Podcast: Ruth Wisse on the Nature and Functions of Anti-Semitism

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Chapter 1: Why the Jews?

Chapter 2: Wilhelm Marr, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-Liberalism

Chapter 3: The Moral Strut

Chapter 4: The Nature of Left-Wing Anti-Semitism

Cui bono? Who benefits? Who benefits when Jews are turned into scapegoats for the ills of the world? Who stands to gain from turning the Jews into the source of all a society’s pathologies? Who comes out ahead when politics are organized against that ever-present outsider—the Jew?

These kinds of questions—questions about the political functions of anti-Semitism—are, regrettably, rarely asked by those who seek to understand the phenomenon. Often, anti-Semitism is understood as but one prejudice among many, another irrational hatred that infects the human heart. But to view anti-Semitism in this way, argues Professor Ruth Wisse, is to misunderstand its true nature as a ruthlessly effective political movement. In “The Functions of Anti-Semitism,” published in National Affairs in the fall of 2017, Professor Wisse analyzes the many uses of Jew-hatred and makes the case for studying anti-Semitism using the tools of political science.

In this podcast, Professor Wisse joins Jonathan Silver to explore her essay in greater depth. They examine the history of modern anti-Semitism from its genesis in 19th-century Germany to its manifestations in the Muslim world and contemporary college campuses. Wisse and Silver demonstrate, through a methodical look at the nature and functions of anti-Semitism, that if one wants to understand this most persistent of hatreds, one must look for its roots not in the Jew, but in the anti-Semite.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

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