Uh-oh. I see another identity-politics double-bind coming. Eugene Volokh comments on the anti-semitic canard that Jews were disproportionally influential in the development of Communism. The sides in this kind of dispute are very predictable. One one hand, the anti-Semites, a disgusting crew of racist troglodytes with evil motives. On the other, the good-hearted and right-thinking people in the world exclaiming in horror at the very thought that anyone might say anything veering so close to the classic tropes of anti-Semitic propaganda. (And I am not being the least bit ironic in either description, not this time.)
Unfortunately, the awkward thing about this particular canard is that it happens to be true. And that illustrates a serious problem, an inability to cope that most historians have acquired when questions of history go too near certain forbidden topics and modes of inquiry.
As Eugene Volokh’s sources note, a disproportionately large number of the original Bolsheviks were Jewish. Karl Marx was ethnically Jewish, though his parents had converted to Christianity. It is impossible to study the history of Marxism, Socialism, and Communism without noticing how many Jewish names crop up among the leading intellectuals. It is equally impossible not to notice how many of the Old Left families in the U.S. were (and still are) Jewish — and, more specifically, Ashkenazim of German or Eastern European extraction. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg didn’t come out of nowhere.
It’s not even very hard to understand why this is. There is a pattern, going back to Spinoza in the 1600s, of Jewish intellectuals seeking out the leading edge of certain kinds of reform movements. Broadly speaking, if you look at any social movement of the last 300 years that was secular, rationalist, and communitarian, somewhere in it you would find nonobservant Jews providing a lot of the intellectual firepower and organizational skills. Often a disproportionate share, relative to other population groups.
Communism was one example; there are many others. One of my favorites is the Ethical Culture movement. Today, we have the Free Software movement, not coincidentally founded by Jewish atheist Richard Stallman. There is an undeniable similarity among all these movements, an elusive deep
structure having to do not so much with shared beliefs as a shared style of believing that one might call messianic social rationalism.
Anybody who thinks I’m arguing for a conspiracy theory should check their meds. No, there is something much simpler and subtler at work here. Inherited religious myths, even when they no longer have normative force, influence the language and conceptual frameworks that intellectuals use to approach other issues. The mythologist Joseph Campbell once noted that thinkers with a Catholic background like mine gravitate towards universalizing mysticisms and Protestants towards individualist redemptionism; he could have added that thinkers with a Jewish heritage tend to love messianic social doctrines. (One can cite exceptions to all three, of course, but the correlation will still be there after you’ve done so.)
Thus, assimilated Jews have a particular propensity for constructing secular messianisms — or for elaborating and intellectualizing secular messianisms invented by gentiles. But you can’t say this sort of thing in academia; you get called a racist if you do. And you especially aren’t allowed to notice the other reason movements like Communism sometime look not unlike Jewish conspiracies — which is that the IQ bell curve for Jews has a mean about a standard deviation north of the IQ bell curve for Caucasian gentiles.
In cold and sober truth, in any kind of organization where intelligence matters — even the Communist movement —, you are going to find a disproportionate number of Jews with their hands on the levers. It doesn’t take any conspiracy to arrange this, and it’s not the Jews’ fault the goyim around them are such narrs (Yiddish
for “imbeciles”). It just happens.
But only people like me who don’t give a shit about being castigated for political incorrectness are willing to even whisper these things. Because that’s true, anti-anti-Semites can’t counter anti-Semitic muck-spreading with the truth; instead, they have to pretend that none of the historical patterns around which anti-Semites have constructed
their paranoid delusions have any basis in fact at all.
This is denial, and leaves the good guys in a damn weak position against anti-Semitic racists, who by distorting the record only a little can not only feel they have the truth on their side, but in some nontrivial ways actually be justified in that belief.
Unlike the anti-Semites, I mostly like the cultural traits that led so many Jewish intellectuals to Communism — including one I haven’t mentioned yet, the urge to transcend ethnic tribalism
and order the world according to a Law. But if the road to a Christian hell is paved with good individual intentions, the road to totalitarian hell is paved with communitarian idealism. It’s a tragedy that in Communism Jewish idealism, messianism, and intellectualism nourished a monster that turned on the Jews and killed so many of them.
If the discussion didn’t violate so many taboos, mainstream scholars could start asking even more interesting questions. Like: exactly how and why did thinkers raised in the relatively gentle communitarianism of the Jewish tradition become apologists for the vicious collectivism of Marxism and all its toxic children? And what can we do to keep the like from happening again, to Jews or anyone else?
But these questions probably won’t get seriously asked in my lifetime. Because political correctness has made us afraid to notice that, in some ways, the Jews really have had a special, shaping influence on the reform politics of the modern era, including Communism. About that much, the anti-Semites are right.