Hannah Arendt: Self-Hating Jew (?)

Jeremy Adelman (ahem), Professor of History at Princeton University, has a piece in The Wilson Quarterly on Hannah Arendt (“Pariah: Can Hannah Arendt Help Us Rethink Our Global Refugee Crisis?”). He attempts to situate, morally, the current Million Muslim March into the context of the Jewish Question during WWII:

There are 60 million refugees in the world, the highest sum of pariahs since 1945. The figure tripled in the past year alone. Half of the world’s unwanted are under age 18. Most will grow up in a camp. Many will die escaping their places of origin; more than 3,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015. The lucky ones will make new homes. But how welcome they will feel can be gauged by the decibel level of nativists like Donald Trump, a chorus of Republican governors and candidates, Marine Le Pen in France, and the surging Danish People’s Party. So long as these negative voices have the megaphone, can the resettled ever feel at home?

Like Arendt herself, Adelman is obsessed with Jewish identity. Much of the piece unintentionally showcases just how black & white the lens is when it comes to Jews operation through Jewish ethnocentrism, one’s obsession with Jewishness, Jews in general, and, by extension, Jews as the representative class of ‘stateless persons’

In early-1930s Germany, Arendt, a Jew, was a member German Zionist Organization who found herself serving 8 days in Nazi jail for her activism:

Since the torching of the Reichstag in February, life had become hell for socialists, communists, and Jews. Like others before her, and more after, Arendt fled to Paris. She would spend the next 18 years as a refugee, a stateless person, a pariah.

You get the idea.

The seeds were then sown for Arendt to hold dangerous ideas for a Jew: namely, assigning some of the blame for anti-Semitism on collective actions of Jews themselves:

Then came the roll call of surprise. Bystanders were shocked when Hitler denationalized the Jews, shocked when the Jews became refugees, shocked when they could not get rid of them, and shocked when these stateless and unwanted minorities got rounded up for the slaughter. Had these bystanders been more aware of the perils of deriving rights from national sovereignty, Arendt concluded angrily, they should not have been nearly so shocked. The modern story of the Jews became a chapter in world history because “the arrival of the stateless people brought an end to this illusion” that nationality served human rights.

When her planned marriage to a Communist failed, Arendt moved, like many of her radical Frankfurt School cohorts, first to Paris:

Exile means eviction from one’s political community. But it also brings fresh encounters. To be unwanted is never just about being rejected by those who throw you out. It also entangles refugees with the ambiguities of their hosts. In the case of the legions of Central European Jews fleeing to Paris and London, exile meant dealing with the establishment Jews who often ran the charitable organizations that took care of the fugitives. Arendt made sense of her pariah-hood in brushes with a different Jewish condition: these upstart, establishment Jews. She called them “parvenus,” and they loomed large in her thinking about the Jewish condition and statelessness.

To a significant block of Jews, arguably the majority, assimilation into one’s host country is a form of ‘selling out’, of losing sight of the messianic mission of securalized Judaism.

Arendt’s writings on the Dreyfus Affair opened her up to charges of being a ‘self-hating Jew’ by… other Jews, naturally:

Arendt’s perspective on the Dreyfus Affair anticipated later accusations that she lacked compassion and love for her people. It is a thorny subject in Arendtology, and divides the Arendt-bashers from her admirers. It comes up in the charges of Jewish self-hatred after the 1963 publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem. That book became an icon for victim-blaming: If she accused Jewish leaders of doing too little to defend their communities against the onslaught, her critics, starting with Norman Podhoretz in Commentary magazine, accused her of doing too much to blame Jews for their ruin (he preferred the good-versus-evil narrative and the sacralizing of the Holocaust in Jewish memory as the modern defining trauma). For her apostasy, Arendt was being banished once more as the treasonous Jewess. The myth of Arendt’s self-hatred goes on. The 2013 film Hannah Arendt by Margarethe von Trotta makes allegations of Jewish self-hatred the centerpiece of the drama, though in doing so the film depicts Arendt as a universal symbol brought low by lip-snarling Zionists. The mythologizing either way misses the message about the specific condition of the pariah. Arendt never accused all Jews of self-inflicted genocide; it was the silent, complicit leaders she charged with not doing more to defend those who could not speak.

As a Jew, Arendt committed sins such as, for example, noticing the role of Herschel Grynszpan in the presaging of Kristallnacht:

Consider how Arendt responded to Kristallnacht, the night of November 9, 1938, when Nazi gangs tore through Jewish shops and homes: Arendt was as horrified as others at the Nazi zeal to destroy. But she was also dismayed that French Jewish leaders distanced themselves from Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew whose murder of a Nazi diplomat in Paris in November 1938 became the pretext for thugs to go rampaging in Germany. As she tore through the newspapers, taking notes and collecting clippings, Arendt treated Grynszpan’s trial as a test of Jewish leaders’ commitment to their own. Instead of making sure the pariah got a fair trial, however, they sacrificed Grynszpan with silence.

Adelman’s piece is indicative of just how much the role of the exiled pariah, the role of the ‘outsider’, has been embraced and promoted by Jews living in host countries in the West:

While the summer of 1940 rolled out Marshal Philippe Pétain’s anti-Semitic decrees, Arendt sat in the garden or at her makeshift desk, reading and taking notes. It was in Montauban that she read the works of the half-Jewish Marcel Proust, who would figure prominently in The Origins — the writer who transformed “worldly happenings into inner experience” just as Arendt was turning her inner experiences into reflections on the world. He was her witness on bourgeois France’s soulless ambitions and disintegration into an ensemble of cliques drained of self-respect or virtue, intolerant of outsiders, Jews, or “inverts.” A dejudaized Jew, Proust observed a world he could only partially belong to, not least because he was also gay.

Again, like her radical Frankfurt School cohorts, Arendt then moved to NYC, a most hospitable ecosystem for radical, leftwing, Jewish ethnocentrism to percolate and re-assert itself.

There, she and her Jewish colleagues, most notably through the Institute for Social Research in New York (aka, the ‘Frankfurt School’), would go on to launch a successful albeit quiet war on American culture.

As with Weimar, we are currently feeling the affects of their Cultural Revolution.

This entry was posted in Culture Wars, History, Jewish. Bookmark the permalink.