The Right Coast

June 26, 2005
The Anti's
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Paul Johnson notes the link between anti-Americanism and anti-semitism -- in Europe, in the Middle East, and elsewhere:
[A]nti-Semitism and anti-Americanism have proceeded hand in hand in today’s Europe just as they once did in Hitler’s mind (as the unpublished second half of Mein Kampf decisively shows). Like hatred of Jews, hatred of Americans can similarly be described as a form of racism or xenophobia, especially in its more vulgar manifestations. But among academics and intellectuals, where it is increasingly prevalent, it has more of the hallmarks of a mental disease, becoming more virulent, widespread, and intractable ever since the United States began to shoulder the duties of the war against international terrorism.

Asked to explain why they hate Jews, anti-Semites contradict themselves. Jews are always showing off; they are hermetic and secretive. They will not assimilate; they assimilate only too well. They are too religious; they are too materialistic, and a threat to religion. They are uncultured; they have too much culture. They avoid manual work; they work too hard. They are miserly; they are ostentatious spenders. They are inveterate capitalists; they are born Communists

That anti-Americanism shares many structural characteristics with anti-Semitism is plain enough. In France, as we read in a new study, intellectuals muster as many contradictory reasons for attacking the U.S. as for attacking Jews. Americans are excessively religious; they are excessively materialistic. They are vulgar money-grubbers; they are vulgar spenders. They hate culture; they are pushy in promoting their own culture. They are aggressive and reckless; they are cowardly. They are stupid; they are exceptionally cunning. They are uneducated; they subordinate everything in life to the goal of sending their children to universities. They build soulless megalopolises; they are rural imbeciles. As with anti-Semitism, this litany of contradictory complaints is fleshed out with demonic caricatures of particular individuals like George W. Bush. Just as 14th-century Christians once held the Jews responsible for the Black Death, Americans are blamed for all the ills of today’s world, starting with (real or imaginary) global warming. Particularly among French intellectuals, such demonization has become almost a culture, a way of life, in itself.
Read the whole thing.

What Johnson doesn't explain -- perhaps no one really can -- is why anti-semitism and anti-Americanism seem to be linked emotions for so many people. I think one element is that both Americans and Jews are seen as economically successful: and if you envy people's economic success, it is satisfying to look down on them, and to denounce them, as money-grubbing, materialistic, cunning, exploitative, and so on. Also, Jews and Americans may both be seen as people you can safely jeer at because they don't hit back: Jews, historically, because they couldn't; Americans, because they usually don't.

(Does any major country put up with as many insults, with as little angry come-back, as the United States? Years ago, the city of Calcutta renamed the street housing the US consulate "Ho Chi Minh Street". It was a calculated insult. Did the US break diplomatic relations with India? Did it close the consulate? Did it rename the street housing the Indian Embassy in Washington "General Dyer Terrace" or "Mohammad Ali Jinnah Gardens"? No to all the above. The US Consulate in Calcutta is still open for business on Ho Chi Minh Street...)

Yet, these "explanations" seem partial at best. No doubt Johnson is right that both "anti's" are pathologies. But it's worth thinking -- and worrying -- about why they seem to be merging into the same pathology, at least among many who are most acutely infected.