Werner Sombart on Jewish financiers’ move to Protestant Amsterdam
#1

[this is from a mailing list i belong to--stvf]

Werner Sombart on Jewish financiers’ move to Protestant Amsterdam


Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, translated by M. Epstein, The Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois 1951

First published as Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben, by Duncker und Humblot, Leipzip 1911.

{p. 6} In a specialized study of this kind Jewish influence may appear larger than it actually was. That is in the nature of our study, where the whole problem is looked at from only one point of view. ... lest it be said that I have exaggerated the part played by the Jews.

{p. 7} Jews - that is to say, members of the people who profess the Jewish faith. And I need hardly add that although in this definition I purposely leave out any reference to race characteristics, it yet includes those Jews who have withdrawn from their religious community, and even descendants of such, seeing that historically they remain Jews. This must be borne in mind, for when we are determining the influence of the Jew on modern economic life, again and again men appear on the scene as Christians, who in reality are Jews. They or their fathers were baptized, that is all.

{p. 8} But the renegade Jews are not the only group whose influence on the economic development of our time it is difficult to estimate. There are others to which the same applies. I am not thinking of the Jewesses who married into Christian families, and who, though they thus ceased to be Jewish, at any rate in name, must nevertheless have retained their Jewish characteristics. The people I have in mind are the crypto-Jews, who played so important a part in history, and whom we encounter in every century. In some periods they formed a very large section of Jewry. But their non-Jewish pose was so admirably sustained that among their contemporaries they passed as Christians or Mohammedans. We are told, for example, of the Jews of the South of France in the 15th and 16th centuries, who came originally from Spain and Portugal (and the description applies to the Marannos everywhere): "They practised all the outward forms of Catholicism; their births, marriages and deaths were entered on the registers of the church, and they received the sacraments of baptism, marriage and

{p. 9} extreme unction. Some even took orders and became priests." No wonder then that they do not appear as Jews in the reports of commercial enterprises, industrial undertakings and so forth. Some historians even to-day speak in admiring phrase of the beneficial influence of Spanish or Portuguese "immigrants." So skilfully did the crypto-Jews hide their racial origin that specialists in the field of Jewish history are still in doubt as to whether a certain family was Jewish or not. In those cases where they adopted Christian names, the uncertainty is even greater. There must have been a large number of Jews among the Protestant refugees in the 17th century. General reasons would warrant this assumption, but when we take into consideration the numerous Jewish names found among the Huguenots the probability is strong indeed.

Finally, our enquiries will not be able to take any account of all those Jews who, prior to 1848, took an active part in the economic life of their time, but who were unknown to the authorities. The laws fobade Jews to exercise their callings. They were therefore compelled to do so, either under cover of some fictitious Christian person or under the protection of a "privileged" Jew, or they were forced to resort to some other trick in order to circumvent the law.

{p. 10} My point was to show that, for many and various reasons, the number of Jews of whom we hear is less than those who actually existed. The reader should therefore bear in mind that the contribution of the Jews to the fabric of modern economic life will, of necessity, appear smaller than it was in reality.

What that contribution was we shall now proceed to show.

{p. 11} One of the most important facts in the growth of modern economic life is the removal of the centre of economic activity from the nations of Southern Europe - the Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese, with whom must also be reckoned some South German lands - to those of the North-West - the Dutch, the French, the English and the North Germans. The epoch-making event in the process was Holland's sudden rise to prosperity, and this was the impetus for the development of the economic possibilities of France and England. ...

The most ludicrous explanations of this well-known fact have been suggested by historians. It has been said, for example, that the cause which led to the economic decline of Spain and Portugal and of the Italian and South German city states was the discovery of America and of the new route to the East Indies; that the same cause lessened the volume of the commerce of the Levant, and therefore undermined the position of the Italian commercial cities which depended upon it. But this explanation is not in any way satisfactory. In the first place, Levantine commerce maintained its pre-eminence through-

{p. 12} out the whole of the 17th and 18th centuries, and during this period the prosperity of the maritime cities in the South of France, as well as that of Hamburg, was very closely bound up with it. In the second place, a number of Italian towns, Venice among them, which in the 17th century lost all their importance, participated to a large extent in the trade of the Levant in the 16th century, and that despite the neglect of the trade route. It is a little difficult to understand why the nations which had played a leading part until the 15th century - the Italians, the Spaniards, the Portuguese - should have suffered in the least because of the new commercial relations with America and the East Indies ...

{p. 13} This is not the place to go into the question in all its many-sidedness. A number of causes contributed to bring about the results we have mentioned. But from the point of view of our problem one possibility should not be passed over which, in my opinion, deserves most serious consideration, and which, so far as I know, has not yet been thought of. Cannot we bring into connexion the shifting of the economic centre from Southern to Northern Europe with the wanderings of the Jews? The mere suggestion at once throws a flood of light on the events of those days, hitherto shrouded in semi-darkness. It is indeed surprising that the parallelism has not before been observed between Jewish wanderings and settlement on the one hand, and the economic vicissitudes of the different peoples and states on the other. Israel passes over Europe like the sun: at its coming new life bursts forth; at its going all falls into decay. A short résumé of the changing fortunes of the Jewish people since the 15th century will lend support to this contention.

The first event to be recalled, an event of world-wide import, is the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492) and from Portugal (1495 and 1497). It should never be forgotten that on the day before Columbus set sail from Palos to discover America (August 3, 1492) 300,000 Jews are said to have emigrated from Spain to Navarre, France, Portugal and the East; nor that, in the years during which Vasco da Gama searched for and found the sea-passage to the East Indies, the Jews were driven from other parts of the Pyrenean Peninsula.

It was by a remarkable stroke of fate that these two occurrences, equally portentous in their significance - the opening-up of new continents and the mightiest upheavals in the distribution of the Jewish people - should have coin-

{p. 14} cided. But the expulsion of the Jews from the Pyrenean Peninsula did not altogether put an end to their history there. Numerous Jews remained behind as pseudo-Christians (Marannos), and it was only as the Inquisition, from the days of Philip II onwards, became more and more relentless that these Jews were forced to leave the land of their birth. During the centuries that followed, and especially towards the end of the 16th, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in other countries. It was during this period that the doom of the economic prosperity of the Pyrenean Peninsula was sealed.

With the 15th century came the expulsion of the Jews from the German commercial cities - from Cologne (1424?5), from Augsburg (1439?40), from Strassburg (1438), from Erfurt (1458), from Nuremberg (1498?9), from Ulm (1499), and from Ratisbon (1519).

The same fate overtook them in the 16th century in a number of Italian cities. They were driven from Sicily (1492), from Naples (1540-1), from Genoa and from Venice (1550). Here also economic decline and Jewish emigration coincided in point of time.

On the other hand, the rise to economic importance, in some cases quite unexpectedly, of the countries and towns whither the refugees fled, must be dated from the first appearance of the Spanish Jews. A good example is that of Leghorn, one of the few Italian cities which enjoyed economic prosperity in the 16th century. Now Leghorn was the goal of most of the exiles who made for Italy. In Germany it was Hamburg and Frankfort that admitted the Jewish settlers. And remarkable to relate, a keen-eyed traveller in the 18th century wandering all over Germany found everywhere that the old commercial cities of the Empire, Ulm, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Mayence and Cologne, had fallen into decay, and that

{p. 15} the only two that were able to maintain their former splendour, and indeed to add to it from day to day, were Frankfort and Hamburg.

In France in the 17th and 18th centuries the rising towns were Marseilles, Bordeaux, Rouen - again the havens of refuge of the Jewish exiles.

As for Holland, it is well-known that at the end of the 16th century a sudden upward development (in the capitalistic sense) took place there. The first Portuguese Marannos settled in Amsterdam in 1593, and very soon their numbers increased. The first synagogue in Amsterdam was opened in 1598, and by about the middle of the 17th century there were Jewish communities in many Dutch cities. In Amsterdam, at the beginning of the 18th century, the estimated number of Jews was 2400. But even by the middle of the 17th century their intellectual influence was already marked; the writers on international law and the political philosophers speak of the ancient Hebrew commonwealth as an ideal which the Dutch constitution might well seek to emulate. The Jews themselves called Amsterdam at that time their grand New Jerusalem.

Many of the Dutch settlers had come from the Spanish Netherlands, especially from Antwerp, whither they had fled on their expulsion from Spain. It is true that the proclamations of 1532 and 1539 forbade the pseudo-Christians to remain in Antwerp, but they proved ineffective. The prohibition was renewed in 1550, but this time it referred only to those who had not been domiciled for six years. But this too remained a dead letter: "the crypto-Jews are increasing from day to day." They took an active part in the struggle for freedom in which the Netherlands were engaged, and its result forced them to wander to the more northerly provinces. Now it is a remarkable thing that the

{p. 16} brief space during which Antwerp became the commercial centre and the money-market of the world should have been just that between the coming and the going of the Marannos.

It was the same in England. The economic development of the country, in other words, the growth of capitalism, ran parallel with the influx of Jews, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese origin.

Reply




Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)