Antisemitism Explained From An Objectivist Perspective

It is common knowledge --at least for part of the right-- that resentment of Israel is merely an extension of Western self-hatred.  We know that Israel is hated by the Arab world and many of the “have nots” of the postmodern age, because the fact that it is the only democracy and successful economy in the Middle East serves as a constant and unwelcome reminder to these countries that their problems cannot simply be blamed on the Western colonial legacy, and that, on the contrary, there is a fundamental flaw in their mentality and culture.  For the same reason, the leftist intelligentsia of the West hates Israel: for them, this country is the distillation of their concept of the West to its very essence: the ultimate and eternal oppressor, a fusion of the destructive racism and capitalism that according to them constitute the core of Western culture.  And needless to say, the Palestinians and other Arabs personify the eternal proletarian class of the oppressed. 

This insight helps us a long way in understanding and combating what drives antisemitism in Third World and in the West itself.  However, the explanation is ultimately insufficient, because it only moves the question to a higher level: why have Western intellectuals, and more generally, Western people, come to despise their own culture and achievements? 

Mostly, conservatives implicitly assume that the leftist intellectuals are rational actors, and try to make a case for the historical achievements and thus, the ultimate superiority of Western culture -- in fact, much like advocates of the free market and/or traditional values throughout the last century have tried to defeat socialism and communism simply by logically disproving it, hoping that their arguments would reach a large enough public, and ultimately convince many of their opponents.  After a century it doesn't take much analysis to conclude that this strategy has abjectly failed.  And in fact, it could not have been otherwise, because they tried to advance their cause with practical arguments while the essence of the problem lies in morality. 

Socialists and communists are not at all rational actors.  That they are, is a propaganda myth the intelligentsia has itself spread through its near monopoly on intellectual pursuits, or to put it more concretely, through its control of the universities.  It is no exaggeration to say that no sensible person who knows his basics of economics can believe that a planned economy or distributing the wealth are feasible methods to achieve economic growth and improvements for the masses. In reality socialism and communism were ideologies solely devised to serve the interests of the intellectuals themselves; few of them come from a poor, “proletarian” background and many of them shared with Marx an astonishing contempt for the uncouth laboring classes.  Since intellectuals are people without any concrete, useful skills that could provide them with a living like the rest of society, but whose mentality is characterized by broad visions of how society as a whole should be organized, and an ingrained certainty that they are entitled to personally implement those visions, they constantly have to invent “oppressed” groups that they can represent, and so are able make themselves necessary to society.  As times changed, these oppressed groups have changed: beginning with the proletarian masses, after the Second World War the intellectuals shifted their attention to the third world, Palestinians, immigrants in their own countries, and the environment. 

But as I said, the problem does not solely lie with the intellectuals, but with the general attitude of Westerners towards their own culture.  Or more precisely, the problem is that people do not have the moral power or self-certainty to refute the claims of the intelligentsia, even if they intuitively sense something is fundamentally wrong with them.  And contrary to conventional conservative claims, this is not because people are not sufficiently aware of the benefits of the free market or of Western culture, but because they find themselves unable to refute the intellectuals' creed morally

The origin of leftism is surely the dominant ethical code of the West, namely altruism.  Most people do not fully grasp what altruism means or how it manifests itself in our daily lives.  On the conscious level, people will say that it just means loving your neighbor, and that brother-love is perfectly compatible with self-interest.  In their daily lives, they may never be consciously confronted with any dilemmas.  Consequently, many people have dismissed Ayn Rand's denunciation of the altruist ethics as a “battle without enemies”.  For a long time, I myself thought of it the same way.

However, if we remove our glance from our direct personal experiences and take a look at historical trends and current political and economical developments, Ayn Rand's observations on altruism will perhaps become more accessible and at the same time provide a water-tight explanation for many disturbing developments in Western history.  Our self-hatred, our wish for a society characterized by “diversity”, our praise for backward cultures, and our appeasement of radical Islam (and of communism) can all directly be traced to the altruist premise underlying our morality.  Contrary to a common misunderstanding, the doctrine of altruism does not simply say that people should act so as to maximize the well-being of their fellow-men; if this were the case, our heroes would be businessmen, inventors, artists, and so on, because these are the people who have spread the most well-being throughout history, and not the saints, ascetics, and warriors who serve as our moral examples and for whom we erect statues.  The prerequisite of an altruist deed is that the person who carries it out in no way benefits from it himself: indeed, the ultimate altruist act is the act of self-sacrifice, in which the person himself loses in order to benefit his brothers. 

And that is the reason for Western self-hatred.  If the well-being of Third World inhabitants would be the primary concern of the intellectuals, they would be praising Western civilization for the marvels in science and humane governance it has brought forth.  But that is not in the least their concern: on the contrary, they are motivated by the obsession with self-sacrifice that was born with Christianity two millenniums ago.  It is also the reason why the conservative campaign against communism and cultural relativism is doomed to fail, if they do not understand Ayn Rand's crucial insight: even if they can logically prove that capitalism and Western culture are by far preferable to the alternatives that leftists have devised and advocate, they share the same Christian premise of self-sacrifice with their opponents.  It is of little use to know that your set of ideas is the most practical one, and at the same time implicitly accept a moral code that teaches you that morality has nothing to do with what is practical. 

Antisemitism has the same root cause; the reason so many Europeans love immigrants and the multicultural proletariat, is the same reason why they tend to hate Jews.  If, on the altruist premise, men should sacrifice themselves for their brothers who have been less fortunate in life, and by all means avoid to judge their behavior that often is the cause for their depressed condition, it becomes chillingly clear what constitutes altruist behavior toward people who are more fortunate than ourselves and clearly owe it to their own efforts: punishment of the fortunate and the industrious because of their virtue and industriousness.  Or, as Ayn Rand put it: hatred of the good for being the good. Often we are taught that the reason for Christian resentment of Judaism is that Jews were accomplices in the murder of Jesus Christ.  This story certainly has a symbolic meaning: the Jews refused to go along in the belief that man was born with original sin, and that they had to worship a God and prophet that instructed them to atone for this default; they refused to go along in the notion that morality consisted in sacrificing oneself for one's brothers, and for this they were eternally damned in the eyes of many Christians. 

As in the case of socialism, communism, and multiculturalism, antisemitism is of course also very appealing to many people because it serves their needs perfectly.  For many on the far right, blaming all problems (including immigration) on a Jewish conspiracy enables them self-righteously to pose as a persecuted and morally uncorrupted minority, while in fact Jews are the one ethnic group in Europe that these days can be spat upon with impunity. Criticizing Islam will get you death threats and persecution by the government, criticizing multiculturalism will result in accusations of racism, but criticizing Jews or Israel will, at the most, be punished with a letter of protest from the local Jewish cultural center. 

Also, there is the very human tendency of these people to escape the fact of their insignificance and mortality by imagining a global conspiracy is out to “get” them, while the dreadful reality is that they are utterly alone in this world, without either a future or actual events that have any bearing upon themselves.  As David P. Goldman states in It's not the End of the World, It's Just the End of You:

To be truly convinced of your insignificance, however, is an unbearable, if not suicidal thought.  The human mind resists its own destruction by wishing away its sense of insignificance.  One such device is paranoia, which attributes significance to insignificant objects and events; we imagine that the fellow at the next table is a secret police-agent.  It is more comforting to believe that occult forces are persecuting us than that no one cares about us.

The confrontation with Jewish and Israeli success and cultural strength places many Westerners in the same position as the rest of the world finds itself in when confronted with the West: how should they react to a model that is more successful than their own?  Like people in non-Western cultures, they mostly choose the easy solution: blame the more successful for your own problems and the inferiority of your civilizational model.  This observation makes clear that all people have a tendency to act the proletarian and oppressed when confronted with the (earned) success of others. 

In short, to combat antisemitism we should fight altruism first.  Merely stating the obvious, that we shouldn't seek scapegoats for problems that are fully our own responsibility, or that we should “respect” others and not give in to ethnic hatred, clearly misses the whole point, because conventional Christian morality precisely teaches us that the strong should blame themselves for the weakness of their brothers, and that we should not judge other people's behavior.  Perhaps this criticism of Christian ethics will be hard to swallow for many on the right.  When confronted with daunting challenges, men will always interpret them in the light of their own assumptions, and seek answers that will not upset they view of the world and of human life.  But these are not times for such smugness and complacency: we should be prepared to identity the essential contradictions and faults in Western ethics that explain our current predicament. 

Conventional or historical?

I agree with SteveP.....that biblical teachings refer to the proper (moral) relationship of the individual to God and are not concerned with societal arrangements. It may well be that today "conventional" Christian morality no longer reflects that understanding.

Cultures and institutions can change over time. While altruism is a Christian value, it does not require nor imply self-hatred. The notion that "Christian morality" would teach that one should blame oneself for the 'weakness' of others, or that one should not judge bad behavior, is certainly a-historical. One does not help the weak by celebrating their weakness, nor by condoning bad behavior.

In short, antisemitism today cannot be explained by an adherence to a sensible Christian value like "altruism". It is better explained by the opposite, i.e. by the widespread loss of genuine altruism.

Thank You

Your article is full of useful insights especially the statement that rational arguments against the left are futile. But Christian ethics are not the problem because Christ's ethical teachings were directed to the individual and not society itself. If I purchase a luxury item with full knowledge that the cost, if directed to a charity, could save the lives of starving people, then I have sinned. But the sin itself does not go beyond what passes between me and God, has no bearing, within the scope of this question, on how society should be structured and, unless it is a crime as well as a sin (and then only as pertains to its criminal aspects), does not fall within the legitimate purview of government. Jesus Christ was not a social revolutionary; He came to save you and me, as individuals, from Hell not from inequality. How His message has been distorted by the left is another story.

But all of this is not to say that Christianity and Judaism have no role to play in society. Indeed, they are/were the basis of cilivilization; Western Civilization used to be called Christian Civilization. But the dynamic of how these two faiths formed, over the centuries, a way of life that produced both social order and freedom is a long story and possibly a moot one as well.