Antisemitism, Anti-Catholicism, and Anticlericalism

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Response to Ari Joskowicz, “Antisemitism, Anti-Catholicism, and Anticlericalism”

Thomas Kselman, Department of History, University of Notre Dame

Antisemitism has long been of great interest to scholars, a concern fueled by the need to pursue the roots of the Holocaust in the long and complex history of European antipathy towards Jews. While anti-Catholicism has not generated the same level of interest, this “doctrine of hatred,” to use a term employed by Ari Joskowicz, has also drawn significant scholarly attention.1 A glance at hostile caricatures of Jesuits and Jews from French journals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century illustrates how similar were the fear and loathing that operated within these two ideologies.2 But as Ari Joskowicz points out at the outset of his chapter, scholars have generally preferred to approach antisemitism and anti-Catholicism as separate problems. While acknowledging the value of previous scholarship, Joskowicz argues that the two “doctrines” are better understood as evolving together in post-Reformation Europe, a process that yielded enduring tensions and ironies that are illuminated only by adopting a comparative perspective. In making this case Joskowicz is sensitive to the demographic differences between France (Catholic majority, small minority of Protestants and Jews) and Germany (Protestant majority, substantial Catholic minority, small Jewish community). He avoids as well any simple equation between antisemitism and anti-Catholicism; as he notes at the outset, anti-Catholicism generally targeted the clergy and church institutions, while antisemitism took aim at the Jewish people as a whole.

Joskowicz approaches his subject as an historian of ideas, examining texts from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century. Throughout this period he observes how a series of authors, many of them prominent figures in the intellectual history of Germany and France, worked out their attitudes towards Catholics and Jews by thinking of these groups in relationship to each other, and to the nations and states that emerged in modern Europe. During the Enlightenment authors writing from Protestant and secular positions focused their criticisms on Catholicism, seen as intolerant, superstitious, and backward. In the course of making these claims authors such as Jacques Basnages, the marquis d’Argens, and Friedrich Nicolai showed considerable sympathy for the plight of Jews, a combination of “ambivalent philosemitism and anti-Catholicism” that established a theme on which subsequent writers would work a number of variations. This “intermingling” continued in the Romantic era with Herder, who saw both Jews and Catholics as impediments to the formation of the German nation. While Herder admired the national spirit that had allowed Jews to maintain their identity through centuries of persecution, this autonomy also made it impossible for them to assimilate, whereas Catholics could overcome their alienation from the German nation by abandoning their faith. In France the novelist Eugène Sue also constructed a complex view of Jews as others which combined both positive and negative attributes, a position Joskowicz terms “allosemitism,” following Zygmont Bauman. In Sue’s The Wandering Jew the Jewish characters Ahasver and his sister Herodia play marginal roles as miraculously powerful defenders of a Protestant family whose inheritance is being sought by the venal and vicious Jesuits. In Joskowicz’s reading of the novel, Sue’s sympathy is qualified by an outcome in which the sterility of the Jews leaves them no future role to play in France, and so they depart the scene after fulfilling their task. German liberals in the middle of the nineteenth century were also more concerned with Catholics than with Jews, though both groups remained threats as “examples of a foreign form of fanatic religiosity.” (55) During the culture wars of the late nineteenth century German and French versions of antisemitism and anticlericalism diverged. In Germany the battle between Protestants and Catholics that divided the newly formed nation-state produced a range of responses, from a racist inspired attempt to use Jews as a common threat and thus a source of Christian reconciliation, to a bizarre fantasy world in which Jews and Jesuits were conspiring together to dominate the German people. In France the battle lines were drawn more clearly, most notably in the Dreyfus affair, with Catholics generally identified with antisemitism, while secular republicans pursued policies to limit the influence of the Catholic church.

Joskowicz’ work makes a significant contribution to the histories of the two “hatreds,” but I would like to suggest that it offers as well a fresh and ironic perspective on the history of religious tolerance. Jeffrey Collins has recently identified a split in the historiography of tolerance, between an older scholarship that emphasized intellectual developments that valued the rights of minority religions and individual consciences, and recent work which focuses on the social practices of religious communities which sought ways to accommodate each other.3 Joskowicz’ method as an intellectual historian aligns him with the older tradition, but his work challenges the view that tolerance grew from progressive secularization based on rationalism and a commitment to universal rights. The anti-Catholicism of Protestants, romantics, liberals, and nationalists might reject abusive practices of the Inquisition, and the threat of a tyrannical clergy to brainwash believers, but their position allowed for persecution and exclusion as well, a toxic dimension that made their position a “doctrine of hatred” as well as a force for increased freedom. In a further irony, Jews looking for allies in their struggle for acceptance could be drawn to anti-Catholicism, a posture which could reinforce the antisemitic critique of Jews as divisive figures. Joskowicz’ work demonstrates the “intermingling” of antisemitism and anti-Catholicism, but it suggests as well the disturbing linkage between the history of tolerance and intolerance.

The “intermingling” of antisemitism and anti-Catholicism was on display on the stage as well as in the texts so ably glossed by Joskowicz. In 1835 the Paris Opéra was the site for the premiere of La Juive, with music by Fromental Halévy and a libretto by Eugène Scribe. The opera was an immediate success, and became one of the most popular pieces in the repertoire, performed over five hundred times in Paris during the nineteenth century.4 In the opera the characters of Cardinal Brogni, presented as a key figure at the Council of Constance (1414), and Eléazar, a Jewish goldsmith, exemplify Joskowicz’ linkage of antisemitism and anti-Catholicism. Although he intervenes to stop an antisemitic riot by the populace, Brogni upholds the law that forbids intimate relations across religions. As a result of this commitment Brogni condemns Eléazar’s adopted daughter Rachel to death, not realizing that she was in fact his own daughter raised secretly by the Jewish artisan who had saved her from marauding Lombards. Eléazar is a devout Jew and a loving father, but he is also greedy, and admits to hating Christians. Up until the last moment he stubbornly refuses Brogni’s offer to save himself and Rachel by converting to Catholicism. Rather than convert Rachel accepts death along with Eléazar, who reveals to Brogni the truth about his daughter just as she is thrown to her death in a pot of boiling water. Halévy’s opera is an obvious indictment of Catholic intolerance, but its plot (for all its unlikely details) employs as well some of the standard elements of antisemitism. La Juive exemplifies Joskowicz’ argument that the two “doctrines of hatred” need to be considered together. It exemplifies as well the complexity of these ideologies, which it both embodies and indicts.

1 The most recent general survey of antisemitism is Robert Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (New York: Random House, 2010). No comparable work exists for anti-Catholicism, but for France see René Rémond, L’anticléricalisme en France, de 1815 à nos jours (Paris: Fayard, 1976). Several works deal with particular aspects of anti-Catholicism, such as Michael B. Gross, The War against Catholicism: Liberalism and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004); Geoffrey Cubitt, The Jesuit Myth: Conspiracy Theory and Politics in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Oxford Univerity Press, 1993).

2 For an example of anticlericalism see the 1902 poster advertising the anticlerical journal La Lanterne at

For an anti-Semitic image from Drumont’s La Libre Parole from 1893 see

3 Jeffrey Collins, “Redeeming the Enlightenment: New Histories of Religious Toleration” Journal of Modern History (2009): 607-636. The more traditional approach is represented in Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), and Henry Kamen, The Rise of Toleration (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967). New treatments that emphasize practice over theory include Benjamin Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007); Keith Luria, Sacred Boundaries: Religious Coexistence and Conflict in Early Modern France (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2005).

4 Diana Hallman Opera, Liberalism, and Antisemitism in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Ruth Jordan, Fromental Halévy: His Life and Music (New York: Limelight, 1996).

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