Jewish J. Sociology, 1972, 15, 207-213.
IS ANTISEMITISM A COGNITIVE SIMPLIFICATION? SOME OBSERVATIONS ON AUSTRALIAN NEO-NAZIS
John J. Ray
I have always been interested in the full range of the social sciences (which is how at one time I came to be teaching both psychology and economics) and anthropology has always been part of that interest. In my student days, therefore, I thought I would make good use of the anthropologist's most usual research method (participant observation) to study the topic I have always been interested in most -- politics. Anthropologists have the view that you can never understand a group "from the outside" -- You have to join the group and become accepted into it before you will ever have any chance of understanding it. I took this to heart and promptly joined a great range of political groups from the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society on one hand (Communist Front) to the local neo-Nazi group on the other. It was only the neo-Nazis, however, that I found much original to say about so I wrote up a total of three papers about them for publication in three Jewish social science journals. This is one of the papers concerned. In it, I address the usual Leftist theory that both conservatives and racists are prone to oversimplified thinking. I point out that, to the contrary, neo-Nazis are prone to very complex thinking -- since their view of the world is contradicted on every hand.
If we can advance our objective understanding of antisemitism, the service we do to the world may potentially be as extensive as prejudice itself. If some of the conclusions we are led to along the way upset congenial prejudices of our own, the price will have been worth paying. To understand and to condemn are not contradictory operations but phenomena of entirely different and potentially independent orders.
The by now classical social-scientific account of antisemitism  has been given by the California authors, Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford . In that work the antisemite was presented as a sick, paranoid deviant. It will be submitted here that this conception is fundamentally mistaken. Even if the conception was true of the Americans Adorno et al. interviewed, it is hard to believe that it was true of the troops who enforced the grisly will of the antisemite Hitler. For a nation of sick, paranoid deviants, Nazi Germany produced a remarkable military performance that nations putatively more in tune with the realities of the world could not in fact at any point by themselves emulate. On any reckoning, Nazi Germany was crushed more by weight of numbers than by any comparative inadequacy in itself. Equally today, any effort to characterize the indisputably antisemitic (in the narrow sense) followers of Anwar Sadat as suffering from any sort of modal psychological inadequacy would be a vicious non-solution of the problem.
The work of Adorno et al. does already stand contradicted on many points by subsequent writers in the psychological literature. The central explanatory concept and 'the villain of the piece' in the California work was of course the 'authoritarian' personality type. That the person of authoritarian or ethnocentric attitudes is psychologically sick has been disputed by Elms , Schmuck and Chesler , Eckhardt , Schoenberger  Martin and Ray  and Ray . That authoritarian and ethnocentric attitudes are related to authoritarian and ethnocentric behaviour has been disputed by Titus , LaPiere , Hynes , Hollander  and Ray . Even the association between prejudice and authoritarianism is not certain (see Brown , Perlmutter , Knopfelmacher and Armstrong  and Ray . Reasons for all these failures to confirm the conclusions of Adorno et al. may perhaps be found in the book by Christie and Jahoda .
One point, however, that even writers whose findings contradict the California work  have no difficulty with, and even affirm, is that antisemitism may be explained as providing a cognitive simplification for those who accept it. By identifying Jews as the source of all things evil, the antisemite can order his subjective world more easily. It is this point that the present brief paper will call into question.
By the method of 'participant observation' , I have for some years been engaged in a study of Australian neo-Nazis. Several of the ideas deriving from this work have been supported by subsequent studies in the traditionally objective, behaviouralistic mould . As should become apparent, however, such treatment does not seem appropriate on this occasion.
The Australian neo-Nazis in many respects fit quite well the pattern that Adorno et al. and Elms have led us to expect . In public they are 'anti-Zionist'; in private they sing: 'Gas 'em all, gas 'em all, the blacks and the Jews and the small . . .' They seldom tell Jewish jokes: Jews are too much an object of execration even to be laughed at. In the half-world of the extreme Right, to 'know the score' (a laudatory description) is to have read and accepted as authentic and relevant the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion --- a work detailing the alleged international Jewish conspiracy. It is perhaps a sad fact that the chief element of confirmation seen for this view of Jewry is the fairly obvious success and influence of local Zionist bodies. In fact, the single thing most crippling to any enterprise among 'the Right' (as they prefer to be known) is the suspicion that one's comrade may be 'a Zionist spy'. Parenthetically, this suspicion cannot be equated with paranoia. It is obviously a realistic enough sort of response for any group with illegal and violent aims. Such a response is doubly warranted in the present case (a) by the tendency to fragmentation of any extremist political movement (Right or Left) -- which does make it likely that members may be willing from time to time to 'sell one another out', and (b) by the fact that Zionist intelligence of their doings is from time to time startlingly good and can only be explained by regular betrayals of some sort.
A very commonly enjoyed and almost devotional activity in those circles is listening to old tapes of Hitler's speeches (with or without translations) and Nazi marching songs. One can see the listeners almost reduced to tears at the thought that something as 'beautiful' as German Nazism was defeated.
The detailed 'field report' on these people is available elsewhere  but it seems appropriate here to give some demographic background on them in a summary fashion to place what follows in context: Australian neo-Nazis in any sort of contact with one another are very few in number. Although Nazis themselves give inflated estimates of their numbers, I was for several years accepted in their midst and met personally no more than fifteen Nazis in Brisbane and about twice that number in Sydney. Perhaps half of them have at least some German ancestry, but German Nazis proper are generally not to be found among them. There are quite substantial numbers of German migrants (young and old) who sing 'the old songs' among themselves and communally celebrate Hitler's birthday-complete with flags, swastika armbands, and antisemitic speeches -- but they have no respect for, or association with, the Australian Nazis and largely lie outside the scope of the present discussion.
The Australian Nazis are not exclusively of working-class origin but are very largely so -- with a sprinkling of clerical workers of various sorts. They are in general atheists or perhaps the most nominal of religious believers. They are mostly of Protestant nominal background, but this is probably merely a reflection of the general distribution of Protestants (roughly three-quarters of the population) in Australia. As there are several reasonably clear types of neo-Nazi in Australia, further generalizations that would cover all types would have little point. The field report referred to does nevertheless give further demographic detail, type by type. All, however, believe that 'Hitler was right'.
In one sense, then, what these people believe is simple. There is only one enemy to their kind of civilization -- the Jews of Wall Street who control the United States and the Bolshevik Jews who control Soviet Russia. On the Australian scene, too, this picture is replicated. On the one hand the State Governor and the Prime Minister are to be seen attending Jewish public functions, and on the other the leader of the Communist Party of Australia bears the hardly ambiguous name of Aarons. This view of the world, however, is simple only in a rather trivial sense: it is simple in so far as it is a belief that there is only one enemy. In that sense and for that reason Dr. Goebbels provided beleaguered Germany with a single focus for its fear and hate -- and thus enabled a readily intelligible explanation for the actions of his own regime.
When Goebbels and Hitler first spoke, however, their contention that there was only one enemy was a plausible one. Germany had just waged a world war with herself on one side and Russia and the 'Allies' on the other. France, Britain, and the U.S.A. were disliked because they were the gloating victors, while Russia was disliked not only for historical reasons but also because it was Bolshevik. All were united in opposing Germany. In the need to find a connecting link between two disparate enemies who, on any obvious criterion, should not be allied, Jewry represented a godsent and accessible solution. By the one stroke the shame of Weimar could be expunged and Germany could be portrayed to its people as the aggrieved victim --not the aggressor. Russia and the West were in fact united against Germany; the 'Jew- controlled' thesis provided a palatable explanation for that unity.
In the modern-day world the situation is vastly different. To see Israel, Russia, and the United States as unified is in fact perverse and necessitates an extraordinarily complex and devious view of world affairs -- a view that not only receives no support but is violently contradicted by almost every news bulletin and information source. And yet among 'the Right', the slogan 'Communism is a Jewish plot' rings out as bravely as ever. If it is comforting to unify the twin enemies of Communism and Jewry, this comfort is bought at the expense of simplicity -- not in furtherance of it. The most devious and implausible explanations are needed to support such a belief, given the present state of world affairs.
This point can perhaps be seen most vividly in the neo-Nazi response to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Nazis naturally support the Arabs (although this goes against the grain: the Arabs would normally be regarded as 'degenerate' if they were not anti-Jewish). In so doing, however, the Nazis find themselves aligned with Communists, Trotskyists, and others of the more 'revolutionary' Left -- whom they otherwise oppose violently. Antisemitism may have had some simplifying effect in Hitler's Germany (though even there its effect was to explain a unity, palatably, not to create one), but for the modern neo-Nazi the effect is the opposite. For him it does create a unity but only at the expense of great complications in the interpretation of world affairs. Antisemitism in fact requires great tolerance of contradictory information and a capacity for complicated explanations -- even a 'need for complexity'.
How indeed does the neo-Nazi fit world events into his theory that Wall Street, Israel, and the Kremlin are all but aspects of one masterful, single-minded Jewish conspiracy? He sees international politics as a charade 'to fool the masses' (cf. George Orwell's 1984) -- the Nazi alone 'knows the score' about what is going on behind the scenes. Perhaps only outright war between East and West would convince him that there is in fact any real conflict between the two sides. But what about Korea and Vietnam? These conflicts he sees as confirming his view of Jewry. In explanation of this it must be said that he regards Jews themselves as being the real racists (the 'chosen people') bent ultimately on openly enslaving or eliminating all others. 'The Right' thus see themselves as engaged in a battle of 'the white race' versus the Jews. The relevant slogans are: 'The first race-laws in history were passed by Nehemiah', and 'Israel is a racist state'. The Jews are in fact somewhat admired for 'getting away with' their racism so successfully. Thus Korea and Vietnam are seen as rather brilliant subterfuges whose main effect is to stimulate Asians towards the highly desirable goal of wiping one another out: 'There's too many of those yellow bastards anyway.' Given the extent to which politics is a charade and given its perceived distance from people in their everyday life, one does not have to be unintelligent to accept this neo-Nazi explanation -- one simply has to assume that others are as conspiratorial and racist as oneself.
An observation that one might make at this point is that the Nazi has been said by Adorno et al. to be paranoid . But does not any sort of paranoia entail complex systems of delusion and the accommodation of contradictory information? This is perfectly true and it does show that Adorno et al. were trying to have it both ways to at least some extent. On the one hand they wished to say that the authoritarian was oversimplifying his world, and on the other that he was introducing needless and devious complexity. As it happens, however, it would seem that Australian neo-Nazis at least are not in fact paranoid . Neither of the contradictory characterizations given by Adorno et al. is supported.
What then is the motivation for the Nazi's antisemitism? If it makes his world more complex rather than more simple, what does he get out of it? Why is he a racist? Let us first dismiss the now discredited view that the Rightist is mentally ill. The neo-Nazis who are discussed here, so far from being psychotic, often appear very well adjusted. So much so that their social skills are well enough developed to make them good confidence men. They are anything but gibbering deviates. Even the fact mentioned above that they regard Jews as being 'the real racists' is unlike the Freudian 'projection'. It is advanced as a reasoned justification of their own position (sometimes including Biblical references such as 'the chosen people') and is not accompanied by any denial that they of 'the Right' are themselves racists. If they are 'sick' it is only in that their beliefs themselves are sick (that is, destructive). If psychopathology then cannot explain Nazism, what can?
All successful explanations of course only push the need for explanation back one step further. Nevertheless an attempt to take one such single step seems worthwhile here. My impression is that there is such a thing as a Fascist personality. It would also seem that it is natural for anyone, Fascist or not, to think well of his own group. The prime features of this Fascist personality would be a lack of empathy for suffering in others, and in fact a positive enjoyment of seeing others suffer (particularly where this is caused by successful human aggression). These are normal enough tendencies (witness the attendances at professional boxing matches) but are presumably either more extreme in, or more openly acknowledged and accepted by, the Fascist. Given this personality, then, what more natural to express one's positive regard for one's own group in the form of racism? And what more natural, in turn, to be attracted to such a salient recent example of aggression and racism as Hitler's Germany? The Fascist can in fact identify with Nazism. This being so, he will of course be extraordinarily receptive to anything associated with Nazism. Since conventional historical treatment of Nazism has made antisemitism almost its defining characteristic, the Fascist will systematically and resolutely give an antisemitic expression to his racism.
There are certainly antisemites who are not Fascists and there are even more certainly people who are generally ethnocentric but who are yet not Fascists  but these would appear to represent a different (perhaps older) phenomenon and at least lie outside the scope of this paper.
To be metaphorical, one might say that the neo-Nazi has failed to throw out the bathwater of antisemitism in his desire to keep the baby of aggressiveness. Antisemitism has value not as a rewarding simplification but rather as being a (complex) aspect of something rewarding in itself. Just as Eckhardt  spoke of general ethnocentrism as being simply a mythology, so for modern Nazis antisemitism is a mythology originally fostered by Goebbels's propaganda machine for immediate ends but carried on for reasons other than its original usefulness.
The point must be made, however, that aggression need not have a racial object; the neo-Nazi uses all the objects Hitler did (communists, 'plutocrats' -- meaning big business -- and 'useless eaters') -- plus some newer ones such as 'hippies' and 'peace-creeps'. Hitler's use of the Jews as an object for aggression was certainly not original. Indeed, it was conservative. Christians had been plaguing Jewry with charges of Deicide for nearly 2,000 years. Thus Jews were convenient; Fascism does not need to have them as its object. Mussolini and Franco showed little if any enmity on their own initiative. Hitler's use of the Jews, however, would seem to have made antisemitism a fashion for those aggressively inclined.
The outcome of all the above is then that we must not underestimate the Fascist as a poor chap who needs vast simplifications to sort out his conceptual world. For better or for worse, antisemitism has become associated with the Fascist outlook and any institutional resurgence of Fascism (on either side of the iron curtain) is highly likely to see antisemitism as proper (if not always prudent) policy.
1. I follow here the convention of referring to people of anti Jewish sentiments as 'antisemitic' -- even though the term is on several heads actually a rather inappropriate description.
2. Theodor Adorno, Else FrenkelBrunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R.
Nevitt Sanford, The Authoritarian Personality, New York, 1950
3. Allan C. Elms, 'Those Little Old Ladies in Tennis Shoes Aren't so Nutty after all: It turns out', Psychology Today, vol. 3, February 1970, pp. 27-59.
4. Richard Schmuck and Mark Chesler, 'Superpatriot Opposition to Community Health Programs', Community Mental Health Journal, vol. 3, no. 4, 1967, pp. 382-88.
5. William Eckhardt, 'Prejudice: Fear, Hate or Mythology?', Journal of Human Relations, vol. 16, no. 1, 1968, pp. 32-41
6. Robert A. Schoenberger, 'Conservatism, Personality and Political Extremism', American Political Science Review, vol. 62, no. 3, 1968, pp. 868-77.
7. Martin, J. & Ray, J.J. (1972) Anti-authoritarianism: An indicator of pathology. "Australian Journal of Psychology 24, 13-18.
8. Ray, J.J. (1971) An "Attitude to Authority" scale. Australian Psychologist, 6, 31-50
9. H. Edwin Titus, 'F Scale Validity Considered against Peer Nomination Criteria', Psychological Record, vol. 18, 1968, pp. 395-403.
10. Richard La Piere, 'Attitudes and Actions', Social Forces, vol. 13, December 1934, pp. 230-37.
11 Vynce A. Hynes, 'F Scale, GAMIN and Public School Behavior', Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 47, no. 6, 1956, pp. 321-28.
12. E. P. Hollander, 'Authoritarianism and Leadership Choice in a Military, Setting', Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 3, 1954, pp. 365-70.
13. Ray, J.J. (1971) Ethnocentrism: Attitudes and behaviour. Australian Quarterly, 43, 89-97.
14 Roger Brown, Social Psychology, New York, 1965. See the Chapter on authoritarianism.
15. Howard V. Perlmutter, 'Some Characteristics of the Xenophilic Personality', Journal of Psychology, vol. 38, 1954, pp. 291-300.
16. Frank Knopfelmacher and Douglas B. Armstrong, 'The Relation between Authoritarianism, Ethnocentrism and Religious Denomination among Australian Adolescents" American Catholic Sociological Review, vol. 24, no. 2, 1963, pp. 99-114.
17. Ray, J.J. (1972) Non-ethnocentric authoritarianism. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 8(June), 96-102.
18. Richard Christie and Marie Jahoda, Studies in the Method and Scope of 'The Authoritarian Personality', Glencoe, Ill., 1954.
19. For example, Elms, op. cit.
20. Severin Bruyn, The Human Perspective in Sociology, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1966.
21. For example, John J. Ray, 'An "attitude to authority" Scale', op, cit., and Martin and Ray, op. cit.
22. For fuller details, see Ray, J.J. (1973) Antisemitic types in Australia. Patterns of Prejudice 7(1), 6-16.
23. See note 22 above.
24. See note 2 above.
25. See note 22 above.
26. See note 22 above.
27. Eckhardt, op. cit.
The Preface at the beginning of this article was not included in the original publication. Other articles related to the above are as under:
Ray, J.J. (1972) What are Australian Nazis really like? The Bridge 7(2), 15-21.
Ray, J.J. (1973) Antisemitic types in Australia. Patterns of Prejudice 7(1), 6-16.
Ray, J.J. (1985) Racism and rationality: A reply to Billig.
Ethnic & Racial Studies 8, 441-443.
Ray, J.J. (Unpublished) Semitism and antisemitism: Some
observations from Australia in support of the Stein/Glock hypothesis
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