The Anti-Semitic Problem in America

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In his two articles appearing in this magazine entitled 'The Jewish Problem in America,' Albert Jay Nock, describing himself as a man of letters and not a publicist, girds a loin, states a problem, and leaves the solution to 'abler minds than mine' (viz. his). He sets forth the problem as 'that of maintaining a modus vivendi between the American Jew and his fellow-citizens which is strong enough to stand any shocks of an economic dislocation such as may occur in the years ahead.'

The thesis as he expands it is briefly that (1) there is a Jewish problem in America; (2) the Jews are an Oriental people without, apparently, hope of Occidentalization; (3) it is the disability of Occidental and Oriental that they cannot fully understand one another and must remain forever suspicious of each other; (4) 'there is no question of superiority or inferiority, one way or the other. Nevertheless, there the disability is, and there seems nothing I or mine can do about it.'

Nor does Mr. Nock try to do anything about it. After giving currency to the traditional anti-Semitic patter plus some chance remarks of his friends, and assuring his readers that he is above the storm and understands the reasons for the anti-Jewish point of view and sympathizes with the Jewish reaction, he peters out before making any attempt to find a modus vivendi. He keeps his promise and leaves all that to 'abler minds.'

The final page of the articles he devotes to an attempt to draw the teeth of any Jews who, instead of taking what he says, 'take what they think I say, and then add to that a wholly gratuitous string of what they think I mean.' Alas, how human – the Jews are sensitive to what they believe is critical of them. So 'Oriental'! But, of course, Mr. Nock adds: 'The intelligent Occidental perfectly understands this peculiar sensitiveness, and knows how it came about, but the Occidental mass-man does not' (italics mine).

The phrases 'intelligent Occidental' or 'civilized Occidental' and 'Occidental mass-man' are used so often by Mr. Nock and seem so real to him that one suspects he is still a believer in those nineteenth-century weathercocks, 'the economic mail' and 'the social man.' He may even be acquainted with 'the man in the street.'

The problem discussed by Mr. Nock is not a 'Jewish problem in America' at all. It is the problem of American democracy. In part Mr. Nock would agree with me, only he says: 'The problem is not essentially Jewish, not essentially Semitic; it is an Oriental problem.' Let us now pursue this Oriental bogeyman.

Mr. Nock tells a charming little story of the Jewish girl of twenty-three with whom, when he was a young man, he 'was once marooned for eight days on one of society's most arid islands.' No one could help falling in love with her. She was, says he, 'the only girl I ever saw who seemed to me the acme of everything desirable.' There follows a passage redolent with her charms and the names of German philosophers. He never saw or heard of her again - but she became the mother of his bogeyman. He was certain that, with the best will in the world on both sides, a hundred years in her sight would bring him no better knowledge of her than those eight days, for she was 'Oriental.'

Here we have a bad case of Oriental mysticism confused with the normal mystery which women possess for all young men. (He evidently let her go her way in silence, and the mystery grew.) What more natural than that, the Jewish people having hailed from the East, the mystery and the Jews became irretrievably bound to the Orient?

The Jews lived over a thousand years in Germany, but to Mr. Nock they remain Oriental. One would have thought that, in view of the Oriental origin of the German tribes, under the Nock formula the Jewish people and the German people would have worked things out better.

As one would suspect, Mr. Nock, the 'man of letters' (laying no claim to being a 'publicist'), by implication is the intelligent or civilized Occidental - not the mass-man, who participated in 'the revolt of the masses' under Jackson and Roosevelt which 'was naturally and necessarily accompanied by a great general reversion towards the frontiersman's type of manners, the evidences of which are now most offensively observable in all grades of our society.' No indeed, he is not the Occidental mass-man who 'accepts this reversion, is pleased with it as a creation of his own, and glorifies it as "democratic." Rather, like Pontius Pilate, Nock stands aloof, wrapped all about in the robes of intellectualism, and regrets that mass-man will have his way – but it just can't be helped.

The intellectual will, of course, not sully his hands with rough stuff. Sometimes he will not even admit his guilt for inspiring violence. It is not true, for example, that ‘persecutions never have originated in an upper-class movement or a governmental movement.' Modern 'scientific' anti-Semitism is the offspring of such men as Count de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. It was the Tsarist circles that organized the Black Hundreds and employed the pogrom as a mechanism of government. Streicher and Goebbels were no problem. Mobs are at times swayed by blood lust, but it has not been mobs that have made blood lust internal national policy.

I believe the distinction between the intelligent or civilized man and the mass-man has led not only to a defective analysis of the 'Jewish problem' (which I shall discuss later on), but also to a failure to find a solution, a modus vivendi. This distinction is the cause of that defeatism which runs through the Nock articles. He refers to the attitude of people on the Western Coast toward the Chinese and adds: 'All this may be deplored as unjust and indefensible, but there it is for our social architects and engineers to deal with as best they may.' He quotes from Bishop Butler: 'Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be; why, then, should we desire to be deceived?' In the mood of Cassandra he says: 'There is every reason to fear that the prospect awaiting the American Jew will also follow the historic pattern which has persisted with unfailing regularity in those circumstances [viz. economic stringency] for more than ten centuries. The sudden flaring-up of anti-Jewish sentiment in this country, to which I have alluded, was coincident with the onset of the depression in 1929, and it was damped down only by the sheer accident of encountering a great wave of sympathy for the mistreated Jews of Europe.' And finally: 'I think it is not impossible that I shall live to see the Nürnberg laws reënacted in this country and enforced with vigor.'

What we have here is a confession by the intellectual that he is impotent in the face of the 'mass-man,' that certain situations are to be deplored as unjust and indefensible, but they are what they are and will be what they will be; that historic patterns will unfailingly catch up with the American Jew and within the lifetime of Mr. Nock engulf the Jews within American Nürnberg laws which would mean, of course, the success of Hitler and the failure of our democratic civilization. Here is defeatism without even the saving grace of recognizing that many Americans identify persecution of Jews with Hitlerism or the revealing admission that the New York demonstrations of 1939 which he mentions were inspired by Nazis and their Coughlinite fellow travelers.

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