The psychology of politics and antisemitism - opinion

As one moves Right along the line and reaches the middle, attitudes labeled Left or Right are indistinguishable.

A portrait of Hans Eysenck by his wife Sybil Eysenck.. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
A portrait of Hans Eysenck by his wife Sybil Eysenck..
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) was England’s senior clinical psychologist. He published a monograph titled “The Psychology of Politics” (1954), in which he described an investigation he had completed and from which he argued that our current model of politics is misleading.
The present political “set-up” can be modeled by a horizontal line, he argued. The Left extreme is occupied by Communists, Trotskyists and others, many of whom followed the Soviet Union and the teachings of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Vladimir Lenin.
As one moves Right along the line one find the “hard-line” socialists and then the softer less dogmatic social democrats and when one reaches the middle, attitudes labeled Left or Right are indistinguishable.
As one moves to the Right, one finds undogmatic conservatives who have significant sympathy for the “underdog,” Margaret Thatcher labeled them “wet Tories” as she and her supporters were further to the Right on the figurative line. As one continues, the attitudes harden until the extreme which are easily recognized as either fascists or people who hold fascist-like attitudes and, of course, ultimately Nazis. One is apt to forget that the word “Nazi” is an acronym for National Socialist, which has a much less threatening sound. All this is well known.
Eysenck’s investigation was designed to examine the psychology of these conventional groups. The aim was to identify which psychological features would make the subject adopt a socialist attitude and distinguish him/her from a communist or fascist. His assumption was that people in each of the political groups identified by the horizontal line would have a characteristic psychological pattern. This would not be trivial information. For example, if one knows the psychological features of a politician in office one can anticipate how he/she will behave when confronted by a problem affecting policy.
Similarly, if an individual is standing for election and one knows his/her psychological features, which may be observable at the hustings, one can anticipate that person’s behavior in office and decide whether to vote for him/her. And if one knows how people of different psychological types are distributed in a community one can anticipate who that community will return to parliament in a constituency system.
Eysenck worked in Britain. His study did not confirm his expectations. Its results demonstrated a different pattern. He found that people at the extremes, despite their Left or Right labels, presented very similar features. These were a preference for authoritarian leaders and hierarchical systems. They were dogmatic and refused to debate, using slogans. They would punish crime harshly and although they might use different criteria, they would use the death penalty. Eysenck called these people “tough minded.”
He found that as one moved to the center from the extremes, Left and Right, demonstrated similar more permissive patterns and in the center they were indistinguishable from each other being less dogmatic, hostile to autocracy and hierarchy, gentle on crime and hostile to the death penalty. Eysenck called them “tender minded.”
These findings can also be modeled on a line, but this time it is a vertical line that one would obtain by rotating the extremes of the conventional horizontal line through 90 degrees to allow the extremes to occupy the top position and the people in the middle the bottom position if the rotation is upwards. If the rotation was downwards the people in the middle would occupy the top position, the principle remains unaltered.
It appears that Eysenck did not develop this work, perhaps because it was not his main research interest. Nor is there evidence of public interest in the findings.
A major study to confirm these findings would be an expensive proposition and neither government nor philanthropy would consider this the best way to use scarce resources. This raises the question whether the ordinary person in the street can make observations which are consistent with what Eysenck found. If this hypothetical observer happens to be a Jew, he or she can. Consider antisemitism. At the moment, one speaks about right-wing and left-wing antisemitism and Muslim fundamentalism. These labels imply differences that closer inspection does not confirm.
Fundamentally, antisemitism is irrational, and since antisemites want to attract less interested people to their movement they rationalize.
To do this they use pseudo-scientific theory developed in the 19th century. On the Right this involves the racial theories of Gobineau, Houston Chamberlain, Drumont and others as well as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which are presented as well researched fact.
The Left utilize Marxist Leninism or, more accurately, Dialectical Materialism. Although this is more philosophical in nature it is presented as scientific. No account is taken of the fact that Marx died in 1883 and never saw a motor car nor the advanced engineering of later Capitalism, together with their effects on human labour. The Muslim argument is religious but it has the same effect as the quasi-religious belief in pseudo-science. The three rationalizations are the same.
Antisemites do not debate their beliefs and all react with anger if challenged. Their political preference is for autocratic rule and their organizations are hierarchical. They give free reign to their emotions and when the left attacks Israel they obscure the fact that the Palestinian structures they promote are, in their own language, reactionary.
They are prepared to lie, although it would be better to refer this as “use untruths” because it appears that they believe the lies they offer. It may be because these misleading statements are evidence of wishful thinking.
They all develop conspiracy theories even without the aid of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They use boycotts and accuse diaspora Jews of dual loyalties overlooking the antisemites intense loyalty to a presumed Palestinian state. The medieval blood libel has been updated to organ snatching for sale as transplants. And Jews have been blamed for the coronavirus just as they were blamed 700 years ago for the Black Death.
One way or another their goal is to destroy the Jews. This is, at the moment impractical, but there are sufficient homicidal incidents to cause concern. Physical assault is common but the most modern development is to inflict psychological pain as the British Labour Party has shown in recent years, using the electronic media with gay abandon for the purpose. Antisemitic behavior is so stereotyped it is tempting to describe it as a syndrome. This should be avoided. Since the word “syndrome” is a medical term its use, to many, would be to imply that antisemitism is a form of illness and this could tempt well-meaning people to seek a quasi- medical approach to the problem.
Antisemitism is not an illness; it is the uninhibited behavior of some people in accordance with aggressive genes from our hunter-gatherer ancestors which persist through roughly 6,000 years to the present day.
A parallel situation may give guidance on how to deal with the problem; that is aggressive male sexual behavior. It is agreed generally that this type of behavior is unacceptable in our modern society and is in consequence recognized as criminal and therefore subject to trial and sentencing. If the offender argued that he was expressing atavistic urges this would not be accepted as a defense.
Antisemitism too is an expression of atavistic urges and should be treated in the same way. But in addition it should be remembered that inflicting psychological pain, as members of the Labour Party did last year, is serious assault. Incitement to physical assault merits a custodial sentence. It may be preferable to treat psychological assault as automatic libel which is sanctioned by very heavy financial penalties. All this requires legislation. While it can be implemented in Israel, the Diaspora Jewish population is insufficient in numbers to implement this. However, they can convince members of the general population that legislation of this type is required, and rapidly. They should be advised that it is in their interests too, since what begins with the Jews never ends with the Jews alone.■
The writer is a retired physician who lives in Beersheba.