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Critical theories of antisemitism

By David (David M.) Seymour


Distinguishing between different ways of thinking about antisemitism, this study\ud concentrates on those theories that understand antisemitism as a uniquely modern\ud phenomenon. Covering the period from the mid-19th century to the present day, it\ud first examines the work of Marx and Nietzsche and then moves on to those theorists\ud who wrote in the immediate aftermath of the holocaust and concludes with the\ud postmodern writings of Bauman and Lyotard. It argues that these critical theories of\ud antisemitism all relate the emergence of antisemitism to modern forms of political\ud emancipation and questions the impact of the holocaust upon this body of thought.\ud The study argues that the fluidity and open-endedness by which the early writers\ud characterise modernity - most notably the ambivalence within modernity itself\ud between the possibility of full emancipation and barbarity - comes to be replaced by\ud an increasing pessimism that sees antisemitism as modernity's only possible outcome.\ud It argues that this change is accompanied first by increasing the centrality of\ud antisemitism to modernity, and also by defining more rigidly the concepts by which\ud antisemitism is explained, most noticeably, the concept of "the Jews". This study\ud argues that as a result of these interrelated developments, critical theories replicate\ud many of the assumptions of the antisemitic worldview identified in the early works.\ud By calling for a cautious and critical return to these earlier ways of explaining\ud antisemitism, the study concludes by pointing to an approach that remains within the\ud tradition of critical theory, but which re-establishes the critical distance between ways\ud of accounting for antisemitism and the phenomenon itself - one in which the "Jewish\ud question" is de-centred, the explanatory concepts reopened to question and the\ud promise of emancipation reinvigorated

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