Anti-Semitism

A modern phenomenon.

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The multiple forms of modern antisemitism could be grouped in two general categories. Animosity toward ­the Jews based on the economic, social, and cultural reasons mentioned above, was translated into political terms: the demand to curb thealleged influence of the Jews by forc­ing them to assimilate into the local society was tantamount to a call for their complete disappearance as a separate entity (religious, ethnic and cultural). French anti-Semitism, repeatedly boosted by the crash of the Union Generale (1882), the Panama scandal (1889), the Dreyfus affair, and the agitation of the Action Francaise and other antisemitic movements, remained confined, on the whole, to this first category.

Germany, on the other hand, witnessed the appearance of racial antisemitism. Although still marginal, and often still based on older arguments, this was nonetheless a phenomenon in its own right. Racist theories, originating in various nationalconstellations, seemed to offer a neat solution to the perennial "Jewish question." The Jews could now be depicted as an inherently destructive race, and the struggle between Aryans and Jews as an inexorable and merciless war.

The better‑known ideologists of racial antisemitism in imperial Germany were Eugen Duehring, Theodor Fritsch, Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Steinrich Class. Their political influence before World War I was minimal, but their ideas soon infiltrated groups of every kind.

The Bolshevik menace, German defeat, economic chaos following ­World War I--all these constituted fertile soil for the growth and ­radicalization of antisemitic theories. These finally culminated in exceptionally virulent form in Nazi ideology.

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Saul Friedlander

Saul Friedlander is a Professor of History at UCLA.