JMC : Antisemitism / by Jacques Maritain

I. Specific Aspects of the Problem

LET us consider, as briefly as possible, the concrete problems which make the Jewish question particularly acute, not so much in France, but in those countries which may be put into one of two categories: countries with a large Jewish minority, and countries, like Germany, where the great catastrophe following the war has been primarily diverted on to the heads of the Jews.

Countries with a large Jewish National Minority

In countries with a large Jewish national minority, it is obvious that the presence of an ethnic mass with its own traditions, schools and language, creates a special problem with regard to civil life and the general welfare of the State. This is true even in a country like Poland, which formerly welcomed the Jews with respect, and on several occasions invited them to furnish it with a middle class of artisans and traders, and in whose national culture the Jews have played a considerable part. And this problem is complicated, more or less seriously, when the old established Jewish population is increased by waves of new immigrants. As a matter of fact, the statistics adduced by Polish and Roumanian antisemites regarding these more recent immigrations seem considerably exaggerated. Nevertheless, the problem exists, simply as a particular case of the general problem of national minorities, whose fate in contemporary Europe is often so cruel. In certain circumstances, especially where the Jews do not fit into the political scheme of the community, it can become extremely acute.

But I maintain that antisemitism makes impossible any solution of the concrete difficulties encountered in such cases. Not only does it falsify by exaggeration the factual data, but it removes the preliminary conditions required for any practical solution. For specific solutions can only be devised in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and collaboration, and the disease of antisemitism destroys the state of mind necessary in the very first place for such understanding on both sides; on the one side directly, and on the other by the passions of protest and resentment which it provokes in response, so that exasperation and misunderstanding, like reciprocal evils, grow irremediably in the minds of both parties.

Instead of offering purely political solutions to problems of a political order, antisemitism, even that so-called political antisemitism of which I am speaking at the moment, brings to bear on these problems already falsified beyond recognition solutions that are themselves false laws of discrimination and measures of persecution inducing or designed to induce emigration en masse. And this is impossible.

In the first place, it is a confession of weakness for a State to resort to the extermination of certain elements of its population which it deems itself incapable of adapting to the service of the commonwealth. And further, it leads the way to greater difficulties in the future, because it signifies a corresponding diminution of internal energies, Whose positive expression might have overcome those crises, which otherwise receive only an apparent cure from a surgical operation that is not even aseptic but, in fact, infected with hate and injustice.

For the justification of such false and illusory solutions, so-called political antisemitism employs a set of arguments which have no rational validity, but which have great emotional force, and which slip furtively over into racial antisemitism. Indeed, beginning with recent Jewish immigrants whom alone it first pretends to attack, it is extended little by little to Jews long established in the land, and to assimilated Jews, even to converted Jews, in short, to Jews as such, against whom it finally raises the racial myth. Let us say a few words about these arguments, which antisemitic propaganda is trying to popularise universally.

The Jews, it is said, crowd into a certain number of lucrative professions, notably the so-called liberal professions. So let them be driven out! That will mean a certain percentage of competitors out of the way. However, there is the danger that they will be replaced by other competitors, surging up from the detestable swarm of humanity -- even of non-Jewish humanity -- who will thus threaten, dear antisemites, by their deplorable existence, not only your honest livelihood but also your innate sense of justice and of unselfish, spiritual and Western values. Into the bargain, it is plain that the Jews, unless one wants them all to die of hunger, must earn their living in some calling, and naturally they will be more numerous in those which suit them best. Everyone can forgive a natural irritation with successful competitors, provided it stays within reason; but what arises here is clan hatred. Wherever there are Jews, they will be considered superfluous. What is really being denied them is purely and simply the right to exist.

Let us leave aside those voluntary agreements, which, in a really organic (pluralist) régime, could be reached with the Jewish community.{1} If you want to free certain professions of Jewish afflux, the best thing would be to endeavour to man them yourselves by showing more intelligence and diligence than the Jews, and by combating through some legitimate professional organisation, the abuses of free competition, whatever their source.

In this way competition between Jews and non-Jews would stimulate a raising of the cultural level, whereas recourse (equally humiliating for non-Jews and for Jews) to the brutal practice of the numerus clausus, let alone the numerus nullus, tends in itself to lower the level.

It is also said that Jews are given to usury, cornering the market, white slavery, and pornographic literature. Thus they are shown as the pernicious tempters of native populations, whose Christian fervour and virtues are displayed by our novelists, newspaper gossip columns and police-court reports. Through their press and publications, the Jews are responsible for the immorality sweeping over the nations of the world. The Jews go in for wicked political activities; they are, of course, Communists -- their presence en masse in the ranks of extreme Right terrorist organisations not having been exposed as yet.

"The Jews" -- it is very natural for a man, especially some literary man or business man on whom one or two Jews have played a shabby trick, or who has noticed (among the large number of questionable personalities which life has thrown across his path) a few with Semitic profiles among many others who cannot be classified -- it is very natural for such a man to say, not "one Jew," or three Jews," or " ten Jews" with whom I have had dealings are this or that, but "the Jews" (of whom there are sixteen million in the world), "the Jews" are this or that. It is very natural, but it is hardly rational.

These summary turns of speech lead naturally to the worst sophisms. "The Jews," runs the antisemitic contention, commit such and such crimes. What sense is there in attributing to an entire community the individual faults of some of its members? If, moreover, certain social evils, such as usury in some agricultural countries, are, as a result of national historical conditions, attributable especially to the Jews, other social evils which the antisemitic argument blames on "the Jews" reveal non-Jews as brilliant competitors. There is no need to mention further categories of social evils (such as alcoholism, crimes of violence, etc.), in which non-Jews clearly eclipse the Jews. Evil is done not by " the Jews," but by some Jews, and also by some non-Jews. What is the use of burdening one's conscience by infringing, in the case of the Jews, the elementary rules of law and of civilised life? The social body must defend itself energetically against evils facing it, against a slanderous and corrupt press, against degrading publications. Quite so! But the only effective way is to crush, if necessary by Draconian laws, all offences and abuses, no matter who has committed them; not to strike a mass of innocents for the offences and abuses committed by some of their brethren and by others than their brethren, for abuses which would always find their votaries even if all Jews were exterminated.

Finally, as for the propagation of false ideas and false moral maxims, there would be reason to thank Heaven if "the Jews" (some Jews) were the only ones responsible We know very well that this is not the case, and that in the grand total the contribution of non-Jews is far greater than that of Jews. Herr Julius Streicher and other instigators of pogroms are not Jews, and thus they withhold a powerful confirmation to their own argument, which imputes to the Jewish race all the scourges of humanity. Messrs. Rosenberg, Goebbels, and Hitler, and the other armed disrupters of Western civilisation are not Jews; Lenin was not one, nor is Stalin; and even that vociferous French novelist, Monsieur Céline, who once wrote Voyage au bout de la Nuit, is no Jew, although he seems to have journeyed to the end of the night only to find there the Protocols of Zion which awaited him, deposited in those filthy shadows by the former Tsarist police.

I have mentioned the Protocols of Zion. Everybody is aware that in Germany the Hitler propaganda machine makes systematic use of this alleged document; everybody also knows that this is the most impudent of forgeries, as has been proved by all those who have seriously studied the question, among others the prominent Jesuit, Father Pierre Charles. If there are still orators and publicists who dare to invoke this forgery to spread antisemitic legends, one can only believe that they have lost respect for their own intelligence and that of those who listen to them.

To charge Jews with the sins of Bolshevism, to identify Judaism and Communism, is a classic theme of Hitlerite propaganda, which sometimes throws in Catholicism for good measure. The theme is echoed with admirable discipline by the antisemites of all lands. I do not believe that in general the Jewish spirit, which these same mighty brains reproach with harbouring an anarchic fever for liberty, easily adapts itself to Communistic conformism. What is true is that in some countries a section of Jewish youth may find itself driven to revolutionary extremism by the force of persecution. Those primarily responsible, in such cases, are those who make their life unbearable. Thus, in a general way, those primarily responsible for supreme disorder are the false men of order, Jews and non-Jews, who, uniformly preferring injustice to disorder, base order on a fundamental, though at first concealed, disorder, thus offending the very principle of order and the Author of all nature.

We, as much or more than the antisemites (whose fury generally vents itself only on poor Jews), detest the hegemony of banks and finance, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, and no less the rule of money in any form. And here it is the materialistic structure and spirit of the modern world which horrifies us, whoever the individuals, Jews or non-Jews, who find themselves, generally without personal fault, involved in this inhuman structure. We know, moreover, that the great mass of Jews is made up neither of bankers nor of financiers, but of a population struggling against every form of urban poverty.

We do not underestimate the gravity of the great economic difficulties of our epoch and of the general economic crisis of civilisation. We say that it is not by hounding the Jews, but by transforming the economic and social structures, which are the real cause of those difficulties and of that crisis, that we can effectively remedy them. Antisemitism merely diverts men from the real tasks confronting them. It diverts them from the true causes of their woes -- which lie simultaneously in our egoistic and hypocritical hearts and in the social structures causally interrelated to our moral poverty -- antisemitism diverts men from the true causes of their sufferings to throw them against an innocent multitude, like a worthless crew which, instead of combating the tempest, would throw overboard some of their companions, until finally all are attempting to cut each other's throats and set fire to the vessel on which humanity lost in dreams has taken passage.

The German Drama

I have spoken of so-called political antisemitism and of the fertile soil which it finds in some countries with a large Jewish national minority. As a matter of fact, it is the example and contagion of German racism which for several years has distorted and aggravated, bewitched as it were, the conflict in such countries.

A pathetic and unfortunate nation, desperately longing to feel itself possessed of a common soul, the German people is also cast in a high drama to which nobody with a sense of human solidarity can remain indifferent. Why must it, drawn by one of those magic melodies against which it has no power of resistance, to-day seek self-realisation by trampling on Jews and Christians -- self-realisation, and doom? This is not the place in which to expatiate on this drama. I will mention here only what relates to the Jews: if it be true (as the Jewish sociologist, Mr. Arthur Ruppin says, and as Karl Marx said with greater violence) that there is a sort of affinity and interrelation between the Jewish spirit of adventure and the capitalist spirit of adventure, and if it be true that nowhere is Jewry more at home than in a capitalist civilisation;{2} and if on the other hand, it be true that Germany, and above all post-war Germany, is the European country which has best known the wretched euphoria and the spiritual vertigo of a dislocated capitalism, one is less astonished by the paradox that, in Germany, an unprecedented tempest of hate has suddenly risen against the Jews, not because they remained aloof but, on the contrary, because they became assimilated, substantially assimilated to the German community to the extent of playing a major rôle in German culture and literature as such, and of sometimes forgetting their Jewish race and the woes of Israel. It is as though modern Germany sought, in her innernost being, to punish her own bad conscience in the person of the Jews, a stupefied scapegoat who cries out in vain: "But I live only for the power and glory of Germany; I worship you alone, German greatness and German force in the service of a civilisation entirely dedicated to the conquest of power."

German civilisation, intensely and morbidly industrialised and deeply penetrated by the spirit of modern capitalism, after a crushing military defeat, reached general moral bankruptcy together with frightful material misery for its poor classes; and in this people the poisons of humiliation have been nurtured and stored up. So this civilisation, neither finding nor even seeking an inner creative principle of a fundamentally new order, chose, instead of the Communist revolutionary catastrophe toward which its internal logic drove it, another revolutionary catastrophe which at least saved the State while losing everything else. It is not at all surprising that, entering thereafter upon a general régime in which illusion, myth and prestige replace and devour, as in an operation of black magic, the forms and functioning of real causes, it should instinctively give a special place to the anti-Jewish myth, which endows any fool with a means of explaining the misfortunes of history and of shifting on to somebody guilty of everything, the burden of his anguish and of his unhappy memones.

But if what I have just said is accurate, there is reason to believe that the relations between Germany and her Jews are more complex than appears. For neither the former nor the latter have changed -- I mean really and basically. However persecuted, however humiliated, however abominably trodden under foot they may be, the majority of German Jews continues to cherish Germany, at least the Germany of the nineteenth century. As they weep by the waters of Babylon, it is not Zion that they recall, but pre-Führer Berlin, the Berlin of great capitalist adventure, of sublime intercourse with a prince of this world who had not yet donned the brown shirt of racial austerity. And, on the other hand, the Germany of Hitler, in seeking to reject Israel, has embraced the very worst of Israel. I mean that sentiment of racial pride which is, in some carnal Jews, the naturalistic corruption of the supernatural idea of divine election. Racists are indebted to the Old Testament as Communists are to the New. It is the Scriptures of the Jews from which the former drew, only to corrupt it, the idea of a chosen people, a people of God; it is the Gospel from which the latter received, only to distort it, the idea of universal salvation and human brotherhood.

What I have just said must be well understood. I do not reproach the German Jews, as some have done so inopportunely, because they have not profited by Nazi persecution to be converted to Christianity. I simply say that they have not followed the example of their ancestors of the time of the prophets, have not sufficiently heard their cry in time of trouble to turn toward their God, and to remember their origins, which were in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Whether in Germany or out of it, they seem to have offered as a response to the terrible scourge which German racism has brought on the Jews, nothing but quite justifiable complaints and justifiable indignation, supplemented only by a call for an American boycott of German products and an appeal to international humanitarian literature. But that impulse of the heart which penetrates to the secret roots of history, that resurrection of spiritual forces in the face of which persecutors cannot stand and always end by admitting what they are, a bit of straw and blood-stained mud, can it be that Israel, surprised and perhaps paralysed by its rationalism, no longer knows or dares to put its trust in such a power?

Jews and Christians are curiously at one here. When they think of the state of affairs in Germany before 1933, are they not led to ask whether here, as in other lands, but with more immediately tragic consequences, there was not in too many of them a lack of a certain humble human compassion regarding those elementary realities whose terrible importance for our times has recently been indicated? Both in their respective ways privileged by divine adoption, did they not too tranquilly carry on their business, their business of earth and their business of heaven? Did they not fail to observe with sufficient sorrow the countenance of men and of the world decomposing before their very eyes, did they not fail to live close enough to the misery of men and of the world?

And now finally it is a new face, the sombrely ardent face of Paganism in man which is revealing itself. I do not wish to speak of these matters without paying tribute of admiration and brotherly love to the Christians of Germany, Catholics and Protestants alike, who suffer persecution like the Jews, and who are defying all dangers to defend against blasphemous rage both the Gospel and the Old Testament. Perhaps it is not commonly known, but it is a fact that a great many priests are now suffering, and suffering frightfully, in concentration camps. The bond of suffering in persecution has led both Christians and Jews to a consciousness of the fundamental bond uniting men, if not in their doctrine and rule of life, at least in that single origin which fashions them all in the image of God. The future will show what human history has been able to gain from such an experience.

But this essay is concerned particularly with the Jews. It is against them that racist neo-paganism first tried its strength. Its profound desire is undoubtedly, if that be possible, to drive every Jew out of the country. But since this cannot be done, it has to confine itself to depriving them of political existence and walling them up in a ghetto certainly more cruel than the ghetto of the Middle Ages, since men are now confined not because of a difference of faith and religion, against which free will and the grace of God always have recourse, but because of an irremediable difference of blood. Here we are faced with racial antisemitism. To justify itself, it is not content to regard the Jews as a people, or as a race in the ethico-historical sense. They must be a race in the biological and anthropological sense of the word, and, at the same time, racism must become an ideology, a science, and a religion.

The truth is that the Jews are not a race in the biological sense of the word. We know that in man's present stage of development there is no group of any importance, even that most favoured in this respect, which is pure in race. The Jews are far from being an exception; mixtures of blood have, in the course of history, been as significant among them as among other human groups. Eminent scientists have concluded that, in man's present historic stage, the idea of race corresponds to no anatomical-physiological reality, to no unity of "blood," but merely to types of "mentalities" produced by historic and social conditions. Its significance rests on extremely complex historical factors (of a psycho-ethico-sociological character) formed in the course of time, rather than on hereditary characteristics transmitted by blood.

Not that one need deny the existence of such characteristics, nor the importance of such a science as genetics and of such a psycho-physical basis as blood; but these biological characteristics have been strongly intermixed in the ethnic brews compounded in the course of centuries, and in any case they are only a material element absolutely unqualified to constitute by itself a criterion of human value or to break the specific unity of the human family.

Scientifically, racism seems chiefly a sort of political distortion of anthropology, mobilised to furnish a practical criterion of the German national community.

Philosophically and religiously speaking, it is difficult not to see in this one of the worst materialistic mockeries of man. To claim, as was done at Nuremberg in 1933, that there is "a greater gap between the lowest forms which are still called human and our superior races, than between the lowest of men and the highest of monkeys," is not simply a philosophical absurdity. It is also an insult to the Christian faith which, in affirming the spirituality and the immortality of the human soul, in preaching brotherly love for men of all races and all conditions, in teaching that Christ died for the salvation of all, affirms at the same time the natural unity of the human species, its essential distinction from other species of animals, and the equal claim of all men to the title of children of God.

It is sometimes said, and I just used the word myself, that racism is neo-paganism: this is an insult to the pagans, who never lapsed into such brutish materialism. The cult of so-called predestined animal blood (in reality the vehicle of original sin and all those divisions among men of which this sin is the principle), is the cult most fundamentally opposed to the Christian cult of the redeeming and vivifying blood of the Word Incarnate, by means of which all who do not reject divine grace are brought into the supernatural unity of the "race" of God and the Sons of God.

From a social and cultural point of view, racism degrades and humiliates to an unimaginable degree reason, thought, science and art, which are thenceforth subordinated to flesh and blood and divested of their natural "catholicity." It brings to men, among all the modes of barbarism which threaten them to-day, a barbarism in itself the most inhuman and the most desperate of all. For, as I have just observed, it rivets them to biological categories and fatalities from which no exercise of their free will will enable them to escape.

{1} See below, pp. 23-4.

{2} Whether we consider free competition, or interest paid on money loans, or price conceived as the result of discussion rather than as the expression of the objective value of a commodity ("just price"), we see ideas related to Jewish (and more generally to Oriental) economic conceptions, which the change from the medieval guild régime to the capitalist régime rendered predominant.

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