John Mearsheimer and the University of Chicago

This is a guest post by Joseph Weissman.

By endorsing Gilad Atzmon’s new bookThe Wandering Who, John Mearsheimer heaps praise upon the racist writings of an antisemite who argues that Fagin and Shylock accurately represent Jewish evil, and that Hitler could be proven right.

Stephen Walt allowed Mearsheimer a guest post on his Foreign Policy blog, to defend himself from “smears” suggesting Mearsheimer had endorsed an antisemite.

In order to defend Atzmon, Mearsheimer sanitised Atzmon’s arguments. Mearsheimer commends a passage in The Wandering Who, where Atzmon draws similarities between AIPAC lobbying in the USA and Jewish lobbying in Nazi Germany. Mearsheimer wrote:

Goldberg refers to a blog post that Atzmon wrote on March 25, 2010, written in response to news at the time that AIPAC had “decided to mount pressure” on President Obama. After describing what was happening with Obama, Atzmon notes that this kind of behavior is hardly unprecedented.In his words, “Jewish lobbies certainly do not hold back when it comes to pressuring states, world leaders and even superpowers.” There is no question that this statement is accurate and not even all that controversialTom Friedman said as much in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.

In the second half of this post, Atzmon says that AIPAC’s behavior reminds him of the March 1933 Jewish boycott of German goods, which preceded Hitler’s decision on March 28, 1933 to boycott Jewish stores and goods. His basic point is that the Jewish boycott had negative consequences, which it did.

Writing days later in Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf deconstructed Mearsheimer and Walt’s backing of Gilad Atzmon.

A professor at the University of Chicago, Mearsheimer has given his academic endorsement to Atzmon. To date, there has been no official reaction from the University of Chicago.

However, a philosopher of law from the University of Chicago, Brian Leiter, has accused Mearsheimer’s critics of opposing “academic freedom”, and of spreading “right-wing smears.”

Universities have a duty of care towards their students, and the university campus should be safe for Jews. The University of Chicago is clearly a safe environment for Jewish students. Yet two U. Chicago professors are now dismissing anyone concerned about the antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon, as anti-freedom and anti-intellectual.

Now, the university’s student paper The Chicago Maroon, has published an article defending Mearsheimer for endorsing Atzmon, on “academic freedom” grounds. U. Chicago student Colni Bradley writes:

There is no reason to condemn Mearsheimer based on Atzmon’s previous controversial comments. The only acceptable criticism would be if he could prove that The Wandering Who? is itself anti-Semitic, and that Mearsheimer is guilty of praising those hateful elements. Goldberg does no such thing.

However, by far the worst comment Atzmon has ever come out with, is found on p.179 ofThe Wandering Who.

Read this paragraph:

“The present should be understood as a creative dynamic mode where past premeditates its future. But far more crucially, it is also where the imaginary future can re-write its past. I will try to elucidate this idea through a simple and hypothetical yet terrifying war scenario. We, for instance, can envisage a horrific situation in which an Israeli so-called ‘pre-emptive’ nuclear attack on Iran that escalates into a disastrous nuclear war, in which tens of millions of people perish. I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all.”

Atzmon is trying to prove, that there are scenarios which may well prove  Hitler had the right idea all along.

In Atzmon’s scenario, Israel goes to war with Iran, and some Iranian survivors of Israeli attacks conclude that “Hitler was right”. They are bold to do so. For Atzmon, this is just one scenario in which “the imaginary future can re-write its past” – and future events could justify Hitler.

Atzmon is arguing that eventually, the terrible behaviour of Israel will cause some people to realise that Hitler might have been right after all. But for now, alas, the “Holocaust religion” prevents us in the present from realising this.

U. Chicago student Bradley also writes:

I think we should commend anyone who seeks to push the boundaries and uncover the difficult truths, particularly when the questions are so messy. I am not saying I agree with Mearsheimer’s opinions on these issues: I don’t even know all of them. But I don’t care. For probably the first time since coming to this University, the words “academic freedom” mean more to me than justifying questionable investment practices. Atzmon may very well be an anti-Semite, but John Mearsheimer is not.

How is it “academic freedom” to endorse a racist book?

How is it “pushing the boundaries”, to suggest that Israeli  evil couldl eventually prove to the world that Hitler was right all along? Why should Mearsheimer commend such a work?

How would we feel about someone endorsing Mein Kampf itself – would we say they are being edgy, and making the full use of their academic freedom? Or would we say they are knowingly pushing a racist text?

This is not a rhetorical question.

In Gilad Atzmon’s recent interview with Keith Barrett, he tells his host (from 13:00):

“Mein Kampf is an interesting read, a very important document, I could hardly find anything about the Jews – only 2 and a half pages out of 400  about the Jews. This book was a major bookseller, and I didn’t want to think the Germans were all stupid, they were one of the most advanced  societies. It was a very very interesting read. I, for the first time, understood why Hitler managed to impress so many Germans.”

Here are some of Hitler’s quotes on Jews from Mein Kampf:

Here he stops at nothing, and in his vileness he becomes so gigantic that no one need be surprised if among our people the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.

The ignorance of the broad masses about the inner nature of the Jew, the lack of instinct and narrow-mindedness of our upper classes, make the people an easy victim for this Jewish campaign of lies.

While from innate cowardice the upper classes turn away from a man whom the Jew attacks with lies and slander, the broad masses from stupidity or simplicity believe everything. The state authorities either cloak themselves in silence or, what usually happens, in order to put an end to the Jewish press campaign, they persecute the unjustly attacked, which, in the eyes of such an official ass, passes as the preservation of state authority and the safeguarding of law and order.

Slowly fear and the Marxist weapon of Jewry descend like a nightmare on the mind and soul of decent people.

For a racially pure people which is conscious of its blood can never be enslaved by the Jew. In this world he will forever be master over bastards and bastards alone.

Now begins the great last revolution. In gaining political power the Jew casts off the few cloaks that he still wears. The democratic people’s Jew becomes the blood-Jew and tyrant over peoples. In a few years he tries to exterminate the national intelligentsia and by robbing the peoples of their natural intellectual leadership makes them ripe for the slave’s lot of permanent subjugation.

The end is not only the end of the freedom of the peoples oppressed by the Jew, but also the end of this parasite upon the nations. After the death of his victim, the vampire sooner or later dies too.

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: ‘by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.’

Atzmon channels Hitler,  plays down the racism of Mein Kampf, and argues that  a nightmare scenario involving Israeli evil could eventually prove Hitler right.

Mearsheimer and Walt then channel Atzmon, arguing that his book is “fascinating” and “Jews and non-Jews alike” must read it.

Where will this end?

20 Responses to “John Mearsheimer and the University of Chicago”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Like the usual resort to “freedom of speech” in contexts where the issue is replying to someone else’s freedom of speech (not forcibly preventing them from speaking), this student fails to understand what academic freedom is. Academic freedom allows professors to write or make statements without fearing that they’ll be fired for them. No one is challenging Mearsheimer’s right to endorse any and all books by Atzmon, if he wishes. We are challenging Mearsheimer’s *wisdom* in doing so, and making the suggestion that his endorsement means that Mearsheimer himself is actually anti-semitic (as some have charged since the publication of “The Israel Lobby”).

    • Bill Says:

      This is an important distinction to be sure. But while this is being said by Rebecca (and us), The M&Ws and others of course screem blue murder at even scholarly peer review when it is unfavorable. AF and FoS in these cases are unreciprocated. Too often, they have the right to speak, and we have the right to agree with them and not much beyond that, lest we get hit in the face with a preemptive Livingstone Formulation at even the tamest critique. it gets old. If you run the Cinderella Test and swap out Jews and Zionists for any other group in the same classification(s) it would never ever fly. And then they dig deeper and we get hit with people endorsing Gilad Atzmon who now thinks he cam pretty much say anything, e.g, his whopper about Mien Kampf, and people around him will have to swallow it since they swallowed everything else he’s said. Mearsheimer is pretty much “established,” and has an indelible base of supporters (lest he goes the Goldstone route, which if he keeps digging he will have to eventually) I don’t think he could break his fans hearts by saying that Atzmon is a train wreck. It would even bolster his credibility among sober critics of Israel and it’s big bad “Lobby.” So yes, he has the AF to embrace antisemites without care, just as he has the right to turn his back on them. And we have the right not to call him on it.

  2. James M Says:

    Great post as ever Joseph, thanks.

  3. PetraMB Says:

    “Where will this end?” — Good question, and as far as I can see, there are only worrisome answers. Take the fact that Mearsheimer, who made his fame as a political scientist working on realism, has now taken to teaching a seminar on “Zionism and Palestine”.

    Who knows, maybe when he teaches this seminar the next time, Atzmon’s opus will be on the list of required reading. This may sound ridiculous, but is it really more ridiculous than Mearsheimer endorsing Atzmon’s hate-filled scriblings?

  4. zkharya Says:

    Excellent article, Joe. I am sure you will put all your thoughts and observations into a book, one day. Thank you.

  5. Thomas Venner Says:

    To be honest, I find it difficult to respond to this with anything more than a shrug of indifference. Mearsheimer is well on the way to going over the edge with this, and, however much anti-Semites can use this to bolster their own feelings of righteousness, all that this will really do in the end is make more people realise the true nature of Mearsheimer’s paranoid “Zionist lobby” theory, and dismiss it for what it truly is. The more anti-Semites out themselves, the easier it gets to protect Jews from them. If he wants to throw in his lot with out-and-out anti-Semitism, let him. We don’t have any duty to protect him from himself.

  6. Benjamin H. Says:

    It’s good to see that the commentators on the Maroon article crush the writers arguments. Now, if only people in the academic world would criticize Mearsheimer for his sloppiness and stupidity like teachers are supposed to do for bad and negligent students.

  7. Abtalyon Says:

    I have to agree with Thomas Venner. The more often the mask of anti-Israelism slips to reveal the ugly antisemitism beneath, the healthier the situation for all. The only real danger, already apparent in some academic, political and media circles, is the cloak of respectability, attitudes such those increasingly revealed by Mearsheimer becoming more acceptable as so-called “contributions to the debate.”

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    “The more anti-Semites out themselves, the easier it gets to protect Jews from them”

    I admire your faith in reason and rationality – qualities that as we know are often sadly lacking from debates “about” Jews (see for example Leiter’s knee-jerk reactions)

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      The “debates” as you put it aren’t really much of an issue so long as the general population aren’t subscribing to anti-Semitic beliefs, which most people are less inclined to do if they know that what they’re being told is anti-Semitic. If someone starts telling you about what a monstrous state Israel is, and how it’s as bad as Nazi Germany, and nobody will do anything about it because powerful “Zionists” control our governments and media, you could easily believe that if you don’t know enough about the context – in fact, I used to believe all that stuff myself when I was a good little private-school Communist. I wasn’t an anti-Semite – I even (genuinely, rather than in the “some of my best friends are…” sense) had quite a few Jewish friends. It was partly the fact that I started to notice the anti-Semitic elements in what the “anti-Zionist” propaganda was telling me that I gave my views on the subject a serious rethink. If I’d been too blinkered or too brainwashed to notice that, then I could have just kept going on believing that stuff, and being a facilitator of anti-Semitism as a result.

      On the other hand, if someone, rather than disguising their beliefs with PC terminology, starts telling you about how Jews control the world, how they’re all thieves and swindlers, how they caused the recession, how they like to slice and dice gentile children to sell their organs on the black market or use their blood to bake matzos with, or that six million Jews didn’t really die in the Holocaust but they surely deserved to, then you’re not going to be anywhere near as susceptible to being convinced. You won’t say “oh, that’s terrible, I never knew all that”, you’ll say “fuck off you Nazi bastard” and dismiss their views as the shite that they are.

      Most people are more rational and less ideologically blinkered than they’re given credit for. Constant exposure to unyielding dogmatists makes it easy to forget that, but we need to try and keep it in mind.

  9. Ben Tzur Says:

    Clearly Atzmon has a different edition of Mein Kampf from the one I have. In his, there are only one or two pages that deal with the Jews. In my edition, Jews are dealt with on pages 20, 47-60, 79, 83, 90-113, 184-187, 195, 207-212, 222, 225, 273-299, etc. – you get the idea: ad nauseum. Isn’t that odd? And for the Hitler of my copy of Mein Kampf, as he explains constantly in his book, this is necessary because Jews are behind every single thing that is wrong with humanity and specifically with Germany. So he invokes them at length in regard to every topic. Atzmon owes it to us share his copy of Mein Kampf with all those scholars who have written about Hitler’s life and views. Evidently, Hitler has been traduced by some false editions of his speeches and works. He is just one heck of a misunderstood guy.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      Ah, but you have to understand – Hitler was really just talking about Zionists. All those references to “Jews” are just a string of coincidental typesetting errors.

      • Bill Says:

        No, it meant that if you took the words Jew, Jews, Zionists, etc, and lined them up in the text, you’d get about 2.5 pages. But the print would have to be tiny. My tounge is only half way into my cheek here. Certain people have swallowed so many of Mearsheimer’s goldfish and drunk so much chunky milk with Gillad Atzmon, that face is going to have to be saved somehow and the most likely route is for them to double-down with Mearsheimer, and now with Atzmon (if they weren’t’ doing the latter already). Then Atzmon, who as we know is drunk on himself, and Mearsheimer who seems to be following him as if he has no where else to go, will drag them and their reputations so far down that they will have to break with them.

        Unfortunately this is an example of a major donut hole in academic freedom. (A even fouler example is below.) What do you do when you let the wrong one into the tenure club? While controversial and even some untested and potentially wrong ideas should be tolerated if only to test the mettle of better ideas, we’re getting well beyond what a reasonable person and expert can be expected to see as “scholarly” here. Creationism, and (naturally) Holocaust Denial are two deadly sins in the larger community, and are not considered “scholarly” for very good reason. But Antisemitism and fetishizing one “lobby” above all the others as we all have seen on these pages is tolerated if you bring in Israel enough times. It can get so bad that tenured Cal State-Long Beach prof Kevin MacDonald is well… still there, after all of his “scholarly” antisemetic benders that make Mearsheimer look like Alan Dershowitz. I don’t know much about MacDonald’s “standing” in his department or his tenure date vis. his coming out as one of the nastier antisemites in the academy, but I suspect that there are people campus wide who are counting the days to his retirement, and likely like some programs do, have “isolated” him as a toxic element. Yet even still they and AAUP have to honor his AF since he apparently keeps his “views” out of the classroom, even as they have “disassociated” themselves from his scholarship.

        Mearsheimer, in contrast, is a celebrity in part because his first message chimed with a fashionable bias that is inherent within the academic community and a notable and equally fashionable part of the political mainstream. We’re not talking about a young earth creationist here and at the beginning, his arguments would be very much at home in the UCU for example (and still are, apparently). I suspect that he will have to hang around with David Duke for there to be any significant action directed against him. And we even had apologists for that the last time someone simply linked to Duke’s web site. As I said earlier, there is a lot of face invested in the “globalized antizionist” narrative.

        The only good thing about it is that, as Thomas indicates, it gives them all the freedom to out themselves so you know where the racists really stand, and how much their enablers are willing to swallow for “the cause.”

  10. the sad red earth (@thesadredearth) Says:

    Interesting that several other commenters wrote of Mearsheimer as revealing himself, of the “mask of anti-Israelism” that “slips to reveal the ugly antisemitism beneath.” I explored this tendency of ardent anti-Israelites in terms of Freud’s notion of the uncanny, from Shelling, as an emergence out of repression – “something that should have remained hidden that has come into the open.”

  11. Ben Says:

    It is ridiculous and self-defeating that organizations combating antisemitism should place so much emphasis and focus on a campaign against an obviously-ill Israeli-born Jew. Amongst all the antisemites in the world there are numerous more suitable targets. It is no coincidence that many of the main founts of antisemitism today in Britain – the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the extreme-left, some CofE factions and some islamist fanatics – have joined in the Atzmon fray. For them, this is a heaven-sent opportunity to distort the nature of antisemitism. Engage should not be colluding in this.

  12. Absolute Observer Says:

    “that many of the main founts of antisemitism today in Britain – the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent”.

    Oh for goodness sake – get a grip.

    • Ben Says:

      The defamation, malice and antagonism that is daily fare from these three organizations over the last four decades has been well-documented. Whether in large matters or small, all three disseminate a daily dose of hate-filled anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli poison whose purpose it to harm and demoralize Jews and to diminish Jewish strength. It is essential that everyone speak out against it, now more than ever.

  13. Absolute Observer Says:

    “all three disseminate a daily dose of hate-filled anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli poison whose purpose it to harm and demoralize Jews and to diminish Jewish strength”

    Oh for goodness sake – get a grip.

  14. Rudi Says:

    Have a look to Gilad Atzmon Facebook friends: antisemites and holocaust deniers such as Ahmed Rami eyc.

  15. On being chosen – Eve Garrard « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] making derogatory insinuations about Jews isn’t anything so very special.  But with Orr as with Mearsheimer it’s the silence of the others, of those in the wider context – the colleagues, the editors, […]

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