The Nazi genocide of Jews is one of the darkest pages in the history of humanity. Millions of Jews were killed because of their faith and their ethnicity. It has been accepted that the Nazi genocide is the extreme manifestation of anti-Semitism, which is deeply rooted in the way the human society developed (Bauman 31). Clearly, the theory of Social Darwinism that was especially popular in the 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries contributed greatly to Nazi genocide ideology. It is possible to trace the way the Jews settled and assimilated in western countries and the way the ideas of Social Darwinism affected the society to see the link between Nazi genocidal ideology and the theory of Social Darwinism.
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It is necessary to note that anti-Semitism in Germany did not have a significant support among people compared to other European countries (for example, France) prior to the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries (Bauman 32). Jews settled in German lands and they had an opportunity to earn their living. However, certain trends in the society led to development of aggression towards this specific ethnicity.
First, it is possible to trace the factors that affected certain alienation and then victimization of Jews. It started with development of national states in the Middle Ages. One of major reasons for this estrangement was Judaism, which was seen by Christian clergy as the most dangerous rival (Bauman 37). Of course, Christian priests could not start a war against Jews as it was in the case with Islam or, later, religious beliefs of people in the new world. Judaism was the basis of Christianity and it could not be seen as total heresy.
Christianity evolved on the basis of the Holy Books of Judaism. At the same time, Jews did not want to totally assimilate and adopt the ways of Christianity. They were different and they were aliens. This is why Christian clergy developed specific rules that could not be broken. These rules prevented Jews from occupying certain social positions (for example, taking up certain jobs or running certain businesses) and they even had to wear particular clothes and sometimes live in particular places separately from the core population (Bauman 36). However, this was still appropriate for both parties as they could co-exist.
When countries became more secular, the attitude towards Jews did not change, as nobility became the force that estranged people of that ethnicity. It is necessary to note that Jews were quite successful in the areas they were allowed to operate and they could soon become a significant power. Clearly, nobility could not let ‘aliens’ take away their power and their privileges. Estrangement of Jews continued.
This trend developed into a very specific and dangerous reaction. The rise of nationalism in European countries in the 19th century was the basis for development of anti-Semitism. Political and social constraints made people unsatisfied with the situation and they needed to find the reason for their issues. Jews became an ideal ethnic group to become that reason. Jews’ otherness made them seem the evil force that created the problems people were facing.
It is important to add that development of capitalism also accounted for the spread of anti-Semitism. As has been mentioned above, Jews succeeded in spheres that were left for them. These spheres often involved usury (which later transformed into banking). Jews also achieved a lot in trade and later in industries. Jewish capitalists became a symbol of the wrongs of the capitalist system and socialist movements often saw Jews and capitalists as one and the same enemy (Bauman 48). When Nazism appeared, the opposition to capitalism (and opposition to Judaism, which was quite covert) adopted the ideology of the Nazi and their ways to solve the issue.
Apart from otherness, there were other reasons for development of anti-Semitism and its extreme form, Nazi genocidal ideology. Social Darwinism that became quite popular in European countries was one of these factors. Social Darwinism is based on the theory of Darwin. The idea of the conflict of species and the supremacy of the strongest became very popular. Marx developed his conflict theory that concentrated on the inevitable conflict between different classes (Bauman 47). It was accepted that people (both individuals and entire classes or even societies) could and had to participate in the constant struggle for resources. It was also accepted that the strongest always took control over all the necessary resources.
Nazi ideology was grounded on the same assumptions. Hitler stressed that there were nations of the higher background that were superior and there were inferior nations. In other words, Hitler as well as his followers believed that some nations had the right to take over control over others and their resources due to the fact that they were superior and, hence, stronger. Clearly, Hitler believed and persuaded many people that the Germans were the superior race that had the right to change the world order and the order had to be changed. There were several reasons why Jews were regarded as one of the most dangerous enemies of the German race.
As has been mentioned above, Jews had been estranged for centuries and that played the central role in the process of their victimization in the first part of the twentieth century. However, the Nazi provided a number of particular reasons that, as they thought, justified their genocidal ideology. Hitler kept saying that Jews were eternal wanderers, as they did not have their own land. For the Nazi, this was one of the major factors that revealed inferiority of the nation (Bauman 35).
It is important to note that Jews did have to wander and this nation had a very long history of migration. Jews did not have their own land and state when other nations had already developed particular states with certain ideologies and cultures. Of course, it does not follow that the Jews were inferior. Jewish scholars stressed that “political asceticism” of Jewish people is rooted in their philosophy and their religious believes (Ha-am 258).
At the period of the First Temple, Jewish prophets focused on the spiritual aspect (Ha-am 258). According to them, “it is only by the spirit that life, whether individual or national, can be raised to a higher plane” (Ha-am 258). They did not reject the need to create their national entity but the spiritual component was much more important for them.
During the period of the Second Temple, this paradigm became integrant into the worldview of Jews. Their attempts to develop their state were quite unsuccessful as they saw the way power corrupted their leaders who started thinking about material things and forgot about the spiritual component, which negatively affected the development of the state and individuals (Ha-am 258). This led to development of certain repulsive attitudes towards the state.
However, the Nazi as well as some western scholars tried (quite successfully) to communicate the absence of the Jewish state in a very specific way. They claimed that Jews hated the very idea of the state and tried to destroy any state formation. The supporters of the Nazi ideology concluded that Jews also wanted to destroy their state and, hence, they had to be stopped. The best way to stop them, as seen by the Nazi, was complete extermination. Thus, according to Nazi ideology, the fact that Jews did not have their state made them inferior and their desire to destroy states made them dangerous enemies. These were two major assumptions and justifications of the Nazi genocidal ideology.
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In conclusion, it is possible to note that social Darwinism contributed greatly to development and popularity of Nazi genocidal ideology. The otherness of Jews and their peculiar form of assimilation (ability to succeed in some spheres and being still quite different) made them estranged and alienated.
This alienation still persisted in the 19th century when Social Darwinism occurred and in the 20th century when Nazi ideology appeared. Jews became a ‘perfect’ object for hatred as they started embodying the wrongs of the society. More so, the fact that Jews did not have their land and their state was seen as the proof of their inferiority and ill intentions. Therefore, Nazi used all this to make Germans believe that they had the right (or even had) to exterminate the race, which was seen as the embodiment of the wrongs of the human society.
Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Wiley, 2013. Print.
Ha-am, Ahad. “Flesh and Spirit.” The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. Ed. Arthur Hertzberg. New York, NY: Meridian, Inc., 1997. 256-260. Print.