The Unconscious Empire Pt 4: Becoming the Other

In the last post I made reference to Henry Ford’s book The International Jew and how the chapters consisted of a variety of subjects ranging from baseball to jazz music and everything in between; 48 chapters in total on all kinds of trivial matters but with one common thread: the Jews were to blame for why everything sucked.

It sounds ridiculous to our modern ears and yet things aren’t really any different nowadays. The only thing that has changed is the categories that are acceptable to use in public. You could probably take Ford’s book, remove all references to Jews and swap them with the phrase “right-winger” or “left-winger” (or, to sex it up a bit, “fascist” or “communist”) and sell it to the appropriate demographic. Petty bigotry will always find a market.

There was a qualitative difference between Ford’s bigotry and what was happening with anti-Semitism in continental Europe. To the best of my knowledge, there have never been mobs on the streets of the US chanting “death to the Jews” such as happened in France during the Dreyfus Affair. For a variety of reasons, anti-Semitism has always been less of a problem in the English-speaking countries where it has mostly been limited to local cases of bigotry and silly books published by rich men. But in continental Europe in the 19th century, anti-Semitism suddenly became a major issue.

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt outlined in great detail the reasons for the rise of anti-Semitism on the continent. I don’t disagree with anything she said. However, in my opinion, she missed a generalisation and it’s that generalisation I want to talk about in this post.

“What is German?” had become a burning question at the time.

We can find the key to this generalisation in the writings of another famous person, the German composer Richard Wagner, and specifically his 1850 essay called Das Jugendtum in der Musik (Judaism in Music).

Superficially, Wagner’s essay is very similar to Henry Ford’s in that its sole purpose is to place the blame for the state of German music at the feet of the Jews. The essay is mostly straight-up nonsense of the kind that German romanticism had a very bad habit of producing. It contains all kinds of airy-fairy ideas about the inherent characters of a people and a race, lots about purported physiological drivers for things and, of course, endless statements about “the Jews” as if they were one solid, indistinguishable, mass. You can hear the tone of the essay in later writings by Nietzsche whenever he wrote about “peoples and fatherlands” and also in the rantings of a certain Führer.

Wagner might have been writing about the Jews, but what was really going on was an attempt to distinguish them from the Germans and thereby to create an idea of what German-ness was. This was a common preoccupation at the time, hence the name of another of Wagner’s essays “What is German?”. The reason this was a pressing issue for Wagner and others was partly because of the political situation. Germany would not become a nation-state until 1871. But in the decades preceding that event there were numerous uprisings, rebellions and riots aimed at getting politicians to implement liberal reforms and unify into a country.

Wagner and other intellectuals were right in the thick of it. Wagner was forced into exile after getting involved with the socialists and anarchists who ran the Dresden uprising in 1848. In a roundabout way, Wagner’s essay was part of this desire to become a nation-state. In order to understand why, we need to define what a nation-state is and why Germany was having such difficulties in creating one.

Dresden 1848

The Westphalian system is usually credited with as giving birth to the nation-state concept. After the absolute bloodbath of the 30 years’ War in the 17th century, where somewhere between one-third and one-half of the population of the Holy Roman Empire died, the statesmen of Europe sat down and agreed to draw up borders and to respect them. It was an attempt to stop the petty squabbling that occurred when one area would flip from Protestantism to Catholicism or Calvinism and entire chains of violence would occur as people of the same faith rallied to right a perceived wrong while the nobility would use it all as an excuse to try and snatch a piece of land from a rival.

The nation-state is itself an amorphous concept. The word nation has its etymology in concepts of birth, hereditary and race (no, Hitler did not invent that). The State is the government and, following Westphalia, the government ruled over a territory. Implied in all this was the concept of a historical and linguistic tradition which united a people. This would turn out to be the cause of enormous problems in the 20th century but nobody thought about it at the time. (One of Edmund Burke’s main criticisms of the French Revolutionary ideas was that they ignored the importance of tradition).

For our purposes we will include all four elements in the nation-state concept: a people who live in a territory governed by a state and having a shared tradition.

Right from the start, the problem with this idea was that only a few countries really fitted the definition. Britain was one. As an island, it had clearly demarcated territory with a people that had lived there for centuries creating a tradition. France’s territory was also relatively well demarcated and so were its people, history and state.

When the time came to try and make the various German states into a single nation-state, it was not at all clear where to draw the borders of the territory or what form of state it should have because there was no unified tradition to draw on. Thus, the uprisings of the 19th century included socialists and anarchists who wanted to create a state according to their ideology. Later, the fascists would have a different ideology they wanted to follow.

The one thing the Germans did have was a people unified by a language (although the linguistic diversity at that time was far greater than it is today) and a cultural tradition which is exactly what Wagner refers to multiple times in his essays. As the political elites tried and repeatedly failed to create a unified nation-state, there arose a pan-Germanic movement whose focus was on promoting this shared cultural tradition. This movement adopted various concepts from the romantic philosophy and art of the time which is where things like the character, soul, spirit of the German Folk (people) came from. Hitler and his propagandists made extensive use of these ideas many decades later but in the 1850s it was high profile artists and intellectuals like Wagner who were pushing them.

The Iron Chancellor

When Bismarck stated in 1862 “Since the treaties of Vienna, our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided…but by iron and blood” he was giving voice to the continuing frustration of where to draw the territories of the new nation-state. Germany finally ended up unifying through Bismarck’s talents in statesmanship coupled with Prussian military might. But the unification was always problematic.

In its very short history from 1871 to 1945, Germany never really figured out either where to draw its borders or what kind of state it wanted. It never became a stable nation-state. Hitler was only the last in a long line of leaders trying to use iron and blood to solve a problem that seemed intractable.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Germany blew itself apart by trying to force itself together and this is where Wagner’s essay becomes highly relevant. As a statement of fact about the real world, the essay is worthless. As a statement of the psychology of Germans at the time, it is invaluable. Because what was going on in Germany was primarily psychological. I don’t think it’s an accident that modern psychology was born in the German-speaking lands. Wagner’s essay was a prime case of what Jung would later call projecting the shadow. Consider the final two sentences of the original essay. Note, he is talking to “the Jews”:

“Without once looking back, take ye your part in this regenerative work of deliverance through self-annulment; then are we one and un-dissevered! But bethink ye, that only one thing can redeem you from your curse; the redemption of Ahasuerus — Going under!”

Looking beyond the florid prose, what is really being said here? Wagner desires a unification of the Germans. That is fair enough. Many people wanted that at the time. But he believes that unification can only happen by the Jews committing an act of “self-annulment”. In other words, the Jews needed to renounce their Jewishness in order for Germans to unify. This doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense logically and Wagner himself admits that what he is talking about has nothing to do with politics. Furthermore, it all comes at the end of a long essay that purports to be a scholarly treatise on “art”. In my opinion, the essay has nothing to do with art. It’s actually a kind of psychological confession and, viewed psychologically, it does make sense.

The Jews had for centuries played the role of the “Other” in German and European culture. It was this otherness which had historically forced the Jews into occupations that good Christians were not allowed to pursue such as finance. The otherness also manifested in the creation of ghettoes and other legal restrictions on the Jewish community. Even the yellow star, which later became synonymous with the Nazis, had a long tradition going back centuries.

Example of a Jewish ghetto, often the scene of pogroms

The Otherness of the Jews found archetypal expression in a concept which Wagner refers to in the final sentence of his essay: the character of Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is known in English as the Wandering Jew. In German, he is the Ewiger Jude – the eternal Jew.

The Wandering Jew

The myth of the Wandering Jew arose around the 13th century and it came to symbolise the Otherness of the Jews vis-à-vis the Christian majority. The basic version of the story which, like any good myth, has innumerable variations, is that there was a shoemaker who taunted and mocked Jesus while he was carrying the cross to the crucifixion. Jesus tells him he is doomed to wander the earth until the second coming of Christ. Later that day, the shoemaker leaves his family and begins his eternal wandering. He is said to wander in all lands of the earth and to speak every language.

Just like the Loch Ness Monster, there were regular “sightings” of the Wandering Jew in medieval Europe and the character became a meme in literature and popular culture. Note that the character fulfils the exact role of the Jewish Other as seen from the point of view of Christian Europe. He is a shoemaker, exactly the kind of low status occupation that Jews were relegated to. He is a wanderer and thereby is the opposite of a good feudal citizen who stays in his place and serves the feudal lord. He is also a criminal. Wandering was associated with criminality as could also be seen in other minority populations such as the gypsies.

Here is the crucial point: at the time when Wagner was writing, the Germans and the Europeans in general had begun to turn into the Wandering Jew. That is, they had begun to take on the exact properties that had for centuries been forbidden to them. They became capitalists, they became small business owners and financiers, they started to want to make money and get rich and they started to move and to wander all over the earth by way of colonialism. Karl Marx, who as a German Jew knew something about the subject, said around the same time that the “Christians were becoming Jews”. The reality was that many Europeans were already Christians in name only.

The poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, satirised this new desire for movement at any cost in his 1824 poem The Delinquent Travellers:

Keep moving! Steam, or Gas, or Stage,
Hold, cabin, steerage, hencoop’s cage
Tour, Journey, Voyage, Lounge, Ride, Walk,
Skim, Sketch, Excursion, Travel-talk
For move you must! ’Tis now the rage,
The law and fashion of the Age.

This movement was done not just by the upper classes like Coleridge taking the Grand Tour on the continent but by the economic dropouts who had been shafted one way or another by the rise of industrial capitalism:

Rogues, rascals, sharpers, blanks and prizes,
Delinquents of all sorts and sizes,
Fraudulent bankrupts, Knights burglarious,
And demireps of means precarious
All whom Law thwarted, Arms or Arts,
Compel to visit foreign parts,
All hail! No compliments, I pray,
I’ll follow where you lead the way!

We can see from the rollicking style of Coleridge’s poem that the wandering had a fun, though unsophisticated and even uncivilised element to it:

Of all the children of old John Bull
With empty heads and bellies full,
Who ramble East, West, North and South,
With leaky purse and open mouth,
In search of varieties exotic
The usefullest and most patriotic,
And merriest, too, believe me, Sirs!
Are your Delinquent Travellers!

In Britain, the rising bourgeoisie enjoyed the benefits that came with economic supremacy founded in an empire that spanned the globe. Although the streets of London were filled with those who could not escape, the British empire allowed many to seek their fortune overseas and go on what amounted to a grand adventure. Similarly, in the United States and, to a lesser extent, Australia and Canada, there was plenty of room to move and explore and experience the “fashion of the Age”.

By contrast, the Germans and other continentals were stifled. They were behind when it came to industrialisation and held back by their inability to create a nation-state with the associated military that could become a genuine contender against the British.

When the form of a nation-state was finally achieved in 1871, the Germans industrialised quickly and embarked on colonialism. However, the British had already picked off the most juicy targets. The main place left for colonial expansion was Africa and that turned out to be a nightmare of epic proportions best exemplified by the horror of the Belgian Congo. As Joseph Conrad so perfectly described it in his novels and stories, when the Germans and other continentals finally managed to get into the “spirit of the Age” and seek fortune abroad, all they ended up doing was coming up against the heart of darkness (another allusion to Jung’s Shadow).

The British and the Americans had thus become the extroverted, materialist bourgeoisie while the Germans in particular were made to turn inwards. Wagner had discovered, although he didn’t consciously know it, that “the Jew” was his Shadow. That was what was really behind the rise of anti-Semitism.

But it was more complex than that. “The Jews” had always been the Shadow, that was nothing new. What was new was that the Germans and other Europeans were becoming the Shadow. That was what was really causing the psychological distress. And it turns out we can see the whole dynamic in one of the great works of art of the age which, naturally, came from Germany and not from Britain.

Here is the second key point: Faust is the Wandering Jew.

In Faust, all the elements of the Wandering Jew, which were once upon a time a way to otherise the Jews in opposition to the good feudal European, now become a source of rebellion and delight. Faust does a deal with the devil. What is the devil if not the Shadow/the Unconscious? But the devil does not get his due and Faust goes up to heaven. As Bob Dylan would later sing: what’s good is bad/what’s bad is good. Faust turned the world on its head. It was now good to be a Delinquent Traveller; a Wandering Jew.

The British bourgeoisie really were living out the ethic of Faust. They were travelling everywhere in the world, stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down and having other adventures. In Germany, the same spirit could not find expression. It took on an introverted form which felt like an intolerable restriction. That’s what was behind all the rebellions and uprisings. It was also behind the new, more urgent, and ultimately far more dangerous, anti-Semitism that was springing up.

It was completely illogical and irrational to blame the Jews for what was happening. They were in no practical way responsible for the inability of the German elites to create a unified German nation-state. But the Jews had always been the scapegoats. The difference now was that everything became bigger and more abstract. It became psychological and found its form in an early version of propaganda. It was no longer a local pogrom in some small town ghetto. It was the very spirit and soul of Judaism that was somehow holding back the very spirit and soul of Germany.

Moreover, as Hannah Arendt noted, the pan-German movement itself was an attempt to unify Germans in a supra-national sense. It had to be supra-national because there was no nation-state around which to unify it. If the politicians could not answer the question “What Is German?”, the intellectuals and radicals would do it for them.

The irony was that a supra-national movement was exactly what the European Jews already were. Wagner’s ridiculous statements about Jewish prose or spoken language or music were just a flimsy cover for his envy of the fact that the Jews had already accomplished what he and his compatriots were trying, and failing, to accomplish.

All this makes sense within a Jungian framework. What was happening with Wagner and the others was the projection of the Shadow: you take the parts that you hate about yourself and you project it onto others. Dostoevsky’s novels are filled with this same psychology: a person envies somebody and then blames that person for being the cause of their shame at being envious. It can happen at the individual level and it can happen at the collective level (as above, so below).

Anti-Semitism arose at just the time when the Jews had ceased to fulfil their archetypal functions of the Other. The bourgeoisie was increasingly taking over the Jewish role in finance and business. And, starting with Napoleon’s reforms, the Jews were slowly achieving political equality. Europeans were becoming like the Jews and Jews were being assimilated into Europe. The identities of both were under threat.

Napoleon emancipates the Jews (and doesn’t he want you to know it)

The Wandering Jew had become the Delinquent Traveller and the Delinquent Traveller was Faust. But the continental Europeans could not process the fact that they had become the Other they had spent centuries despising. They could not integrate the Shadow. Nobody even knew what the Shadow was yet, although the signs were everywhere.

As with all social change, the transition was not evenly distributed and there were significant sections of the community who formed a reactionary vanguard against the changes, including the emergence of the bourgeoisie. They mostly ended up coalescing around pan-German nationalism and anti-Semitism became a core feature of that movement. Hitler did not create that (did he create anything new?), he just took it to the extreme.

Rather than face up to it squarely, the Jews were brought in to fulfil their usual role as scapegoat. But the scapegoat role now included all the problems of Germany or France. The entire German soul, whatever that is, needed to be healed and that meant the Jews needed to be excised from it. What Wagner really needed was a psychologist. But psychology wasn’t invented yet. It was, in fact, the madness of that era which created the need for psychology in the first place. But psychology arrived too late to be able to help.

Not as subtle as Wagner, but the meaning is the same

With this, we return to the modern world because what we are seeing right now is a psychological breakdown exactly equivalent to the one that Wagner and others were having in the 19th century. How many supposedly educated and intelligent people called either literally or metaphorically for Trump and his supporters to die? How many more have subsequently wished death on the unvaccinated? At least Wagner had the good manners to cloak his death wishes in the florid language of romanticism. We are not anywhere near as sophisticated.

As a final point, imagine that there was some higher intelligence at work that was trying to send us a message that the era of the Delinquent Traveller was over; not a subtle message, mind you, but a hard symbolic whack over the head. What might such a message look like? It’s hard to think of anything more fitting than a global lockdown.

All posts in this series:-

Philosopher Kings vs Networks
The Unconscious Empire
The Unconscious Empire Pt 2: The Hitler Complex
The Unconscious Empire Pt 3: A Prison for your Mind
The Unconscious Empire Pt 4: Becoming the Other
The Unconscious Empire Final: Benevolent Totalitarianism

10 thoughts on “The Unconscious Empire Pt 4: Becoming the Other”

  1. Alex – thanks! I think there’s probably one more post left. But we’ll see what happens.

  2. The era of the delinquent traveller is not over, he just had been everywhere on Earth and now will continue to plunder Space. Just kidding. What do you think will follow after the demise of the delinquent traveller?

    PS: the unification of Germany led to the creation of some of the most beautiful monuments in our country. I recommend to have a look at the Hermannsdenkmal, Niederwald Denkmal, Kyffhäuser Denkmal and Walhalla at the river Danube. They can easily compete in beauty with the most spectacular castles and churches here.

  3. Secretface – interesting. Looks to me like all those monuments are out in the countryside. What was the reason for that? Monuments normally belong in cities.

    As for what follows the Delinquent Traveller, I don’t know. It seems to me that we still live during a time of totalitarianism (I’ll go into more detail in the next post). One of the things about totalitarianism was that it was all make believe and as soon as the ideology disappeared it all went up in smoke. So, if you stripped away the ideology from the modern world, what is left? Very little. Nobody wants to face that reality and so we dive back in totalitarianism to try and escape.

  4. Wow! Simon I’m completely enthralled by your work and the insights you have. I just wonder what happens next!

  5. Sara – that’s the paradox of the study of history. You look back and find what look like cause and effect relationships that you should then, in theory, be able to use to predict the future. That’s true to some extent. Patterns do repeat themselves. But you can’t know what new things will emerge. That was the problem with Hitler. He looked like just another dictator at a time when most European countries became dictatorships –

    But Hitler and Stalin gave us something new which was totalitarianism. That was something nobody saw coming. That’s why predictions are hard, especially about the future 😛

  6. Simon – Interesting observation. I never thought about it, but most of the unification monuments are located in the countryside, either on a hill or at a river bank. Some of them are located where a decisive battle with a German win took place:
    Herrmannsdenkmal = Battle of the Teuteburg Forest (Germans vs Romans 9 AD)
    Völkerschlachtsdenkmal (Napoleon vs Prussia and Allies, 1813)

    Others are located at other symbolic places:
    Niederwalddenkmal = at the Rhine river as a symbol for the defeat of the french in 1870/71 (Rhine = natural border to France). Related to this, there was the inofficial national anthem of the German Empire “Die Wacht am Rhein”.
    Kyffhäuser Denkmal = there is a myth that Barbarossa is sleeping in the Kyffhäuser mountains, as soon as he awakens, he will unify the Germans. Funnily, the AfD tried to invoke the magic of this monument at one of their party congresses.

    There are also monuments from this time within the cities but they are most of the time much smaller than the ones mentioned.

  7. Simon – Prussia was the major power of the unified Germany and also the main driver of the unification, politically with Bismarck in the lead and militarilly with Moltke. Both of them are also featured in quite a few of these monuments together with emperor Wilhelm I. So I would expect that they also had a major influence on these monuments. As the monuments all have some kind of martial background, they definitely were an inspiration for the Prussian or then German military. I also find them much more inspiring than the monuments of shame that we have built after WW2.

    Just one more thought regarding the delinquent traveller. Would you think that the hysteria over the Russian invasion of the Ukraine is also realted to this archetype? The deliquent traveller must have become pretty frustated as he is not able to travel into space and now even loses space on earth to travel around and plunder.

  8. Secretface – there’s that scene right at the end of Faust, just before he dies, where he is building his little empire and the two old folks who live in a shack are killed so their land can be used. It was an accidental killing, of course, but it still happened. And just like all the other bad stuff that happens in Faust, he simply carries on without giving it any thought. That seems to me to capture the attitude of the West towards Russia, or China for that matter. We just assumed they will be subsumed into our plans and the idea that they might not like it never occurred to anybody.

    I’d never thought about it before, but I wonder if Faust was actually a warning about the coming totalitarian age.

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