Every Attack on a Jew is an Attack on the Liberal World

© Shut­ter­stock

On this date 74 years ago, the Red Army lib­er­ated the Auschwitz-Birke­nau exter­mi­na­tion camp. The 27th of January became the Day of Remem­brance for the Victims of National Social­ism. Much has been sub­jected to crit­i­cal analy­sis since then. What has been over­looked, though, is the alliance between anti-lib­er­al­ism and anti-Semi­tism, an alliance that is still influ­en­tial today.

One can hardly accuse the crit­i­cally think­ing public in the West of under­es­ti­mat­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of anti-liberal trends or failing to pay atten­tion to the rise in anti-Semitic atti­tudes. Largely over­looked and under­es­ti­mated, though, are the following:

  1. The close asso­ci­a­tion between and mutual inspi­ra­tion of anti-lib­er­al­ism and anti-Semitism.
  2. The long lineage of this asso­ci­a­tion, which first emerged in the mid-19th century and has re-emerged peri­od­i­cally since then. Hermann Wagener, lawyer and Pruss­ian min­is­te­r­ial offi­cial, politi­cian and would-be founder of a polit­i­cal party, and ardent Jew-hater, laid out the the­o­ret­i­cal under­pin­nings for this asso­ci­a­tion, whose influ­ence would con­tinue to be felt well beyond his day. His book Das Juden­tum und der Staat (1857) saw the ulti­mate “enemy of all state order” in the “so-called lib­er­al­ism of the Jewish bour­geoisie”. Dis­play­ing an apti­tude for pro­pa­ganda, Wagener linked ressen­ti­ment towards Jews, inher­ited from past gen­er­a­tions, with argu­ments for pre­serv­ing the monar­chy. He could be sure of the appro­ba­tion of the Chris­t­ian bour­geoisie, who found val­i­da­tion for their deep-seated dis­trust of the Jews in his work. Wagener’s think­ing also met with approval from the “losers” – crafts­men and labour­ers – in the tech­no­log­i­cal and social upheaval of the time. In Wagener’s work, lib­er­al­ism and plu­ral­ism became quasi syn­ony­mous with Jewry and deca­dence. It was only a small step from there to Hein­rich von Treitschke’s dictum “The Jews are our mis­for­tune” (1879).
  3. The cul­tural, social and polit­i­cal com­plex­ity of this sin­is­ter alliance; its cycli­cal resur­gence, first in the first half of the 20th century and now again in the early decades of the 21st century; and, not of least sig­nif­i­cance, its expo­nen­tial increase in potency under certain social, eco­nomic and polit­i­cal conditions.
  4. The fact that the extreme right end of the polit­i­cal spec­trum is not and, his­tor­i­cally, has not been the only – or even the primary – locus of the origins and advo­cates of anti-liberal ide­olo­gies that rest to a sub­stan­tial degree on argu­ments derived from or linked with anti-Semitic clichés. In fact, uni­ver­sity-edu­cated, Chris­t­ian-ori­ented, bour­geois circles within the main­stream of society con­sti­tuted an essen­tial resource for these ide­olo­gies both in the 19th century and during the Weimar period. It was in these circles that Wagener’s writ­ings were read, their destruc­tive stereo­types taken up and addi­tional force lent to the wind sown by the author. Out of an anti-Judaism that had for cen­turies been jus­ti­fied pri­mar­ily on reli­gious grounds was born the modern form of anti-Semi­tism, which rests mainly on social and polit­i­cal argu­ments. Chan­cel­lor Otto von Bis­marck and his adepts used the newly con­structed image of the “Jewish bour­geoisie” as the enemy to repress liberal aspi­ra­tions and move­ments and shore up the, by then some­what shaky, Pruss­ian monar­chy. This would not have been pos­si­ble without an overtly anti-Semitic, illib­eral class society. Even­tu­ally, in the years of the Weimar Repub­lic, the smoul­der­ing coals inher­ited from Bismarck’s empire flamed fully into the fire that incin­er­ated all of the liberal ambi­tions of the time. It brought Hitler and his National Social­ists to power and, a few years later, mil­lions of Jews into the gas chambers.
  5. The role that Chris­t­ian reli­gious bodies, well-estab­lished cul­tural orga­ni­za­tions and polit­i­cal parties played in enabling the sin­is­ter axis between anti-lib­er­al­ism and anti-Semi­tism to develop such calami­tous power. One of the key social groups influ­enc­ing public opinion in this context was the bour­geois Protes­tant milieu, from which the major­ity of people with uni­ver­sity edu­ca­tions came.
The polit­i­cal and cul­tural self-image of bour­geois Protes­tants shaped a period that began after of World War I and lasted well into the Nazi era. In those days, people in these circles took a very scep­ti­cal view of Western par­lia­men­tary democ­racy and its notion of civic self-deter­mi­na­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion. They saw them­selves as “anti-liberal” and “anti-demo­c­ra­tic”. In this, they had the bless­ing of the [Protes­tant] Evan­gel­i­cal Church, which, while not requir­ing this polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion, did share it. To a sub­stan­tial degree, it paved the way for the fusion of anti-lib­er­al­ism and anti-Semi­tism into a specif­i­cally German ide­ol­ogy during the “Third Reich”. People in these circles did not nec­es­sar­ily see them­selves as national social­ists in the sense of adher­ents of the polit­i­cal party. They did endorse and promote the Nazi regime’s concept of the enemy though. The rejec­tion of both Western lib­er­al­ism and Eastern Bol­she­vism was inter­twined with racist anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitic atti­tudes are not directed solely against their explicit target

Research on all of this is scant and any­thing but sys­tem­atic. What has been brought to light by the little research that has been done is just lying there, an occa­sional loose thread poking out. As though we balked at pulling them – and drawing any mean­ing­ful con­clu­sions. By virtue of being aimed at Jews, Jewish com­mu­ni­ties and the State of Israel, anti-Semi­tism also targets every­one and every­thing asso­ci­ated with liberal moder­nity. In Germany, anti-Semi­tism takes aim not only at indi­vid­ual Jews and Jewish insti­tu­tions, but at the demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic as well, the Repub­lic whose con­sti­tu­tion, the Grundge­setz of 1949, arose out of an aware­ness of respon­si­bil­ity for the Shoa and there­fore con­tains, in its first article, a state­ment based so uncom­pro­mis­ingly on the code of values of a liberal, plu­ral­is­tic social order: “Human dignity shall be invi­o­lable”. The Grundge­setz of the Federal Repub­lic of Germany did not and does not intend only to safe­guard the pos­si­bil­ity of a liberal way of life. It also pledges to promote the uni­ver­sal values of human dignity and democ­racy within and beyond German borders. It is the sole ethical frame­work to have legal effect for a German nation of the future. Anti-Semitic atti­tudes are there­fore not directed solely against their explicit target. They are always also aimed at the code of values which pledges to protect freedom and plu­ral­ism as a binding stan­dard. Those who attack Jews, Jewish com­mu­ni­ties or the State of Israel, are also attack­ing the concept of a liberal society. Every attack on Jews is an attack on the liberal world. 

Portrait von Armin Huttenlocher

Armin Hut­ten­locher is CEO of the polit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm RES Public Affairs. Cor­po­rate Affairs. He is one of the share­hold­ers of Zentrum Lib­erale Moderne.

The sup­pos­edly enlight­ened West is dis­play­ing an alarm­ing inabil­ity to grasp its situation

Those who have under­stood this will re-eval­u­ate what is going on around us, taking a con­sid­er­ably broader per­spec­tive: what is hap­pen­ing in Hungary, where what amounted to a revo­ca­tion of the license of the Central Euro­pean Uni­ver­sity was accom­pa­nied by an unprece­dent­edly anti-Semitic public poster cam­paign vil­i­fy­ing George Soros, the CEU’s prin­ci­ple bene­fac­tor; what is reach­ing us, in an ever increas­ing flood, from Putin’s Russia, where jour­nal­ists, writers on public affairs and media organ­i­sa­tions are being black­listed and pil­lo­ried as Jewish in classic Der Stürmer style on plat­forms like Russia Insider; what is being expressed in the AfD’s core party texts and day-to-day polit­i­cal state­ments. One hears this völkisch swill more often again – and by no means only from the reg­u­lars fin­ish­ing each other’s sen­tences at the local pub or at pre­ten­tiously eccen­tric student soci­eties. It has reached yet another igno­min­ious nadir in the book pub­lished recently by Björn Höcke (Nie zweimal densel­ben Fluss), a leading figure in the AfD. Anti-lib­er­al­ism is assem­bling itself in Europe, drawing momen­tum both from Moscow and from the alt-right move­ment in the USA. It is trying, with the help of an anti-Semi­tism that is as blatant as it is brutal, to insin­u­ate itself into every oppor­tune frac­ture and con­flict in a sup­pos­edly enlight­ened Western society which, in actual fact, is dis­play­ing an alarm­ing inabil­ity to grasp its sit­u­a­tion. As though we had learned nothing of moment from the past and were once again con­fronting the rekin­dled threat not en bloc, but as a con­glom­er­a­tion of naïve and nar­cis­sis­tic indi­vid­ual societies.

Anti-lib­er­al­ism and anti-Semi­tism: an ide­o­log­i­cal symbiosis

Against this back­drop, the ten­dency to reduce the anti-Semitic threat in Germany and Europe to the growing number of Muslim immi­grants is also dis­turb­ing. The number of attacks on Jews and Jewish insti­tu­tions per­pe­trated by Muslim Arab persons has increased – but the exclu­sive focus on this group, its culture and reli­gion is as dan­ger­ous as that rise in numbers is indis­putable. This narrow focus leaves out our own, home­brewed anti-liberal group­ings, which are delib­er­ately stoking anti-Semitic sen­ti­ments and exploit­ing them for their own ends. Anti-Semi­tism is per se illib­eral, while anti-lib­er­al­ism exploits the illib­eral strength of anti-Semi­tism for its own ends. We are dealing with an ide­o­log­i­cal sym­bio­sis which is likely to stifle the idea of liberty, respect and plu­ral­ism should we fail to counter it through timely and deci­sive action. Anti-lib­er­al­ism and anti-Semi­tism cannot be con­sid­ered or com­bat­ted sep­a­rately. They act in concert, the Janus face of a cen­turies-old, peri­od­i­cally re-emerg­ing threat.


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