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WE SHOULD be surprised to discover Jews embraced by the word “pariah.” A term plucked from the caste systems of the Asian subcontinent , its application to a Western and Near Eastern minority might seem to imply that all oppressed are oppressed in the same way. In what sense are the Jews of Christendom like the eponymous low-caste hereditary drumbeaters of southern India? So far as I know, none of the many writers who have called the Jew “pariah” have taken this question seriously, and neither will I. Since its first applications to Jews (in the 1820s?), the word has always served as a metaphor meant to trigger comparisons more polemical than analytic.1 Nevertheless, the heat of these polemics has provided energy for the pursuit of many questions surrounding the role of the Jew within Christian societies. Here it will nourish a particularly torturous interrogation. To what extent are the analytic concepts by which the modern social sciences approach the study of “included outcasts” (concepts such as “pariah”) themselves recapitulations of early Christian thinking about the Jews? To what extent, in other words, is the sociological a secularized form of the theological? Although Hannah Arendt made the “Jew as pariah” fashionable (1978; 1997 [1957]), it was Max Weber who made him scientifically respectable. Thanks in part to Nietzsche’s influence, Jews SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Spring 2003) The Birth of the Pariah: Jews, Christian Dualism, and Social Science* DAVID NIRENBERG *For Philippe Buc and Daniel Heller-Roazen, kindred spirits. played an important role in Weber’s historical sociology. They “stimulated Weber’s concept formation in the sociology of religion , resulting in such concepts as ethical prophecy, salvation religiosity and rational ethical religiosity, as well as resentment, the religiosity of retribution, the situation of a pariah people, pariah intellectualism, and pariah religiosity” (Schluchter, 1989: 164). Weber’s serious engagement with the history of Judaism began in early versions of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (published in 1904-5).2 That work sought to explain the emergence of capitalism not in terms of a victory of avarice or materialism over Christian asceticism and spirituality, but as a Hegelian synthesis of seeming opposites. Luther and Calvin had attained what no religion had heretofore achieved: a union of a spiritualized and transcendent religiosity with a disenchanted and rationalist ethics. The result, according to Weber, was a Protestant (and specifically Puritan) “worldly asceticism,” a faith capable of reading the divine in the material, possessing a soteriology of prosperity, a “capitalist spirit.” Through familiarity that famous phrase has lost its paradox, but this was not the case in 1905. To a society trained by Marxist and reactionary alike to associate capitalism with the “Jewish” world of matter and not the Christian world of spirit, Weber’s thesis (or rather, synthesis) was an invitation to polemic.3 That invitation was most famously accepted by Werner Sombart in his Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (1911; translated as The Jews and Modern Capitalism, 1951). His argument was straightforward. The history of capitalism was driven by the migrations of the Jewish people, and had nothing to do with Christian theology. Whenever in the world’s history economies flourished and profit grew, there could be found the Jew. “Israel passes over Europe like the sun: at its coming new life bursts forth; at its going all falls into decay” (1951: 13). Capitalism developed, not from Christian synthesis, but through the progressive colonization of the world by the Jew. Sombart trotted through the history of Europe and its colonies in search of evidence for his thesis, but it was the United States that 202 SOCIAL RESEARCH served him as chief witness. Weber had invoked Benjamin Franklin’s ethics of profit to argue that the purest example of the power of the Protestant synthesis could be seen among the Puritan settlers of North America. For Sombart, American capitalism was instead the product of heavy initial settlement by Jews and cryptoJews (by which he meant Marranos, Huguenots, Puritans . . .). “America in all its borders is a land of Jews.” “[T]he United States (perhaps more than any other land) are filled to the brim with the Jewish Spirit.” “In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 201-236
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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