Chapter 9: Judeophobia in the Enlightenment and 19th Century Fra
Emile Zola wrote in 1897:
“The Jews such as they are today are our work, the work of our 1,800 years of idiotic persecution.” To free the Jews from their oppression meant to free the Christians from their prejudices against them. But, alas, those who held high the banner of the ideological revolution turned to be Judeophobes themselves.
Denis Diderot, the principal writer of the famous Encyclopédie (1765) pointed out some Jewish virtues, for example that the Jews are the oldest nation and never succumbed to polytheism. At the same time he wrote about the Jews as being “ignorant and superstitious,” capable of any villainy. Paul D’Hollbach went further. In “The Spirit of Judaism,” he claimed that Judaism is evil, that its corruption led to the creation of Christianity, that Moses was the most harmful legislator ever, who taught hatred for mankind and parasitism. The Jews’ God is blood-thirsty and causes them to commit genocides, the patriarchs were lascivious liars, the prophets a bunch of fanatics, and so on. The Jews were the vilest people on earth. (It is paradoxical that after two millennia of Jewish suffering under Christian domain, D’Hollbach and others now blamed the Jews for having created Christianity).
On the whole, Montesquieu favored the Jews and empathized with their sufferings (“Judaism is a mother who has given birth to two daughters who have struck her a thousand blows... If you do not want to be Christian, at least be human”) he also warned that “wherever there is money there are Jews.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a noteworthy exception to the rule and adopted a stand consistently favorable to the Jews.
The most ill-mouthed of all Enlightened Judeophobes was none other than the man who incarnated the ideas of the French Revolution based upon “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Voltaire, champion of the Enlightenment, enemy of the Church, wrote a Philosophical Dictionary. In more than a quarter of all the entries in the Dictionary, Voltaire insulted the Jews “the most imbecile people on the face of the earth, enemies of mankind, most obtuse, cruel absurd...” The longest entry of the book is “Jews” and there we read: “The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, nor astronomers...” Is it possible that Voltaire had not heard of Maimonides or Spinoza? No, but Judeophobia had the power to twist the reasoning of even this most reasonable man. And he touches the nerve. If there was an area in which Jewish accomplishment was outstanding it was education. Wrote Voltaire: “So far away were they from having public schools for the instruction of youth that they have not a term in their language to express such an institution.”
This great liberator from superstition actually approved of the endless persecutions and massacres of the Jews and supported the blood accusation (“your priests have always sacrificed human victims with their sacred hands.”) And it is not acceptable that “Voltaire struck at the Jews to strike at Christianity,” as some claim, because Voltaire also attacked the Church openly. He did not need to do it via the Jews. He signed his letters with “Écrasez l’infâme” (“destroy the infamous” referring to the Church), except for letters sent to Jews (where he signed “Christian gentleman of the very Christian king’s chamber”). “In short,” ends the Dictionary, “we find in them only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched. Still, we ought not to burn them.”
Voltaire’s Judeophobia was commonplace among freethinkers. As with the Church Fathers, they expressed hatred and disdain whenever they referred to the Jews. The English were exceptional in their Judeophobia-free outlook, with the likes of John Locke and John Toland. However, full Emancipation in England did not arrive until 1858 when Baron Lionel de Rothschild took his seat in Parliament, taking an oath specially formulated for the occasion.
Modern Judeophobia was basically a reaction to the Emancipation of the Jews, which took the form of three trends, each one respectively exemplified in three countries, namely: the socioeconomic (France), the racial (Germany) and the conspirational (Russia).
The Emancipation of the Jews and the Reaction
In France the revolutionaries’ National Assembly debated whether the principle of “Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood” should apply to the Jews. After two years, in September 1791, Jews were granted civic freedom, and Napoleon then saw it as his task to make good Frenchmen of the Jews.
Incensed by complaints from Alsace about Jewish usury, Napoleon called for an Assembly of Jewish Notables, holding sessions from July 1806 to April 1807. The Assembly was made up of 111 rabbis and community leaders, who had to respond to twelve questions about Jewish habits namely: polygamy, divorce, marrying out, French patriotism, relationship towards the Gentiles, obedience to French law, rabbis’ appointment and authority, forbidden professions, and usury. During the last months of the sessions, 71 Jews, mostly rabbis, were appointed to translate the answers of the Assembly into religious binding laws. This was called the Napoleon Sanhedrin.
This same year the first modern Judeophobic myth was born. The Jesuit Augustin Barruel claimed that this Sanhedrin had been “brought out to light” after having been underground for almost fifteen centuries, during which it exercised powerful control over Europe. Napoleon’s Sanhedrin was dissolved.
The pre-Emancipatorial Judeophobic atmosphere again reared its ugly head. The term “Sanhedrin” was a misnomer which could be understood to imply that it had the legal power to enforce its decisions. However, this was clearly not the cause but rather an arbitrary detonator (Judeophobia finds excuses everywhere). Pope Pius VII believed Barruel, and in the Papal States and in Germany, the downfall of Napoleon (1815) undid the Emancipation. Those few years had sparked a wave of assimilationism among Jews, many of whom had desperately knocked on the doors of gentile society long before it was open to them. The vanguard of the assimilationists was in Berlin. Hugo Valentin wrote in his book “Antisemitism” that “more German Jews were baptized between 1800 and 1818, than in the previous 1800 years put together”.
It was now that the Jews learned to their sorrow that Judeophobia was not neutralized by a mere governmental decree, nor by theories of Enlightenment, nor by assimilation. There was rising agitation against Jews in many German towns and in 1819 it reached a new point of violence with the cry “Hep, hep, death to the Jews!” accompanying the riots. The authorities argued that Emancipation should be withheld from Jews because of the ill-will it caused the masses.
In France several philosophers turned this Judeophobic reaction into their ideology. François Fourier (d. 1837) established a school of social reform, and pursued his aim with passionate dogmatism and intolerance. For Fourier “commerce was the source of all evils and Jews the incarnation of commerce.” It had been a big mistake to emancipate slaves and Jews, “the most despicable nation.” His disciple Alphonse Toussenel wrote in 1845 a two-volume work “The Jews, Kings of the Epoch,” which served as the inspiration for a conservative, rural Judeophobia that eventually developed into a political movement. Toussenel warned the reader that in his book he used “the word Jew in the sense of banker, usurer,” but he openly supported the persecutions that the Jews had previously suffered as a people. This semantic manipulation allowed him to include under the “Jewish” epithet even the Protestant countries.
This type of pun can be misleading. It is true that Toussenel was anti-Protestant too, but the fact that he blames the Jews for everything he disliked illustrates the essence of Judeophobia. He limited himself to reproving Protestant influence, but not want to destroy the Protestants as a group. In the same vein, it is misleading to claim that D’Hollbach was as Judeophobic as he was anti-Christian, or that Stalin was as Judeophobic as he was anti-religious, or that Hitler was Judeophobic as he was anti-Communist. It is one thing to express reservations about an idea (even if that idea is Judaism!) and a very different one to attack a group who incarnate any “evil” idea which the attacker chooses to deride.
The 'Jews Control France' Myth
The hostile atmosphere in France was the backdrop for another book which was a watershed in Judeophobic history: “La France Juive” by Edouard Drumont (1886) described France as subjugated to the Jews in the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. In a short time it had over a hundred editions. In 1889 Drumont founded the Antisemitic League (remember Marr’s league in our first lesson?) and a few years later he was elected to the chamber of deputies. This paradigm describing Jews dominating the nation was oft-repeated, regarding any number of nations. The usual way is to mention the names of Jewish bankers, newspaper editors, top industrialists and so on, and then bundle all this power together as claiming it belongs to “the Jews.” (Everyone would see the absurdity in attributing financial power to “the short” because many bankers are 5 ft 2’’, or to claim that the press is in the hands of the “visually challenged” because many journalists wear glasses. And this is the strategy: to note Jews in key positions and to imply that they are secretly coordinated - “the Jews.”) That many Frenchmen are still infected by this, was apparent last March when Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French opposition leader who is supported by 15% of the population, claimed that the President of France is controlled by “the Jews.”
Jews govern everything. This is a modern myth, which was almost absent in previous Judeophobia and which we will consider further in our ninth lesson. In France, the peak of the Judeophobic trend was the Dreyfus affair.
The Dreyfus Affair
Alfred Dreyfus was an officer in the French army who was arrested in 1894 and tried before a court-martial on the charge of treason. A secret military document (the “bordereau”) sent by a French officer to the military attaché of the German embassy in Paris, had fallen into the hands of the French Intelligence Service. Dreyfus’ conviction, his degrading demotion, imprisonment on Devil’s Island, and ultimate acquittal in 1906 was traumatic for France and the entire Jewish world. During the decade of the trial and retrial, accusation and counter-accusation, top French leaders were accused of complicity in this Judeophobic scandal. This divided the French into Dreyfusists (mostly Liberals and Socialists) and anti-Dreyfusists (monarchists, the reactionary and the Catholic Church).
The most striking aspect was not whether Dreyfus was guilty, nor the injustice of putting an innocent Jew in prison, not even if it was merely because of his being a Jew. The appalling aspect was the mass reaction of enmity towards “the Jews” as a whole, slandering a whole population, cries of “Death to the Jews,” caused by the relatively minor indictment of one Jew. And all this in the country of equality of rights.
Jews everywhere were shocked that this could take place in France, the “homeland of liberty and the Great revolution,” and that Judeophobia still prejudiced the behavior of much of the French people, even when the Jewish victim was completely assimilated. This seemed to prove that assimilation was no defense against Judeophobia. At least these were the impressions of one journalist who came to Paris as a correspondent for his Viennese newspaper to cover the Dreyfus affair, and partly in reaction decided to create the World Zionist Organization, Dr. Theodor Herzl.
Echoes of the Dreyfus affair continued to reverberate in France for over a generation. During W.W.II its consequences were still recognizable in the line that divided the Vichy government from the Free French. And it was the leader of the latter, Charles de Gaulle who in 1967 publicly called the Jews “an elitist people, self-confident and proud.” The President of France uttered such an expression only twenty years after he fought the regime which had murdered one third of this “elite.”
In France Judeophobia became mainly economic and political. It was less cultural (as in the pagan world) and not theological (as in the Middle Ages). Also it was not based on racial prejudice, unlike in Germany. The German trend will be the subject of our next lesson.
These pages are adapted by the kind permission of Dr. Gustavo Perednik.They are based on a twelve-lecture Internet course prepared for "The Jewish University in Cyberspace." During 2000 and 2001, the book by Gustavo Perednik "Judeophobia" was published in Spanish. This course summarizes the core ideas ofthe book. It presents a comprehensive and unique analysis of the development of Jew hate (Judeophobia or antisemitism) throughout history. It tries to answer the question "why the Jews?" - why have Jews been particularly singled out for ethnic, racial and religious persecution, and it traces the relationship between anti-Zionism and racist Judeophobia or so-called antisemitism.
The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism is grateful to Dr. Perednik for his permission to popularize his works.