A Hostile World: Facing Anti-Semitism

  • Stephen Frosh


Sigmund Freud was affected by anti-Semitism throughout his life, and had a rather wry attitude towards it, seeing it as in some ways strengthening of his character, or at least of his capacity to see things clearly — the attribute that he valued above all others. This was consistent with his general view that the Jews had been hardened by their experience of being subject to the opprobrium of others. In 1923, writing to Romain Rolland, he commented,

I of course belong to a race which in the Middle Ages was held responsible for all epidemics and which today is blamed for the disintegration of the Austrian Empire and the German defeat. Such experiences have a sobering effect and are not conducive to make one believe in illusions. A great part of my life’s work... has been spent trying to destroy illusions of my own and those of mankind. (Freud, 1961, p. 346)

Freud’s commitment, both conscious and unconscious, to the continuity between Jewish values and identity and those of psychoanalysis was very deep, with adherence to the rationalist worldview to be found in the Talmudic tradition — the intellectual impulse to ‘destroy illusions’ — a principle source of this continuity. He was also, however, a proud follower of the Western cultural heritage, specifically that of the German tradition associated with Goethe.


Jewish Identity Jewish People Racialised Hatred Historical Juncture Jewish Intellectual 
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© Stephen Frosh 2005

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  • Stephen Frosh

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