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Racism and Racial Antisemitism

Racism and Racial Antisemitism
Evolving from the romantic perceptions of nationalism already discussed, and from the new scientific notions of race, a new form of antisemitism rose in the second half of the 19th century which is known as racial antisemitism. This form would prove to be an especially lethal one, laying the groundwork for the formulation of Nazi ideology, among others. Modern racism and modern racist antisemitism derived from age-old prejudices that were pushed forward and secularized by developments in science and in other scholarly research in the 18th and 19th centuries. First of all in philosophy - modern philosophy was a development of new ideas that were freed from any kind of higher authority.
They were based on the Ratio - on human thinking rather than on God. Developments of Enlightenment thinking - the ideas that all human beings are born equal - similar ideas to the ancient Jewish and Christian ideas of all human beings created in God’s image - these ideas that posited the equality of all humanity together with secular modern philosophy were advancing modernity, but at the same time created a kind of a pushback from various societies.
We find that the influence of certain scientific advances in the study of linguistics and philology -the study of the development of languages; in the study of anthropology - cultures, the development of cultures and their biology, and their customs; and the study of biology and evolution and genetics. All of these had an influence both in advancing science, but also branches of these advances developed into racist ideas.
In the sense of the study of languages, they developed a study of or an idea that there were families of languages such as the Indo-European languages, and there were branches of that study of linguistics and philology that argued that not only there were languages that had connections to each other in their origins, but that certain languages reflected superiority of development in how languages were written, and how languages were spoken, and how sophisticated they were, and that these reflected higher cultures or lower cultures. Developments in anthropology that viewed the various kinds of peoples in the world, particularly what anthropologists found to be the quote unquote “primitive peoples,” or “the savages” as some called them.
And they would view these people and study their customs in Africa, or in the Pacific, or in other places, and would posit that there were certain kinds of cultures and societies that were more advanced, or less advanced that were superior or lesser than others. Advances in biology from Darwin’s theories of evolution and the development of species over eons of time through natural selection were a lead-in for certain people to view biology and evolution, and the new study of genetics that developed in the second half of the 19th century as a way to try to discover who has superior traits, who has inferior traits and so on.
Developing out of these ideas of evolution and genetics and heredity, a new field known as Social Darwinism was developed in particular by Herbert Spencer - a physiologist, and anthropologist, and sociologist in his own right - who argued that among the societies there were superior beings and lesser beings, and the superior beings had the right to rule and they achieved that right through a struggle and a survival of the fittest in a struggle in real time among people in societies.
All of these ideas and more fed into what developed into a modern in the 19th century idea about racism that argued that not only was race a physical feature - that is, that there are darker-skinned and lighter-skinned people - but that race was also something that you could see among the white races themselves, that there are different kinds of races and within those races there’s a hierarchy. Some argued that the Aryan race - the Northern Europeans - were the superior race, the ones who had advanced society the most. And other races among the white people were lower down and races that were not white were even lower in the hierarchy.
Clearly if there are superior people they have the right to rule, a natural right given to them by the way nature developed. Within all of this new ideas developed about the Jews. The Jews were no longer viewed by the latter part of the 19th century as a religion or as a nation but rather as a race like other races; and as such that meant that the Jews and whatever qualities or features they had were immutable, their features were unchangeable regardless of the language they spoke, the citizenship that they held, or the religion that they adhered to or did not adhere to.
In the late 19th century, leading thinkers and figures across Europe began to approach race and the struggle between races as something mystic, almost religious. Racist and antisemitic theories were flourishing, with famous writers such as the French Joseph Arthur de Gobineau writing about the inequality of races, claiming that the supposed contamination of superior Aryan blood by inter-racial relations would lead to deterioration of all the achievements made by the white-raced Europeans. Another example for this way of thinking was the British-German philosopher Houston Stewart Chamberlain. He wrote extensively about how the so called Jewish race was foreign to the superior nature of the North European Aryans, and how dangerous it was.
Chamberlain was related by marriage to the famous composer Richard Wagner, who also wrote antisemitic treatises about the inferiority of the Jews and their incapability to create music and culture in general. Racial antisemitism saw the Jews as a destructive race that sabotaged the achievements of the Aryans in Europe. It was against the Jews integrating into the society in which they lived. It was against the emancipated Jew. It was not the old antisemitism that claimed that the Jews were different, they did not belong, they did not share the same culture. Now antisemitism was directed against the Jew that did everything to become part of the society in which he lived.
And this movement proved to him that he is not wanted despite his doing all he can to become part of that society. It is exactly against this process that the modern antisemitism came about. In addition to that, the fact that it was a racial antisemitism meant that whatever the Jews did, they would be excluded from the society because it was not a question of behavior, or culture or religion, but it was a deterministic element - the fact that you were born to a so-called ‘different race’. Now there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish race’ - we know that - but the claim was the basis for exclusion.

Dr. David Silberklang, Prof. Anita Shapira

The 19th century brought with it significant advancements in science and research. These were also accompanied by the emergence of new pseudo-scientific fields such as Scientific Racism, Eugenics, and Social Darwinism, which would all have a major effect on the development of new forms of hate, including antisemitism.

How were Jews perceived by racial antisemites? How is this perception different from the way they were perceived in the “traditional” form of antisemitism discussed when dealing with the Middle Ages?


  • Beller, Steven, Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  • Farber, Paul L., Mixing Races: From Scientific Racism to Modern Evolutionary Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

  • Haller, John S. Jr., Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority 1859-1900 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995).

  • Mosse, George L., Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (New York: Howard Fertig, 1978).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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