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Natan Sznaider
Senior Fellow (06/2017–08/2017)

 

Continuity and New Perspectives. Hannah Arendt and the Sociology of Antisemitism

 

SZNAIDERHannah Arendt was not known as a sociologist, quite on the contrary: She shared many of her Weimar contemporaries’ prejudices against the social sciences and sociology in particular. Yet, a 40,000-word manuscript on antisemitism (only published in 2007 in English translation as part of the edited volume of her Jewish Writings) belongs to her most sociological writings and differs in that respect from her later published and better known writings on the subject. It was originally written in German, during Arendt’s exile in France, probably in the latter part of the 1930s. The essay begins with a historical analysis of Jewish existence in Europe, criticising assimilation and Zionism on equal terms. Arendt set the emergence of modern antisemitism – rejecting the essentialisation of antisemitism by historicising it – in a class struggle between the German aristocracy and bourgeoisie, which she identifies with the emerging nation state.

 

From here, one can argue in more general terms that the overarching conservative fear was that the upper social classes, who were the capstone of society’s arch, were being infiltrated by outsiders whose only distinguishing characteristic was their possession of money. Incapable of understanding the laws of deference that held society together, these newcomers would thus undermine and destroy it from within. This longing for a past in which personal relations were more authentic paints the desire for money as inauthentic by contrast. If society is thought of as once being held together by personal bonds, then money can only be cast in the role of a depersonalising agent, and thus as an agent of dehumanisation. Despite this apparent paradox, however, it was all too easy to personalise this supposed agent of depersonalisation. Conservatives constantly railed against the socially climbing bourgeoisie. The identification of the Jews with money, which Marx himself mulled over in his essay On the Jewish Question, is an all too well-known trope.

 

Thus, beginning with Arendt’s theory of antisemitism, a larger framework of modernity and antisemitism can be developed.

 

Natan Sznaider was born as a child of Polish – and after the Second World War stateless – survivors of the Shoah in Germany. As an adult, he moved to Israel. He is professor of sociology at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. In 2016, he taught at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. His research focusses on cultural memory in Europe, Israel, and Latin America.

 

His publications include: Memory and Forgetting in the Post-Holocaust Era. The Ethics of Never Again (together with Alejandro Baer), London 2017; Herzl reloaded. Kein Märchen, Frankfurt/Main 2016 (together with Doron Rabinovici); Gedächtnisraum Europa: Die Visionen des europäischen Kosmopolitismus. Eine jüdische Perspektive, Bielefeld 2008; Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, Philadelphia 2006; as well as Gesellschaften in Israel – Eine Einführung in zehn Bildern, Frankfurt/Main (forthcoming).

 

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