Power, Politics, and Personification

Toward a Critique of Postone’s Theory of Antisemitism

Neil Levi

This essay offers an immanent critique of Moishe Postone’s theory of antisemitism, arguably among the most influential such theory of the past forty years.[1] Postone’s entire oeuvre is dedicated to the proposition that power in capitalist societies does not reside with agents but in a system of abstract domination. He explains modern antisemitism as what happens when people do not recognize the abstract nature of that system and instead hold that there must be someone—the Jews—in charge of things, responsible for all they fear and suffer. This phenomenon he proposes we understand as a form of fetishised anticapitalism.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


At the broadest level, what follows is simply an examination of what Postone means by each of the terms of his theory—modern, antisemitism, fetishised, anti-capitalism—and the implications of his particular understanding and uses of each. I contend that Postone’s theory rests on a complex, often ambiguous set of conceptual constructions. I begin with his definitions. While Postone sometimes distinguishes antisemitism among racisms, his theory rests on a categorical distinction of antisemitismfrom racism. This distinction, I suggest, makes it difficult for him to explain satisfactorily the political structure of right-wing and particularly National Socialist antisemitism. Instead, Postone focuses on the historical-epistemological: he wants to say that antisemitism is a matter of how some people think about and explain the world, but more, it is a matter of how the worldappears to them. The second part of this essay examines how he tries to make that case. Postone appeals directly to ‘Marx’s concept of the fetish’[2] but his own version of the fetish differs significantly from Marx’s. I suggest that the changes he rings on fetishism bring his conception of it closer to the structure of projection. This prepares the ground for the analogies Postone draws between the antisemitic image of Jewish power and the ‘abstract dimension of the value form’. But Postone needs more than an analogy. His observation that the Jews personify certain aspects of capitalist modernity is compelling, but he cannot convincingly explain personification as the direct result of how capitalism appears. For that he needs a different mode of explanation and a different conceptual apparatus.

I then turn to the thread that runs through practically all Postone’s writing on antisemitism. Postone develops his theory from an account of what he calls the ‘qualitative specificity’ of modern antisemitism, which is in turn derived from the singular features of the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews (extermination is in turn distinguished from mass murder and genocide).[3] Having staked so much on specificity Postone nevertheless argues that in the postwar period the same fetishised misrecognition and ‘pattern’ of thought is directed by left-wing ‘neo-anti-imperialism’ at quite different kinds of object—the US, Israel, and Zionism.[4] I argue that Postone’s own strictness about definitions mean he cannot collapse ‘neo-anti-imperialism’ into National Socialism, and show that Postone’s most rigorous formulations acknowledge key distinctions between modern antisemitism proper and its purported descendants.

In the final part of the essay, I argue that Postone’s notion of anti-capitalism contains a crucial ambiguity: sometimes it refers to explicit, conscious opposition to certain aspects of capitalism, which are mistakenly taken for all of capitalism; sometimes it refers to an implicit,unconscious opposition to all of capitalismand its social, political, and historical consequences. This becomes most evident when we consider one of Postone’s key claims: that his theory marks an advance on previous theories of antisemitism because his alone explains how the Jews were seen as the power behind both capitalism and communism. Pivotal in his framing of the question, communism disappears from his answer—and along with it, a fuller account of the political dimensions of modern antisemitism.Had Postone paid more attention to the distinction between the two forms of anti-capitalism, he would, I suggest, have found himself compelled to give a richer theoretical account of the place of abstraction in the distinctively political subjectivity and threat that obsess the right-wing variant of modern antisemitism. That task might, in turn, have drawn his attention toward contemporary Islamophobia, rather than (or as well as) criticism of the US, as significantly redolent of—while far from identical with—crucial aspects of the modern antisemitic imaginary.

The most obvious reason to grapple with Postone now lies in the profoundly fraught place of antisemitism in the contemporary political climate. On the one hand, there are myriad indications of antisemitism’s resurgence. Think, to take only the most obvious examples, of the spread of the fantasy of the Great Replacement, invoked by a distressing number of perpetrators of mass shootings as well as the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville in August 2017; the January 6, 2021 rioters’ displays of neo-Nazi symbols and antisemitic slogans; statistics suggesting a significant rise in antisemitic incidents; and the emergence of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Such events and phenomena make Postone’s observation that modern antisemitism ‘becomes virulent during structural, political, and cultural crisis’ seem all too timely, the search for answers all the more pressing.[5]

On the other hand, the very definition and extension of the concept of antisemitism has become a site of intense political contestation. Legal and cultural conflicts over the IHRA and BDS are only the most pointed instances of a broader and hardly symmetrical struggle over criticism of the state of Israel. It is in this respect that a certain reading of Postone has been incontestably influential on the German left, particularly for the Anti-Germans. Recent German laws and cultural controversies indicate that the views of the Anti-Germans have attained a certain cultural and political hegemony in the very nation their name claims to denounce.

My engagement with Postone seeks to clarify and parse the terms of the explanation he offers for why and how antisemitism emerges, and to respond to certain widespread interpretations and uses of his ideas. These goals distinguish my approach from other recent criticism of Postone. Both Karl Reitter and Michael Sommer take Postone to task for his use of the conceptual opposition of the abstract and concrete, and both are scathing on what they think Postone gets wrong about Marx and about German antisemitism. These are powerful, often convincing essays that share some points of overlap with mine (for example, Sommer too is struck by Postone’s use of analogy). They remain, however, largely external and polemical. One can imagine them leaving Postone unmoved since in Time, Labor, and Social Domination he provides, as it were, his own Marx, reinterpreted and critically reconstructed. Asking if his theory can satisfy its own criteria might provide both a sterner test and a more useful one, offering not only a critique but also a possible reconstruction of Postone himself. I continue to find some of Postone’s questions and observations about the structure of the modern antisemitic imaginary worth serious consideration. What I wrestle with here is how he arrives at his answers.


Postone assumes that if you want to understand the singular fate of Europe’s Jews you need to examine the distinctive features of the kind of prejudice directed toward them and derive your explanation from those features. Having identified the key distinguishing features of antisemitism, antisemitism then becomes, for the purposes of Postone’s theory and for many who follow him, exclusively identified with those distinguishing features. But the distinguishing features are not necessarily the only relevant features. Focusing exclusively on distinguishing features not only has unintended ideological consequences but weakens both the historical explanation of antisemitism and our ability to understand how it might manifest in the present.

Postone sets out to capture what he called modern antisemitism’s ‘qualitative specificity’, a specificity that is manifest in turn in the historical distinctiveness of the Nazi extermination of the Jews.[6] He locates the distinctiveness of antisemitism in the ‘degree’ and ‘quality of power attributed to the Jews’. Where the power attributed to racial others is, for Postone, ‘usually concrete—material or sexual—the power of the oppressed (as repressed) of the “Untermenschen”’ the power attributed to the Jews by modern antisemitism is ‘mysteriously intangible, abstract and universal;[7] and where all other powers attributed to racial others is potential, Jewish power is believed to be real and dangerous.[8] Moreover, according to Postone:

This power does not usually appear as such, but must find a concrete vessel, a carrier, a mode of expression. Because this power is not bound concretely, is not “rooted,” it is of staggering intensity and is extremely difficult to check. It stands behind phenomena, but is not identical with them. Its source is therefore hidden—conspiratorial. The Jews represent an immensely powerful, intangible, international conspiracy.[9]

Postone rests his theory on a crucial analogy: the properties of the power attributed to the Jews—abstractness, intangibility, universality, mobility, not appearing directly but finding a concrete carrier— are, he says, ‘all [also] characteristics of the value dimension of the social forms analyzed by Marx’.[10] Postone argues that for the modern antisemitic imagination the Jews personify ‘the intangible, destructive, immensely powerful international domination of capital [as a social form].[11] Modern antisemitism needs to be understood as a ‘particularly pernicious fetish form’ that ‘becomes virulent during structural, political, and cultural crisis’.[12] It ‘revolts against history as constituted by capitalism, misrecognized as a Jewish conspiracy’.[13] This is the core of Postone’s theory, which does not seem to change significantly over time. Postone’s later writings will, however, make much of two further, related claims: first, that as a revolt against capitalism, antisemitism can appear ‘antihegemonic and anti-global’ and ‘hence emancipatory’[14]; second, that the Jews are seen as opposed to all of human existence. Postone refers to ‘modern anti-Semitism’s central element—the idea of the Jews as a world historical threat to life’.[15] He observes that ‘[a]ntisemitism then, does not treat the Jews as members of a racially inferior group who should be kept in their place (violently if necessary) but as constituting an evil destructive power – an antirace opposed to humanity. Within this Manichean worldview the struggle against the Jews is a struggle for human emancipation. Freeing the world involves freeing it from the Jews. Extermination (which should not be conflated with mass murder) is a logical consequence of this Weltanschauung’.[16]

Postone’s notion of particularly modern antisemitism rests on a claim about both its historical singularity—something new breaks through in the Nazi extermination—and its historical continuity, since modern antisemitism’s ‘emergence presupposed’ and shares the distinctive features oflongue durée antisemitism.[17] The examples Postone gives of the distinctive ‘degree of power attributed to the Jews’ are worth closer attention. He lists: ‘to kill God, unleash the Bubonic Plague, and, more recently, introduce capitalism and socialism’.[18] One of these things is not like the others. In the first two the Jews do not simply possess a particular kind of power but use it to kill, first the Christian divinity, then the Christian community. ‘Introducing’ capitalism and socialism is not of the same order unless it too is perceived as a mortal threat to some form of life.

In other words, I think Postone under-interprets his historical examples. Their common features become more conspicuous if you consider the list’s most surprising omission: the blood libel. The blood libel refers to the fantasy, originating in Western Europe in the thirteenth century, that Jews murdered Christian children and used their blood to make unleavened bread for Passover. The historian Gavin Langmuir argues that by virtue of itshostile attribution to Jews of unreal characteristics and actions that no one has ever observed, the blood libel marks the historical origin of antisemitism proper, as opposed to anti-Jewish prejudice.[19] In the fantasy of the blood libel, the Jews, perhaps unusually, do not necessarily possess any more power than anyone else, but use what capacities they do have to carry out acts that reveal a dedication to inhuman laws, rituals, and practices that present a mortal threat to the security and reproduction of the Christian community. This makes clearer what Postone’s other examples oflongue durée antisemitism already show: that antisemitism is not just a theory of how much power the Jews have, but always also a theory of what the Jewsdo, what those actions reveal about who they are, and why action must be taken against them.

Let’s also note, in passing, that the form this threat takes is not arbitrary, but bears a significant relationship to both Jewish and Christian religious practice. As Langmuir points out, the blood libel transforms the rituals of Passover into an inverted form of the Eucharist. It develops, he says, at precisely the moment the Christian Church in Western Europe is debating the ontological status of the Eucharist: are Christians consuming the real body and blood of Christ? The blood libel, for Langmuir, displaces and resolves these questions for the source community, by imagining that even the Jews, who officially do not recognise Christ’s resurrection, show through their actions that they ultimately believe in it. It takes something real—the Passover Seder—and uses it as a surface on which a fantasy solution to problems and anxieties specific to the Christian community’s own, related practice can be made ‘visible’.

Postone uses these distinctive features to shear antisemitism off from racism. To be sure, Postone is sometimes ambiguous on the relationship between the two. In the early essays he distinguishes the kind of power attributed to the Jews from that of ‘other forms of racism’, suggesting antisemitism too is a form of racism. In 2003 he acknowledges that ‘racist and biologistic thinking’ ‘obviously was a very important dimension of antisemitism’, even as he immediately qualifies that ‘it alone also cannot account for the possibility of a program of total extermination’.[20] Yet precisely because such thinking cannot account for that possibility, modern antisemitism is ultimately categorically distinguished from what Postone calls ‘racism in general’ which he thinks always focuses on the concrete, physical, sexual properties of the other.[21]  It’s an oddly unhistorical and undialectical claim. Modern antisemitism can’t adequately be understood if it is categorically distinguished from racism. It’s not just that the distinction requires us to bracket the Nazi preoccupation with ‘racial science’ and the modern antisemitic obsession with Jewish bodies and sexuality. Most importantly, racist, biologistic thinking and classification are how Jews and others were identified as subject to separation, exclusion, dehumanisation, and elimination. In bracketing the question of racism, Postone has no way to explain how modern antisemites defined who was—and thus who would die as—a Jew.

The distinction between antisemitism and racism also takes no account of the range of projections and fantasies that racists have had about other peoples. The settler colonial fantasy of the Yellow Peril, even if it does not posit a conspiracy pulling the strings of world history, nevertheless imagines the Chinese to represent tremendous invisible power and danger. Iyko Day, drawing on Postone, observes that the ‘attributes of “abstractness, intangibility, universality, [and] mobility” that are associated with Jews are striking in their resonance with characteristic forms of Asian racialization in North America’.[22] Anti-Black racism may have sought to reduce Black people to their bodies, but it has also long interpreted those bodies as indices of a psyche, a culture, and a relationship to the world, as as J. Lorand Matory’s reflections on the historical origins of the concept of thefetish reveal. Postone teaches us to be critical of simplistic oppositions of the abstract and concrete, but there are moments when he seems unwittingly to reproduce them himself.

Too categorical a distinction between antisemitism and racism also makes it much harder to grasp how integrally modern antisemitism is related to other forms of modern racism. Proponents of the right-wing variant of modern antisemitism believe the Jews to use their power to bring about the destruction of white European races through cultural and sexual mixing. National Socialists in the interwar period claimed that the presence of Black soldiers, African art, and American jazz were all part of a Jewish program of what is often delicately translated as the ‘negroidisation’ of German culture. Contemporary antisemites appeal to the myth of the ‘Great Replacement’: in the US context Robert Bowers’ mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue as a response to the HIAS support of Muslim immigration, and the Charlottesville white supremacists’ chant of ‘Jews will not replace us’ as they sought to keep standing statues commemorating the Confederacy’s defence of slavery are the best-known examples.

Postone believes that the modern antisemitic ‘struggle’ is in the name of ‘human emancipation’. But reactionary antisemites, both modern and contemporary, regard leftist projects of emancipating all of humanity aspart of the danger represented by the Jews. National Socialists sought the emancipation ofspecific peoples—the race, the nation, theVolk—from Jewish domination, in order to be freethemselves to dominate, colonise, and exploit others—principally Slavic peoples.[23] Contemporary right-wing antisemites do not anticipate a war of all against the Jews that will result in the emancipation of humanity, but a war of peoples, civilisations, races. Emancipation is not the goal for these modern antisemites; it’s a step to regain or maintain domination. The place of the concept of emancipation in the antisemitic imaginary needs to be thought relationally; we need to know who is to be emancipated and who isn’t, as well as what those who are emancipated will be freed to do and to whom.

Ironically, there are other contexts in which Postone himself poses just these questions. Consider his reflections on how to evaluate the use of political violence by anti-colonial social movements, where he proposes

a fundamental difference between movements that do not target civilians randomly (such as the Viet Minh and Viet Cong and the ANC) and those that do (such as the IRA, al-Qaeda, and Hamas). This difference is […] profoundly political; a relation exists between the form of violence and the form of politics. […][T]he sort of future society and polity implicitly expressed by the political praxis of militant social movements that distinguish military from civilian targets differs from that implied by the praxis of movements that make no such distinction. The latter tend to be concerned with identity. In the broadest sense they are radically nationalist, operating on the basis of a friend/foe distinction that essentializes a civilian population as the enemy and closes off the possibility of future coexistence.[24]

Postone’s account of the IRA, al-Qaeda, and Hamas is, needless to say, congruent with the actions of National Socialism. Postone might have responded that the homology between National Socialism and identitarian anti-colonial social movements is precisely his point; mine is that such a homology refutes the idea that modern antisemitism strives for human emancipation.


The deeper reason Postone overlooks in his theory of antisemitism political structures he sees clearly in other contexts resides in his use of the concept of fetishism. Postone sees modern antisemitism as a worldview with a political, agentive interpretation of what are, properly understood, abstract historical processes: it mistakes structure for agency, economics for politics. These are, for Postone, cognitive errors produced by the way capitalism ‘appears’. He thus removes modern antisemitism from the realm of politics and locates it in the realm of perception. But his conception of the antisemite’s fetishism is idiosyncratic. Where Marx’s conception of fetishism is dialectical (social relations between things, thingly relations between people). Postone’s, in contrast, is dualistic, its basic premise, apparently building on Marx’s analysis of the relative and equivalent forms of value, externalization. Moreover, for Postone, fetishism is fundamentally a matter of perception and belief, and, most importantly, a perception ofwhat is and is not capitalist. It through an account of how capitalism presents itself as capitalism that Postone wants to explain the structure of antisemitic misrecognition.

On the face of it, Postone offers a compelling observation that’s perfectly in keeping with the concept of fetishism: the antisemite ascribes to the Jew quasi-magical powers that are in fact socially produced. Etienne Balibar parses Marxian fetishism as not a false perception, but rather the way in which reality cannot but appear.[25] When Postone interprets Marx, he also construes fetishism in terms of appearance. In Time, Labor, and Social Domination he sees fetishism where social relations in capitalism appear ‘objective’ and ‘transhistorical’,[26] where social actors are ‘bound to the mystified forms of appearance of capitalism’s essence’.[27] But if for Marx, fetishism requires the invisibility of labour, for Postone it means making too much of it, failing to understand its historicity: ‘The appearance of labor’s mediational character in capitalism as physiological labor is the fundamental core of the fetish of capitalism’: ‘because the underlying relations of capitalism are mediated by labor, hence are objectified, they appear not to be historically specific and social but transhistorically valid and ontologically grounded forms’.[28]

In order to explain how Jews are seen to personify capitalism, Postone appeals to ‘the way in which capitalist social relations present themselves’.[29] Heposits that the ‘dialectical tension of value and use value in the commodity’ must be ‘materially externalized in the value form, where it appears "doubled" as money (the manifest form of value) and the commodity (the manifest form of use-value).’[30] For Postone, then, fetishism does not arise from commodities possessing both use value and value, but rather from a structural disavowal of that fact, which in turn requires an externalization of the disavowed element: ‘The effect of this externalization is that the commodity, although it is a social form expressing both value and use-value, appears to contain only the latter, i.e., appears as purely material and "thingly"; money, on the other hand, then appears to be the sole repository of value, i.e., as the manifestation of the purely abstract, rather than as the externalized manifest form of the value dimension of the commodity itself.’[31] Thus Postone holds that commodity fetishism producesa dualistic conception of capitalism instead of a properly dialectical one, so that ‘capitalist social relations do not appear as such and, moreover, present themselves antinomically, as the opposition of the abstract and concrete’.[32] ‘And, moreover’: the claim about antinomic presentation is crucial. Postone will even refer to an ‘antinomic fetish’.[33] This presentation leads to a fundamental misrecognition of capitalism, seeing only the abstract dimension as capitalist and producing forms of anti-capitalism that ‘tend to perceive capitalism, and that which is specific to that social formation, only in terms of the manifestations of the abstract dimension of the antinomy. The existent concrete dimension is then positively opposed to it as the “natural” or ontologically human, which stands outside of the specificity of capitalist society’.[34]

This splitting, disavowal, and externalization strike me as resembling nothing so much as psychic projection. While hardly qualitatively specific to it, such projection is a fundamental operation of the antisemitic imaginary. That does not mean that it cannot also govern the logic of how things appear under capitalism, but it does suggest that the analogy Postone discovers between the commodity fetish and the distinctive powers the antisemite attributes to the Jews are significantly prepared by his revision of Marx. This may also help us grasp how Postone comes to mediate the psychoanalytic and the historico-epistemological levels of explanation in subsequent moments of his argument.

Postone appears to hold that just as the commodity is a use value that must have a corresponding externalised material manifestation of its exchange value (money), so too must every apparent concrete use value have its corresponding externalization, and that the Jews are one such externalization, or perhaps the limit case thereof. That may sound strange, but how else to read the following, from his 1986 essay ‘Anti-Semitism and National Socialism’?

Certain forms of anti-capitalist discontent became directed against the manifest abstract dimension of capital personified in the form of the Jews, not because the Jews were consciously identified with the value dimension, but because, given the antinomy of the abstract and concrete dimensions, capitalism appeared that way. … The overcoming of capitalism and its negative social effects became associated with the overcoming of the Jews.[35]

This complex formulation is crucial to Postone’s theory. It is both a claim about how capitalism appears andwhat appears to be capitalism. Postone seems to be claiming that capitalism presented itself in such a way that itactually appeared to be personified by the Jews, even if it did so at some level other than that of conscious awareness. I think Postone eventually recognised how strange a claim this was, how much it seemed to justify the antisemitic worldview (we can’t help it, that’s how the world looks!) and therefore modified it accordingly. Thus in his 2003 ‘The Holocaust and the Trajectory of the Twentieth Century’ he retains the opening assertion about the Jews personifying the manifest abstract dimension of capitalism, but says anti-capitalist discontent was directed against the Jews ‘not because the Jews were consciously identified with the value dimension, but because, given the antinomy of the abstract and concrete dimensions, capitalism appeared only in its abstract guise, which was identified with the Jews.’[36] Capitalism appears personified in the form of the Jews becomes capitalism appears as its abstract dimension, which was identified with (presumably still not consciously) the Jews. Crucially, the antisemitic element is no longer intrinsically connected to how capitalism appears. The identification of the Jews with the abstract dimension of capitalism is not now a matter of how capitalism appears, but of whatever operations produce that identification. This is more plausible—and concedes far less to the antisemitic worldview—but it does so at a cost, since the revised formulation no longer claims to directly explain in terms of fetishism how the Jews come to personify capitalism.

This explanatory gap draws attention to a perhaps more obvious lacuna in Postone’s account. Postone wants to say that the antisemite too is fooled by appearances, seeing labour as useful, concrete, and thingly, while seeing money, finance, and interest as abstract. But his theory also rests on the premise that the power attributed to the Jews isinvisible: mobile, and abstract, never appearing directly. So while modern antisemitism might rest on a fetishised misrecognition of capitalist relations, on Postone’s own account the antisemite cannot simply be someone who mistakes appearance for reality; they must be someone whobelieves—like Postone’s Marxian social theorist—that how things appear is not how things really are, and who therefore seeks atheory that answers the question of what or who is behind the incomprehensible web of dynamic forces that transform and upend their lives. The identification of the abstract dimension of capitalism with the Jew might be something thatemerges from a kind of fetishism of the concrete and tangible, but even for Postoneit cannot ultimately be fetishism as such, cannot be the result of how things cannot but appear, since the antisemitic theory always requires a further interpretive step that some make and others do not. There are antisemites, but not everyone is an antisemite. There’s nothing socially necessary about theidentification of a particular group of people with particular features of capitalist economic relations. Indeed, though I won’t pursue the thought here, Postone’s appeal to the history that modern antisemitism ‘builds on’ implicitly concedes that there is also no modern antisemitism without the production, circulation, and reception of ideas, rumours, and theories that predate and can’t be explained solely by those relations—the realm that Ernst Bloch, among others, insisted was decisive also for the understanding of fascism. We might also recall that when Postone first proposed his theory, it was presented as an effort ‘to elucidate a historical-epistemological frame of reference within which further psychological specifications can take place’.[37] The concept of personification might mark the place where the historical-epistemological frame of reference begins to require such specifications.

The enemy embodies our own question. Carl Schmitt put this phrase to work in his own way, and we can use in ours. Every critical theory of antisemitism is a theory of the enemy, where your own question concerns what you think most contributes to the catastrophes of modernity in general and the Nazi Judeocide in particular.[38] For Zygmunt Bauman, theorist of liquid modernity, the antisemite could not bear what didn't fit into established categories. Theodor Adorno’s antisemite projected and could neither recognise nor reflect on the fact that he was projecting. These are theories in which antisemites are enemies who act where they should reflect, react when they should think.[39]

For Postone, the antisemite is not the one who does not think, but the one who thinks too much, from false premises and in an erroneous direction. We might say that Postone’s antisemite is a bad social theorist, someone with the wrong account of the right thing. This is Postone’s variation on the notion of antisemitism as the socialism of fools. Yes, capitalism is the problem, but you need to know what capitalism is—and according to Postone, because of how it appears to you, you probably don’t. The real danger, for him, is to think that you’re on the side of the oppressed, that there is a class to be emancipated and a class to emancipate them from—a distraction, for him, from doing away with an entire system of social relations. For Postone, the enemy is the one who thinks there’s an enemy; the one who thinks solving the problem of capitalism’s domination of life on this planet is a matter of distinguishing friend from foe, knowingwho the oppressed and the oppressors are. His frequent references to the Manicheanism of the antisemitic imagination should be understood in this context. In part that’s because he thinks capitalism is a matter of abstract structures of domination that weall need to be liberated from, and in part that’s because he, like many thinkers associated withWertkritik and the New Marx Reading, thinks that under capitalism, if you are someone who thinks there’s an enemy, a personification of capitalism’s evils, that enemy will inevitably and unavoidably tend to be the Jews. Antisemitism thus, for these writers, warrants special political and interpretive attention that other racisms without such profound relations to capitalism do not.

Neo-Anti-Imperialism: The Second Analogy

Those who hold that contemporary capitalism inevitably produces antisemitism also cast a suspicious eye on any anti-capitalism that does not recognise capitalism as abstract domination and instead identifies it as the work of specific political actors. They see such arguments as inevitably lapsing into antisemitism, either directly or structurally. But they also invite or risk a very particular kind of argumentative slippage: if modern antisemitism is fetishised anti-capitalism, will all arguments that come to be identified as fetishised anti-capitalism be read as structurally antisemitic?

These questions go to the heart of what Postone believes his theory of antisemitism provides: not just an explanation of the distinctiveness of what broke through in the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews but also a counter-intuitive account of where this form of fetishised anti-capitalism can be found today. In all of his essays on antisemitism Postone claims that the inheritor of this fetishised worldview is, ironically, the anti-imperialism of the left. Left and right critiques of hegemony reveal, he says, ‘similar fetishized understandings of the world’.[40]‘At the heart of this neo-anti-imperialism is a fetishistic understanding of global development—that is, a concretistic understanding of abstract historical processes in political and agentive terms. The abstract and dynamic domination of capital has become fetishized on the global level as that of the United States, or, in some variants, as that of the United States and Israel. […] in many respects, this worldview recapitulates one of a century ago in which the subject positions of the United States and Israel were occupied by Britain and the Jews’.[41] Postone often remarks that if antisemitism was for August Bebel the socialism of fools, ‘[g]iven its subsequent development, it could also have been called the anti-imperialism of fools’[42]: ‘with the fading of a conceptual horizon of possible fundamental transformation the concretistic anti-imperialism of the New Left (fused with a concretistic form of antiglobalisation) began increasingly to recapitulate earlier antisemitic motifs’.[43] Contemporary anti-Zionism (which Postone reads as anti-imperialist) represents ‘a classically antisemitic version of anti- Zionism, of Israel and the Jews as constituting a powerful global demonic power’. [44] These motifs are symptoms of the left’s impoverished political imagination: ‘Emancipation no longer is imagined as the constitution of a new form of social life but in terms of the eradication of the sources of global evil – “Zionism” and the United States’.[45]

Postone’s claim that emancipation is only imagined as the destruction of the US and Zionism offers an astonishingly reductive view of the political imagination and motivations of the contemporary left. But of more interest than his sweeping generalisations are Postone’s substantive theoretical claims. If earlier I claimed that Postone’s theory of antisemitism rests on a crucial analogy, now we see it rests on two crucial analogies: first, the properties attributed to the Jews by modern antisemitism are the same as the properties of the abstract dimension of the value form; second, the kind of fetishised anti-capitalism that Postone sees as essential to National Socialism’s modern antisemitism can also be found on the ‘neo-anti-imperialist left’.

Are they really, even for Postone, the same kinds of fetishism? Are they really the same kinds of anti-capitalism? One sign that they are not is the basic methodological question Postone’s second analogy raises: how can he move from such a specific claim about the distinctive, even unique features of antisemitism to a comparison with such qualitatively different phenomena? In his second analogy there is nothing close to the specific account of the form of power Jews are imagined to wield. Nor could there be: whereas the power attributed to the Jews is, by Postone’s own definition, invisible, mysterious, and requiring a material carrier, nation states like the US, Britain, Israel, exercise hard and soft power visibly and directly, generally by means that are explicitly identified as their own, be they military, political, economic, or cultural. The second analogy omits the fundamentaltertium comparationis of the first. This is not to deny that the US and Israelare sometimes imagined to exert their power in precisely the way that the antisemite imagines the Jews to exert theirs, most notably when the Mossad is held to be responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. But such theories are, unsurprisingly, not just structurally but often substantively antisemitic: those who subscribe to this theory also believe that no Jews showed up for work at the World Trade Centre that day. In any event, such conspiracies theories do not seem to be what Postone has in mind. His concern is, rather, with the rhetoric and ideology, sympathies and antipathies of leftist social movements writ large, their psychoanalytic roots and their geopolitical implications.

By necessity, then, Postone takes a different path with this iteration of his theory than with modern antisemitism proper. As with modern antisemitism, he says fetishistic anti-capitalist critics of these nation states are in the thrall of a kind of Manicheanism or metaphysical demonization: the fantasy that there is one source of all the world’s problems and that the path to emancipation lies in eliminating it. Postone is particularly preoccupied by the perception of one nation state or ideology as the sole political actor on the world stage (‘[w]ithin this schema, there is only one actor in the world: the United States’[46]), to whose actions all other nations and other social groups can only react. This, he thinks, is the source of left apologism for identitarian anti-colonial social movements; his criteria for the evaluation of the use of political violence, which I discussed earlier, emerge in response to it. Also intrinsically connected to the Manichean vision of fetishised anti-capitalism is what he sees as an excessive affective investment in the conflicts in which that nation is involved. The connection to any Marxian notion of fetishism is, at this point in his argument, quite tenuous; it’s perhaps not an accident that Postone tends to address this investment in psychoanalytic terms.

While Postone wants to show that anti-imperialist criticism of the US and Israel ‘ironically recapitulates’[47] the ideology of a previous century ‘in which the subject positions occupied today by the United States and Israel in some forms of “antiglobalization” were occupied by Britain and the Jews,’ ultimately he cannot want toconflate such criticism with antisemitism, cannot help but distinguish between criticism of nation states and antisemitic fantasies about the Jews. This distinction seems to be registered in his remark on—what else?—’the conflation of British and, then, American hegemony with that of global capital, as well as the personification of the latter as the Jews’.[48] Note the terminological shift: not every conflation is a personification, let alone proof of antisemitism. This makes sense. If Postone had claimed that there was no difference between what’s directed at the US and Israel by anti-imperialists and what’s directed at the Jews by antisemites, how could he have explained the coexistence of different fetishised anti-capitalisms? There can only be so many sole political actors on the world stage at once, only so many single sources of global evil. Here it’s salient to recall that Postone’s theory was developed in a period when explicit antisemitism seemed a marginal, historically residual phenomenon. There is less reason to seek out coded expressions of structural antisemitism when the thing itself is on display for all to see.

Postone’s writing about this second analogy wrestles with how to think the relationship between structure and agency. On the one hand, he observes that capitalist social relations lead to domination by systems without agents, and yet many people search for agents to hold responsible, sometimes blaming the Jews or powerful nation states, for the consequences of the abstract historical processes. On the other hand, precisely because they are so aware of relations of domination, many on the left do not want to hold those they see as dominated responsible for their actions, preferring to see them as conditioned, even determined by those relations of domination, reacting rather than acting. Postone wants to correct both tendencies. As a result, his work can mirror the errors that concern him: he urges us not to blame the US or Israel for what capitalism does to all of us, but also not to blame imperialism when anti-colonialist groups commit acts of political violence, thus seeming to replace one apologetic ideology with another. Indeed, these kinds of arguments can make his work attractive to those who wish to condemn any criticism of the US and Israel as inevitably antisemitic and any contextual explanation of the actions of militant anti-colonial organisations as exculpatory. Yet while Postone draws parallels between the modern antisemitism of National Socialism and the neo-anti-imperialism of the left in some limited and sometimes flawed ways, he is nevertheless far more historically and conceptually nuanced in his critique of anti-imperialism, and far less inclined to be recruited for the defence of particular nation states, than those who cite him as an authority—particularly those writers affiliated with the ‘anti-German’ school—might lead one to believe.[49]

Postone’s extension of the claim about fetishised anti-capitalism from the Jews to nation states and nationalist ideologies has been taken to suggest that there is something antisemitic about any criticism of these nation states, his criticism of certain strands of anti-imperialist thought and action as a dismissal of anti-imperialist thought as such. But Postone rejects both views. His main criticism of the left was that by uncritically supporting anti-colonial movements and taking anti-imperialist positions it unwittingly became the dupe of what he didn’t hesitate to call imperialist rivalries. To be the duped in this way meant, for him, to fail to recognize when opposing the actions of one imperial nation drew you into the trap of uncritically supporting the interests of another. From Postone’s perspective the second Gulf War was an attempt to obstruct European and Chinese interests in the region, which made him wary of anti-war protests.[50] But it should also be clear that he would have had no truck with a dismissiveness of the very notion of imperialism that fell into this same uncritical trap. What do you gain by replacing the US or Israel with Iran as the sole source of global evil?[51] His despair about the direction of the left needs, in the final analysis, to be read as an expression of his persistent hope for a revival of a critical internationalism and leftist universalism that would overcome the dualisms of concrete and abstract, particular and universal.[52]

Put simply, Postone does not reject all criticism of the US and Israel as fetishised; instead, he rejects specifically fetishised criticism. In the same essays in which he denounces the collapse of the leftist political imagination into demonization, he nevertheless makes it clear that he thinks it is completely legitimate, even necessary, to criticise nation states forwhat they actually do. In his 2006 ‘History and Helplessness’ he no sooner notes the conflation of‘[t]he abstract and dynamic domination of capital’ with that of the US than he observes that ‘It goes without saying that the disastrous, imperial, and imperious character of the Bush administration has helped mightily in this conflation’.[53] In his 2017 ‘The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity’ Postone does not object to ‘support for the Palestinian struggle for self- determination and criticisms of Israeli policies and institutions’ and remarks that ‘Israeli policies and actions can certainly account for very strong anti-Israel sentiments’. In the same essay he distinguishes ‘a reified conflation of the abstract and dynamic domination of global capital with the United States – or at times the United States and Israel’ from ‘a fundamental critique of American (or Israeli) policies and actions’.[54]

Postone insists on the importance of the distinction between the policies and actions of a global capitalist power and the abstract and dynamic domination of global capitalism itself. The problem is that he says little about just how to make that distinction. What do we do and say when the abstract and dynamic domination of global capital and the interests of particular nation states coincide? It is not an accident that Postone’s fetishistic anti-capitalists conflated Britain with capitalism a century ago, but eventually shifted their attention to the US. One of the purposes of the concepts of imperialism and colonialism is to allow us to describe, theorise, and parse the economic, political, cultural, and psychic effects of this coincidence.

Here it’s important to observe that Postone did not reject anti-imperialist and anti-colonial thought as such. If, as he says, antisemitism is the anti-imperialism of fools, then he must think there are other kinds of anti-imperialism, for those of us who do not want to be fools. Postone calls the Bush administration ‘imperialist’ and doesn't pause to qualify his use of the term. Rather than arguing, as Werner Bonefeld and others have, that the dialectically necessary corollary of anti-imperialism is support for national liberation movements, regardless of their politics, Postone historicises anti-imperialist thought, mourning what he sees as its contraction from an initial emancipatory universalist orientation into a narrower, identitarian concern with ‘resistance’ that he sees emerging in the wake of the collapse of the Fordist synthesis in the early 1970s.[55] None of this is to deny Postone’s often bilious critique of neo-anti-imperialism; it is, however, to suggest that he did not respond to what he saw as neo-anti-imperialism’s reifying and fetishised tendencies by reifying and fetishising anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism in turn.

Communism and Latent Anti-Capitalism

Postone’s argument about neo-anti-imperialism relies on anti-imperialism’s manifest anti-capitalism: the anti-imperialist opposes what is arguably a stage, expression, or instrument of capitalism itself. But to provide the kind of explanation he seeks, Postone’s argument about the paradigmatic case of modern antisemitism, the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews, rests on modern antisemitism’slatent anti-capitalism. These arguments operate at different explanatory levels. The appeal to latent anti-capitalism—the fetishistic anti-capitalist’s unconscious response to history as constituted by capitalism—is how Postone circumvents the distinctively political attributes of the modern antisemitic imaginary. If he’d given a more complex and mediated account, on his own terms, of the role that political, rather than economic, abstraction played in the antisemitic imaginary, particularly itsanti-communism, he would have been compelled to rethink his theory of how the modern antisemitic imaginary manifests itself in the present.

Postone asserts that one of the key distinguishing features of his theory of antisemitism, what distinguishes it from the work of predecessors such as Max Horkheimer, is that it explains how Jews could be held responsible for both capitalismand communism: ‘The problem with theories […]  which concentrate on the identification of the Jews with money and the sphere of circulation, is that they cannot account for the notion that the Jews constitute the power behind social democracy and communism’.[56] Postone observes, as we saw, that the Jews are believed to orchestrate ‘the range of social restructuring and dislocation resulting from rapid industrializationwith all its social ramifications’ including ‘the emergence of a large, increasingly organized proletariat’.[57] But his theoretical claim is that the Jews personify or are otherwise somehow identified with the abstract dimension of capitalism (money, banks, finance, circulation), misrecognised as capitalism as such. Or perhaps not. Here too Postone equivocates: ‘Capital itself—or what is understood as the negative aspect of capitalism—is understood only in terms of the manifest form of its abstract dimension: finance and interest capital’[58]. Capital itself, or just what is understood as the negative aspect? If just the negative aspect, in what sense are we still talking about anti-capitalism? Either way, modern antisemitism becomes fetishised anti-capitalism, with no reference to communism, let alone the phantasm of Judeo-Bolshevism. On the one hand, then, Postone says that modern antisemitism is an anti-capitalism that only understands half of what capitalism is. On the other hand, he says it is an anti-capitalism that includes both capitalismand its social, historical, and political consequences, ‘history as constituted by capitalism’,including the revolutionary effort to overthrow capitalism itself. How do ‘history as constituted by capitalism’ and ‘the social consequences of capitalism’, presumably including communism, come to be understood as identical with capitalism itself? The risk of conceptual conflation and confusion is all too apparent. It is as if the antisemite is both abad social theorist whose beliefs and actions express a fetishised misrecognition of capitalismand anexcellent social theorist, able—if this is what Postone has in mind—unconsciously to trace the political abstraction upon which communist revolution is predicated back to the abstract logic of exchange, even as he misrecognises that source as a Jewish conspiracy.

The Jews come to personify the abstract dimension of capitalist social relations, which is held to be the ultimate source of all abstraction in the modern world, including those forms of political abstraction that are trying to overcome capitalist social relations. This profound ambiguity in the theory makes it hard to decide what, if anything, would count as evidence against it. Postone draws attention to the manifest content of modern antisemitism, with a Nazi poster of Germany‘represented as a strong, honest worker—threatened in the West by a fat, plutocratic John Bull and in the East by a brutal, barbaric Bolshevik Commissar’, both of whom are puppets, with the strings held by ‘“the Jew”’, holding an emblematic place in his thought,[59] but also appears to want us to see its latent content as confirming the theory insofar as anti-communist rhetoric and action can be regarded as in some sense the product of capitalist abstraction. Or so I assume: Postone never spells out why antisemites hold the Jews responsible for both capitalism and communism. A theory in which modern antisemitism is presented as a form of anti-capitalism in which capitalism includes communism but excludes labour, commodities, factories, and technology needs to offer more of an explanation.

That Postone himself does not do so is especially frustrating given the centrality of National Socialism to his theory, his claim to have explained the ‘intrinsic connection’ between National Socialism and modern antisemitism.[60] (Here we might ask ourselves why Postone does not simply speak in the plural, of modern antisemitisms? Could it not be the case that the manifestations of antisemitism one finds on the left and the right have significantly different structures and emerge from different forms of anti-capitalism?) Focusing on the distinguishing features of modern antisemitism precisely in order to explain the historical singularity of the Nazi extermination demands reckoning far more directly with anti-Marxism and anti-communism. Simply put, Nazism was far more consistently and systematically anti-communist than anti-capitalist in ideology and action. The intellectual historian Ishay Landa, offering his own response to Postone, documents how rife Hitler’sMein Kampf is with references to Marxism, how few the references to capital and international finance. Landa reminds us that there was no Nazi program for the elimination of finance or ‘parasitic’ capital, just their appropriation, and that Nazi economist Gottfried Feder, whose distinction between creative and parasitic capitalism is frequently cited as proof of Nazism’s fetishised anti-capitalism, had been marginalised by the party by the mid 1930s.[61] Indeed, one might wonder why someone who distinguishes between good and bad forms of capitalism is considered anti-capitalist at all if the creative capitalists he praises are, even on his own terms, still capitalists. As we’ve seen, Postone builds this ambiguity into his theory without discussing its implications.

On the other hand, Landa notes, Marxism represented much that the Nazis actively opposed: emancipation and equality, revolt and revolution, the undoing of hierarchies, abolition of national borders, and dismantling of regimes of accumulation. Enzo Traverso offers a telling example in this context. In The Origins of Nazi Violence, he observes that the ‘contamination of political propaganda [about ‘Jewish Bolshevism’] by medical and epidemiological language was matched by a massive adoption of political metaphors on the part of scientists’ who called cancerous cells ‘anarchists’, ‘Bolsheviks’, and ‘breeding grounds of chaos and revolt’.[62] Despite the economic crisis of the early 1920s, there was no comparable adoption of financial metaphors, no Nazi obsession with cancer spreading and weakening the human body in the way rampant hyperinflation had weakened the German body politic. The line from ideology to action is correspondingly far more direct in the National Socialists’ anti-communism than in their ostensible anti-capitalism. It was communists and Soviet commissars, not bankers, who were sent to the camps along with Jews, Roma and Sinti, and homosexuals; Soviet soldiers, not those of the US and Britain, who, like Jews and Poles, were shot en masse without regard for international rules of war.[63]

To be sure, Postone acknowledged in his 1980 essay that National Socialism‘was virulently anti-Marxist and that the Nazis destroyed the organizations of the German working class’.[64] Yet he remained committed to seeing National Socialism as fetishising and glorifying labour. National Socialism and ‘traditional Marxism’ had, he thought, at least that much in common. This apparent affinity, however, obscures more than it reveals. Right-wing fetishisations of the worker need to be understood as propagandistic efforts to contain the revolutionary potential of the emancipation of labour. G. M. Tamás argues that interwar European fascism has to be grasped as a project to destroy the workers’ movement and prevent the rise of socialism in Europe, a project that was, he observes, completely successful.[65] Jordy Rosenberg recalls Ernst Bloch’s reading of fascism as absorbing and mimicking ‘the “libidinal surplus” of revolutionary communism’.[66] Postone might have parsed, rather than conflated, the distinct roles that ideas of labour and the worker played in the communist and fascist imaginaries and realities. But doing so might in turn have undermined his efforts to align modern antisemitism with his chief theoretical enemy, namely, the post-1967 anti-imperialist left.

We might, then, ask if Postone has things back to front, if the modern antisemite does not oppose communism as an abstract, levelling product of the abstract dimension of capitalism, but opposes capitalism only insofar as it produces undesirable political effects. National Socialists did not genuinely wish to abolish realms of economic life they saw as dominated by the Jews in order to emancipate humanity from them; they wished to control them themselves. The right-wing antisemite’s obsession is not with the abstract dimension of value misrecognised as all of capitalism, but with whatever social forces—be it money or an organised proletariat—threatens to undermine the sovereignty and integrity of the political entity with which he identifies: be it his nation, his race, Europe, or Christendom. He is not an anti-communist because he’s ‘really’ an anti-capitalist. He’s really, and far more decidedly, an anti-communist. Contemporary antisemites obsess over George Soros not just because he is a billionaire but because he uses his wealth to promote particular political goals. There are, after all, billionaires that antisemites admire, whose money they have no compunction about accepting in the furtherance of their aims. It was not concrete use value that the Nazis were after when they extracted gold from the corpses of Jews.[67]

The Nazi variant of modern antisemitism saw the Jews as the power behind both communism and capitalism. I have speculated that Postone might be taken to imply that the antisemite unconsciously understands the political abstraction of communism to emerge from the abstract dimensions of the value form, that this is what it means for the antisemite to hold the Jews responsible for ‘history as constituted by capitalism’. Here we must acknowledge that Postone does in fact see political abstraction as a ‘fatal’ addition to the association of Jews with economic abstraction—a necessary supplement for the Nazi extermination to take place. Yet despite the importance of anti-communism to the Nazi antisemitic imaginary he does not take the path we might have expected him to. It is here that we see most clearly the gap between the direction Postone takes his theory and where I think his own framing of the problem of antisemitism ought to have led him. Focusing on the contradictions he sees as distinctive of the European nation state, Postone construes that political abstraction solely in terms, once again, of the ‘double character’ of the commodity form, the externalised opposition between the abstract and the concrete that he sees reproduced in the divisions between state and civil society, citizen and person, equality before the law and concrete belonging (although Postone does not use the word belonging). Postone’s account is, I think, too dependent on a rather unmediated application of that opposition to the political realm. Most importantly, it leaves out too much of what qualitatively distinguishes the antisemitic image of Jewish political subjectivity, positing Jewish abstraction as the absence of shared, purportedly concrete attributes rather than as itself a concrete characteristic, a substantive relationship to a specific form of abstraction.

For Postone, the tension between abstract and concrete in the political sphere meant that (only?) in Europe:

the notion of the nation as a purely political entity, abstracted from the substantiality of civil society, was never fully realized. The nation was not only a political entity, it was also concrete, determined by a common language, history, traditions and religion. In this sense, the only group in Europe which fulfilled the determination of citizenship as a pure political abstraction, were the Jews following their political emancipation. They were German or French citizens, but not really Germans or Frenchmen. They were of the nation abstractly, butrarely concretely. They were, in addition, citizens of most European countries. Thequality of abstractness,characteristic not only of the value dimension in its immediacy, but also, mediately, of the bourgeois state and law, became closely identified with the Jews. In a period when the concrete became glorified against the abstract, against "capitalism" and the bourgeois state,this became a fatal association. The Jews were rootless, international and abstract. (My emphases)[68]

Postone undoubtedly captures an important element of how Jews were seen in early twentieth-century Europe. One thinks, in particular, of the identification of Jews with the Weimar Republic. Nevertheless, however much Postone might have remained attached to this passage, which appears in his 1980 essay ‘Anti-Semitism and National Socialism’ and completely unchanged in ‘The Holocaust and the Trajectory of the Twentieth Century’ from 2003, it is a strange argument. The kind of political abstraction he describes is purely formal, a matter of lack of concrete properties; beyond the invocation of a familiar stereotype about the Jews there’s no explanation of how such abstraction, in conjunction with the value dimension, represents the sort of danger that would make it a ‘fatal association’. Postone also does not acknowledge that what’s presented as national concreteness is a myth, sincemodern European national identities, not least those of Germany and France, did not rest on real concrete commonalities but were established by paving over sharp regional differences of language, history, tradition, and religion, so that the figure of the Jew might have been a useful surface onto which to displace and project such contradictions and tensions (just as anxieties about the Eucharist had been onto the Passover).[69] Nor, conversely, does he mention that in just this context the Jews were seen as too concrete as well as too abstract: the historical Jewish Question asked if Jews were able to separate, that is,abstract themselves from their own religious, communal bonds and ritual observances in order to join the imaginary community of the nation state; nor that, in the twentieth century, those Jews whodid meet the criteria Postone lays out for concrete national personhood—those who spoke the language, celebrated the traditions, served in the military, had families that had lived in the land for generations, had even converted to Christianity—werestill not regarded by antisemites as genuine Frenchmen, Germans, and so on. The term missing from Postone’s list is once more revealing and decisive: there is no mention ofrace as a criterion for concrete national personhood. Why not?Finally, there’s no explicit articulation of how Jews were identified with communism, nor recognition that making such a connection would trouble the connection of Jews to ‘bourgeois state and law’. Even if some on the far right, then as now, saw bourgeois political institutions as merely a cover for incipient socialism and communism, making such a connection between such institutions and these political consequences of capitalism requires us to explain how an apparently formal abstraction contains something far more threatening to the survival of a particular vision of the nation state.

In this context we might also note that where Postone tends to see law as emblematic of externalised abstraction, the historian Johann Chapoutot shows that for the Nazis the Aryan/Jewish, concrete/abstract distinctions cut through the concept of law itself. Chapoutot’s analyses of Nazi legal theories confirm Postone’s sense of the importance of the abstract/concrete distinction for National Socialist antisemitism. But they also show once more than the relevant notion of abstraction is profoundly racial. Nazis believe that abstract laws were the legacy of a ‘counter-race’ who, by dint of their heterogeneous racial constitution and Eastern, Asiatic ancestry, lacked the spontaneity, autonomy, and connection to nature of the Germanic race, which, by contrast, possessed an instinctive, expressive relation to its own self-generated laws.[70] 

Communist political abstraction might emerge out of capitalism, but fetishised opposition to it as a component of an imagined international Jewish conspiracy does not constitute fetishised anti-capitalism in the same sense as opposition to the US or Israel might. Imperialism isn’t ‘history as constituted by capitalism’ in the same way as communism and social democracy are. To subordinate modern antisemitism’s anti-communism to a form of anti-capitalism ends up conflating what gives rise to the object of hostility with the object itself. Postone’s solution to the problem of how to explain the apparent paradoxes of the antisemitic imagination ultimately begs the question, restating the problem as if it were the answer.

To understand how Jews were associated with communism and how communism itself was seen as Jewish requires a different account of political abstraction.The figure of the Jewish Bolshevik does not personify the formal abstraction of the liberal citizen but the passion for abstraction of the fanatic, who, as Alberto Toscano shows, is defined by ‘an enthusiasm for the abstract’.[71] Toscano distinguishes between two European traditions of thought about the fanatic. On the one hand, the prerevolutionary Enlightenment sees the fanatic as the figure of religious irrationalism; on the other, in the wake of the French Revolution, the fanatic becomes identified with the Jacobins, with an excess of reason, a dedication to abstract ideals at the expense of human life. In the notion of the Jewish Bolshevik, we might say, the two traditions converge: the fanatic is both a figure of abstract universal reason and religious mania, of dedication both to metaphysical principles and theological prescriptions, although the former is ultimately understood as a mask for the latter.[72]

This subjectivity is not conceived simply in terms of a lack of certain concrete properties, but assubstantively constituted by a profound attachment to abstract religious and political principles that seek the destruction of the established social, political, economic, racial order. The identification of Jews with political fanaticism has a long history, one in which ideas about Jews and ideas about Muslims are deeply intertwined:James Renton, focusing on the political struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, points out that ‘Christianity’s original fanatic was the Jew’ and that the Jew, like the Muslim, was frequently characterised by irrational religious fervour, dogmatism, and subversion.[73] Conflations of Jewish and Muslim theological-political threats also informed the early modern emergence of the notion of the fanatic as popular term for a single-minded revolutionary theological politics that deployed violence as a preferred political weapon. Gil Hochberg reminds us of ‘nineteenth-century European depictions of Semites – both Jews and Muslims… as devoted monotheistic fanatics controlled by zeal and despotism, and as victims to a submissive mentality that prevents them from acquiring modern rational skills that […] only belong to their Western counterparts, the European Christians, or […] “Aryans.”[74]

The myth of Judeo-Bolshevism emerges from this history. Paul Hanebrink traces it to three ‘pillars of anti-Jewish thought’: the association of Jews and Judaism with heresy, misrule, and social disharmony; longstanding beliefs in an international Jewish conspiracy; and much older fears of Jewish fanaticism.[75] Strikingly, Hanebrink refers to the blood libel as the emblematic instance of the Christian notion of Jewish fanaticism, presumably because it embodies the notion of Jewish subordination to an abstract law utterly incompatible with Christian life. Even the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, although clearly directed specifically at Jews, overlaps with the discourses of Orientalism and Semitism. Hanebrink notes that many counterrevolutionary and conservative writers concerned with Jewish Bolshevism invoked wars against the Ottoman Empire and Islam. Hitler spoke of an ‘Asiatic Jewish flood’. Nor were such ideas restricted to the right: Toscano notes that Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes both identified Bolshevism as a form of Islam.

In his account of political abstraction Postone only looks west. He focuses on the identification of Jews with Western political modernity, and overlooks the entire ideological and discursive ensemble that produces and accompanies the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, which imagined the Jews as Oriental, Asiatic, barbaric enemies of Christian European civilisation. Restricting his view in this way helps prepare the ground for the second analogy— neo-anti-imperialism as a fetishised rejection of liberal democracies in favour of identitarian ethnonationalisms. But it makes it much harder for him to explain the mortal threat represented by Judeo-Bolshevism. Here I wonder if Postone forgets the rupture in the history of antisemitism that makes his own reflections possible: the historical, political, and moral impact of the Holocaust, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the introduction of the now commonplace notion of a ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ altered—however contingently and reversibly—the cultural and political status of Jews in many parts of the overdeveloped world. These events put an end, in the period Postone wrote, to the kinds of associations that led many to imagine Jews as fanatical avatars of an Asiatic Bolshevism that sought the destruction of Western civilization.[76] But they are important features of modern antisemitism.

If Postone had considered these features, had, as it were, also looked east as well as west, he might have been struck by the ways in which contemporary Islamophobia repeats certain structures and obsessions of modern antisemitism. I’ve touched upon the long history of thinking of Jews and Muslims as theological and political fanatics. Structurally, in both cases—modern antisemitism and contemporary Islamophobia—we see a racialised religion whose adherents are imagined as potentially (immanently) or actually fanatical subjects, dedicated to abstract principles that threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, the people, or civilisation itself. To be clear: by definition, Islamophobia does not display the features Postone says distinguish modern antisemitism. If it did, they wouldn’t be distinguishing features. As a rule, contemporary Islamophobia does not imagine Muslims as the tremendous, invisible conspiratorial power behind both capitalism and communism. But, as the contemporary fantasy of the Great Replacement shows, they are imagined as playing an important political role in how such power is exercised. The material implications of contemporary Islamophobia also recall some of the historical conditions of modern antisemitisms: the myriad forms of state discrimination, surveillance, and persecution that have unfolded in many countries since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Contemporary Islamophobia does not present itself intuitively as a form of ‘fetishized anti-capitalism’, but it is nevertheless a reaction to history as constituted by capitalism, to capitalism’s social consequences. It is the difference in that distinction that I’ve sought to identify and think through here.

Postone’s theory remains of interest because it rests on strong observations about the distinguishing features of modern antisemitism and seeks to explain them in terms of constitutive features of capitalist social relations. But to account for all the phenomena he points to as comprehensively and elegantly as he does he needs to conflate significantly different forms of anti-capitalism and thereby downplay some of the most important features of the specifically political dimensions of antisemitism. Just what it means to call the anti-communism of the antisemite a form of anti-capitalism, he does not say. Where he might have explained how communism’s political abstractions develop out of and turn against the abstract logic of exchange, or reflected more deeply about race and nation, fantasy and projection, he chooses instead to focus on the homologies of abstract and concrete, and on the excesses and failings of criticism of contemporary capitalist nation states. There is no doubt that locating global evil in a single political actor, however we diagnose it, is a serious political mistake, and cannot be a part of any genuinely emancipatory politics. But conflating manifest and latent anti-capitalism can produce its own kinds of political errors and misrecognitions, preventing us from correctly understanding the past and from recognising, understanding, and combating our real enemies in the present.


I would like to thank the editors of Historical Materialism, especially Alberto Toscano, and my three anonymous reviewers, for their generous comments, questions, and suggestions. A special word of gratitude to the editors of this special issue, particularly Sai Englert, for their interest in this piece and their patience with my development of it. Thank you also to Chris Hill, Matan Kaminer, and Michael Rothberg for their comments on the short paper out of which this essay emerged, and for conversations about Postone and related matters as I expanded it.Finally, my thanks to Jonathan Boyarin, and to the other organizers and participants in the March 18, 2018 Cornell University Symposium "Theory and Forgetting: The Jewish Question," where I first had the opportunity to present these ideas.


Balibar, Etienne 2007, The Philosophy of Marx, trans. Chris Turner, New York: Verso.

Bonefeld, Werner 2014, Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy: on Subversion and Negative Reason, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Chapoutot, Johann 2018, The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi,translated by Miranda Richmond Mouillot.Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Day, Iyko, 2016. Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Day, Iyko 2020, The Yellow Plague and Romantic Anticapitalism’ Monthly Review Jhttps://monthlyreview.org/2020/07/01/the-yellow-plague-and-romantic-ant…

Hanebrink, Paul 2018, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, Cambridge MA, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Hochberg, Gil Z., 2016, ‘“Remembering Semitism” or “On the Prospect of Re-Membering the Semites”’, ReOrient 1, 2: 192-223.

Jansen, Yolande and Nasar Meer 2020, Genealogies of ‘Jews’ and ‘Muslims’: social imaginaries in the race–religion nexus’, Patterns of Prejudice 54,1-2: 1-14.

Langmuir, Gavin I. 1996, Toward A Definition of Antisemitism, Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Moses, A. Dirk 2021, The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Landa, Ishay 2018, Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt Against the Last Humans, 1848–1945, New York: Routledge.

Levi, Neil 2014, Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification, New York: Fordham University Press.

Murthy, Viren 2020, ‘Moishe Postone’s Historical Time: Capital, the Holocaust, and Jewish Marxism” Critical Historical Studies, 7, 1: 43–62.

Postone, Moishe 1980, ‘Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to "Holocaust"‘, New German Critique,No. 19, Special Issue 1: Germans and Jews: 97-115.

Postone, Moishe 1986, ‘Anti-Semitism and National Socialism,’ in Germans and Jews since the Holocaust: the changing situation in West Germany ed. Anson Rabinbach and Jack Zipes, New York: Holmes and Meier.

Postone, Moishe 1993, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Postone, Moishe 2003, ‘The Holocaust and the Trajectory of the Twentieth Century,’ inCatastrophe and Meaning: The Holocaust and the Twentieth Century ed. Moishe Postone and Eric Santner, Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Postone, Moishe 2006, ‘History and Helplessness:Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism’, Public Culture 18, 1: 93-110.

Postone, Moishe 2017, ‘The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity: Reflections on History, the Holocaust, and Antisemitism’, in Jews and Leftist Politics: Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender, ed. J. Jacobs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reitter, Karl, ‘Marxizing Constructions of Left-Wing Anti-Semitism on the example of Moishe Postone’s “Nazism and Anti-Semitism”’

Renton, James 2018, ‘The figure of the fanatic: a rebel against Christian sovereignty’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41, 12: 2161-2178.

Rosenberg, Jordy 2018, ‘The Daddy Dialectic’, Los Angeles Review of Bookshttps://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-daddy-dialectic/. Last accessed August 25, 2021.

Slabodsky, Santiago 2014, DeColonial Judaism: triumphal failures of barbaric thinking, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sommer, Michael 2021, Anti-Postone: or, Why Moishe Postone’s Antisemitism Theory is Wrong, but Effective, trans. Maciej Zurowski Cosmonaut Press.

Steinberg, Michael P 2022, ‘The Narcissism of Major Differences: Richard Wagner and the Peculiarities of German Antisemitism’ Social Research: An International Quarterly, 89, 1: 21-46.

Stoetzler, Marcel 2018, ‘Critical Theory and the Critique of Anti-Imperialism’, The Sage Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory London, Sage.

Tamas, G.M., 2019, ‘Was There Fascism in Europe After 1945?’ http://www.stacion.org/en/G-M-Tamas-Was-There-Fascism-in-Europe-After-1945&galery=2Last accessed August 25, 2021.

Toscano, Alberto, 2010, Fanaticism: On the Uses of An Idea, New York: Verso.

Traverso, Enzo, 2003, The Origins of Nazi Violence, trans. Janet Lloyd New York: New Press.

[1] The significance of Postone for the Anti-German movement in particular is widely recognised. See Michael Sommer pp.61-73 for an assortment of examples. Gerhard Hanloser’s books document Postone’s influence on the Anti-Germans. Maciej Zurowski sees Postone’s influence, both manifest and latent, in debates over antisemitism in the British left. See his translator’s introduction to Sommer esp. x to xiii.

For more scholarly engagement with Postone see Werner Bonefeld 2014. esp. p.210 and Lars Rensmann and Samuel Salzborn 2021. Michael Henrich 2004, while clearly distinguishing his views from Postone, shares with Postone a vocabulary and orientation, as does Robert Kurz. Outside the spheres of the New Marx Reading and Wertkritik, Enzo Traverso 2003 p.146 draws on Postone’s account of the Nazi conception of the Jews as abstract; Brendon McGeever 2022 his notion of antisemitism as ‘anti-hegemonic’. For recent scholarly efforts to extend Postone’s theories in directions he did not contemplate, see Day 2016 and 2020 on anti-Asian racism and White 2020 on anti-Black racism respectively.

[2] Postone 1980, p. 108.

[3] Postone 1980, p. 105. Engaging critically with Postone’s claims here would require a separate essayThereing not only a critique but alsod uses of his dieas. m, Postone explains idge.  with the Anti-German movement. oth.] tio e .

[4]For ‘patterns’ see Postone 1986 pp. 306-7.

[5] Postone 1980, p. 113.

[6] Postone 1980, p. 105, Postone’s italics.

[7]Postone 1980, p. 106.

[8]Postone 1980, p. 106.

[9] Postone 1980, p. 106.

[10] Postone 1980, p. 108.

[11]Postone, 2003, p. 93. My emphasis.

[12] Postone 1980, p. 113.

[13] Postone 2003, p. 93.

[14] Postone 2017, p. 48.

[15] Postone 2003, p. 87

[16] Postone 2017, pp. 47-8.

[17]Postone 1980, p. 106.

[18] Postone 1980, p. 106.

[19] Langmuir 1996.

[20] Postone 2003, p. 87.

[21]Postone 1980, p. 98; Postone 2017, p. 44.

[22] Day 2020.

[23] I draw here on Moses 2021, chapter 7.

[24] Postone 2006, 105.

[25] Balibar 2007, p. 60.

[26] Postone 1993, p.137 and p. 146.

[27] Postone 1993, p. 138.

[28] Postone 1993, p. 170

[29]Postone 1980, p. 109.

[30]Postone 1980, p. 109.

[31]Postone 1980, p. 109.

[32] Postone 1980, p. 109.

[33] Postone 1986, p. 311.

[34]Postone 1980, p. 110.

[35]Postone 1986, p. 312. There is an earlier version of this passage in Postone 1980, p.112, which has slightly different syntax and omits the reference to personification.

[36]Postone, 2003, p. 93.

[37] Postone 1980, p. 107

[38] Whether the notion of the antisemite as the other of modernity can be sustained in a time when antisemites appear as cunning, transgressive social media trolls, confident in their knowledge of the Frankfurt School, fluidly drawing out the implications of climate catastrophe in the interests of promoting an identitarian, exclusivist political vision is, of course, an open question, and I will not address it here.

[39] Levi 2014, p. 14 makes a similar suggestion

last accse of Anti-Imperialism, Department at Drew University. domination nan. Cronan maybe most useful for setting up the ques.

[40] Postone 2017, p. 62.

[41] Postone 2006, p. 96.

[42]Postone 2006, p. 99.

[43] Postone 2017, p 62.

[44] Postone 2017, p. 63.

[45] Postone 2017, p. 65.

[46]Postone 2006, p. 97.

[47]Postone 2017, p. 61

[48] Postone 2006, p. 108.

[49] See for example Stoetzler 2018.

[50] Postone 2006 pp. 109-110.

[51] I am thinking here of the writings of Stephan Grigat and Matthias Kuentzel.

[52] Murthy 2020.

[53] Postone 2006 p. 96.

[54] Postone 2017, p. 62.

[55] Postone 2017 p. 60 cf. Bonefeld 2014, p. 197.

[56] “Postone 1980, p. 108. This, by the way, is why to read Postone as arguing that the Jews represent money not only misconstrues his question, but a crucial element of his answer: that the Jew as personification offers an externalization of the abstract historical processes of the valorisation of value that have no other material representation. Cf. White 2020 p. 32.

[57] Postone 1980, p.107.

[58] Postone 1980 p. 110 and Postone 1986, p. 310

[59]Postone 1980, p. 106.

[60] Postone 1980, p. 105.

[61] Landa 2018, chapter 7.

[62] Traverso 2003, p. 106.

[63] Here I draw again on Moses 2021, chapter 7.

[64] Postone 1980, p. 111.

[65] Tamas 2019.

[66] Rosenberg 2018.

[67] Why Postone insists that in Auschwitz the Nazis sought ‘to wrest away [from the Jews] the last remnants of the concrete material “use-value”: clothes, gold, hair, soap’ remains a puzzle. Postone 1980, p. 114 and Postone 1986, p. 313. Postone 2003 p. 95 removes the reference to soap.

[68] “Postone 1980, p. 113 and Postone 2003, p. 94.

[69] Michael P. Steinberg sees German antisemitism in particular as a displacement of intra-Christian conflict. Steinberg 2022.

[70] Chapoutot 2018.

[71] Toscano 2010.

[72] For a similar articulation of this relation, see Levi 2014, pp. 98-99.

[73] Renton 2018, p. 2165.

[74]Hochberg 2016, p. 195.

[75] Hanebrink 2018, pp. 28-31.

[76]Slabodsky 2014 describes this shift and its implications for postcolonial thought.

Rootism, Modernity, and the Jew

Antisemitism and the Reactionary Imaginary, 1789-1945

Ishay Landa

The far-right identification of Jews with modernity has been noted by many scholars, some writing from a Marxist perspective, such as Enzo Traverso and Moishe Postone. Yet most analyses have fallen short of offering a properly dialectical account of antisemitism, one that will scrutinize the antinomies at the heart of the antisemitic discourse and trace their relations to the contradictions of modernity itself. In this paper, I will make modernity as movement the focus of the analysis.

Modernity, philosophically underpinned by the Enlightenment, and politically ushered in by the French Revolution of 1789,[1]was seen by its reactionary and fascist opponents as both a time of great upheaval, constant change and social disruption; but also, as the setting up of an era of stasis and degeneration. It was paradoxically decried, sometimes simultaneously, as both helplessly nomadic and incurablysedentary.  And in both respects “the Jew” and “the Jewish spirit” were often placed, no matter how spuriously, at the very centre of attacks. Qua “wandering” or “eternal,” the Jews were seen as embodying the spirit of restlessness and lack of roots, undermining tradition and fixed national and racial identities; theirdynamic role as revolutionaries, conspirators and rabble rousers was ritually denounced. 

Jews were also condemned, however, as a major obstacle to movement and expansion, the arch-enemies of imperialism, seeking to establish a realm of universal brotherhood, peace and egalitarianism.  By attacking the Jews, reactionaries and fascists thus attempted to settle their scores with a modernity that they feared and loathed in equal measure. As historian Alon Confino incisively contended, at the heart of National Socialism lay the project of creating “a world without Jews.” Here it will be argued that only a struggle to complete the revolution of 1789 and follow the process of modernity through, a process comprising both movement and improvement, can bring about a world without antisemitism.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Modernity as Universal Uprooting: The Enlightenment and its Opponents

In what ways were Jews and Judaism associated with modernity? What was the nature of the supposed linkage? The following lines, written shortly after the beginning of “Operation Barbarossa” in June 1941, can serve as an advantageous starting point:

Why are we recognizing so late that England in truth is, and can be, without the Western outlook? It is because we will only henceforth grasp that England started to institute themodern world, but that modernity in its essence is directed toward the unleashing of the machination of the entire globe. Even the thought of an agreement with England, in the sense of a division of the imperialistic “franchises,” does not touch the essence of the historical process which England is now playing out to the end within Americanism and Bolshevism and thus at the same time within world-Judaism. The question of the role ofworld-Judaism is not a racial question, but a metaphysical one, a question that concerns the kind of human existence which in anutterly unrestrained way can undertake as a world-historical “task” the uprooting of all beings from being.[2]

The author is National Socialist metaphysician Martin Heidegger, and the venue is his self-described Black Notebooks. For Heidegger, the modern world, with Judaism at its vanguard, signified a colossal uprooting of humanity, a tearing up of hallowed traditions and the dissolving of nations in groundless universalism. He stressed the metaphysical, rather than racial nature of this process, in a way that can all too easily be interpreted as marking a dissent from the official position.And yet Nazi racism itself, far from being an exclusively biological obsession, was a way of addressing a crisis of identity and culture, and relinking Germans to their roots. “What is the meaning of ‘race'?,”  asked the German National Catechism – a pedagogic text for school children, published in 1934 – and proceeded to answer: “The word ‘race’ derives probably from the Latin radix = root. So is race for every person the root and the origin of the inner essence and physical appearance.”[3]

Nazism in that way culminated a long tradition of anti-modern, and anti-Jewish, ideology.It happily availed itself of pseudo-scientific innovations, cloaking itsfundamentally emotional and hierarchical appeals in empirically-sounding language. Yet its racism appears to have been fundamentally a form of what might be designated as “rootism,” a reactionary position that mobilizes the idea of a distinct national and / or ethnic origin to stymie the universalist project of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Such root is presented as immeasurably precious and delicate, endangered by the corrosivemarch of modernity; it must therefore be shielded from the melting pot of universalism and humanism, cherished, and cultivated.

In the last decades, to be sure, the Enlightenment and its legacy have become favoured targets for criticism. Some writers have even proclaimed the Enlightenment the very source of “modern” antisemitism, heralding a new, essentially secular and rationalistic form of Jew baiting.Before we proceed to investigate the reactionary position, it is therefore important to briefly address this alternative genealogy of antisemitism. 

Undeniably, many Enlightenment thinkers were deeply ambivalent about Jews and Judaism, and in some cases outright hostile to them.  The need for Jewish emancipation was not universally accepted by proponents of the Enlightenment, but the many who were in its favour, seldom did so out of basic human sympathy with the plight of a discriminated and persecuted minority, let alone as a result of a particular appreciation of Jews as individuals or of Judaism as a cultural and religious phenomenon.A minority of physiocrats and espousers of progress did believe that the Jews are worthy of appreciation such as they were, and that the stigma on their national character and economic pursuits is fundamentally unjust.But such unreserved acceptance of Jews as the full equals of non-Jews, or possibly even their betters, appears to have been exceptional among the progressives of the era.[4] For the most part, actually existing Jews were regarded as backward, in many ways unattractive and degenerate.Those who espoused emancipation mostly did so, if they were decidedly friendly, out of the belief that the Jews’ presumably repulsive attributes, notably their financially parasitic and unproductive ways of life, were not their fault. Perennial oppression has twisted them out of shape, economically, culturally, morally and even physically.Thus, they could be reformed into good citizens of modernity, and it was in fact the duty of their long-time oppressors to do so. The prototypical example of this position is Christian Wilhelm von Dohm’s 1781 petition on behalf of Jewish emancipation, a work revealingly titled Ueber die bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden – “On the CivilImprovement of the Jews.” Others were highly sceptical about the Jews’ ability to improve but went along with reform projects, since doing otherwise would have meant to undermine the universalism of their cause. For them, it was more a case of: all human beings are equal,even the Jews.

To the extent that the Enlightenment embraced anti-Jewish attitudes, Judaism was seen as a stubborn, atavistic relic, resisting the claims of the new times. This was integral to a general critique of traditional religions, reflecting deistic (and sometimes covertly atheistic) positions. Yet, by and large, Judaism was deemed decidedly moreresistant to modernity than Christianity, which was attributed with progressive and potentially universalistic potential, notably by Immanuel Kant.Representatives of Jewish Enlightenment such as Moses Mendelssohn or Saul Ascher, who contested such unfavourable attitudes towards their religion and culture, and argued that Judaism was eminently suited to align with Reason, in fact more so than Christianity, were mostly ignored or patronized.[5]

And yet, biases and vacillations notwithstanding, it was the Enlightenment which sought to emancipate Jews and the French Revolution that politically implemented unprecedented emancipatory measures, going well beyond the timid overtures of European “Enlightened despots,” initially in France and then in the territories which came under French occupation. For that reason, a formative advocate of the linkage between the Enlightenment and modern antisemitism such as Arthur Hertzberg,in spite of presenting a mass of valuable historical evidence, ultimately misconstrued the matter:Hertzberg had shown the French Enlightenment to have been deeply enmeshed in Christian prejudice (however unconscious), and also to have rationalized traditional anti-Jewish sentiment and given it new clothes, such as Voltaire’s vicious neo-pagan attack on Judaism; he also documented the existence of widespread anti-Jewish persuasions among French revolutionaries.But for all that the humanism of the Enlightenment and the Revolution was in retrospect lamentably limited and compromised, it took the crucial, first step, towards emancipation and de-ghettoization. And it was this crucial step which modern antisemitism regarded as a horrendous transgression. The executors of the Enlightenment opened up the possibility for Jewish integration into the modern world, infuriating reactionaries, who rejected both Jewish assimilation and the modern world itself. 

Hertzberg’s main culprit is Voltaire, judged to be “the major link in Western intellectual history between the anti-Semitism of classic paganism and the modern age,” shaping the mindset of a “left-wing intelligentsia” that ultimately occasioned the calamities of the 20th-century.[6]“The era of Western history that began with the French revolution,” it is extravagantly claimed, “ended in Auschwitz.”[7]The starting point of the Shoah thus strangely shifts away from counter-revolutionary Germany and onto revolutionary France, and this without  showing that Voltaire indeed vitally shaped modern antisemitism in France (a single, short footnote is dedicated to such a suggestion), let alone in Germany.Hertzberg merely assumed a historical causal lineage that needed to be carefully reconstructed.That he, and other authors agreeing with his claims, did not do so is probably because in reality no such path existed (which is by no means to deny the prevalent, and toxic, hatred of Jews on the part of much 19th-century French socialism, as exemplified by Fourier, Blanqui or Proudhon). It is possible to show, on the contrary, how very early on German opponents of Jewish emancipation linked it to the new order inaugurated by the Revolution, and indeed sometimes explicitly to Voltaire.One illustration of that would be the legal debates surrounding Jewish merchants’ right to trade in coffee which had taken place in Frankfurt in 1795, a city that had shortly fallen under French occupation in 1792. As shown by Israeli historian Robert Liberles, directly challenging Hertzberg’s hypothesis, the opponents of Jewish entry into the city’s coffee trade positioned themselves strongly against the Enlightenment and its political implications.  Defenders of the Jewish appeal argued that current Jews were not those of the past, but improved, Enlightened ones, and hence should no longer be hampered in their activities.Their critics agreed with them that things have changed, but not for the better. “The response made clear,” as Liberles explains, that “Jews had identified themselves with intellectual and political causes that sought a whole series of undesirable changes. They had exchanged their old religion for that of Voltaire or even for explicit atheism and had done so with great enthusiasm. But whether this sense of a Jewish Enlightenment comprises a sensible set of changes is highly questionable.”[8]So we can get a sense of the way that, for reactionaries, the crucial thing about the Revolution and the Enlightenment, including Voltaire, was not their lingering anti-Jewishness but their crucial introduction of a modernity that was favorable to the Jews. 

“The Hertzberg hypothesis,” if so it may be called, was not a discrete historical claim. It was embedded, rather, in a general historical and philosophical paradigm chastising universalism as “totalitarian,” and proclaiming the advantages of pluralism and recognition of differences.In the spirit of Jacob L. Talmon, the influential Cold-War theorist of “totalitarian democracy,” Hertzberg argued that “The idea of freedom for all sorts of ideas was the major intellectual force for liberating the Jews [...]. The idea of remaking men to fit into the new society was the seed-bed of totalitarianism.”[9]This sounds like a sensible enough claim, but in reality, it obscures the paradox that universalism can be quite tolerant, while pluralism, conversely, can take radically intolerant forms. In fact, one might argue that the more pluralism is informed by some universalist assumptions, the more tolerant it is likely to be.As we shall see, modern antisemitism was recurrently abetted precisely by the argument that universalism is oppressive and fails to grant “freedom for all sorts of ideas,” legal and moral systems, traditions and religions. Whence this paradox?

Oppressive Pluralism

Political and cultural modernity sought to emancipate the Jews – it proclaimed a world in which belonging to the nation would be defined in terms of civil status, which was to be egalitarian, eliminating class and ethnic prerogatives, and, in theory at least, the recourse to humanity as a universal category offered individuals protection and dignity. The mere fact of being human (a man, more precisely, at that early phase) entitled one to certain “natural, inalienable and sacred” rights. These rights, argued the pioneers of political modernity on both sides of the Atlantic, would take precedence over religious and ethnic “identity,” as we would now call it. Particularism can be cultivated in the private sphere, but never allowed to override the public one.Many of them, to be sure, did not abide by such rules, as the infamous case of the slave-owning fathers of The United States attests to. Yet the numerous critics of universalism who cite this and other examples as evidence against modernity, forget that their charge loses its normative thrust once the values of universalism are cast aside.For it is only when measured against the rights of man that slavery becomes reprehensible.Those who reject such doctrine and espouse counter-Enlightenment ideals can thus, without risk of contradiction, uphold slavery in one form or another, and so they often did, for instance the important conservative German political theorist, Adam Müller, who rebuked the enslavement of “the negroes” in the USA, but only to justify the serf-owning traditions of feudal Europe.[10]

From its earliest phases, the reaction to modernity denied the unity of humanity, and advocated national, racial and class pluralism and particularism.  The classic example is provided by Joseph de Maistre:

The constitution of 1795, like its predecessors was made for man. But there is no such thing asman in the world. In my lifetime I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; [...]. But as for man, I declare that I have never in my life met him; if he exists he is unknown to me. [...] What is a constitution? Is it not the solution to the following problem?Given the population, the mores, the religion, the geographic situation, the political circumstances, the wealth, the good and the bad qualities of a particular nation, to find the laws that suit it.

Now the constitution of 1795 does not even broach this problem, thinking of man only.[11]

Disingenuously, this quintessential representative of the counter-Enlightenment would have his readers believe that one can meet a Frenchman who is not also a man, asking them to treat the adjective “French” as all important and to dismiss the very existence of the noun it aims to describe.Adjectives are deemed concrete, the nouns they describe are abstractions. This sleight of hand aside, de Maistre asks of good constitutions to make allowance for particular qualities, even bad ones. Can this mean that if a nation is corrupt, corruption ought to be accommodated by its constitution?And if, more to our immediate concern, its “mores” are antisemitic, should this too be legally tolerated? Maistre himself, perhaps true to his pluralism, was anti-Jewish, and lays blame for the revolution partly at the Jews’ door (while also strongly blaming Voltaire for the revolution). It might appear possible to construe Maistre’s position as a pragmatic attempt to bridge the distance between the universalist desideratum and the particularistic reality. Yet this would ignore the fundamental disavowal of universalism entailed by his position and the elevation of the particular as a barrier to its claims. Maistre’s fundamental aim here is not to allow a safe passage from Frenchness to humanity, or even to establish a civil interchange between the two. For after all, if humanity doesn’t exist, no Frenchman can be expected to even attempt the journey. Such denial of universalist injunctions in the name of national specificity and local traditions was characteristic of the opponents of the principles of the French Revolution,[12]and it remained a staple of reaction down to fascism. Carl Schmitt thus argued that “The political world is a pluriverse, not a universe,”[13] a contention meant, of course, not simply descriptively but prescriptively. And as we shall see below apropos Maurice Barrès, the same logic led to the most extravagant forms of solipsism in the name of a supposedly distinct French “truth,” “justice,” and “reason.”

Within reactionary anti-universalism, the Jewish “question” became so central precisely because Jews were the perennial “other” of Christian tradition, those doomed by history, religion and custom to remain forever different, insidious, menacing and contemptible.So, for both defenders of assimilation and its opponents, successfully subsuming even such timeless alterity in the universalism of “humanity,” would mean something like the ultimate vindication of modernity, and the final affront to its opponents.This was one of the main reasons that modernity and Jewishness were largely intertwined in the reactionary imagination.Resisting Jewish modernity therefore became a cause célèbre of European reactionaries, or, in historian Shulamit Volkov’s apt term, “a cultural code” uniting all those on the German and French right (in fact, across most of Europe). Volkov’s studies are also useful in showing how, in the last third of the 19th century, left-wing circles in both these countries widely disabused themselves of their former anti-Jewish attitudes.[14]

Roots of Rootism: The Romantic Revolt against the Wandering Jew

It is thus within the counter-Enlightenment that a rejection of modernity as Jewish and of Jewsas modern was formed, and this especially and most fatefully in the country fashioning itself the primary victim of French political and cultural expansionism: Germany. If Heidegger is one of the last representatives of this tradition, at its beginnings we find German romantics such as the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher.In his interventions in the debate on Jewish emancipation is found the characteristic romantic defence of the local against the foreign, of the particular against the universal.Significantly, his anti-Jewish polemics mostly targeted not the Jewish demand for cultural and religious autonomy vis-à-vis Christianity, but the wish of some Jewish spokespeople, notably David Friedländer, to completely renounce Judaism and assimilate themselves into German Christianity.This radical proposition turned Friedländer into an unsavoury figure in most Jewish histories, in which he is unfavourably compared to the likes of Mendelssohn and Ascher, who never contemplated forsaking their ancestral faith.And yet, as explained by Jonathan M. Hess, Friedländer was not simply a religious renegade, but someone who sought to preserve Judaism in a sublated form within a Christianity that was conceived as a formal religion of universalistic acceptance.  This was, at any rate, the way his indignant Christian critics understood his move. They thus rallied to defend their citadel from a perceived attempt of infiltration, warning against insidious efforts to “Judaize” Christianity from within.And this is also one of the key historical junctures in which a move from a traditional, religious opposition to Judaism to an ethnic and proto-racist stance can be detected: for presently it became insufficient to attack the Jewish religion; Jewish non-religion and assimilation became the superior threat.If the Enlightenment chastised Judaism mainly on account of an attributed backwardness, the Romantics feared its progressive thrust.Schleiermacher thus harangued against a Jewish-French bid to take over Germany. “I have often read,” hewrote in 1799, “how these enlightened and educated Jews all expect us to know something about Judaism [...]. Do these Jews all know so little about Christianity? They seem to me to be like the Frenchmen who have been living among us for ten years and yet still do not want to learn a word of proper German; of course the Jews carry this off in a much larger scale.”[15] Note how the emphasis here is no longer so much on Jews vs. Christians, but on Jews and French vs.German Christians. Christianity becomes a local, particular attribute, a tradition that must be shielded from a Judeo-French, Enlightened modernity.

This polemics became wider and deeper in the course of the 19th-century. Under the Napoleonic occupation of Germany, German Romantics turned the Jew into a foil in opposition to whom an authentic national culture might be galvanized, one capable of fending off the egalitarian onslaught of the French Revolution. An important headquarter of this counterattack was the Deutsche Tischgesellschaft, (German Table Society) founded in Berlin in January 1811 by the conservative Romantic political theorist Adam Müller and the Romantic writers and poets Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, and counting amongst its members such notables of German thought and culture as Johan Gottlieb Fichte and Heinrich von Kleist.This literary-political association, whose membership was mostly from the nobility (some 50 percent) and the upper-class bourgeoisie, and included professors, highly-ranked officials and army people, used to gather on Tuesdays in a local restaurant. Its purpose was to disseminate opposition to the Prussian Reform Movement, known also as the Stein-Hardenberg Reforms, whose goal was to carry through some of the Enlightenment’s ideal in Prussia, such as liberal constitutional and administrative changes, educational reforms, the abolition of serfdom, the encouragement of economic competition and, last but not least, granting of civil equality to Jews. This modernization was perceived as the onset of a plebeian, egalitarian and democratic era, at the cost of the old hierarchy and its aristocratic privileges. This emerges clearly in the speech of one of the Society’s important ideologues, Ludolf von Beckedorff, where a “twofold war” was declared, the first “superficial, amused and ironic against the philistine,” the second “thorough, serious and honest, against the Jews”:

In an era in which the laws of the forefathers are largely cancelled, in which ancient and sacred things are buried in the same crypt along with antiquated andspiritless ones, in which there is an attempt to create a confusion and mixture between all things, laws, estates and religions and to bring about, in short, a condition of generalized plebeianism,  in such an era a Society cannot find a better way of expressing its profound protest against these random innovations than by banishing the Jews, these eternal enemies of Christianity, these adversaries of all order, this inquisitive and innovation-hungry people.[16]

The speaker illustrates how the fight against modernity as massified and plebeian began to find in Jews and Judaism its metonymical release, effortlessly combining traditional attacks on the Jews as the eternal enemy of Christianity, with a new, (anti-) modern discourse, in which the Jews are the catalysts and the symbols of a new epoch and its nefarious innovations.In its founding document the Society therefore clarified that it will not admit as members either the philistines or the Jews.  The combined Jewish-philistine front, argued the central figure of Clemens Brentano, was foolishly and treacherously importing into Germany the cosmopolitan ideals of the Enlightenment, depreciating Germany and imitating France, forsaking the values of the military and “arguing that one must hand over the forts in order to protect the houses.”[17] In an early avowal of rootism, Brentano saw the Jewish-philistine aim as one of FrenchifyingGermany, chiselling its contours in accordance with the straight lines of a new, foreign and universalistic model. Such people frequently speak of patriotism but not out of concrete love of the homeland, since “they hold in contempt old holidays and folktales,” and work to “obliterate all that which turns their homeland into a special and individualistic country.” They thus “eliminate” the “old customs and conventions, smash the armours and the shields,” “cancel all prejudices” and everything that ties people with bonds of fidelity to the place where they were born.[18] 

The Society’s resistance to the reception of Jews into German society – an assimilation and integration that was particularly evident in Berlin’s high-society circles, with its famous Jewish Salons – found another notorious expression in Achim von Arnim’s 1811 speech, On the Characteristics of Judaism, in which he rehearsed the worst of the traditional accusations against the Jews, from well-poisoning to the slaughtering of Christian children, but complemented these time-worn tirades with decidedly more modern, scientifically sounding arguments, addressing the Jews’ biological type.He thus tried to explain the “particular stench” supposedly spread by the Jews. In barring the Jews from their midst, the Society thus went beyond religiousdiscrimination and adopted an ethnic and proto-racist criterion, insisting that even descendants of Jews who have converted two or three generations ago could not be members.[19]

The anti-Jewish critique of the Society was historically momentous since it helped to install at the heart of elite German culture a discourse of hate linking Jews with modernity, the Enlightenment and the Revolution. This bundle of motifs underpinned much of the Romantic imaginary in Germany, forging a sense of nationhood as fiercely particularistic, spiritual, and anti-modern, in opposition to the “materialistic” universalism of France and its prime beneficiaries, assimilated Jewry, aspiring to enter German society and eviscerate its spirit.In literature it found many outlets, such as E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tales of mystery and enchantment, which often satirize modern Germany as soulless, commercial, philistine, French and Jewish, and urge it to recover its genuine, pre-modern essence, of artistic pursuit and magical power.A salient exampleis The Choosing of the Bride (1819), a tale of fantasy in which a mysterious goldsmith named Leonhard Turnhäuser, who had died in the 16th century, reappears in modern, barren Berlin, and with consummate mastery of magic helps an infatuated German artist to win his love interest, against the intrigues of greedy merchants and vulgar Jewish parvenus.The goldsmith is a Romantic champion expressly opposed to the Enlightenment, as he tells the young heroine, Albertine: “Now, if such people as are usually called romantics or visionaries give me out to be that same Turnhäuser, and consequently a ghost, you can imagine what annoyance I have to endure from respectable, enlightened people, who as sound citizens and men of business could not give a rap for romanticism and poetry.”[20]

The story’s moral appears simple: for all its present, crass materialism, Germany might yet be saved if it shakes off its enthrallment to French and Jewish ways and recover its national dignity. As an exchange between Melchior Vosswinkel, the cynical, wealthy counsellor who offers his daughter to the highest bidder in quest of more gain, and the young, romantic painter reveals, not all is lost: “You are an admirable man, or rather youth, my dear Herr Lehsen; in you there dwells that German virtue and probity which ought to be encouraged in our times. But believe me that, although I am a counsellorand dress in the French fashion, I feel the same way as you do.”[21] German virtue must overcome French fashion, and, even more so, Jewish insolence and ambition. Turnhäuser is accompanied by another spooky companion, the terrifying old Jew Manassa, who is revealed to be “none other than Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew!”[22]Both are representatives of a bygone world, but whereas the goldsmith incarnates eternal German probity his companion is eternal Jewish conniving and black sorcery. Perhaps the most significant ideologeme of the novel is its linkage between old Jewry, represented by the evil Manassa, and modern Jewry, represented by his repulsive nephew, the upstart Baron Benjamin Dümmerl of Vienna. The Baron is made to enact all the vile features ascribed by German reactionaries to Jews, particularly those who wish to enter polite society. It is thus useful to quote his description at some length, to get a sense of the ideological stakes raised by German romanticism and its efforts to demarcate the inside and the outside of Germanness, even by someone, like Hoffmann, who used to frequent Jewish salons himself: 

The young Baron Dümmerl was often to be seen in the theatre, where he boasted a private box [...], so that everyone knew that he was as long and thin as a beanstalk; that in his sallow face, shadowed by jet black curly hair and whiskers, he bore all the marks of the oriental; [...] that he spoke various languages with the same accent; that he scraped at the violin and hammered at the piano; that he patched together execrable verse; that without possessing knowledge or taste he played a critic of the arts and [...] affected wit and esprit though he possessed neither; that he was forward, importunate – in short, [...] an intolerable boor. And if you add to this that, his great wealth notwithstanding, a nasty pettiness and cupidity appeared in everything he did, it will not be surprising that even base souls who were otherwise devotees of Mammon soon deserted him.[23]

Jewish assimilation is thus an affront to the genuine Germans, a perversity, a cynical ploy to take over and destroy the German soul.  And here the move from religion as the criterion for belonging to a proto-racist proposition, whereby Jewish essence can never change and must remain completely alien and antagonistic vis-a vis the German one, transpires very clearly.  When Vosswinkel, who for all his greed is repelled by the repugnant Jewish suitor, points out to Manassa that his nephew is of the old faith, the Eternal Jew replies: “oh, Herr Counsellor, what of that? My nephew is in love with yourdaughter and desires to make her happy: a couple of drops of water will not matter to him; he will still be what he always was.”[24]

This passage also contains an important hint that should allow us to qualify the break with tradition usually attributed to late 19th-century biological racism, a racism supposedly based on science and biology.  Full-fledged racial antisemitism in fact came to rationalize a previouslyanchored belief in Jewish essentialism. Biological racism was not the product of “a scientific mindset”: rather, science was recruited to underpin essentialist conceptions long preceding any rational inquiry, and in fact coming predominantly from romanticist and anti-rationalist circles, appealing to intuition and drawing heavily upon ancient traditions.

At the realm of political theory, German romantic rootism probably found its most systematic expression in the writings of the already mentioned Adam Müller. His entire political theory can be seen as a refutation of the modern universalism of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and a defence of the traditional right of the particular and individualistic. In his major work (1809), Müller conceded that  “occasionally in the history of the world we see things take a turn, as if to blur the different individualities of the peoples and to abolish the division of the world into various states; as if the concepts of a single head were to wipe out the whole colourful world of ideas,” installing in its place an artificial,  lifeless and uniform “mechanism.” He insisted however that such a phase cannot but prove transient, its real goal being “to hold up to each individual nation their greatest good, [...] namely the idea of ​​their uniqueness, which, like a wreath of victory, they must first conquer.”[25]

This defence of “the whole colourful world of ideas” appears to correspond to a tee to the pluralist emphasis put by Hertzberg on the necessity for “freedom for all sorts of ideas.” Such pluralism, Hertzberg believed, is vital in order to counteract thetotalitarian domination of universalism. But does such pluralism truly lead naturally to a support for progressive causes, in general, and Jewish emancipation, in particular? Far from doing so, Müller’s romantic defence of the particular is a defence of class hierarchies, of the stratified and serf-owning order of the middle ages, and of inter-state competition and war. It reads very much like an anticipation of Carl Schmitt’s “Pluriversum,” and indeed Schmitt’s theories appear contained in nuce in Müller’s 19th-century treatise, including the stern warning against perpetual peace and its alleged dangers, the opposition to the universal and “homogenous” state, the elevation of martial values above civilian ones, the need for external enemies, and the cult of charismatic leaders-artists.Unsurprisingly, therefore, hostility to the Jews is also integral to them. However, unlike the Nazis, at that phase Müller can still draw a distinction between the worthy politics of the ancient Hebrews and the degeneracy of modern Jewry. Moses and his political system are upheld in the most emphatic terms against the Enlightenment’s charge of representing a “theocracy.”The crucial achievement of heroic Moses, for Müller, is leading a people of materialistic slaves out of Egypt, and forming a cohesive, military people deeply rooted in its regained land. In ancient Israel Moses establishes a proto-feudal, military hierarchy, founded deliberately on agriculture, where the lower-classes are kept in “honourable subjugation and serviceability.”This order is favourably contrasted to the commercial systems of Greece and Rome, which are deemed the breeding grounds of the modern, rebellious “third estate.” This eulogy for the wisdom of the “Mosaic Law” allows the German Romantic to unfold a cautionary, rootist tale against modern universalism, where, due to the predominance of international commerce, national identity is weakened. Notice the importance of the metaphor of roots in the following passage: commerce “strikes weak [leichte] roots in a small place on earth, from where it now lets its activity wander across land and see, again striking roots here and there; it is hence everywhere at home, and in truth nowhere.”[26]Modern Jewry, however, is strongly censored by Müller for its “repulsive, insufferable arrogance.” After Moses’ time, their national cohesion gradually loosened and when another saviour came along “they crucified him,” and as a result were justly rewarded with uprooting, exile and eternal damnation.[27] 

The significance of this Romantic exclusionary turn and its immense danger as far as Germany’s Jews were concerned was painfully clear to the aging Jewish Enlightenment proponent, Saul Ascher. In a short pamphlet written in 1815 he passionately warned against the “Germano-mania” engulfing the country, represented by the likes of Müller and other members of the Deutsche Tischgesellschaft.He considered “national    isolation” as a regression to a lower cultural level, preceding the advances of the Enlightenment, and regarded it as “little wonder” that such harking back to medieval times would single out the Jews for special contrast and enmity.[28]This anti-Jewish disposition became dominant in the course of the 19th-century and after the unification of Germany.[29]  An additional example would be the document known as the Marwitz Memorandum, representing the Prussian nobility’s opposition to the liberal reforms undertaken during the Napoleonic period. Writing in 1823, its author, Friedrich von Marwitz, a Junker army officer, harangued against the attack on the feudal order, the liberation of the subjugated serfs, seen as inferior by nature, and, of course, against the liberation of the Jews. Significantly, he characterized the modernization of Prussia as an attempt to debase its honorary traditions and transform it into a “newfangled Jew state.”[30]In an early text on antisemitism written in 1937-8 Hannah Arendt argued that the “Romantic theories of the state are the fertile soil of all antisemitic ideology.”[31] There, she incisively analysed the critical role played by German romanticism in the formation of a repressive political theory pitting the “organic” nature of traditional, aristocratic society against the artificiality of bourgeois modernity, “tainted” by its association with Judaism. In that way romanticism equipped generations of German reactionaries with a theoretical and cultural weaponry that helped them repel the defenders of modernity. Arendt pointed to the pioneering and destructive part played by the Deutsche Tischgesellschaft, which she defined as “Germany's firstprogrammatically antisemitic organization.”[32]

Frenchomania and Antisemitism

Rootism thus became a central plank of European reaction. In France it found ample expression in antisemitic literature and, at least to begin with, was not exclusively aright-wing ideologeme.One can find its adumbrations in the “utopian” socialism of Fourier, for instance, whose fierce anti-capitalism nonetheless drew sharp distinctions between French, Christian and honest tradespeople, and their Jewish competitors. The latter were depicted as foreign, rootless and ruthless invaders, loyal only to “their secret and indissoluble brotherhood,” who knew how to manipulate the markets so as to make legendary gains and then disappear into their countries of origins leaving the local economy in ruins.Combining modern tropes with traditional Christian ones, Fourier referred in 1808 to the recurring Jewish invader as an immutable “Iscariot,” always maintaining his venality, and warned that if Jews were to widely settle in the country, “France would be no more than a vacant synagogue.”[33] Tellingly, Fourier’s critique was embedded in a rejection of Enlightenment modernity, which he reduced to corrupt and conspiratorial commercialism.Thus, when “the Jew Iscariot arrives in France” and starts to depress prices, the “people think this is wonderful, and sing the praises of competition, the Jews, philosophy, and fraternity.”[34] This should serve as a reminder of the initial complicity of wide sections of the left in spreading anti-Jewish rancour, even though, as mentioned above, these complaints were in time absorbed into a mostly right-wing and conservative discourse.

The charge against Jews as undermining national identity was central for Edouard Drumont, the toxic antisemitic propagandist whose attacks on Jews appear like an early, and only marginally less foul version of Julius Streicher’s tirades. “The Jew is of an ‘inexorable universalism,’” he affirmed, “and has no reason to adapt himself to our point-of-view, which is exclusively national.”[35]Prominent among his litany of accusations were the association of Jews with radicalism and the creation of social friction between workers and employers, the undermining of French traditions, the Jewish replacement of the genuine, local nobility of blood with a fake, international aristocracy of money, and a creation of popular culture catering to the “vile appetites of the masses.”[36]

French rootism was, if anything, even more central to Maurice Barrès’ antisemitism. This important far-right and ultra-nationalist essayist and author was obsessed with the threat to French identity posed by a fundamentally Jewish modernity anddedicated enormous efforts to try and furnish France a purified national myth, centred on the exclusion of the Jew. This was evident in his anti-Dreyfusard polemic, written in 1902:

[Dreyfus is] the deracinated individual who feels ill at ease in one of the plots of our old French garden [...] because he had no roots [...] that associated him strongly enough with the soil and the conscience of France to keep him from looking for his happiness, his peace, his life, in foreign lands. I don’t need to be told why Dreyfus betrayed. In a psychological sense, it is enough for me to know that he is capable of betrayal to know that he betrayed. The gap is filled in. That Dreyfus is capable of betrayal, I conclude from his race.[37]

Barrès’ nationalism was thus by definition antisemitic, and founded on the refutation of all universalism in the name of the particular and subjective. Truth, correspondingly, was not universally binding but a product of one’s nationalistic-individualistic perspective. “Truth,” he declared, “means finding a certain point, a single point, from whose perspective, and from no other beside it, all things are seen in their true proportions.” That Archimedean point was that of the Frenchman, allowing him to cling to his “French truth,” “French justice,” and “French reason.” “Pure nationalism,” he concluded, “is nothing but knowing about the existence of such a point, seeking after it, and having reached it, to stick to it in order to have all our art, our politics and our actions derive from it.”[38]

This “French perspective” formed the axis of Barrès’ literary output, for instance in the tellingly entitled novel, The Deracinated (1898).  And here as well Frenchness was too weak of a sentiment and had to be propped by the contrast with the supposedly non-French, the Jews. During one scene, Sturel, native son of the quintessentially French, provincial town of Neufchâteau feels a surge of identity as against his Jewish neighbours, newcomers from Germany:

With these people, how can one have a link? How can I find myself in community of feelings with them? Less educated than these nomads, less readers of newspapers, less informed about Paris, the bourgeois of Neufchâteau, who are perishing, [...] had a way of feeling, of life, a way of tasting the picturesque, of being indignant and moved, which allowed me to be in agreement with them, to enjoy their company. We had that something which cannot be analysed, a common tradition that had created in us the same consciousness.[39]

Barrès’ identitarian ideology of the late 19th century evinces striking parallels with the German romantic anti-modernity with which the century commenced. A 1820 story by Achim von Arnim opens with these sentences: “We were just leafing through an older calendar, the copperplate engravings of which reflect some of the follies of its time. It already lies behind us like the world of a fable! How rich was the world back then, before the general revolution, which received its name from France, collapsed all forms; how uniformly poor has it become!”[40]The same wistful atmosphere; the same sentiment; the same nostalgia. The only difference between the two writers, is that the French affiliates the wandering Jews of modernity to Germany; the German – to France.

Heimat versus Home: The Romantic Revolt against the Stationary Jew

So far, the discussion focused on the way that the “wandering Jews” were seen by antisemites as representatives of movement, the nomadic people par excellence; this might have led the reader to assume that reactionary thought, by contrast, elevated the static and the immutable. But this would be overly simple. For Jews were also recurrently denounced as the antipodes of movement and dynamics. Consider the following comparison drawn by Drumont between the forefathers of “all European nations,” the Aryans, and the Semites:

The Semite is mercantile, greedy, scheming, subtle, cunning; the Aryan is enthusiastic, heroic, chivalrous, disinterested, frank, confident to the point of naivety. [...] The Aryan is a farmer, poet, monk and above all a soldier; war is his true element, he happily goes to meet the peril, he braves death. [...] The Aryan goes on adventurous voyages and discovers America; the Semite, [...] waits until we have explored everything, cleared everything, to get rich at the expense of others.[41]

Adventure, exploration, empire building, and war are all foreign to the Jews who seek only to passively latch onto the efforts of others, since “everything that is a human excursion to unknown regions, an effort to enlarge the earthly domain is absolutely above the Semite and especially the Jewish Semite.”[42] This meant that the Jews could be blamed for seeking to arrest movement, for searching for a way around inevitable war and competition. Paradigmatically, Hitler thus argued that it is “always primarily the Jew” who negates social Darwinism, and tries “to play a little trick on Nature, to make the hard, inexorable struggle for existence superfluous.”[43] Whence this seeming paradox of reactionary ideology? Here, a dialectical analysis of capitalism becomes indispensable. Capitalism’s most famous and sophisticated critic, Karl Marx, conceived of it as a deeply discordant mode of production, whose vectors generate opposing tendencies and produce instability and permanent motion. He variously referred to capital as “the living contradiction”[44] and the “the moving contradiction.”[45]And it is often forgotten that Marx’s negation of capitalism was deeply Hegelian, meant to preserve as much as to eliminate. Marx saw capitalism as encompassing barbaric drives but also civilizing ones, frequently underlining capital’s “civilizing aspects,” its “civilizing mission,” or its “historic mission.” Among the barbaric and oppressive aspects were class hierarchy, exploitation, ruthless competition and military conquests, as well as social Darwinism and an ascetic, life denying disposition.  Capital’s civilizing thrust, however, consisted of its prodigious productivity, socialization of labour, cultural democratization, expansion of needs and of consumption. Crucially, for Marx, capital’s dynamism did not simply disrupt old hierarchies, but also opened up the possibility of itsself-abolition, creating the pre-conditions for a new, rational and humanistic, societal form.With Marx, one can therefore speak of an internal conflict taking place within capitalism between its civilizing and barbaric drives, whose outcome remains dependent on social and political struggle.

Bearing such contradictions in mind, it is possible to decipher much of the paradoxes of the reactionary discourse, its espousal anddenial of change and dynamism; itspro- andanti-capitalism; and correspondingly, also the apparent antinomies of antisemitism. An intriguing attempt to use Marx’s categories in order to dialectically decode antisemitism, especially its exterminatory, National Socialist variant, was undertaken by Moishe Postone.The late Canadian Marxist strongly chastised the left for seeing in Nazism merely a defence of capitalism, and failing to come to terms with its markedly anti-capitalist streak. The Nazis, he believed, strove to hold fast to the productive side of capitalism, its concrete side bringing into being goods and material wealth, and to discard its thieving, abstractly financial and parasitic side. And this latter side they identified with the Jews. For Postone, we have here the key for understanding the Shoah. Examining Nazi ideology in light of Marx’s categories, it turns out that they attempted to preserve the commodity’s “use-value,” its concrete, useful side, and eliminate its cumbersome, intangible and abstract “value,” embodied in money. Jews were thus eliminated since, in the antisemitic cliché, they came to represent money, the abstract side of capitalism. “Auschwitz,” Postone therefore concludes, “was a factory to ‘destroy value,’ i.e., to destroy the personifications of the abstract. Its organization was that of a fiendish industrial process, the aim of which was to ‘liberate’ the concrete from the abstract.”[46]

But while Postone was right to insist on a dialectical approach to Nazism, as well as to draw attention to its anti-capitalist side, it seems to me that his inventive hypothesis is ultimately partial, and in some ways misleading. It is over-economistic, to begin with, and neglects critical aspects of Nazi culture and politics: can Nazi antisemitism be seen primarily as a revolt against the abstract side of capitalism? In reality, such a revolt would fit much better to describe Marxist socialism, which indeed wished to create an economy geared towards the production of use-values and liberated from the compulsion to extract surplus value.The Nazis’ ambition was quite different. Much of fascist and Nazi ideology, was decidedly anti-materialistic, denigrating the pursuit of pleasure and comfort as unworthy goals.[47] This hardly squares with a supposed commitment to the concrete. And to the extent thatthe Jews, in the Nazi imaginary, were indeed linked with universalism, this had decidedly concrete, rather than abstract, social and political implications: the Jew was persecuted and exterminated by the Nazis mostly because he was seen as a revolutionary. The Nazis and fascists made no effort to move to an economy which will dispense with money, let alone with the profit motivation. In reality, their political crusade was ultimately directed against the country that threatened, at least, to do both: the USSR.This is not meant to dismiss the claims, well expressed by Postone, that the Nazis saw the Jew as, in a sense, embodying the spirit of capitalism. Yet it is important to realize that capitalism, too, played in modernity a revolutionary role, dialectically destabilizing the present order and empowering the masses. And it was this feature which vexed the fascists.

Writing in 1935, the Spanish fascist José Antonio Primo de Rivera, aristocratic founder and leader of the Falange Española, expressed his conviction that capitalism was heading towards realizing Marx’s transformative project:

[W]e are anti-Marxists because we are terrified [...] of being an inferior animal in an ant-nest. And we are terrified by it because capitalism gives us a hint of such a condition; capitalism, too, is internationalist and materialist. That is why we want neither the one nor the other; that is why we wish to avert — since we believe in their accuracy — the realization of Marx’s prophecies.[48]

Antonio’s opposition to Marx, be it noted, was embedded in antisemitism. “If the first socialists were gentlemen, almost poets,” he declared a year earlier, “socialism acquired a horrifying blackness when the figure of that Jew named Karl Marx made his appearance.”[49] Capitalism and socialism, strangely but instructively morphed into one, were denounced as the great levellers, in fact one great leveller, assuming deceptively different guises.That great leveller was modernity. And this was a very important trope in the fascist imaginary, which today has largely faded into obscurity, since a dialectical appreciation of modernity has fallen largely out of fashion, even in Marxist circles.“This Europe,” wrote Heidegger in 1935, “lies today in the great pincers between Russia on the one side and America on the other. Russia and America, seen metaphysically, are both the same.”[50]And comparable positions were defended by many other fascists, such as the Italian Julius Evola, who wrote about the mass danger represented by the “communist world and America, […] persuaded of a having a universal mission to accomplish.”[51]Drieu La Rochelle, the French fascist, was convinced that communism and Americanism are intimately interconnected. “Ford and Lenin,” he wrote, “are like two miners who are pick-axing their way toward one another along two dark tunnels.”[52]

This was the other side to the reactionary attack on modernity:  it was never simply concerned with the modern threat to past traditions, its “uprooting” thrust, its wandering away from the Heimat; no less feared was the modern aim to have humanity find abode in anew home.  Reactionaries were bent to prevent a historically new possibility: namely, that modernity might once and for all eliminate war, strife and inequality from human existence, and institute universal peace on earth. Heinrich Heine, arguably Germany’s greatest 19th-century poet, gave this hope a potent expression in many of his writings, for instance inGermany. A Winter’s Tale (1844):

Ein neues Lied, ein besseres Lied,

O Freunde, will ich euch dichten!

Wir wollen hier auf Erden schon

Das Himmelreich errichten.


A newer song, a better song,

My friends, let’s bring to birth now!

We shall proceed right here to build,

The Kingdom of Heaven on earth now.


Es wächst hienieden Brot genug

Für alle Menschenkinder,

Auch Rosen und Myrten, Schönheit und Lust,

Und Zuckererbsen nicht minder.

The soil produces bread enough

For all mankind’s nutrition,

Plus rose and myrtle, too, beauty and joy,

And sugar peas in addition.

Ja, Zuckererbsen für jedermann,

Sobald die Schoten platzen!

Den Himmel überlassen wir

Den Engeln und den Spatzen.

Yes, sugar peas for everyone

Piled high upon the barrows!

The heavens we can safely leave

To the angels and the sparrows.[53]

“I believe in progress,” he defiantly stated in 1834, “I believe that mankind is destined to be happy, and thus I have a higher opinion of the Divinity than the pious people who fancy that he created mankind only to suffer. Here on earth, by the blessings of free political and industrial institutions, I should like to establish the bliss which, in the opinion of the pious, is to begin only on the Day of Judgment, in heaven.”[54] Thisstaunch progressivism, as can be appreciated, was not the product of complacency, but an impassioned political rallying cry, meant to galvanize the forces of change and emancipation. Its power drew not simply from the utopian vista it opened up, but also from emphasizing the perversion of the present order, and recognizing that the alternative project might well prevail. Heine thus immediately added a caveat, and admitted that his “hope” might be a “foolish” one, that “perhaps mankind is destined to everlasting misery, perhaps the nations are condemned eternally to be trampled upon by despots, exploited by their henchmen, and derided by their lackeys.”[55]Heine had converted to Christianity in 1823, seeking admission into European culture, but for his countless critics on the German right, he remained forever “the Jew Heine,” a subversive and foreign spirit.[56] In Heine’s work one finds embodied the double menace represented by Jewry in the eyes of many antisemites: not simply frenetic movement but the chance of  denouement, of obtaining stability, safety and contentment.  This is the important feature of fascism thatErnst Nolte in his early studies referred to as the “opposition to transcendence.”[57] Nolte’s valuable observation has implications that most subsequent studies of fascism have unfortunately neglected to pursue – a failure that is probably related to the prevailing tendency to gainsay Marxism and construct fascism as “revolutionary”: but of course, a revolution that forecloses transcendence remains a highly paradoxical endeavour.[58]

Facing such a chiliastic vision, rootism became a fierce opponent of stasis, and championed movement. This was clearly true with regards to the “steel romanticism” championed by the Nazis, notably Joseph Goebbels:

Every time has its Romanticism, its poetic presentation of life – ours does as well. It is harder and crueller than the earlier version, but it is just as romantic. The Steel Romanticism of our time manifests itself in intoxicating actions and restless deeds in service of a great national goal, in a feeling of duty raised to the level of an unbreakable principle. We are all more or less romantics of a new German form.[59]

“It is a kind of Steel Romanticism,” he elsewhere claimed, as if engaged in direct dialogue with Heine, “that has made German life worth living: a Romanticism which does not try to escape and hide in the blue distance from the hardness of existence.”[60]Goebbels here expressed an awareness of the innovation of Nazism with regards to the romantic tradition and scholars have rightly noted that there remained little room for romantic irony or dreaminess in the Nazi inflection.[61]And yet nor should one underestimate the amount of steel employed in the original romantic alloy: already in the writings of Müller one finds an unyielding emphasis on the inevitability, indeed desirability of war, as an antidote to economic stasis and to internal strife, and Heinrich von Kleist’s nationalistic texts abound, indeed, with “intoxicating actions and restless deeds in service of a great national goal.”(Goebbels)

Fascism and Nazism therefore embraced movement; indeed, the Nazis were proud of their political essence as a “movement,” Bewegung.  Yet such a frenetic push onwards was at the same time fundamentally static.  In the artistic realm this is best exemplified, perhaps, by the celebration of movement, modern machinery, and velocity found in much Futuristic poetry and art, notably inAeropittura, the late Italian Futurist trend (roughly 1926-1940) to extoll the experience of flying and depict aeroplanes, especially engaged in destruction and warfare. This was quintessentialmodernist art, yet one that studiously left out a vital element ofmodernity, for whom movement is nothing if it eliminatesprogress. A movement shorn of a progressive goal is simply vortex (which was of course the centre of Vorticism, the proto-Futuristic movement formed by the reactionary writer and artist Wyndham Lewis). Another illustration of suchinert dynamism,irretrievably leashed to identity, is provided by the 1933 Nazi propaganda filmHitlerjunge Quex [Hitler Youth Quex, director Hans Steinhoff], recounting the story of Berlin working-class youngster Heini Völker who joins the ranks of the Nazis in the waning days of the Weimar Republic and dies as a martyr to the cause.The workers, including Heini’s communist, unemployed father, abhor the Nazis, yet Heini is magically drawn to their ranks. One of the main attractions they offer is a chance to move, to travel the world.At a pivotal scene, the Nazi officer has a conversation with the communist father, in the presence of the young and eager son, which will end by drawing the vulgar, but at bottom good hearted and patriotic communist, away from internationalism and into the national fold.The scene begins with the Nazi sentimentally praising young people’s desire to roam, “run off and join trappers and gypsies.” Heini smiles rapturously, and the implication of such sentences is unmistakable: by joining the Nazis, he will get a chance to see the world as part of the German army of conquest. The father, however, is resistant and needs more persuading. There follows a short dialogue between Nazi and communist, which will open the latter’s eyes to his true Heimat:

Communist: Where do I belong? With my class comrades, that’s where.

Nazi: You mean the International?

C: Of course, the International.

N: Where were you born?

C: Well, in Berlin.

N: Where is Berlin?

C: On the Spree river.

N: [amused] On the Spree, of course. But where is that? In which country?

C: Well, in Germany, naturally.

N: In Germany! Exactly. In our Germany. You think about that.

The matter is thus settled, universalism is blocked, and nationalism is vindicated. A natural extension of this dialogue would have changed the conclusion altogether, had the scriptwriter allowed the communist father to ask in retort, “And where is Germany?” But this would have defeated the film’s pedagogic purpose. Rootismthus accepts movement, indeed encourages it, but only within the pre-ordained boundaries of national identitarianism and in fundamental opposition to the radical openness of modernity. 

The dialectics of history must be frozen, forestalling any qualitative sublation: only quantitative change is possible in the sense of more “living space,” for the German, and less, or even no living space for the non-German.  The deadly blow delivered by Nazism to progressive universalism can be appreciated by juxtaposing two historical pronouncements, by German thinkers of Jewish origins. The first is by Heine, who in 1843 hoped that with the proliferation of trains and international travel, “the shabby heroes of the past, the old crutch needing supporters of exclusionary nationalism, the invalids and incurables, will soon disappear from our sight. [...] Due to the railways space is killed, and we are left only with time.”[62]Ernst Bloch’s diagnosis, in 1935, sadly established the exact reverse: “‘Volkstum’ banishes time from history, indeed history itself: what remains is space and organic fate.”[63]

Bloch’s incisive observation should help to counter the efforts to square the circle and situate fascism and Nazism decisively within modernity. A notable case in point is Roger Griffin’s relatively recent claim that Nazism needs to be seen as a case of “rooted modernism.”[64]  Griffin takes a resolute stand against those scholars who insist on the “outdated assumptions” that the Third Reich was motivated by a “regressive animus against modernity, progress, and the emancipation of the human spirit.”[65]A survey of Nazi architecture provides him with the occasion for highlighting what he regards as the revolutionary and forward pressing thrust of the Third Reich.  And yet his analysis strangely confirms Bloch’s point by focusing on matters relating to size, form, style, matter, and quantity and leaving out well-nigh unaddressed all qualitative considerations. Griffin’s focus, in short, is on Nazi space. Hitler, the reader is typically reminded, “expressed appreciation of steel and glass architecture,” as if this could somehow bely the Führer’s reactionary commitments.[66]Elsewhere it is asserted that the “new civic structures” of Third Reich’s “were to express in their gargantuan scale and use of huge blocks of granite, not nostalgia for the past, but rather an evocation of timeless values, a secular, national and racial eternity conceived as a futural project.”[67] Time-less, indeed, just as stipulated by Bloch.

The effort to cast fascism as revolutionary draws on the misleading, interchangeable usage made of two terms which are vastly different, “modernism” and “modernity.” Far from being substitutable, modernism was an artistic and social outlook that regularly expressed a fundamental loss of faith in modernity, seen as a time of decay, fragmentation, anarchy and levelling. Modernism was thus quite often an attempt totranscend modernity. Griffin himself, in an earlier study, rightly spoke of “a modernist rejection of Modernity.”[68] Yet at present he construes fascist modernism as anally ofModernity. This blurring of the distinction between means and ends, form and substance, technology and axiology, finds expression in such arguments as the following one:“Nazi architecture was a triumph of the latest technology, design, and logistics, even though the gargantuan supply of raw materials and inhuman levels of produc­tivity it demanded could only be supplied by slave labour.”[69] Notice how the inhumanity of Nazism is here re-written as a by-product of its supposedly revolutionary goals, as if “slave labour” was an unavoidable by-product of the Nazi project, rather than a foundational component of its perverse ideological and social negation of modernity in its universalist and egalitarian aspirations.

The same obfuscation is in evidence when Griffin claims that “the significance of the regime’s qualified embrace of the modern­ist writers Gottfried Benn and Ernst Jünger, of the modernist musicians Rich­ard Wagner and Richard Strauss, and the modernist philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, still tends to be overlooked, along with the profoundly futural, utopian dynamic of so much of Nazi culture in practice.”[70] But what exactly is the supposedly “overlooked significance” of the Nazi embrace of such “modernists”? Surely not a cause to rethink Nazi hostility to modernity? We have already seen what Heidegger thought of modernity, so a quick reminder of Nietzsche's position might be in order:a “modernist” or not, the German thinker consistently used the term “modern ideas” with utmost disdain.  And what were, for him, such ideas? Everything associated with democracy, socialism, plebeianism, “18th-century ideas,” and, at the root of them all, “the doctrine of equality, [...] the ‘modern idea’ par excellence.”[71] “Modernism,” in summary, might well be “rooted,” but a “rooted modernity,” re-legitimizing slavery and inequality, would be a contradiction in terms.[72] Nietzsche’s ideas, it should be pointed out, arefundamental in our context in two additional senses: firstly, his doctrine of the “eternal recurrence” is surely the most significant conceptual foreshadowing of fascist temporality, providing the archetypal example of irredeemably circular change, i.e. no change at all: “Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; the same houses of being builds itself eternally. Everything parts, everything greets itself again; the ring of being remains loyal to itself eternally.”[73] Secondly, while Nietzsche's attitudes to Jews and Judaism were very complex, he was immensely influential in spreading the image of the Jews as the revolutionary people par excellence, the heart and soul of the egalitarian “slave revolt” of modernity, embarking on a “huge and incalculably disastrous initiative,” in which the masses are incited to rebel against their masters: “Nothing which has been done on earth against ‘the noble’, ‘the mighty’, ‘the masters’ and ‘the rulers’, is worth mentioning compared with what the Jews have done against them.”[74]

While lamenting the supposed modern “uprooting of all beings from being” (Heidegger) Steel Romanticism in fact radically cut off humanity from any hope of finding its way back home. As insightfully suggested by William H. F. Altman in the introduction to his study of Being and Time, German existentialism found its home in the war fields of the First World War,where all meaning was drained from the existence of millions of combatants.  For such millions, the war was a total absurdity, as expressed in the song “we’re here because we’re here,” sang by British soldiers in the trenches to the wistful tune of Auld Lang Syne.  Yet, argues Altman, from the point-of-view of the existentialistic reactionaries, the troops were only “faux-existentialists,” since their song was a way of clinging, however desperately, to the notion of meaning in human life, which might someday be restored. Their song was thus a denunciation of the war.  By contradistinction, for such writers as Ernst Jünger and Heidegger, the war was not barren but pregnant with absurdity; deceitful and unworthy was the peace that preceded it. Such authors, like the German far-right they represented, thus turned the war into the paradigm of authentic existence, were one no longer cowardly evades death as is the habit of the modern masses, but lives in joyous anticipation of death.Both Jünger and Heidegger therefore worked assiduously to turn the post-war time into aninter-war time.[75]

As against the charge that modernity uproots humanity, one could argue the very opposite: modernity represents an effort to furnish humanity with a newer, more comfortable and more habitable home than it previously had. As Bertolt Brecht once defiantly claimed: “In the asphalt city I’m at home. From the very start / Provided with every last sacrament: / With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy / To the end mistrustful, lazy and content.”[76] Indeed, one might go still further, and claim that modernity’s effort is to furnish humanity with something it never previously had, a true home where it might gather after its historical wanderings in the provinces of poverty, exploitation, and war.

During the 20th-century, the reactionary and fascist denigration of the USSR and the USA, and the frequent claim of a fundamental affinity between them, supposedly running much deeper than their surface level antagonisms, reflect the fact that these were the two modern countries par excellence, the ones founded on a consciously non-rootist, pluralist principle.The arch-prophet of counter-modern identitarianism in our time, Alain de Benoist, therefore averred in the mid-1970s that America is “the capital ofneo-Marxism,”[77]and approvingly cited left-wing author, Jean-Marie Domenach’s claim that “the USA is the most communist country in the world.”[78]Both countrieswere irredeemably universalistic in their founding myths, both affirmed the future, rather than the past, and both were centred on the project of a new home for humanity – not just for a single ethnic or religious group.Notice that the enormous shortfalls characterizing both of these states in terms of inequality, repression, unfreedom, militarism, racism and so on and so forth were not the target of such critiques, or were at most used to boost the main line of the arguments, like boxing gloves covering the naked fists to make the punches appear legitimate: both countries were taken to task not for their numerous deceits and deficits but for theirpremises andpromises. The Soviet Union became an international symbol for a working-class state, and hence was met with implacable hostility on the part of the wealthy and privileged and with great hope on that of the toiling masses. This was brilliantly reflected inVladimir Mayakovsky’s 1929 poem My Soviet Passport, where he describes the way the customofficials handle his travelling document “like a razor, [...] like a rattlesnake huge and long with at least 20 fangs poison-tipped,” whereas “The porter's eyes give a significant flick (I'll carry your baggage  for nix, mon ami...),” and concludes: “You now: read this and envy, I'm a citizen of the Soviet Socialist Union!”[79]Nor is the search hard when we look for a poetic expression of the US American promise to provide a home for the destitute  of all countries: "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" These celebrated lines, from Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus (1883), which constitute something of an unofficial US hymn, were appropriately written by a Jewish, indeed socialist, woman, who also happened to be a translator of Heine’s poems to English.[80]

The radical openness of modernity which was also a quest for a home that is not already given, a home predicated on uprooting and immigration rather than rootedness and love of the soil, finds expression in many US American blues narratives. Against the view of the blues as an emanation of the deep, exotic South, a fascinating atavism that provides an escape from the sophistication of modernity, many blues texts actually expressed a resolve to escape to modernity.[81]They are, in a sense, the very reverse of the idyllic Heimat narratives of counter-modernity, celebrating the blood and the soil, for the soil was enslaving, and the blood it demanded was that of the slaves, or later, the sharecropping serfs. There is therefore a significant parallel between the modern Jewish experience and that of the African-Americans, both underpinned by mass immigrations and a quest for home.One expression of such yearning would be the 1936 lines by the iconic early blues artist, Robert Johnson, who lived most of his short life in the Mississippi Delta: “Oh, baby, don't you want to go? / Back to the land of California / To my sweet home Chicago.” The point, of course, is that Johnson calls Chicago his “sweet home” although he has never been there.[82]

Modernity and Assimilation: Concluding Observations

Let us, in conclusion, examine a little more closely the nature of modernity’s efforts to furnish wandering humanity at long last with a home, paying special attention to the Jewish perspective.  The most sustained engagement with Marxism and the Jewishquestion is surely Enzo Traverso’s study juxtaposing the two subject-matters. Traverso writes from a position internal to Marxism, yet his account of the ways leading Marxists have approached the Jewish plight is highly critical, pointing to their many vacillations, misunderstandings, and blind-spots. Throughout the book, but especially in itsconcluding chapters, Traverso associates these weaknesses mostly with the reputed blemishes of Marxist teleology, the affirmation of modernity, the optimism and universalism of the Enlightenment legacy, and, most importantly, to a pernicious belief in progress.Ultimately, these doctrinaire tenets have blinded the enormous majority of Marxists to the specificity of the Jewish question, to the innovations of a distinctly modern form of antisemitism, and to legitimate claims of Jewish otherness, which he expressly ties with modern “identity politics.”[83] The author’s rather exceptional heroes within Marxism are the late Trotsky, Walter Benjamin, and following in the latter’s steps, the post-Second World War writings of the Frankfurt School. It was there that the long-due task was finally performed of emphatically disengaging from progressive and modernist illusions, and returning, to one extent or another, to the pre-Marxist socialism of a radical, romantically inspired critique of bourgeois civilization.[84]As evidence, Traverso cites Walter Benjamin’s preference of Fourier over German social democracy,[85] and later critically claims that “Marxism after Marx had largely renounced the critique of civilization begun by Rousseau, Fourier and Blanqui, in order to celebrate ‘progress,’”[86] without mentioning the venomous antisemitism of these French socialists, compared to which Marx’s youthful snide remarks on Judaism appear quite harmless. A surprising omission, in a book dealing with “the Jewish Question.”

While Traverso’s study is an invaluable scholarly resource, and many of its specific criticisms of Marxist authors are well-informed and judicious, it seems to me that such overarching interpretation has some unsettling implications, which it would be good to gain awareness of. Traverso’s shibboleth, as already sampled, is the Marxist belief in progress, which repeatedly comes under attack. Yet, while it may have certain validity with regards to some variants of complacent optimism such as the Whig view of history, the main proponents of progress, even outside the Marxist camp – think of Condorcet, Hegel or Heine – can scarcely be reproached with a naïve buoyancy that lends itself to passivity and a renunciation of political struggle. Theirs was simply theaffirmation that history offers humanity a path towards greater emancipation and that, contrary to the pessimist and quietist beliefs, human fate can improve – a radical and emancipatory proposition in its own right.Awareness of the enormous obstacles to progress and its powerful enemies is not lacking in any of these authors, and it certainly cannot be ascribed to committed revolutionaries such as Marx and Engels – just think of the latter’s incredibly accurate prediction, in 1893, of the perils of European militarism and frantic armament, and his passionate warning, some twenty years in advance, against a global conflagration that will cause unheard of destruction.[87] 

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, Walter Benjamin’s critique of progress did not simply, or primarily, reflect his engagement with the theories of German social democrats. As Traverso himself points out, Benjamin’s interest in politics and consequently his political knowledge were never his strong suits. Rather, such opposition was grounded in his long-time affiliation with romanticism, again duly noted by Traverso. However, the meaning of the vast romantic debt on Benjamin’s part to such authors as Nietzsche, Sorel, or Baudelaire, is not properly interrogated. It is acknowledged that some Frankfurt School authors came to civilizational conclusions in some ways akin to that of German reactionaries: for instance, Günther Anders’ “ontological conservative” position is linked to an “Heideggerian matrix,” yet this doesn’t seem to pose a serious objection, and in fact rebounds in Anders’ favour, allowing him to yield “the most consistent effort to rethink Marxism under the dark light of Auschwitz.”[88] Paradoxically, progressive Marxism is chastised for its presumedpolitical flaws, which reflect its weakness vis-à-vis modern antisemitism. And yet a left-wing cured of such lingering progressivism remains decidedly “melancholic” and impotent.[89] Indeed, one cannot but wonder what socialism can even mean as a political and normative project once purged of telos, universalism and progress.

The upshot of this conceptual framework is a theory that criticizes “assimilation” and upholds identity politics, as expressed by Walter Benjamin and later exponents, some of whom are unrelated to Marxism, such as the influential American scholar of Judaism, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. Gramsci, for example, is criticized on account ofhaving “reformulated the canonical Marxist approach to the Jewish Question, which identified emancipation with assimilation,” which explains why “his conclusions wereas blind as those of Bauer and Kautsky: in his eyes, anti-Semitism was a vestige of the past, not a possible face of modernity.”[90]

Now, a critique of the paradigm of assimilation is not without merit, and the right of communities and individuals to maintain their beliefs and customs without thereby in any way forfeiting their right to complete civic and human equality cannot be disputed.However, what does “assimilation” mean when it comes to the Marxist tradition, of whom Gramsci is one representative? Traverso neglects to ask the all-important question: Jewish assimilation intowhat? Certainly not Italian-ness, Germanness, Russianness, or Polishness, in the respective cases of Gramsci, Marx, Trotsky and Luxemburg, let alone into Christianity. It was an assimilation into a project of universalism which is thus better described ashumanization.

Countering de Maistre, this tradition believed that nationality and a particular ethnic identity was not, or at least should not be, people’s ultimate point-of-reference, but an appendage to one’s humanity, an important one perhaps, but also a potentially dangerous and toxic one. Humanity was not an abstraction which diluted identity,butin fact identity was an abstraction which threatened to swallow up humanity’s concrete potentialities.Or, to piggyback on a previous suggestion, humanity could be seen as a new, modern, superior form of identity, which need not cancel out other, more local and parochial affiliations, but which should be placed in priority to them. Admittedly, and here Traverso and other critics have a strong case, this is a highly delicate manoeuvre and most Marxism can indeed be found guilty of not paying sufficient attention to the challenges such universalistic humanism raises, on both practical and ethical grounds. But the conclusion is not to chastise Marxism in favor of identitarianism, for surely, what can be described as blind-spots in former’s sight, must perforce constitute the latter’sentirefield of vision.

Humanization reflected both the need and the desire of people of all nations and religions, not just Jews. And in fact, Jews, as individuals of a hated and persecuted minority, could be regarded as especially benefiting from such process. Moreover, the “assimilation” required by the Jews was into a new identity, which could in some important sense be described as particularly favourable to many Jews, reflecting their historical experience – as nomadic, exiled, ironic, urban, and universalistic. Thus,for many anti-universalistic non-Jews humanization represented, if anything, their own assimilation as non-Jews into a fundamentallyJewish modernity. There is a telling story recounted in 1899 by Drumont about the inception of his life-long antisemitic crusade. It was, he tells his readers, largely the result of conversations he had years before with an old Jew, who “had a terrible fear of French antisemitism,” which was then only making its baby steps:

As early as 1875, a Jew who is a little forgotten today, but who was then almost famous [...], Alexandre Weill, explained to me that France should have the fate of Poland and that it would be good, in the best interests of humanity, that the French, dispersed and without homeland like the Poles, will go and spread throughout the world the general truths on civilization and progress.[91]

Drumont was deeply distraught by such prospect of modern homelessness and rootlessness, by the very thought of Frenchmen assuming the role of wandering Jews spreading the universalist message around the globe, and he concludes that “maybe it wasn't worth it to have cut the neck of the descendant of forty kings to be ruled by the Rothschilds [...], and to be told by an old Jew, walking his little white, curly dogs, that France would end up like Poland. This is how, without even being aware of it, the work of liberation was germinating, bit by bit, in my heart.”[92]

Seen thus, assimilation into modernity on the part of many Jews was not an act of self-denial or self-hatred, but of self-affirmation. They did not have to suppress the religious, traditionalist Jew ensconced in their bosom, for he or she simply wasn’t there. And if some Jews embraced Jewish religion or tradition and found in them important spiritual resources, as Benjamin did with the kabbalah, this was a perfectly legitimate choice on their part, but one that doesn’t reflect either positively on them or badly on those who did not take it. Traverso writes that “unlike the great majority of Jewish Socialists and Communists [...], who were completely assimilated, [Benjamin] did not deny his religious identity.”[93]But there was no “denial” on such Jews' part –Rosa Luxemburg is mentioned as an example: they were faithful to their non-religion, nor were they necessarily “assimilated” in the sense of taking on a foreign identity. They found in humanist universalism their home, and did so in a way which was often highly defiant vis-à-vis their surroundings. Andfor that matter, nor should one accept the implication that Benjamin was particularly faithful to Judaism when immersing himself in the kabbalah and in Franz Rosenzweig’s theories of Jewish redemption.Such an identity was very much a modern one, an adopted litany, an invented tradition, if one wishes, in a way which is not necessarily different to, say, Madonna’s discovery of the kabbalah. One can actually argue that all Jewish tradition (like all tradition) is artificial and historically contingent: just think about the distinctly modern origins of Jewish “orthodoxy” and Chassidism. These are certainly legitimate movements and persuasions, but not to be seen as paradigmatic of authenticity and self-loyalty, unless one risks sliding down the rootist slope. 

When modernity is here described as “Jewish,” it would be important to warn against any essentialism. Jewish is as Jewish does. And if Judaism can accommodate universalism, so it can identity politics. Witness Yerushalmi’s argument that Jews are primarily a nation of “memory,” whose immersion in modern “history” has taken a heavy toll on their timeless national identity.[94]Published in the early 1980s, this influential book can be seen as an important moment in the noticeable intellectual withdrawal from the universalism of modernity and the rise of contemporary identitarianism.[95] Traverso appears to be in fundamental sympathy with such a move,[96] but given the enormous dangers attending identitarianism its wisdom and ultimate beneficence might be questioned, not least for Jews.

Rootism, no matter under what guise, continues to pose an acute danger. The only viable antidote remains a resolute defence of modernity, universalism and Enlightenment values, that entire political and axiological complex that the rootists are keen on rooting out. Marxism remains the unsurpassable defender of modernity, both in its universalism and its humanistic commitments, and in its lucid critique of the merely capitalist, sham universalism, also known as “globalization,” which is never truly and reliably emancipatory. Walter Benjamin’s famous expectations for a Messiah that might “enter at any moment” were predicated on the conviction that Marx’s “locomotive of world history” must be stopped, that “what characterizes revolutionary classes at their moment of action is the awareness that they are about to make the continuum of history explode.”[97] Paradoxically, as we have seen, such was the awareness, precisely, of counter-revolutionary classes.  Busily at work derailing world history, it is they who have activated “the emergency brake”; their opponents must make sure that the travel continues.


Altman, William H. F. 2012, Martin Heidegger and the First World war. Being and Time as Funeral Oration, Plymouth: Lexington.

Arendt, Hannah 1994, The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harvest Book.

Arendt, Hannah 2007, The Jewish Writings,New York: Schocken.

Arnim, Ludwig Achim von „Die Majoratsherren,” Gesammelte Werke Achim von Arnims, Andhof. Kindle Edition[no date specified].

Arnim, Ludwig Achim von 2008, Texte der deutschen Tischgesellschaft, Stefan Nienhaus, ed., Tübingen.

Ascher, Saul, DieGermanomanie, Kindle Edition [no date specified].

Avineri, Shlomo 2017, “Where They Have Burned Books, They Will End Up Burning People,” Jewish review of Books, fall.


Barrès, Maurice 1902, Scènes et doctrines du nationalisme, Paris: Félix Juven.

Barrès, Maurice 1911, Les déracinés: le roman de l'énergie nationale, Paris: Émile-Paul.

Barzilay, Isaac Eisenstein 1956, “The Jew in the Literature of the Enlightenment,” Jewish Social Studies, 18, 4, 1956, pp. 243-261.

Benjamin, Walter 2003, Selected Writings. Volume 4, 1938-1940, London and Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.

Berman, Marshall 1988, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, London: Penguin.

Bloch, Ernst 1962, Erbschaft dieser Zeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Brecht, Bertolt 1979, Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913–1956, London: Methuen.

Brentano, Clemens 1963, Werke, Munich: Carl Hanser.

Confino, Alon 2014, A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

De Benoist, Alain, Giorgio Locchi 2015, Il male Americano [originally published in French in 1976], Rome: Settimo Sigillo.

Dennis, David B. 2012, Inhumanities.Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Drumont, Édouard 1886, La France juive. Essai d’histoire contemporaine, Paris: Marpon & Flammarion.

Drumont, Édouard 1899, Les juifs contre la France. Une nouvelle Pologne, Paris: Librairie antisémite.

Engels, Friedrich 1990, “Kann Europa abrüsten?” in Marx Engels Werke vol. 22, Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1990, pp. 371–399.

Evola, Julius 1995, Revolt Against the Modern World, Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International.

Faye, Emmanuel 2016, Arendt et Heidegger: Extermination nazie et destruction de la pensée, Paris: Albin Michel.

Fischer, Lars 2010, The Socialist Response to Antisemitism in Imperial Germany, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fourier, Charles 2008, The Theory of the Four Movements, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Griffin, Roger 2007, Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning Under Mussolini and Hitler, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Griffin, Roger 2008, A Fascist Century. Essays by Roger Griffin, Houndmills, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Griffin,Roger 2018, “Building the Visible Immortality of the Nation: The Centrality of ‘Rooted Modernism’ to the Third Reich’s Architectural New Order,” Fascism. Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies, 7, pp. 9-44.

Habermas, Jürgen 1987, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Heidegger, Martin 2000, Introduction to Metaphysics, New York and London: Yale University Press.

Heidegger, Martin 2017, Ponderings XII–XV: 12-25, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Heine, Heinrich 1982, The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine.A Modern English Version by Hal Draper, Boston: Suhrkamp/Insel.

Heine, Heinrich 1993, Selected Prose, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Heine, Heinrich 1997, Sämtliche Schriften, Munich: DTV.

Hentges, Gudrun 1999, Schattenseiten der Aufklärung. Die Darstellung von Juden und »Wilden« in philosophischen Schriften des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts, Schwalbach and Taunus: Wochenschau.

Hertz, Deborah Sadie 2007,How Jews Became Germans: The History of Conversion and AssimilationinBerlin,New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Hertzberg, Arthur 1968, The French Enlightenment and the Jews, New York, London: Columbia University Press.

Hess, Jonathan M. 2002, Germans, Jews and the Claims of Modernity, New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

Hitler, Adolf 1999, Mein Kampf, Boston and New York: Mariner Books.

Hoffmann, E. T. A. 1982, Tales of Hoffmann, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Holub, Robert C. 2015, Nietzsche's Jewish Problem: Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Landa, Ishay 2017, A Shower of Hail to All Orchards’: On the Consumerist Interpretation of National Socialism,” Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 89-110.

Landa, Ishay 2018, Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt Against the Last Humans, 1848-1945, London, New York: Routledge.

Lazarus, Emma 2002, Selected Poems and Other Writings, Toronto: Broadview.

Liberles, Robert 2012, Jews Welcome Coffee:Tradition and Innovation in Early Modern Germany,  Waltham, Massachusetts, Brandeis University Press.

Lindemann, Albert S 1997, Esau’s Tears — Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maistre, Joseph Marie de 1891, Oeuvres Complètes, Lyon.

Marx, Karl 1993, Grundrisse, London: Penguin.

Mayakovsky, Vladimir 1929, My Soviet Passporthttps://www.marxists.org/subject/art/literature/mayakovsky/1929/my-soviet-passport.htm

Mittmann, Thomas 2006, Vom “Günstling” zum “Urfeind” der Juden: Die antisemitische Nietzsche-Rezeption in Deutschland bis zum Ende des Nationalsozialismus, Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann.

Müller, Adam 2012, Elemente der Staatskunst. Sechsunddreißig Vorlesungen, Warendorf: Johannes G. Hoof.

Nietzsche, Friedrich 1990, Twilight of the Idols / The Anti-Christ, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Nietzsche, Friedrich 1992, Ecce Homo, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Nietzsche, Friedrich 1994, On the Genealogy of Morality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich 2006, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nolte, Ernst 1984, Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche, Munich: Piper.

Postone, Moishe 1980, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to ‘Holocaust’,” New German Critique, 19, pp. 97-115.

Primo de Rivera, José Antonio 2004, Escritos y Discursos: Obras Completas (1922–1936), Agustin del Río Cisneros, ed., Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Políticos, 1976 [digitalized file].

Schmitt, Carl 2007, The Concept of the Political, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Soucy, Robert 1979, Fascist Intellectual: Drieu La Rochelle, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Traverso, Enzo 2016, Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory, New York: Columbia University Press.

Traverso, Enzo 2019, The Jewish Question. History of a Marxist Debate, Chicago: Haymarket.

Trigano, Shmuel 1990, “The French Revolution and the Jews,” Modern Judaism, 10, 2, pp. 171-190.

Volkov, Shulamit 2002, The Magic Circle: Germans, Jews and Antisemites, Tel-Aviv: Am Oved [In Hebrew].

Volkov, Shulamit 2003, “The Written Word and the Spoken Word: On Rupture and Continuity in the History of Antisemitism in Germany,” in Jacob Borut, Oded Heilbronner, eds., German Antisemitism: A New Evaluation, Tel Aviv: Am Oved [in Hebrew].

Wald, Elijah 2004, Escaping the Delta,Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, New York: Amistad.

Weiss, John 1996, Ideology of Death. Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Wilson, Bee 2011, “Counter-revolutionary thought,” The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Political Thought, ed. G. S. Jones, G. Claeys, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim 1982, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Washington University Press.

[1] See Habermas 1987, Hess 2002, pp. 20-22.

[2]Heidegger 2017, p. 191.

[3]Werner May, Deutscher Nationalkatechismus: Dem Jungen Deutschen in Schule und Beruf (Breslau, 1934), quoted in Confino 2014, p. 58.

[4]See Barzilay, 1956 .

[5]For an excellent, in-depth survey and insightful analysis of the debate that took place within the German context, see Hess 2002.

[6]Hertzberg 1968, p. 10, p. 367.

[7] Hertzberg 1968, p. 5.

[8]Liberles 2012, p. 112.

[9]Hertzberg 1968, p. 313.

[10]Müller 2012, pp. 206-207.

[11]Maistre 1891, Volume 1, pp. 74-75.

[12]Wilson 2011, p. 29.

[13] Schmitt 2007, p. 53.

[14] Cf. Volkov 2003, p. 38. For the eventual socialist rejection of antisemitism, see Volkov 2002, pp. 122– 129; and Lindemann 1997, pp. 158–174; but, for a more damning account of the anti-Jewish stereotypes lingering among Socialists in Imperial Germany, see Fischer 2010; for my own discussion of the historical difference between left-wing and right-wing antisemitic arguments, and the gradual weakening of the former and strengthening of the latter, see Landa 2018, pp. 376-379.

[15] As quoted in Hess 2002, pp. 188-189.

[16]In Arnim 2008, pp. 153-154.

[17] Brentano 1963, Volume 3, p. 991.

[18] Ibid.

[19]See Hertz 2007, p. 80. It should be noted, however, that von Arnim claimed some years later that the decision to exclude Christians of Jewish origins passed by majority decision, against his view. Moreover, not all members of the Society revealed the same anti-Jewish zeal: Fichte, for example, opposed the anti-Jewish and anti-philistine motion.

[20] Hoffmann 1982, p. 402.

[21] Hoffmann 1982, p. 377.

[22] Hoffmann 1982, p. 356.

[23] Hoffmann 1982, pp. 374-375.

[24] Hoffmann 1982, p. 375.

[25]Müller 2012, pp. 78-79.

[26]Müller 2012, pp. 208-209.

[27]Müller 2012, pp. 212-213.

[28]Ascher, Location 458.

[29]See Hentges 1999, p. 110.

[30] In Weiss 1996, p. 71. This study provides a still useful vindication of the Enlightenment, and identifies its significant weakness in Germany. 

[31] Arendt 2007, p. 99.

[32] Arendt 2007, p. 97. Interestingly, in the early 1950s Arendt took a considerably less grave view of the Society, and curtly referred to Brentano’s anti-Jewish/philistine satire, formerly viewed as extremelydangerous, as “a very witty paper.” (Arendt 1994, p. 62). This difference might be a reflection of the somewhat neo-aristocratic attitudes manifested in Arendt’s later writings, and of the fact that at that stage she no longer interpreted modern antisemitism as a distinctly German creation, but as a pan-European phenomenon, as well as one which mirrored the sentiments of the masses, rather than the anti-modernity of the upper-classes. For an intriguing exploration of Arendt’s trajectory, arguing that her later production bears the deep imprint of Heidegger’s thought, see Faye 2016.

[33] Fourier 2008, p. 252.

[34] Fourier 2008, p. 232.

[35]Drumont 1899, p. 8.

[36] Drumont 1886, p. 27.

[37]Barrès 1902, p. 152.

[38]Barrès 1902, pp. 12-13.

[39]Barrès 1911, pp. 319-320.

[40]Arnim, Kindle, p. 975.

[41]Drumont 1886, pp. 9-10.


[43] Hitler 1999, p. 136.

[44] Marx 1993, p. 706

[45]Marx 1993, p. 421.

[46]Postone 1980, p. 114.

[47]See Landa 2017.

[48]Primo de Rivera 2004, pp.  484–485.

[49]Primo de Rivera 2004, p. 231.

[50]Heidegger 2000, p. 40.

[51]Evola 1995, p. 357.

[52]In Soucy 1979, p. 126.

[53]Heine 1997, Vol. 4, p. 578. The translation is from Heine 1982, p. 484.

[54]Heine 1993, p. 209.

[55] Ibid.

[56]Avineri 2017.

[57]Nolte 1984, p. 515.

[58]For an influential effort to stress the revolutionary character of fascism, in express opposition to the Marxist view, see Roger Griffin’s claim that “fascism had an autonomous and genuine revolutionary agenda,” indeed one that should allow us to draw a certain correlation between Marxism and fascism (Griffin 2008, pp. 62-63).

[59]In Dennis 2012, p. 176.

[60]Dennis 2012, p. 177.

[61]For instance, Dennis 2012.

[62]Heine 1997, Vol. 5, pp. 448-449.

[63]Bloch 1962, p. 97.

[64]Griffin 2018.

[65]Griffin 2018, p. 27.

[66]Griffin 2018, p. 24.

[67]Griffin 2018, p. 16.

[68]Griffin 2007, p. 62.

[69]Griffin 2018, p. 30.This is said in approving paraphrase of the claims of another scholar, Iain Boyd Whyte.

[70]Griffin 2018, p. 25.

[71]Nietzsche 1990, p. 113.

[72]An insufficient distinction between modernity and modernism is also a weakness inMarshall Berman’s classic study (Berman 1988). While still a vital reading, and compelling in its passionate defense of modernity as an ongoing project of human emancipation, it creates confusion when, for instance, Marx and Nietzsche, despite their acknowledged differences, are nonetheless lumped together as two modernists.   This obscures the fact that, while both were certainly reacting to the experience of modernity, Marx’s critical project was an effort to complete modernity, enable its social and axiological aspirations to come to fruition; Nietzsche, by contrast, aimed to prevent any such possibility, planning an “attentat on two millennia of anti-nature” (Nietzsche 1992, p. 51).

[73] Nietzsche 2006, p. 175.

[74]Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 18.On Nietzsche's impact on German antisemitism until the end of the Nazi period, see Mittmann 2006. For a painstaking analysis of Nietzsche’s own attitudes to Jews, see Holub 2015.

[75] William H. F. Altman, Martin Heidegger and the First World war. Being and Time as Funeral Oration, Plymouth: Lexington, 2012.

[76]Brecht 1979, p. 107.

[77] De Benoist, Locchi, 2015, p. 162.

[78] De Benoist, Locchi, 2015, p. 167.

[79]Mayakovsky 1929.

[80] Lazarus 2002, p. 233.

[81]See Elijah Wald’s thought-provoking study: Wald 2004.

[82]As far as one can tell, since the facts of his biography can only be very intermittently established. Johnson did travel to the north of the USA and even to Canada in 1938.

[83] Traverso 2019, p. 219. The book is a revised edition of a work originally appearing in French in the 1980s.

[84]Traverso 2019, p. 165.

[85]Traverso 2019,p. 167.

[86]Traverso 2019, p. 200.

[87]Engels 1990.

[88]Traverso 2019,p. 200.

[89]As discussed at some length in another of Traverso’s books: Traverso 2016.

[90]Traverso 2019, p. 142.

[91] Drumont 1899, p. 46.

[92] Drumont 1899, p. 47.

[93] Traverso 2019, p. 163.

[94]Yerushalmi 1982.

[95]Or consider the comparable claim that the French Revolution “granted a significant liberation” to the Jews, but “it cost them their identity and their presence in the world.” (Trigano 1990, p. 185).

[96]Traverso 2019, pp. 218-219.

[97]Benjamin 2003, p. 395