Antisemitism and the left

On the return of the Jewish question

By Robert Fine and Philip Spencer

Antisemitism and the left


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0497-7
  • Pages: 144
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £18.99
  • Published Date: February 2017
  • BIC Category: Social & cultural anthropology, Political science & theory, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory, Society & social sciences / Sociology & anthropology, Society & social sciences / Political science & theory, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, Sociology & anthropology


Universalism shows two faces to the world: an emancipatory face that looks to the inclusion of the other, and a repressive face that sees in the other a failure to pass some fundamental test of humanity. Universalism can be used to demand that we treat all persons as human beings regardless of their differences, but it can also be used to represent whole categories of people as inhuman, not yet human or even enemies of humanity.

The Jewish experience offers an equivocal test case. Universalism has stimulated the struggle for Jewish emancipation, but it has also helped to develop the idea that there is something peculiarly harmful to humanity about Jews - that there is a 'Jewish question' that needs to be 'solved'. This original and stimulating book traces struggles within the Enlightenment, Marxism, critical theory and the contemporary left, seeking to rescue universalism from its repressive, antisemitic undertones.


'Fine and Spencer are excellent in showing how universalism both offered a progressive pathway to emancipate Jews and a means to suppress their particularity. They meticulously probe the conundrum of whether, in Enlightenment thought and practice, Jews could only be humans and never Jews.'
Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

'Fine and Spencer have contributed some very sensitive, and sensible, analyses of attitudes towards antisemitism and the Jewish question from universalist thinkers, beginning with the Enlightenment and going on through to current debates on the left about Israel.'
Steven Beller, Independent scholar, Washington D.C., Patterns of prejudice, 2017, Vol. 51, No. 5

'Fine and Spencer should be applauded for convincingly demonstrating, in such a short work, the need for the left to confront the Jewish question in order to pursue its political mission.'
Benjamin Bland, Royal Holloway, University of London, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 54, No. 1

'Allegations of antisemitism have been directed at Corbyn and his newly-modelled Labour Party, both from within British Jewry and from within his own party; those same allegations have been rejected by many of Corbyn's supporters as a politically-motivated smear. Robert Fine - who has sadly passed away since this book was published - and Philip Spencer tried to explain this apparent revival of antisemitism on the left by reference to the history of the Jewish question in European politics.'
Dave Rich, Deputy Director of Communications Community Security Trust, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Vol. 19, No. 3, (2020)


Introduction: universalism and the Jewish question
1 Struggles within Enlightenment: Jewish emancipation and the Jewish question
2 Marx's defence of Jewish emancipation and critique of the Jewish question
3 Antisemitism, critical theory and the ambivalences of Marxism
4 Political life in an antisemitic world: Hannah Arendt's Jewish writings
5 The Jewish question after the Holocaust: Jürgen Habermas and the European left
6 The return of the Jewish question and the double life of Israel


Robert Fine was Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick

Philip Spencer is Emeritus Professor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Kingston University and Visiting Professor in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London

Antisemitism and the left

By Robert Fine, Philip Spencer

Paperback £18.99 / $27.95

Hardcover £80.00 / $120.00

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