According to The Culture of Critique, “There is . . . evidence that Freud conceptualized himself as a leader in a war on gentile culture” (1988a:117). Psychoanalysis was a pseudoscientific movement designed to pathologize anti-Semitism and undermine gentile culture and social cohesion by attacking institutions regulating love and sex. “Psychoanalytic assertions [that sexual repression prevented relationships from being based on love and affection] were never any more than speculations in the service of waging a war on gentile culture” (1988a:126). Jews, led in the US by the “New York Intellectuals,” turned Freudianism into a secular religion, using it to attack the philosophical and institutional foundations of Western culture.
Let’s consider first Freud’s influence via the New York Intellectuals. MacDonald notes that of the top 21 American intellectuals according to peer ratings in the 1970s (Kadushin 1974), 15 were Jewish (and most were New York Intellectuals). Eleven of these 15, he says, were “‘significantly influenced by Freudian theory at some point in their careers,’” and 10 of those 11 held “liberal or radical political beliefs at some period of their career” (MacDonald 1998a:141, quoting/citing Torrey 1992:185). The implication is that these influential Jewish intellectuals promoted Freudianism to undermine gentile culture and advance their ethnic interests. But MacDonald leaves out some crucial information.
The 15 Jews among the top 21 intellectuals were (1) Daniel Bell, (2) Chomsky, (3) Irving Howe, (4) Norman Mailer, (5) Robert Silvers, (6) Susan Sontag, (7) Lionel Trilling, (8) Hannah Arendt, (9) Saul Bellow, (10) Paul Goodman, (11) Richard Hofstadter (Jewish father), (12) Irving Kristol, (13) Herbert Marcuse, (14) Norman Podhoretz, and (15) David Riesman. A closer look shows that only two or three of these cases support MacDonald’s thesis, and several are clear counterexamples. First off, five of these intellectuals are, by MacDonald’s criteria, unambiguously anti-Israel and therefore opposed to Jewish interests. Chomsky was (and still is) arguably the world’s leading critic of Israel. Mailer tended to sympathize with the Palestinians (Theodoracopulos 2015). When Sontag accepted the Jerusalem Prize in 2001, she used the occasion to condemn Israel (Cockburn 2001). Marcuse (who will be discussed in more detail below) advocated the return of Arab refugees to Israel, ending Jewish control of the country (Marcuse 2005:181). Arendt was the student, promoter, and lover (in a romantic sense) of the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger. She was best known for her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (Arendt 1963), in which she argued that Israeli laws were comparable to the Nazi Nuremberg laws and that holocaust-orchestrator Eichmann had been given a “show trial” and was not a particularly bad person (just that he was prompted to do bad things by circumstances beyond his control—though she faults him for not being brave enough to protest). In 1948, Arendt (along with Einstein, Sidney Hook, and 24 other prominent Jews) signed a letter to the New York Times which described the political party of Menachem Begin as “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties” (Shatz 2004:65).
Another intellectual on the list, Saul Bellow, was a conservative who opposed feminism, multiculturalism, and political correctness. Bellow urged Allan Bloom, another Jewish academic at the University of Chicago, to write The Closing of the American Mind (Bloom 1987), one of the most influential pro-traditionalist academic books in the past few decades (Ahmed and Grossman 2007).
It is ironic that MacDonald casts Robert Silvers as a part of a nefarious Jewish Freudian movement. In the paragraph immediately following the one in which he introduces this list of 15 Jewish intellectuals, MacDonald writes:
The link between psychoanalysis and the political left, as well as the critical role of Jewish-controlled media in the propagation of psychoanalysis, can be seen in the recent uproar [over] Frederick Crews’s critiques of the culture of psychoanalysis. The original articles were published in the New York Review of Books . . . (1988a:141).
Silvers is the longtime editor of the New York Review of Books, and one of the 11 whom MacDonald identifies as being influenced by Freud.1
Bell, Hofstadter, and Riesman were liberals, though not particularly extreme, not known for promoting Freud, and not seriously involved in Jewish causes. (Bell 1962:16 described his perspective as “anti-ideological, but not conservative,” and he criticized utopian schemes such as Marxism as well as aspects of the prevailing social order.) Trilling may have been a nominal Marxist in the 1930s (D. Sidorsky, personal communication), though he evinced little interest in Jewish causes and his ethnic awareness seemed to be triggered mainly when he faced anti-Semitism. Goodman had no apparent interest in his fellow Jews, though he identified as an anarchist, so by MacDonald’s criteria might be considered an enemy of gentile culture. Howe was a liberal who supported as well as criticized Israel. That leaves the neoconservatives Kristol and Podhoretz. Kristol and Podhoretz became decidedly anti-liberal, though later in their careers they openly and aggressively supported Israel, Jewish interests, and, in Podhoretz’s case, unfettered immigration to the US.
The naive reader of The Culture of Critique
would think that 11 of 15 top Jewish intellectuals were using Freudianism to attack the traditions of gentile culture while promoting separatism for Jews in the US and in Israel. MacDonald makes this conclusion fairly explicit:
Of these [15 Jewish intellectuals], only Noam Chomsky could possibly be regarded as someone whose writings were not highly influenced by his Jewish identity and specifically Jewish interests. The findings taken together indicate that the American intellectual scene has been significantly dominated by specifically Jewish interests and that psychoanalysis has been an important tool in advancing these interests (1988a:154, n. 15—partially quoted earlier).
But the evidence reviewed above suggests that this is a serious distortion of the facts. Even if it is true that 11/15 of these intellectuals were influenced by Freud “at some point in their careers,” virtually none of them comes close to conforming to MacDonald’s paradigm of a Jewish radical. Only one—Podhoretz—could be accused of hypocritically advocating different immigration policies for the US and Israel, though he was/is not a liberal and Freudianism played no meaningful role in his thinking. On the other hand, we clearly find that several people on the list—a list cited by MacDonald himself to support his thesis—are serious counterexamples to the theory of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy. We find on this list possibly the world’s leading critic of Israel (Chomsky), a liberal who advocates the same immigration policies for the US and Israel (Marcuse), a leading advocate of traditional Western values (Bellow), and several others who, to varying degrees, were opposed or indifferent to Israel and Jewish interests.
MacDonald brings voluminous evidence that Freud strongly identified as a Jew. Based on numerous sources, he argues that Freud was unconditionally committed to promoting Jewish interests, that he “pathologized” anti-Semitism, and that he attacked gentile culture because he saw it as a threat to Jews (1988a:146). MacDonald emphasizes numerous times throughout the book that “scientist-activists” like Freud developed theories to show that “Jewish behavior [is] irrelevant to anti-Semitism” (1988a:17; see also 142, 146). He claims that Moses and Monotheism “contains several assertions that anti-Semitism is fundamentally a pathological gentile reaction to Jewish ethical superiority,” citing Freud (1967:114–17) (MacDonald 1998a:120). However, while pages 114–17 of this edition of Moses and Monotheism do discuss anti-Semitism, there is nothing about ethics/morality at all, let alone the ethical superiority of Jews or Judaism. (MacDonald did not respond to an email asking what he was referring to.)
Although Freud certainly did have a Jewish identity—if only because he was continually reminded of it by anti-Semites—MacDonald does not tell the full story. Consider the following incident (not described in The Culture of Critique). In 1929, Jews attempted to erect a partition screen to separate men and women at the Western Wall. In response, Arabs killed 29 Jews in Hebron, which led to riots in which 120 Jews and 87 Arabs were killed. A representative of the Zionist organization Keren Hayesod asked Freud to sign a petition condemning the Arabs for initiating the violence. Freud refused to sign, explaining that the Jews were partly responsible for inviting violence on themselves: “I concede with sorrow that the unrealistic fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust” (Freud 2004). This episode undermines MacDonald’s caricature of Freud as a monomaniacal activist dedicated to excusing Jewish behavior and pathologizing anti-Semitism.