him depend on people’s beliefs about the potential of man. From this categorical determination emanate his rights and obligations. The central question is where to draw the boundaries of humankind, and what properties an individual must possess to be considered and treated as a full-fledged member of humankind (that is, the category intension). In modern times, social thinkers are debating the boundaries of human nature in its relation to two poles, the animal and the computer. Granted that Homo saw is a little lower than angels, the question remains whether he has a unique human nature with distinctive properties that set him decisively apart other species of “machines,” viewed as a bundle of information-processing capacities (the machina sapiens [Campbell, 1989, p. 38]), and from other species of animals, viewed as a bundle of biological instincts,” …survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes” (Dawkins, 1976, p. x). The categorization of man as a human animal can have moral and political implications in different directions. it may serve to promote a ruthless social philosophy, advocating merciless competition in the struggle for the survival of the fittest. This kind of “social Darwinism” has animated many fascist and extreme capitalist doctrines and was a fundamental principle of Nazi ideology. Voltaire, who harbored a profound animosity toward the jews, nevertheless observed with dismay how Jews had been treated, quite literally, like animals: “we have been accustomed for ages to hang you up between two dogs….we have burned you as holocausts…” (1864, Vol. 7, p. 768). The Nazis consummated the equation of humans with animals in their ways of thinking about people, of referring to them , and of interacting with them. On the other hand , the emphasis on the fundamental continuity between man and animals is at the heart of the movement for animal rights, seeking to protect those kindred creatures from exploitation and suffering.

From Kinship To Universalism: The Boundaries of Humanity In the

Ancient World

The second issue for moral behavior, in addition to the intension or defining features of humanity, is the (related) question of the extension or comprehensiveness of that category.

The early Western models of humanity divided people into many different groupings, on the basis of personalized, kinship relationships. Communities were organized as families, clans, tribes, or, later, ethnic groups. The kinship groups all stressed the attribute (real or imagined) of common ancestry (and, therefore presumably, of common character). There was no concept of equality between classes, and out-groups” typically were considered inferior as a matter of course. The people of classical Greece had no sense of inclusiveness nor any common awareness that would embrace the citizens of the various city-states, let alone non-Greeks. The polis, Aristotle had warned, should not encompass too many people in order to preserve its autonomy (Politics VII, 1326b). The highly particularistic and elite ethos of the polis remained the source of Greek identity until the city-state’s historical demise. Religiously and culturally, classical Greeks displayed a similar individualism. Rulers in antiquity pursued only political control but not cultural dominance over their conquered subjects. In general, they did not seek to impose their gods on conquered people, tolerated the cultural and religious autonomy of their provinces, and left space for other groups to develop their cultural distinctiveness.

And yet the outsider’s inferiority was limited. His exclusion was based on concrete, inflexible, unambiguous, and easily recognizable criteria. Collective identity was indissolubly linked to the quasi-observable characteristics of territory and ethnic origins, and it was not voluntary. A shared past alone determined group membership and could forge the kinship and the compact of fellowship. Outsiders were excluded, or subjugated, in a negative exclusion of “not belonging” to the “in-group.” The outsider was considered inferior as a matter of course, and, therefore, there never was any inclination to bring him within the orbit of society.

Exclusiveness in antiquity was, however, so thorough that it inevitably led to a measure of tolerance and to a characteristic cultural policy acknowledging the existence (though not the value of diversity. The ancient openness was grounded not in flexibility, but, on the contrary, in firm group boundaries. The mix of contempt and indifference with which the ancients viewed other cultures, the realization that there existed lots of different societies, and that they could never come together because group membership was not voluntary, but a function of objective criteria, neutralized any possible desire to impose their values on people under their control. Ancient exclusiveness also was circumscribed by the limitations of man’s conception of the world. People in antiquity lacked broad geographical horizons and comprehensive schemes of the universe, or central organizing principles to differentiate systematically and hierarchically between groups. In the absence of an integrated conceptual framework, there was no basis to create distinctive niches for various classes of people. Neither the ideological nor the social organization was governed by an expectation of homogeneity. Outsiders could not be totally excluded from “humanity” because no such superordinate group existed in people’s minds. The exclusion of the outsider on the basis of his limited (but not absent) human status intimates an inherent multiplicity of conditions and some tolerance of diversity. The status of limited humanity set a psychological limit to hierarchical orderings, to exclusionary policies, and to the violence fin terms of objectives, not forms) that could be planned against the group. The outsider always remained a distant figure, relegated to the geographical and mental confines of society. Christianity was to reverse this situation completely.

The First Christian Revolution.. The Politics of Inclusiveness

Christianity transformed the ancient forms of categorization of people and introduced a new way of thinking about the outsider in Western culture. Christianity set out to abolish all kinship and other exclusionary definitions of man to (other universal religions, such as Confucianism and Buddhism, had already appeared in Asia., Islam would follow). In the Christian scheme, there was at first no room for the “other,” for even the outsider was destined to join the group. Christianity propagated a new conception of humankind, which held that there was one and only one universal, overarching, all-encompassing category to think about people. The unbounded realm of humanity transcended all individual differences and particularisms. The Christian conception reversed the classical dimensions of identity. The class of humankind not only had flexible boundaries, it had no boundaries at all. The group was open to all people and not just begrudgingly: Christianity targeted, appealed to, and embraced all outsiders. The new criteria for group membership explicitly rejected the dimensions of past kinship, of blood and territory. Instead, Christianity designed an open society, founded on spiritual kinship and the choice of individuals who joined together for a different, better future. “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” Paul proclaimed, “there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). To the requirement of biological birth which enshrined the ties of the past, Christianity substituted the option of spiritual rebirth symbolized in baptism which afforded equality to all individuals, freed them from ancient burdens, and oriented them to a future of their own making. Christianity definitively broke the bonds of birth and opened a new realm of possibility for all outsiders. The willed future, not the burden of the past, was decisive in determining membership. Christianity abrogated restricted group membership by divine or political election and replaced it with a self-chosen membership, achieved by commitment and open to all. Anyone could join, indeed was urged to join, the Christian community of spiritual kinship irrespective of birth, geographical location, and other background characteristics. The criterion for class membership simply was the desire to join the group, by embracing its doctrine and practices. Christianity introduced the idea that man possessed spiritual, invisible defining features for category belonging, which transcended his concrete characteristics of blood and territory and which gave him some justifiable moral or legal claims, more surely than ethnic belonging. The Christian realm incorporated all people in a common sphere of fellow-feeling, attached to a set of mutual rights and obligations. Several images evolved to express the new universalism, fusing references to the Church, society, and the organically indivisible human body. Society was one corpus mysticum headed by Christ. Thomas Aquinas emphasized that the “mystical body of the Church” consisted of “actual and potential members.” The potential members “are not yet actually united with him [Christ] but will actually be so united” (Summa Theologica III, Part III, 1272-273, Q8; Sigmund, 1988, p. 81). In principle, the Church encompassed all people, since they were potential recipients of salvation. The unity of mankind also dictated a new form of social relations, of basic concern and caring for the “other” who suddenly became a brother.

From the seventeenth century on, this doctrine would receive its secular expression in the philosophies of human rights of Hobbes, Locke, and Kant. The fundamental unity of mankind and the principled inclusion of all humans in one comprehensive category were a truly revolutionary conception. In contrast to the ever-shrinking groups of classical antiquity, the Christian society was an ever-expanding one, in which all human beings shared a common past as God’s creatures and (at least potentially) a common future as members of the community of Christ. The second-century Christian philosopher Justin described the profound psychological transformation in the relation to the outsider wrought by the new Christian conception: “We, who valued above everything else the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into common ownership, and share with those in need; we, who hated and destroyed one another, refusing to live with those of a different race, now live intimately with them” (First Apology, 14).

The Second Christian Revolution: Categorical Exclusion

With great metaphysical generosity, Christianity had created a new, unbounded realm of fellow feeling for all people, a comprehensive sphere of individual entitlements and moral responsibility. With equal metaphysical impatience, however, it (unintentionally) also incorporated in the system a (psychologically devastating) exclusionary clause, codified in its criterion for group-membership. The Christian promise of inclusion in a superordinate category also introduced the possibility of exclusion from such a class. The idea of expulsion from humanity was also new in the Western conception of group relations. The possibility of the second fall of (some segment) of mankind was charged with implications no less ominous than man’s first expulsion from Eden.

Paul’s ecumenical affirmation in Galatians concluded on a crucial qualification for group-membership: Jews and Greeks, males and females were all one “in Christ Jesus.” In effect, Christianity had not abolished the reviled classical mode of exclusionary categorization, but merely reversed its terms of admission. While the classical world focused on criteria of ethnic origins and was rather indifferent to ideological diversity (as long as political compliance was assured), Christianity established conformity in belief as the requirement for inclusion while remaining indifferent to people’s past. Christian universalism was conditional on the adoption of a core doctrine, and membership, with the value and advantages attached to it, was linked to doing and not just being. Not only could people join, they were expected to do so and to display adherence by (belief) performance. The voluntary basis for Christian group membership opened the Church to all, but also left room for resentment and anger at those who chose not to join. Any universalism, religious or secular, which aspires to belief conformity, expresses not only the tolerance of the group, but also its ambition and holds the seeds of compulsion, of the temptation of coercion, and of enforcing salvation, if only for the benefit of its recipients.

The conditional universalism of Christianity contrasts with the absolute value of man proclaimed by Kant: “Humanity itself is a dignity … I cannot deny all respect to even a vicious man as man; I cannot withdraw at least the respect that belongs to him in his quality as a man, even though by his deeds he makes himself unworthy of it” (1993, p. 255).

Christian doctrinal universalism, thus, also introduced a new conception of inequality far more momentous than the exclusion of antiquity. The disqualification of the outsider in antiquity based on the unalterable and visible features of territory or ancestry was inevitable and independent of any action. The exclusion was, therefore, “understandable” and without moral challenge for the ruling group. By contrast, in a system founded on (secular or religious) belief conformity rather than on the ancestral past, the outsider’s “otherness” inevitably becomes more threatening: the outsider is perceived to reject before being rejected; his “otherness” stems from a willful act, thus presenting a moral challenge to the dominant group. With the advent of Christianity, when conflict with the outsider erupts, it takes on a new, fateful dimension. It is no longer an ethnic, but a moral confrontation between those who accept the truth and those who reject it; it is no longer linked to physical criteria of territory and ancestry but to metaphysical principles of salvation. Moral evil (in contrast to natural evil) is a matter of choice, and with Christianity the outsider for the first time is given that choice. Thus, his age-old difference and inferiority becomes deliberate moral depravity. The outsider also becomes an invisible, or hidden, enemy (thus, more sinister and less containable), for belief conformity is less manifest than the outward signs of group belonging.

More generally, the idea of a global world order organized around the principle of salvation introduced the possibility of rank-ordering people and assigning them to specific niches as a function of their relation to the mystical body of society. The idea fostered a new Western sensibility to fine gradations in the categorization of all beings, allowing a universal hierarchical ordering of the world from angels to humans to animals and plants (expressed, for example, in the idea of the Great Chain of Being). Henceforth, outsiders could be excluded not only from a particular ethnic group, but also from the overarching and all-inclusive category of humanity (or the human species). Thus, in 1924, in Mein Kampf, Hitler wondered out loud what category the jew belonged to: “Once, as I was strolling through the Inner City, I suddenly encountered an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks. Is this a Jew? was my first thought. For, to be sure, they had not looked like that in Linz…. The longer I stared at this foreign face, scrutinizing feature for feature, the more my first question assumed a new form: Is this a German?” (1971, p. 56). These were Hitler’s early days; one can easily hear the further reframing of his final question, wondering whether Jews were also humans. History provides us his answer.

But, one might ask, to where is the outsider excluded, since all humans were at one in a universal group? In contrast to the “negative” exclusion of antiquity, the outsider’s rejection is liable to become positive and total: no longer a simple non-member, he is assigned instead membership in an equally generic antagonistic group, such as the fellowship of Anti-Christ. From limited humanity, the outsider falls into non-humanity or inhumanity. In this way, the moral sting of dissent is removed together with its carrier, for the outsider is cast as a depraved and wholly different creature, no longer a fit object for comparison. The outsiders degeneracy eliminates his real doctrinal threat but at the same time enhances his imagined physical peril. Thus, he is no longer simply excluded from the city or from society, but from life. The classical outsider dwelled at one extreme of the continuum of the human condition; his modern successor is wholly removed from it. Nazi thinkers, for example, debated at length whether the Jews constituted a “pseudo-people” or an “anti-people.” The new ontological status of the outsider also created the mental possibility of new measures against him. In classical antiquity, the outsider’s subjugation was utilitarian, and he was exploited in the interests of the ruling group. In his radical, quasi-demonic guise, the modern outsider does not invite exploitation, but extermination. Exploitation may follow after he is safely dead, as the Nazis showed.

Modern doctrines of biological racism, then, are not a return to the ethnic criteria of antiquity, as might appear on the face of it; they are, on the contrary, the expansion of the logic and passions of Christian doctrinal universalism on which the racial attribute has been grafted. The medieval conception of the outsider created a new mental category of exclusion, which, in secularized form, became the original pattern for the modern relation to the outsider. The modern concept of biological racism was successful because it was not new, but implicitly evoked and could be immediately recognized as an extension of earlier categories of exclusion now endowed with scientific authority. Biological racism by itself could not possibly have transformed the outsider into the inhuman, metaphysical threat which alone affords the psychological legitimation and breaks down all mental inhibitions against radical forms of violence.

The Radicalization of Hatred

The radicalization of exclusion often is an inexorable process. In antiquity, the division between Greeks and non-Greeks and the designation “barbarian” did not initially carry any of its later stereotypical derogatory meaning. As (Thucydides observed, Homer, though he lived after the Trojan war, did not apply the term to non-Greek people (though he uses the term once to refer to the “barbarian-speaking Carians”) (Thucydides, History of the Peloponesian War, 1:3; Homer, Iliad, 2:867). “Barbarian”, in its initial use, was a descriptive term, recording the linguistic difference of the non-Greeks. The term echoed the unintelligible sound of foreign languages to the Greeks — “bar-bar-bar.” But by the fifth century B.C., at the time of the successful Greek wars against the Persian empire, the difference of the outsiders, be they Persians, Egyptians, or others, acquires its negative charge. For no social difference remains neutral for long. Progressively, the outsider’s distinctiveness is endowed with intentionality, a negative and permanent purpose. The imputation of volition is a powerful psychological tendency, evident, for instance, in the child’s animism, which attributes deliberation to natural phenomena: the sun or the clouds might “follow” him, or night falls so that people might go to sleep (Piaget, 1954). The perception of physical movement and contact powerfully evokes a sense of causation, as Hume observed and psychologists documented (Hume, 1978, Book I, Part III, sect. ii; Michotte, 1963), and a similar connection also arises from the sheer perception of difference. William James’s experience of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake illustrates how the outsider is involuntarily charged with (hostile) agency, through no doing of his own. James reports:

I personified the earthquake as a permanent individual entity

. . . it came, moreover, directly to me . It stole in behind my back,

and once inside the room, had me all to itself … animus and

intent were never more present in any human action, nor did

any human activity ever more definitely point back to a living

agent as its source and origin … It was simply impossible for

untutored men to take earthquakes [and, one could add,

outsiders] into their minds as anything but supernatural

warnings or retributions (1911, pp. 209-26).

The Medieval Jew As Privileged

A common human intuition is that people react directly to life’s circumstances and spontaneously conceive new ideas. Yet, no new behavior or idea can occur unless some “matching” internal cognitive structures preexist in the mind, ready to assimilate the information and to organize it. Only ideas or behaviors that “fit” into prior mental categories can be effectively processed. The cognitive structures are formed through past experience and are modified by the effects of the (mental) actions. The medieval conception of the jew created all at once a new mental category of exclusion and its most dramatic founding member. Both elements became lasting legacies to the modern mind. Undoubtedly, the medieval Church would be horrified by the modern recruitment and abuses of its logic of exclusion. Yet, in violation of the original intentions of Church doctrine but in keeping with its psycho-logic, later thinkers, employing a different, secularized idiom, would weave the medieval insights into the very texture of the modern extrusion of the outsider and of modern antisemitism. The potential for eviction from humanity was actualized, and amplified, in the Church’s relations with the jews. Moreover, in that relationship the Church contrived a distinctively new way of exclusion and of not belonging.

The medieval “election” of the Jew is not altogether surprising. Since Pauline times, Christianity was locked in a symbiotic relationship with the jews and in a struggle over exclusive membership in the holiest category of all, the class of God’s people. At issue was the foundation of both groups, sense of self hood. Christianity and judaism agreed that only one group was the true representative of ancient Israel, the Verus Israel, and both competed for that identity. The dispute revolved, as always in conflicts of class membership, around the issue of the defining features for inclusion. there was a core, “pure,” or “authentic” doctrine, and there were deviations which were unfit for inclusion or respect. Many Christian heresies claimed to be a return to an earlier “pure” doctrine, even if they did not designate themselves outright as the Cathari, or pure ones as the Albigensians in medieval southern France called themselves. In the Judeo-Christian conflict, the issue, from the Church’s perspective, was whether physical or spiritual features were determining for category membership, whether identity required temporal or doctrinal continuity with the Biblical Jews. (The problem is similar to the philosophical issue of whether an individual who has received a brain transplant is still the same individual.) In the second century, Marcion had founded the first great Christian heresy by proclaiming, among other things, Christianity’s clean break with the Old Testament. Catholic Christianity, however, insisted on continuity and sought corroboration of its identity from the ancient texts and people. The Judeo-Christian conflict had a unique dimension, which would greatly exacerbate it. The struggle was cast as a conflict within a group @and over nothing less than direct divine lineage), rather than as a traditional conflict between groups.

In the Church’s struggle for a separate yet continuous identity, both its similarities and differences with historical judaism constituted a fomidable theological challenge. The jews, as the original repositories of the Christian truth, posed, by their very existence and by their vocal opposition to the Christian election, the foremost threat to Christian identity. jewish non-membership in the Church, in contrast to the non-affiliation of pagans, undermined the Christian claim, and the Church consistently craved jewish authentication of its identity. To defuse the challenge, the Church, followed by the medieval popular imagination, removed the Jews decisively from the contest for the people of God by casting them as the murderers of God and the people of the Devil and as members of the society of Anti-Christ. The theological reservations about the jews inspired their full-fledged popular exclusion. In the popular mind, the Jew dwelled no longer in the confines of humanity, but wholly outside it, at the heart of a realm of darkness. An entire people thus became the target of metaphysical wrath, not by virtue of anything they had done, but because of their continued existence (there existed the possibility of conversion, but even that escape clause would become problematic). The features and the fate of the medieval imaginary Jew, of his descendants under Nazism, and of other outsiders of modernity can best be understood as the embodiments of the dynamics of group extrusion and intrusion.

The Uniformity of Group Members

Jewish group membership as such was the challenge to Christianity and became the ground for condemnation of the jews. Ordinarily people assume multiple roles in life, which together shape their identity. father, spouse, worker, and so on. The imaginary jew was fully determined by the master category of Jewish group belonging. Ordinary categorization tends to minimize differences between members. In the case of the imaginary jew, every individual stands fully for the group, and vice versa. jewish group solidarity overwhelms other distinctive individual or family attributes of identity. The Gospel of John already routinely refers to “the” Jews. Now the jews, feast of Tabernacles was at hand,” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind,,, After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them” (John 7:2, 9:18, 19:38). In The Merchant of Venice, the protagonists also refer to Shylock simply as “the Jew.” And so do Philip Augustus and Rigord, his biographer, when the French king decided to put a group of them to death. In 1192, the king heard allegations of a murder committed by Jews. Rigord reports.. King Philip . . . heard of the ignominious death of a certain Christian perpetrated by the Jews . . . with greatest haste, he quickly reached the town … when the Jews had been seized, he caused eighty or more of them to be burned” (1882, pp. 118-19). In the complementary (or projected) myth, the Jew is depicted as hating non-Jews because of their group identity. As Shylock explains, “I hate him for he is a Christian.” The imaginary jew has a remarkable genealogical shallowness.” The identity of the medieval Jew is deliberately fused with that of his biblical ancestors. In medieval plays and visual representations, the patriarchs of the Old Testament are portrayed in the traits of their medieval descendants (including sometimes the medieval badge of infamy). The Nazis would impose a similar drastic levelling of individual differences among Jews by forcing all jews to adopt the same male or female middle name (Israel, Sara). This provision of the Nuremberg legislation, together with the purity laws but unlike the more traditional discriminatory measures also included, anticipated the more radical dehumanization of the Jews that was to follow. Indeed, probably the most famous lines from The Merchant of Venice are Shylock’s plea not to be confined to his exclusive role as an outsider but to be reintegrated in the inclusive category of humanity on the basis of fundamental features he shared with his enemies: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

Group Solidarity In Crime

A corollary of the total identity between group members is their presumed organic solidarity, particularly in committing crimes. The jew becomes the foremost conspirator of medieval times. In the gospels, the jews are already depicted as conspiring against jesus. Mark, for instance, recounts that, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 3:6). Subsequently, for every crime or calamity, real or imagined, the Jews are routinely rounded up as the “usual suspects” and not infrequently put to death, no matter how improbable their implication. When Emir Al-Hakim destroyed the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1009, Jews in French and German cities were forcibly baptized, massacred, or expelled for this Far Eastern crime. When the European population was decimated by a deadly contagious disease, the so-called Black Death, between 1348 and 1350, Jews again were held responsible and punished, even though many Jews also had visibly succumbed to the plague. The conspiratorial undertakings of the Jews would be beyond the reach of many modern armies. Yet the conspiracies involve no transcendent powers, only an extraordinary degree of Jewish solidarity. Hence, conspiratorial crimes largely are crimes of accomplices. The actual perpetrators are virtually never apprehended. Instead, minor associates confess to the scheme and expose other accomplices, who are promptly executed. In this way, one conspirator yields a rich harvest of accomplices, and group membership as such is sufficient “evidence” for the crime. Thus, in 1882, the youth who “exposed” the ritual murder of a servant girl in the Hungarian village of Tiszaeszlar not surprisingly reported seeing through the keyhole of the synagogue door a whole group of ritual slaughterers involved in the crime. The ritual murder indictment of Mendel Beilis in 1913 Kiev similarly accused the defendant of being guilty of “having entered into collusion with others who have not been discovered” (Lindemann, 1991, pp. 51, 190).

The Guilt of Group Membership

Since the persistence of Jews as such was potentially a theological trauma for the Church, it is not surprising that jewish group membership became an index, and a source, of guilt. Technically, the criminal solidarity of the Jews became the legal basis, as it were, for their group responsibility. Even if not all Jews perform all odious crimes, no doubt they all wished them and plotted them. The gospels repeatedly underscore the shared purpose and actions of the Jews against Christ. To Pilate, who wants to release Jesus, they reply, according to Matthew: “And all the people answered, His blood be on us`” (26:25); Luke similarly underscores. “But they all cried out together . . . ” (3:18). John reports that Jesus “would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him,” and later that, “The Jews took up stones again to stone him” (7:1, 9:31). In 1329, two Savoy Jews were accused of ritual murders committed with the knowledge and consent of all Jews of the County of Savoy.” Twenty years later, when the Black Plague raged in Europe, Jews of Chillon and Chambery were accused of poisoning. The accused “confessed” to a Jewish world conspiracy “to kill and destroy the entire Christian faith,” and admitted “that for seven years back no Jew could plead innocence for all had known of it [the conspiracy] and are culpable of the said fact” (Baron, Vol. XI, pp. 155, 162).

The popular projections of Jewish corporate hatred and guilt underscore that the conflict with the Jew is a conflict over the outsider’s group membership in a core community and the implications of belonging or not belonging. The obsession with the boundaries of category membership explains one of the more bizarre Nazi bureaucratic entanglements during the war: the treatment of Mischlinge, or individuals of mixed ancestry. Mischlinge were German individuals with one Jewish grandparent (so-called Mischlinge of the second degree, or quarter Jews) or with two Jewish grandparents (so-called Mischlinge of the first degree, or half Jews). Mischlinge were considered neither Jews nor Germans, and their identity — closer to Jews or to Germans? — and their fate preoccupied the Nazis ever since 1933, with the promulgation of the First Supplementary Decree for the Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service, which excluded “non-Aryans” from the civil service[1] The problem of the categorization of Mischlinge was pragmatically as insignificant for the Nazi objectives as it was psychologically important. As officials from the Reich Ministry of the Interior (who favored an early, realisitic solution to the problem) insisted, there was only a tiny number of such Mischlinge, who lived peacefully under highly restrictive conditions, and any Jewish genetic influence would soon be diluted in the population. Nevertheless, the issue agitated the Nazis throughout the war. The second half of the Wannsee conference was primarily devoted to that issue but again to no avail. Hitler involved himself personally but repeatedly vacillated; and the management of the issue was marked by a regular flow of orders and counterorders. Only in the fall of 1944, as Germany was losing the war, did Himmler order the conscription for war work of all male Mischlinge first degree, and in November 1944 Hitler ordered the purge of all remaining Mischlinge in government service, which turned out to be a handful. Because of the Nazi obsession and perplexity about the fate of the Mischlinge, they ultimately escaped extermination in the Final Solution. They owed their improbable attention and survival to the psychological grip which this categorization puzzle exercised on the Nazi mind.

The Enemy Within

In antiquity, all groups were local groups; hence, all enemies came from the outside. The barbarians represented a physical threat which had to be repelled by force. With the advent of an all-inclusive realm of humankind, there emerges, of necessity, the enemy who dwells within. The homecoming of the enemy profoundly transformed the relations to the outsider. His threat vastly increased and took on a very different significance: he no longer gathers in plain view at the frontiers of society; instead, he infiltrates to its core. The modern outsider’s archetypical crime is penetration and subversion of the national body. To achieve this, he resorts not to brute and manifest force, but to malice and treachery; from within, he secretly plots not only the physical annihilation of his host society, but also the destruction of its social and spiritual fabric by corruption and pollution.

Christianity had emphasized the invisible qualities of man: his spiritual human dignity and his beliefs. But the focus on beliefs as a condition for salvation also created a new, typically modern form of deviance. Belief conformity is, of course, inherently undetectable and unenforceable. Thus, the insistence on belief conformity raised the specter (unknown in antiquity) of crimes of the heart, of a hidden enemy within and an invisible danger, difficult to detect or to identify. A concern with belief conformity (religious, social, or political) inevitably creates doubts about one’s neighbors and dooms the believing society to perpetual suspicion and anxiety about the allegiance of its members. Belief conformity requires heightened vigilance and fuels a “paranoid style” bound to lead to religious and political inquisitions. In the Middle Ages, the antagonist of man was already endowed with an invisible, implacable hatred of mankind, an “odium generis.” Just as he successfully concealed his false beliefs, he also hid his hostile attitudes and actions. Indeed, his very nature was elusive, and a main concern was to detect him and to identify him. A slippery enemy is particularly dangerous. Unlike discernible threats, invisible hazards cannot be readily monitored and held at bay. “Passing” (Goffman, 1968) threats understandably arouse much more uncertainty and anxiety than ordinary risks. Hazards, the existence of which are known but are hidden and, therefore, uncontrollable, are likely to prompt more fear and more radical action than detectable dangers. Also, the “defensive” measures are more likely directed at terminating the danger once and for all, rather than attempting to contain it and thereby relieving society from the impossible need of monitoring it. Genocide is an outgrowth of the homecoming of the modem, invisible outsider.

The imaginary Jew typically represents such an “invasive” danger, an unmarked antagonist ever ready to surreptitiously “pass” into society, penetrate, and pollute it. In the Middle Ages, the popes consistently warned of the danger that because Jews are indistinguishable from the general population, they might surreptitiously induce Christians into sexual intercourse or other reprehensible actions. In the nineteenth century, Richard Wagner would coin the term that captured this pervasive fear of Jewish penetration. In his 1850 essay on “Judaism in music,” Wagner denounced the “Verjudung” — the Judaization — of German music and, more broadly, of German culture and society (Wagner, 1869). Not surprisingly, then, the bacterium and the virus became the modern metaphor of choice to describe the Jews. In keeping with previous rhetoric, other plausible choices were available to the racist imagination. Kafka, as usual, gave unequalled form to the darker recesses of the mind when he depicted Gregor Samsa’s dehumanization and expulsion from his family (to whom he remains devoted till his death) as his transformation into a repulsive insect. And indeed, the image of the insect appears occasionally in the racist discourse. But only the bacterium-virus metaphor could capture the modern threat of the enemy within exemplified by the Jew. The unicellular organisms are the lowest forms of the animal realm, ubiquitous yet invisible to the unaided eye, linked to disease and decay. Viruses, in particular, are infectious agents which are total parasites, unable to multiply except inside the living cell of a host. They are not even considered “living” since they have no metabolic activity independent of their host and only thrive by their exploitative activity. The metaphor also announces the modern, “medicalized” intervention to combat the invasion of the foreign bodies. As Paul de Lagarde, a leading nineteenth-century German authority in Oriental studies, remarked of the Jews, before Hitler was even born: “With trichinae and bacilli one does not negotiate, nor are trichinae and bacilli subjected to education; they are exterminated as quickly and as thoroughly as possible” (de Lagarde, 1974, p. 63). Hitler also likened his own actions to the work of Pasteur and Koch.

Since the inner enemy succeeded in concealing the outer signs of his true group belonging and in posing as a member of society, authorities made a concerted effort to identify the elusive Jewish threat visibly and publicly. Starting with the IV Lateran Council in 1215, medieval Church authorities forced Jews to wear the medieval badge of infamy, the precursor of the Nazi yellow star. The identification and the conviction of the Jews was also facilitated by the fact that Jewish crimes were crimes of solidarity. In consequence, group membership and stray accomplices were sufficient evidence of the guilt of any and all: one accused implicated, by his very existence, the whole group.

The Jew thus may be caught in a double bind. The common charge against the outsider is his manifest difference and his refusal to blend in . The Jew, however, provoked as much apprehension by trying to assimilate and submerge his alleged differences as he did by displaying them. The imaginary Jew is forever caught between the charge of pernicious penetration — poisoning, pollution, Verjudung, a “state-within-a-state” — and the threat of expulsion, not from society, but from humanity.

The Jew Possessed

The rejection of group values by an outsider is only meaningful if it reflects a reasoned intentionality and a careful consideration of the issues. Modern oppressive regimes have interned dissidents in asylums to “prove,” as it were, that their rebellion merely reflected a failure of reason. The imaginary Jew was deprived of reason even more radically. His rejection of Christianity was very puzzling to the Church. Like modern philosophical intuitionism, the Church considered its central truths luminously self-evident (“the Light of the Holy Spirit”) and directly and quasi-intuitively discernible by any unbiased observer. Moreover, that truth had first been announced and expounded in the sacred books of the Jews. The Christian truth might perhaps require study and reflection by the pagans, who had not encountered it before, but to Jews it was available by simple recognition. Yet, as Pope Honorius III noted, the Jew, “his heart still covered by a veil, gropes blindly,” and Innocent III speaks outright of “the people afflicted by Jewish blindness” (Grayzel, 1966, n. 54, 8). In the Middle Ages, words turned into stone and stones often into blood. A popular medieval statuary scene to be found in a number of French and German cathedral portals and townhalls depicts the altercation between Church and Synagogue by means of two women. One is resplendent, with crown and cross; the other is downcast, with a broken scepter, and blinded by a veil on her eyes.

The Jewish blindness was an inversion of the fear of Jewish invisibility. The blindness was, however, no mere human frailty, of the order of Oedipus or Lear. It was not tragic, but inhuman. The Jewish ignorance could not possibly arise from a mere lack of intellect or education; surely, it stemmed instead from a motivated refusal to believe, a psychological conspiracy of ignorance inspired by sheer evil. Jewish blindness to the truth reflected not a cognitive shortcoming, but a deep, quasi@demonic failure of character. The imaginary Jew became the embodiment of an inhuman perversion of the mind, with his unnatural blindness to the Christian truth as its most telling symptom. As a privileged outsider, the imaginary Jew was at the heart of an interplay of light and darkness, inside and outside, insight and blindness, transparence and invisibility. In this context, it was easy for medieval observers to recall that Jesus had already told the Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). As the associates or the children of the devil, the Jews no longer enjoyed ordinary human freedom of choice. They were in bondage to the forces of darkness. Ordinary people are motivated to act by subjective reasons and consciously chosen purposes. The imaginary Jew instead is moved by objective, external causes — the malignant forces to which he surrendered. Jews did not “decide” to act in an evil way; evil was an overwhelming “impulse,” a quality of their nature and of group membership. The evil compulsion dehumanizes the Jew and represents him as an object driven by external forces. “Otherness” is endowed with a determinate, objective, malignant content. As Shylock’s gentile servant remarks, “Certainly, the Jew is the very devil incarnation.”

No more than other “human objects” was the imaginary Jew in control of his inherent evil tendencies. In his status as evil object, he had been drained of any independent intentionality. He was evil gone out-of-control. Hence, there was no end in sight for the Jewish errant course. Though he was responsible for his crime, the Jew could not be expected to take charge of his cure. Self-healing, indeed any remedy for the evil pathology, was unavailable. One psychological symbol of the uncontrollable Jewish condition was the foul odor, the “foetor judaicus,” which he unwillingly emitted. Evil emanates from the Jew as radiation does from other objects.

The diagnosis was amplified by the reports on the ubiquity of the Jewish imaginary evil. Its permanence virtually forced the conclusion that the Jewish villainy was not a product of circumstances, but the reflection of an enduring malevolent character. As an uncontrollable condition, the Jewish evil was permanent and unchangeable. The medieval denunciations, papal and popular, of the Jews, “obduracy” and “hardheartedness” and the pervasive theological image, suggesting that the Jewish failure of character was to endure until the “latter days” of history, were bound to create over time a popular psychological susceptibility to the idea that some people were endowed with a different, indelible essence.

The conceptual categories that evolved in the Middle Ages conferred psychological plausibility and respectability to the idea of radical exclusion. They were the mental vessels which would be retrieved for different purposes in the nineteenth century and filled with a new racist ideology. Though it was Christianity which engendered these ideas in the Western mentality, it could have been any other doctrine, religious or secular, which linked membership in humanity, and the dignity attached to it, with expectations of conformity to a particular set of ideas or practices.

An early formulation of the idea of inherent difference appears in the thirteenth-century work of French canon Thomas de Cantimpre. In the midst of his popular scientific work, he digresses to offer some insight into the Jewish mind. He explains briefly the Jewish propensity to ritual murder: “in consequence of the curses upon their [the Jews’] fathers, the criminal disposition is even now transmitted to the children by the taint in the blood” (de Cantimpre, Bonum universale de apibus, II, 29, 17; quoted in Strack, 1909, p. 175).

The elective affinity between the medieval image of the Jew and more radical forms of exclusion comes into full view with the Spanish Inquisition and the promulgation, in fifteenth- century Spain, of openly racial legislation, including statutes of “purity of blood” (limpiezza di sangre). Throughout history, no group craved more the admission of the Jews than the Church, which devoted enormous missionary energies to it. Its dream, it would seem, came partially true in fourteenth-century Spain, when a wave of and-Jewish riots produced a mass conversion of Europe’s largest Jewish community. The integration of these new Christians seemed to be successful, and some rose to eminent positions in government and in the Church. However, the deep Christian suspicion that Jewish character was enduring undermined Christian trust in the efficacy of the conversion of Jews . A century after their entry into society, strong animosity built up against the “Conversos” (the integrated former Jews) accused of secretly continuing their Jewish practices. Recent scholarship has suggested that the accusations of crypto-Judaism were unfounded (Netanyahu, 1995; Roth, 1995). But the Church and society moved to nullify, in many ways, the incorporation of the Conversos. The integrated Jew had become the pernicious, inner enemy of Christianity. In 1478, the Spanish Inquisition was created to extirpate the invisible Jews, and the Conversos as a group came under suspicion, not for their actions, but for who they were. Statutes of “purity of blood” were promulgated to keep the New Christians out of many public offices. Professing Jews, easily identifiable, were expelled in 1492; Conversos were burned at the stake. The same fear of the Jewish character animated most Western countries and vitiated the Jewish emancipation, for states typically expected the Jews to assimilate but never believed that it was possible.

Ultimately, the Christian suspicion was profoundly self-defeating, for it sapped the very foundations of the Christian mission to the Jews, the Church’s most obsessive historical ambition. The medieval view of the Jew psychologically deprived the Church of its most prized theological triumph: the (genuine) conversion of its arch-antagonist.

The Long After-Life of the Imaginary Jew

The Jew As Prefabricated, Instant Outsider of the Western Mind:

The Kindling Effect of Prejudice

The psychological effects of the medieval logic of exclusion are historically irreversible. The Jew (and the outsider in general) has been doomed ever since to an eternal after-life in the mind (and after-life, of course, is all he ever gets) because he became entangled in fundamental individual and social needs. The Jew as outsider became indispensable, essential to the life of the mind and of society.

In times of need and crisis, when people anxiously attempt to make sense of unsettling circumstances, they do not spontaneously conceive of new ideas or re-invent the necessary understandings from scratch. Instead, they search for ready-made answers, which they pull off their mental shelves. The mental shelves are cognitive structures and explanatory frameworks embedded in society and culture. Indeed, once a cognitive category has been established in the (collective) consciousness, it can easily be retrieved and enlisted to guide an individual or a people’s expectations and understanding of the world. Such categories have a privileged mental status; they are permanently “or call,” ever ready and primed for use. The individual does not need to figure out the problem anew, but only to “recognize” its familiar pattern, a mental operation that is smooth and effortless.

Through the vicissitudes of history, the Jew became established in the thinking categories of the West as the prototypical outsider, the most recognizable member of the family of outsiders. The Jew became the familiar outsider of Western society, ever ready to be effortlessly picked off the historical-cultural shelves in times of need. The outsider and the Jew are a historical match made in hell. The imaginary Jew is the read-to-wear dark side of the Western mind, the privileged mental vessel and the most popular dialect of hatred in the universal language of prejudice. The dynamics of antisemitism are, thus, a privileged gateway to the understanding of Western culture and society. Also, the eternal resurrection of the Jew does not require or signify a recurrence of particular socio-economic conditions. In modern times, in contrast to antiquity, the fate of the Jews is no longer tied to actual behavior, nor is it an extension of real-life conflicts of interest. It is precisely because the antisemite’s Jew is a cultural creation that he thrived in many countries and times without any living Jews, from the England of Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare (England expelled all of its four thousand Jews in 1290 and only lifted the ban in the seventeenth century) to several Eastern European countries at the dose of the twentieth century.

Antisemitism and Other Hatreds

The activation process underlying the eruption of prejudice indissolubly links antisemitism to other forms of xenophobia. Traditionally, there have been two views about the emotional effects of expressing prejudice and other strong emotions. Did such expressions serve as safety valves for accumulated tensions, the release of which prevented greater eruptions? Or did the expressions of negative sentiments have a kindling effect instead, which stirred up emotions and ignited further outbursts? Plato (in a minority view) attacked tragedy and even proposed banning or censoring some forms of art because they were likely to arouse dangerous feelings. In contrast, Aristotle argued that the experience of tragedy had a salutary effect by allowing the purging or cleansing of emotions, such as fear or pity, in a controlled setting. In this way, the catharsis would reduce for some time the pernicious energies and the need to express them. Modern psychodynamic conceptions have adopted the Aristotelian view. Breuer, Freud’s early associate, developed catharsis as a therapeutic technique in his treatment of Anna O., the first famous (pre)-analytic patient. Freud followed suit, then considerably transformed the technique for incorporation in analysis. The idea acquired an even wider cultural resonance in contemporary society, where (in contrast to the circumscribed analytic setting) public, uninhibited self-expression of all kinds has become the hallowed therapeutic need and right of many individuals and groups.

The history of hatred suggests, however, that the expression of prejudice also has a kindling effect. Discrimination likes company, and no prejudice remains unattended for long. Soon enough, one particular form of intolerance triggers a chain reaction in which it legitimates, brings to mind, and progressively spreads to other forms of discrimination. The expression of prejudice often leads not to a discharge, but to a recharge of passions and to their escalation. What is dangerous for one group of outsiders inevitably also becomes so for the others. When Pope Urban II preached the first Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095, he exhorted the faithful to liberate the Holy Places from the Muslim infidels. But to the crusaders fine distinctions between the enemies of the Church hardly made sense. When the expedition reached France, the chronicler Guibert of Nogent reports, the journeying crusaders “began to complain to one another, `After traversing great distances, we desire to attack the enemies of God in the East, although the Jews, of all races the worst foes of God, are before our eyes. That’s doing our work backward.’ Upon realizing this, the crusaders unexpectedly started massacres of French Jews” (1738-1904, pp. 12, 240.[2] Kant similarly explained the duty of compassion toward animals. Although he insisted on the radical separation between man and all other beings, and, therefore, stressed that “so far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties,” he nevertheless urged the practice of kindness toward animals. Such kindness helped “cultivate the corresponding duties toward human beings.” Thus, if a person “is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness toward animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men” (Kant, 1980). Finally, it is noteworthy that the initial formulation of nineteenth-century racist doctrine was not directed at Jews, though they would subsequently become one of its privileged targets. Gobineau’s 1853 essay, which systematized the use of the concept of race for the interpretation of history, focused on the interaction of three races — the white, the black, and the yellow. Gobineau, a cosmopolitan diplomat and friend of Tocqueville, was not a rabid racist. He argued that mixtures of races, rather than racial purity, produced great nations and wrote very favorably of the Jews and of their contribution to civilization. His follower, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, son-in-law of Wagner, soon used racial theory to proclaim the supremacy of the Aryan race and to ascribe to the Jews all evil and destruction in history.

There is a reciprocal relation between thought and action. Sometimes the mind lags behind the hand, such that not everything that is humanly feasible is also imaginable. The Holocaust is such a case. For centuries, it was a failure of imagination, rather than technological or bureaucratic insufficiency, that set a limit to human cruelty. The evolution of antisemitism typically is traced by its themes and contents (for instance, the anti-Jewish accusations or epithets) which indeed show a striking continuity through the ages, suggesting to some a similar continuity in the nature of that prejudice. Yet, such themes are assimilated in various ways by mental structures that inflect the interpretation and kindle the reactions to the themes. Around the twelfth century, a profound transformation occurred in the mindframes, and there evolved a new conception of social relations, incorporating the possibility of the radical exclusion of the outsider. The transformation is masked by the continuity in the vocabulary of hatred. The advent of universalism founded on belief conformity helped fire anew the murderous imagination of the West. The radical exclusion of the outsider, whether Jew or not, first became intellectually possible in the Middle Ages, from then on, very progressively, the idea of comprehensive warfare became cognitively conceivable and emotionally bearable before becoming virtually inevitable in modern times.

Because of his early, medieval association with the idea of exclusion, the Jew remains forever in the mind of the West the most readily available and imaginable target for exclusion, the most essential outsider of society. The Jew though is not simply an “other,” but an “alter ego” who fulfills the Western sense of identity.

The Jews, much as the players in Hamlet’s urging, “hold, as it were, the mirror up to nature.” The Jews thrive permanently in the mind as a counter-society, the embodiment of the subterranean and antinomian impulses within the social self and of the unfathomable inner otherness of every man. The fury that attends the encounter with the imaginary Jew is a fury of troubled self-recognition. In his congenital blindness, the imaginary Jew is the externalization of insight.

Finally, one cannot help but note that the Jewish tradition itself has a strong affinity to the status of outsider. The Biblical opening scenes about Abraham require the patriarch to disengage (mostly spiritually, the commentators add) from his society. The Jewish tradition offers this posture of dissent and this perspective from the border and beyond (even Moses only glimpsed the Promised Land from the border) as the hallmark of Jewish identity. The Midrash, the rabbinic commentary on the Bible, proposes a suggestive etymology for the designation “Hebrew” when it is first applied to Abraham in the Bible. Abraham (and his descendants) is called a “Hebrew”, the Midrash remarks, because the term is derived from the Hebrew root “Ever” — the other side — and signals that “the entire world is on one side, and he (Abraham) dwells on the other side” (Genesis Rabbah 42:8; Genesis 14:13). Western society in the next few decades will have more such Abrahamic self-differentiations by choice, likely to trigger more coerced exclusions. The “other” to emerge from such confrontations is not a reflection of what we think of “them,” but what we think of ourselves.


(1) On this issue, see Noakes, 1989.

(2) The Hebrew chronicles of the crusades also mention this slogan (Habermann, 1971 pp. 24, 27, 93).


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