Journal Article

Into the Spiral of Problematic Perceptions: Modern Anti-Semitism and <i>gebildetes Bürgertum</i> in Nineteenth-Century Germany

Uffa Jensen

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 25, issue 3, pages 348-371
Published in print July 2007 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online July 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Into the Spiral of Problematic Perceptions: Modern Anti-Semitism and gebildetes Bürgertum in Nineteenth-Century Germany

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This article attempts to relate modern anti-Semitism to the increasingly close interactions of Jews and non-Jews in an age of political emancipation and social integration. It argues that the changing mutual perceptions of Jews and Protestants in the German educated bourgeoisie are of central importance in this regard. In nineteenth-century Germany, literature movements such as realism, and various human sciences such as anthropology, Protestant theology or philology provided ample material for discussing the Jewish character. These fields suggest four ways of perceiving Jews: the Jew as parvenu, as Talmudist, as materialist and as nomad. Indeed, bourgeois Jews themselves contributed to these literary and scholarly debates. Their discussions were frequently shaped by the attempt to confront anti-Jewish misconceptions. Moreover, they propagated their own interpretation of the Jewish character: the figure of the humanistic Jew. This Jewish interpretation, which identifies a universal mission, proves to have a twofold nature: it is not only a counter-attack against anti-Semitic polemics, but also a particular result of the peculiar Jewish adaptation of bourgeois culture. As the article argues, however, this humanistic perception of Jewish identity caused concern on the Protestant side, which led to further polemics and thus further Jewish defence. The resulting spiral of problematic perceptions was the consequence of the growing social intimacy of bourgeois Jews and Protestants in nineteenth-century Germany. Modern anti-Semitism, it is thus argued, can be interpreted as a specific form of rejection of ambivalence and the establishment of neat binary codes in the confusing closeness of Jews and non-Jews.

Keywords: Modern anti-Semitism; German bourgeois culture; German-Jewish history; history of German literature; anthropology; philology; Protestant theology; Völkerpsychologie

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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