In a continuation of our series on Jews & Sex, Aidan Joseph Beatty argues how antisemitism is often a deeply pleasurable, even erotic, experience for the antisemite.
In January 1904, a relatively young Irish Catholic priest named John Creagh began a campaign of intimidation against the small Jewish community in Limerick. Using his religious pulpit, Creagh fomented a programme of economic boycotts against Jewish merchants in the city. Some acts of non-lethal violence against the Limerick Jewish community also took place and by the summer of the following year the Jewish community in the city had halved in size. These events became known as the Limerick Boycott. They are usually seen as the most extreme moment of antisemitism in modern Irish history; extreme by the relatively quiet standards of Irish Jewish history, less so from the broader perspective of twentieth-century European Jewish history.
Creagh had been initially encouraged in his actions by local, native-born traders, who resented the economic competition of newly-arrived Jewish grocers. And Creagh’s sermons drew on the standard tropes and accusations of deicide and dual loyalties.
The root causes of the Limerick Boycott are usually explained in terms of economic competition and religious bigotry. But there was another different strand, one central to antisemitism.
In the first of his violent sermons, John Creagh aimed his wrath at Jewish usurers but then claimed that rural housewives were most commonly targeted by Jews selling goods on credit in the agricultural hinterland of Limerick. He said
Creagh went to claim that if his parishioners would visit the home of one particular Jewish moneylender they ‘will be surprised to see the number and class of people who are going in and out… to pay the Jew his usury.’
In barely concealed terms, Creagh’s language– ‘stealthy visits… in the darkness’, ‘in and out’ – was designed to simultaneously prick the masculine pride of his audience whilst also offering up a small hint of sexual titillation. Fr. Creagh was claiming that Jews have trapped Irish wives into giving them sexual favours, unknowingly cuckolding Irish men.
Fr. Creagh knew exactly what he was doing, appealing to his audience fears by engaging in titillating fantasies about Jewish men cuckolding Irish Catholic husbands. Indeed, this kind of pornographic imagery and titillation recurs again and again in the history of antisemitism. This claim of cuckolding is an important one, a connecting branch between what Creagh seemed to be doing here and the broader history of racism, antisemitism and sex.
Cuckoldry and Cuckservative
The word ‘cuckold’ derives from Old French and is etymologically related to the word ‘cuckoo’. It is generally a pejorative term. Just as a cuckoo unnaturally lays her eggs in another bird’s nest, so so a cuckold is an unnatural man who allows another man to enter his home to have sex with his wife. It probably entered the English language around the mid-thirteenth century, becoming a more obscure term by the twentieth.
Sometime around 2015, though, it recently re-entered the English language. The term ‘Cuckservative’ began to circulate in far-right circles, particularly on the internet, to describe conservative politicians that are supposedly too moderate or too willing to compromise with the Democrats. It has since been shortened to the succinct, and aggressive sounding ‘Cuck’, which is regularly used as a noun, a verb or an adjective. So for instance, according to various accounts on Twitter, Mitt Romney is a cuck, but also Mitt Romney has been cucked by Donald Trump and anyone who does not support Trump’s agenda is a Cuck Liberal. And it is a word that has begun to circulate far beyond its original extreme right-wing base.
The term Cuckservative borrows from a specific genre of pornography. In her brilliantly provocative book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, Jane Ward provides a useful summation of this particular cuckolding pornographic genre and its standard plot: ‘a straight (and typically white) man discovers that his wife or girlfriend is cheating on him with a stronger, sexually powerful (and typically black) male rival. Feeling emasculated and undeserving of his female partner, the (white) man watches her have sex with his rival and is told he must submit to both of them in order to keep his wife.’
Situating this genre in its broader racist history, Andrea Long Chu has said in her recent short polemic Females that: ‘The paradox of white supremacy, of course, is that it’s actually an inferiority complex: the white man, who could have just as easily fantasized that the black man’s penis was smaller than his own – it would be fantasy either way, after all – nevertheless opts to imagine himself as a sexual failure, going limp in the presence of the black man’s unlimited sexual potency.’
As a genre, it combines the stereotypical pornographic features of sexual titillation and gratification with male humiliation and longstanding racist assumptions about Black male hyper-sexuality. And thus a cuckservative, as a term, combines a racist assumption about white conservative politicians’ supposed willingness to debase themselves by parleying with minorities. That pornography would be so openly racist is hardly surprising, since racism and bigotry are themselves often noticeably pornographic. Anti-Black racism has certainly relied on stereotypes about Black male sexual potency, lust and rapaciousness and the supposed dangers that Black men pose to vulnerable white femininity. In a similar fashion, Black women are regularly depicted, in the white supremacist imagination, as either having freakishly weird and hyper-feminised bodies or just as being hyper-sexualised receptacles for white male sexual attentions, as Dorothy Roberts discussed in her book Killing the Black Body. Anti-Black racism simultaneously combines horror and fear about Black men with a whole set of white male sexual desires and fantasies of sexual access. All of these are, in one way or another, sexual fantasies operating through racism and racial fantasies operating through sexualized imagery.
The Paranoid Style
Many years ago, in his famous work on The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstader made the astute observation that ‘anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan.’ Anti-Catholic screeds, such as the notorious 1836 hoax, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, played on the notion that Catholics were sexually depraved, but also, by describing their sexual actions in extreme detail, provided a forum for sexual titillation. Antisemitism (particularly antisemitic visual material) often operates according to a similar rationale, welding horror and arousal and one and the same time.
Or to put it differently, scholars of antisemitism often overlook a key truth (but an uncomfortable truth): for antisemites, antisemitic culture is a pleasant thing to experience. It is designed to be titillating and even gratifying in the same way that pornography is.
Antisemites like Fr. John Creagh know exactly what they are doing, and how they are hoping to appeal to their audience, when they engage in fantasies about, in Creagh’s case, Jewish men cuckolding Irish Catholic husbands. Indeed, this kind of pornographic imagery and titillation recurs again and again in the history of antisemitism, and the rest of this article will give a potted and very rapid-fire accounting of how antisemitism has gone hand-in-hand with titillation, disgust and a sexualized sense of humiliation. Antisemitism has a remarkable ability to simultaneously combine all three in one single package.
Medieval depictions of Jews had a regular recourse to claims about Jewish men as a lustful sexual danger to Christendom or as being sexually weird or monstrous, most (in)famously depicted by the Judensau the Jews’ Pig, a common image in various woodcuts and even Church relief carvings in medieval German worked.
Nazi Rape Fantasies
Jumping ahead massively in time, depictions of Jews in the Nazi-era Der Stürmer sought to directly play on accusations that Jewish men are gaining undue sexual access to Aryan German women (not all that differently from Fr. Creagh’s claims). At certain times this seemed to encode a certain kind of economic grievance, claiming Jewish men had a wealth that gave them a life of free sexual access or sexual ease, all supposedly denied to German Gentile men. Other caricatures in Der Stürmer presented Jews as rapacious threats to German Aryan womanhood, though often with graphic nudity and explicitness slipping into the pornographic.
It also seems that in the rape fantasies of Der Stürmer, the problem is not so much that these women are being raped, but that they are being raped by Jewish men (rather than their rightful Aryan male possessors). Indeed a cartoon from August 1937, two years after the implementation of the Nuremburg Laws, depicted the new sexual ease enjoyed by Aryan men in a Germany no longer beset by allegedly lustful Jewish men. All of these caricatures in Der Stürmer seem to be designed so as to invite and gratify the desires of their readers, playing on a sense of sexual humiliation whilst also holding out a vision of sexual gratification and overcoming the Jews that are here blamed as the cause of German men’s sense of impotence. The national impotence that followed the imposition of the Treaty of Versailles collapses here into a more personal sense of sexual impotence. And these kinds of sexualized antisemitic accusations have had an oddly persistent half-life, often united by a certain grim fascination with allegedly depraved Jewish sexuality as well as a recourse to something akin to the rhetorical device of occupatio, in which a speaker claims to be ignoring the very thing they then focus on.
Plano Cohen, the fabricated accusation that Jewish communists planned to invade the homes of wealthy Brazilians and rape the inhabitants, was used as the excuse for Getúlio Vargas’ declaration of a dictatorship in 1937. The English antisemite Joseph Bannister claimed in his 1901 work England Under the Jews (1901) that Jews not only controlled the sex trade but also delighted in the cruelties they bestowed: ‘No Jew is more of a hero among his fellow tribesmen than the one who can boast of having accomplished the ruin of some friendless, unprotected Christian girl.’ Even more bizarre was the fantasy that coalesced during a resurgent white-slave panic swept in Orléans, Grenoble and other French cities in the late 1960s, when Jewish boutique owners were charged with drugging teenage girls in their fitting rooms and spiriting them along an underground passage to waiting submarines. These accusations rely on familiar themes of violence, humiliation, and Jews’ supposedly unbridled sexual access to gentile women. In such narratives, Jewish men enjoy a desirable level of sexual freedom that is supposedly never available to non-Jewish men.
In their recent book on Los Angeles in the 1960s, Set the Night on Fire, Mike Davis and Jon Wiener discuss a ‘toxic rumor’ that circulated in southern California in the summer of 1964.
Clearly, sex and racism were reproducing each other at this moment. This specific variety of pornographic antisemitism – which oscillates between humiliation and gratification – has, indeed, re-emerged in the United States in recent years.
According to the ‘great replacement theory’, a sexual conspiracy theory as well as one of the most popular contemporary antisemitic conspiracy theories of the Alt-Right, Jews are said to be masterminding a population decline of the white race. What is less noticed, perhaps, is the second half of this story; that white men – with possible echoes of Dr Strangelove – are offered a potential judenfrei future in which they get unfettered access to white women so as to repopulate a supposedly depopulated white race. It is essentially an invitation to engage in both gratifying sexualized fantasies as well as the fantasy that both second-wave feminism and the civil rights movement could be undone and thus white male authority could be returned.
Fr. John Creagh also held out a soothing image of a restoration of male (Irish Catholic) authority, one that could be regained once the very small Jewish community of Limerick had been expelled. And that image of male authority was both humiliating (Jewish men are cuckolding Irish Catholic husbands) and soothing (authority can be soon regained). It is a classic tale of order-disorder-order restored, with a strain of sexual titillation running across the narrative. Antisemitism has a remarkable tendency to play on the emotional, the intimate, and the personal. But in describing the grotesqueness of antisemitism, historians often unconsciously slip into tacitly assuming that everyone else finds this stuff equally grotesque and horrible.
What we thus miss is that for antisemites, antisemitism is often a deeply pleasurable experience, even an erotic experience. It was probably even designed to do all that.