As evident in the material reviewed here and in the previous chapters, at least some influential Jewish social scientists and intellectuals have attempted to undermine gentile group strategies while leaving open the possibility that Judaism continue as a highly cohesive group strategy. This theme is highly compatible with the Frankfurt School’s consistent rejection of all forms of nationalism (Tar 1977, 20). The result is that in the end the ideology of the Frankfurt School may be described as a form of radical individualism that nevertheless despised capitalism — an individualism in which all forms of gentile collectivism are condemned as an indication of social or individual pathology.119 Thus in Horkheimer’s essay on German Jews (see Horkheimer 1974), the true enemy of the Jews is gentile collectivities of any kind, and especially nationalism. Although no mention is made of the collectivist nature of Judaism, Zionism, or Israeli nationalism, the collectivist tendencies of modern gentile society are deplored, especially fascism and communism. The prescription for gentile society is radical individualism and the acceptance of pluralism. People have an inherent right to be different from others and to be accepted by others as different. Indeed, to become differentiated from others is to achieve the highest level of humanity. The result is that “no party and no movement, neither the Old Left nor the New, indeed no collectivity of any sort was on the side of truth... [T]he residue of the forces of true change was located in the critical individual alone” (Maier 1984, 45).
As a corollary of this thesis, Adorno adopted the idea that the basic role of philosophy is the negative role of resisting attempts to endow the world with any “universality,” “objectivity,” or “totality,” that is, with a single organizing principle for society that would homogenize society because it applied to all humans (see especially Adorno’s Negative Dialectics [Adorno 1973]; see also the review of Adorno’s ideas on this concept in Jay [1984, 241-275]). In Negative Dialectics the main example attacked by Adorno is Hegel’s idea of universal history (also a stalking horse for Jacques Derrida; see below), but a similar argument applies to any ideology, such as nationalism that results in a sense of national or pan-human universality. For example, the principle of exchange characteristic of capitalism is rejected because through it all humans become commensurable and thus lose their unique particularity. Science too is condemned because of its tendency to seek universal principles of reality (including human nature) and its tendency to look for quantitative, commensurable differences between humans rather than qualitative differences. Each object “should be respected in its ungeneralized historical uniqueness” (Landmann 1984, 123). Or, as Adorno (1974, 17) himself noted in Minima Moralia: “In the face of the totalitarian unison with which the eradication of difference is proclaimed as a purpose in itself, even part of the social force of liberation may have temporarily withdrawn to the individual sphere.” In the end, the only criterion for a better society was that it be one in which “one can be different without fear” (p. 131). The former communist had become an advocate of radical individualism, at least for the gentiles. As discussed in Chapter 4, Erich Fromm (1941), another member of the Frankfurt School until he was excluded, also recognized the utility of individualism as a prescription for gentile society while nevertheless remaining strongly identified as a Jew.
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It is immensely ironic that this onslaught against Western universalism effectively rationalizes minority group ethnocentrism while undercutting the intellectual basis of ethnocentrism. Intellectually one wonders how one could be a postmodernist and a committed Jew at the same time. Intellectual consistency would seem to require that all personal identifications be subjected to the same deconstructing logic, unless, of course, personal identity itself involves deep ambiguities, deception, and self-deception. This in fact appears to be the case for Jacques Derrida, the premier philosopher of deconstruction, whose philosophy shows the deep connections between the intellectual agendas of postmodernism and the Frankfurt School.146 Derrida has a complex and ambiguous Jewish identity despite being “a leftist Parisian intellectual, a secularist and an atheist” (Caputo 1997, xxiii). Derrida was born into a Sephardic Jewish family that immigrated to Algeria from Spain in the nineteenth century. His family were thus crypto-Jews who retained their religious-ethnic identity for 400 years in Spain during the period of the Inquisition.
Derrida identifies himself as a crypto-Jew — ”Marranos that we are, Marranos in any case whether we want to be or not, whether we know it or not” (Derrida 1993a, 81) — a confession perhaps of the complexity, ambivalence, and self-deception often involved in post-Enlightenment forms of Jewish identity. In his notebooks, Derrida (1993b, 70) writes of the centrality that Jewish issues have held in his writing: “Circumcision, that’s all I’ve ever talked about.” In the same passage he writes that he has always taken “the most careful account, in anamnesis, of the fact that in my family and among the Algerian Jews, one scarcely ever said ‘circumcision’ but ‘baptism,’ not Bar Mitzvah but ‘communion,’ with the consequences of softening, dulling, through fearful acculturation, that I’ve always suffered from more or less consciously” (1993b, 72-73) — an allusion to the continuation of crypto-Jewish practices among the Algerian Jews and a clear indication that Jewish identification and the need to hide it have remained psychologically salient to Derrida. Significantly, he identifies his mother as Esther (1993b, 73), the biblical heroine who “had not made known her people nor her kindred” (Est. 2:10) and who was an inspiration to generations of crypto-Jews. Derrida was deeply attached to his mother and states as she nears death, “I can be sure that you will not understand much of what you will nonetheless have dictated to me, inspired me with, asked of me, ordered from me.” Like his mother (who spoke of baptism and communion rather than circumcision and Bar Mitzvah), Derrida thus has an inward Jewish identity while outwardly assimilating to the French Catholic culture of Algeria. For Derrida, however, there are indications of ambivalence for both identities (Caputo 1997, 304): “I am one of those marranes who no longer say they are Jews even in the secret of their own hearts” (Derrida 1993b, 170).
Derrida’s experience with anti-Semitism during World War II in Algeria was traumatic and inevitably resulted in a deep consciousness of his own Jewishness. Derrida was expelled from school at age 13 under the Vichy government because of the numerus clausus, a self-described “little black and very Arab Jew who understood nothing about it, to whom no one ever gave the slightest reason, neither his parents nor his friends” (Derrida 1993b, 58).
The persecutions, which were unlike those of Europe, were all the same unleashed in the absence of any German occupier... It is an experience that leaves nothing intact, an atmosphere that one goes on breathing forever. Jewish children expulsed from school. The principal’s office: You are going to go home, your parents will explain. Then the Allies landed, it was the period of the so-called two-headed government (de Gaulle-Giraud): racial laws maintained for almost six months, under a “free” French government. Friends who no longer knew you, insults, the Jewish high school with its expulsed teachers and never a whisper of protest from their colleagues... From that moment, I felt — how to put it? — just as out-of-place in a closed Jewish community as I did on the other side (we called them “the Catholics”). In France, the suffering subsided. I naively thought that anti-Semitism had disappeared... But during adolescence, it was the tragedy, it was present in everything else... Paradoxical effect, perhaps, of this brutalization: a desire for integration in the non-Jewish community, a fascinated but painful and suspicious desire, nervously vigilant, an exhausting aptitude to detect signs of racism, in its most discreet configurations or its noisiest disavowals. (Derrida 1995a, 120-121; italics in text)
Bennington (1993, 326) proposes that the expulsion from school and its aftermath were “no doubt... the years during which the singular character of J.D.’s ‘belonging’ to Judaism is imprinted on him: wound, certainly, painful and practiced sensitivity to antisemitism and any racism, ‘raw’ response to xenophobia, but also impatience with gregarious identification, with the militancy of belonging in general, even if it is Jewish... I believe that this difficulty with belonging, one would almost say of identification, affects the whole of J.D.’s oeuvre, and it seems to me that ‘the deconstruction of the proper’ is the very thought of this, its thinking affection.” Indeed, Derrida says as much. He recalls that just before his Bar Mitzvah (which he again notes was termed ‘communion’ by the Algerian Jewish community), when the Vichy government expelled him from school and withdrew his citizenship, “I became the outside, try as they might to come close to me they’ll never touch me again... I did my ‘communion’ by fleeing the prison of all languages, the sacred one they tried to lock me up in without opening me to it [i.e., Hebrew], the secular [i.e., French] they made clear would never be mine” (Derrida 1993b, 289).
As with many Jews seeking a semi-cryptic pose in a largely non-Jewish environment, Derrida altered his name to Jacques. “By choosing what was in some way, to be sure, a semi-pseudonym but also very French, Christian, simple, I must have erased more things than I could say in a few words (one would have to analyze the conditions in which a certain community — the Jewish community in Algeria — in the ‘30s sometimes chose American names)” (Derrida 1995a, 344). Changing his name is thus a form of crypsis as practiced by the Algerian Jewish community, a way of outwardly conforming to the French, Christian culture while secretly remaining Jewish.
Derrida’s Jewish political agenda is identical to that of the Frankfurt School:
The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue... The idea is to disarm the bombs... of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger, against Jews and Arabs and immigrants,... all of whom... are wholly other. Contrary to the claims of Derrida’s more careless critics, the passion of deconstruction is deeply political, for deconstruction is a relentless, if sometimes indirect, discourse on democracy, on a democracy to come. Derrida’s democracy is a radically pluralistic polity that resists the terror of an organic, ethnic, spiritual unity, of the natural, native bonds of the nation (natus, natio), which grind to dust everything that is not a kin of the ruling kind and genus (Geschlecht). He dreams of a nation without nationalist or nativist closure, of a community without identity, of a non-identical community that cannot say I or we, for, after all, the very idea of a community is to fortify (munis, muneris) ourselves in common against the other. His work is driven by a sense of the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe,” or of a “Christian politics,” lethal compounds that spell death of Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other. The heaving and sighing of this Christian European spirit is a lethal air for Jews and Arabs, for all les juifs [i.e., Jews as prototypical others], even if they go back to father Abraham, a way of gassing them according to both the letter and the spirit. (Caputo 1997, 231-232)
Derrida has recently published a pamphlet advocating immigration of non-Europeans into France (see Lilla 1998). As with the Frankfurt School, the radical skepticism of the deconstructionist movement is in the service of preventing the development of hegemonic, universalist ideologies and other foundations of gentile group allegiance in the name of the tout autre, i.e., the “wholly other.” Caputo ascribes Derrida’s motivation for his deconstruction of Hegel to the latter’s conceptualization of Judaism as morally and spiritually inferior to Christianity because of its legalism and tribalistic exclusivism, whereas Christianity is the religion of love and assimilation, a product of the Greek, not the Jewish spirit. These Hegelian interpretations are remarkably congruent with Christian self-conceptualizations and Christian conceptions of Judaism originating in antiquity (see SAID, Ch. 3), and such a conceptualization fits well with the evolutionary analysis developed in PTSDA. Re-interpretations and refutations of Hegel were common among nineteenth-century Jewish intellectuals (see SAID, Ch. 6), and we have seen that in Negative Dialectics Adorno was concerned to refute the Hegelian idea of universal history for similar reasons. “Hegel’s searing, hateful portrait of the Jew... seem[s] to haunt all of Derrida’s work;... by presenting in the most loyal and literal way just what Hegel says, Derrida shows... that Hegel’s denunciations of the Jew’s castrated heart is a heartless, hateful castration of the other” (Caputo 1994, 234, 243). As with the Frankfurt School, Derrida posits that the messianic future is unknown because to say otherwise would lead to the possibility of imposed uniformity, “a systematic whole with infinite warrant” (Caputo 1994, 246), a triumphal and dangerous truth in which Jews as exemplars of the tout autre would necessarily suffer. The human condition is conceptualized as “a blindness that cannot be remedied, a radical, structural condition in virtue of which everyone is blind from birth” (Caputo 1994, 313).
As with the Frankfurt School, the exemplars of otherness have a priori moral value. “In deconstruction love is extricated from the polemic against the Jews by being re-thought in terms of the other, of les juifs... If this organic Hegelian Christian-European community is defined as making a common (com) defense (munis) against the other, Derrida advances the idea of laying down his arms, rendre les armes, surrendering to the other” (p. 248). From this perspective, acknowledging the possibility of truth is dangerous because of the possibility that truth could be used against the other. The best strategy, therefore, is to open up “a salutary competition among interpretations, a certain salutary radical hermeneuticizing, in which we dream with passion of something unforeseeable and impossible” (Caputo 1994, 277). To the conflicting views of differing religions and ideologies, Derrida “opposes a community, if it is one, of the blind[;]... of the blind leading the blind. Blindness makes for good communities, provided we all admit that we do not see, that in the crucial matters we are all stone blind and without privileged access, adrift in the same boat without a lighthouse to show the other shore” (Caputo 1997, 313-314). Such a world is safe for Judaism, the prototypical other, and provides no warrant for the universalizing tendencies of Western civilization (Caputo 1997, 335) — what one might term deconstruction as de-Hellenization or de-Westernization. Minority group ethnic consciousness is thus validated not in the sense that it is known to be based on some sort of psychological truth, but in the sense that it can’t be proved untrue. On the other hand, the cultural and ethnic interests of majorities are “hermeneuticized” and thus rendered impotent — impotent because they cannot serve as the basis for a mass ethnic movement that would conflict with the interests of other groups.
Ironically from the standpoint of the theory of Judaism developed here, Derrida (who has thought a great deal about his own circumcision in his Circonfession [Derrida 1993b]) realizes that circumcision, which he likens to a shibboleth because of its usefulness as a mechanism of ingroup demarcation (i.e., as a mark of Jewish exclusiveness and “otherness”), is a two-edged sword. Commenting on the work of Holocaust poet Paul Celan, Derrida (1994, 67) states, “the mark of a covenant or alliance, it also intervenes, it interdicts, it signifies the sentence of exclusion, of discrimination, indeed of extermination. One may, thanks to the shibboleth, recognize and be recognized by one’s own, for better and for worse, in the cleaving of partaking: on the one hand, for the sake of the partaking and the ring of the covenant, but also, on the other hand, for the purpose of denying the other, of denying him passage or life... Because of the shibboleth and exactly to the extent that one may make use of it, one may see it turned against oneself: then it is the circumcised who are proscribed or held at the border, excluded from the community, put to death, or reduced to ashes” (Derrida 1994, 67-68; italics in text).
Despite the dangers of circumcision as a two-edged sword, Derrida (1994, 68) concludes that “there must be circumcision,” a conclusion that Caputo (1997, 252) interprets as an assertion of an irreducible and undeniable human demand “for a differentiating mark, for a mark of difference.” Derrida thus subscribes to the inevitability (innateness?) of group demarcations, but, amazingly and apologetically, he manages to conceptualize circumcision not as a sign of tribal exclusivism, but as “the cut that opens the space for the incoming of the tout autre” (Caputo 1994, 250) — a remarkable move because, as we have seen, Derrida seems quite aware that circumcision results in separatism, the erection of ingroup-outgroup barriers, and the possibility of between-group conflict and even extermination. But in Derrida’s gloss, “spiritually we are all Jews, all called and chosen to welcome the other” (Caputo 1994, 262), so that Judaism turns out to be a universalist ideology where marks of separatism are interpreted as openness to the other. In Derrida’s view, “if circumcision is Jewish it is only in the sense that all poets are Jews... Everyone ought to have a circumcised heart; this ought to form a universal religion” (Caputo 1994, 262). Similarly in a discussion of James Joyce, Derrida contrasts Joyce and Hegel (as prototypical Western thinkers) who “close the circle of the same” with “Abrahamic [i.e., Jewish] circumcision, which cuts the cord of the same in order to be open to the other, circumcision as saying yes... to the other” (Caputo 1997, 257). Thus in the end, Derrida develops yet another in the age-old conceptualizations of Judaism as a morally superior group while ideologies of sameness and universality that might underlie ideologies of social homogeneity and group consciousness among European gentiles are deconstructed and rendered as morally inferior.
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Particularly important in this general endeavor has been the use of a rationally argued, philosophical skepticism as a tool in combating scientific universalism. Skepticism in the interest of combating scientific theories one dislikes for deeper reasons has been a prominent aspect of twentieth-century Jewish intellectual activity, apparent not only as a defining feature of Boasian anthropology but also in much anti-evolutionary theorizing and in the dynamiccontextualist view of behavioral development discussed in Chapter 2. In general this skepticism has been aimed at precluding the development of general theories of human behavior in which genetic variation plays a causative role in producing behavioral or psychological variation or in which adaptationist processes play an important role in the development of the human mind. The apotheosis of radical skepticism can be seen in the “negative dialectics” of the Frankfurt School and in Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction which are directed at deconstructing universalist, assimilatory theories of society as a homogeneous, harmonious whole on the theory that such a society might be incompatible with the continuity of Judaism. As in the case of Jewish political activity described in Chapter 7, the effort is aimed at preventing the development of mass movements of solidary groups of gentiles and a repetition of the Holocaust.
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As we have seen in SAID (Ch. 7), Jewish religious ideology was an infinitely plastic set of propositions that could rationalize and interpret any event in a manner compatible with serving the interests of the community. Authority within the Jewish intellectual community was always understood to be based entirely on what recognized (i.e., consensual) scholars had said. It never occurred to the members of this discourse community to seek confirmation of their views from outside the community of intellectual discourse itself, either from other (gentile) discourse communities or by trying to understand the nature of reality itself. Reality was whatever the group decided it should be, and any dissent from this socially constructed reality would have to be performed within a narrow intellectual space that would not endanger the overall goals of the group. Acceptance of the Jewish canon, like membership in the intellectual movements reviewed here, was essentially an act of authoritarian submission. The basic genius of the Jewish intellectual activity reviewed in these chapters is the realization that hermeneutic communities based solely on intellectual consensus within a committed group are possible even within the post-Enlightenment world of intellectual discourse and may even be successfully disseminated within the wider gentile community to facilitate specific Jewish political interests.
The difference from the pre-Enlightenment world, of course, is that these intellectual discourses were forced to develop a facade of science in order to appeal to gentiles. Or, in the case of the skeptical thrust of Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction and the Frankfurt School (but not involvement in activities such as The Authoritarian Personality), it was necessary to defend the viability of philosophical skepticism. The scientific veneer and philosophical respectability sought by these movements then functioned to portray these intellectual movements as the result of individualistic free choice based on rational appraisals of the evidence. This in turn necessitated that great efforts were required to mask Jewish involvement and domination of the movements, as well as the extent to which the movements sought to attain specific Jewish political interests.