On Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (1946) and “Black Orpheus” (1948).
These are the essays that Frantz Fanon (see ep. 210) was most responding to, and they address the same question: How can we best psychologically understand racism and reactions to it? Sartre’s chief analytical tool is the accusation of inauthenticity: The anti-Semite believes self-evident lies in order to avoid accepting the truth of his human condition of freedom, while the oppressed may themselves fail to authentically acknowledge their situation in various ways, whereas the keys to their liberation are, well, yes, of course removing the racist condition, but first acknowledging it and finding the consequent “soul” of your people, which will itself put one in the best position to fight the injustice.
In a lengthy discussion over two days, Mark, Wes, Seth, and Dylan try to figure out whether Sartre’s analyses ring true and how to apply them to the present day.
Part One here deals with the first half of Anti-Semite and Jew, delving into the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. His target is the idea that one can be an otherwise decent person but also want society purged of Jews. He analyzes anti-Semitism as a “passion” that is constitutive of someone’s being; it demonstrates a fundamentally corrupt way of viewing humanity that can’t be simply compartmentalized. It’s a sentimental attitude, alleging a magical, native bond with the French land that a Jew or other “foreigner” has no access to. This allows the anti-Semite to feel superior even though he may lack wealth, intelligence, or other distinction. The hatred of Jews is not a rational conclusion based on observations like the prevalence of Jews in positions of power or wealth; these are merely adduced after the fact to support an attitude already committed to. This attitude is black-and-white, identifying the Jew as the embodiment of evil. Any apparent virtues the Jew may possess don’t actually count as virtues when the Jew possesses them; they just make him more dangerous.
So anti-Semitism denies human freedom, both of the Jew who is taken as essentially evil, and of the anti-Semite himself, who is claimed to have essential value without having to do anything to achieve this. It shirks the responsibility of building society by putting all the blame for social ills on a demonized “other.”
You might think that the solution is society that is beyond sectarianism, and while this is Sartre’s long-term vision, to just pretend, right now (well, in Sartre’s time, but maybe now too) that we can just accept everyone as an equal citizen ignores the prevalence of anti-semitism (or racism more generally… Sartre explicitly says that his analysis applies to any demonization of a minority group). Sartre will advocate a “concrete liberalism” that will, until anti-semitism is banished (by socialist revolution, but he doesn’t tell us that yet), acknowledge group identities, treating the Jew not just as an abstract “person” (as the “democrat” does, which Sartre condemns as a wrong-headed response to anti-semitism), but as a concrete individual in a situation.
Image by Solomon Grundy.