The History & Application of Antisemitism in Europe & the U.S., Part Two: Explaining Modern Antisemitism.
As levels of antisemitism rise once again in the West, I take a look at theories that can explain the roots of modern Jewish persecution, as well as the legislative background that led, post-WWII, to the legal protections & human rights laws that we all now know and recognise.
“…it must be possible to face and understand the outrageous fact that so small (and, in world politics, so unimportant) a phenomenon as the Jewish question and antisemitism could become the catalyst agent for first, the Nazi movement, then a world war, and finally the establishment of death factories.”
Hannah Arendt (1), summing up the enigmatic, tragic mystery of the beginnings of antisemitism and its being.
Theories explaining the rise of modern antisemitism…
In the Introduction to this series I gave some historical context and background to antisemitism across Europe. In this post I would like to bring this forward to take a closer look at some of the theories that have been used to explain the rise of modern antisemitism, with a specific focus on Germany, before ending with a brief discussion of the historical basis of the legal arguments that were used to persecute and protect Jews, again with an emphasis on the German context.
Modern antisemitism, in its many forms, has been built on the back of centuries of Jewish persecution, and as such many modern antisemitic ideas have an ancient framework and a history that goes back to medieval times.
In medieval Spain, for example, there was much resentment of Jews for their administrative and business acumen, and similar feelings in the late nineteenth century have been adopted to explain the rise of modern antisemitism. Industrial, social and cultural modernisation, that included widespread political, economic and social Jewish emancipation (i.e. the chance for Jews to become legalised citizens in many nations, including Germany) led to increased social mobility and competition with…