Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Esau’s Tears: Excerpts of chapter 10

Albert Lindemann is perhaps the only Jewish scholar who, unlike most Jewish pundits, acknowledges the reasons why they’ve been so disliked. No ellipsis added between unquoted paragraphs:

Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Chapter 10. The Ambiguities of “Failure” in the Belle Époque: Germany and Austria

Morality aside, the enmity against the Jews is nonsense, because it is simply impractical. Everybody I know here in Berlin, especially the military and nobility, are eminently dependent upon the Jews and are daily becoming more so. There is no other way but to hold one’s tongue. —Theodor Fontane
Enough has been said about Germany and Austria to make clear how they might be considered, already in the 1880s, failures as models of harmonious Jewish-Gentile relationships. On the other hand, millions of German-speaking Jews and Gentiles continued to live beside one another in reasonable harmony, Jewish material success continued at an impressive rate, and Jewish-Gentile interplay counted many impressive aspects. Many of those in the German-speaking world who spoke out in criticism of the Jews were not willing to go beyond mere exhortation, urging the Jew to improve manners and economic morality or encouraging them to become more whole-hearted in their national feelings. Antiliberal trends become stronger everywhere after 1890, and highlighted tensions between Jews and non-Jews could be noted in nearly all countries. But those tensions often took on curiously unfathomable forms.

The Appearance of Zionism

Gentiles earnestly believed that they and their values had been rejected by Jews, that Jews were not living up to the concessions they implicitly accepted when they gained civil emancipation.

The familiar distinction that religion was a private matter, one that was compatible with various nationalities, which satisfied many Jews in earlier years, began to appear unworkable or at least very awkward in practice. The dialogue of the deaf between Jew and non-Jew ultimately went back to the flawed assumptions, on both sides, of civil emancipation in the first place. The honeymoon was over; divorce was being contemplated. But its costs promised to be terribly high, and the decision was being avoided—perhaps something could still be worked out.

Theodore Herzl [1860-1904] wrote a friend that his book had earned him the “greatest of hatreds [from fellow Jews] while the anti-Semites treat me fairly.” That “fair treatment” constituted one of the earliest examples of what would later become fairly common, that is, open agreement, even an occasional, opportunistic kind of cooperation, between Zionists and some anti-Semites, since they both agreed that Jews should get out of Europe.

The impact of Zionism on non-Jews was also mixed: While anti-Semites pointed to it as evidence that they had been right all along, other non-Jews saw Zionism as a potentially acceptable solution to the Jewish problem.

Anti-Semitism and German Tradition

As historian Steven Beller has commented, “Jews began to see themselves as the real bearers of the Enlightenment” in Austria and Germany. The matter was stated quite openly in a speech by Solomon Ehrmann to the B’nai B’rith in Vienna in 1902. His vision of the future was not simply one in which Jews were to be an honored part; it was to be in fundamental ways a Jewish future, one in which “not only the B’nai B’rith but all Judaism will have fulfilled its task. All mankind will have been jewified [verjudet, the same term used by the anti-Semites] and joined in union with the B’nai B’rith.” In short, Verjudung meant Aufklaerung, jewfication equaled enlightenment. It was in truth a broad and humane vision, but it cannot come as a surprise that many non-Jews were wary of it.

Racism and anti-Semitism were, in the eyes of many German-speaking Jews, more accurately seen as products of reactionaries and of the mob. Hatred of Jews, they believed, was most typically to be found in eastern Europe, or in the less developed parts of the German-speaking world.

There had been a wave of anti-Semitic agitation in Germany from the mid-1870s to the early 1880s, which then receded in the mid-1880s. Another wave gathered force in the late 1880s through the first years of the 1890s, with a high point in the elections of 1893, but it, too, receded, leaving the anti-Semitic parties more discredited and weaker than ever. The next twenty years were similarly indecisive.

The “Dormant Period” of Anti-Semitism in Germany

The Wilhelmine period (1890-1914) has gone down in most histories as a relatively dormant period insofar as political anti-Semitism is concerned. [But] the decline of the anti-Semitic parties by no means necessarily indicated a decline in anti-Semitic sentiment.

Anti-Semitism of the Tivoli Program was not radical. (In it the party denounced “the multifarious and obtrusive Jewish influence that decomposes our people’s life”; a clause was voted down that said “we repudiate the excesses of anti-Semitism.”) That the latter clause was even proposed suggested that many leaders of the Conservative Party were not anti-Semitic in the radical-racial sense. A number of the party’s leading figures had Jewish wives.

The so-called “dormant” period after 1900 was only the lull before the storm.

The fact remains that the Conservative Party, the anti-Semitic pressure groups, and the anti-Semitic parties themselves were either unwilling or unable to pass a single piece of significant legislation against the Jews in Germany. The material welfare of the Jews in Germany, at the same time, continued its remarkable, seeming inexorable force.

Anti-Semitic Agitation in Austria: Karl Lueger

As we have seen, anti-Semitism in Austria had a significantly broader, more “progressive” appeal in the 1870s and 1880s than it did in the German Reich. In the generation before World War I anti-Semitism in Austria, especially Vienna, was far from politically dormant.

It will be recalled that von Schönerer’s movement suffered a sharp and humiliating decline after its initial success of the 1880s. He was arrested, thrown into jail, and stripped of his title of nobility. Within a short time, however, political anti-Semitism found a more adept practitioner in the person of Karl Lueger, far and away the most successful anti-Semitic politician of prewar Europe.

Like von Schönerer, Karl Lueger began his political career as a liberal but then turned against key liberal tenets. Mention has been made of Treitschke’s aversion to the “jewified” German culture of Austria, of Gratez’s desire to “destroy” Christianity, of Hess’s opinion that Christianity was “religion of death,” and Ehrmann’s conclusion that “jewification equals enlightenment.” Many other Enlightened Jews saw themselves as upholders of justice, as a “light unto the nations” in a modern way. The theme was endlessly manipulated, and it found expression in nearly every country, but the relevant point is that “jewification” was actually more than an absurd fantasy of the anti-Semites. Leading German Jews in Vienna did look to a jewification of the non-Jewish world. On the other hand, it does not take much imagination to understand how alien and hypocritical such an ideal may have seemed to the average citizen in Vienna at the turn of the century, especially when, in its immediately perceptible form, jewification seemed to mean financial scandals, unfair competition, and the revolver press, social exclusiveness, and capitalist exploitation.

Even while Lueger was mayor, Jews continued to move into the city at a rapid rate, Jewish upward mobility continued unabated, and Jewish wealth remained impressive. The period considered the “Golden Age of Viennese Jewry” (1897-1910) coincided with the years that Lueger was mayor. One needs to ask what the “success” of Lueger’s movement actually entailed. In truth, his anti-Semitism was mostly noise. The period of his ascendency marked an end to the honeymoon of Jewish-Gentile relations, but Lueger did not hate all Jews. He never looked forward to a Vienna that would be judenrein (free of Jews).

The “Unpolitical” Germans: Langbehn, Lagrade, Chamberlain

Houston Steward Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Twentieth Century (first published in 1900 but many editions followed, including an inexpensive one in 1906 that was distributed in Germany’s schools) became a hugely popular book by the standards of the day. Its success was all the more remarkable because, by the standards of any day, it was a lengthy tome that made large intellectual demands on its readers. And whatever may be said about the defects of the book, it grappled with many substantial issues. Emperor Wilhelm II read it avidly; he quoted it constantly and sent copies to friends and acquaintances. To be sure, Wilhelm was not an intellectually distinguished or discriminating man, but among the may others who openly and effusively admired the book were Albert Schweitzer, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, D.H. Lawrence, and Carl Becker. In his book Chamberlain tried to show, with richly arrayed historical examples, how racial determinism had operated from the distant past to the present. The racial element explained the rise and fall of civilizations, the particular genius of cultures throughout history. Like Gobineau, he was much concerned with racial mixing and the degeneration that he believed came from it.

Chamberlain’s biographer has persuasively argued that in spite of repeated denials, he harbored a tenacious if fluctuating animus against Jews, one that found clearest expression in private communications, especially after 1914, as his health and fortunes declined. The point made earlier about Treitschke (that he had no real program and did not support political action against Jews) holds even more for Chamberlain. He spoke of an inner, spiritual struggle against Jewish influence, not a physical battle against Jewish individuals or groups.

Nationalists in many areas feared that their identity was being overwhelmed and all urged against the forces that were undermining the true identity of their people.


Excerpted from a longer entry that eventually will contain most of the book’s chapters.

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