Role and Impact of Intellectual Factor in the 18th-20th Centuries' European Conception of 'Jews as Jews': A Revisitation

By Wuriga, Rabson | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Role and Impact of Intellectual Factor in the 18th-20th Centuries' European Conception of 'Jews as Jews': A Revisitation


Wuriga, Rabson, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


1. Introduction

This paper explores anti-semitism within the broader context of the 18th-20th century period--focusing on some of the intellectual dialogues of the Enlightenment in which scientific racism emerged under Linneaus, Blumenbach, Hegel and many others whom I shall not be able to discuss given the limitations of space. Then there will also be a discussion of the racial place of Jews--not promising to answer the question concerning the colour of Jews. The discussion shall also cover the extent of the impact of European anti-semitism on Jews and Jewish behaviour towards other racial groups in later centuries as Jews devise their own survival kit.

The intention is to revisit these ideas as a way of comparing them with what is referred to now as new anti-semitism, at the back of the mind thinking of the question: Do 18th-20th centuries' anti-semitic ideas transcend their time and influence recurrence of old time European conception of "Jews as Jews"?

Three things are to be pursued in the paper: (1) that European conception of Jews as Jews had an intellectual influence--that means any form of its perpetuation then and now is voluntary; (2) the impact of European anti-semitism coupled with race categorization on its victims--European Jews; and (3) that European Jews were imbibed by scientific racism and its subsidiaries--turning them into Semitic antisemitists.

The paper shall not cover all intellectual influences on European conception of Jews as Jews; rather, there will be a selection of ideas that I consider to have fundamentally played a major role, namely, racial science, rights of man, and German idealism. The essay will be more in the style of conceptual exploration in historical context, than strictly historical-chronological narration.

2. Intellectual Influence on European Conception of "Jews as Jews"

The editorial review of the book: Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, written by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, poses three questions, the most important one of which is: "Why have Jews been the object of the most enduring and universal hatred in history?" (1) It is both a question of intellectual wonder and of physical interaction with a person who calls him/herself a Jew. When Hume (quoted in Popkin) met Isaac De Pinto, he said he is "a good men tho' a Jew." (2) De Pinto was a Dutch Jew of Portuguese origin. (3) Denis Detroit is known of having written critically about Jews and specifically about De Pinto. When he met him live he had good things to say about him, and of course as a critical writer also had bad things to write. (4)

It is common knowledge that Jews were accused for all sorts of reasons, ranging from being outsiders to engaging in corruption, to others having to do with religion, politics, economics, or social life. In religious circles they were accused of being God-killers, in politics "Fascists accused them of being communists, communists accused them of being capitalists." (5) For those who assimilated into social life among host nations, they were seen as a "filth column." (6) But what was anti-Semitism in Europe and how did it become of its kind?

Tariq Ali describes anti-semitism as "a racist ideology directed against Jews." (7) Hein Fein (quoted in Longchamp, Aebersold, Tschope, and Ratelband-Pally), defines anti-Semitism as:

[A] persisting latent structure of hostile beliefs towards Jews as a collective manifested in individuals as attitudes, and in culture as myth, ideology, folklore and imagery, and in actions--social or legal discrimination, political mobilisation against the Jews, and collective or state violence--which results in and/or is designed to distance, displace or destroy Jews as Jews. (8)

Gans describes anti-semitism as "a container-concept" in which one can dump anything of liking. Then she further defines it as "dislike of and prejudice against Jew as Jews." (9) Furthermore, she characterizes it as follows:

   Anti-Semitism is rooted in traditional
   anti-Jewish prejudices and
   stereotypes; these may be restricted
   to oral and written expressions,
   but in times of social and political
   crisis may also result in new laws,
   physical threats, persecution and
   murder. … 

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