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Capitalism and the Jews

Capitalism and the Jews

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Capitalism and the Jews
    Book Description:

    The unique historical relationship between capitalism and the Jews is crucial to understanding modern European and Jewish history. But the subject has been addressed less often by mainstream historians than by anti-Semites or apologists. In this book Jerry Muller, a leading historian of capitalism, separates myth from reality to explain why the Jewish experience with capitalism has been so important and complex--and so ambivalent.

    Drawing on economic, social, political, and intellectual history from medieval Europe through contemporary America and Israel,Capitalism and the Jewsexamines the ways in which thinking about capitalism and thinking about the Jews have gone hand in hand in European thought, and why anticapitalism and anti-Semitism have frequently been linked. The book explains why Jews have tended to be disproportionately successful in capitalist societies, but also why Jews have numbered among the fiercest anticapitalists and Communists. The book shows how the ancient idea that money was unproductive led from the stigmatization of usury and the Jews to the stigmatization of finance and, ultimately, in Marxism, the stigmatization of capitalism itself. Finally, the book traces how the traditional status of the Jews as a diasporic merchant minority both encouraged their economic success and made them particularly vulnerable to the ethnic nationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    Providing a fresh look at an important but frequently misunderstood subject,Capitalism and the Jewswill interest anyone who wants to understand the Jewish role in the development of capitalism, the role of capitalism in the modern fate of the Jews, or the ways in which the story of capitalism and the Jews has affected the history of Europe and beyond, from the medieval period to our own.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3436-5
    Subjects: History, Economics, Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. INTRODUCTION Thinking about Jews and Capitalism
    (pp. 1-14)

    Capitalism has been the most important force in shaping the fate of the Jews in the modern world. Of course, one could plausibly argue that it has been the most important force in shaping the fate ofeveryonein the modern world. But Jews have had a special relationship with capitalism, for they have been particularly good at it. Not all of them, of course. But, whenever they have been allowed to compete on an equal legal footing, they have tended to do disproportionately well. This has been a blessing—and a curse.

    Jews have been a conspicuous presence in...

  4. CHAPTER ONE The Long Shadow of Usury Capitalism and the Jews in Modern European Thought
    (pp. 15-71)

    Jews and capitalism have long been linked in the European mind. Ever since the Middle Ages, Jews were associated in the Christian West with the handling of money. It is no wonder, then, that the intellectual evaluation of an economy in which money played a central role was often intertwined with attitudes toward Jewry. Jews in Christian Europe were permitted by the church to engage in the stigmatized activity of lending money at interest precisely because they were regarded as outside the community of shared values.

    For a variety of intellectuals in modern Europe, Jews served as a kind of...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Jewish Response to Capitalism Milton Friedman’s Paradox Reconsidered
    (pp. 72-132)

    In a lecture first delivered in 1972 entitled “Capitalism and the Jews,” Milton Friedman, the distinguished libertarian economist and defender of the free market, presented what he regarded as a paradox: the Jews “owe an enormous debt to free enterprise and competitive capitalism,” but “for at least the past century the Jews have been consistently opposed to capitalism and have done much on an ideological level to undermine it.”¹

    Friedman argued that the element of capitalism that has most benefited the Jews is free competition. Free competition counteracts the forces of anti-Semitic prejudice. For under conditions of free competition, ethnic...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Radical Anticapitalism The Jew as Communist
    (pp. 133-188)

    It is among the remarkable facts of modern European history that Jews were identified by others not only with capitalism, but with the most extreme form of anticapitalism, namely Communism. If, as we have seen, anti-Semitism was often linked to anticapitalism, the existence of anti-Semitism helped to push some Jews toward a movement that promised to eliminate anti-Semitism by abolishing its purported roots in capitalism itself. But the identification of Jews with Communism actually served to bolster anti-Semitism. The result was a dialectic of disaster: anti-Semitism led Jews to prominent positions in Communist movements, and their very salience in a...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Economics of Nationalism and the Fate of the Jews in Twentieth-Century Europe
    (pp. 189-218)

    Nationalism posed challenges—sometimes, deadly challenges—to the Jews of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe. Zionism arose as a response to the rise of nationalism, in two ways. National identity was by no means new to the Jews, who had long viewed themselves as both a people and a religion. But they were influenced by the ideas of modern nationalist ideology to define themselves as a nation seeking its own sovereignty.² More importantly, Zionism arose as a reaction to the nationalism of others, to the recognition that nationalism was bound to become more influential and would have as one of...

    (pp. 219-224)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 225-254)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 255-268)