The Uncomfortable Legacy of Germany’s Jewish Revolutionaries

In 1913, Adolf Hitler settled in Munich, and it was there that he later joined the Nazi party and, in 1923, led it in the failed attempt to overthrow the German government known as the Beerhall Putsch. The city was also the center of three socialist revolutions in 1918 and 1919, the leaders of which were mostly Jews. That story, and its connection to the rise of Hitler, is the subject of a recent book by the historian Michael Brenner. Steven Aschheim writes in his review:

The conventional wisdom is that when Jews actively participated in 20th-century revolutionary movements and regimes, they did so as “non-Jewish” Jews who had cut off all ties to Judaism and the Jewish community. But, at least in Munich, Brenner paints a rather different picture. Although these radicals had no formal ties to the organized Jewish community—both of [Kurt] Eisner’s wives, for instance, were not Jewish—they never denied their origins, explicitly opposed anti-Semitism and, most importantly, were actively interested in their Jewish cultural heritage.

Eisner, chair of the Independent Social Democrats, was an intellectual, a Kantian socialist whose greatest inspiration was the idealism of the great Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen, who, he wrote, exercised “intellectual influence on my innermost being.” When [the Jewish anarchist Gustav] Landauer eulogized Eisner before thousands of mourners, he proudly declared that “Kurt Eisner, the Jew, was a prophet.” Landauer himself looked like one, and though his relationship with Martin Buber was at times tense, it was always close. “My Judaism,” he declared, “lives in everything that I start and that I am.”

For all that, as Brenner notes, “Jewish revolutionaries do not a Jewish revolution make.” This is not simply because its Jewish participants had removed themselves from the official Jewish community, since in most cases the feeling was mutual, but also because the myth of Jewish solidarity was certainly just that.

Eisner’s assassin, Count Anton von Arco auf Valley, wrote that he was going to shoot his victim because he was “a Bolshevik, he is a Jew, he’s not a German, he doesn’t feel German, he is undermining every kind of German feeling, he is a traitor.” Yet, a key motive of Arco’s act was his obsession with his own partially Jewish background. Indeed, he had been excluded from joining the extremist right-wing Thule Society because, as its founder Rudolf von Sebottendorf observed, given his converted mother’s Jewish descent, he was a “Yid.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Adolf Hitler, Anti-Semitism, Communism, German Jewry


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus