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Quote of the Day: Human Devils
“Christianity was content with a solitary hate figure to explain evil: Satan. But modern secular faiths needed human devils, and whole categories of them. The enemy, to be plausible, had to be an entire class or race.”
– Paul Johnson, Modern Times
Published in Group Writing
Further context for this quote:
This was the principal reason why antisemitism made such astonishing headway in Weimar Germany. Until the Republic, antisemitism was not a disease to which Germany was thought to be especially prone. Russia was the land of the pogrom. Paris was the city of the antisemitic intelligentsia. Antisemitism seems to have made its appearance in Germany in the 1870s and 1880s at a time when a determinist type of social philosopher was using Darwin’s principle of natural selection to evolve laws to explain the colossal changes brough about by industrialism, the rise of megalopolis and the alienation of huge rootless proletariats. Christianity was content with a solitary hate figure to explain evil: Satan. But modern secular faiths needed human devils, and whole categories of them. The enemy, to be plausible, had to be an entire class or race.
Marx’s invention of the bourgeoisie was the most comprehensive of these hate theories, and it has continued to provide a foundation for all paranoid revolutionary movements, whether fascist nationalist or communist internationalist. Modern theoretical antisemitism was a derivative of Marxism, involving a selection for reasons of national political or economic convenience of a particular section of the bourgeoisie as the subject of attack. It was a more obviously emotional matter than analysis purely by class, which is why Lenin used the slogan that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools.” But in terms of rationality, there was little to choose between the two. Lenin was saying in effect that it was the entire bourgeoisie not just Jewry which was to blame for the ills of mankind. And it was significant that all Marxist regimes, based as they are on paranoid explanations of human behavior, degenerate sooner or later into antisemitism. The new antisemitism, in short, was part of the sinister drift away from the apportionment of individual responsibility towards the notion of collective guilt. – Paul Johnson, Modern Times
As I struggle to be a good Christian, I must constantly remind myself that it is not my place to “get even” with opponents, or “teach them a lesson”.
The attraction of a philosophy or belief system that condones teaching the “other” a lesson is very strong.
Lilly B (View Comment):
And it was significant that all Marxist regimes, based as they are on paranoid explanations of human behavior, degenerate sooner or later into antisemitism. The new antisemitism, in short, was part of the sinister drift away from the apportionment of individual responsibility towards the notion of collective guilt. – Paul Johnson, Modern Times
Is that Paul Johnson the historian? I’m an admirer, but I’m not sure about this theory. Do we know that this is true? Which other Marxist regimes have degenerated into anti-Semitism? Not challenging you, Lilly, but I’d like to know the evidence.
Biblicalinjunction to “put on one’s own oxygen mask before attempting to help others,” is very sound advice.
The best way to “teach others a lesson” is by example, not by volume, not by coercion, not by force.
It’s a worthy question. I don’t think I’m qualified to give an evidence-based historically accurate answer. I think the second sentence informs the first, and to that extent, I see current American ideologies on the left increasingly embracing anti-semitism. BDS movements on university campuses? Progressive-Democrat politicians like Rashida Talib, who I believe is driven by identity politics and not a belief in individual liberty or a limited role for the Government. Similarly, Bari Weiss experienced a lot of anti-Semitic hostility at the New York Times. In other words, it feels true.
Also, yes, it’s Paul Johnson the historian. I have his A History of the Jews, but I have only started it.
I thought the reference went back farther than current circumstances, so you may be right.
I wish you well. I started it, too. A couple of times. It’s pretty dense. Some day I’ll go back to it.
I agree it goes much farther back. I just don’t know whether the paranoid explanation works historically. Modern Times is full of these observations or analyses as Johnson describes historical events in both particular and sweeping terms.
There is an irony here, particularly in comment #1. If you look at our society, and try to identify the people or groups commonly identified as “human devils,” I think that up at the top of the list are:
I do think that the explanations set forth above for so-called anti-Semitism are rather simplistic. There’s another irony there, as the view of the world as being divided into oppressed and oppressor groups is often identified as Marxist (for alleged class-based oppression) or neo-Marxist (for other alleged oppression). They seem to be based on the idea that the Jews can do no wrong, and are purely innocent victims of some irrational and baseless animosity.
One might argue that people should be judged as individuals, which is also a rather unsophisticated idea in my view, but even if one does, this is contradicted by the quotes from Johnson which lump together all Germans, all Parisians, and all Russians as the wicked anti-Semites.
It’s also rather historically dubious to attribute alleged mistreatment of Jews to Marxism. They were ejected from Spain, England, and other places historically, weren’t they, long before Marx?
You are so predictable, Jerry. No person I know says, or has ever said this. Especially since we Jews are all arrogant, rich and bring it all on ourselves. Who are the people who literally say that? If you’re talking about Jews who are sensitive to criticism about their being Jewish, they aren’t saying Jews can never be wrong.
China didn’t have enough Jews for anti-semitism. However, every Communist country becomes intensely bigoted towards minority groups.
Jerry in general seems fine making broad group distinctions.
I myself have light stereotypes. Women are more prone to emotion, Asians seem to study more and Mormons are polite etc. But while stereotypes are a good rule of thumb and worth observing, I would not say that everyone in those groups is exactly the same. I think it appropriate for Paul Johnson to note how Marxism leads to anti-semitism and how there were different kinds of anti-semitism in different countries. Doesn’t mean that every Russian is an anti-semite but there is a noticeably pattern that should be explored.
Perhaps this is a good time to add this quote:
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
I would be interested in hearing more about the rational and non-baseless animosity.
Example only works after the subject is brought to <em>desire</em> the lesson. The <em>best</em> way to teach the lesson usually starts with bringing the pain.
[Stupid android phone.]
For those who may be new to Ricochet or unfamiliar with this group writing project, this post is part of the Quote of the Day. Members may signup here for May!
That’s a leap worthy of Olympic competition to go from the first two sentences to the third: “They seem to be based on the idea….”
I’m not sure I want to know how you made that leap.
God cannot hold us accountable for circumstances beyond our control–that is, the actions of other people. Each of us is responsible only for our own actions.
God will mete out perfect justice because He is God.
It sounds simplistic, and it is.
There are other passages that give different, contradictory messages. I don’t think it’s an accident. It’s hard to contain the truth in one sentence for those of us (i.e. humans) who have short attention spans.
Based on Christ’s clarifying interactions with individuals throughout the New Testament, I am certain that God was speaking of individuals within those generations.
And the sins of the fathers and mothers do fall upon the children. It’s part of the children’s circumstances that God knows but we don’t.
“Russia was the land of the pogrom”…yet Russia was an overwhelmingly Christian nation. Johnson doesn’t really explain why Russia was the land of pogroms and Germany was (then) not.
And there were of course plenty of medieval pogroms on the states that later became Germany, and they were’t motivated by a secular ideology.
“Paris was the city of the antisemitic intelligentsia”…but was the court-martial of Dreyfus brought about by the intelligentsia? And wouldn’t one call many of the *defenders* of Dreyfus (Zola, for example) intellectuals themselves?
That is a wonderful quote and so well defines the behavior of the Left whose beliefs are far closer to a religion than a political movement.
Leftism, in all its permutations, is a religion for those who do not believe in God. Wasn’t it Chesterton who said something like: “If you don’t believe in God, you’ll believe in anything.” That observation seems to be borne out by evidence.
That is correct. I have dealt on a one on one basis with leftists for many years. It rapidly became obvious to me that arguing with them was a waste of time and energy. It was as pointless as trying to discuss religion with a totally committed religious person. What each believes cannot be reasonably challenged. The reason that they are working so hard in the schools is that as one of the popes is reported to have said, give me the child until he is five and I will have him for life. As a recovering Catholic I can testify to the validity of that point. I have wandered far afield, but like a salmon returning to its natal stream, I find myself ever returning to what I was taught as a child. My beliefs were attacked when I was at a young enough age to cause me to question that teaching, but it has remained a formative part of my thinking and beliefs. The same is being done to children with Leftist ideology which make it very difficult to restore their minds to a neutral ground where they can be appropriately educated in republican-democratic ideals. For those coming out of colleges with the full endoctrination package, good luck. They are as likely to be converted as you would be if presented with a religious doctrine opposed to your current beliefs or even a agnostic view. Not bloody likely!
I don’t know whether they had more victims of pogroms on a per capita basis, but the assertion about Russia would make sense based on common knowledge; there was a much higher number and concentration of Jews within the Russian Empire (mostly within the ‘Pale of Settlement’), so any perceived ‘Jewish threat’ would have seemed more salient. And Germany was at the time noted for urban-industrial expansion, implying a greater focus on economic growth that would have been difficult to sustain if pogroms were a common thing relative to a more rural and backward (i.e. more like medieval Europe) Russia.
As for an intelligentsia being notable for unpleasant and entrenched group-think, that would not preclude notable dissenters, much like Thomas Sowell has had his career during a period of accelerating Leftist dominance and gatekeeping within the academic sphere, culminating into the Woke oligarchy and secular inquisition we have now.
When I was in 6th grade, a friend of mine, named Jack, ran for student council president and asked me to be his “campaign manager”. Being a campaign manager in the 6th grade turned out to mostly involve creating some signs about Jack’s candidacy and hanging them up all over the school. Jack ultimately won the race, and I went back to my paper route, having learned that the nuts and bolts of student council politics were tedious and boring.
During the “campaign” for student council, I was shocked (and remember it to this day) when someone took me aside and asked why I was helping Jack. Bewildered, I responded, “why shouldn’t I?”. “Because he’s Jewish”, came back the reply.
I was completely dumbfounded. First of all, I had no idea Jack was Jewish and wouldn’t have cared if I had known. (Once I discovered that he was Jewish and learned more about what that involved, I was immediately overcome by jealousy about his participation in Hanukkah, which seemed a far more lucrative endeavor for a boy like myself who was interested in maximizing his haul of presents during the holidays. Hanukkah appeared to be a veritable jackpot compared to my own single day of Christmas. I wasn’t good at everything in 6th grade, but I was good at math and I did know how to count. But I digress) I found the entire idea of objecting to someone on the basis of his being a Jew a comical and ridiculous absurdity.
Immediately after school ended that year, the Munich Olympics took place, with the horrific massacre of 11 Israelis in the Olympic village. As a kid, I was glued to the TV, outraged and seething at the injustice and brutality of it. The Munich massacre was eye-opening and formative for me, and it also rekindled the memory of having been been pulled aside during the campaign for student council and questioned about why I was supporting a Jew.
That was a coming-of-age year for me about what is going on in the world, and not in a happy way.
Worthy of a full post.
Keith, thanks so much for making me laugh and cry in the same comment. Beautiful