Classic Essays

Eugen Duehring: Socialism and the Biological Jew

UCLA4jpgEngels’ archrival promoted rational anti-Semitism

“Socialism is best for racial self-preservation. Capitalism is best for racial self-expression.”
— Richard Swartzbaugh

HIS WAS AN IDEA born of disillusionment and broken ideals, an idea possible only for a man who had given up every hope of a fulfilling career. It was also a true idea. One could conveniently discredit Eugen Duehring (pictured) by saying he spoke from personal bitterness. This has been the usual evasion. But Duehring has been vindicated by the natural march of events. When the world around him believed that the German minority question hinged on religious belief, and when that view was dogma in the universities and other official bastions, Duehring spoke otherwise. He thus sacrificed what promised to be a brilliant career. On the other hand, he inaugurated a new era of thinking about the minority question. The message that caused his banishment from official institutions was that the key to understanding group differences is essentially race.

Duehring’s career had three main intellectual phases: (1) The period in which he gained national recognition with his writings critical of capitalism. This phase culminated in the acceptance of Duehring as the main ideological leader of the German Social Democratic Party. (2) A time of increasing difficulties with his university colleagues leading to his suspension from the university. He was thus deprived of his main platform. (3) His dethronement by Friedrich Engels as ideological leader of the Social Democrats.

What the actual grounds were for Engels’ victory may never be certain because the issues were vastly clouded by dense philosophical polemics. However, it was at this time that Duehring publicly noticed that the ranks of Social Democrats were heavily Jewish. The following pages will document the specific reaction of Social Democrats to Duehring’s anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, it is sufficient to remark that his main intellectual accomplishment of this period was the insight that the key to social issues is not to be found in any economic system, as he had previously supposed, but in the deeper factor of racial constitution. This avowal by itself could have cost him membership in the Social Democratic and proto-Communist groups of his day.

Eugen Karl Duehring (1833-1921) was in still another sense an anomaly in the top hierarchy of the Social Democrats. Unlike most other leaders of the proletariat, who were of the middle class, Duehring could rightfully claim that the cause of the working man was his by birth. Although his grandfather had been an architect, his father, marrying early and with a family to support, had never finished his education and for most of his life was a manual worker. For a time before Eugen was born, Duehring père was so poor that he had once literally collapsed in the street from hunger.

Duehring later in life
Duehring later in life

As Eugen developed into a good student and made his way in the university, he was occupied with theoretical plans to better the lot of German labor. He did not call for the abolition of capitalism but advocated instead a strong labor movement. His fame as a writer spread. On the one hand he was respected among Prussian officials and was asked to advise them on labor matters. On the other hand, he was for a time the Social Democrats’ most capable writer. But Duehring was not satisfied simply to sit on a throne whose foundations were rotten. An exceptional man, he courted political disaster by restlessly peering behind the superficial facade of his own greatness. The upshot was that he spent the last half of his life in poverty and obscurity.

Two great antagonisms brought his ruin. The one that cost him his livelihood was his intense dislike of his university colleagues. He despised their pretentiousness and almost total lack of originality and creativity. The most abusive epithet in his dictionary was to call someone “a professor.” There may have been an element of envy in this, since he himself had never risen above the rank of Privatdocent, the lowest niche in the German university. At this level the teacher is paid according to the number of students in his classes. Duehring always had enough students, but he never cultivated the favor of the academic bigwigs, the regular professors.

Academic politics are as old as the venerable institution founded 2,300 years ago by Plato in a suburb of Athens. Duehring’s colleagues did not overlook the fact that his fame was greater than theirs. First, they began to nitpick. Later, when they saw in certain of his writings a vague criticism of themselves, they accused him of grave misconduct. In defending Duehring’s dismissal, one former colleague maintained that he “was guilty of affronts to the honor and of lying accusations not only to professors — but to the entire German university faculty.” This charge resulted directly from Duehring’s unsympathetic description of the German educational system:

The guild structure and its effects on the present-day German universities can be accurately observed. The exclusive professoriate cooperates according to personal inclination, state approval being mostly a formality. The head of each department decides whom he will have as a colleague, searching, of course, for as easy and tame an underling as possible, one who will surely be a non-competitor. It is not necessary to look far to find such a nonentity. The professorial hierarchy is a sort of caste that perpetuates itself, preferably through inbreeding. Father-in-law and son-in-law sit together in the same faculty and function together in the same examining committee. Professors marry within their groups as in olden times the craftsmen intermarried.

With many years of productive life still possible for him, Duehring was totally ostracized from the university, without means of support for himself and family. Personal misfortune converged on his professional tragedy. In 1880 one of his two sons died. Meanwhile his creeping blindness, which had set in as a young man, had become total. He was forced to rely on the support of his wife and the charity of a few friends.

It is remarkable that a man who was recognized as Germany’s greatest economist, at a time when Germany’s learning was at its height, could be so easily forgotten. His death went unnoticed in the newspapers and scholarly journals. It was perhaps Friedrich Engels’ one unintentional service to humanity that he wrote a book Anti-Duehring which, as a basic work on Communism, survived to give posterity a clue to the fact that there ever was a man named Eugen Duehring. Today, whenever his name is mentioned it is only with a tone of condescension and regret. Perhaps most indicative of the way Duehring is treated by professors is the mention given him by Albert Avey, Ph.D. in his Handbook of Philosophy (1961):

Eugen Duehring (1833-1921): Eugen Duehring practiced law and then lectured on economics and philosophy, but blindness compelled him to give up academic work.

Theodor Lessing, a contemporary of Duehring, attacked him bitterly in a book called Duehring’s Hate. It was largely the climate fomented by Lessing and Engels that took from Duehring, besides the frock earlier removed by the university, his frock as a social activist. In The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany (1963), Guenther Roth, a onetime Social Democrat who in the 30s fled Germany for California, explains Duehring’s preeminence and his subsequent fall as ideological leader of the Social Democrats as follows:

Among Social Democrats [Duehring’s] cause was temporarily strengthened when he was dismissed as instructor from the University of Berlin in 1877…. However, he gradually lost most of his personal and ideological support because his attacks on adherents of other theories became more and more offensive. Among those attacked were the Kathedersozialisten, whom he accused of having stolen his ideas. Bernstein, too, who had personal contact with him and who had tolerated his rapidly worsening anti-Semitism for some time, finally turned away.

In disputes between men for whom words are plentiful and cheap, it is often difficult to separate the purely theoretical issues from the personal and national ones. Space does not permit a full exposition of the philosophical differences between Engels and Duehring as they vied for intellectual leadership of the Social Democrats. In the main, Engels insisted economics was the basis of politics. Duehring would have reversed the proposition. Duehring further maintained that the basis of possession is “personal force.” Engels emphasized purely abstract manipulation. There are only a few words in Engels’ 400-page Anti-Duehring about Duehring’s anti-Semitism. But there is definitely a mention of it, and it is in these isolated small nooks and crannies of Engels’ book that we must look for the real explanation of the conflict between the two men.

I firmly believe, and I have documented this from time to time in the pages of Instauration (see “Bauer,” Vol. 1, No. 12, and “Covert Ideology” Vol. 2, No. 9), that Engels, who gave utterance to anti-Semitic remarks from time to time, was not anxious to pick on anyone else’s anti-Semitism and make it an issue. For him Communism was not meant to promote any ethnic and national interests, whether these be offensive or defensive. Two things however should be kept in mind. There were personality differences between Engels and Duehring that showed up in their ideological viewpoints. Engels had a bland personality and could tolerate even the most extreme offenses from his close collaborators (his best-known one contemptuously called him “Mr. Twitty” behind his back). Duehring had an abrasive and passionate temperament. These differences appeared in their anti-Semitism and thereby became bones of contention. Engels says the following:

Even [Duehring’s] hatred of Jews, exaggerated to the verge of absurdity, which he exhibits on every possible occasion, is a feature which if not specifically Prussian is yet specific to the region east of the Elbe. That same philosopher of reality who has a sovereign contempt for all prejudices and superstitions is himself so deeply imbued with personal crotchets that he calls the popular prejudice against the Jews, inherited from the bigotry of the Middle Ages, a “natural judgment” based on “natural grounds,” and he rises to the pyramidal heights of the assertion that “socialism is the only power which can oppose population conditions with a strong Jewish admixture.”

Engels on the cover of a modern edition of his book
Engels on the cover of a modern edition of his book

In the phrase “exaggerated to the verge of absurdity” Engels avoids the blanket assertion that no anti-Semitism whatsoever is permissible. He has thus allowed Duehring’s anti-Semitism to become an issue in the general ideological conflict without committing himself one way or the other regarding his own views on the Jews.

In Cristoph Cobet’s recent presentation of Duehring’s views on the Jewish question in his Der Wortschatz des Anti-semitismus in der Bismarckzeit (Muenchner Germanistische Beitraege, Vol. II, 1973), a handy though incomplete guide to the general subject of German anti-Semitism, Duehring’s work Die Judenfrage is described as putting art, religion and science as well as politics, economics and journalism, in a causal relationship with German Jewry. The second part of the book is devoted to a solution of the Jewish question. In the third and final part Christianity and organized religion are subjected to sharp criticism.

On the matter of establishing a society without Jews, Duehring allies himself with those who see Jews and Germans as mutually incompatible in the very roots of their being. He argues forcefully, therefore, for separation. Such conclusions are familiar to any student of the Jewish question, but the premises that led to them are unfamiliar. It is of primary importance in this connection that Duehring stood almost alone among his contemporaries in arguing that the differences were in race, in a biological, or in an almost biological, sense. Duehring could not altogether disentangle all the national and cultural human traits from the racial ones. But he moved consciously and decisively in the direction of Darwinian and biological determinism.

It is in contrasting his own view with those of his father that Duehring comes, perhaps, closest to the center of his world view. This was a decisive and formative disagreement, for otherwise his father had influenced him deeply. For one thing, he asserts, his father shaped his views in religion, advocating ideas of agnosticism and religious universalism. But then Duehring goes on to say:

It is not surprising that, with his higher enlightenment, he also had a misunderstanding or, better, a self-deception, which, however, as time went on he partly overcame. This deception consisted in the fact that he saw as responsible for the deficiencies of the Jews their religion, and so saw the solution to the Jewish question entirely in terms of religious enlightenment. Forgotten was the true underlying, principle fact, namely race or better one’s line of descent (Stamm).

For the son’s own part, he makes it explicitly clear that he has nothing against Jewish religion as such, beyond what an agnostic has against any organized, dogmatic faith. Rather he stood specifically against the Jewish race. This point is made repeatedly throughout his writing on the subject.

Judging from the pure volume and intensity of Duehring’s anti-Semitism it would seem likely that he would be to German anti-Semites what he had at first been to the Social Democratic Party. Again, however, Duehring’s course, despite the appellation Schulhaupt der Anti-Semiten given him by Lessing in Duehring’s Hate was essentially independent of party. He lost contact with the racialists just as he earlier had eschewed the university and Communists. Once more the problem was ideological divergences, some of which would appear paradoxical to one who is accustomed to thinking of German racism as mystical, metaphysical and very obscure. Duehring, it so happened, allied himself with a minority that adhered to rationalism.

Following the general trend of German social philosophy, German anti-Semitism was characteristically founded upon vitalistic principles. Its mode of procedure was intuitive. It almost appears that in Germany the empirical and rationalistic philosophers were consigned to the status of cranks and eccentrics. Actually, however, among even the anti-Semites there were rationalists and materialists. Bruno Bauer was a contemporary of Duehring who also arrived at anti-Semitism via liberalism and materialism. Bauer had also some other parallels to the career of Duehring. He lost and never regained his university position, and ended his life in obscurity.

Theodor Lessing, a philo-Semite and namesake of the more famous author of Nathan the Wise, writes:

[Members of anti-Semitic circles] observed that Duehring was calling un-German and of foreign racial origin precisely that which their other spiritual leaders Treitschke, Chamberlain and Lagarde praised as German: mysticism, myth and the nature religion of primordial times Duehring, on the other hand advocated as aristocratic, Germanic and Nordic rationalism, moralism and materialism. These were spiritual domains that were usually reserved for foreigners.

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Source: Instauration magazine, April 1978

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1 Comment

  1. Anthony Collins
    January 18, 2016 at 2:07 am — Reply

    It might be worth noting that Eugen Dühring’s Die Judenfrage has been translated into English as Eugen Dühring on the Jews. It appears to still be available from the publisher, Historical Review Press.

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