Concluding Thoughts on Personhood (Personhood Part VII)

The compromises that Christian thinkers were willing to make in order to accommodate biblical faith to Greco-Roman philosophy, ultimately, slowed the progress that Christian ideas of personhood had made and prevented these ideas from further transforming the cultures that had adopted the Christian religion. In many instances, these compromises not only prevented further progress but also undid the progress that had already been made. This is the case, for example, with slavery, which largely fell into disuse throughout the Middle Ages, sometimes being abolished outright but generally being replaced with the institution of serfdom. It was, however, revived with renewed vigor and deepened brutality in the early modern period. The early modern revival of slavery both differed from and bore similarity to ancient Greco-Roman slavery in important ways. Its greatest difference was that it was based in the new, supposedly scientific concept of race. This root, though it differed from Greco-Roman ideas, allowed the ideologists of slavery in the early modern era to revive many of the Greco-Roman arguments in favor of slavery, such as the beliefs that slaves were innately inferior and intended by nature for servility and different ontologically from their masters. The new belief that these differences were biologically-based, however, allowed early modern ideologists to ignore and circumvent the biblical tradition’s emphasis on the spiritual equality of all people. In addition, these same ideologists also drew on the beliefs of certain church fathers that slavery was a product of man’s original sin and argued that it was a kind of necessary evil.

The same could also be posited regarding the status of women. Although women were never able to attain full equality with men throughout Western history, there can be little doubt that, as existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir observed in her landmark book on the status of women, The Second Sex, many women in the medieval world were able to stand on an “equal footing” with their husbands, being viewed as “neither a thing nor a servant” but as “his other half” in possession of “concrete autonomy” and with a meaningful and fulfilling “economic and social role.”76 According to de Beauvoir, the economic and social changes of the early modern era undermined the “equal footing” upon which men and women had stood in much of the medieval world and created a resurgence of misogyny as well as a renewal of the oppression and marginalization of women.77

While the work begun by the early Christians in the light of their new anthropology remained incomplete throughout the Middle Ages and was often compromised by some of the brightest and most important medieval minds, it was the ideas of these early Christians which planted the seeds for later developments in Western thought which sought to remedy the injustice of systems which denied the innate equality and essential personhood of all human beings, including movements such as abolitionism, feminism, anti-colonialism, and the civil rights movement in the United States. In the succinct words of Thomas Cahill, the democratic principles of the West emerge from the biblical “vision of individuals, subjects of value because they are images of God, each with a unique and personal destiny.”78 He explains, quoting the American Declaration of Independence, “there is no way that it could ever have been ‘self-evident that all men are created equal’ without” this biblical vision.

Christianity had brought a renewed vigor to and emphasis upon the Jewish ideas that all human beings possessed a special worth and dignity by virtue of having been created in the image of God by coupling this biblical idea with its own unique beliefs that God himself had become a person and thereby united humanity and divinity and made spiritual salvation available to all people. This broad vision of personhood was a shocking idea in the Greco-Roman world of Late Antiquity, in which personhood was generally restricted to an elite group of free adult Greek and Roman men, and explicitly denied to barbarians, women, slaves, and children. These groups were, in turn, attracted by this new idea which granted them a status they had never before been afforded. Through the influence of these groups, Christianity was able, eventually, to penetrate into the upper and governing classes of the Roman Empire. By the end of the fourth century, it had become the Empire’s official religion. From this vantage point, the Church was able to shape Roman law and society in conformity with its ideas. While this process of shaping law and society remained incomplete throughout the Middle Ages, it nonetheless planted the seeds for later change as various movements for legal and social equality of oppressed and marginalized groups around the world drew on the ideas and legacy of the early Christians to formulate their own visions of personhood and responses to injustice.

Notes


76 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Random House, 2011), 110.

77 Ibid.

78 Cahill, Gifts of the Jews, 249.

Slavery caused the Civil War

Though there were other, largely secondary, factors involved, the central cause of the Civil War was undoubtedly the “peculiar institution” of slavery. The issue of slavery had been a divisive factor from a very early point in American history. It was so much so that the Founding Fathers intentionally chose to put off decisively handling the issue for a subsequent generation, in spite of their insistence in the Declaration of Independence and throughout their principles that “all men are created equal.”1 In their unwillingness to resolve the issue of slavery once and for all, the founders of the United States created the situation which led to the Civil War. Slavery was identified as the central dividing issue in the Civil War by the leadership of the Confederate States of America in their justifications for secession, by others members of the Confederacy in their thoughts on the war, and by the Union leadership in their statements on the Civil War and its causes.

Confederate leadership early on stated that slavery was the central issue over which they were seceding from the Union. They saw Northern industrialists, abolitionists, and politicians as encroaching on their “peculiar institution” and saw secession as the only way to save it. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, could not have made this point any clearer than when he said, “our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from abolition]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”2 

While their leadership recognized and clearly stated, even boasted, over their reasons for secession, the soldiers who fought under them also recognized slavery as the primary reason for their fight. While their leadership proudly proclaimed the inferiority of blacks and sought openly to keep them in subjugation, the average Southern soldier did not own any slaves and some questioned whether the reasons for the war were really worth the cost or were even ethical reasons. According to historian David J. Eicher, “a small but growing number of Confederate soldiers began to question the ruining of their society over slavery.”3 To this effect, he cites the words of one soldier, Colonel William H.A. Speer, wondering whether “there is some national sin hanging over [the Confederacy]” and stating his belief that if Southern slave owners were to agree to emancipate their slaves within 30 years the war would end almost immediately.3

Union leaders, on the other hand, early identified their primary aim in the war as “a struggle to preserve the Union.”5 However, as time went on, Union leadership very quickly realized that the only way to preserve the Union was to agree with the Confederate leadership that the war was primarily about slavery and to adopt the opposite position, seeking to “reconstruct the Union into the nation it should have been without slavery.”6 To this end, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, making it clear that the Union side was willing to match the Confederacy in its own goals.


Though there are other factors that must be taken into consideration when considering the causes of the Civil War, slavery was without a doubt the primary issue and the one around which the others revolve and from which they largely emerged. The Founding Fathers had deferred in their duties and created the situation that led almost inevitably to the Civil War. As is made clear from the stated reasons for secession on the part of Confederate leadership, the statements of soldiers who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the war, and the statements, however hesitant, of the Union leadership, the Civil War was fought over slavery.







1 Declaration of Indepence, National Archives, accessed 14 November 2012, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html.
2 Alexander Hamilton Stephens, in David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 49.
3 Ibid., 626-7.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid., 364-5.
6 Ibid.

A History of a Hatred: Anti-Hebraism, Anti-Judaism, and Antisemitism

The hatred of the Jews as a people and of their religion, culture, and, later, even their blood, has been a nearly ubiquitous force throughout the history of Western Civilization. This paper will trace the evolution of this hatred from its beginning in the first contacts between the Greeks and the Jews in the fourth century BCE through to the modern day, attempting to both follow its developments and discover its roots. Although this hatred of the Jews is often described as “Antisemitism” regardless of which historical period is being referred to, this paper will attempt to use more precise terminology. The application of a term like “Antisemitism,” which refers to the hatred of those who fall in the Semitic racial category, to earlier cultures which carried no such notions is at best a misleading anachronism. In the interest of avoiding such inaccuracies, this paper will instead refer to three separate but related phenomena: anti-Hebraism, anti-Judaism, and, following these, Antisemitism.

6th Century BCE through 1st Century CE: Anti-Hebraism

Similarly to the misapplication of the word “Antisemitism” to earlier periods than those in which such a term is meaningful, it is tempting to see the beginning of Anti-Hebraism at a much earlier date than its actual first appearance. The Babylonians and other ancient peoples who warred with or, as the Babylonians did, conquered the people of Israel are often presented as case studies in the early hatred of the Jews. This approach, however, is one that does a disservice to the historical record. While the Babylonians of the sixth century BCE and the other ancient peoples with whom the Israelites fought may have had some “hatred” of their Hebrew or Jewish enemies, the important point here is that this hatred was not a special and unique dislike for a certain people. Neither the Babylonians nor any other ancient enemy of the Jews seems to have regarded the Jews as an exceptional people; they regarded and treated, and this of course means that they hated, the Jews just as they did any other nation against whom they battled.

The view which the Jews held of themselves from a very early date as “a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” who had been “chosen” by God “to be a people for Himself” must be distinguished from the indifference with which their early enemies treated this claim.1 Because they viewed themselves as a chosen people, the Jews tended to see everything that happened to or around them in these terms and as a result of this special place, and this Jewish view of themselves has colored the way that some historians view the actions of other ancient peoples.

The Book of Daniel is one outstanding example in this regard. The stories in Daniel take place during the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century BCE, but the book itself was probably written in the second century BCE, as many as 400 years later. As a result, Daniel, the Jewish hero of the story, is treated as an exceptional figure by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and Jewish religious practices and taboos are treated as having a special significance even by non-Jews. These stories, however, record far less about the actual Babylonian view of the Jews than they do about the Jewish view of themselves in relation to the nations who became their captors. The Book of Daniel is also reflective of and an important historical account of Jewish feelings during the time period in which it was written, namely, the reign of the Greek Seleucid Empire over the Jews.

The real beginning of Anti-Hebraism is probably best placed in the fourth century BCE. It is at this time, with the conquest of Judea by Alexander the Great and the imposition of Greek rule on the Jews, that the Jews can be definitively said to have been viewed as an exceptional people by their non-Jewish rulers and neighbors. The Jews, with their unique ritual and social practices such as circumcision and their insistence upon religious exclusiveness, were viewed with a great measure of suspicion and skepticism by their Greek conquerors and overlords in the fourth through second centuries BCE. While most were willing to tolerate and even protect the Jews as an exceptional people, some rulers, such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, attempted, however unsuccessfully, to force the Jews to Hellenize and renounce their unique religious practices and beliefs.2

The Greek distrust and dislike of the Jews was continued among the Romans, who conquered both the Greeks and the Jews in the second and first centuries BCE. While the Romans were willing to accept and make exceptions for unique Jewish beliefs and practices and large numbers of Jews emigrated throughout the Roman Empire, Jews were consistently mocked and looked down upon by Romans, who saw practices like circumcision as barbaric and the exclusive Jewish monotheism as potentially seditious.3 According to Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, “from the Roman point of view, the Jews proved themselves congenitally incapable of either cooperating with the Roman provincial authorities … or coexisting peaceably with the Greeks.”4 The defining feature of this period, which can be most accurately referred to as Anti-Hebraic, was an opposition to and a dislike of the numerous unique aspects of Jewish culture. This negative view of Judaism continued, and was even strengthened in many ways, when the Roman Empire gradually became Christianized beginning in the fourth century CE.


1st Century CE through 18th Century CE – Anti-Judaism

Christianity emerged from a particularly unpleasant split with Judaism in the first century CE. Christians were viewed by the Jews as treacherous and heretical and, as a result, often suffered persecution and expulsion from the synagogues. This hostility on the part of mainstream Jews toward the Christians in their midst precipitated a final split between Judaism and Christianity. It also led to a great deal of vociferously hostile words making their way into the mainstreams of both Jewish and Christian literature and thought about the other. As Calvin J. Roetzel points out, for example, “Matthew’s Gospel … interprets the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. as punishment for the rejection of Jesus by some Jews.”5

When Christians began to assume power in the Roman Empire several centuries later, these ideas about the Jews combined with the popular Roman prejudices to strengthen Roman anti-Hebraic attitudes into what would most appropriately be called Anti-Judaism.6 These anti-Jewish attitudes, a combination of the Greco-Roman prejudices and Christian theological and historical disagreements, became the predominant view of Judaism throughout Europe for many centuries.

Medieval Christians came to see the Jews as “graceless, blaspheming rebels who had long ago closed their eyes to the light of the Gospel, deicides and ‘Christ-killers’ … whose very survival testified either to the Wandering Jew’s well-deserved homelessness or to the Christian charity of those who tolerated them in their midst.”7 Because of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, a point which seemed patently obvious to Christian interpreters of the Old Testament who juxtaposed its prophecies with the life of Christ, the Jews were seen as being blind to apparent truth and possibly even in active rebellion against it. Just as in earlier times under the pagan Greeks and Romans, the Jews, due to their rejection of what others saw as the obvious as well as the insular nature of their communities, were often viewed as dangerous and as potential sources of insurrection.

Early apparitions of this way of viewing the Jews by Christians seem rather more like commonsense than the bigotry they are often portrayed as by some modern historians. As Angelos Chaniotis points out, for example, “if the early Christian fathers, like John Chrysostom and Ephraim the Syrian, never tired of warning their Christian flock not to attend the synagogue, it is because many Christians did.”8 Although the split between the Church and the synagogue had been a messy one with hard feelings on both sides, many Christians, especially the very large group who converted from Judaism, maintained close contacts with Judaism and Jews. At the time, about 400 CE, when John Chrysostom delivered his vociferous sermons against the Judaizers, a group of people who tried to practice both Judaism and Christianity, one could find a small but not insignificant group who attended both the Paschal Feast in the local Christian church and the Passover at the local synagogue. The warnings of such early Christian leaders as John Chrysostom and Ephraim the Syrian were warnings against a very real threat to the Christian Church.

Later manifestations of Christian Anti-Judaism, however, often crossed the line into the absurd and bizarre. In 1144, in France, for instance, the accusation was leveled that Jews kidnapped Christian infants and used their blood in the matzoh they consumed as part of the celebration of Passover.9 This strange rumor continued to circulate throughout the Middle Ages and continues to have currency in some places in the Muslim world to this day. Interestingly, this accusation made by Christians against Jews in the High Middle Ages is nearly the same rumor which had spread among pagan Romans regarding early Christians in the first through third centuries. In their writings, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and many other early Christian authors of that period address the charge made against them by Romans that they kidnapped Roman babies and used their flesh and blood as the “flesh” and “blood” consumed in the Eucharist.

It is notable in all of this that none of these prejudices or disagreements revolve around Judaism or Jews as a race or ethnicity, but as a specific religious group which one can join and leave by changing belief and custom. This began to change, however, in the early modern period. One element of the Reconquista in Spain was the forced conversion or expulsion of the Jewish population.10 When given the option of converting to Christianity or leaving, many Spanish Jews chose to convert. These conversos, as they were called, came to be viewed with a great deal of envy and suspicion by their Christian neighbors. Many suspected that, because they had converted under duress, their conversion had only been affected for appearances and that they secretly continued to practice Judaism. In addition, many whose families had been Christians for centuries viewed with envy the children and grandchildren of conversos who were able to attain important places in both secular government and in the the Church, including places as governors, mayors, and bishops. As a result, the name of converso came to be applied, however improperly, even to those whose grandparents had converted to Christianity and the stigma of sedition attributed to the Jews continued to be attached to these conversos even after generations as Christians. What had been a difference in religion was coming to be viewed as a difference in race.

18th Century CE through Today – Antisemitism

With the era of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, Europeans came to focus more attention and importance on science than on religion. Whereas the emphasis of the Middle Ages had been a primarily religious emphasis, which the denizens of the Enlightenment saw as superstitious, the emphasis of the Enlightenment was one of science and rationality. Rather than actually shucking superstition, however, many instead simply adopted a new set of superstitions or rephrased old superstitions in the new, more acceptable terminology. This can be seen especially in the rise of Antisemitism from Anti-Judaism, as constructed by people like Wilhelm Marr. According to Karl A. Schleunes, Marr was among the first of those who “assigned to Jews the attributes of a race” and was the first, in 1873, to use the term “anti-Semitism” to describe this position.11 While an intellectual living in the wake of the Enlightenment could not take religious differences seriously, or, at least, as seriously as they had been taken previously, he could take supposedly scientific ideas like race seriously; Judaism, then, became no longer a religion, but a race, and all of the same superstitions and conspiracies which had formerly surrounded the Jewish religion were transferred to the new Jewish race. This view became extremely popular in spite of the obvious historical difficulty: many Jews were the descendents of people who converted to Judaism in the ancient and Medieval world and many non-Jews were the descendents of Jews who had converted to Christianity or Islam.

The culmination and most extreme outburst of modern Antisemitism was the Holocaust under the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933-1945. One of the greatest ironies of the Nazi obsession with race is that they, while taking up this “scientific” view on Judaism as a race, re-translated it into religious terms. For the Nazis, race became a religious concept. As one Nazi ideologist, Arthur Rosenberg, wrote in his The Myth of the 20th Century: “A new faith is awakening today: The faith that blood will defend the divine essence of man; the faith, supported by pure science, that Nordic blood embodies the new mystery which will supplant the outworn sacrament.”12 The Greek incredulity at what they saw as the bizarre customs of the Jews, the Roman suspicions toward Jewish exclusivity, and the Christian theological and historical differences with Judaism, all of which had been matters of cultural and religious opposition, became, for the Nazis, attributed to an insidiousness inherent in Jewish blood. This was contrasted with the inherent superiority and goodness of pure Aryan blood, as difficult as such a thing might be to find. The Nazis took up a heritage of Anti-Judaism and a pseudoscience of race to create their own unique racial religiosity which lay at the heart of their entire philosophy and practice.

Conclusion

As different as the phenomena discussed in this paper have been, there has been, throughout the history of the hatred of the Jews, whether in its Anti-Hebraic, Anti-Judaic, or Antisemitic forms, a single thread that binds this “ghoulishly fascinating” story together.13 Thomas Cahill accurately and succinctly summarizes this common thread that runs throughout the history of the hatred of the Jews:

The people being excoriated are presumed to exhibit the unyielding qualities of God himself—the same God whom Christians claimed to worship and whose sacred scriptures they revered. … The hatred of Christians for Jews may have its ultimate source in the hatred of God, a hatred that the hater must carefully keep himself from knowing about.14

Although Cahill is here referring specifically to Christian Anti-Judaism, his words apply equally as well to the pre-Christian Anti-Hebraic Greeks and Romans as well as the later Antisemitic Christians, atheists, and others. What seems to be at the center of all manifestations of hatred toward the Jews is really a hatred of their God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and of his imposing ethical demands on human beings.

Cahill’s moving description of the commandments of this God as given in the Torah presents us with a powerful summary of these ethical demands; according to Cahill, “the constant bias is in favor not of the powerful and their possessions but of the powerless and their poverty; and there is even a frequent enjoinder to sympathy. … This bias toward the underdog is unique not only in ancient law but in the whole history of law.”15 In stark contrast to this description of the demands of the Jewish God stand the words of Adolph Hitler, which might accurately summarize the position, whether implicit or explicit, of all those who have hated and persecuted the Jews simply for being Jews: “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! … The stronger man is right. … Be harsh and remorseless! Be steeled against all signs of compassion! … Whoever has pondered over this world order knows that its meaning lies in the success of the best by means of force.”16

In his closing address before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany, on 26 July 1946, Justice Robert H. Jackson, prosecuting attorney for the Americans, eloquently encapsulated the psychological and philosophical motivation for and effects of the Nazi’s rabid Antisemitism when he said that they had tried to “renounce the Hebraic heritage in the civilization of which Germany was once a part” and in so doing, they had “repudiated the Hellenic influence as well.”17 In their fanatical hatred of all things Jewish, a hatred of the Jewish God and of his demands which led them to a hatred of his people, they had attempted to strip Christianity of all of its Jewish heritage, they had decimated the Christian churches, and they had murdered as many as 13 million people, including six million Jews. In so doing, the Germans had renounced not only the Hebrew legacy of faith and the idea of God which makes up such a great part of Western Civilization but the Greek legacy of reason which consists of the other half. As Donald Kagan has eloquently put it, “if both religion and reason are removed, all that remains is will and power, where the only law is the law of tooth and claw.”18 In the end, their Antisemitism had led them to renounce and attempt to destroy Western Civilization entirely.

Notes 

1 Deuteronomy 7:8, New King James Version.

2 Martin Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilization (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 49.

3 Ibid., 278-9.

4 Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 170.

5 Calvin J. Roetzel, The World That Shaped the New Testament: Revised Edition(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 36.

6 Goodman, 551.

7 Gabriel Sivan, The Bible and Civilization (New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1973), 46.

8 Angelos Chaniotis, “Godfearers in the City of Love,” Biblical Archeology Review, Vol. 36, No. 3 (May/June 2010): 32-44.

9 S. Zeitlin, “The Blood Accusation,” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 50, No. 2 (1996): 117-124.

10 David M. Gitlitz, Conversos and the Spanish Inquisition, ed. David Rabinovitch, PBS.org, accessed 19 May 2012, http://www.pbs.org/inquisition/pdf/ConversosandtheSpanishInquisition.pdf.

11 Karl A. Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward German Jews, 1933-1939 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 24-5. 

12 Arthur Rosenberg, Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1931), 114. Quoted in Schleuenes, 52.

13 Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 152.

14 Ibid., 152-3.

15 Ibid., 154-5.

16 Adolph Hitler, speech to Nazi leadership in 1939. Quoted in William L. Shirer, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), 532.

17 Robert H. Jackson, Closing Statement at the International Military Tribunal in Case No. 1, The United States of America, the French Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics v. Hermann Wilhelm Göring, et al. 

18 Donald Kagan, “Introduction to Ancient Greek History: Lecture 1 Transcript,” Open Yale Courses. (6 September 2007) http://oyc.yale.edu/classics/introduction-to-ancient-greek-history/content/transcripts/transcript1-introduction (Accessed 20 May 2012).
 



Bibliography 

Cahill, Thomas. The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. New York: Anchor Books, 1999.



Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archeology Review. Vol. 36, No. 3 (May/June 2010): 32-44.


Garnsey, Peter and Richard Saller. The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.


Gitlitz, David M. Conversos and the Spanish Inquisition. Ed. David Rabinovitch. PBS.org. Accessed 14 April 2012. http://www.pbs.org/inquisition/pdf/ConversosandtheSpanishInquisition.pdf.


Goodman, Martin. Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilization. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.


Jackson, Robert H. Closing Statement at the International Military Tribunal in Case No. 1, The United States of America, the French Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics v. Hermann Wilhelm Göring, et al.


Kagan, Donald. “Introduction to Ancient Greek History: Lecture 1 Transcript.” Open Yale Courses. (6 September 2007) http://oyc.yale.edu/classics/introduction-to-ancient-greek-history/content/transcripts/transcript1-introduction (Accessed 20 May 2012).


Roetzel, Calvin J. The World That Shaped the New Testament: Revised Edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.


Rosenberg, Arthur. Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1931.


Schleunes, Karl A. The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward German Jews, 1933-1939. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990.


Shirer, William L. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.


Sivan, Gabriel. The Bible and Civilization. New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1973.


Zeitlin, S. “The Blood Accusation.” Vigiliae Christianae. Vol. 50, No. 2 (1996): 117-124

Slave Morality and Master Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche recognized that morality and ethical values in general are of the utmost importance for the way people live. Ultimately, one’s morality determines the ends that one seeks to achieve and the means by which one goes about achieving them. Nietzsche took a historical, or “genealogical,” approach to philosophy in which he sought to find the origins of various ideas in order to determine their truth and worth. In his examination of the genealogy of morality, he discovered the origins of contemporary values in a revolt of the weak against the strong. This led him to contrast what he labeled as “master morality” with the “slave morality” which he believed opposed to it.

Nietzsche believed that, earlier in human history, a more natural form of morality had been predominant. He labeled this moral system “master morality,” or “aristocratic morality” (West, 2010, p. 149). This morality had been practiced among the strong, a minority which consisted of those who dominated the weak majority. It included “values such as courage, generosity and magnanimity or greatness of spirit” that “reflect[ed] … strength and vitality” (ibid.). These values, according to Nietzsche, were practiced among the strong and the noble. In demonstration of his position, he drew upon the examples of the heroes of the ancient Greeks as found in Homer’s works and elsewhere. Among them, the strong held a mutual respect for each other and practiced these virtues in their interactions but held a contempt and disdain for the weak.
The weak, according to Nietzsche, had a morality of their own. This “slave morality” saw things as “good and evil” rather than “good and bad” as the master morality posited (ibid.). Whereas master morality was based on a mutual reciprocation among the equally strong, slave morality sought to force all, including the strong, to become equal. The slaves, unable to create their own values due to their weakness, made morality a matter of force rather than freedom, as among the masters, who could create their own values in their strength. In addition, the content of slave morality was such as was of benefit to the weak, including values like “pity, humility, and self-sacrifice” (ibid.). As such, Nietzsche saw slave morality as intrinsically tied to weakness and degeneration as well as inherently selfish on the part of the weak, a symptom of their lowness. Nietzsche saw the rise of slave morality as linked historically to the personages of Socrates and especially Christ. As a result of Christianity, according to Nietzsche, slave morality had become the prevailing moral worldview of Europeans.
Nietzsche did not confine his criticisms of slave morality and its origins to an argument against Christianity. Perhaps his greatest target in these criticisms were those inheritors of the Enlightenment who attempted to maintain Christian values without Christian theology. For Nietzsche, however, “when one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality” (Nietzsche, 1990, p. 80). Nietzsche followed logic and his genealogical method through to where it led him. As a result, he found that it was absurd to attempt to maintain a set of values while ridding oneself of the philosophical or religious foundations of those values. On the contrary, if “God is dead,” as Nietzsche famously said, all of the values based upon his existence and nature as understood by Christians must also be done away with. The atheists and other non-believers who continued to practice and propound Christian values were, then, just as guilty of continuing slave morality as were Christians.
According to Nietzsche, this slavery morality, forcing servile “virtues” born of the selfishness and jealousy of the low-minded, impeded the greatness of people. Those who were natural aristocrats, the strong and noble, were restrained in their powers by slave morality. As a result, they were unable to practice the master morality that their dignity and strength demanded. Nietzsche saw most of the Western philosophical tradition subsequent to Socrates and especially Christianity as the primary culprits in the propagation of slave morality. Because of this, he saw Christianity and Socratic philosophy as impediments to the human spirit and all of those who continued to espouse those values as impeding the same. Nietzsche saw the greatness of humanity as being prevented by a set of values he saw as beneath human dignity.
References
Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1990). The twilight of the idols and the Anti-Christ: or how to philosophize with a hammer. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
West, D. (2010). Continental philosophy: An introduction. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

The Great Reforms of the 19th Century

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Russia came to a crossroads in its history. Under the influence of ideas largely emanating from Western Europe, Russians began to question certain aspects of their traditional way of life and government. Of especial concern was the status of the serfs, a group of people who made up the vast majority of the population of the Russian Empire but possessed a status little above that of slaves. Throughout his reign in the years 1855 to 1881, Czar Alexander II implemented a number of reforms in government which drastically altered Russian society in order to bring it in line with the new views of what a just society should look like.

The first and by far the most drastic of the great reforms implemented by Alexander II was the emancipation of the serfs. In the years leading up to and beginning Alexander’s reign, an insurrectionist spirit had begun to foment among the lower classes in Russia. Discontented with their situation, serfs had launched a large and increasing number of small rebellions since the the turn of the nineteenth century. Early in his reign, Alexander II announced his intentions to emancipate the serfs to his advisers, confiding in them that it was “better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait till it begins to abolish itself from below.”1

After a prolonged deliberation on the proper means by which to go about this emancipation, Alexander II finally issued the the decree abolishing the institution of serfdom in Russia on 19 February 1861. As a result of his decree, which at least one historian has referred to as “the greatest legislative act in history,” “some 52 million peasants, over 20 million of them serfs of private land owners,” were freed.2 Along with their freedom, however, came a great deal of debt and further disappointment. In an attempt to pacify the landlords, Alexander II had limited the amount of land the serfs took with them and had legislated the necessity of repaying the landlords for this land. As a result, “overpopulation and underemployment” were rampant “among former serfs, who, at least after a period of transition, were no longer obliged to work for the landlord and at the same time had less land to cultivate for themselves.”3

As Nicholas V. Riasanovsky and Mark D. Steinberg point out, “the emancipation of the serfs made other fundamental changes much more feasible.”4 Such sweeping legislation, no matter how haphazard and incomplete it might have been, could not help but act as a gateway to further reform in Russian society. Other reforms, particularly in Russian government, followed swiftly.

Perhaps the most important of these reforms in government in Russia was the implementation of the zemstvo system in local government. Local government in Russia had been ineffective and overly bureaucratic for centuries. Since the reign of Catherine the Great in 1762 to 1796, local government in Russia had been conducted with the participation of aristocratic landowners in the governed areas. With the establishment of his new system of local government, Alexander II sought to both update the system, making it an overall better functioning government, and also to allow for a measure of democracy by incorporating the participation of the newly-emancipated serfs.

To this end, the zemstvo system included representation from the peasant and urban classes in addition to the old landowning class. The range of government programs and services governed at the local level also increased under the zemstvo to include things such as “education, medicine, veterinary service, insurance, roads, the establishment of food reserves for emergency, and many others.”5

Although the zemstvo system had a number of drawbacks, it was largely a positive development for Russians and functioned very effectively until it was abolished following the rise of the Bolsheviks in 1917. For example, “in effect, Russia obtained a kind of socialized medicine through the zemstvo long before other countries, with medical and surgical treatment available free of charge.”6 Such free universal access to quality healthcare is an accomplishment that would not be achieved in most of Western Europe until the twentieth century and has still not been achieved in some places in the Western world.7

In addition to the reform of local government, “at the end of 1864, the year that saw the beginning of the zemstvo administration, another major change was enacted into law: the reform of the legal system.”8 In order to put an end to the corrupt and antiquated practices and approaches rampant in the Russian legal system, Alexander II decreed a number of reforms. Perhaps the most significant of these reforms was the separation of the courts from the system of administration; Alexander II made the law courts a separate branch of government from the rest of the bureaucracy.

Two other particulars of Alexander II’s reform of the judiciary also stand out as of special importance among the many reforms thereof. The first is his simplifying of the system. Whereas there had formerly been a culture of secrecy and twenty-one different ways of conducting various kinds of court cases, Alexander II ordered that proceedings be done openly and that there be only two ways of conducting court. The other especially significant reform of the judiciary was the introduction of the right to trial by jury “for serious criminal offenses, while justices of the peace were established to deal with minor civil and criminal cases.”9 Finally, and by far most importantly, “all Russians were to be equal before the law and receive the same treatment.”10

The last of the great reforms of Alexander II was “a reorganization of the military service in 1874.”11 In the spirit of democratization that ran throughout the other reforms, the military was also remodeled in the interests of equality for all people. For example, “the obligation to serve was extended from the lower classes alone to all Russians.”12 In addition to widening the pool of conscripts, the minimum length of required service was also drastically reduced from 25 years, essentially a life sentence, to a mere six. A number of benefits also accrued to those were drafted, such as the guarantee of a basic education.

Czar Alexander II’s reforms of Russian society and government were sweeping and changed the face of Russia permanently throughout the course of his reign. Largely implemented in the hopes of quelling rebellion and appeasing the new and ever-growing groups of radicals and revolutionaries in Russia, Alexander II’s reforms went a great measure toward making Russia a more modern and certainly more democratic nation. As time would soon tell, however, his reforms were not implemented nearly soon enough nor were they, at least for a significant segment of the population and especially of the intelligentsia, nearly far-reaching enough. The opening of the twentieth century, and particularly the year 1917, would spell the end of Alexander II’s reforms and of the entirety of the old way of life, and would see the implementation of much broader and much deeper changes.

Notes
1 Czar Alexander II (1855). Quoted in Bernard Pares, A History of Russia (New York: Dorset Press, 1953), 361.

2 Nicholas V. Riasanovsky and Mark D. Steinberg, A History of Russia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 368.

3 Ibid., 369.

4 Ibid., 370.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 371.


8 Riasanovsky and Steinberg, 371.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., 372.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid. 

References
 
Pares, Bernard. A History of Russia. New York: Dorset Press, 1953.
Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.