Free Markets, Free People


Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism

Ann Althouse is watching the propaganda so you don’t have to. Something in her review of the new Michael Moore agitprop, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, struck me as interesting:

The most striking thing in the movie was the religion. I think Moore is seriously motivated by Christianity. He says he is (and has been since he was a boy). And he presented various priests, Biblical quotations, and movie footage from “Jesus of Nazareth” to make the argument that Christianity requires socialism. With this theme, I found it unsettling that in attacking the banking system, Moore presented quite a parade of Jewish names and faces. He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

Am I wrong to see Moore as an anti-Semite? I don’t know, but the movie worked as anti-Semitic propaganda. I had to struggle to fight off the idea the movie seemed to want to plant in my head.

I may be alone in this observation, but for quite some time I’ve viewed anti-semitism and anti-capitalism as basically one and the same. Said another way, hatred for Jews appears to me to be closely tied to their historical affiliation with capitalist enterprises.

Certainly the anti-semitism found in the Middle East is somewhat different, in that there are religious and historical factors mixed in to that particular bigotry. And Christian Europe was never terribly friendly to the Jews either, with religious rivalry and illogical scape-goating (i.e. holding Jews responsible for killing Jesus, even though it was the Romans who actually did it, and Jesus was supposed to die according to the scriptures) being played out in large part there as well. Even so, I think there is definitely an anti-capitalist element to anti-semitism.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were often forbidden from owning land, or entering certain professions, which relegated them to doing the work that the Christians wouldn’t do. Lending money for interest had long been considered to be an awful enterprise, so much so that it was forbidden for Christians to engage in it (much as it is still so for Muslims). Therefore the Jews, who had no strictures* against charging interest, settled into those roles (as well as tax collectors, accountants, rent collectors, and other money-centered jobs), and for quite some time were the only lenders around. During the Roman Empire they were both reviled and tolerated for the practice. Of course, being the only lenders in town meant that when defaults happened, it would be a Jew who would looking for his “pound of flesh” and that did not make them any more desirable. Maybe it was during this time that the capitalist enterprises of making a profit from the use of money became closely associated with Jews, or perhaps it occurred much earlier, but before the term “capitalism” even existed there were Jews performing those functions.

Antisemitic Judensau from 18th Century Frankfurt

Antisemitic Judensau from 18th Century Frankfurt

With the rise of socialism in the industrial age, especially during the Progressive Era, all those capitalistic endeavors in which Jewish families had staked their claims started to fall into disfavor (even as they were employed with great abandon). Charging interest for money, always historically suspect, and all other occupations concerned with amassing capital were looked upon with increasing scorn. These were anti-social behaviors engaged in by the “greedy” who placed money above all else, and especially human well-being. It wasn’t uncommon for Jews to be treated as the face of these unsympathetic capitalist sorts.

In the age of industrialization vast sums were risked in building factories and the like, and huge fortunes were made, while regular working stiffs found themselves displaced from their idyllic farms and shacked up in dirty tenements, teeming with poverty (or so the story goes). As in medieval times when the Lord came up short on his payments, and couldn’t provide for those who depended on him, the Jewish lenders made for an easy target when industrialists failed. Wealthy bankers such as the Rothschilds and the Warburgs often came under scrutiny (and still do today) because of their Jewish heritage and massive family fortunes, and many conspiracy theories concerning Jewish attempts to control the world through their financial houses flourished. Indeed, during this ironically anti-capitalist period (ironic because of capitalism’s rapid spread during this time, raising the living standards of millions upon millions of people), political parties and community groups were sometimes formed based quite openly on their antisemitism. As an acceptable social prejudice, anti-semitism was often found to be quite politically useful in Europe and here in the United States. At the same time, prevailing political winds were blowing strongly in the direction of scientific socialism, and decidedly against capitalism and individualism.

Again, I don’t know how or when anti-semitism and anti-capitalism became so intertwined, but for at least the last 150 years I think it’s safe to say they share common space. If you were to replace the words “multinational corporations” with “the Jews” in the popular anti-capitalist screeds of today, I don’t think one would see much of difference in coherence (be that as it may) or objection from purveyors of these conspiracy theories.

Bringing it full circle, I think that close connection between anti-semitism and anti-capitalism is why Althouse gets this feeling from Michael Moore’s film:

He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

In some ways, the bigotries may be inseparable.

* To be sure, the Bible does prescribe certain regulations for lending, one of which has been interpreted as meaning that Jews were forbidden from charging interest to other Jews, while doing so for loans to gentiles was perfectly acceptable. As I understand it, however, these Biblical restrictions treat “lending” as a sort of charity (that may or may not be paid back), in which Jews were encouraged to be free with their money in the service of their tribe, while having no compunction to be so charitable with “outsiders” (although, there too, be charitable when possible is encouraged). In short, it is a “take care of you family” sort of restriction on lending and not a “screw anyone who’s not Jewish” policy that it is sometimes made out to be.

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34 Responses to Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism

  • “holding Jews responsible for killing Jesus, even though it was the Romans who actually did it, and Jesus was supposed to die according to the scriptures”

    It was Jewish priests who pushed the Romans to kill Jesus, IIRC. And the fact that this was what was supposed to happen does not necessarly alter the sin of those who did it (assuming they had free choice in the matter).

    Of course, the flip side is that Jesus himself was a Jew. The early Christian church was a Jewish splinter cult. From what I understand, there were other such Jewish cults, but the others tended towards radical resistance, i.e., Masada. The Christian version gained strength through weakness, by not directly opposing the Romans.

    • “It was Jewish priests who pushed the Romans to kill Jesus, IIRC. And the fact that this was what was supposed to happen does not necessarily alter the sin of those who did it (assuming they had free choice in the matter).”
      Don, this kind of sophistry misses the point: for millennia, the then living Jews were held responsible for the event that occurred well before they were born.
      Moreover, in order to achieve the desired outcome, quite a subtle change had to be made over time. Up until a couple of centuries ago, Jewishness was considered a religion, which allowed persecution on religious grounds (see above). But then the Enlightenment rolled in. It was no longer cool — in fact, archaic — to persecute someone for his religious beliefs in the age of sensibilite and egalite. So the “Jewish question” was reconsidered by the “enlightened,” and Jews were declared a nationality. That allowed to hate even those people of Jewish origin that became agnostics or Converted to Christianity. Yes, this intellectually paved the way for Nazism. But that occurred long before Hitler was born.

      Hair-splitting about who is responsible for the killing of Christ is therefore a red herring designed to distract from an uncomfortable fact: Jews for millennia have been persecuted for something they could not have possibly done because the events in question occurred before they were born.

      • My point was simply that Jews were behind the killing of Jesus, the Romans were simply the tool used. Of course, as I also said Jesus was himself a Jew, and the early Christian church an offshoot of the jewish religion.

        I frankly see no coherent way that this could lead to antisemitism. It might be an excuse, but not a real reason.

  • Oh, anti-semitism is a large part and parcel of the left, Neocon has also been a stand in for “Jooos” as well. I can’t speak to if fatty is an anti-semite or not. I’ll say probably not (knowingly at least)

    But I love this “Jesus wants socialism” theme. Again, when the left pays as much attention to Christianity’s wants regarding abortion or gay marriage, we can talk. (And didn’t the left go nuts at the mere suggestion that Bush was following Chriatianity’s dictates about Iraq? Hmmm…)

    The point the left ALWAYS misses is the aspect of being voluntary. There was a trememdous pw3nage of Will Ferrall and a few other celebs over at Big Hollywood where they were basically challenged to pony up their millions and buy heathcare insurance for some people who needed it. Of COURSE they wouldn’t do it, but they sure supported socialized medicine. They felt it more compassionate to force everyone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves volunatarily.

    I’m a Jooooo but I’ve seen enough to figure out that the lesson was that we should all be engaging in good works as a matter of volunteerism, borne from compassion and empathy. Socialism couldn’t be farther from the point. If anything, socialism crushes the human soul.

    • Socialism, at heart, is the idea that you have a right to other’s wealth. Which is simply theft. Which violates the Ten Commandments.

    • “I’m a Jooooo….”

      Perhaps, but you can’t be a Jew, since shark is not kosher.

  • Usury, as I understand it, is not a forbidding of the charging of interest, but a forbidding of charging so great of a rate of interest, the borrower has no way to pay back the loan. In essence, the loan itself is a Trojan Horse for theft.

    Theft is forbidden – whether outright, or in the guise of kindness, charity, or even business.

    But as the continentals frequently felt they were insulting the English, by calling them ‘a nation of shop keepers’, I believe you are spot on about the distaste for Capitalism as part of our history.

    Now is merely one of many cycles of people opinion that some sort of agrarian, feudal utopia is just around the corner if only we could get there. Steppin’ into Eden, anyone?

    • Usury, as I understand it, is not a forbidding of the charging of interest, but a forbidding of charging so great of a rate of interest, the borrower has no way to pay back the loan. In essence, the loan itself is a Trojan Horse for theft.

      That’s what it’s evolved into, but originally “usury” simply meant charging interest for loans and it was forbidden to Christians and Muslims (who still have the restriction, and thus have creative banking rules designed to avoid the problem).

      • Usury and interest were both ‘abominations’ and both were forbidden to Jews for dealings with other Jews.

        And yet, the language itself shows that people thought of them differently:

        The Hebrew word for “usury” is “neshek,” meaning literally “a bite,” from its painfulness to the debtor; while in Lev. xxv. 36, 37 “increase” is the rendering of the Hebrew “marbit” or “tarbit” which denotes the gain on the creditor’s side, and which in the later Hebrew becomes “ribbit.” Lending on usury or increase is classed by Ezekiel (xviii. 13, 17) among the worst of sins.

        cite: Jewish Encyclopedia.com as I don’t speak a word of Hebrew …

        http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=58&letter=U

  • Not sure if this is consistent with this past century. With the exception of a small percentage, Jews seem to lean left. Even to the detriment of Israel.

    A healthy portion of the financial sector seem supportive of Democrats in general and also specifically the Financial Bailout. So I assume that would include the Jews that worked in those industries. In fact, I don’t really see any more antagonism between the finacial sector and ‘socialism as implimented’ anymore than any other industry. Perhaps even a little less.

    Perhaps there’s a preceived connection based on a historical connection, but it no longer holds for Jews in America, let alone the financial industry. Israel made no bones about embracing socialism for a time as well this last century for that matter.

    • Not sure where you’re going with this. The argument is about expressions of anti-capitalism and anti-semitism being nearly identical and possibly derived from the same place. It doesn’t have anything to do with how many Jews are Democrats or Democrats work in the financial sector.

      • Of course, f-tard Madoff sure didn’t help matters- but to be sure he’s also more visible than some of the real shadow culprits behind the current meltdown such as Barney Franks, etc.

        Jews are intertwined with capitalism not only for the historic reasons you list, but because being an outcast people, we have always put a great premium on hard work and assimilation where we have settled. So when a poor Germany looked around and saw prosperous Jews, it wasn’t some shadowy plot to subvert them. It was the drive to work hard and succeed.

        Sterotypes die hard, especially to closed minds.

        • Jews are intertwined with capitalism not only for the historic reasons you list, but because being an outcast people, we have always put a great premium on hard work and assimilation where we have settled.

          I’ve sometimes wondered if being part of a diaspora for so long, while having strong religious motivations towards keeping the family together, had anything to do with it. By staying so close together, Jews have also repelled outsiders from entering the fold, thus resulting in being an “outcast” class wherever they go. Just a thought.

      • Michael,

        I’m not sure where you’re coming from. The crux of the article is historically the Jews were Europe’s Banks. And also that supressing the banks and thereby the Jews (not necessarily in that order) was anti-capitalist. The article gives a sympathetic depiction of the pro-capitalists/Jews against the anti-capitalist central planners.

        My point is that Jews aren’t inherently pro-capitalist and neither are financial institutions adverse to central planning either. I don’t say there’s a link any longer between Jews and Financial instutions at all, but McQ clearly made a case for a historic one. Hence the title of the piece.

        • First of all, I wrote the post, not McQ.

          Secondly, I never made the claim that “supressing the banks and thereby the Jews (not necessarily in that order) was anti-capitalist”, but instead that money-lending (and the like) was considered “bad”, forbidden to Christians, and one of the few occupations allowed to Jews. The disfavored activity and the disfavored people historically came to occupy the same space.

          There is no effort to “sympathetically” treat either Jews or capitalists. Nor do I even intimate that Jews and/or financial planners are somehow “inherently” (to use your word) predisposed to be in favor of capitalism and against central planning. My only goal is to relay an observation that I’ve had about how anti-semitism and anti-capitalism seem to come from the same place and to be exerted by largely the same people.

          So, again, I’m just not sure where your comments are going. Am I missing something?

          • I guess I assumed you weren’t just depicting a similarity but a connection.

            “During the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were often forbidden from owning land, or entering certain professions, which relegated them to doing the work that the Christians wouldn’t do. Lending money for interest had long been considered to be an awful enterprise, so much so that it was forbidden for Christians to engage in it (much as it is still so for Muslims). “

            and not just a circumstantial one, but a fundamental one

            “Therefore the Jews, who had no strictures* against charging interest, settled into those roles “

            And my error progressed from there.

          • And sorry about the McQ reference. He seems to be prolific lately, I rarely check the by lines anymore.

          • To be fair, I may be fudging between whether it is a “circumstantial one, but a fundamental one.” My historical sense says it’s simply circumstantial (a point that seems to be supported by the Thomas Sowell stuff mentioned by Martin), but there’s is something that tells suggests there’s more there. I just can’t put my finger on what would show a fundamental link. So, you are probably picking up on my own uncertainty and hedging there.

            As for the McQ reference, no worries. I can’t complain about the comparison ;)

  • There has been a history of early Christians not wanting to be making money by lending money (I can’t cite the Bible here, but there is something out there), so the job of banking was left to the Jews, the financial “Untouchables” of their day.

  • Toynbee, and others I think, referred to Marxism as a “bastardized Christianity,” and it’s for sure that Christianity has been bastardized by many, including Christians who all but threw it over for a form of politics called “Social Gospel,” in many ways a forerunner of “liberation theology.”

    It’s a big roiling topic, the clash of real religion with politics.

    As for the proposed equation, I don’t buy the idea that anti-capitalism equates to antisemitism.

    In his superb book of essays, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Thomas Sowell takes on the question of the roots of antisemitism in the essay “Are Jews Generic?”

    He does a pretty good job demonstrating that Jews chronically suffer the fate of what he calls a “middleman” culture and demonstrates how other cultures who play that essential role of economic facilitators are treated with remarkably similar hostility. Lebanese, Koreans, overseas Chinese, and Armenians are among the cultures that play that role in different parts of the world and wind up facing similar degrees of anger and occasional violence from the established culture as the Jews.

    That’s not to say that antisemitism hasn’t taken on more dramatic form in certain contexts. But even with race-based Nazi antisemitism, Hitler detested international capitalism (in addition to international socialism) and viewed the Jews as the facilitators of it. Whether the antisemitic egg preceded the anti-capitalist chicken is probably an unanswerable question. My point is that the racial element does not completely overwhelm the status of Jews as a middleman culture even in the stunted Nazi worldview.

    One of the more interesting points that Sowell makes is that the Poles (of which century I’m having a hard time remembering) had very high regard for Scots, as nobles, but simultaneeously treated them with great hostility when Scots were in the middleman role.

    There’s a whole psychology that goes with this and I recommend Sowell’s essay to anyone interested in the question.

  • He does a pretty good job demonstrating that Jews chronically suffer the fate of what he calls a “middleman” culture and demonstrates how other cultures who play that essential role of economic facilitators are treated with remarkably similar hostility. Lebanese, Koreans, overseas Chinese, and Armenians are among the cultures that play that role in different parts of the world and wind up facing similar degrees of anger and occasional violence from the established culture as the Jews.

    That’s an interesting thought. Then, because Jews tend to occupy those “middleman” positions in Western countries is why I would notice it more with respect to American and European anti-semitism? I suppose that’s possible.

    • A good example of how the role is fungible is how Koreans with stores in black neighborhoods (“middlemen” are often retailers but not exclusively)in New York City became the object of intense villification and ire, a role once held by Jews in New York.

      Just as Jews once did in New York, the Koreans virtually kill themselves working to succeed (literally to the point of physical breakdown), and they do it by establishing their businesses in neighborhoods not their own and become, as their businesses grown and succeed, the object of intense rage over things like prices and their “not us-ness.”

      The “middleman” is blamed for things being so “expensive.” He’s a “blood sucker.” Even though he provides access to essential goods. He’s needed and he’s despised for it. It’s a complex psychology. See Sowell for a good clear elaboration.

      • Now, this is making excellent sense.

        We can see a similar thing with respect to retail gasoline sales. Many people are upset at retail “price gouging”, but never seem to feel guilty when prices drop. If the gasoline station owners were alwyas a specific and different ethnic group, that would make it even easier to focus anger on them.

        After the LA riots in the 90s, Korean shopkeeps were a target for of various progressive types, just as they were targets during the riots.

      • There are other examples — in Indonesia, riots practically wiped out the expatriate Chinese, who serve as the “Jews” (in the role Michael describes) in the non-Chinese East.

        It’s the hunter-gatherer-scavenger mentality. Food is where you find it, and if you find some you have to share with the rest of the tribe or your tribe dies out — but there is nothing people or the tribe can do to increase or decrease the availability of food; it just happens.

        Agriculture changed that, but agriculture is very recent in evolutionary terms. Our “instincts” (whatever you want to call heritable behaviors, be they genetic or cultural) were developed during the tens of millenia we lived as HGS tribes, and the few thousand years since the invention of agriculture isn’t nearly enough to modify those behaviors significantly.

        Industrialization is even worse. You can’t have industrialization without capitalism, although you may name it something else — “Communism” is just monopoly capitalism via the State — but “instincts” developed as HGS tribes don’t even work for agriculture, and industrialization is an order of magnitude more difficult to understand.

        Both agriculture and (to a greater extent) industrial capitalism are intellectual constructs that don’t touch our “instincts”. Socialism or communalism aren’t “progressive” at all — they’re retrogressive, an attempt to return to the savannah except assuming the abundance the later systems provide.

        Regards,
        Ric

        • Good points, Ric. I especially like this:
          Socialism or communalism aren’t “progressive” at all — they’re retrogressive, an attempt to return to the savannah except assuming the abundance the later systems provide.
          I’ve often thought that, but not so succinctly.

          And thanks, Martin, for pointing out the Sowell piece. I will read it.

  • So I guess Karl Marx is the ultimate anti-Semite?

    *eyes rolling*

    I mean, it gets ever more absurd…anyone who opposes capitalism is thus also an anti-Semite. Sheesh.

    • Erb:

      “*eyes rolling*”

      Go read the concluding section of Marx’s “On The Jewish Question,” Scott.

      See what you come up with.

    • Wow. Surprisingly unfamiliar with Marx and Engels aren’t you?

    • “Said another way, hatred for Jews appears to me to be closely tied to their historical affiliation with capitalist enterprises.”
      Once again, a class in basic logic and/or reasoning is needed. The actual implication is that anti-Semites are also anti-capitalism. As pointed out in several earlier comments, the ethnic group being targeted can vary depending on who is filling what role in a particular society.

      The point about Marx relates closely to the “Quote of the Day” argument that non-violence is normal; both bring up a core mystery of leftist arguments. Do leftists really not know the facts that pertain to the discussion, or do they rely on others to never do any research into their claims?
      I suspect it’s a bit of both; either way it forces reasonable people to divert time. In addition, when one side spends so much time denouncing BS they can be painted as being negative all the time.

  • I wonder if Moore is using the Christianity as a tactic – create a united front and all.

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