But there is an even more sinister case in the history of Western Intellectualism.
Paul de Man has not suffered the fate of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, with his libels still banned in many countries and a long exile in Sigmaringen. Paul de Man has not served a prison term in a cell six feet wide like Ezra Pound. Paul de Man was not put to the wall like Robert Brasillach. Paul de Man was not even interned in a psychiatric clinic like the Norwegian Knut Hamsun. Paul de Man didn't even had to live under the shadow of suspicion, like Martin Heidegger.
De Man’s case is even more important, because he didn’t suffer any damnation memoriae for having flirted with Nazism and anti-Semitism. Paul de Man, one of the godfathers of the “deconstruction” theory, enjoyed only the best: money, glory, prizes, newspaper front pages, even a school of thought that bears his name and the appointment of “Sterling Professor of the Humanities” at famed Yale University.
Yet de Man’s bond with totalitarianism is no less serious than that of the major writers and thinkers mentioned above and always taken as a symbol of “collaboration”. A scandalous biography, “The Double Life of De Man” by scholar Evelyn Barish, reveals De Man’s dark past.
De Man was born into a wealthy Flemish family in Belgium. He was a young intellectual, athletic, intelligent, good-looking, a member of the “Cercle du Libre – Examen”, literary and progressive. De Man reached New York in 1948, where he came into contact with the intellectual mielieu around Mary McCarthy, who recommended De Man for a position at Bard College. It was the beginning of an incredible academic career. De Man invented his profile of the “gran resistant” and lived like a Gatsby. During that time, his deconstruction coupled with radical feminism and neo-Marxism.
The austere and secluded De Man enchanted Americans, speaking to them of Hölderlin, Gide, Camus, Heidegger, and Borges. De Man gave French lessons to the future Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. He founded the so-called “Yale School”, and he died in 1993.
Now we read how De Man, the most esteemed and beloved of the American critics of literature , during the Second World War wrote 169 anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi articles for newspapers and magazines. He worked for the Editions de la Toison d'Or, a pro-German publishing house, and an art magazine whose purpose, Evelyn Barish writes , was “to promote the full range of bizarre Nazi ideologies”.
De Man described the Jews as “pollutants” in his articles for Le Soir daily, for the magazine Flemish Het Land Vlaamsche and the Bibliographie Dechenne, where he praised the Nazi invasion of Belgium as the “impeccable behavior of the highly civilized invader”.
De Man's collaborationist period goes from December 1940 to March 1943 and the most outrageous article is that of March 4, 1941 in Le Soir , “The Juifs dans la littérature actuelle” (The Jews in Contemporary Literature), where he describes the Jews as alien to Europe.
Speaking of “Western intellectuals”, De Man wrote:
“That they have been able to safeguard themselves from Jewish influence in a domain as representative of culture as literature is proof of their vitality. We would have to give up hope for its future if our civilization had let itself be invaded by a foreign force. By keeping, in spite of Semitic interference in all aspects of European life, an intact originality and character, it has shown that its basic nature is healthy. Furthermore, one sees that a solution of the Jewish problem that would aim at the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would not entail, for the literary life of the West, deplorable consequences. The latter would lose, in all, a few personalities of mediocre value and would continue, as in the past, to develop according to its great evolutionary laws”.
De Man proposed a “solution” to the “Jewish problem” while gas chambers and crematoria were already incinerating that “pollution”, the Jews. De Man attacked expressionism as a form of Judaism. He also praised the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who in Weimar had invited dozens of European writers (including the Italian Giaime Pintor).
The poet David Lehman, author of the book “Signs of the Times”, found a link between De Man’s theory of language and his Nazi ideas: “It is the danger of the words losing their meaning”.
In that sense, the crop of current Western intellectuals who wrap anti-Judaism and anti-Israeli feelings with a postmodern-language veneer, are all heirs of Paul de Man: dissimulators, violent, fanatical, envisioning a world without Jews.