Philip Earl Steele

Dr. Pinsker’s diagnosis was correct: It’s demonopathy

Leon Pinsker (1821-1891), Wikimedia Commons
Leon Pinsker (1821-1891), Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of the horrible pogroms that began sweeping the Pale of Settlement in 1881, Leon Pinsker, a physician from Odessa, authored the foundational Zionist tract Autoemancipation!, published in September 1882. Pinsker’s prescription for the Jews’ predicament – the creation of a Jewish state – is what captured attention. However, the doctor’s diagnosis of the nature of antisemitism was largely ignored then. As it is today.

Pinsker’s diagnosis – “demonopathy” – is nonetheless correct.

Describing “the fear of ghosts” as the “mother of Judeophobia”, Pinsker wrote:

“Among the living nations of the earth the Jews occupy the position of a nation long since dead … The world saw in this people the uncanny form of one of the dead walking among the living. The ghostlike apparition of a people without unity or organization, without land or other bond of union, no longer alive, and yet moving about among the living — this eerie form scarcely paralleled in history … could not fail to make a strange, peculiar impression upon the imagination of the nations.

… Judeophobia is a form of demonopathy, with the distinction that the Jewish ghost … is not disembodied, like other ghosts, but is a being of flesh and blood … Friend and foe alike have tried to explain or to justify this hatred of the Jews by bringing all sorts of charges against them. They are said to have crucified Jesus, to have drunk blood of Christians, to have poisoned wells, to have taken usury, to have exploited the peasant and so on. These and a thousand and one other charges against an entire people have been proved groundless … [Yet] against superstition even the gods fight vainly.”

In fact, Pinsker’s diagnosis, stripped of the medical constructs typical of Autoemancipation! as a whole, has long been prevalent. After all, the traditional Catholic and liberal Protestant “replacement theology” – whereby the Covenant was forfeited on behalf of the Church – expresses the core of Pinsker’s idea with its concept of a vagrant, accursed Jewish people. The otherwise outstanding historian Arnold Toynbee also closely echoed Pinsker with his infamous pre-WWII description of Jews as a “surviving fossil of an extinct civilization”. His postwar abhorrence of Israel was part of the same mental fabric. For how not to react with horror when the dead rise out of their coffins and assert themselves?

More recently (2021), Dara Horn highlighted this in her book People Love Dead Jews (“Living Jews, not so much”). Again, the “Judeophobia” born of demonopathy wishes to drive a stake through the heart of dead Jews and keep them buried. As Leon Pinsker argued over 140 years ago, demonopathy construes living Jews as zombies. So too, since 1948, their collective polity. And as anyone who has watched a single zombie movie knows, there’s no sympathy when zombies are killed. Only the desperate wish that they stay dead.

Hence the flailing, panicked efforts to plunge stakes through the heart. For despite the heinous massacre of October 7, the UN General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas – though it has condemned Israel. With eight stakes! Despite the ghoulish sexual atrocities committed by Hamas, a deafening silence from women’s organizations. Despite the bans on matters like “cisheterosexism” in the US Ivy League, calls for genocide against the Jews are openly condoned by university presidents as free speech. Despite their regular, mournful presence at Holocaust sites, self-styled Christian leaders in Poland found themselves “speechless” and unable for five weeks to mourn the mass murder of Jews still living early morning, October 7. The fear intrinsic to demonopathy can strike one mute.

About the Author
Philip Earl Steele is an American historian based in Poland, specializing in the history of early Zionism. His recent book on Theodor Herzl, published by the Polish Academy of Sciences, is available in Open Access:
Related Topics
Related Posts