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  • The First Shall Be the Last: Rethinking Antisemitism by Adam Katz and Eric Gans
  • Roman Katsman (bio)
The First Shall Be the Last: Rethinking Antisemitism By Adam Katz and Eric Gans. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill-Nijhoff, 2015. 218 pp.

This book by Adam Katz and Eric Gans makes a significant and original contribution to the study of antisemitism. It initiates a new stage in the development of the theory and method of generative anthropology developed by Gans and his school, as well as of philosophical anthropology as the study of the mechanisms of sign and culture origination in general. At the foundation of Gans's theory lies the idea that the human collective is formed at the moment when the "gesture of appropriation," in its relation to the object of desire characteristic of the "pecking order," is aborted and deferred and is thereby transformed into an originary sign, a symbol of this object. The sacral is the object that is designated as unassignable. The aborted gesture becomes the first sign of both language and morality. Morality henceforth transforms from a tribal codex into a universal correlative of the sacral as such.

Gans and Katz follow the direction of René Girard's "transcendental hypothesis," which situates the generation of any culture in a unique, singular act of violence. And since, in accordance with Girard's theory, the behavior of people in this act bears a mimetic character, "one or more members of the group would have had to precede the others, providing the originary example of firstness," thereby eliciting the unavoidable resentment of all the others. It is precisely this that constitutes, in the authors' opinion, the essence of antisemitism in Western monotheistic civilization. The firstness of the Jews consists in their being the founders of monotheism as the idea that God cannot be named, is absolutely transcendental, and is inaccessible to representation. [End Page 80]

Gans distinguishes "old" and "new" types of the "Jewish question." The first, the medieval type, is connected with Jewish distinctiveness and separateness in everyday, religious, and legal practices. The second type, characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, "is precisely the reduction of Jewish difference from the empirical differences of the Law to its transhistorical, originary quintessence of abstract firstness." Gans points to the replacement of the image of the Jew with the image of the mediator, which appears in mass consciousness as the embodiment of an unimaginable market system. In contemporary antisemitism, as distinct from the medieval type, the expectation of punishing the sinner who created this system is replaced with the fear of its universal proliferation and domination in place of the true Word, the very existence and verity of which is irrevocably connected with both the existence and the disappearance of Judaism and its followers.

Gans notes that contemporary Christian antisemitism, deprived of its foundation because of expanding globalization, identifies with Islamic antisemitism in spite of all the differences between them and grants it the paradoxical right to hate Jews and Israel as the sole "impediment to peace" and to global integration—to hate them as the participants in a universal conspiracy. Being deprived of a nationalistic foundation, antisemitism transfers its aspirations onto the "just battle of the Palestinian people." The paradox of globalization parallels the insurmountable "fatal paradox of monotheism": the essence of monotheism contradicts the existence of a singular subject that revealed it in a concrete historical moment. And therefore, "antisemitism will always be with us. Each generation will have to win its own way to understanding the Jews' historical priority as being in the service of universal humanity's ontological equality."

The main event in the contemporary history of antisemitism is undoubtedly the Holocaust, but its role in this context is ambivalent. On the one hand, the Holocaust forms postmodern Jewish victimhood, while on the other hand, the victim mentality it generates is used by "anti-Zionists"—as the new antisemites—to project the image of Nazis onto Jews or Israelis and to accuse them of crimes of victimization. Gans shows how the Holocaust, having combined victimhood and firstness, [End Page 81] makes it possible now, in the post-Holocaust era, to endow every victim with the...


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pp. 80-83
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