The Political Uses of Antisemitism (per Sigmund Freud)

The famous sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is only one of many who expanded on the ideas promulgated by Sigmund Freud in his seminal political work, Civilization And Its Discontents. Bourdieu authored Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979) – rated the sixth most important sociological work of the twentieth century by the International Sociological Association, in which, paraphrasing Freud, he observed that “social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat.”

It was this paragraph of Freud’s that not only set forth the idea of the “narcissism of minor differences” and its uses in (re)channeling aggression but suggested how useful antisemitism functioned in that regard:

It is clearly not easy for man to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other — like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of “the narcissism of minor differences”, a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier. In this respect the Jewish people, scattered everywhere, have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts . . . “

Freud by Max Halberstadt, 1921

Freud by Max Halberstadt, 1921

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