Lack of Group-Based Competition as a Necessary Condition for Western Individualism
While intra-societal conflict between Jews and gentiles tends to be associated with the development of anti-individualist Western societies, the absence of conflict between powerful and impermeable ethnic groups may be a necessary condition for the development of the relatively individualistic Western societies of the post-Enlightenment world. This proposal is highly congruent with the social identity perspective of group conflict: as societies become structured around competing groups, people form strong group allegiances incompatible with individualism. Such a society is incompatible with the notion of individual rights because group interests become paramount: Within the ingroup, individual rights and interests must be sharply curtailed in the interests of group cohesion and the attainment of group interests. The context of between-group competition results in group membership rather than individual behavior or merit becoming the most important criterion of personal assessment. A Manichean morality of ingroup favoritism and outgroup hostility develops that is completely incompatible with individualism.
This hypothesis is consistent with the fact that the Enlightenment and the reemergence of individualism in Western Europe occurred most prominently in England and France, from which Jews had been almost completely excluded, while "the basic fact about German history since the eighteenth century has been the failure of the Enlightenment to take root" (Mosse 1964, 21-22).
It was a failure that was undoubtedly made the more likely by the fact that throughout the entire era, liberal political views were strongly supported by Jews and were perceived as benefiting Jews -- a fact that the opponents of these ideas never failed to emphasize. Indeed, a social identity perspective would expect that initially minor differences between the groups (e.g., Jews tending toward liberal internationalism, gentiles toward conservative nationalism) would become increasingly polarized as group conflict escalated. Personal identity would eventually become increasingly demarcated not only by ethnicity but also by political attitudes, with the result that the political beliefs of the opposition become an important, negatively evaluated marker of outgroup membership. For a German, to be a liberal would eventually be tantamount to favoring a negatively perceived outgroup.
Political liberalism was the antithesis of the strong desire of many Germans to develop a powerful, highly cohesive nation. For many anti-Semites, most notably the anti-Semitic Volkische intellectuals, such as Paul de LaGarde, negative attitudes toward Jews were intimately intertwined with a loathing of liberalism and unrestrained, irresponsible capitalism, combined with a strong desire for a powerful sense of community (Stern 1961, 64, 66).39 Indeed, late-19th-century Zionists commonly believed that an important source of opposition to liberalism among gentiles stemmed from the perception that liberalism benefited Jews in competition with gentiles; thus Theodor Herzl believed that "emancipation had placed an intolerably heavy strain on Austrian liberals, who had to defend an economic system that eased the way for recent outsiders into positions of prominence" (Kornberg 1993, 180).
The hypothesis that individualism is incompatible with group-based conflict is also consistent with Americo Castro's (1954, 497; see also Castro 1971) perspective that the Enlightenment could not develop in a Spain fraught with competition between ethnic groups: "From such premises it was impossible that there should be derived any kind of modern state, the sequel, after all, of the Middle Ages' hierarchic harmony." Similarly, Grayzel (1933, 83) comments that the exclusion of Jews from Christian society, which was the focus of ecclesiastical policy in the 13th century, might have occurred even in the absence of the Church's actions; another factor besides religious difference that he argues might have led to exclusion was racial: "The Jews persistently refused to mingle their blood with that of their gentile neighbors at a time when racial intermingling was laying the foundations of the modern national state."
The implication is that the Western tradition of muted individualism and its concomitant democratic and republican political institutions are unlikely to survive the escalation of intrasocietal group-based competition for resources that is such a prominent theme of contemporary American society. I have previously quoted Pulzer's (1964, 327) comment, "The Jew could flourish only in the sort of classical Liberal society that existed in Western Europe and that the late nineteenth century had introduced to Central Europe." While Judaism flourishes in a classical liberal, individualist society, ultimately Judaism is incompatible with such a society, since it unleashes powerful group-based competition for resources within the society, which in turn lead to highly collectivist gentile movements incompatible with individualism. It is also noteworthy that the 19th-century liberal critics of Judaism typically assumed that it would disappear as a result of complete cultural and genetic assimilation -- a sort of tacit understanding that a liberal society required a fairly high degree of cultural uniformity.
My view, which I elaborate in The Culture of Critique, is that Western societies have a tendency to seek an equilibrium state of hierarchic harmony among the social classes in which there are powerful controls on extreme individualism among the elite classes. This tendency toward hierarchic harmony -- a paradigmatic feature of the Christian Middle Ages -- combined with assimilationism and individualism has been a powerful force in breaking down barriers within society. The difficulty for a group strategy like Judaism is that, if assimilation fails, the Western tendencies toward universalism and individualism are abandoned. From this perspective, it is no accident that the National Socialist theorist Alfred Rosenberg regarded the Western concepts of universalism and individualism as anathema: Both concepts were incompatible with National Socialism as a closed ethnic group strategy. It is in this sense that the individualist, universalist strands of Western culture are indeed incompatible with Judaism.
Finally, given the Western tendency toward "muted individualism" and hierarchic harmony, there is the suggestion that in the absence of a hated and feared outgroup [...] there would be a tendency toward decomposition of collectivist, authoritarian social structures in the West. From this perspective, the apparently primitive Western tendency toward a significant degree of individualism, possibly deriving ultimately from a unique ancestral environment (see PTSDA, Ch. 8), results in an inertial tendency toward assimilatory, reproductively egalitarian, and moderately individualistic societies. However, these tendencies may be altered in the direction of authoritarian collectivism under conditions of perceived intrasocietal group-based competition, as discussed throughout this and the previous two chapters.