Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mearsheimer's New Friend

I'm pretty skittish about the term "self-hating Jew". Remember that post I wrote about how self-loving Jews is a better moniker? Most of the time, it seems fairer and more sensible, and keeps the focus of the debate where it belongs.

But there are exceptions. Gilad Atzmon, for example, describes himself as a "proud self-hating Jew". So far from me to disagree. Anyway, Atzmon is one of the most vicious and vitriolic anti-Semitic writers out there today -- even stalwart anti-Zionists of the "[I] want the state of Israel to be destroyed" mold think he's beyond the pale -- and even the briefest perusal of his writings demonstrates a proclivity for attacking Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness with the fervor of a neo-Nazi.

So it is disappointing to see that, if Atzmon's publisher is to be believed, John Mearsheimer has endorsed Atzmon's new book. You can follow the links to see some of what that endorsement entails, with Atzmon approvingly quoting proto-Nazi Otto Weininger (himself an early Atzmon prototype) on the subject of Jews and Jewishness.

It has to be said that, deserved condemnations aside, there is something deeply tragic about this. The Israel Lobby, in addition to whatever moral problems there might be with it, was also a bad book on a purely scholarly level. And Mearsheimer has only slipped from there -- his list of "good Jews" was an appalling exercise, and this latest step towards the depths of anti-Semitic depravity is even worse. But once upon a time, Mearsheimer was an important international relations scholar. His theories on neo-realism were (and are) exceptionally important. Ironically, The Israel Lobby itself is virtually incomprehensible under Mearsheimer's own theoretical model (neo-realism posits that domestic lobbies should be descriptively irrelevant in international relations).

I don't mean to say we should forgive Mearsheimer simply because he was once important and had valuable things to say. But we should recognize the tragedy of the fall. It has been swift, shocking, and very, very ugly.


Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Is the tragedy here that a one-time prominent political scientist (and I think you have an academic's bias - understandable, and it's one I share - in thinking him so very influential as a human being, as in beyond the field of political science, prior to his "lobby" series) is allowing his inner Jew-hater to be ever more visible? I'd think it's more that some anti-Semitic work (and we generally agree on where to draw that line, so I'll take your word for it) has the seal of approval of Respectable Jew-Hater, PhD himself. It almost doesn't matter how important Mearsheimer-on-realism is/was. For the broader public paying attention to this, it's that he has a respectable academic job, in a field that kinda-sorta makes one think he'd know about these matters, at a school where one wouldn't expect a Jew-hater, so anti-Semites can use him as evidence that their views are held by someone balanced and knowledgeable.

David Schraub said...

Obviously, that's tragic too (or, perhaps just infuriating). I don't think anyone who is upset with Mearsheimer is not also upset about how he is providing a veneer of respectability to morally atrocious arguments.

But I think that point has been made. I also wanted to note the tragedy of someone who -- yes, in his field -- was exceptionally important (I'm not an IR expert, but it is my understanding that Mearsheimer is considered one of the most important IR theorists of the last half-century) who has just collapsed into conspiratorial nonsense. I remember who he once was, and there is something poetically tragic about that sort of fall from grace.

Unknown said...

I'm not a fan of 'self-hating Jew', although I agree with you on all of the facts in this example. (Phoebe has heard this argument before in relation to a more contentious example. I use my blogger profile here for comments. I comment there as Dan O.)

In short, I've yet to see a coherent [i]descriptive[/i] explanation of its meaning, as used, in our dialect. All of the academic accounts of the term I've perused are prescriptive, in the sense that the DSM gives prescriptions regarding the usage of psychopathological diagnoses. The accounts are, of course, less rigorous or exact than the DSM, but they certainly do not derive from a term's usage.

Those academic accounts just don't make contact with how the word is used. So, I'm left to believe the term is basically without content. It's an ejaculation, a slur.

I just don't really like the, "This guy is beyond the pale from where I'm sitting, so he's a self-hating Jew," kind of claim. Which is, you know, how the term is usually used, and why I think has no determinate content.

Which is not to say that Atzmon isn't beyond the pale, and an anti-semite.

Rebecca said...

But David, Atzmon calls himself a self-hating Jew, and it's not just a moniker that others give him. This is a quotation from Atzmon: “Thanks to Weininger, I realised how wrong I was – I was not detached from the reality about which I wrote, and I never shall be. I am not looking at the Jews, or at Jewish identity, I am not looking at Israelis. I am actually looking in the mirror. With contempt, I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me.” He's referring to Otto Weininger, who wrote the book Sex and Character and who was himself also a self-hating Jew. (Quote from Atzmon is taken from http://hurryupharry.org/2011/09/18/gilad-atzmon-on-european-blood-libels-and-anti-semitism/

Unknown said...

@Rebecca -

Whether a term is applied by oneself or another is irrelevant to whether the term has determinate cognitive content. I could call myself a mofo, and it would have as little cognitive content as it would were you to call me a mofo instead.

If you told me that you were thinking of a self-hating Jew, given the way the term is used, I could not know whether you were thinking of Atzmon, Peter Beinert, Rahm Emanuel, Allison Benedikt, Ehud Barak, or a Satmar Jew. Meaning is use, and the term - as used - is descriptively useless.

None of that changes the fact that Atzmon is a remarkably pathetic anti-semite.