Rome and Jerusalem/Fifth Letter
Retrospect-The Damascus Affair-A cry of anguish-Mamserbilbul, i.e., Blood Accusation-Hep, Hep-The escape into France-Arnold Ruge-Napoleon-An honest German-Teutomaniacs-Jefferson-Fatherlands and Sovereigns-Ubi bene ibi Patria-The Jewish incognito-The religion of death-Raise your standard high, my people.
Do I seriously believe in the redemption from exile? You ask this question, and also remind me that I have already expressed myself in my two earlier works, The Sacred History of Humanity and The Triarchy of Europe as a believer in the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. You are certainly going far afield, esteemed friend, in holding me responsible not only for my present opinions, but also for those expressed long ago. Nevertheless, you are right, and I assume full -responsibility for my ideas. But in order not to stray too far from the thought nearest to my heart into my own personal history, I will relate only a few of the most characteristic episodes of my past, which will elucidate my present attitude toward the national question.
Twenty years ago, when an absurd and false accusation against the Jews was imported into Europe from Damascus [the Damascus blood libel - accusation that Jews made Matzoth from the blood of slaughtered Christian children] it evoked in the hearts of the Jews a bitter feeling of agony. Then it dawned upon me for the first time, in the midst of my socialistic activities, that I belong to my unfortunate, slandered, despised and dispersed people. And already, then, though I was greatly estranged from Judaism, I wanted to express my Jewish patriotic sentiment in a cry of anguish, but it was unfortunately immediately stifled in my heart by a greater pain which the suffering of the European Proletariat evoked in me.
With other nations, there is strife only among the various parties, but the Germans clash even when they belong to the same party. The members of my own party have made me loathe the aspirations of the Germans, and by their actions caused me to go into exile several years before the triumphant reaction changed it from a voluntary act into an involuntary one. Only a short time after the February revolution, I went to France and there I learned to know the people which, in the present century, is the foremost champion of social liberty. If this people submits at present to the iron dictatorship of kinghood, it is because the Emperor is true to his revolutionary descent, not in word alone, but also in deed. The moment dynastic interests conflict with the aspirations and strivings of the French people, kinghood will disappear from the soil of France.
After the coup d'etat of the reaction, I withdrew from politics and devoted myself exclusively to natural sciences. Old Dr. Arnold Ruge, a follower of the Young Hegelians, was much shocked at my occupation, which he termed materialism; he could never forgive the "Communist Rabbi Moses" for his heresy in forsaking the "ideal." He hinted frequently, in his lectures at the German Museum, that this scientific materialism is in reality only Imperialism, but not of the German-Barbarossa types but only of the Romance-Bonapartistic stamp. What relation there is between the study of the natural sciences and Bonapartism, the old Ruge never explained clearly. Meanwhile, even since the beginning of the Italian War of Liberation, I discovered a real and strong relationship between my ethnological studies and the modern national movement, which received such a strong impetus since the war. I will, on a later occasion, relate to you some of the conclusions reached through these studies. Let it suffice for the present, to say that these studies convinced me of the inevitable ultimate disappearance of any particular race dominance and the necessary regeneration of all oppressed peoples. First of all, it was my own Jewish people who, since that time, began to interest me and enchant me more and more. Images of my unfortunately brethren who surrounded me in my youth haunted my thoughts, and the long-suppressed feelings burst forth with fresh vigor. The pain and agony which, during the Damascus affair, was only a transient feeling, became now a dominating trait of my character and a lasting mood of my soul. No more did I seek to suppress the voice of my Jewish consciousness, but on the contrary, I carefully followed up its traces and was pleasantly surprised when I found; in my old manuscripts, a passage anticipating my present-day Jewish aspirations.
The following passage was written by me in the year 1840, during the time of the above-mentioned Damascus affair:
"The way and manner in which the persecution of the Jews in Europe, even in enlightened Germany, is looked upon, must necessarily cause a new point of departure in the Jewish life. This tendency demonstrates quite clearly that in spite of the degree of education to which the Occidental Jews have attained, there still exists a barrier between them and the surrounding nations, almost as formidable as in the days of religious fanaticism. Those of our brethren who, for purposes of obtaining emancipation, endeavor to persuade themselves, as well as others, that modern Jews possess no trace of a national feeling, have really lost their heads.6 These men do not understand how it is possible that such a stupid, medieval legend, which was only too well known to our forefathers under the name of Mamserbilbul, should be given credence, even for a moment, in Nineteenth Century Europe. To our educated German Jews, the feeling of hatred toward the Jews displayed by the Germans has always remained an unsolved puzzle. Was not the entire effort of the German Jews, since the days of Mendelssohn, directed toward becoming wholly Germanized, to thinking and feeling as Germans? Have they not striven carefully to eradicate every trace of their ancient nationality? Have they not fought in the War of Liberation? Were they not Teutomaniacs and French devourers? Did we not chant but yesterday with Nicolas Becker, "They shall not possess it, the free German Rhine"? Did I myself not commit the unpardonable stupidity of sending a musical composition of this "German Marseillaise" to the author of this song?
And yet I had to feel, in a personal way, the same disappointment that German Jewry in general experienced after it had given repeated demonstration of its patriotic enthusiasm. I also had to experience the sad fact that the German to whom I sent my manuscript, glowing with patriotic emotion, not only responded to it in an icy tone, but as if to fill the cup of bitterness to the brim, wrote on the other side of his letter, in a disguised script, the words: "You are a Jew." I forgot, then, that the Germans, after the War of Liberation, not only discriminated against the Jews, their erstwhile comrades in arms against the French, but even persecuted them with the frequent cries of Hep, Hep. I, on the other hand, took Becker's Hep, Hep, as a personal insult, and accordingly wrote him a letter, not in a disguised script, making a few unpleasant remarks, which this honest German, who most likely felt ashamed of his rudeness, passed over in silence. To-day I could have apologized to this German poet, for, as I see clearly now, it was by no means intended as a personal insult. It is impossible for any man to be at the same time a Teutomaniac and a friend of the Jews, just as it is impossible to love, simultaneously, the German military rule and German democracy. The real Teutomaniacs of the Arndt and Jahn type will always be honest, reactionary conservatives. The Teutomaniac, in his love of the Fatherland, loves not the State but the race dominance. How, then, can he conceive the granting of equal rights to other races than the dominant one, when equality is still a Utopia for the large masses of Germany? The sympathetic Frenchman assimilates with irresistible attraction every foreign race element. Even the Jew is here a Frenchman. Jefferson said long ago, at the time of the American Revolution, that every man has two fatherlands, first his own and then France. The German, on the other hand, is not at all anxious to assimilate any foreign elements, and would be perfectly happy if he could possess all his fatherlands and dominions for himself. He lacks the primary condition of every chemical assimilative process, namely, warmth.
As long as the Jew submitted in silence to persecution and disgrace, considering it as a punishment of God, all the time confidently hoping for the future restoration of his nation, his pride was not impaired. His only care was to enable his race to reach that glorious future which would amply recompense it for all the suffering it had undergone in the past, when God will mete out punishment to the persecutors and enemies of Israel. Our enlightened Jews, however, possess this strong belief and vigorous hope no more. What good is emancipation to them? Of what avail is it that here and there a Jew rises to high office, when to the name "Jew" there is attached a stigma which every obscure journalist, every stupid fellow, can safely turn to account?
As long as the Jew endeavors to deny his nationality, while at the same time he is unable to deny his own individual existence, as long as he is unwilling to acknowledge that he belongs to that unfortunate and persecuted people, his false position must daily become more intolerable. Wherefore the illusion? The European nations have always considered the existence of the Jews in their midst as an anomaly. We shall always remain strangers among the nations. They may tolerate us and even grant us emancipation, but they will never respect us as long as we place the principle ubi bene ibi patria [where it is good, there is the homeland] above our own great national memories. Though religious fanaticism may cease to operate as a factor in the hatred against the Jews in civilized countries, yet in spite of enlightenment and emancipation, the Jew in exile who denies his nationality will never earn the respect of the nations among whom he dwells. He may become a naturalized citizen, but he will never be able to convince the gentiles of his total separation from his own nationality. It is not the old-type, pious Jew, who would rather suffer than deny his nationality, that is most despised, but the modern Jew who, like the German outcasts in foreign countries, denies his nationality, while the hand of fate presses heavily upon his own people. The beautiful phrases about humanity and enlightenment which he employs as a cloak to hide his treason, his fear of being identified with his unfortunate brethren, will ultimately not protect him from the judgment of public opinion. .In vain does the enlightened Jew hide behind his geographical and philosophical alibi. It is of no avail. Mask yourself a thousand times over, change your name, religion and character, travel throughout the world incognito, so that people may not recognize the Jew in you; yet every insult to the Jewish name will strike you, even more than the pious man who is permeated with the spirit of Jewish solidarity and who fights for the honor of the Jewish name.
Such, my friend, were my thoughts then, when I was actively engaged on behalf of the European Proletariat. My Messianic belief was, at that time, the same that I profess at present, namely, the belief in the regeneration of the historical civilized nations, which will be accomplished only by raising the oppressed nations to the level of the mighty and dominant ones. Now, as at the time I wrote my earlier works, I still believe that Christianity was a step forward on the road toward the goal of humanity, which the Jewish prophets termed the Messianic age. To-day, as ever, I still believe that the present great epoch in universal history had its first manifestation, at least in the history of the human spirit, in the teachings of Spinoza. However, I never believed, nor have I ever asserted, that Christianity is more than a mere episode in the sacred history of humanity, nor even that this epoch of sacredness closed with Spinoza. I have never doubted that we at present sigh and strive for a redemption which Christianity never dreamed of, nor could ever supply. It is true that Christianity shed a certain glow during the dark ages of history, after the sun of ancient civilization had set forever; but its light only revealed the graves of the nations of antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a religion of death, the function of which ceased the moment the nations reawakened into life. The history of the European nations for the last three hundred years amply illustrates the truth of this dictum; but I will restrict myself to calling your attention to the events transpiring at present in Italy. On the ruins of Christian Rome there rises the regenerated Italian people. An influence similar to that of Christianity is exerted by Islam in the East. Both religions teach resignation and submission, and Turkey follows the same policy in regard to Palestine that Austria exercises in Italy. Christianity and Islam are both only inscriptions on the tombstones which barbaric oppression erected upon the graves of weaker peoples. But the soldiers of civilization, the French, are gradually sweeping away the dominance of the barbarians and with their strong Herculean arms will roll off the tombstones from the graves of the supposedly dead peoples and the nations will reawaken once more.
In those countries which form a dividing line between the Occident and the Orient, namely, Russia, Poland, Prussia, Austria, and Turkey, there live millions of our brethren who earnestly believe in the restoration of the Jewish kingdom and pray for it fervently in their daily services. These Jews have preserved, by their belief in Jewish nationality, the very kernel of Judaism in a more faithful manner than have our Occidental Jews. The latter have endeavored to revive much of our religion, but not the great hope which created our faith and preserved it through all storms of time, namely, the hope of the restoration of Jewish nationality. To those millions of my brethren I turn and exclaim, "Carry thy standard high, oh my people!" The Jewish nation still preserves the fruitful seed of life, which, like the grains of corn found in the graves of Egyptian mummies, though buried for thousands of years, have never lost their power of productivity. The moment the rigid form in which it is enclosed is shattered, the seed, placed in the fertile soil of the present environment and given air and light, will strike root and prosper.
The rigid forms of orthodoxy, the existence of which was justified before the century of rebirth, will naturally, through the productive power of the national idea and the historical cult, relax and become fertile. It is only with the national rebirth that the religious genius of the Jews, like the giant of legend touching mother earth, will be endowed with new strength and again be reinspired with the prophetic spirit. No aspirant for enlightenment, not even a Mendelssohn, has so far succeeded in crushing the hard shell with which Rabbinism has encrusted Judaism without, at the same time, destroying the national ideal in its innermost essence.