The Controversialist: An Intellectual Life of Goldwin Smith

By Paul T. Phillips | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Anti-Semitism

From his pronouncements on the importance of race in history, as well his vision of Anglo-Saxondom, it is clear that Goldwin Smith moved toward views that we today would categorize as racist. But problems exist in this realm when we apply such labels to the nineteenth century. Similarly, it is not clear that Smith imbibed in a direct way from the trough of late nineteenth-century pseudo-scientific thought that would have seemed to bolster his theoretical framework on such matters. In the case of his attitude toward Jews, one also finds at times a view that in its obsessiveness and virulence verges on the strongest type of racism found in the twentieth century.

Specifically on the question of Jews, Britain had a unique line of development in its treatment of this minority. 1 Expelled under Edward I, Jews were allowed to take up domicile in the country only later during Oliver Cromwell’s regime, perhaps eliciting one of Smith’s few negative statements on Hebraic influences upon the Protector. By the nineteenth century, British Jewry had built itself up into a small but prominent community in London as well as a few other centers such as Manchester. Religious assimilation of Jews into the gentile population did begin to take place, the family of Benjamin Disraeli being one of the most famous cases in point. 2 Jewish emancipation took place in the 1850s, although further issues tended to divide British

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