Academic journal article German Quarterly

German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses

Academic journal article German Quarterly

German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses

Article excerpt

Mack, Michael. German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. 237pp. $35.00 hardcover.

Modernity's anti-Semitism, the dark cloud on the horizon of European progress, is often explained as either a hangover of pre-modern superstitions or a reactionary protest against the German Aufklarung. seeking explanations (though not excuses) for Europe's darkest hours, Mack's alternative intellectual history argues that the well was poisoned at the source. It is an ambitious task: a counter-narrative of Enlightenment and anti-Semitism that finds the unreason of the latter embedded in that of the former.

The book falls neatly into two sections. In the first, Mack traces a line through the seminal figures of German idealism from Kant, via Hegel, to Wagner (with passing reference to figures such as Schopenhauer and Feuerbach, whom I suspect may have appeared in earlier drafts of the contents page), focusing on how each contributed to an intellectual climate in which a pseudoscientific anti-Semitism could flourish. Going beyond simply pulling a few prejudiced quotes from each thinker, Mack claims that anti-Semitism is not an accidental appendix or coincidental addition to German idealism, but woven into the fabric of its founding assumptions.

From Kant onwards, aversion towards the material world, to particularity, to the embodied messiness of life, became a philosophical-indeed, a moral and even "Christian"-duty. Rationality required the elimination of all contingency and specificity; freedom meant "liberation from one's inclination to depend on objects in the empirical world" (24). Indeed, to "die away from" all that is "worldly" in this Kantian sense was the ultimate secularized Christianity. This distaste for the daily dirt of distinct details is, Mack argues, at the heart of the Kantian tradition and extends from epistemology to politics.

When the execution of this ideal (in both senses) proved elusive, the blame fell upon the "worldly" Jews, whose immutable tie to their particular deity was a barrier to their integration into a rational universal society, as was their supposed belief that Jehovah promised worldly goods in exchange for merely external obedience. A threat to political, epistemological, and moral purity and rationality, they became the oriental irrational Other, whose "euthanasia" was a positive obligation upon Enlightened Germany (see Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties. Trans. Mary J. …

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