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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