Jews and Genealogies of Group Narcissism


This is Second City Bureaucrat's article from Volume I Issue 4 of The Asylum magazine by The Pierian Spring.

Recently, I’ve been considering vicarious group narcissism (or group narcissism by proxy) in certain academic fields like sociology and social psychology, whereby an academic promotes the abstract grandiose self-image of a group which doesn’t include the academic. The first two articles looked at Talcott Parsons and Robert Bellah, both sociologists who located the essence of America’s civil religion in America’s dissenting protestant roots and who further interpreted that civil religion required the promotion of grandiose group identities in certain non-white groups that had suffered group-based discrimination and victimization. The third article looked at a trend in the field of social psychology, which called for the creation of group identities and the enhancement of group self-esteem in historically disadvantaged groups.

This approach garnered criticism suggesting I had endorsed Moldbug’s genealogical arguments about the connection between Puritanism and Progressivism. This wasn’t my intent. In writing those articles, I had hoped to provide examples of the sources and motivations undergirding the establishment’s promotion of group grandiosity, which has amplified recent political phenomena like “wokeness” and The Movement for Black Lives. In other words, I wanted to show some of the external etiologies of group narcissism in groups like Black Americans without denying the existence of other external and internal etiologies. In passing, I even provided examples of Protestantism in America that were explicitly anti-liberal and Teutonic-supremacist to illustrate why the exclusive protestant genealogy of American liberalism is tenuous and possessed low explanatory power for modern political phenomena.

Some of the criticisms also accused me of diminishing (this is historical diminishment!) the Jewish origins of modern liberalism. The evidence of the influence of left-leaning Jewish intellectual movements on American liberalism has been exhaustively documented by Jews and critics of Jews alike, and there is no need to recapitulate here. However, in receiving this criticism, I wondered whether it might be useful to investigate right-wing or Zionist sources of vicarious group narcissism, both to uncover lesser-known etiologies of modern group narcissism and to further undermine the absolutist theological genealogies that obfuscate modern political analysis.

The following article looks at how even an ethno-nationalistic, particularist movement like Zionism can end up promoting the group identities of the “unheard” in a manner similar to protestant-adjacent progressives like Parsons and Bellah.

The article concludes with further reflections on theological genealogy.

De-radicalizing the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League is an old American-based international Jewish NGO. Because it defines itself generally as “Jewish” without reference to Jewish sect or theological principle (excepting Zionism, which the ADL supports by way of its defense of the “Jewish homeland”), its history is an especially instructive example of how group self-images shift in presentation and rationales. This means that it is also an instructive case for developing the metaphor of group narcissism, which I have defined in terms of the reasoning and behavioral patterns that follow from an individual believing in, and therefore defending, an abstract and grandiose group self-image. Further to the point and consistent with my recent series on vicarious group narcissism, the ADL’s history is instructive for investigating vicarious group narcissism.

In recent history, the ADL has struggled with criticisms from the left despite its professed commitment to left-liberal civil rights causes. With the rise of Trump and the populist right, the ADL has come under pressure from the opposite part of the political spectrum. We are therefore in the fortunate historical position of bearing witness to the latest transformation of the ADL’s identity.

For much of the last few decades, the ADL has endured criticism for its association with Israel, a white supremacist colonial state according to prominent left-liberal critics. How can an international civil rights organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of minorities simultaneously support such a state? The ADL recently engaged in spats with Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March over the issue of Israel. But such criticisms are not new for the ADL. For example, in the early ‘90s, the ADL came under fire from the ACLU for passing information on leftist dissidents to Apartheid South Africa, a close ally of Israel.

Because of this pressure, but also because of the civil rights movement’s association with more liberal interpretations of constitutional law, the ADL increasingly has moved to accommodate the left and its sundry client identity groups. This trend culminated in the ADL’s embarrassing adoption of the crude ideological formulations that were borne of the critical legal studies movement and codified in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and which explicitly endorsed the group narcissism of non-white gentile groups.

The recent controversy over Whoopi Goldberg’s comments on the Holocaust revealed that the ADL had been promoting the definition of racism as something only white people can be guilty of, causing the ADL to change its definition. This led in turn to more scrutiny from right-wing Jewish organizations, like the ZOA, and secular activist organizations like Fox News, whose investigations revealed the ADL to be promoting the controversial Critical Race Theory in its educational curricula, prompting ADL internal reviews.

The ADL’s definitional changes and internal reviews in the face of public criticism, just like its prior accommodations of leftist dogma, demonstrate how the ADL’s mission can easily shift and accommodate radically incompatible views of reality, just as the narcissist’s self-presentation shifts to ensure ongoing external validation of his subjective self-image. The highly abstract goals of the ADL – to defend Jews against defamation and the Jewish homeland against arguments that it is illegitimate – are analogous to the abstract nature of the narcissist’s grandiose or omnipotent self-image, and thus they can accommodate the same kinds of conflicting value systems and self-protective rationalizations the narcissist employs in his defensive verbal behavior.

The political neutralization of Zionism

Traditionally, political commentators contrast the universalism and progressivism of protestant liberalism with the particularism of nationalistic movements like those that appeared in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, including Zionism. In the context of western Jews, this contrast is generally highlighted to distinguish the leftist universalism of Jewish activists so extensively documented by critics like Kevin MacDonald from “conservative” or Zionist Jewish activism. The ADL is interesting because it bridges these categories.

John Murray Cuddihy offered an interesting story about how this bridge was constructed, pointing to the later work of Rabbi Hertzberg as the prime impetus. For Hertzberg, the doctrine of Jewish election or “chosenness” violates the American civil religion, akin to the way in which Catholicism’s claim to be the one true church, and the Protestant “mission to the Jews”, violate it. In Cuddihy’s words, “Judaism has struggled with the important olenu l’shabeach la’ Adon hakol part of the prayer services (where Jews praise God “for not having made them like the other nations [goyim]).” For Hertzberg, “The essence of Judaism is the affirmation that the Jews are the chosen people; all else is commentary.”

As a compromise, Cuddihy believed American Jews had first sought a secular analogue for this chosenness in “a kind of spiritual elitism” where “Judaism was an aristocracy of the spirit “burdened” with a “mission” to the West”, before seeking other secular analogues as tastes turned more democratic and anti-elitist.

Hertzberg believed these secularization efforts were hypocritical, that they were erasing Jewish identity instead of affording it the respect our civil religion demands for every religion. Reform Judaism, in other words, was not causing gentiles to accept the Jewish claim to chosenness, and was even driving Jews away from Judaism toward the New Left for the same reason. “A Jew with any memory or piety at all must swallow hard”, Cuddihy observes, “as he hears himself say “I happen to be Jewish.””

In response, Hertzberg began pleading with the Jewish establishment to assert that Jewish identity was not just a third type of American religion. He looked everywhere to find content that could justify and explain Jewish “apartness” in the pluralistic West, until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war produced what he was looking for. “The secular Judaism of American Jews became, almost overnight,” Cuddihy writes, “the special obligation to support Israel in every way possible.” Hertzberg’s secularization effort thus transformed rebellion against God into betrayal of the community, meaning that support for Israel is required regardless of a Jew’s political or theological convictions.

This approach had the effect of correcting Zionism, which merely sought to end anti-Semitism and make Israel a nation just like any other (in other words, an unexceptional nation), bringing it more into line with the chosenness Hertzberg upheld by stressing the exceptional nature of Jews. The political neutralization of Zionism further implied that Jews weren’t required to emigrate to Israel, that they could stay in America and harbor a dual loyalty that was sanctioned by the American civil religion. The American acceptance of this exception - the “special relationship” satisfied Hertzberg’s need for Americans to acknowledge that Jews were the chosen people.

Thus, we can see how non-protestant, particularist and ethnocentric thought can nonetheless lead to the embrace of the same politics for which the ADL is currently receiving criticism.

Politically neutralized Zionism and vicarious group narcissism

Today it isn’t uncommon to see self-described Zionists boosting the narcissism – the uniqueness and grandiosity – of non-Jewish groups like the American Black community. This is even more pervasive in the writings of Israel-boosting Jews who don’t necessarily identify as Zionist, such as the later books of Alan Dershowitz, which make “the liberal case” for Israel and defend the leftist and reform efforts to uplift non-Jewish minorities.

Critics often suggest that Zionists (or Hertzberg-style Israel-first Jews) are merely engaging in cynical maneuvering to protect the political interests of Jews or Israel when they engage in this kind of political speech. Indeed, there is some evidence that this is the case.

Like all forms of early-19th and -20th-century European nationalism, Zionism was racist and exclusionary, bringing it into constant conflict with Black America and “third worldism.” However, as the political climate shifted after WW2, so did Zionist political strategy, although the tension remains.

For example, the Zionist and physicist Judd Teller dedicated a significant section of his book on the evolution of American Jews to analyzing the threat posed by the rise of Black identity politics. After surveying the menacing anti-Semitic rhetoric of Black activists, including what he calls the Black Mein Kampf (Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual), Teller suggests that Black identity is more dangerous than the old anti-Semitic populism that Jews encountered before and during WW2. Teller then describes the practical political situation:

Jewish political influence has derived from the concentration of the Jewish electorate in several key states. The high Negro and the declining Jewish birthrate, together with the diminution of the Jewish voter’s ethnic consciousness now that he thinks of himself as part of the Establishment, can lead to a complete dissipation of American Jewry’s political power should the politician be compelled to choose between the Jewish and the Negro vote.

To forestall this development, and to mitigate the potential for a rising Black populism to scapegoat and pogrom Jews, the Zionist Teller advises that the “Jew must take an existentialist view of the situation...the Jew must use all his resourcefulness to improvise accommodations with the Negro.” Teller then lists a series of condescending efforts to mollify Black group insecurities, including “the evacuation of Jewish business from the Negro ghettos where it serves as a living symbol of Jewish exploitation”, “redistribution of roles in politics, business, economics, and the professions between Negro and Jew on the basis not of merit, or economic realities, but political expediency”, and the unification of the Black community under a single negotiating authority to ensure the security of the political alliance between Jews and Blacks.

Thus, cynical political maneuvering can lead even ethnonationalist groups to aggrandize the group narcissism of other groups.

Proto-Zionism and vicarious group narcissism

However, there is far older evidence, from a time when the cynical motivations that animated Teller’s strategy above could not have been present, suggesting that even aggressively particularistic philosophies like Zionism can endorse the uniqueness of other group identities for entirely non-cynical reasons.

The writings of the proto-Zionist Moses Hess are especially interesting here. Beginning in the 1840s, Hess struggled with the consequences of Jewish emancipation, including feelings of patriotism for Germany and the subsequent disillusionment he felt in the face of German anti-Semitism.

His early writings are reminiscent of Hegelian and other protestant philosophical trends, albeit with a Jewish essence. For instance, echoing the Teutonic messianism of writers like Melville, as well as the reform Judaism ethos described by Cuddihy above, Hess wrote of the Jews,

This people was called from the beginning to conquer the world, not like pagan Rome, through force of arms, but through the inner strength of its spirit. It wandered, like a spirit, through the world that it conquered, and could not be destroyed by its enemies because it is impalpable.

This vanguard role would give way to the eventual assimilation of all groups under a universal religion and the destruction of Jewish identity. Hess himself deeply believed in this future and married a Christian woman.

However, experiences with anti-Semitism caused Hess to turn away from this early reform brand of grandiosity. By the 1860s, Hess had experienced an ethnocentric rebirth, remarking upon the inseparable connection between his “own race”, the “Holy Land and the Eternal City.” Here Hess abandons the Hegelian and protestant universalism of his youth for Darwinism and the emerging science of race. But this racialism is tempered by a strictly Jewish universalism and historicism which identifies “the goal of humanity” with the “recognition of God”, which the Jews were the first to accomplish, and which Spinoza had made available to all of humanity. (Just as the Greeks had helped “Nature” reach perfection, according to Hess, so the Jews were now positioned to perfect “History”.)

Hess observes that humanity is subdivided into races with distinct, hereditary mental and physical traits, and humorously details various immutable, superior Jewish racial traits like dark curly hair, which cannot be destroyed by racial mixing. Indeed “Jewish genius” and various other superior Jewish-only racial traits owe their persistence to this remarkable indestructibility through mixing.

This superior Jewish race is tasked with moving history forward for all of humanity, and Hess stresses that his nationalism is not un-humanitarian. Indeed, for Hess, the real problem in his era is the problem of “how to free the various oppressed races and folk-types and allow them to develop in their own way.” At the end of Jewish history, the varieties of human races and “folk-types” will “live not only in friendly fashion with one another, but live each for the other [original italics], preserving, at the same time, their particular type identity.”

Here we are very close to the paradoxical civil-religious dictates of protestants like Parsons and Bellah, which call for humanity to endorse and promote the particularity of certain groups while simultaneously binding them to a universal humanity. But Hess goes a step further in imaging an end of history where each group preserves its own uniqueness and validates the uniqueness of every other group in turn.

Thus, we see how even ethnonationalist and racialist philosophies can find ideological space to justify the promotion of other group identities. Hess the proto-Zionist racialist was also an anti-colonialist.

A concluding note on genealogy

Of course, one could say that Zionism itself, like the forms of Jewish secular universalism many claim derive from Protestantism, is also a product of Puritanism or Protestantism, in the sense that Protestantism inspired Jews to develop Jewish versions of Protestant moral and intellectual fads similar to those adopted by early Zionists. There is evidence that this is the case with the kind of Judaism envisioned by the younger Hess described above. Further there is even direct evidence that Protestantism created Zionism.

For example, Carl Jung’s maternal grandfather, Samuel “Antistes” Preiswerk, was a reform protestant minister and “Hebraist” who, long before Hess, promoted a policy that resembled Zionism:

Antistes Preiswerk is regarded today as a Zionist precursor, for he believed that Palestine should be ceded to the Jews to become their homeland and a Jewish nation. In Basel (Switzerland), a city noted for its underlying opposition to all things Jewish and for a deeply ingrained cultural anti-Semitism, Antistes Preiswerk openly defied the status quo by defending this unpopular idea. He chastised Swiss Jews for what he perceived as their lack of interest in a Palestinian homeland in Das Morgenland, a monthly journal he published, despite the opprobrium of his fellow Gentiles.

Today this tradition persists among Evangelical Christians, as documented by Mearsheimer and Walt in their book on the Israel lobby.

Following the lazy genealogical method that pervades the internet, the story could then be told that modern secular Jewish identity and philosophy, including everything from extreme Zionism to Marxism and reform Judaism, are mere epiphenomenon of the emancipation of Jews into western society, meaning in other words that modern Jewish identity does not exist without Protestantism. But is this really a persuasive genealogy? Did Protestants force orthodox Jews to accept civil rights and emancipation?

Or consider the “pure” Jewish race Hess admires and confuses with Jewry in general. Today we know from population genetics that Ashkenazi Jews derive from a diverse array of largely (perhaps exclusively) gentile southern and eastern European populations, and that the racial uniqueness of Ashkenazi Jews is the consequence of a population bottleneck that occurred 700-1,000 years ago. In short, Hess’s pure Jewish race, which comprises only one part of the group denoted as Jews (Hess seems to have been unaware of Beta Israel and other obscure non-white sects), was forged in the Middle Ages through inbreeding that was in part forced by Christian oppression and ostracism (we know from ancient Judaean and modern Jewish behavior that, in the absence of such oppression and ostracism, Judaeans and Jews readily mix with gentiles). Does this mean the genealogy of Ashkenazi Jews is Christianity?

Such puzzling reductios will have to be taken up in future articles.