The Jewish Ethic and the Spirit of Socialism

The Jewish Ethic and the Spirit of Socialism

The Jewish Ethic and the Spirit of Socialism

The Jewish Ethic and the Spirit of Socialism

Synopsis

The Jewish Ethic and the Spirit of Socialism is an investigation into the appeal of socialist politics to alienated bourgeois German Jews during the Wilhelmine period, 1871-1918. Its central argument is that two conditions attracted German Jews to socialism: a structural marginality resulting from resurgent German anti-Semitism, and secular Jewish messianism. In the course of their assimilation into German society, many Jews became estranged from Judaism, but still confronted anti-Semitism as a barrier to their complete acceptance by Gentiles. In addition, the messianic impulse, secularized out of its origin in Judaism proper, entered into the constitution of socialist ideology and resonated to Jews with special ardor. For many in the stratum of alienated, middle-class Jews, socialism appeared to offer a resolution to the dilemmas of their ambiguous position and to leave behind both Judaism and Christianity in the wake of a history transcended.

Excerpt

This work is understandably neither the first nor the last which treats the German Jews after their "Emancipation" into German civil society and culture. the tragedy of the annihilation of an extraordinarily productive element of nineteenth and twentieth century Western civilization strikes a deep chord in Jews and Germans alike and seems to compel a response, often of the most painfully conflicted and emotional variety. No one doubts that the conjuncture of German and Jewish culture gave the world men and women of genius. in socialist thought alone, with which this work concerns itself, it gave the world Marx and Marcuse, Bernstein and Benjamin. Even with the term "extraordinarily productive" many would take issue, Jews in particular, because in this German-Jewish productivity they would see rather the energy of decay, as if Kafka, who may in some ways be considered exemplary, though not German, wrote because his disease forced its way into his imagination. Or one might refer to Aharon Appelfeld's ghostly characterizations of deluded German Jews on the eve of their destruction. Among the responses to the fate of the Jews are, on the German side, stony silence, posthumous idealization, and lurid fascination with an extinct species; on the Jewish side, revulsion at an apparent German-Jewish self-abasing assimilation, the hardened conviction that Germans are a "hopeless case" with the consequent rejection of all things German, and of course indescribable loss and lamentation.

Here the relationship between the German Jewish community and the German socialist movement during the Wilhelmine period, 1871- 1918, is subjected to a sociological examination. the analytical aim is to explain the causes and the strength of the relationship; at a normative level the analysis founds itself upon the belief that relations between Germans and Jews are ongoing and worthwhile. the study will, therefore, not find favor with Germans unwilling to repent and Jews unwilling to forgive. It neither speaks of a wishfully reconstructed German-Jewish symbiosis which passes over in silence . . .

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