“Some accuse me of being a Jew; some excuse me for being one; some even praise me for being a Jew. But all think about it.” Thus wrote the nineteenth-century writer and journalist Judah Loew Baruch (1786—1837) who, after ostensibly converting to Christianity, assimilating, and renaming himself Ludwig Börne, struggled to understand why Germans insisted on seeing him as a Jew.
Börne’s lament is a classic of failed Jewish crypsis, and one of my personal favorites. Looking back, one wonders how Börne could ever be surprised. The reasons of the Germans were surely not that difficult to surmise. Börne was an acerbic ethnic activist who used his journalism to pour sarcastic scorn on German Romanticism and folk nationality that he clearly feared and despised. He was a key figure in the Junges Deustchland (Young Germany) movement, a social reform and literary movement in nineteenth-century Germany (c.1830—50), influenced by French revolutionary ideas, which acted as a vehicle for culturally hostile Jewish ideas and opposed the German Romanticism and nationalism then current. Members of Young Germany considered themselves to possess formidable intellectual and literary gifts, and they engaged in a scathing culture of critique. But they failed to inspire much enthusiasm, instead exciting widespread animosity. This is because “Young Germany” was more like “Young Israel,” being intellectually inspired by the Jewish converts Börne and Heinrich Heine, and given a European face by a ‘social justice’ gang of philo-Semites and Leftists who had married Jewish women (e.g., Georg Herwegh). In the words of one Young Germany leader, Karl Gutzkow, “It needed two Jews— Heine and Börne — to overthrow the old ideology and shake all illusions.” Many Germans agreed, which resulted in the movement being discussed colloquially as “Young Palestine,” and the banning of many of its publications. When it came to Jewishness, much to Börne’s despair, all thought about it.
This early alliance of Leftists and Jews, each aware of the destructive power and potential of the other, would result in the promotion of Young Germany novels like Wally, die Zweiflerin, (Wally, the Doubter) that attacked marriage and preached “sexual emancipation.” Such activities, now all too familiar to us, marked an initial confluence of interests between Jews and non-Jewish radicals, since both were keen, as Gutzkow put it, to “overthrow the old ideology and shake all illusions.”
We are now almost two centuries removed from the Young Germany-Young Palestine controversy of 1835, and this confluence of perceived interests seems to have sustained the Left-Jewish alliance for almost the entirety of the intervening years. And yet, if recent events are anything to go by, this alliance appears to be fraying at the edges. The main reason for this fraying, I suggest, is that the initial goal of overthrowing the old cultural and political status quo has now been largely achieved. As we progress into a Cultural Marxist endgame, the alliance is being revised by some, and the most radical on the Left are reassessing their erstwhile partners. What are they getting out of this? Who exactly are these people and what are their interests? How valid are their victimhood credentials? Most important has been the apparently novel discovery that far from being among “the oppressed,” Jews are incredibly influential and bear all the hallmarks of an elite. The mask slips and crypsis fails. The resurgence of Börne’s crisis — the lament of failed crypsis — and with it a revision of perceptions of interests, is thus an old/new characteristic of present-day politics. Read more