Really, Dr. Parkes . . .
An Enemy of the People: Anti-Semitism.
by James Parkes.
New York, Penguin Books, 1946. 160 pp. 25 ¢.
The Jewish Problem in the Modern World.
by James Parkes.
Oxford University Press, 1946. 242 pp. $1.25.
James Parkes is not a dispassionate author. With obvious good will, and a purpose far beyond the presentation of facts, he works with a missionary zest: he wants to acquaint the Gentile reader with the full truth about the Jews and about anti-Semitism. And although he does not say so himself, he allows his publishers to claim that the reading of his books might cure the anti-Semite, or at least, lead him on the road to recovery from an abnormal mental attitude.
To his task the author brings a fund of historical knowledge, especially about the Jews and Judaism, a fine feeling for justice and morality in personal relationships, a gift for popular writing, and a very real appreciation of the scope of his task—evidenced when he says that about 95 per cent of the population, including the Jews themselves and those who have made a deep study of the question, are at least slightly unbalanced on it.
Dr. Parkes, like the anonymous author whose article appeared in the October COMMENTARY, belongs to that group of people with whom one only reluctantly disagrees on fundamental issues because of their integrity and honesty of purpose. In Dr. Parkes’ case, the disinclination to argue is increased by the realization that most of what he says is based on solid fact. Most, but not all.
Both books cover, broadly speaking, the same subject matter. The Jewish Problem is oriented more toward historical and political data, while An Enemy of the People is directed more toward contemporary and human questions. In both books, however, the problem is dealt with under the following aspects: (1) the manipulation of anti-Semitism for politically reactionary ends; (2) the history of the Jews and, linked with it, (3) the question of why the Jewish people offers such a persistent target for prejudice; (4) the solution of the Jewish problem, which for Dr. Parkes would be synonymous with the elimination of prejudice; and (5) the psychological and sociological analysis of prejudice.
Dr. Parkes is at his best in dealing with the history and politics. The story of the persecution of the Russian Jews in the 19th century, the Dreyfus Affair, the account of the forgery and the final exposure as a huge swindle of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” include all the salient facts and are dramatically told.
His account of the Palestine problem is comprehensive and fair; that he has nothing new to add is the fault, after all, of this particular subject matter. He makes a reasoned argument for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine for those who want to go there. Though he considers the historical and legal claims of Arabs and Jews equally justified, the moral claim of Jewry and its desperate need, he maintains, tip the balance in its favor.
It is in his discussion of the sociological and psychological functions of prejudice, however, that one takes profound exception to what Dr. Parkes says. Not only does his treatment here remain little more than sketchy; it shifts, significantly, in a chapter headed “The Psychology and Sociology of Anti-Semitism,” from the problem of anti-Semitism to a consideration of the problem of the Jews themselves. And here Dr. Parkes reveals himself as an adherent of that school of thought which implies, with apparent good common sense, that there wouldn’t be any anti-Semitism if it weren’t for the Jews. Of course, Dr. Parkes does not draw the logical conclusion that only the extermination of the Jews would finally remove the bane of anti-Semitism. But some people have—and do.
The horrifying similarity between all forms of anti-group prejudice, whether expressed through lynching, anti-Semitism, Moslem-Hindu riots, or the persecution of the early Christians, has been pointed out often enough. True, if there were no Jews, anti-Semitism would disappear after a while. But prejudice would remain as long as the conditions—social, economic, and psychological—on which prejudice feeds remain: as long as want and frustration continue, as aggressiveness is wrongly handled in early childhood, as the tendency to project upon others what one fears in oneself persists, and as the fear of the different as fostered in a competitive society remains. If these are the real roots of prejudice, then prejudice must be tackled in the prejudiced person, not in his victim, for whom, in any case, our culture unfortunately provides many alternate substitutes should this particular one disappear.
Dr. Parkes occasionally alludes to these points. But he still tells his story as if the history of the Jews was the most potent factor in anti-Semitism. And Dr. Parkes is not only inconsistent but occasionally disquieting. When he quotes the Church Father Tertullian’s outcry as a parallel to modern anti-Semitism—“If the Tiber overflows into the city, if the Nile does not flow into the countryside, if the heavens remain unmoved, if the earth quakes, if there is famine or pestilence, at once the cry goes up: to the lions with the Christians!”—he shows that he knows the irrational nature of prejudice quite well. But when he asks the Gentile to put himself in the Jew’s place and then asks: “Would the crime rate remain low in your vicinity? Would there be no hesitation about your loyalty? Would you be tempted to no anti-social act or feeling? Well?” he seems to forget that the Christians do not actually divert the Tiber into the city. He implies the correctness of the accusations against the Jews, for whom he asks only mercy and forgiveness.
And in many cases he does more than imply, and admits charges that Jews will, properly, deny as being as unfounded as the myth of ritual murder. Thus Dr. Parkes explains that Jews were compelled by the Czarist regime to be dishonest. Dr. Parkes says: “It takes some generations to eradicate such a tradition, and in the meantime . . .the number of cases in which Jewish businessmen are rightly suspected by their Gentile competitors of sharp practice which just does not break the law, will be somewhat higher than normal.”
Nowhere does Dr. Parkes claim that he himself belongs to the 5 per cent who are unbiased on the subject of Jews and anti-Semitism. (Of course, this reviewer, according to the author, belongs to the biased majority simply because she is Jewish.) In all fairness, and despite his good intentions and so much excellent work, here and elsewhere, I do not think he could claim inclusion in that select group. The lapsus mentis of Dr. Parkes offers additional sad evidence (quite unneeded) of the ubiquity of anti-Semitism. If saints err. . . .