Is Theory Good for the Jews? French Thought and the Challenge of the New Antisemitism by Bruno Chaouat (review)


“Is X good for the Jews?” This is the formula Bruno Chaouat borrows for the title of his recent book. It’s a cliché of a question, one that suggests notes of antisemitic caricature as well as Jewish self-parody. The formula may be imagined in the voice of the antisemite, whose perennial accusation against the Jews is that they are insular and parochial, exclusively concerned for their own, tribal welfare. Alternatively, it may be imagined in the voice of the shlemiehl, the Jewish version of the fool archetype, scripted to say such things by a self-reflective and self-parodic Jewish comedy writer. So, it’s a question that antisemites may imagine Jews to ask, and one that Jews may imagine antisemites imagine Jews to ask, and which Chaouat here asks both in winking reference to the stereotypes and, at the same time, in all sincerity. That is: Has “Theory” – which Chaouat defines as the canon of philosophy, literature, and social thought that grew largely out of Heideggerian roots and which continues to find wide purchase – been good for the Jews?

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