Jewish Contributions to Civilization: An Estimate

By Joseph Jacobs | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IX
JEWS AND LIBERALISM

THE eighteenth century was the era of the "benevolent despots" like Frederick II, Joseph II, Catherine II, who adopted the ruling principle of the Welfare State that the object of government should be the good of the people, but considered that it could only be carried out for the people but not by them. The weakness of the principle consisted in the difficulty of securing a heritable succession of capable benevolence, and the collapse of Prussia at Jena and of Joseph II's well-meant but unreflective reforms led, in the nineteenth century, to the triumph of the principle, first enunciated in America and carried out in France, of government for the people by the people. The transition to the next stage, from religious toleration to religious liberty, is marked, as regards the Jews, by the tolerance edict of Joseph II in 1781, which, for the first time, threw open service in the army to the Jews, and placed them, to some extent, on the same level with other dissenters from the state Church of Austria.

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