The Tainted Source

Book Review:
The Tainted Source
by John Laughland

A while back, I discovered that my great-grandfather’s estate in Ukraine, Apanlee, figures in a novel which is something of a favourite among neo-Nazis and Aryan supremacists. This led me to a number of websites that I wouldn’t regularly have frequented, including the Zundelsite and Stormfront’s webpage. There I found something genuinely intriguing: A new historical justification for anti-Semitism. They point to a book written back in the 70’s by Arthur Koestler called The Thirteenth Tribe. Koestler – himself Jewish – makes a case that Eastern European Jews originated in the somewhat mysterious medieval state of Khazar, located in part of what is now Russia. He puts forward evidence that many people in this multi-religious Turkic nation converted to Judaism, and that after the disappearance of the Khazar state these people remained Jewish and formed the core of the Eastern European Jewish population.

It is an interesting idea from a historiographic perspective. Others have taken up Koestler’s case since then. I am not a scholar of Jewish history and I make no claims as to the status or veracity of the Khazar hypothesis. What I found fascinating, in a sick sort of way, was how easily radical anti-Semitic movements in the Anglo-Saxon world manage to incorporate this notion into their worldview. For them, this leads them to the conclusion that the Jews aren’t really Jews, and therefore none of the Biblical status given to Jews applies to them. Modern Jews are, in their minds, merely a Turkic tribe that converted to the false Judaism that killed Jesus, and the real Jews were expelled into Europe by the Romans, becoming the Anglo-Saxon people.

It should go without saying that I find this latter hypothesis to be, to say the least, deeply suspect. In fact, laughable would be a better adjective to describe my opinion of it. I bring this up however, because the kind of thinking that motivates this radical reinterpretation of Jewish and Germanic history also motivates a book I have just read: The Tainted Source. Unfortunately, my finances restrict my ability to purchase books for review, and I have not yet had the gumption to write to publishers to ask for a reviewer’s copy. So, the books on Europe that I read tend to come from the discount rack, where many Euroskeptics seem to end up.

Just as Aryan nationalist justify their anti-Semitism by claiming that Jews aren’t really Jewish because of (in their minds) tainted origins, Laughland’s case against Europe is built atop the idea that Europeanism’s roots are tainted.

Having now drawn an analogy between Aryan nationalism and Laughland, I should point out that Laughland is not, as far as I can tell, an anti-Semite and certainly isn’t a Nazi sympathiser. His target is the European Union – an idea which he first claims draws substantially on Nazi political ambitions, then claims to derive in large part from German national ambitions, and finally that fits Russian designs on Europe from the communist and post-communist eras.

I had purchased this book expecting an anti-European screed, and in this respect I was not disappointed. I had hoped, however, to find in it a real history of pan-European projects. I was hoping it might go beyond merely Nazi projects for European unity but that it might also have covered the pan-Slavic movement, the Napoleonic programme for Europe, various Catholic federalist ideas, communist discussions of European unification and perhaps even others that I don’t know anything about. A good discussion of these movements, with names, dates and footnotes, and comparisons between them and contemporary pan-Europeanism would have been interesting and useful to me. This, however, is not what Laughland wrote about.

Instead, we are treated to the same sort of guilt by historical association that Stormfront advances. Laughland’s biggest fans on the ‘Net are quite clear on what he is saying: The EU is the Nazi programme for Europe under a different cover. Laughland specifically denies this. He says that “the point is not to suggest that the European idea was inspired by the Nazi and their allies.” Laughland is not that nuts. There is, as he claims, a significant continuity, all over Europe, between the ruling elites of the Nazi era and the ruling elites of the post-Nazi era. He is hardly the first to remark on this. But, to make this the first section of his book and to use it as the cornerstone for the construction of a case against Europe is akin to making a case against multi-lane freeways because they too were a Nazi programme, and many of the post-war road-builders in Europe were trained and inspired by Nazi civil engineers, or simply were the same people as built Hitler’s roads.

Actually, placing this section at the beginning of the book is suspicious for other reasons. Laughland builds a much better case later on that German ideas about European unification draw on a far older, pre-Nazi tradition dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and encompassing Bismarck’s programme for German unification in the 19th century. Germany was not a unified political entity until 1870, but its unification was preceded by a series of treaties covering social and economic integration, as well as a sort of “Allemagne à deux vitesses” where some German states were more closely integrated than others. The section on Nazi plans for Europe would have made a good deal more sense as historiography had he placed it in chronological order with his larger discussion of German unificationism. But, this would have diminished its dramatic effect. It would have suggested not that Europe is a continuation of Nazi plans, but that both present and Nazi pan-Europeanism are themselves part of an older middle-European political tradition – one which has had very substantial positive effects. German power and economic growth were both advanced substantially by unification, and I am hard-pressed to find any support for the idea that German unification meaningfully diminished German liberalism. Nowadays, even the highly inequitable Austro-Hungarian Empire has its revisionist supporters, who see in it a reservoir of modern, liberal ideas whose disappearance harmed its former subjects more than it helped them.

So, we can dismiss Laughland’s historical case – his tainted source – as of no more significance than the Khazar hypothesis about the origins of Eastern European Jews. It may have some genuine value as history, but has no genuine significance in understanding present-day issues. It is completely beside the point. That European unity was once advanced by Hitler, and to suggest that one of its major motivators is a German desire for peaceful borders and neighbours with neutralised military ambitions is entirely irrelevant to current debates about the European Union. What, precisely, is wrong with a German policy of peaceful borders and neighbours without military ambitions? When it is realised by force of arms, a great deal is wrong with such a programme, but when realised through institution building in Brussels?

Laughland could have stopped there, but reading his book one has the sense that he realises how weak his historical case against Europe is and how much it really draws on guilt by association. So, he presses on to advance an anti-European thesis which rests on political philosophy. This effort is not to his credit.

Indeed Laughland has done me a service with his political case against Europe, one which amply compensates for his failure to provide me with the historiography of European unity I had expected to buy. He eliminates the need for me to construct a strawman to make a pro-European case. He is opposed to the EU because it undermines exactly the things I oppose: the nation-state, a balance of power as the main force to keep the peace and national governments as the final source of all political authority. Indeed, he is genuinely rare among political theorists in defending the nation-state as a universal and essential institution, when the mainstream in both the history of nationalism and in political science sees it as a contingent institution which came into being to meet certain needs in certain times and places and may be passing away for the same essentially pragmatic reasons.

Laughland’s case is built atop three pillars which he claims are essential to the establishment and maintenance of liberalism: the sovereignty of the nation-state, the rule of parliaments, and sound money. Each one is in turn either undesirable, inadequate, or positively mystical. I remind my American readers that “liberal” in Europe does not mean “liberal” in the US. Except for the UK, a party that labels itself as liberal is closer to what Americans would call “fiscally conservative.” Arguably, the European usage has a longer pedigree.

What Laughland means by sovereignty is not the notion that states should be free to act as they see fit. Instead, it is a rather mystical property which he admits may not reflect actual power. He views sovereignty as a purely philosophical construct: Political acts should carry the authority of a state, and that authority is what sovereignty is. The notion that those acts may be restrained by extra-national authorities and agreements is, to Laughland, entirely irrelevant to sovereignty. Having extracted from sovereignty any conception of power, it is difficult to see what the point of sovereignty is. Philip K Dick once claimed that reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, isn’t is still there. In this sense, it’s hard to claim that Laughland’s sovereignty is a real thing.

What is truly bizarre in The Tainted Source is the transition from history to political argument. The two are utterly disconnected from each other. Laughland is opposed to the undemocratic power of central banks, but favours an effective currency based on the gold standard. He is opposed to dirigisme, which he rightfully attaches not to some strange French authoritarian streak but to vesting authority in powerful executives. But, he sees the solution not in establishing and empowering more democratic institutions in the EU but in abolishing any EU authority apart from its member governments. Although no mention is ever made of the structure of US government, I can’t see how anyone can hold the views Laughland has without disdain for the American state.

The arguments for sound money are equally dubious. It reads as if it have been cut and pasted from the Mises Institute website. Instead of a single, flexible, fiat currency, Laughland advocates a gold standard which fixes the exchange rates. He points out that it served much of Europe through centuries, but seems to have missed the vicious boom-and-bust cycle of 19th century European economies, nor that since the partial abandonment of gold in the early part of the last century, economic growth has been vastly greater in most of the world. The idea that gold has “intrinsic value” – the core of his defence of metal money – is not much more than an intermittently fashionable superstition. Gold has a few industrial uses, but otherwise is nothing but shiny metal.

There is so much wrong with Laughland’s revisionist history of nationalism that I’m not quite sure where to start. To claim that communism is to blame for the recent Balkan wars, rather than fingering nationalism as the culprit, is completely unsupported. Furthermore, he is the first person I have encountered to identify as the cause of WWI a British failure to make plain its intent to defend Belgium. He defends Georgia as a state that wants nothing but to be free of meddling Russian, but never mentions the Abkhazians or the South Ossetians who want to be free of Georgia. He points to Russian duplicity in the separatist movement in Transnistria, of which there is plenty, but then claims that there are more Russians and Ukrainians in the rest of Moldova and that the Gagauz minority hasn’t made any waves – neither of which is exactly true. There are more Slavs in the rest of Moldova, but in Transnistria they are a majority, and the Gagauz also declared independence from Moldova, however, they didn’t have Russian support.

None of the real problems of nationalism are ever addressed. On one page, he claims that a common language is essential to nationhood, and on another claims that Belgium’s problems with dual nationalisms would not exist if Belgium didn’t have a “culture of dependency.” The magic link between people and land – why an ethnic nation should be empowered to lay claim to a piece of territory – is never clarified.

He even castigates the British government for accepting an EU programme designed to help island areas overcome the economic difficulties that their geography entails. His logic is that Britain is, of course, an island. Ergo, being an island is no barrier to success. Of course, neglected in this account is that Britain is only 21 miles from the continent, that it is the largest island in Europe and one of the largest in the world, and that it has some 60 million people on it – all benefits that even Ireland, much less Corsica or the Balares, don’t enjoy.

Laughland ridicules the notion that integration is a good political tool for forcing states to meet modern standards of behaviour, using Russia’s efforts to join the Council of Europe and to gain a seat at NATO as examples. He’s right, in part, but his examples say more about Russia than about the political programme of EU expansion. Russia is a large nation, one far less tied to Western Europe than, for example, Poland is. His discussion of sovereignty ignores the simple reality that small industrialised states can not avoid economic dependency, and that dependency at once motivates economic unions and empowers them. It is fear of being cut-off that makes Poland far more likely to remain a parliamentary regime with strong human rights protections than Russia. At the same time, what is a complete mystery to Laughland – why nations would sign their sovereignty away – becomes clear in the same context. Belgium has adopted the Euro because a seat at the ECB gives it at least as much control over its own currency as it had when the Bundesbank effectively set Belgian interest rates without regard for Belgian interests. States join the EU because they estimate the tangible gains to exceed the largely symbolic costs. They may be wrong in that assessment, but if so, Laughland certainly makes no mention of it.

Opposing the EU in the name of liberalism, as Laughland does, is really very pointless. It is little more than fetishism for the WWI-era ethno-linguistic republic. The EU has plentiful flaws, the worst probably being a lack of democratic responsibility to the people rather than to the constituent governments. But, if the protection of freedom is to be the goal of political institutions, the nation-state has a pretty tattered record. The EU hasn’t been around that long, but I am unaware of any act of genocide or ethnic cleansing that can be laid at its doorstep, and I can think of many instances of protection of minority rights and personal freedoms that can be attributed to it. How many of Europe’s nation-states can make the same claim?

Addendum:I should note that Chris Brooke over at Virtual Stoa reviewed The Tainted Source when it first came out and has done a much more through job than I have.

23 thoughts on “The Tainted Source

  1. Sounds like Laughland is partially retreading territory better covered by William Pfaff in “The Wrath of Nations: Civilizations and the Furies of Nationalism” circa 1993. A (library) book I happen to be in the middle of.

    In concrete terms, his pillars sound like the Bush/Cheney doctrine combined with the French 3rd republic and a return to the fiscal vitality of the spanish empire.

    …I’ll pass.

  2. “Unfortunately, my finances restrict my ability to purchase books fro review”

    Erm, you should really consider a library. It’s this institution where the government subsidises the learning of the populous. Thus no decent socialist should go anywhere else if this option is available.
    It also helps rational actors make rational descisions, since after one has read the book, one can then make a well informed descision as to buy the book or not. Thus no decent capitalist would not go to the library first.

    There, I think I’ve covered all the bases there. 🙂

  3. His logic is that Britain is, of course, an island.

    Which is an incorrect definition of ‘Britain’ unless you’re solely referring to the landmass of Great Britain, rather than any political entity. Freedom for the Isle of Wight!

    Norman Davies examines this point in much more detail near the start of ‘The Isles’, which is worth reading.

  4. A good antidote to a lot of racism is a long satirical poem by Daniel Defoe: The True-Born Englishman (1700), which makes great fun over the fact that we Brits are a very mixed-up lot, both ethnically and linguistically: http://www.blackmask.com/books63c/trueborneng.htm Daniel Defoe is perhaps better known as the author of Robinson Crusoe.

    Of late, the term “Anglo-Saxon” seems to have acquired distinctly pejorative overtones in mainland Europe when used, as it often is by accounts, to denote a free-spirit of individualism, what may be termed “neo-liberalism”, meaning relatively deregulated markets by European standards, and the tradition of Anglo-Saxon Common Law, which tends to prevail in the English speaking world. By usage, the cultural and political associations of Anglo-Saxon have long since superceded any implied ethnic linkage. What is probably beyond serious dispute is that British traditions in law, philosophy, government and economics have been distinctively different from many of the corresponding traditions in mainland Europe. For better or worse, we did not have to endure the unifying influence of Napoleon’s attempt at European integration.

    I have to admit that the notion of “Anglo-Saxons” being a lost tribe or two from Israel is a new one on me. Fascinating though it may be, it is not one I intend to spend much time researching.

  5. Bob,
    “the tradition of Anglo-Saxon Common Law”

    Which was, ah, superceded in 1066 when the vikings previously residing in Normandie invaded and imposed their own judicial system ;^)

  6. I have to admit that the notion of “Anglo-Saxons” being a lost tribe or two from Israel is a new one on me. Fascinating though it may be, it is not one I intend to spend much time researching.

    Bob, should you (or anyone) want to look into it further, just Google for ‘british israelites’ or ‘british israelism’ and you’ll find far more than you could ever possibly want to know.

  7. Nick B – Thanks for that steer. I did a quick google as you suggested and terrifying it was. I had absolutely no idea there was such a cult.

  8. I don’t get the nationalism-is-the-source-of-evil
    theory. I’m aware it’s out there. I have the
    impression it’s part of the background assumption
    of many in europe, but I don’t get why it’s a useful
    framework to order one’s perceptions.

    First of all, I’m not entirely sure I know what
    is meant in this context, what those who believe in
    this mean when they say “nationalism.” In Scott Martens’
    essay he gives the nazis and the various factions
    of the former yugoslovia as examples where nationalism
    caused the terrible acts that occurred.

    I confess I find myself a bit irritated by that idea.
    After all in the 1930s all the peoples of europe
    were pretty strongly nationalist, and if the heart of
    the nazi evil was nationalism, well then more or less
    everyone was equally to blame. Maybe that’s part of
    what makes the theory attractive in the context
    of a europe that many are trying to unify.

    But whatever the utility of this theory to forgetting
    the past I find it irritating because for one thing
    I don’t believe everyone is equally culpable. It would
    seem to me in fact that there are a host of candidate
    thinkings to blame for the evil acts of the nazis far more
    appropriate than something as vague and widely shared as
    nationalism.

    And in fact we can even see nationalism as a constructive
    phenomena. Would nazi germany have been defeated
    without British nationalism? Without a smeared sense
    of identity in england for instance that meant people
    perceived themselves as a ‘something’ and a something
    to value?

    Scott says at one point, “To claim that communism is
    to blame for the recent Balkan wars, rather than fingering
    nationalism as the culprit, is completely unsupported.”

    An argument could be made that communism is a zero-sum
    game and that it set up a situation where the good things
    were allocated based in part on group membership, and that
    belonging to the right group was advantageous, or to say
    it another way a context where tribal thinking was
    advantageous, and a context where getting something implied
    the necessary subtext of taking it from someone else.
    One could point that Tito ruled, in some part, by pitting
    ethnic groups one against another.

    One could point that to whatever extent the form of
    communism was no longer present in the Balkans at the
    time of the recent Balkan wars, the people in question,
    the actors in the wars, had all been raised in that
    context and were thinking from that basis.

  9. And to follow Mark, was not Communism as it has been practiced in every part of the world deeply nationalist in itself, and was not Fascism deeply Socialist?
    Nationalism like religion is moraly neutral, it can create horrific evil at times, and at others it can show us some of humanities greatest assets – self sacrifice for a cause greater than the atomised individual for a start.

  10. Patrick – that was sort of my response. As bad as the bad things are these days, the good things are still more than good enough to keep me from wanting to recreate the 19th century.

    Factory – I’ve only had my resident’s card here for a couple of weeks, and I doubt the Woluwe public library has a lot of the latest Euro-literature.

    Nick – I stand corrected.

    Bob – It’s true that the word “Anglo-Saxon” has rather priggishly WASP associations, or at least it does in the US. My intent, rather, is to use it in the same sense that I might talk about Germananic or Slavic: as an ethnic designation without any particular other significance. As such, the designation probably includes me. Aryan nationalism in the US is very definitely an Anglo-Saxon movement. When Italian Catholics want to hate Jews – even in the United States – they go about it quite differently.

    The idea that the Anglo-Saxons or the Germanic peoples (or Aryans by some definition) are the “real” Jews is not a novel idea. I don’t know who Stromfront got it from, but it does go back to the “British Israelite” movement.

    Once again, if I haven’t made it clear, I bring the idea up to ridicule it.

    Mark – the nationalist Europe of the 20’s and 30’s was not terribly peaceful. The Russian civil war had some pretty sharply nationalist currents. Turkey was slaughtering its Armenian, Greek and Kurdish minorities. Greece’s deslavicisation and dealbanianisation programmes were well underway. Romania wasn’t treating its Hungarians very well, and Czechoslovakia was confronting serious ethnic problems with its large German population and the lack of Slovenian willingness to be part of the state. It was also in the Europe of the 30’s that Franco started attacking Basque and Catalonian institutions.

    At the heart of the Nazi evil were a number of things, nationalism being only one of them. However, it is difficult to even understand their conception of Lebensraum without seeing it in terms of the prosperity of one nation alone and its dominance over others. Nazi nationalism could make some small room for France and Norway, but it had no place for Poland or Russia. That does not make it less nationalist.

    And, while Yugoslavia was hardly a paradise, I have met quite a few former Yugoslavs who hesitate to identify themselves as Serbs, Croats or Bosnians at all. They say that they grew up thinking of themselves as Yugoslavs. Furthermore, Yugoslavia’s economy did grow during the Cold War. At some stages it performed quite well. Certainly there is little of this “zero-sum” nonsense in any Marxist literature I’ve ever read. I have never seen any indication that the Tito regime ever worked to especially inflame ethnic hatred and a fair number of accounts suggest the opposite.

    Gawain – Which of the letters in USSR stands for “Russia”? The Soviet Union only ever seriously used nationalist ideas in its propaganda during WWII. There was a Soviet programme to try to make the Union’s ethnic groups correspond better to fixed territories, but you have to remember that at the time such ideas were considered quite liberal and progressive, even in the west. After the war, ethnic politics certainly played a part in Soviet affairs, but the communists went well out of their way to encourage, subsidise and protect authors and artists working in the languages of ethnic minorities.

    Much the same could be said of China. Although Chinese communism was always a Chinese nationalist movement as much as a socialist one, it was certainly no more so than the government it replaced. In contrast, China has also adopted quite substantial linguistic and cultural protections for its minorities – even the ones that it is irregularly trying to suppress. In the days of the “one child policy”, the 8% of the Chinese population that isn’t ethnically Han by their standards were exempted from the policy.

    Frankly, the bulk (although not all) of the regimes that have taken the title “communist” have tried very hard not to even give the appearance of ethno-linguistic nationalism in their handling of internal minorities, reserving the idea only for the domain of international affairs, and even then speaking frequently of their “socialist brethern” in neighbouring states or supporting superpowers and the desire to “free the global proletariate.”

    As for fascism being deeply socialist – please! You do know that that’s flame-bait?

  11. The idea that Britain is identical with one of the lost tribes of Israel was supported, weirdly, by Admiral Lord “Jacky” Fisher, one of the greatest and most controversial figures in the history of the Royal Navy. Given his career it wouldn’t be surprising if he picked up on it just to be provocative.

    Whatever you may say about Tito manipulating ethnic groups, his system at least worked and worked peacefully (unlike the prewar Yugoslavia with its military coups, assassinations and grinding poverty). As far as such things went in communism, it was relatively relaxed and prosperous as well as independent of Soviet power. I can’t imagine how anyone could prefer the replacement – the worst of Titoism, nationalism and capitalism rolled into one neat package of tyranny, poverty, mafia-isation, war and genocide.

  12. This is sort of tangential, but then again maybe not.

    Eric Lee writes:

    “Furubotn was a most loyal Stalinist, having lived for years
    in the USSR. The whole issue of Furubotn’s conduct came up
    again years later, after the war, when in the anti-Tito campaign
    of Stalin’s twilight years, leading Communists throughout Europe
    were purged for “nationalist deviations”. In other words,
    Furubotn would eventually be accused by Stalin of having been
    excessively anti-Nazi.”

    (from http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/2808/norway.html)

    Is Lee correct in implying that in the Communist vocabulary,
    for a time, “nationalist” was a coded way of claiming someone
    was “anti-Nazi”?

  13. It seems to me that the thinking represented by the quotes
    below is a more plausible candidate for what produces the
    sort of people that would build death camps, and that this
    is quite a distinct thing from nationalism (and indeed it
    seems to have been written in the spirit of opposition
    to nationalism).

    [begin.quotes]

    The god of the Jews has become secularized and has become
    the god of the world. The bill of exchange is the real god
    of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.

    The view of nature attained under the domination of private
    property and money is a real contempt for, and practical
    debasement of, nature; in the Jewish religion, nature exists,
    it is true, but it exists only in imagination.

    [and]

    The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of
    the merchant, of the man of money in general.

    The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature
    of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely
    formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds
    itself.

    [and]

    Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence
    of Judaism — huckstering and its preconditions — the Jew will
    have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer
    has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical
    need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between
    man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence
    has been abolished.

    [end-quotes]

    All the quotes above are from Karl Marx’s “The Jewish Question.”

    Although the above is taken from the German context, I can’t
    help but wonder if there aren’t similar writings behind other
    genocides of this last century, such as in the Soviet Union,
    Turkey, etc.

  14. “Philip K Dick once claimed that reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, isn’t there.”

    I think you mean “is still there.”

    Glad to see you back, Scott.

  15. Mark, I would read it a bit differently. Once the Stalinist state no longer needed to invoke “Mother Russia” for the war against Germany, the claim of national chauvinism – a fairly serious one in that particular current of Marxism, became a viable excuse for executions – enabling Stalin to rid himself of anyone who had gained status in the war years or had connects abroad or had pissed him off in some other way.

    As for the quotes, have you actually read The Jewish Question? It’s online right here. Marx, himself of Jewish decent, is making a quite important point about the social history and function of religion in general and Jewish religion is placed in that context. At no time will you find Marx advocating anything like anti-semitism. He complains that Christianity and Judaism are bound together in a symbiotic relationship that can only be broken by the abolition of capitalism, and that that relationship enslaves both Christians and Jews alike. In every case, it is capitalist civilisation, and German society in particular, which is identified as the problem.

    It would be akin to suggesting that Palestinians and Israelis are both trapped by a system of nationalist ideology that enslaves them both in an eternal cycle of violence, and only by destroying the system can either one be genuinely free. Abolishing the nationalist system would at once abolish both Israel and Palestine, leaving them all as mere people.

    That statement may or may not have merit, but even though it advocates the abolition of Israel and Jewish nationalism, I don’t think many folks would claim that it is anti-semitic. Marx’ choice of vocabulary is somewhat politically incorrect, even by his standards, but people often take greater liberties in describing their own.

    MisterC – Thanks, I’m about to correct it.

  16. Scott,

    Actually the title is “On the Jewish Question” and I’ve read
    the whole thing twice. (I mistakenly left out the “On” earlier.)
    I’m amazed that you don’t believe this is an anti-semitic essay.

    Marx was a jew only by a racist’s standard. He certainly
    wasn’t raised jewish and he didn’t perceive himself as jewish.
    His parents did not see themselves as jewish, and unless
    I’m greatly mistaken Marx would have been quite upset to
    be called jewish.

    You’re the first person I’ve ever run into that wanted to
    defend this essay. I hope we can continue this conversation,
    I have many questions.

    May I begin with some of the quotes I made earlier?

    “The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of
    the merchant, of the man of money in general.”

    “The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature
    of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely
    formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds
    itself.”

    [and]

    “Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence
    of Judaism — huckstering and its preconditions — the Jew will
    have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer
    has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical
    need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between
    man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence
    has been abolished.”

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding. Would you explain what
    these words in particular mean?

  17. Scott: “Aryan nationalism in the US is very definitely an Anglo-Saxon movement. When Italian Catholics want to hate Jews – even in the United States – they go about it quite differently.”

    The interesting and important thing is that “Aryan nationalism” has never taken off in England, not even in the 1930s. Declared fascists and National Socialists have never been elected to Britain’s Parliament, unlike with elections in several mainland European countries in recent years.

    In fact, we Brits aren’t very good on our own history – ask the average passer-by in the street about the Anglo-Saxons and it’s unlikely they will be able to tell you much, although many will probably be able to give 1066 as the year of the Norman Conquest when Harold, the last of the Saxon kings, was killed. For some reason, that date in British history has seared into Britain’s collective psyche far more than any other. Each year, on 5 November, we still celebrate the salvation from the attempt, by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, to blow up King and Parliament but I doubt many will be able to give the year in which that happened (1605).

    The insight of Geoffrey Elton still applies:

    “Now one of the most curious things about the English, I think . . is that they suppose themselves to be conscious of history and to be enveloped in History. They are not. They are both indifferent and ignorant as far as history is concerned. If you want a really historically conscious country you have to go to Central Europe, where they have too much history . . . or to the United States, where they have so little of it.” [Quoted in Norman Davies: The Isles (1999)]

    Parts of Britain still celebrate their Celtic roots, which go back centuries before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons from the 5th century AD, after the Roman imperial administration had withdrawn. The trouble is that the Celts may have arrived as long as 2,000 years after the building of Stonehenge: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge/

    Some estimates put the total number of circles of stone or wood in Britain, built around around the time of Stonehenge, at about as many as 900 so the ancient residents of these islands were formidable builders participating in a civilisation of a kind that was capable of substantial construction projects that required organisation on a huge scale. Unfortunately, they left no written records.

    The truth of the matter is that Britain is an ancient nation of warriors, adventurers and asylum-seekers but no nation so ignorant about its past can be wholly bad.

  18. Mark, I’m not quite sure where you’re going with the claim that Marx had no connection to Judaism. His grandfather was a rabbi, and while his father had coverted to the Baptists and Marx himself was quite dismissive of religion, considering the large number of Jewish associates he had over the years, the claim that he was hostile to Jews or that Judaism had no influence on him holds very little water.

    Just about the only people I’ve ever encountered who see an anti-semitic screed in On the Jewish Question are those have already decided that Marx was evil, evil, evil.

    So, we’ll go thorugh this slowly:

    Marx is responding to an book by Bruno Bauer – a German theologian – called Die Judenfrage about the Prussian state’s efforts to extend a limited set of political and social rights to German Jews. Bauer is against this concession, on the grounds that either everyone – Jews and Christian alike – must abandon their religious allegiances, or else the emancipation of the Jews is a mere particularism. Bauer is putting forward an argument substantially identical to modern conservative arguments against gay and minority rights – that they are not, in fact, equal rights but special priviledges.

    Marx summarises Bauer’s argument:

    The Christian state knows only privileges. In this state, the Jew has the privilege of being a Jew. As a Jew, he has rights which the Christians do not have. Why should he want rights which he does not have, but which the Christians enjoy?

    In wanting to be emancipated from the Christian state, the Jew is demanding that the Christian state should give up its religious prejudice. Does he, the Jew, give up his religious prejudice? Has he, then, the right to demand that someone else should renounce his religion?

    By its very nature, the Christian state incapable of emancipating the Jew; but, adds Bauer, by his very nature the Jew cannot be emancipated. So long as the state is Christian and the Jew is Jewish, the one is as incapable of granting emancipation as the other is of receiving it.
    Bauer has a conception of the state that resembles Chirac’s, at least according to the sections Marx quotes:

    The Jew, for example, would have ceased to be a Jew if he did not allow himself to be prevented by his laws from fulfilling his duty to the state and his fellow citizens, that is, for example, if on the Sabbath he attended the Chamber of Deputies and took part in the official proceedings. […] There is no longer any religion when there is no longer any privileged religion. Take from religion its exclusive power and it will no longer exist. […] [T]he declaration that the law of the Sabbath is no longer binding on the Jew would be a proclamation abolishing Judaism.
    Marx is less than enthralled with this logic:

    Bauer, therefore, demands, on the one hand, that the Jew should renounce Judaism, and that mankind in general should renounce religion, in order to achieve civic emancipation. On the other hand, he quite consistently regards the political abolition of religion as the abolition of religion as such. The state which presupposes religion is not yet a true, real state. […] At this point, the one-sided formulation of the Jewish question becomes evident. […] If Bauer asks the Jews: Have you, from your standpoint, the right to want political emancipation? we ask the converse question: Does the standpoint of political emancipation give the right to demand from the Jew the abolition of Judaism and from man the abolition of religion?
    On the question of this particular Prussian legal measure, Marx himself is not opposed per se, and makes that clear:

    Political emancipation is, of course, a big step forward. True, it is not the final form of human emancipation in general, but it is the final form of human emancipation within the hitherto existing world order.
    Marx’ disdain for the German theocracy is quite plain. He is no defender of the existing religious basis of the state:

    The separation of the “spirit of the Gospel” from the “letter of the Gospel” is an irreligious act. A state which makes the Gospel speak in the language of politics — that is, in another language than that of the Holy Ghost — commits sacrilege, if not in human eyes, then in the eyes of its own religion. The state which acknowledges Christianity as its supreme criterion, and the Bible as its Charter, must be confronted with the words of Holy Scripture, for every word of Scripture is holy. This state, as well as the human rubbish on which it is based, is caught in a painful contradiction that is insoluble from the standpoint of religious consciousness when it is referred to those sayings of the Gospel with which it “not only does not comply, but cannot possibly comply, if it does not want to dissolve itself completely as a state”. And why does it not want to dissolve itself completely? The state itself cannot give an answer either to itself or to others. In its own consciousness, the official Christian state is an imperative, the realization of which is unattainable, the state can assert the reality of its existence only by lying to itself, and therefore always remains in its own eyes an object of doubt, an unreliable, problematic object. Criticism is, therefore, fully justified in forcing the state that relies on the Bible into a mental derangement in which it no longer knows whether it is an illusion or a reality, and in which the infamy of its secular aims, for which religion serves as a cloak, comes into insoluble conflict with the sincerity of its religious consciousness, for which religion appears as the aim of the world. This state can only save itself from its inner torment if it becomes the police agent of the Catholic Church. In relation to the church, which declares the secular power to be its servant, the state is powerless, the secular power which claims to be the rule of the religious spirit is powerless.
    Marx concludes with a position quite contrary to Bauer’s. The political emancipation Bauer desires can only be had through the renunciation of Judaism. Otherwise, a Jew who demands civil rights is asking for a priviledged position in the Christian hierarchy of the state. He is legitimising a religion he does not believe in. Marx concludes, therefore, that political emancipation, while it may be progress, is not true, complete emancipation:

    Therefore, we do not say to the Jews, as Bauer does: You cannot be emancipated politically without emancipating yourselves radically from Judaism. On the contrary, we tell them: Because you can be emancipated politically without renouncing Judaism completely and incontrovertibly, political emancipation itself is not human emancipation. If you Jews want to be emancipated politically, without emancipating yourselves humanly, the half-hearted approach and contradiction is not in you alone, it is inherent in the nature and category of political emancipation. If you find yourself within the confines of this category, you share in a general confinement. Just as the state evangelizes when, although it is a state, it adopts a Christian attitude towards the Jews, so the Jew acts politically when, although a Jew, he demands civic rights.

    Marx grinds a few favourite axes when he criticises the sort of political emancipation that by the mid-19th century was already widely being demanded. He claims that this political liberation is no more than the abolition of feudalism. That is a desireable thing to be sure, but not a true liberation:

    Political emancipation is, at the same time, the dissolution of the old society on which the state alienated from the people, the sovereign power, is based. What was the character of the old society? It can be described in one word — feudalism.
    Marx advances the idea that post-feudal society has been about the separation of man unnaturally into two parts: the civil man, who has political rights but must set aside not only religion but his individual particularity in order to take the role of citizen; and the “egotistic” man (this was years before Freud – egotism merely meant unitary, not necessarily self-centred), who is completely cut off from his fellow man. The real liberation comes with the abolition of this false dichotomy:

    Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of civil society, to an egoistic, independent individual, and, on the other hand, to a citizen, a juridical person.

    Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his “own powers” as -social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.
    Marx procedes to take Bauer to task for his conception of Judaism “only as crude religious criticism of Christianity”.

    Accordingly, the relation between Jews and Christians becomes the following: the sole interest of the Christian in the emancipation of the Jew is a general human interest, a theoretical interest. Judaism is a fact that offends the religious eye of the Christian. As soon as his eye ceases to be religious, this fact ceases to be offensive. The emancipation of the Jew is, in itself, not a task for the Christian.
    Marx does not like this theological conception of the “Jewish question.” He tends to favour materialist solutions, grounded in social science:

    We are trying to break with the theological formulation of the question. For us, the question of the Jew’s capacity for emancipation becomes the question: What particular social element has to be overcome in order to abolish Judaism? For the present-day Jew’s capacity for emancipation is the relation of Judaism to the emancipation of the modern world. This relation necessarily results from the special position of Judaism in the contemporary enslaved world.
    Marx is, therefore, going to discuss the position of Jews in a world which, in his mind, has a pretty screwed up world view. It is in this light that his statements about Jews need to be read.

    Let us consider the actual, worldly Jew — not the Sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew. Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.
    Marx casts away at once all discussion of the history and theology of Judaism – all religious and theological questions – by dismissing the “Sabbath Jew.” For Marx, the secular basis of all human institutions is practical need. And everyone is culpable of self-interest. Marx is saying that the day to day preoccupation of Jews is precisely the economic role that he summarises with the word “huckstering.” Of course, Marx wrote in German. The word he uses is Schacher, which might be better translated as bargaining or haggling. It does not have quite the same negative connotation, since it does not imply “huckster” the way the translation does.

    At that time, in Germany, shopkeeping and middleman function employed a disproportionate part of the Jewish population, and nealry all of its most politically visible members were involved in various commericial activities, rather than farming or manufacturing. Marx did not make it that way and is certainly not defending the anti-semitism that makes it so. However, his description of the economic place of Jews in German society is entirely accurate for theat time. Jews are not in this position for theological reasons, they are there because the anti-semitism of capitalist German society put them there. That is the “subjective basis of Judaism.”

    Remember, we are not talking about Judaism as a faith but as a human condition with was lived under far from ideal circumstances and which was charcterised by a restricted range of economic roles. It is this Judaism that Marx tears down in the first quote you cite and seeks to abolish in the second:

    Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism — huckstering and its preconditions — the Jew will
    have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between
    man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.
    The Jew as a social and economic class will have ceased to exist under such conditions, and Judaism as an eccentricity of a few people who hold the Sabbath is of no interest to Marx. He is indifferent to the Jewish faith. It is in the abolition of the social conditions that form the real core of daily Jewish life that this “everyday Jew” is abolished, and only then can the Jews be genuinely free.

    That is the meaning of this article as far as I can tell, and it is an excellent example of why quoting out of context is deceptive.

  19. Scott,

    I appreciate your long and articulate response, but
    I do not appreciate the way you began.

    Let’s look at that first sentence:

    “I’m not quite sure where you’re going with the claim
    that Marx had no connection to Judaism.”

    And then compare it to what I wrote:

    “Marx was a jew only by a racist’s standard. He certainly
    wasn’t raised jewish and he didn’t perceive himself as jewish.
    His parents did not see themselves as jewish, and unless
    I’m greatly mistaken Marx would have been quite upset to
    be called jewish.”

    Now did I claim that Marx had “no connection to Judaism”?

    In fact, I wrote no such thing. And my words seem fairly
    clear; it’s hard to comprehend how they could be misunderstood.

    So what’s going on here?

    You are after all arguing with me. Rhetorically it seems
    quite convenient to have your opponent make an absurd
    claim and then in one sentence demolish it.

    Anyway…I take it when you speak of Marx’s father
    being a baptist you are admitting the greater part
    of what I said above. I knew that Marx’s grandparents
    were jewish and this is what I was referring to when
    I said that by a “racist’s standard” Marx was jewish.

    In my eyes Marx’s grandparents being jewish would be
    relevant if he was raised by them or had a some great
    amount to do with them. This was not the case. It’s
    perhaps worth noting that religious conversions like
    these were a bit bigger deal back then than they are
    today. I have an relative that did something like
    this in that time period and he and his family
    never spoke again.

    The nazis defined as a jew anyone that had one
    great-great-grandparent that was jewish. How is that
    different from claiming Marx as a jew despite
    his personal beliefs and despite his upbringing?

    But let’s ignore all that and suppose that Marx
    was jewish.

    Imagine some american wrote,

    “The chimerical nationality of the american is
    the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money
    in general. The groundless law of the american
    is only a religious caricature of groundless morality
    and right in general, of the purely formal rites with
    which the world of self-interest surrounds itself.”

    And then suppose I were to comment, “That text
    is pretty hostile towards americans.”

    Somehow I don’t suppose anyone would think I was
    brilliant to notice that. Rather it would be more
    along the line, “Well duh! Like anyone thought
    otherwise.”

    But what if someone piped up and said, “You’ve
    totally misunderstood, the writer is american
    and no american would write anything anti-american.”

    I would be amazed and I believe everyone on this
    forum would be likewise amazed if they were to
    observe such a thing.

    Yet, Scott, you at the minimum, and to be fair many
    other people, somehow all find this reasonable
    when the subject is jews.

    Moving on. Scott, I am intrigued by your interpretation
    of this essay. It doesn’t agree with mine. I would
    like to explore these differences, but before we get
    to these interesting things I wish we could establish
    a common framework. Something significant we agree about
    or we disagree about and if we disagree something where
    I have a good understanding of why we disagree.

    Once we have a common point of understanding we can
    build from there.

    You are very lucid and articulate, I’m sure you don’t
    need me to say that, but you’ve clearly put a lot
    of work into writing that response. I am therefore
    embarrassed to say that for the most part I don’t
    get what you’re saying.

    My hoped for point of departure was these three
    paragraphs:

    “The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of
    the merchant, of the man of money in general.”

    “The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature
    of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely
    formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds
    itself.”

    [and]

    “Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence
    of Judaism — huckstering and its preconditions — the Jew will
    have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer
    has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical
    need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between
    man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence
    has been abolished.”

    You tell me that these paragraphs don’t mean what they
    seem to say because the words “Jew” and “Judaism” don’t have
    anything like their normal meanings.

    Specifically, Scott, you say they mean something like
    “economic place of Jews in German society” or
    “social conditions of daily jewish life.”

    But when I try to substitute these phrases in, it seems like
    we get gibberish.

    “The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of
    the merchant, of the man of money in general.”

    Why would one speak of the “chimerical nationality” of the
    “economic place” or “social conditions”?

    If I were to substitute ‘secular jew’ or “everyday jew” or
    ‘jew in the non-religious sense’ the sentence makes better
    sense but it also ends up meaning more or less what I was
    objecting to.

    Ok, the next paragraph:

    “The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature
    of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely
    formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds
    itself.”

    Redone:

    The groundless law of the economic place of the jew is only a
    religious caricature of groundless morality and right in
    general, of the purely formal rites with which the world of
    self-interest surrounds itself. (?!!)

    Scott, it seems to me that for your conjecture to work not
    only does “Jew” have to have a different than normal meaning,
    but the word’s meaning has to change from paragraph to paragraph.

    You say I’m taking things out of context, but actually the
    paragraphs I selected are surrounded by a heck of a lot of
    paragraphs that look awfully similar.

    For instance:

    “Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion,
    but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.

    “What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest.

    “What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering.
    “What is his worldly God? Money.

    “Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money,
    consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the
    self-emancipation of our time.

    “An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions
    for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering,
    would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would
    be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society.”

    I don’t follow every twist and turn of Marx’s mind, but
    it sure looks like he’s saying that what Judaism is all
    about is making money, that there isn’t really any religion
    to Judaism, and that if Jews couldn’t “huckster” (or as you put
    it, Scott, “bargain”) and make money, their “religious consciousness”
    would dissipate “like a thin haze.”

    For a text that’s allegedly about the “economic place of Jews
    in German society” or “social conditions of daily jewish life,”
    there sure seem to be a lot of assertions about the nature of
    the religious jew.

    Or how about this passage?

    “We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social
    element of the present time, an element which through historical
    development — to which in this harmful respect the Jews have
    zealously contributed — has been brought to its present high
    level, at which it must necessarily begin to disintegrate.”

    “In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the
    emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”

    anti-social element –> Judaism
    zealously contributed –> anti-social element

    The wording is clumsy, but it looks like Marx is saying
    Judaism is an anti-social element and that Jews have zealously
    contributed to making it an anti-social element.

    Zealously!

    An interesting word, does this mean:

    with great enthusiasm jews have made themselves anti-social
    elements?

    And then that’s followed by:

    “In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the
    emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”

    What a line?! What does it mean and how does it work!?

    Hmmm — the final analysis — hmmm.

    Or how about this:

    “Indeed, in North America, the practical domination of
    Judaism over the Christian world has achieved as its unambiguous
    and normal expression that the preaching of the Gospel itself
    and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade, and
    the bankrupt trader deals in the Gospel just as the Gospel
    preacher who has become rich goes in for business deals.”

    You know it just keeps on coming. He’s an endless fount:

    “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other
    god may exist.”

    “Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in
    himself, which is contained in an abstract form in the Jewish
    religion, is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of
    the man of money. The species-relation itself, the relation
    between man and woman, etc., becomes an object of trade! The
    woman is bought and sold.”

    Jews buy and sell women!

    Where does Karl Marx come up with this stuff?

  20. “I do not appreciate the way you began.”

    Tough. You’re the one who’s gone off topic here into an area that qualifies as flame-bait.

    Mark, compare to what I wrote:

    “Marx, himself of Jewish decent…”

    Having a rabbi as a grandfather makes that pretty much a cinch, so you’ll excuse me if I consider my point conceded.

    How is your example:

    “The chimerical nationality of the american is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general. The groundless law of the american is only a religious caricature of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds itself.”

    terribly different from:

    “The business of America is business.”

    when put next to:

    “Money is the root of all evil.”

    But, then you go on to accuse me of anti-semitism, which entails the loss of any remaining consideration I might have for your feelings:

    “Yet, Scott, you at the minimum, and to be fair many other people, somehow all find this reasonable when the subject is jews. ”

    Well, actually, there is a fair amount of criticism of the US both for its mercantilism and for its “groundless laws” and “religious caricatures”, and some of it is pretty fair. Like Marx, I’m an anti-nationalist. Jewish nationalism is “chimeral”, and it was even more so in Marx’ day since there was no Jewish state. What did Europe’s Jews have in common in that era? For Marx, mercantile ties are about it. Later, they had other things in common – namely the experience of having a dedicated and efficient tyrrant try to stamp them out, but in the 1840’s this is a fair criticism of Jewish nationalism, and in the context of the Hegelian terminology in use in the journal Marx was writing in, this criticism is harsh but far from anti-semitic, especially since Marx turns it around and accuses German Christians of being the same.

    “You tell me that these paragraphs don’t mean what they seem to say because the words “Jew” and “Judaism” don’t have anything like their normal meanings.”

    Marx was writting in the 1840’s in a journal of Hegelian philosophy. He is quite clear in his identification of “the everyday Jew” just what he is talking about, at least given the vocabulary and time of this article. You have identified “the everyday Jew” with “the secular Jew.” Marx has not. He is not interested in religious affiliations, he is interested in what people actually do. He is also indulging the stereotypes Bauer is putting forward – with what I would thought was obviously a fair amount of sarcasm – in order to turn them against him. Bauer alleges that Jews should not have civil rights because they are so identified with trade and the oppression of the market. Marx is saying that if Jews are this way then it is Christianity, Germany and capitalism’s fault.

    Marx was an atheist, so it is hardly surprising that he didn’t beleive that Judaism has any existence except for the social and economic role it has. For an atheist, everything else about religion is superstition or eccentricity. This is no different than his opinion of Christianity or any other religion, and is a still quite common, mainstream conception of religion among atheists.

    “We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time, an element which through historical development — to which in this harmful respect the Jews have
    zealously contributed — has been brought to its present high level, at which it must necessarily begin to disintegrate.”

    “In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”
    Here again, Marx is turning Bauer’s notions of Judaism against him with a certain amount of sarcasm. Marx is alleging that the society that Bauer is trying to preserve by forcing Jews to abandon their Judaism is already fully Jewish. If Judaism is to be identified with mercantilism, as Bauer does and which Marx is taking and running with, then:

    The Jew has emancipated himself in a Jewish manner, not only because he has acquired financial power, but also because, through him and also apart from him, money has become a world power and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of the Christian nations. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews.
    Marx is trashing Bauer. If Jewish mercantilism has empowered Jews, then it is because Christianity has become Jewish. Bauer is an anti-semitic Christian theologian – for him these are fighting words. That is the context in which Marx can claim that “the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” Marx is turning Bauer’s anti-semitism against him by making Christianity equivalent to Judaism.

    They didn’t have emoticons in the 1840’s – Marx’ sarcasm was expected to come through in the text, and I imagine his original German does a better job of that than the English translation. Sarcasm trnaslates poorly not only across languages but across time. The disappearance of Marx’ indended audience, along with the relative obscurity of the book that he is trashing, may make that harder to see, but sentences like “Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew” ought to be an indicator that Marx is up to something. I don’t see any reading of Marx’ life, his connections to Judaism and his very straightforward atheism, that would lead him to ever talk about “the secret of the Jews” in any but a sarcastic manner.

    I really would have thought that at least some of this would be apparent to someone who read the whole text for some purpose other than highlighting useful quotes.

    “Indeed, in North America, the practical domination of Judaism over the Christian world has achieved as its unambiguous and normal expression that the preaching of the Gospel itself
    and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade, and the bankrupt trader deals in the Gospel just as the Gospel preacher who has become rich goes in for business deals.”
    How do you think someone like Jerry Falwell would take this sort of thing? Marx is calling Christianity – and especially Christianity in the loose, non-denominational, evangelical form that Bauer supports – Jewish!

    “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist.”

    Again, having rhetorically made Christianity the same as Judaism, Marx is tossing Bauer’s conception of Judaism in his face. For Marx the atheist anti-capitalist, money is the jealous God of everyone, in the face of which no other God may exist.

    “Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself, which is contained in an abstract form in the Jewish religion, is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of the man of money. The species-relation itself, the relation between man and woman, etc., becomes an object of trade! The woman is bought and sold.”

    Look at the first sentence again, but without the reference to the Jews: “Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself […] is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of the man of money.” The man of money is contemptuous of theory, art, history and man himself. Bauer – who I suspect Marx is almost quoting – sees this as essentially Jewish. Marx is claiming that this contempt is “the virtue of the man of money”, reinforcing his claim that what Bauer sees as Jewish, Marx sees as intrinsically capitlaist. And even then, in this sardonic tone, he is still not claiming that Jews buy and sell women. He is claiming that “the man of money”, who has contempt for “man as an end in himself” is engaged in such a trade.

    Have you completely missed that Marx is arguing against someone who wants to deny Jews legal equality? Marx denies that such procedural measures are adequate to human liberation, and he is making the argument on Bauer’s unhesitatingly anti-semitic terms. Nonetheless, he claims that political emancipation is the most the existing framework of society can offer Jews or anyone, and that it is better than nothing.

    It is important to look beyond words to context, because words have no meaning outside of it. Bauer’s book is impossible to find on short notice, but there are summaries in several places. I should think the text being attacked has some bearing on the interpretation of the article.

    Have you tried to read any commentary on this piece? Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxembourg never denied their Jewish identities, although neither thought them to be the most important aspect of themselves either. I would have thought they, along with the Marxist wing of the Zionist movement and the many tens of thousands of Jewish Communist party members over the years, might have said something if they thought Marx was a hardcore anti-semite.

  21. One day, people will wake up and realise that Marx was little more that a peddler of plausible nonsense. While he may have made some valid points and/or observations, they don’t make up for the millions killed by his theories…

  22. While the central argument of “On the Jewish Question”, to the effect that human self-realization needs more than liberalism offers, is compelling, one or two of the passages Mark cites are troubling, even allowing for the fact that the German Judentum was used to mean “commerce” as well as “Jewishness.” Certainly not a “hardcore antisemite” –but his biographers, McLellan as well as Wheen, have documented a few antisemitic slurs in his correspondence and published writing. He did not self-identify as a Jew and was, like Walt Whitman, perfectly capable of using the racist language of the society around him. So we can assume that the twenty-five-year-old Marx in every case meant “the Jew in the social position he is forced to occupy” and “the ideological basis of this social position”, or we can acknowledge some slippage and say that even a mighty philosopher like Karl Heinrich was capable of being infected by the prejudices of his milieu. I’ve known Jewish admirers of Marx to go either way, which is fine, or even to read the essay as racist and approve of that sentiment, which is troubling (“For all our great cultural and ethical heritage, we have some contemptibly mercenary traditions, as Marx tells us . . . “).

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