Monday, 1 May 2017

Professor Paul Preston: 'Holocaust Denier'?

Is Paul Preston a soft core 'holocaust denier'?

THE academic, Professor Paul Preston , described in his book ‘THE SPANISH HOLOCAUST’ as ‘the world’s foremost historian of twentieth-century Spain’; in 2012 published an account of what he called ‘inquisition and extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain’.  By the standards of today, as spelled out by the holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt this week, this comparison of the holocaust now amounts to what she calls 'soft core holocaust denial'. 

In view of recent developments with regard to the Trump administration’s skirmishes with the Jewish community’s claim to ownership of the term ‘Holocaust’, ought we now to be revisiting Pro. Preston’s employment of the word in the context of the Spanish Civil War? 

Deborah Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, who wrote 'Denying the Holocaust’ (1993), this week in responding to the recent blunders of the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, she stated in The Alantic journal:
The Holocaust was something entirely different. It was an organized program with the goal of wiping out a specific people. Jews did not have to do anything to be perceived as worthy of being murdered. Old people who had to be wheeled to the deportation trains and babies who had to be carried were all to be killed. The point was not, as in occupied countries, to get rid of people because they might mount a resistance to Nazism, but to get rid of Jews because they were Jews...’
What we have here from Deborah Lipstadt is a claim to Jewish exceptionalism, which specifically excludes claims like that of Prof. Preston about the Spanish tragedy in the 1930s. 

In the last century the linguistic philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, critising dictionary definitions, argued that the meaning of a word is in its use.  

Having seen the recent film 'Denial' portraying Deborah Lipstadt's defence in the defamation case brought against her by the historian David Irving, it would seem that Ms. Lipstad wants to control the meaning of certain words in a totalitarian manner, which would put the words like holocaust in a kind of sacred category which demands an iron law defence of the meaning 'holocaust' that would have offended Wittgenstein. 

Thus, Deborah Lipstadt told the New York Times this week:
The de-Judaization of the Holocaust, as exemplified by the White House statement, is what I term softcore Holocaust denial. Hardcore denial is the kind of thing I encountered in the courtroom. In an outright and forceful fashion, (David) Irving [another historian] denied the facts of the Holocaust.’

As a conversational analyst I would view this as an attempt by Ms. Lipstadt and others to seize control of certain words like 'holocaust' and to deny use of the use of words to other groups like the gypsies etc. and even to poor Professor Preston's depiction of 'The Spanish Holocaust', as a form of intellectual totalitarianism or bullying..

What we are getting here from Professor Lipstadt and others in the 'holocaust industry', is a kind of tyranny of words, dictated and developed by an ideological group with political vested interests.


John said...

You seem to overlook the fact that, far from trying to "control the meaning of certain words in a totalitarian manner", Lipstadt was defending herself against a legal action brought by the fascist holocaust denier Irving.

Nor was Wittgenstein "critising dictionary definitions". He was criticising the practice of discussing the meaning of words, as if they had a currency outside the context of their use. In trying to extrapolate Lipstadt's position to events in the Spanish Civil war, it is you who is in danger of offending his legacy. As a conversation analyst, you should know that such interventions are the product of recipient design.

Lipstadt's current spat with the Trump administration seems to originate in a reasonable complaint. [Full context here ] A Holocaust Day commemoration that does not mention the systematic murder of six million Jews is bizarre in the extreme and, given the nature of some of Trump's support, very possibly motivated by fascist sentiment.

bammy said...

Dear John,
I am truely humbled!
I suppose that I ought now to ask you to give me a definition of what is meant by a holocaust? Or perhaps what Deborah Lipstadt means when she uses the term 'soft-core holocaust denier'? With respect, all I asked was does this term apply to Professor Preston's work 'The Spanish Holocaust'?
Going back to Wittgenstein, I expect we might say "This and similar things are called 'holocausts'", in the same way as he might add: "This and similar things are called 'games'" [PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS 69]. But if we do that, aren't we decribing a "holocaust" rather than defining it?
Or might one say that the concept of a 'holocaust' has 'blurred edges', as Wittgenstein says at PI [71]: "One might say that the concept 'game' is a concept with blurred edges".
My worry here is that Deborah Lipstadt is 'pocketing the ball', when she uses words like 'soft-core holocaust denier', which is something, in a different context, Wittgenstein accused Hitler of doing!

CD said...

I feel there is an element of "overlooking the wood for the trees" in the above spat. I'm not too concerned about the role of the personalities involved but I'm disturbed that half the countries in Europe deem "Holocaust denial" illegal (It is to Ms Lipstadt's credit that she specifically upholds this freedom.)
Unfortunately the Zionist lobby readily exploits claims of "Holocaust denial" to close down much proper debate; from banning Jim Allen's play "Perdition" to attempting to expel Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party.
We should both recognise the exceptional elements of the "Holocaust" (Shoah) as well as defending Paul Preston's use of the term to describe Franco's systematic liquidation of leftist critics.
Personally, I doubt whether Trump's administration intended "holocaust denial" as he previously stated his determination to move the US Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem which would constitute a dramatically pro-Zionist gesture.
"Free Speech" doesn't just extend to those we agree with.

Les May said...

The link below highlights the problem of talking about 'a holocaust' and 'The Holocaust'. Someone is bound to feel offended. Does it matter if they are? None of us have a right never to be offended.

Les May