Christians and Jews: A Psychoanalytical study

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Rudolf M. Loewenstein began this work in France during "the wretched year of 1941"; he finished it ten years later in the United States and dedicated it to "the Christians who sacrificed themselves to defend the persecuted Jews" (1952). Loewenstein, who would become one of the founders of ego psychology in the United States, was then director of a psychoanalytic journal financed by Marie Bonaparte, with whom he began to discuss aspects of the anti-Semitic environment in France. "We are in a revolutionary period ...," he wrote. "Blood has not yet been spilled. . . . But the people need to grapple with someone, they need victims. . . . Hence, the Jews."

More personal motives also compelled Loewenstein to write Christians and Jews. Born in Russia, he was a citizen of several nations before, having settled in France and identified himself entirely with the French, he suddenly found himself scorned and rejected by his adopted country because he was Jewish. He believed that psychoanalysis could contribute to some better understanding of anti-Semitic attitudes and might even offer a solution.

Loewenstein began by reviewing the known causes of anti-Semitism, citing various works and historical documentation. He then offered examples from his experience as an analyst; he believed that therapy represented "a good opportunity for a kind of experimental study in the incipient and developmental stages of anti-Semitism" (p. 30). Citing Leon Pinsker, the Russian physician and author of Auto-Emancipation (1882 [1916]), Loewenstein discussed "judeophobia" as a type of demonophobia, a near-psychosis that incorporates feelings of fear, hatred, and disgust. Certain forms of anti-Semitism represent aspects of paranoia, such as xenophobia, revulsion over circumcision, and projection of self-hatred, while other characteristics, such as religious intolerance and economic rivalry, have an opportunistic appeal.

Loewenstein's hypothesis, based on Gustave Le Bon's theory of collective psychology, is that anti-Semitic tendencies, latent in individuals, suddenly metamorphose in groups into violent attitudes that spread like an epidemic. Hitler's anti-Semitic laws and his persecution of Jews, for example, enabled latent anti-Semitism in individual Germans to manifest itself. The underlying mechanisms rely on irrational and absurd medieval beliefs, such as the putatively peculiar anatomy of the Jew (a hidden tail, menstrual periods in males) and his supposedly demonic character (engagement in ritual murder, sexual perversions), as well as modern beliefs (Jewish culpability in starting wars, international financial cabals, Jewish-Masonic conspiracies). Loewenstein also suggested another, more oedipal level to anti-Semitism, as reflected in Freud's Moses and Monotheism, viewing the struggle of the early Christians, with their hatred of the old religion, as a means of avoiding the "return of the repressed"—the recollection of their own revolt against imposed religion. Finally, Loewenstein questions whether the Jews do not themselves aid in perpetuating anti-Semitic reactions, in a chapter titled "On 'Jewish' Character Traits and Social Structure."

Skeptical of Zionism as a political solution because it might provoke anti-Semitism, Loewenstein called for a pedagogical solution. He proposed teaching sacred history in a less anti-Semitic spirit and, always philosophical, he suggested a mutual search for understanding between Christians and Jews for the good of mankind.

A courageous book, Christians and Jews, together with works by Imre Hermann (1945) and Ernst Simmel (1946), was among the earliest psychoanalytically-informed works on the subject. It is not a landmark work, however. Loewenstein's use of a medical model, with its description of symptoms, etiology, and finally treatment, is inadequate to understand the modern antipathy and negative attitudes toward Jews known as anti-Semitism.


See also: Loewenstein, Rudolf M.; Racism, anti-Semitism and psychoanalysis. Source Citation

   * Loewenstein, Rudolf M. (1952). Christians and Jews; A psychoanalytical study. New York: International Universities Press.