Jakob Friedrich Fries and the Intellectual Origins of Anti-Judaism in Europe

Joseph Pryce


German philosopher Jakob Friedrich Fries (1775-1843) was born at Barby in Saxony and studied theology with the Moravians in the German town of Niesky, which was then heavily populated by Czech refugees fleeing Catholic persecution from their former homeland of Bohemia. Fries then traveled to Jena and Leipzig to study philosophy. In 1806 he became professor of philosophy and mathematics at Heidelberg. Although his development in psychological theory led him away from the Moravian approach, he always respected the Moravians as bearers of a symbol of a higher spiritual truth. The Moravian Brethren were heavily influenced by the Czech philosopher, heretic and martyr Jan Hus. However, they entered a period of decadence when at a special Communion Service held at Berthelsdorf on August 13, 172, they revived their ancient Church, which was so successful that John and Charles Wesley, the famous founders of the Christina Methodist movement, were eventually converted.

It was from the exiled Moravians that German philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher and especially the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe drew a great deal of inspiration. However, the philosopher and the poet were alienated from the Moravians because they could not accept the doctrine of the substitutionary sufferings of Jesus Christ.

Fries’ first philosophical treatise, entitled Reinhold, Fichte, und Schelling, was published in 1803, following in 1804 by System der Philosophie als evidente Wissenschaft (System of Philosophy as Evident Science).

In 1811, Fries brought out his System der Logik, which was so successful that new editions were published in 1819 and 1837. In 1814 Fries published Julius und Evagoras (parts of which were translated into English in 1982).

He worked diligently to help found a German student union known today as the Burschenschaft and which closely resemble the later semi-occult Männerbund of young European National- Socialist and fascist students of the early 20th century.

Fries lost his university post because a student of his, Karl Sand, assassinated the prominent conservative dramatist August von Kotzebue. Sand assassinated Kotzebue, whose reputation was inflated by such men as Sheridan (who called him the “German Shakespeare”) because he saw in him the reactionary spirit of the times. Sand had reached Mannheim, where Kotzebue was staying, on the morning of March 23, 1819, and between four and five in the afternoon Sand thrust a dagger into Kotzebue’s breast, saying “Take that—thou traitor to the fatherland!”

Fries was very keen about spearheading the revival of modern German national consciousness, often leading his students to rallies where they burnt Jewish and anti-German books, especially in 1817 during the celebration of the anniversary of Luther’s Wittenberg Theses. In 1824, Fries was recalled to the University of Jena as professor of mathematics, physics, and philosophy. He died on August 10, 1843.

Jakob Friedrich Fries has merited scarcely a footnote in modern histories of philosophy, although his critique of Kant’s epistemology, Neue oder anthropologische Kritik der Vernunft, is occasionally mentioned with respect in the literature.

Fries, like Schopenhauer, was a vehement enemy of Hegel—who returned the favor, for we find Hegel, who followed him at the University of Heidelberg, ridiculing Fries’ advocacy of “heart, friendship, and enthusiasm.” In the 20th century Fries was reconsidered favorably only by Leonard Nelson and by the philosopher of religion Rudolf Otto, whose attention was drawn to Fries by Nelson.  Nelson was impressed by Fries’ active role in the German revolutionary movement after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, an event which had far reaching consequences for Europe and the United States.

Hegel’s scorn for Fries can be read in the Preface to his Philosophy of Law. Nelson, on the other hand, praised Fries for recognizing that human volition must be led forth from darkness and the absence of charity to the categorical ethical imperative that exists in all of us. Fries felt that a man’s humanity should become paramount, and that the only the powers of darkness opposed to human rationality resisted this development.

Fries criticized Hegel as providing a theory of state that had “grown not in the garden of science but on the dunghill of servility.” All the German Romantics, the true revolutionaries, saw in Hegel’s system the firmest bastion of political reaction. Ironically, Hegelian philosophy became a ready incubator for pseudo-revolutionary fantasies in the minds of Marx and Engels and their disciples.

The slogan “Back to Kant,” which was the war cry of the neo-Kantians at the end of the nineteenth century, was anticipated in Fries demand that we must ignore Hegel and return to a true critical philosophy, whose fountainhead, in spite of many errors, was to be found in the works of Kant. Fries, however, insisted that the transcendental dialectic must be founded on psychology and not solely on philosophy.

Fries’ only Anglophone text, “Dialogues on Morality and Religion” (an abridged version of the philosopher’s Julius und Evagoras) was brought out by Barnes and Noble in 1982. The rest have been “killed“ by academic and politically correct silence.

Jewish odium generis humani

Today, being anti-Jewish or “anti-Semitic” is seen as an intellectual aberration and as a symbol of absolute evil. However, until the early 20th century, all European authors, without exception, made critical remarks about Jews and Judaism. In traditional Catholic liturgies Jews were officially denounced for their odium generis humani (“hatred of the human race”) because of their role in deicide. Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire criticized Jews for being a “state within a state” because of their failure to abandon their group ties and assume an identity as citizens in the modern nation state. During the 19th century, they came to be regarded as racial outsiders.

The reason for the icy treatment of Fries by contemporary historians of philosophy is not far to seek: Jakob Friedrich Fries was an ardent and intransigent critic of Jewry and of Jewish influence on the modern world. The intensity of his critique makes Schopenhauer’s hostility to the Jews and to Judaism almost polite by comparison. It must be remembered that the emancipation of the Jews in Germany came about in scattershot fashion, and was largely dependent on circumstances in other areas of Europe, particularly the revolutionary upheaval in France. By and large Germany’s Jewish communities had supported the French Revolution even in its most sanguinary phases. When the reaction against French revolutionary ideology became established in Germany, the Jews felt that their situation was becoming precarious. The fact that Napoleon had removed social, political, and economic restrictions on the Jews was not received with joy by Germans.

The interesting thing about Fries — and it is a consideration that should give us pause —  is that despite his opposition to Jewish emancipation, he was wholly enthusiastic about the revolutionary demands of the early nationalistic German student leagues in the second decade of the nineteenth century. His participation in the protest at the Wartburg in 1817 was held against him by the authorities of the day. Indeed, as a result of Fries’ siding with the student protesters, he lost his professorship. In short, one might suggest that Fries was one of the first “National Socialists.”

Many Germans had been horrified by the granting of equal rights to Jews (Goethe and Fichte first come to mind), but most such anti-Jewish thinking was enveloped in reactionary and old- fashioned rhetoric. There was also a negative critique of Jews from the linguistic side, from the pen of Leopold Zunz, who was himself a Jew. Zunz assailed the “corrupt language of the Jewish ghetto” and went on to attack the Talmudic dialectic, which, he felt, had destroyed Jewish religiosity.

Fries’ thought is recognizably voelkisch. He followed the German nationalistic Romantics of the early 19th century who considered Jews an alien force among the German states. The Romantics, as opposed to the purely anti-revolutionary reactionaries, viewed the Jews as rootless nomads, without a soul, troublesome, malicious and shiftless.

On the other hand, there were heralds of Jewish emancipation who insisted that the Jews give up their tribal exclusiveness and merge their identity with that of the German “Volk.” Johann Christian Daum, the high-priest of German-Jewish assimilation, was just one voice of many urging the acceptance of the Jews as citizens of the German states. Neither assimilation nor acceptance of the status quo would do for Fries.

Fries’ major exposition of his anti-Jewish animus is to be found in a pamphlet that he published in 1816 entitled Ueber die Gefaehrdung des Wohlstandes und Charakter der Deutschen durch die Juden (“How  the Welfare and Character of the Germans are Endangered by the Jews”), which also appeared, with a different title, in the Heidelbergische Jahrbuecher der Litteratur in the summer of 1816.

Fries states that “the Jews always were and still are the bloodsuckers of the people” (p. 243), and he insists that “the Jews do not at all live according to the Mosaic law but according to the Talmud” (p. 251), which Fries paints in an evil light. Fries states that Jewry “must be extirpated root and branch [mit Stumpf und Stiel ausgerottet] because, of all “secret and political societies and states within the state, [it is] the most dangerous” (p. 256). Furthermore he recommends “that all immigration of Jews should be banned just as their emigration should be fostered. Their freedom to marry should be curtailed and no Christian should be hired by a Jew” (p. 260). The Jews, he suggests “should wear an identifying insignia on their clothing” (p. 261). Furthermore, he demanded the closing down of all Jewish religious/educational establishments.

He concluded by stating that “against Jewry [der Judenschaft] we declare war!” (p. 246).

No wonder that Fries has fallen on hard times in the philosophical literature today!

Joseph Pryce (email him) is a writer, poet and translator. He is the author of the collection of mystical poems Mansions of Irkalla. Mr. Pryce was born in Brooklyn and studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood for three years (Redemptory’s Order) and then attended Brooklyn College. He says for himself; “I was a musician for many years and recorded several CDs, but literature has always been my first love (especially poetry). I live with my wife, 30,000 books, and a dog and four cats on Long Island.” His translation of the German philosopher Ludwig Klages’ work will be published shortly by Arktos publishing company http://www.arktos.com/.

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