Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chapter 18 - Alfred And The Jews: Part 3 - Antisemitism 1920

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Whew!—a remarkable document indeed—coming as it did from a man who would soon start to formulate a system-discipline designed to promote sane evaluating. The letter characterized the Hebrew Bible as a hate-filled document which served as the basis of a centuries-old Jewish conspiracy of immorality against non-Jews. According to the letter, not only were Jews responsible for the worst of Capitalism but they were responsible for Bolshevism too. The letter also expressed a notable favoritism towards Christianity, in particular Catholicism, odd for someone who claimed to have freed himself in his youth from the restrictions of his religious background. In Korzybski’s schema here, the Jews taught hatred and parasitism while Christians—especially Catholics—embodied love and productiveness. Korzybski ended with a sentence that, except for its emphasis on “Mathematical thinking”, sounded as if inspired by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

In Post-War America 1920 the attitudes Korzybski expressed in the letter were not uncommon. Henry Ford had just begun the initial publication of “The International Jew” series in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Boston publisher Small, Maynard & Company had recently published Boris Brasol’s anonymous The Protocols and World Revolution which apparently sold well by mail-order (bookstores, for the most part, wouldn’t carry it). The book was getting widely distributed in U.S. Army Military Intelligence Department circles.(2) (Korzybski had his own copy (3) and probably obtained it around this time.) The Ku Klux Klan, which defined both Jews and Blacks as threats to the ‘white race’, had been founded only a few years before and was now experiencing a tremendous growth in membership throughout the U.S. More genteelly expressed anti-Jewish views were also held by many ‘upper crust’ members of the social register—some of the people whom Mira had as clients for her portraits in ivory. Some so-called freethinkers, rejecting all religious moorings as crude superstitions, were also likely to see the Hebrew scriptures and the Jews (especially those who continued on with their traditions) as the ‘deplorable’ source of the ‘nonsense’ they were seeking so hard to reject. And not to be forgetten, there existed—then as now—the not-uncommon phenomenon of “Jewish self-hatred” (so-called) in varying degrees. ‘Self-hating’ Jews included an extreme antisemitic contingent with a hard-to-match disdain for their brother and sister Jews.(4) As has remained the case throughout history, ‘The Jews’ provided an all-purpose ‘projection screen’ for many of those frustrated with the perceived failings of society. With the recent influx into the U.S. of a large number of Eastern European Jews (the Jewish population approximately tripled from 1900 to 1920) (5),  Yiddish-accented, tradition-oriented Jews and their children were more visible and served as convenient targets of disdain for many other Americans, both rich and poor.

So Korzybski’s views circa 1920 don’t seem so unusual. Perhaps this accounts for the lack of any specific response to them in Keyser’s subsequent letters (which doesn’t necessarily mean Keyser didn’t try to correct Alfred in person.) Keyser, who gave no indication anywhere I could find of anti-Jewish prejudices, had likely heard this kind of talk before. At any rate, for various reasons Keyser seems to have decided, at least in his correspondence with Alfred, to overlook this outburst from his new friend.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
2. Bendersky, p. 141. 

3. IGS Archives. 

4. See, for example, Kurt Lewin’s “Self-Hatred Among Jews” in Resolving Social Conflict, pp. 186-200. Korzybski remained fascinated by the phenomenon of antisemitism and the related Jewish ‘self-hatred’. He not only had open files containing material on these topics but also kept other, more hidden, samples of antisemitic material—hidden, perhaps, because their more visible presence might be misunderstood as endorsement. (I found the advertising brochure for the infamous 1934 hate tract Jews Must Live by Jewish antisemite Samuel Roth—with Korzybski’s red pencil underlinings and handwriting: “Keep for me”—‘filed’ inside Korzybski’s marked-up copy of the Protocols. The Protocols itself was tied and wrapped inside an unmarked package of brown butcher paper tucked deep inside some IGS file drawers, that I doubt anyone had looked through for at least 60 years.) When Lewin’s book—with antisemitism and Jewish self-hatred as major topics—came out in the late 1940s, Korzybski considered it an important event. 

5. “Jewish Population of the United States (1654-2006)”, Jewish Virtual Library,

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