Friday, May 13, 2011

Studies in Prejudice: Introduction

In the late 1940s, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) began sponsoring a series of studies on authoritarianism and anti-Semitism in the United States, which it called the Studies in Prejudice Series. It was a project significantly influenced by the social concepts of the Frankfurt School, whose longtime director Max Horkheimer was also the director of the AJC’s academic department, and in that capacity directed the research whose results were published in the Studies on Prejudice series. The project was largely conceived by Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, one of the co-authors of the most famous of the five volumes in the series, The Authoritarian Personality. In their series numbering order, the five books are:

Max Horkheimer and Samuel Flowerman in their Foreward that is included with each of the five volumes give the following description of the larger project’s concept. The opening sentence is somewhat surprising in light of the role that the Holocaust now plays in historical memory and political discussions. But the first book-length study on the Holocaust itself was Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews, which was first published in 1961. And that was after strenuous efforts on the author’s part to find anyone who would publish it at all!

Horkheimer and Flowerman:

Today the world scarcely remembers the mechanized persecution and extermination of millions of human beings only a short span of years away in what was once regarded as the citadel of Western civilization.
Holocaust scholars today would be a bit more technical in saying that the majority of the killings in the Holocaust took place outside Germany proper in eastern Europe, though Horkheimer and Flowerman were presumably referring to Europe as "the citadel of Western civilization."

Yet the conscience of many men was aroused. How could it be, they asked each other, that in a culture of law, order and reason, there should have survived the irrational remnants of ancient racial and religious hatreds? How could they explain the willingness of great masses of people to tolerate the mass extermination of their fellow citizens?
What tissues in the life of our modern society remain cancerous, and despite our assumed enlightenment show the incongruous atavism of ancient peoples? And what within the individual organism responds to certain stimuli in our culture with attitudes and acts of destructive aggression?
In the next set of posts, I'll discuss Löwenthal's and Gutermann's Prophets of Deceit, which is sadly relevant still today.

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