Antisemitic Elements in the Critique of Capitalism in German Culture, 1850-1933

By Tyrell, Hartmann | Shofar, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Antisemitic Elements in the Critique of Capitalism in German Culture, 1850-1933


Tyrell, Hartmann, Shofar


Antisemitic Elements in the Critique of Capitalism in German Culture, 1850-1933, by Matthew Lange. German Life and Civilization Vol. 46. Bern: Peter Lang, 2007. 348 pp. $83.95.

In the second half of the nineteenthth century, from the point of view of modernization theory, Germany has primarily been confronted with two problems: on the one hand nation and state building and on the other hand industrialization. Both problems are to be seen in an international framework: within the European system of states on the one hand and within the increasingly global economy on the other hand. Today historians talk about the "first globalization." Georg Simmel, the great sociologist and theorist of monetary economics, in his essay"Das Geld in der modernen Kultur" (1896), illustrates this economic globality with his statement "that in Berlin I can achieve earnings from American railways, Norwegian mortgages and African gold mines. This 'tele-controlling' form of possession, which we take for granted today, has only become possible since money - separating and connecting - stepped between possession and possessor."

The situation of the Jews in Germany has been problematic on both counts: in regard to nation building and to global economics. The internationality of the Jewish diaspora, but also the idea of the one "Jewish Nation," was not compatible with the German form of "nation building" (and not only with the German one). The more the "delayed Nation" (Helmuth Plessner) wanted to be a "National Community (Vohksgemeinschaft)" the more it rejected its Jewish population, especially after World War I. Racially charged antisemitism, which existed not only in Germany, had irs effect of exclusion, too.

The main concern of Matthew Langes book reviewed here is Jews and economic development in Germany before and after 1900. The book, however, does not deal much with global economic interdependencies. The author has opted for "Capitalism" as his title, setting the focus on a term which, beyond Germany, has been shaped and established above all by Werner Sombart (since 1902). Langes book reports and documents the history of the coalescence of anti- capitalistic and antisemitic resentments in the period between 1850 and 1933. He demonstrates that in Germany antisémites constructed "the Jew" as homo oeconomicus judaicus (Sombart's phrase) and denounced him as totally controlled by "capitalistic spirit." It is noticeable that Jewish religious content played only a subordinating role in this context; but it is also noticeable that German Catholicism, which for its part, however, was involved in the Kulturkampf fostered anti-Jewish/anti-capitalistic resentment and wanted to see the Kulturkampf move in this direction.

Nevertheless, it was not the capitalism of work and production, not industrial capitalism, but rather financial capitalism, the "commercial" capitalism of the banks, the stock exchange, and the shares, that fostered resentments. It was, in always new varieties, the "differentiation between productive schaffendes) and grasping (raffendes) capital," helping "to distinguish between 'German' and Jewish'" (p. 28) and in doing so to outclass morally the Jewish part. It held true for the "Jewish economy," as it was said antisemitically in 1878:"It does not itself work, but rather allows others to work for it; it trades and speculates with the intellectual products of others. Its center is the stock market. ... As a foreign tribe it is opposed to the German people and sucks out its marrow" (p. …

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