Anti-Semite and Jew
An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate
By Jean-Paul Sartre
Schocken Books (1995), 176 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 9, 2010
Imagine the value of a book on anti-Semitism composed by a non-Jew, a deep-thinker, a philosopher, a man living in France in 1944 during a period of fierce Jew hatred; imagine what ideas this book could impart. This is the value of Jean-Paul Sartre's short, but information-filled volume, his indictment of society.
Characteristics of an anti-Semite
An anti-Semite, Sartre explains in perhaps his most insightful insight, is an individual who hates Jews because he refuses to think. He is afraid of and threatened by thinking. Thinking requires the recognition that ideas change and grow. A thinking person never knows exactly what is true because he recognizes that ideas vanish like vapor; they develop and change as he gains new knowledge. But the anti-Semite needs to have an ossified never-changing world, a world set in stone, a stone that he can lean on, a stone that supports him, that holds him up. He cannot deal with knowing that what he understands today will change tomorrow.
It is easier for him to blame the Jew for evil, and speak of ridding the world of Jews to remove the evil, than seeing the true problems of society, thinking how to resolve them, and working to do so. Vaguely, without real thought, for he is unable to define "evil" or "good," he argues that the harmony of his life will be reestablished once the Jew is removed. His thoughts are vague and totally negative and destructive.
His notion of Jews is not based on ideas; "it is…a passion." Not only Jews, but even his conception of the world is based on passion. He has no real understanding of history and no real experience with Jews. His hatred is similar to irrational faith because he is "impervious to reason and to experience."
His passion disallows him to see anything good in the Jew. Just being a Jew, he feels, ruins the Jew and everyone around him. A Jew fowls everything that he does, even the air he breaths. When a Christian and a Jew work and create side by side and produce the same object, the Jew's production is tainted, infected, soiled, and besmirched, even though it looks, smells, and feels the same.
The anti-Semite admits that the Jew is intelligent and hard-working; "he even confesses himself inferior in these respects." But he thinks that his irrationality is better than the Jew's intelligence because it is not contaminated with Judaism. Thus, he needs the Jew so that he can feel better, more than mediocre.
The origin of anti-Semitism
There is nothing in the history of any nation that justifies anti-Semitism. The ancient myth that Jews killed Jesus cannot, or should not, be the reason for modern anti-Semitism. The Romans crucified Jesus. Even if the myth is accepted, people should recognize that we cannot punish the current generation of Jews for deeds committed by a few two millennia in the past.
Current anti-Semitism, Sartre insists, is based upon what Christianity did to the Jews. The Church forced Jews to become money lenders so that Christians could avoid the sin of usury. This bred the still-persisting notion that Jews have and control money and take advantage of non-Jews for personal gain.
"It is society, not the decree of God, that has made him a Jew and brought the Jewish problem into being…. In this situation there is not one of us who is not totally guilty and even criminal; the Jewish blood that the Nazis shed falls on all our heads."
Other Sartre insights
Sartre also discusses related subjects: What about people who are not anti-Semites but who do nothing to help Jews? These people, says Sartre, are not human beings, and may be unconscious anti-Semites. Are Jews a race? No, because Jews in different countries differ in looks and habits. What is a Jew? The Jew is what Christians have made him. What keeps Jews Jewish? Persecution and other bad treatment of Jews by non-Jews do not allow them the chance to forget being Jewish. What is Jewish history? Most Jews know little more of the history of Judaism than how their ancestors were persecuted. What has anti-Semitism done to the Jew's thinking and his behavior? Sartre spends half his book describing the many adverse ways that Jews have been affected. He adds that non-Jews have also been affected by not allowing Jews to contribute what they can to improve society.
"What must be done," the French philosopher ends his book, "is to point out to each one that the fate of the Jews is his fate. Not one Frenchman will be free so long as the Jews do not enjoy the fullness of their rights. Not one Frenchman will be secure so long as a single Jew – in France or in the world at large – can fear for his life."