The Mirror of the Jewish Soul:
Otto Weininger on the Jewish Question
Czech translation here
One of the most interesting, and yet least known, profiles of the Jewish soul was sketched several years before the First World War by Otto Weininger. Its importance lies in its superiority over the stereotyped formulas of the majority of militant anti-Semites, and in its effort to define the Jewish problem in universal and spiritual terms, prior to being a national, social, or even strictly racial one. Even today, what Weininger wrote on this matter, in the thirteenth chapter of his seminal work Sex and Character, has lost none of its relevance, and in our opinion, it provides several points of reference that could orient the further and higher development of the contemporary anti-Semitic front.
For some, it might appear paradoxical that Weininger himself was of Jewish origin (a half-Jew). But this apparent paradox vanishes as soon as one takes into consideration that, firstly, it takes a Jew to really know one, and secondly, that one does not hate things with which one has nothing in common; one feels indifference to them.
“One hates in others that which one does not oneself wish to be, but nevertheless, in part, always is,” writes Weininger. “Whoever hates the Jewish way of being, hates it first of all in himself; combating it in others, he is only trying to free himself from it, projecting it completely outside of himself and deluding himself, for a moment, that he is in fact free from it.”
As a half-Jew, Weininger could feel within himself the Jewish substance, had the courage to penetrate into its core, and his brief, tragic life was entirely an attempt to overcome it and destroy it.
Weininger’s point about the necessary conditions of the feeling of hatred may be used to formulate a generalized approach to the problem, one that transcends the issue of race while integrating it. Weininger writes:
Perhaps the great merit of Jewishness lies in continually leading Aryan man towards self-consciousness, in warning him to remain what he is. The Aryan should almost be grateful to the Jew. Through the Jew, he comes to know precisely what he must guard himself against: namely, Jewishness as a possibility within himself.
This way of looking at the problem is, especially today, very important. It is common knowledge, even according to the most radical racists, that no absolutely pure races exist today. Likewise, it is common knowledge that the Jewish spirit, through a kind of reverse assimilation, has seeped into numerous domains of non-Jewish social and cultural life, even when traces of actual blood-mixing cannot be detected. Under such circumstances, one cannot form a coherent and conclusive anti-Semitic front without subordinating all of the various Jewish-Aryan antitheses to a central and fundamental antithesis, which means defining what, in and of itself, universally and almost a priori, must be understood to be the Jewish spirit and substance. Only then will it be possible to spot the enemy and strike at him, wherever he may be. This, precisely, is Weininger’s view: “One must think of Jewishness as a tendency of the spirit, as a psychic constitution, possible in everyone, although historical Judaism is its fullest actualization.”
Therefore, while one may speak of Jewishness in relation to a certain people, a certain tradition, a certain race, a certain religion, it must, however, be understood that, apart from all of that, a man is a Jew insofar as he embodies the universal idea of Jewishness, and therefore, that the essential point is to discover and define this idea.
In order to be able to follow Weininger’s considerations in this regard, it must first be pointed out that they are included in a work, the main object of which is the study of what man and woman are in and of themselves, as pure types, and of the right hierarchical relationship between them. Weininger is known as the author who, in the most violent way, has attacked feminism, egalitarianism, the cult of woman, and the romantic myth of love, proclaiming the absolute spiritual and moral heterogeneity of the two sexes and the decided inferiority of femininity with respect to true virility, going so far as to declare that “a superior woman is still infinitely inferior to that which, at least potentially, exists in the lowest of men.”
However, since there are differences between human races, the ideal of virility may be realized in different degrees by different races, and the quality of “femininity” may even, in some of them, dominate that of virility. This is where the transition to the Jewish problem takes place: for Weininger, man is to woman what the Aryan is to the Jew. The qualities that define the spiritual and moral inferiority of woman are, for Weininger, more or less the same qualities that characterize the nature of Jews, and make Jewry our most dangerous adversary.
Although Weininger, in analyzing the essence of Jewishness, takes this analogy as his starting point, most of his thesis concerning the Jewish problem remains valid independently of his other ideas. The fundamental character of the Jewish spirit is ambiguity, internal division, the lack of a sense of a central spiritual reality, and the absence of that ability to affirm oneself and exist on one’s own “which alone can produce the greatest creative power.” Jewishness is an unstable and slippery substance, undifferentiated yet tenacious, agitated and corrosive.
Jewishness coincides with femininity in its unlimited mutability: “mobility” of the mind, the lack of a central and original tendency, and an enormous adaptability are, for Weininger, characteristics common to women and Jews, and signs of a lack of personality, of character, of a true inner life. In Jews, however, the ability to take on any form is always combined with a certain aggressiveness.
The Jew is like a parasite that changes form, adapting to the host organism, so that one ends up thinking that one is dealing with another species, when in fact it is always the same. The Jew assimilates to everything and assimilates everything; he is not subjugated by others, instead he submits to them, while always ready to evade them.
The Jew is “eternal” in the same sense as woman: not the eternity of personality, but that of the species, of the herd, of the race: almost that of a stage preceding individuation. Collectivism and socialism are, in that sense, naturally Jewish phenomena, as is the incomprehension and indifference with regard to the spiritual, articulated, and hierarchical idea of the State. The latter idea presupposes the recognition of a principle that transcends the individual, and which at the same time founds the bond between independent beings that exist with the dignity of “persons.” Jews, on the other hand, like women, have no reciprocal relations of an ethical nature, of the kind appropriate to personalities. When there is no more natural and semi-collective community (and this is why the family, as a biological rather than an ethical unit, is so important to Jews) holding the Jews together, they only stick together by virtue of the materialistic solidarity of co-conspirators and accomplices.
“Therefore, there has never been a Jewish state, and there never could be one, and hence Zionism can never succeed. Zionism is the negation of Jewishness, the essence of which is the expansion of Israel over the entire Earth.” This is where Weininger rightly points out that Jews spontaneously, and well before the destruction of the Temple, had of their own accord chosen to live in a “diaspora,” like a weed spreading over the whole Earth, eternally intent on impeding individuation, on destroying or undermining borders and differences.
Since land ownership is closely related to personality, the Jewish aversion to the former and its preference for the mobility and instability of capitalism is again symptomatic: it is almost the transposition of the nomadic spirit, which is incapable of adhering to a stable and individuated form.
Just as there is no such thing as a true “female dignity” in Weininger’s view, it is equally impossible to imagine a Jewish gentleman. The true Jew lacks the inner distinction, that is the basis of personal dignity and the respect for others. “No Jewish nobility exists – and this is all the more significant, considering that Jews have married within their race for millennia.”
Jewish arrogance hides a lack of a sense of dignity, and consequently, the need to augment the value of their own person through diminishing others. This fact, i.e., the absence of authentic self-respect, explains the feminine avidity of Jews for titles, the insolent ostentatiousness of the Jew, the means to which may be, equally, a private booth in the theatre, Jewish science, the Jew’s “connections” with “celebrities,” and so on. “But along with all this goes – and in fact based on all of this is – the Jew’s lack of comprehension of anything truly aristocratic.”
Weininger rightly rejects the attempt to deduce another aspect of Jewishness, namely, the servile spirit, from circumstances like the social status of the Jews up to the nineteenth century. The environment can initiate certain changes, but never determine them. If a man is changed, this can only occur from within to without. Otherwise, one is not dealing with a man worthy of the name, but with a passive being, devoid of any positive element. In fact, however, what comes into play here are characteristics of the Jewish soul, which are even reflected on the religious and metaphysical plane.
From the servile disposition of the Jews derives, according to Weininger, the “heteronomous” ethic of ancient Jewish law, which promises prosperity on Earth and dominion over the world, on condition of blindly submitting to the powerful will of another. The Jew’s relationship to Jehovah, the abstract idol before which he is filled with slavish dread, and whose name he dare not even pronounce, characterizes his soul and indicates his need to serve. He knows nothing of the divine element in man, he does not sense the spiritual reality of which the world is a symbol, because he is incapable of discovering it within himself.
No surprise, then, that the concept of immortality for a long time was foreign to the Old Testament, and that the Jewish religion was no more than a quasi-mercantile system of ritual relations between Israel, collectively conceived, and the divinity.
On the other hand, through two effects of the same cause, the Orthodox slave of Jehovah is easily turned into a materialist and a rationalist. Once servility is gone, from the same substance the opposite attitude emerges: impudence, arrogance. And the arrogance in the face of things, which are not understood as symbols of something more profound, leads “to the Jewish form of materialistic science, which today has unfortunately taken hold,” purely oriented towards rational explanation and the exclusion of any transcendence.
Anti-metaphysical (not a-metaphysical) science is fundamentally Jewish. Jews always had the greatest propensity to accept a mechanical-materialistic interpretation of the world, precisely because their way of worshiping God has nothing to do with true religion. Just as they were the most fervent advocates of Darwinism and the ridiculous theory of descent from apes, they also almost created the economic interpretation of history, which more than any other completely excludes spirit.
Jewish satire and irony also spring from this same root. The Jew never feels that anything is authentic and irrefutable, holy and inviolable; this is why he always feels frivolous and jokes about everything.
Once “secularized,” that is, once the Jew has left behind the abstract and mechanized dealings with the divine that characterizes his old religion, he turns into the worst instrument of contamination and disintegration. No longer believing in anything, he takes refuge in materiality: hence his sensuality, his greed, his love of money: in all of this he seeks reality, the only value that he finds really convincing and persuasive, and which can be imposed on everyone else. But even in this domain he is incapable of maintaining a “style,” an “uprightness”: the lack of integrity, the dishonesty, the unscrupulousness of the Jewish speculator and merchant are simply reflections of the Jew’s lack of inner identity, of moral personality, expressed even in this field.
Not a theory of the meaning and purpose of life, but an historical tradition, which can be summed up in the passage through the Red Sea, culminating with the thanks given to the mighty Savior on the part of the cowardly fugitive.
The Jew does not affirm himself, and with himself, the world and God, which is the essence of all “Aryan” religion. He knows neither the courage of affirmations, nor that of negation: he is neither radiant nor truly demonic in a Promethean sense. He is not even a true and great destroyer: he does not destroy, he disintegrates.
From this fundamental nature one could draw endless conclusions in the fields of psychology and the study of character.
The Jew lacks hardness, but also tenderness; one might say that he is soft and at the same time tenacious. He is neither a king nor a military leader, but neither is he a loyal vassal: he completely lacks any conviction, he is incapable of loving, i.e, of total dedication, of sacrifice. . . . His face is not happy, but nor does it express suffering, it is not proud, not forceful, but has that indeterminate expression that betrays the disposition to come to an agreement on anything and manifests the individual’s lack of respect for himself. . . . His warmth sweats and his coldness emits vapors. When he attempts to give himself over to the flight of enthusiasm, he never rises much above the pathetic, and when he wishes to move within the tightest restraints of rigorous thought, he never refrains from noisily rattling his chains. And as little as he feels inclined to embrace the whole world, he nonetheless, in the face of it, is no less petulant and importunate.
Like women, according to Weininger, the Jew possesses neither genius nor radical stupidity.
“That specific kind of intelligence, that is usually attributed both to Jews and to women, is on the one hand no more than a greater attention paid to their more developed egotism; on the other hand, it is based on the endless adaptability that the one and the other demonstrates with regard to any outward end, without distinction: they do not carry within themselves an original measure of value,” apart from what is derived from the instinctive, sensual, and human sub-intellectual part of the human being.
“The Jew” — says Weininger — “is truly the stepson of God on Earth. and there is no Jew who does not, however obscurely, suffer from his Jewishness.”
This tragic and almost desperate feeling is indeed at the core of the only real faith proper to Israel, a faith that it has maintained through the centuries and from which it has drawn the strength to resist and to conserve itself in the face of every adversity: the desperate hope in the coming of a Messiah, of the miraculous Redeemer of the Jews and of Judaism. But, of course, even this idea has ended up becoming materialized, and now, whether in the form of mammonism or of socialism, has become yet another instrument for global subversion and disintegration. According to Weininger, the Jews, by not recognizing the Messiah in Christ, lost the one opportunity that presented itself within their history of a way out of their dark destiny. The positive possibility of their history — still according to Weininger — differentiated itself in Christianity. The remaining negative possibility constitutes Judaism itself. This, as a general scheme. But, additionally, Judaism represents a potentiality, a latent peril of a sub-human substrate always ready to assert itself wherever the higher and virile forms of Aryan civilization and spirituality begin to falter and enter into crisis.
The words with which Weininger concludes these considerations of the Jewish spirit are interesting:
Today we see the Jews at the highest point they reached since the time of Herod. . . . Our age is not only Jewish, but also the most “feminine”; an age in which art represents only a sudarium of its humors; the age of the most gullible anarchism, without any understanding of the State and of justice; the age of the collectivist ethics of the species; the age in which history is viewed with the most astonishing lack of seriousness [historical materialism]; the age of capitalism and of Marxism; the age in which history, life, and science no longer mean anything, apart from economics and technology; the age when genius could be declared a form of madness, while it no longer possesses even one great artist or philosopher; the age of the least originality and its greatest pursuit; the age which can boast of being the first to have exalted eroticism, but not in order to forget oneself, the way the Romans or the Greeks did in their Bacchanalia, but in order to have the illusion of rediscovering oneself and giving substance to one’s vanity.
These words were written several years before the war. But, to some extent, they are still relevant, and even more relevant is the decision that Weininger confronts us with, when he says that humanity must again choose between Judaism and Aryanism, between woman and man, between the species and personality, between valuelessness and value, between earthly life and the higher life, between nothingness and divinity, and that no third term exists.
Source: La Vita Italiana, October 1938.
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