Monday, September 29, 2008

Karl Marx, The Market, And The Hidden Jew

When I was in college, a frequently assigned text in literature and philosophy classes was Karl Marx's On The Jewish Question, about the relationship between political and religious freedom. I don't know if anybody ever got to the end of it--I certainly didn't then--and I have the feeling it wasn't many, because I don't recall anyone being especially shocked by the punchline:

Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time. ...In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.

Kind of a bombshell, ain't? Doesn't read so well after all these years. I bring it up not in an effort to throw more dirt on the grave of Marxism (it's buried well enough), but because it seems to me to have some interesting resonance for the one part of Marx that is still relevant, the critique of the values of the market. Marx's basic point that the market imbues our lives with a scale of values that we do not choose and that in its pervasiveness hides the possibility of other values is one that has a great degree of force. Its attraction has been equally clear to the left and the right, and in that sense is pretty non-partisan.

What's striking about the end of On The Jewish Question, however, is how deeply encoded Marx's anti-semitism is in the critique of the market. The critique of the market involves an attack on the Jew--and a particular kind of attack, coming from the child of converted Jews. In Marx's vehemence I read a degree of shame. The sneakiness of the Jew, the Jew as liar, is a common trope of anti-semitism. The converted Jew is the Jew squared: the Jew is purported to be hidden, and the converted Jew is ... a hidden Jew. The more he tries to run, the more of a Jew he becomes (this is captured in the challenge of Freud's construction in The Resistance to Psychoanalysis, in which he pointedly describes himself as " a Jew who is not afraid to admit that he is a Jew.")

The sense of the inescapability of Jewishness to the converted Jew hangs over the critique of the market. It has sometimes struck me that some of the people who claim most fervently to reject the values of the market in theory cling to them most strongly in practice (not difficult, because in fact the market is extremely good at co-opting, recycling, and retailing anti-marketism: half the advertising industry is based on this). The critique of the market holds inside it the same doubt that seems to have afflicted Marx. Very often the claims of rejecting the values of the market leave the suspicion that inside those doing the loud rejecting is still a hidden Market Man, beholden to the same standards of popular appeal and commercial success, just (like the hidden Jew) pushed further inside.