Excerpted from Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2009); a book that could have been subtitled “Jewish takeover (‘rise’) and Gentile reaction (‘anti-Semitism’)”.
That I have devoted many years of study to anti-Semitism underlines how important I think it has been and is.
Expressing irritation with Jews, as a number of prominent Germans did—and so did prominent figures, including Jews themselves, in nearly every country—is one thing; calling for their systematic murder is quite another. In many accounts (Goldhagen’s is the latest in a long series) such distinctions are blurred; some writers go so far as to condemn the distinctions as morally dubious, thus making any irritation with Jews or criticism of them “anti-Semitic,” a conclusion that takes on extraordinary dimensions when linked to such assertions as “all anti-Semitism is as dangerous as a little bit of cancer.”
I cannot accept such reasoning, which seems to me facile, especially insofar as it implies that Jews, unlike other human groups, cannot provoke legitimate irritation.
Indeed, the opposite position, that Jewish conduct is the main cause for hatred of Jews, has been described by Edward Alexander (disapprovingly) as “an argument of wide and enduring popularity,” which it certainly is. It was even more popular in the nineteenth century when it was almost universally assumed, by both Jews and non-Jews, that Jewish behavior was the all-too-obvious cause of the appearance of modern anti-Semitism.
Chapter 1. Anti-Semitism before the modern period: overview and definition
Esau’s tears: the deepest roots of anti-Semitism
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gentile rulers of Jews in Europe generally became classified as “Esau.” Anti-Semites of various stripes have drawn upon the Jacob-Esau tale, that Jacob will always hurt Esau.
The Esau-Jacob story and Jewish commentary on it, however, suggest a number of provocative points in conceptualizing the nature of anti-Semitism. In a central passage of the Hebrew Bible, Esau’s angry tears were presented as perfectly understandable; they were not the result of some mysterious fantasy about a wholly innocent Jacob.
As a reader of the Hebrew Bible must recognize, brutality was hardly an invention of the Other Nations; the biblical Jews committed, and their spokesmen afterwards glorified, unspeakable bestial acts. The inclination to picture Jews as perennially helpless victims, in no sense responsible for the ills that have affected them, has often been part of an unsophisticated and transparently defensive reflex. The popular writer Howard Fast concludes his book The Jews, The Story of a People, with this remark: “Such despair and agony as the Jewish people had to endure over the past thousand years is the result, not of what they are, but of what the Christian world has inflicted upon them.” This is by no means an isolated or unusual comment. Critics have charged that women, workers, or minorities have been portrayed one-dimensionally by some historians, as utterly helpless, uncomprehending, and pitiful victims of history, in no way responsible for their misfortunes (and to assert that they were responsible would be to commit the cardinal sin of blaming the victim).
The sheer horror of the Holocaust has made it understandably suspect or even unconscionable in the opinion of some observers to suggest that Jews themselves may have had a degree of responsibility for that catastrophe. Study of the sufferings of Jews is now advocated mostly as a way of preventing suffering in the future, largely by exposing the sinful or corrupt nature of Gentile society and its responsibility for Jewish suffering and almost never as a means by which Jews could become aware of their own sins. The following pages will provide evidence that anti-Semites were frequently less simple and occasionally less morally corrupt than they have been generally presented.
The Rise of the Jews
Arthur Koestler has stated the matter with characteristic bluntness: “The Jewish religion, unlike any other, is racially discriminatory, nationally segregative, and socially tension-creating.” The same Ruth Wisse who was earlier quoted as describing anti-Semitism as functioning “independent of its object” observes at the same time, without apparently sensing any contradiction, that “the dynamism of the Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is almost unparalleled.” The rise of the Jews, notes Paul Johnson, was above all the rise of the Jewish intellectual, whose “shattering importance to modern history” can hardly be exaggerated in nearly all realms but perhaps most strikingly in that of the left-wing and revolutionary politics.
A once despised and legally set-apart group seemed to be prospering more than others, and, more to the point, it seemed to be assuming power over non-Jews. A few scandals or frauds involving Jews, Jewish braggarts, or strutters—and there was no lack of them—set off poisonous spirals of anger, indignation, and envy.
Chapter 2. Modern Times (1700 to the 1870s)
The French Revolution and the Jews
Opponents of Jewish emancipation retorted that Judaic belief, included the belief that Jews were a separate nation, was not then merely a private affair. Jews could not serve in the army because they could not be depended upon to defend the French nation; they were potential enemies of France.
The liberal years of Midcentury
Legal restrictions concerning Jews were lifted, and many Jews became prominent politicians. This period of liberal triumph has been referred to as the “honeymoon years” of Jewish-Gentile relations. [But] honeymoons always end, sometimes with bitter reflections concerning the flawed beliefs and naive expectations upon which the union was initially conceived.
Backward Russia in Ostjuden
Russian Jews throughout the nineteenth century remained a nation most emphatically apart from the dominant Great Russians. Historians now doubt that hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed by Chmielnicki’s forces, as earlier stated.
By the end of the [18th] century Jews had sufficiently recovered economically and demographically that they represented ten percent of Poland’s population.
By the middle of the [19th] century, the Jews of Posen and Galicia were awarded Prussian and Austrian citizenship, including the right of free movement.
Russia’s “Liberal” Experiment
Jews became prosperous industrialists, merchants, bankers, doctors, and lawyers in proportionately much larger numbers than did Great Russians, Byelo-Russians, Poles, or Ukrainians. Jews also entered white-collar employment in sharply disproportionate numbers.
Eastern European Jews were also infamous in the nineteenth century for involvement in activities associated with the saloon, as pimps, or in the language of the time, on “white slavery,” but also in other illegal activities.
Anti-Semites in Russia were inclined to perceive yet another area of Jewish vice, one that emerged from the destructiveness of Jewish character, in the unusual proclivities of Jews to engage in subversive activity.
Revolutionary Agitation and Tsarist Reaction
Arrests and repression followed, and thereafter activists took a more violent and terroristic direction. When Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionary conspirators in 1881, much attention was drawn to the Jews involved in the conspiracy. Following the assassination, popular rioting against the Jews, or pogroms (the word originated in Russia), broke out in many areas.
The May Laws of 1882, not formally repelled until 1917, were designed to bring Russia’s Jews under control; control [of] what was considered the increasingly unscrupulous exploitation by Jews of peasants. Quotas on the number of Jews allowed in higher education were established to reduce and stabilize the numbers of Jews in the universities. The new goal was around ten percent, since by the 1870s the percentage of Jewish university students had grown much beyond that figure in many areas.
The 1880s marked the beginning of a massive Jewish emigration out of the Russian Empire. Now opportunities to get out of Russia opened up as never before, especially for those willing to go to the New World. Jews from eastern Europe arrived in floods.
The Concept of Race
By the middle years of the nineteenth century, the term “race” came to be commonly and unapologetically used by nearly everyone in western Europe. In stark and revealing contrast to the situation by the mid-twentieth century, few questioned that there was a Jewish race.
A Gentile child, adopted by Jews at birth, can never qualify for priestly status. His moral probity or fidelity to the beliefs and rituals of Judaism, no matter how perfect, cannot alter his lower status. Nazis, too, said that one is born a Jew and Jewishness could never be relinquished.
In the nineteenth century, the word race began to replace blood. The English politician and writer Benjamin Disraeli (prime minister, 1868), in spite of having converted to Christianity as a child, emphatically insisted that he remained a member of the Jewish race. In his novel Coningby, Disraeli depicted a vast and secret power of Jews, bent on dominating the world. His noble Jewish character, Sidonia, describes race as a supremely important determinant (“all is race; there is no other truth”). He wrote that if the “great Anglo-Saxon republic” (the United States) allowed its white population “to mingle with its negro and coloured populations” it would be the beginning of the end for the new country.
Racism and anti-Semitism
It is significant that racism in its nineteenth-century form had no single theorist whom most racists recognized, in the way that Marx was recognized by socialists or J.S. Mill was recognized by liberals. Racism did not become a movement in the way that socialism and liberalism did, nor did racists–even specific kinds of racists, such as anti-Semites–form coherent, durable parties comparable to socialist and liberal parties.
There seems little question that increasingly systematic observations about various human societies had important implications for the growth of racism in the nineteenth century.
The Evolution of the Vocabulary of Race
Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) developed the concept of Volkgeist. He presented himself as the outspoken friend [of the Jews], yet he rejected Jewish emancipation in Germany, at least in the near future, and termed Jews “parasites.” He wrote that Jews “belong to Palestine and not Europe. Since Israel and its prayers despise all other peoples from which it is set apart, how can it be otherwise than that it is itself despised by other nations?”
A number of influential European anti-Semites arrived at Zionist conclusions: The Jewish problem in Europe could be solved if the Jews would go to Palestine, where they belonged.
Racist Ideas among Jews
There were many Jewish racists in the nineteenth century. As noted, Disraeli was probably more influential in spreading certain general notions about the Jewish race than any of the theorists of race described in the preceding sections. He despised what he termed “that pernicious doctrine of modern times, the natural equality of man.”
Moses Hess (1812-1875), who had worked closely for a time with Karl Marx, later affirmed that the “race struggle is primary, the class struggle secondary.” Judaism would become the spiritual guide of humankind, whereas Christianity, “a religion of death,” would wither. He was a good friend of Graetz, who wrote him of his delight in “scourging” Germans. Graetz added that “we must above all work to shatter Christianity.”
See the rest of my typed excerpts here
(and excuse me for the typos:
these texts are direct typing
from Lindemann’s book for WDH).