Rezensionen aus dem Archiv für Sozialgeschichte online

Uffa Jensen, Gebildete Doppelgänger. Bürgerliche Juden und Protestanten im 19. Jahrhundert (Kritische Studien zur Geschichtswissenschaft, Bd. 167), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2005, 383 S., kart., 46,90 €.

Uffa Jensen's fine study, Gebildete Doppelgänger, brings together three areas of inquiry that usual exist separately: the study of the Bürgertum, of Jewish history, and of anti-Semitism. Of the three areas, it is the bringing together of the last two that requires justification, especially as anti-Semitism seems to thrive quite successfully without Jews. Against this conventional wisdom, Jensen argues for a history in which relations between groups are foregrounded, and therewith he is on the right path. Not only did major conceptual shifts in the history of anti-Semitism happen in a situation of tension between Christians and Jews, but, more importantly, Jewish thinking about identity was occasioned by the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Jensen looks at the relation between bourgeois Protestants and bourgeois Jews in the years 1848 to 1880. This is a time in which Jews achieved spectacular rates of social mobility, with more than one half of German Jews still counting as poor in 1848, but sixty percent counting as middle class already by 1871. The transformation was important for relations between middle-class Protestants, who constituted an increasingly fragile and fractured liberal public sphere, and Jews, who became not so much the "other" as a kind of threatening double. Here the question of relations became central. For German Protestants Jews were not a marginalized group but a highly proximate one. And as a yawning cultural gap did not separate them, such a gap had to be invented. It is in fact the necessity of differentiation, the narcissism of small differences, as Freud would have written, that generated both new forms of anti-Semitism and new forms of Jewish identity.

First, anti-Semitism: Although the book claims to treat a nearly forty year sweep, its most important claim to originality rests on its reinterpretation of the so-called Berliner Antisemitismusstreit. As we know, the Streit was a major publishing event, but just how important it was can be seen in Jensen's revealing statistics of all the pamphlets published on some aspect of the "Jewish question" between 1870 and 1890. Of 432 pamphlets, 266, or 61 percent, appeared in the years 1879 to 1883, and only 38 pamphlets had appeared in the years before 1878. In other words, although there was some anti-Semitic pamphleteering during the "Gründerkrise", the problem exploded with Heinrich von Treitschke's first salvo in the journal Preussische Jahrbücher in 1879. It thereafter never reached the same intensity. For intellectuals, the anti-Semitism debate set markers not only for the new arguments it brought forth but for the intensity of activity it encouraged.

Jensen's analysis of Treitschke's essay is analytically astute, but more surprising is Jensen's close research into its reception. Hardly a Protestant voice or a non-Jewish liberal journal contradicted Treitschke in the first phase on the anti-Semitism debate. Instead, from November 1879 to February 1880 Treitschke's critics were exclusively Jewish, most prominently Moritz Lazarus and Hermann Cohen. But as the liberal newspapers cultivated a conspicuous silence, private well-wishers sent Treitschke a barrage of letters, so that one cannot escape the impression of significant, if tacit support among the Protestant educated elite. It was not until the anti-Semitism petition that summer, which in the course of the following year garnered 269.000 signatures (among them nearly half of the 3.600 students then in Berlin), that the debate took a significant turn. Jensen argues that not one but two anti-Semitism debates raged between 1879 and 1881, and only in the second do we hear critical voices from the liberal sphere of German Protestantism, most notably from the great historian of the Roman Empire, Theodor Mommsen. Alarmed by the "civil war of the majority against a minority", and the agitation at the university, Mommsen nevertheless shared Treitschke's assumption that there was a Jewish problem, and that the problem lay in the fact of Jewish difference, which he defined religiously not ethnically. Even Ludwig Quidde, the future pacifist, then a student, admitted that there was a "general antipathy of the Christian-Germanic German against the Jew"(S. 187). Quidde also admitted to a "Jewish problem", and therefore declined to write a straight defense of the Jews based on the simplest of propositions - human rights.

A second significant statistic that derives from Jensen's analysis of the pamphlets on the "Jewish question" is that 118 or 38 percent stem from the quills of Jewish authors. One cannot, Jensen rightly maintains, understand the Antisemitismusstreit without its Jewish component, especially in the first phase of the controversy. This is an insight about Jewish identity as well as about the controversy; the two, moreover, are tied, as new ideas about Jewish identity arose in the context of the controversy. Moritz Lazarus is Jensen's most prominent example. In response to Treitschke (but for a Jewish audience) Lazarus composed his influential essay "Was ist eine Nation?", and against the background of the larger debate, he wrote his Ethik des Judentums, a work that emphasized the peculiar contribution of Jews to universalizing ethic. Indeed, it was the presence of Jews in Germany that allowed the nation to think of itself in universal terms-the "Nation Kants", in Hermann Cohen's phrase. This universalism, while it would have an important career in Jewish thought, nevertheless came up against a structural problem in the largely Protestant middle class culture of the Kaiserreich. While Protestants could claim universal values for their social particularity, Jewish appeals to universalism always ended up revealing their own identity. This was a complex conundrum, as difficult for the maintenance of Jewish difference as for the satisfactory working out of universal values that recognized difference. For both sides, difference was at the heart of the matter - precisely because, as Doppelgänger, educated Protestants and Jews shared, at least before the outbreak of the Antisemitismusstreit, a great deal. In the second phase of the conflict, Jews fell largely silent, and this silence spelled the end of a debate, which despite its rancor was about a culture commonly held.

This is an important book: well-written, analytically astute, and original on topics historians thought they understood in great detail. One only wishes Jensen had more to say about the other third of the nation, namely the Catholics, who hardly make even a cameo appearance in this book. Nevertheless, this is a signal contribution to an increasingly rich, because genuinely relational, history of Christians and Jews in Germany.

Helmut Walser Smith, Nashville/Tennessee


©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | Webmaster | technical support | net edition ARCHIV FÜR SOZIALGESCHICHTE | 12. März 2007