'The clash of races' and 'the Jewish intelligence': a specifically French form of social antisemitism
The phenomenon of 'social antisemitism' is well known. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, an idiosyncratic variant had emerged in France. Where, elsewhere, social antisemitism tended to be ingrained and unthinking, this French variant was (typically) more theoretical, and its practitioners tended to be among the most prominent authors and thinkers. It stressed the essential cultural differences between the 'French' and the 'Israelites', and the 'separateness' of the Jews within France, and also developed a series of facile generalizations about the essentially inferior nature of the Jewish intellect. Griffiths examines this phenomenon, both for its characteristics and for its widespread existence in French intellectual circles, by taking a specific subject: the reception of Lacretelle's 1922 novel Silbermann. A wide range of writers and critics--a number of whom had in other circumstances a reputation for liberal values and attitudes, and had been among those who had deplored the excesses of the antisemitic mob during the Dreyfus affair--are found to echo the views put forward by Lacretelle in that novel, and even to elaborate on them. Many of these writers were to adopt a completely different attitude towards the Jews after the Second World War; when the position of the Jews was fully realized, their earlier 'social antisemitism' proved less powerful than their human sympathies. But this is not to devalue the importance of the danger posed by social antisemitism, which could provide the basis for far more virulent forms of racism to flourish.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2003-03-01