Professor Snyder demolishes Jewish lobby activism
The Holocaust was a result of Hitler’s ideology and the (deliberate) demolition of states.
There’s been a moral panic over Nazi writers on Substack. The Jewish lobby swung into action with its normal censoriousness, demanding the right to control how others speak of the minority they purport to represent.
The basis of this demand is straightforward: anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust, so it is morally urgent to block all expressions of anti-Semitism so as to stop another Holocaust.
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Every single part of this claim is false.
First, Hitler’s very particular ideology of the struggle among races as the highest good, the ecological catastrophism of his “zoological anarchism”, while it drew upon anti-Semitic tropes, was far more destructively and murderously apocalyptic than traditional anti-Semitism.
There had been centuries of anti-Semitism and, while there were plenty of pogroms, there was only one Holocaust: all the pogroms in European history equalled about one week of the Holocaust. Moreover, the level of pre-war anti-Semitism in a country had no correlation whatsoever with the rate at which Jews from that country died in the Holocaust.
Jews who lived in the region of destroyed states died at horrifying rates. The Jews who remained citizens of still-operating states but were transferred to the killing zone of destroyed states also died in horrifying numbers. Jews who remained within the territory of still-operating states, and who were citizens of that state, usually survived. This was true even of German Jews.
The more compromised the sovereignty of a state was, the more at risk the Jews were, because the more likely they were to be transferred to the killing zone.
In other words, the biggest single protection for Jews was resident citizenship. This was true regardless of how virulent pre-war anti-Semitism had been in various states.
This entirely makes sense. Centuries of anti-Semitism generated nothing resembling the Holocaust because states usually resist mass killing of their taxpayers. Indeed, states create and enforce order so that they can better collect taxes. Those who are most at risk from contemporary state failures in enforcing order are those who live in fiscal-sink localities, localities that are net drains on the fisc.
Even pogroms typically occurred when the protection of the state has been breached or withdrawn. The protective role of the state is so strong, it shows up in the genetic record.
Party-States have killed their citizens by the millions, but to be a Party-State is to have an operating principle that dominates, and is operationally above, those of the state. They are the alternative set of cases to mass killing being a feature of state absence or failure.
People acted differently in the zone of destroyed states than they did where states still operated. This was strikingly true of Germans.
In an extreme manifestation of this, one German officer went to considerable efforts to rescue a Jewish family in Germany — providing papers that allowed them to emigrate to the US — and later supervised the killings of hundreds of Jews in the killing zone of destroyed states.
The level of pre-war anti-Semitism was so irrelevant to which Jews died, that a state with a particularly virulent history of anti-Semitism — Franco’s Spain — was quite active in rescuing Jews. Particularly if a Jew could prove Spanish ancestry, Spanish diplomats were regularly willing to issue them papers which extended to them the protection of the Spanish state. Diplomats were the main rescuers of Jews precisely because they could extend the protection of an existing state.
Moreover, the Nazi killing machine did not only kill Jews, it also killed millions of non-Jews. The first job of the Einsatzgruppen was state destruction. Their first mass shootings were of the Polish educated class. Such state destruction then enabled the mass killing of Jews, by them and others.1 As Professor Snyder notes in Black Earth:
the production of lawlessness was an appropriate way to find murderers who could be recruited for organized actions [i.e. mass killing].
The Nazis discovered, when first they destroyed a state — the March 1938 Anschluss with Austria — that it empowered and popularised action against Jews far beyond what was possible within an operating state. By contrast Kristallnacht (in November 1938) failed to induce equivalent responses from German citizens of a continuing state.
This discovery was repeated again and again as the Nazi state-destroying engine rolled Eastwards: an evolving discovery-by-doing upon which the Holocaust was built.
Anti-Semitism was not the key issue here. The protection citizenship confers was the key issue. It was far more important than what people felt about Jews before those states were destroyed. Black Earth states the clear dynamic:
the Jews who were killed were first separated from their states.2
The non-Jews who died were also overwhelmingly those without operative citizenship — as their state had been destroyed — or were outside the territory of the still-operating state of which they were citizens.
What protected, and protects, Jews is operative citizenship.
This is particularly true in the Anglosphere, which hasn’t had an anti-Jewish pogrom since the C13th.3 As the Anglosphere was one of the pioneers of rule of law, and rule of law is operative citizenship at its highest level, this is not surprising.
Centuries of a lack of anti-Jewish pogroms in the Anglosphere were achieved without anything even remotely resembling Jewish lobby discourse-enforcement. Moreover, the Anglosphere fought against Nazi Germany and helped bring it down.
As Professor Snyder points out, Hitler and Stalin’s destruction of states — Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia — between 1938 and 1940 was more important for the Jews than any other group of residents:
… because statehood, the rule of law, and citizenship are always more important for National minorities than they are for National majorities.
The order states bring, the institutional commons they create, are most important for the groups that are most outnumbered.
There’s a certain arrogance in claiming that the Holocaust gives Jews the right to control how folk speak of them. Millions of non-Jews were also Hitler’s victims. When the Holocaust is conceived of as the worst crime in history, we finish up not counting victims equally. We not only fail to count Hitler’s victims equally. We also don’t count Hitler’s victims equally with Mao’s. Depending on estimates, we don’t count Lenin and Stalin’s equally either. Meanwhile, Pol Pot was far more murderous, killing a much higher proportion of the people he ruled.
The Holocaust looms so large in the modern vision of evil not because it was the deliberate attempt to exterminate an entire group of people: men, women and children. Hitler’s killings loom so large because Hitler’s ideology was a complete denial of the basic — ultimately Christian — values of Western civilisation in a way even Communism is not. A reversal and denial that Hitler was quite explicit about. In his utter negation of those underlying values, Hitler is, as historian Tom Holland points out, the secular Satan.
It is precisely because the Holocaust so horribly embodies that negation that it has such moral salience.
How does the Jewish lobby setting out to destroy Anglosphere citizens’ freedom of speech so as to police public discourse come across?
Worse, it is really stupid — because it is massively counterproductive.
Cancel culture techniques that the Jewish lobby did so much to pioneer can, and have been, used by others. In particular, by the practitioners of Critical Social Justice. How has that worked for Jews?
The admiring students, academics and others to Hamas’s body-cam pogrom of October 7 — “decolonisation” against the “Jewish settler state” — should have been a great big wake-up call.4 Yes, such admiring was largely concentrated in elite universities, but that is hardly reassuring.
The US is one of the least anti-Semitic countries in the world. Nevertheless, a recent US poll in which 67% of people 18-24 agreed that “Jews as a class are oppressors” should be an even bigger wake-up call. This framing flows from elite universities. As Wesley Yang points out:
Newsflash: if you pioneer undermining freedom of speech and demand the right to control how folk speak of you, others — with bigger numbers and more organisational power — can march in through the door you’ve opened. Societies end up in destructive attritional struggles of mutual cancellation.
What is cancel culture in all its forms? It’s an attack on citizenship, on the authority of citizenship. It strips people of the ability to contribute to the public discourse by stripping them of the authority to do so. This devalues their citizenship and, by implication, other people’s citizenship. Intimidating anyone watching is the point.
References to the head of the ADL as being the new kapo have bite. The incentives of activism are often perverse, such as needing Jews to be fearful so the funds continue to flow. Such activism both plays on, and reflects, the trauma of the Holocaust.
It is in the interest of such activism to conjure up enemies and, in their monstering of people for what they say or write, they are very good at creating enemies. If Jews are wondering why they suddenly seem so friendless, decades of such monsterings by Jewish lobby activists has something to do with it.
You do not deal successfully with trauma by inflicting wounds on the body politic. Especially not on the body politic of societies that had nothing to do with that trauma, except fighting an enormous war to destroy the very polity and regime that perpetrated the horror.
The best response to the trauma of the Holocaust is to honourably serve the rule of law.
Moreover, there is considerable evidence that censorship is often counter-productive (pdf):
The research found signiﬁcant evidence that censorship and deplatforming can promote and amplify, rather than suppress, cognitive radicalization and even violent extremism. Shutting down accounts accused of violating hate-speech policies and misinformation often shifts those banned individuals to alternative platforms where their narrative of long-suffering victimhood is further reﬁned.
The Jewish lobby attacking people’s freedom of speech within Anglosphere nations comes across as ungrateful, censorious, nasty, whining. It’s also really counter-productive.
This benighted activism has not saved a single Jewish life. It has generated a great deal of ill-will and created a wretched precedent. Unfortunately, activists prosper by being counter-productive, so I guess they won’t stop. It is, however, very much in the Jewish community’s interest not to fund, encourage or join in with them.
Monika Karmin, et al., ‘A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture,’ Genome Resources, 2015 Apr;25(4):459-66.
Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Bodley Head, 2010.
Timothy Snyder, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Bodley Head, 2015.
As the Soviet Union was “Judaeo-Bolshevism” — a state of Slavs controlled by Jews — Jewish males were classified by the Nazi regime as the Soviet political class.
Auschwitz, as Black Earth makes clear, is a very misleading, and very convenient, symbol of the Holocaust. Most of the killing of Jews had already happened before the gassings started at Auschwitz while the facility itself was for killing Jews living in areas where the murderous dynamics of destroyed states did not apply. Their states either still existed or their region had never been occupied by the Soviets, so collaboration could not be expiated by transferring it to, and then killing, Jews and others, as convenient. Former Communist apparatchiks were often particularly enthusiastic killers.
Professor Snyder points out that Hitler’s war against the Jews was decolonial in the sense that Jews were held to hold pervasive power across nations. The FLN’s campaign against the French settlers in Algeria was genocidal — their choice being expressed in the slogan and threat “a suitcase or a coffin” (“La valise ou le cercueil”). The PLO’s terror campaign against Israel sought the same outcome by the same tactics, as does Hamas, with upgraded frightfulness. Decolonisation-as-genocidal-intent — particularly against Jews — continues to be a pattern. The targets of decolonisation rhetoric are classed as oppressive parasites who need to be eliminated from a just society, following in the footsteps of Marx’s theory of surplus value characterising anyone in commerce as an oppressive parasite who needs to be eliminated from a just society.