A Psychoanalytic Approach to Anti-Semitism
The instinctual structure of the average man in Germany was no different in 1935 from what it was in 1925.
The instinctual structure of the average man in Germany was no different in 1935 from what it was in 1925. The psychological mass basis for anti-Semitism, whatever it may be, existed in 1925 too, but anti-Semitism was not a major political force then. If an understanding of the development that took place in that ten-year period in Germany is sought, then the investigation must be focused on what happened there during those years, and not on the comparatively unaltered unconscious. But the psychoanalysis of individual anti-Semites is nevertheless indispensable if anti-Semitism is to be fully understood. For in order completely to understand the reaction of the masses to happenings in Germany, it is essential also to understand that which reacts, that which is roused or inhibited or displaced in the human structure-and for this psychoanalysis is needed.
In order to gain this understanding, let us I therefore begin at the surface and descend gradually to the depths. The principal thing that changed in the external stimuli during those ten years was the amount of anti-Semitic mass propaganda. The effectiveness of this propaganda was the chief thing that altered the attitude of the masses. But why did this propaganda arise, and how did it work? What was present in the masses that made them believe it?
The first thought is that people are most ready to accept suggestions that bring some advantage to them. What advantage does anti-Semitism bring to the average man? Well, for instance, the prospect of obtaining a job that has been taken from a Jew. This should not be underestimated, but one sees at first glance that such an explanation is not sufficient, that it is too superficial because it is too unspecific. What purpose then does the spreading of anti-Semitic propaganda serve? Here we can perhaps learn more from Czarist Russia than from Germany.
The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion were forged by the Czarist police, who knew for what purpose they forged them. As a result of the general misery extant, there was a rebellious tendency directed against the ruling powers. The police surmised that if the propaganda succeeded, the Jews would be thought to be the cause of conditions, and not the authorities, and the revolutionary tendency would be redirected against the Jews. The terrible pogroms showed that this intention succeeded.
The advantage which anti-Semitism gave to the average person then was different from that of the prospect of a job. The people were in a conflict between a rebellious tendency and the respect for authority to which they had been trained. Anti-Semitism gave them the means of satisfying these two contradictory tendencies at the same time: the rebellious tendency through destructive actions against defenseless people, and the respectful tendency through obedient action in response to the command of the ruling powers. The police plot achieved its goal: the people believed that their enemies were likewise the enemies of the ruling powers.
This undoubtedly correct, but neither sufficiently deep nor sufficiently specific theory of anti-Semitism we shall call the "scapegoat theory." As is well known, the Jews used to load all their sins onto a goat and then drive it out into the desert in order to purify themselves. In the same way the ruling classes laid their sins onto the Jews. Just here, I should like to mention an excellent article by Arnold Zweig ("Der Jude im Dorn," Die Weltbuehne, Berlin, 1936), which shows how deeply this conception of the Jews as scapegoats is anchored in the soul of the German people. Zweig analyzes a folk tale by Grimm, "The Jew in the Thorn," which tells of a man-servant who, having been swindled out of his wages, manages to get the money from a Jew instead of from his master; the chief point being that he feels himself to be absolutely right in cheating the Jew-after all, he himself had served his seven years honestly.
Zweig correctly points out that all the features of modem anti-Semitism are strongly marked in this ancient folk tale, which dates at least from the time of the Peasants War in 1500. At that time, too, there was a ruling class that needed to deflect the mass-discontent directed against itself; then, too, apart from this mass-displeasure, there was a mass-preparedness for submission, a change in the structure of the masses brought about by education; their conscience troubled them when they dared to think of proceeding against the authorities. They were therefore grateful that they could vent their rage without anything happening to their masters or without rousing their anger, and against an opponent who dared not defend himself.
But we must go further. This explanation applies to the persecution of all minorities. It needs specification on such questions as: What kind of people tend to accept suggested "scapegoats"? What kind of people tend to reject the suggestion? How do the members of the minority react to their role as scapegoats? Moreover, it is in itself not specific enough as a theory. The next problem that presents itself, a problem not neglected by Zweig either, is: Why are the Jews especially suitable as displacement substitutes? Is it mere chance that in a given situation anti-Semitic propaganda is instituted and not, for instance, propaganda against redheads? Surely not. There must be something in the mass mind that meets anti-Semitism halfway; the Jew must be the "born scapegoat" for his hosts.
Why is this role so fatally suited for him?
The first answer to this question is a rational one. The Jew has always been more defenseless than the redhead. Secondly, when the social order, or rather, disorder, produces undue misery, then the victim of this misery rarely is in a position to discover its origin, partly because the underlying causes are too complicated, and partly because the existing ruling class does everything in its power to obscure the true connections. The point is then to find someone in the environment who appears to the victim to be the cause of his misery. For centuries it has been the Jew, in his role as money-lender and as tradesman, who has appeared to those confronted with financial need as the representative of money, regardless of how much Jewish poverty there prevailed at the same time. It must be remembered that the Armenians, too, who were persecuted by the Turks just as the Jews had been persecuted by the Russians and Germans, were the commercial people among their Turkish hosts.
Still, too much importance should not be placed on this situation; it only serves to strengthen other factors which come from more unconscious depths and which are not yet known. It must also be pointed out that the persecution of minorities for their commercial activities does not hold with respect to other social phenomena analogous to anti-Semitism, for instance the persecution of Negroes in America. The American Negroes were slaves, and in order to understand their ostracism, the history and social function of slavery, and of the fights for and against it, have to be studied. But the Negroes have another trait that makes them suitable as scapegoats: they are black. Jews have also been reviled by anti-Semites because of their cultural or physical "racial" peculiarities. Their hair frequently is black even if their skin is not; moreover, they are foreign in their customs and habits, in their language, in their divine service, and in their everyday life, which is so interwoven into their divine service. This foreignness they share with the Armenians, the Negroes, and the Gypsies; and herein is to be found the secret that has made others believe them to be wicked evil-doers. People of one’s own kind, and the ruling powers, one does not suspect of evil, but people who look different and speak and behave differently-they may be capable of anything.
At this point the question of anti-Semitism moves away from the psychology of the anti-Semitic people and goes over to the psychology of the Jews. The obstinacy with which the Jews have resisted assimilation through the ages, although other people in similar situations have during the course of history been absorbed by their hosts, represents a problem too complex for thorough examination here. It is obviously due (1) to the ghetto system, which excluded the Jews artificially from full participation in the cultural life of the host nations, the origin and function of this system presenting a problem of its own, and (2) to a stubborn acceptance of the ghetto system by the Jews themselves. The Jews retained their peculiarities and their hosts did not understand them.
These peculiarities, however, were conspicuous. They stem partly from the time when the Jews had an independent state, and were adhered to because of their never-ending hope of regaining that state-and partly from much later times. Cult and holy literature stem from that very ancient past and have an oriental stamp. In their clothes and everyday language, however, they were fixated at an entirely different period. The Jewish language, as well as traditional Jewish clothing, resemble the language and clothing used by the medieval Germans. Jewish strangeness gave the Germans the impression of something archaic, of something left over from ancient times-which the non-Jew himself had overcome-similar to the strangeness with which the nomadism of the Gypsies impressed the settled peoples.
What does all this mean psychologically? What underlies the equation of primitive thinking: foreign=hostile? Even today we meet every foreigner in a contradictory or, as we say, ambivalent manner. Foreigners are not yet known; therefore one does not know what to expect from them. Perhaps it would be as well to be on good terms with them, or perhaps it would be better to render them harmless as quickly as possible. How different it must have been in ancient times, when nations had less frequent contact with one another, when the cultural peculiarities of each nation were much more strongly marked. Foreigners might bring advantages through inventions they had made, or be a danger if they were more advanced in the technique of arms. In the ancient world, foreigners were sacer, an interesting word that meant both holy and accursed. The strangeness of the Jews was of a special kind because of its archaic character, which often was combined with an indisputable mental superiority in certain spheres, which in turn perhaps was made use of by the commercial Jews to take advantage of other people. The Jews were clever and at the same time appeared to be connected with old primeval powers with which the others had lost touch. When the authorities said that these "uncanny" people were evil, the others readily believed the authorities because of their own obvious misery.
Therefore, what could one expect from the Jews? What fantastic evils were they capable of? We may begin here with ritual murder and the poisoning of wells, but we must also specify other things. Let us look at any anti-Semitic literature. We read again and again that the Jews are murderers, are filthy, and are debauched.
The first problem again must be to find the rational part of these accusations. Actually there is none. The Jew is a merchant and as such may be a swindler, but criminal statistics show that Jewish murderers are fewer than those of any other race. The religious laws of the Jews prescribe particular cleanliness, and although the impoverished Jewish towns are undoubtedly very dirty, they are no more and probably less so than the Polish, White Russian, and Russian peasant villages; with regard to sexuality, the Jews do not tend to excesses more than any other group.
In psychoanalysis, we are in the habit of I saying: "The patient is always right," i.e., even the most senseless neurotic phenomenon has a hidden meaning. In reality, the Jews are not murderous, dirty, or debauched to a greater extent than other groups. The latent meaning in the assertion that they are, implies that murderous, dirty, and voluptuous tendencies are really concealed somewhere, and that once again the Jew is a scapegoat, a displacement substitute. Where are these tendencies? Who is the real sinner?
Freud has taught us that everybody struggles all his life with repressed instincts which continue to exist in the unconscious; that among these original instincts, murderous tendencies and sexual impulses play the chief part, especially those sexual impulses which are considered objectionable, low, and dirty. The lust to kill, love of dirt, and low voluptuousness-these are the things that people try painstakingly to keep hidden in their unconscious. One means of defense against the striving of one’s unconscious is projection, that is, seeing in others that which one does not wish to become conscious of in oneself. This is a manifestation most marked in certain mental diseases, but it is also present in normal people, as for example in the crusader against homosexuality who is really fighting against his own repressed homosexual impulses.
To the anti-Semite, the Jew appears to be murderous, dirty, and debauched; thus the former can avoid becoming aware of these tendencies in himself. To him, the Jew is the incarnation of the lust to kill, of low sexuality. It will shortly become clear how this projection is facilitated. But it is already comprehensible why riotous impulses are so easily deflected against the Jews. For the unconscious of the rioters, the Jew represents not only the authorities whom they do not dare to attack, but also their own repressed instincts, which they hate and which are forbidden by the very authorities against whom they are directed. Anti-Semitism is indeed a condensation of the most contradictory tendencies: instinctual rebellion directed against the authorities, and the cruel suppression and punishment of this instinctual rebellion, directed against oneself. Unconsciously for the anti-Semite, the Jew is simultaneously the one against whom he would like to rebel and the rebellious tendencies within himself. And a racial minority such as the Jews is especially suited to act as the carrier of this kind of projection because of its archaic and emphatic foreignness.
It can be expressed in one sentence: One’s own unconscious is also foreign. Foreignness is the quality which the Jews and one’s own instincts have in common. This is a particular case of Freud’s explanation of the general phenomenon of that which is "uncanny" psychologically (Sigmund Freud: "The Uncanny," Collected Papers II, London, 1924). The feeling of uncanniness comes over us whenever something that we once believed to be true and then rejected proves to be true after all. All happenings are uncanny which seem to prove the existence of magical connections in the world, because we once thought magically and later renounced this way of thinking in favor of the logical one. To the average person, a murderer, in particular a parricide or someone guilty of incest, is uncanny because each of us has felt such impulses-and later repressed them. Conversely, a person or race which is in any way uncanny is capable of murder and incest. The Jew with his unintelligible language and incomprehensible God appears uncanny to non-Jews, not only because they cannot understand him and therefore can imagine him capable of all sorts of sins, but even more because somewhere in the depths they can understand him very well, for his customs are archaic, that is, they exhibit elements which the non-Jews once had, but later lost. The average German regards Jewish language and dress not only as "strange," but as a caricature, a ridiculing of his own language and dress. The Jewish language is to him "German in an ugly disguise."
There is also a rational reaction that helps to strengthen the irrational side. The Jews as a racial minority have been oppressed everywhere. It is clear that the ruling people must fear the possible revenge of the oppressed people, particularly when the oppression appears to be unsuccessful, with the oppressed rising again and again in the belief that they themselves are a chosen people, and refusing to give up their peculiarity despite all torture. Jehovah is held to be a revengeful God. And there is no doubt that he is described in many places in the Old Testament as a very revengeful old gentleman. But there is also no doubt that the command: "Love thy neighbor as thyself" does not come from the Christian religion but from the Jewish, that the Jewish God showed many merciful traits, too.
Why have these traits been forgotten by other races, and why do they imagine Jehovah, like the abstract concept of the Jew and of the Jewish people, to be malicious and revengeful? This concept, being of an irrational nature, is not to be changed by any real experiences with Jews. It is well known that every anti-Semite is acquainted with one Jew who is free of all abominable Jewish qualities, yet this does not make any difference in his anti-Semitism.
The endless vengefulness of the wicked Jews is again a projection. The ruling people cannot imagine that the oppressed are not revengeful. They recognize archaic-deep features in their behavior and they know how revengeful they themselves would be. Rejected instincts and rejected ancient times are revived for them in these incomprehensible people who live as strangers in their midst. That which they had believed overcome appears to rise again and again like a hydra and they try to cut off its heads. At the same time, they despise it in the same way in which they despise their own disavowed instincts. Contempt and disregard are intended to help them overcome their fear. They try to refute their fear by proving to themselves how easy it is to attack the defenseless. But the proof is never definitive. With a curious pride, even with arrogance, the defenseless rise again and again. The fear is not dispelled and therefore they must go on despising and humiliating over and over again to refute this irrefutable fear. And yet they never succeed.
A part from all this, there are still other circumstances which make the position clearer. One is that Jewish peculiarities and culture center almost exclusively around a common faith, the Jewish religion. . . .
Now the gods have always had not only supernatural traits but also "low" animal and instinctual traits, which evoke fear. One thing seemed to rouse their particular wrath: namely, to be looked at. In the Jewish religion, too, the sight of the Holy of Holies was reserved for the High Priest once a year, and the congregation had to turn away at Yom Kippur when the priest threw himself on his knees before God. The sight of God (among primitive people, the sight of the king, his representative) means death.
From this prohibition against looking it is only one step to the idea that God is a terrible, horror-inspiring-an ugly sight. And, as is well known, many of the gods of primitive people are incredibly ugly. In the higher religions, there are concealed allusions of a similar kind understandable as such through psychoanalysis. It is interesting that the uncanniness of the ugly God is based on his reanimating something that had been overcome. For the ugly features of a god are always animal features, and the first incarnation of the dead chief, the great ancestor who was later made god, was the totem animal, and totemism preceded religion . . .
This double character of wonder and fear, of highest beauty and terrifying ugliness, attributes of God, merges with the double character of wonder and fear inherent in foreigners-both are sacer-in terms of the feeling one has for strange gods and which caused the Romans to erect temples to the conquered gods. It is unbearable, in the long run, to have contradictory feelings for one and the same object. And in the same way that the fairy tale makes it possible for the child to manage the contradictory feelings it has for its mother by introducing two mothers, a wholly good mother and a wholly wicked stepmother, thereby dividing between two people the love and hate felt toward the same person, so the perception of a strange god has been used by all people in all ages to divide the love and hate felt for God between two objects: their own God who is good and beautiful, and the strange one who is wicked and ugly.
Many religious systems are dualistic. They have a good and a bad principle, an Ahriman and an Ormuzd, separate from God-a devil. Theodor Reik has shown that the devil is the degenerate strange God, the God of the strange or the conquered people, whose revenge is feared. The devil is always more uncanny than God, always has more archaic characteristics, namely animal qualities-goats’ feet, horns, tail, and ugliness. Therefore, he is always suitable as a carrier of the projection of one’s own instinctual impulses; he is murderous, dirty, debauched, a tempter, and a deceiver. It is clear to the anti-Semite that the Jewish God, and thus the Jew, is the devil, the anti-Christ, the wicked principle directed against God which crucified God. The devil, too, characteristically, is despised and dreaded at the same time.
One thing more: this "degraded" strange God is not only animal and ugly-he is usually crippled. The deformed, blind, lame, and hunchbacked are sacer to primitive people; they are regarded as being nearer to God, as seers, but also as dangerous; altogether, they are uncanny to the ordinary mortal.
Frequently, we see that people who have longer noses and darker hair than others are therefore regarded as practically deformed. What is the rational essence of the special position of deformed people? The deaf, hunchbacks, and, in particular, redhaired people are regarded as malicious and ill-natured. Why? Because they are really at a disadvantage compared with average people, and because the average people tend to despise and laugh at them, and they in turn tend to protect themselves by aggressiveness. The physically inferior are a badly-treated minority, and, therefore, their revenge is feared. This fear is condensed with the deep feelings of uncanniness entertained toward the devil and the cripple-god, and increases when any physical disadvantage or dissimilarity is combined with superiority in certain mental spheres (think of the uncanny, skilful, lame blacksmith of the sagas). Like the Jewish language, the typical Jewish physical appearance is felt and cartooned as diabolically ugly.
But the sight of a cripple not only rouses the fear of strangeness and revenge but also the special fear that he will want to transform others into cripples. It would lead too far to undertake a psychoanalysis of the burial and death customs of the various peoples. But we know that they are all based on the tendency to prevent an unconsciously feared return of the dead, who could revenge themselves for their dying by fetching the living and causing them also to die. Is there any reason to suppose that other people fear that Jews may want to change them into Jews, too?
Reference is often made to the opinion once expressed by Freud that anti-Semitism is connected with the Jewish custom of circumcision. It is, of course, not my intention to maintain that anti-Semitism consists only of the uncircumcised despising the circumcised as unmanly and fearing that the circumcised will want to circumcise them in revenge. The matter is somewhat more complicated, and circumcision is only one of many customs which are felt to be uncanny. But I should like to elaborate what Freud meant by this remark.
Circumcision is not a purely Jewish custom. Many other races have this archaic custom, too; the problem here is why the Jews have remained conservative in this respect as in so many others. Apart from the Oriental peoples, circumcision is practiced among many primitive races-proof of the age-old nature of this custom. Some primitive races do not practice circumcision but have other analogous customs. . . . It is not easy to determine the meaning of such holy practices. Perhaps it can be guessed by their effect. The youth who has now become a man will be proud of his initiation into the adult community, and his feeling will be increased by his now being allowed the right of sexual intercourse, among others; but the price he has had to pay for this admittance, that of having to endure pain, shows him drastically that he can enjoy the protection of this community only as long as he obeys it and that he can expect unpleasant things if he does not adhere to certain conditions. And in fact, this and analogous social measures have worked. Even today, we find deep in the unconscious of man the fear that his penis may be cut off if he sins, a fear which acts as the chief motor for the instinct-suppression desired by the patriarchal society.
The drastic reminder of the sanguinary puberty rites of the primitives has been replaced by less drastic measures during the course of history. The Jewish circumcision, although practiced on the infant, is still comparatively drastic. It has remained a really sanguinary operation on the genitals. The knowledge of this fact on the, part of the uncircumcised has undoubtedly increased the feeling of uncanniness which the Jew gives them. It has helped to lend a more precise form to the indefinite fear that a retaliation on the part of these curious people is imminent; this retaliation assumes a sexual form. The Jews will do something to the little girls of other races in the same way that they do something sanguinary-sexual to the little boys of their own race. Psychoanalysts are of the opinion, therefore, that circumcision-which is strange yet familiar in unconscious depths-operates in the same way as the other customs which make the Jew appropriate as a devil-projection.
In addition to stubbornly retaining archaic features and rejecting occasional opportunities for assimilation-or rather accepting the external denials of opportunities for assimilation with a kind of Gueux [outcast’s] pride-and centering all this around his religion, the Jew does this in a manner which makes him still more apposite as a scapegoat.
We assume that what is called "national character" is created historically through actual conditions of living which, reflecting traditional ways of child-raising, are perpetuated through the impress of one generation upon the succeeding one. Among the traits of the Jewish national character there is one which is especially striking. It seems as if less direct aggression is permissible to the Jew than to other nations (which may be connected with the fact that the use of arms was prohibited to them for centuries). Instead, they developed many forms of indirect aggression. One of these indirect aggressions is their traditional belief in their being the chosen people, superior to the "barbarian." Jewish tradition is extremely patriarchal. The son is not permitted in any way to rebel against the father. The father, however, is proud of his son when he himself is surpassed by his son in some intellectual or spiritual accomplishment. Analysts know similar pictures from the study of compulsion neurotics with severe and ambivalent father complexes. Their masochism and guilt feeling is obvious, their latent sadism and rebellion is masked by Gueux pride and intellect.
The Jewish patriarchal tradition determined the way in which the Jews through the centuries became accustomed to react to the anti-Semitism of their environment: (a) Superficially: "The more others exclude us, the nearer we are to our God." (b) On a deeper level: "By participating in the power of our God, we are magically superior to our enemies to whom we are physically inferior." This attitude increased the uncanny magical fear the host peoples felt toward the Jews, which in turn gave rise to increased "attack" by the belief in magical superiority on the part of the Jews, and increased attack gave rise to increased fear and anti-Semitism.
What caused Jewish national character to evolve in this way is a problem in itself. Here again, the ghetto system may offer a partial explanation. However, extreme patriarchism is in no way limited to people who have lived in ghettos but is rather generally a sign that in the given culture, the idea of murdering the father is more definitely repressed than in others, which must be due to the social history of the nation in question. Freud, in his book Moses and Monotheism, suggested a hypothesis as to why the Christian religion has admitted the idea of "killing God" to consciousness whereas the Jews have repressed it. (This is the reason why the Christians projectively tend to accuse the Jews of this very crime of being the "murderers of God.") For our purpose, it is enough to understand that the ancient history of a people forms and determines the structure of the character of subsequent generations by means of tradition and education.
To sum up: The anti-Semite arrives at his hate of the Jews by a process of displacement stimulated from without. He sees in the Jew everything that brings him misery-not only his social oppressor but also his own unconscious instincts, which have gained a bloody, dirty, dreadful character from their socially induced repression. He can project onto the Jews because the actual peculiarities of Jewish life, the strangeness of their mental culture, their bodily (black) and religious (God of the oppressed peoples) peculiarities, and their old customs make them suitable for such a projection.
Perhaps there will be one objection to this formula. If it is true, two premises must be fulfilled before anti-Semitism can become a mass movement. One, a revolutionary mood, or at least an intense discontent of the masses with the existing state of affairs, a discontent that may be channeled in the direction of the Jews as scapegoats; two, a Jewish cultural life and tradition in the midst of a host culture, without there being much connection between the two. Both of these conditions were present in Czarist Russia, which therefore provided the ideal conditions for the development of anti-Semitism. The situation was probably similar in the anti-Semitic movement of the Middle Ages.
However, the conditions do not seem to be fulfilled in modem anti-Semitism, neither in National Socialist Germany nor in the United States. In Germany, the emancipation of the Jews had made considerable progress. The majority of the Berlin Jews had little or no Jewish life or tradition, a fact which the Prague and Viennese Jews, who were nearer to the Eastern Jews, often used to ridicule. The Berlin Jews considered themselves Germans. There was no archaic foreignness appropriate for purposes of projection. However, the success of using the Jews and not redheads as scapegoats proves that the foreignness, or at least the memory of it, was still there. We may assume that discontent of the masses and Jewish separateness form a complementary series in order to produce anti-Semitism. In Germany prior to National Socialism, the discontent of the masses was so enormous that little Jewish separateness was needed. Jewish emancipation was young and the Middle Ages had been long. Historical changes occur slowly, and memories of "Jewish separateness" were strong enough to permit the development of anti-Semitism when mass discontent became acute.
But what about the United States? At first glance, one may perhaps assume that here the complementary series is reverse in structure. There is no general revolutionary mood, and at least in some parts of the United States, traditional Jewish life is practised by many. However, Jewish peculiarities have certainly not increased recently, whereas anti-Semitism has. Does this mean that there is actually a mass discontent comparable to the discontent in pre-Hitler Germany? It seems as if our theory of anti-Semitism compels us to assume something of the kind. In a certain sense, something of "mass discontent" must be present; the question is, in what sense? . . .
In all fields we hear complaints about lack of enthusiasm among Americans for our democracy and for their rights, which they take too much for granted. Their intellectual insight into their advantages and into the necessity of fighting for them, as well as the readiness to act according to this insight, exist; nevertheless an emotional enthusiasm for it is generally and strikingly lacking. Probably this is due to the feeling that the hope for a more positive emotional gain, for a reliable end of the insecurities of the present world situation, is lacking and cannot be achieved through any amount of enthusiasm. To understand this, however, one would have to analyze the sociology of democracy and of the factual possibilities, the successes and failures, of democracy.
And so we have come back to where we began, to an admission of the limitations of the psychological explanation. The full utilization of the psychological facts we have studied, so that they may become a real and politically effective power, is only possible under certain economic and political circumstances. These are beyond the scope of this paper. However, this does not mean that they are of secondary importance.