Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Anti-Semite

The question of whether the Anti-Semite creates the Jew or the Jew creates the Anti-Semite is one of those chicken or egg questions. Jean-Paul Sartre believes that the Anti-Semite (A.S.) creates the Jew because he is motivated by his fear. I order to cope with the fear of an undecided existence the A.S. creates a creature which is essentially the opposite of himself and considers it an evil entity. By forming this “doppelganger” he places himself in the category of the good creating a small amount of assurance in his life. In addition to this he is also bonded to others with similar viewpoints to his own placing him in a group of like minded (insecure and fearful) individuals. This group formation adds another layer of stability for the A.S.’s while further ostracizing Jews.

While this idea fits with Sartre’s existentialist ideology very well I would have to disagree with his belief that the A.S. creates the Jew. The characteristics of the anti-Semitic idea of a Jew(Big nosed, underhanded, hardworking etc.) were established by the A.S. the Jewish people were not brought about by the hatred of others. The Jewish people are those that share religion, history and the “Jewish experience.” The establishment of the Jew as a target might have been what Sartre was referring to which I can agree with, but the A.S. is not the creator of what it means to be Jewish. I believe that the Jews were the target of anti-Semitism not the creator of it.

Anti-Semitism was created by several factors; people’s innate fear of the world, hatred/jealousy that develops from this fear, and the ability of a person to categorize people. The fact that people have an innate fear of an uncertain future causes an illogical disruption in a person’s psyche. This disruption turns into a passionate hatred when they are wronged in some way or unfairly treated. The passionate hatred which develops needs a target to be acted upon. The target is acquired from our ability to categorize people. By saying someone is different from ourselves we can attribute negative qualities to that person without feeling bad about it because they are “not like us”.

This formula can also be applied to other types of discrimination, including racism, sexism etc. By saying we are different from those people we can apply negative characteristics to them while staying on our pillar of perfection.

What do y’all think, is Sartre right when he says the A.S. creates the Jew?


  1. I don't think that the Anti- Semites actually created the Jew but they created the criterias of discrimination against the already established Jews. The Anti-Semites make the good attributes of Jews seem negative because Anti-Semites are jealous of any good that Jews possess. Anti-Semites make themselves feel better about their fear and jealousy by being able to degrade Jews ,which can only happen through scrutinizing the characteristics of the Jews. Therefore, the characteristics and criterias have been invented by the Anti-Semites but they did not create the Jews themselves.

  2. I agree with both you and Manali. I think Sartre is way off by claiming that if the A.S. did not exist, then Jewishness would not exist. To me, that is too strong and reductionistic a claim. While racists and A.S. do have large say in how everyone comes to see a minority, such as Jews, and the negative attributes which they consider characteristic of that minority, there is much more to the equation--such as the Jews own culture and history. It seems fundamentally misguided to me to claim that you can completely understand another minority group by looking at it through the same distorted prism the non-minority majority does. And oddly enough, it looks like Sartre is claiming just that.

  3. I agree with the posts above. Though opposition and oppression do serve as powerful tools to feul passion and therefore a more powerful espousal of something such as Judaism and Jewish culture, I do not believe that it is the source of it. Jewish culture and history, though at many times carried and triumphed by the overcoming of opression, would still sustain as a religion and way of life with out the frothing at the mouth anti-Semite.

  4. I suppose also have to agree. A Jew is still a Jew without an Anti-Semite to do the judging. And I must also give a high-five to Blake for pointing out Sartre's view of a minority group through the eyes of the majority. To be fair though, a lot of philosophers had been doing this at the time of Sartre's writing, so it is not a particularly novel thing that he does it as well. It calls his credibility into question, but it should not surprise us that he does it.

  5. Since I helped present on this topic, I guess I should comment. While reading this book, I had some trouble understanding Sartre's argument that the AS and the Jew essentially create each other. When Sartre discusses the AS and the Jew he is expressing these "characters" as a single entity representing a group. It seemed to me that these characters were meant to be the collective experiences, beliefs, customs and cultures of each race group. I guess this is somewhat like the "race omelet" theory we discussed earlier this semester.
    I think that by claiming the AS creates the Jew, Sartre is saying the AS group's beliefs, history and experiences create a Jew that appears as a symbol of evil to them. Since AS rarely interact with Jews in a non-hostile manner, they are unable to perceive them as anything but what they have been told to believe by their AS group. This, in turn, creates a Jewish experience defined by the majority group and their interactions with the Jew. So, Jews begin to be perceived as having certain traits and tendencies by the AS spreading these beliefs. This helps create the Jew, since anti-Semitism undeniably alters Jewish people’s beliefs, experiences, customs and culture.

    Some of Sartre’s ways that the Anti-Semite “creates” the Jew:
    1. Anti-Semitism impacts Jewish history, beliefs, customs and culture, thus changing what it is to be Jewish.
    2. The AS stereotypes the Jew, altering all people’s perception of Jewish individuals.
    3. The Jew cannot determine whether he is accepted or not. It is up to the non-Jews to either shake the Jew’s hand or spit in his face.
    4. For the inauthentic Jew: His denial of his Jewishness and want for assimilation only increases the feelings of hate in the AS.
    5. The AS creates an evil symbol (the Jew) so they can be the symbol of good, increase self-esteem, and feel superior.
    6. For the authentic Jew: He cannot openly embrace his Jewish heritage without being burdened by other’s beliefs about him.

    So, I guess Sartre is basically saying that without the Anti-Semite and his influence on the world, the Jewish “race omelet” would be quite different. If the AS did not exist, the Jew would exist as something vastly different from what it actually is. In an alternate dimension where the AS does not exist, Jews are still distinguishable by their shared religion, history and culture, but who they are and how they are perceived by others, which fundamentally create the Jew, would be completely different.

  6. Alex seems to have hit the nail on the head with regard to the effect of the anti-Semite upon the Jew. While it seems unreasonable to assert that the Jew would entirely disappear without the actions of the anti-Semite, the anti-Semite has been fundamental in determining the path of Jews since the diaspora. This interaction has definitely led to changes that could not have otherwise taken place and thus been directly formative. Had those changes not take place, however, the Jew would still have a sense of shared history, religion, and culture, invalidating the dependence that Sartre offers us.

  7. The position you laid out, Alex, covering the effects of the A.S. upon the Jew strikes me as making much more sense, and is probably the position Sartre should have stuck with (and not then reached by saying the Jew fully depends on the A.S. to be a Jew). As that position basically says without the A.S. there still would have been Jews, but what it would mean to be a Jew would look quite different.


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