Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts on what the Nazi thought was the case with people who are Jewish

I've never understood anti-semitism. The concept just doesn't make sense to me. Why the Nazis held people who are Jewish in such low regard is a mystery as well. However, thanks to concepts relating to history that have been developed in the last sixty or so years, it's possible to get insight into what people mean when they say a word or invest a concept with meaning, even if the strict meaning has little relation to life itself. In the future I'll probably post something with citations and quotations, like any actual academic study has in it, but for now I'm going to go off the cuff with this.

Based on my reading in progress of George Mosse's wonderful book "The Crisis of German Ideology" as well as some primary source documents in the form of speeches by figures in the Third Reich that have recently been republished, it seems to me that there were two poles of Nazi belief about people who are Jewish. First off, they seemed to have a problem with them being poor city dwellers, who lived in closed communities. They thought that they were low class and primitive, being in some ways reminiscent of the idea of the lumpenproletariat, and attributed vices associated with cities to them. The other pole appears to be jealousy over the ability of some people who were Jewish to overcome the social disabilities put in their way and achieve high status in various areas, from science to music. This follows directly on the idea of poverty as being associated with people who are Jewish. There seems to be infinite class resentment that folks regarded as so low by rural Germans would be able to work and achieve things that outshone regular German people in general.

Merchant professions were added to the vices of the city. The reason that some folks who were Jewish were in these professions in the first place was that owning land was forbidden to them, because land in feudal days equaled power, thereby making trade and business one of the few things that these folks could do. But the stereotype of the small shopkeeper who was greedy and who always tried to con people and cheat people in his dealings with them was popularly stuck on them. Conversely, when these folks exceeded expectations and became people who were successful in business on a large scale, that was resented as well, and looked at as a sort of ethnic conspiracy. The idea of identifying capitalism, industrial capitalism and small scale capitalism as well, as a whole, with people who are Jewish is a laughable proposition, one that can be easily disproven by things such as the very non-Jewish sector of industrialists in England and Scotland, for instance. The economic system of capitalism organizes itself well without any need for an ethnicity to be secretly in control of it.

Another factor, one that goes into the second pole, is the presence of people who are Jewish in the professions. The rise of a professional sector was a late development in Germany and elsewhere, seemingly only coming into its own in the mid 19th century. That people who were prohibited from participating in other professions would want to be part of these new jobs is of course understandable, but it must have appeared to people who were prejudiced that lots of folks who were different from them were suddenly getting positions that had importance attached to them, that they themselves either wanted or wanted to control the hiring of.

All of this has parallels with our own society, particularly in the form of racism against blacks, where they're talked about as corrupt ghetto dwellers, and where when they do succeed in beating the system and becoming part of traditionally white professions treated with esteem they're met with suspicion. Thoughts going towards Affirmative Action as an explanation fly, rather than consideration of the possibility that the person may have earned the position based on his or her own merits. Look at Obama and the hostility that he's provoked.

Hatred of poverty and difference, and then resentment when the poor and downtrodden achieve something look like they contributed to the notion of anti-Semitism believed in by the Nazis. Ironically, in making poor Jewish people out to be potential criminals and corrupters, as embodying the worst in urban culture, the Nazis painted a good picture of the German people who made up the SA, the Sturmabteilung or Brown Shirts, ignorant and racist folks who were the scum that society had cast off. 'Jim Valtin', author of "Out of the Night", an account of a Communist organizer in Germany in the '20s, categorized hardcore SA men who he was in prison with as being obsessed with 'anti-semitism and sodomy', a combination that seems pointless and ignorant indeed.

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