Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 2: Modernity - Racism - Extermination I


- The distinctiveness of Jews was an aspect of Christian self-identity. Even after the spiritual dominion of the Church waned, the age of modernity inherited this conceptual Jew. The conceptual Jew was seen as the prototype and arch-pattern of all non-conformity, heterodoxy, anomaly and aberration; he visualized the horrifying consequences of boundary-transgression, of not remaining fully in the fold, of any conduct short of unconditional loyalty and unambiguous choice.

- For most members of society, the advent of modernity meant the destruction of order and security; and the Jews were perceived as standing close to the center of the destructive process. For centuries, Jews were safely isolated in partly enforced, partly freely chosen enclosures; now they emerged from their seclusion, bought property and rented houses in once uniformly Christian districts, became part of daily reality and partners of diffuse discourse unconfined to ritualized exchanges. For centuries Jews were a pariah caste, legitimately looked down upon by even the lowliest of the low among the Christians. Now some of the pariah moved into positions of social influence and prestige--through intellectual skills or through money, now accorded full status-determining force and ostensibly unconstrained and unqualified by considerations of rank and pedigree. The fate of the Jews epitomized the awesome scope of social upheaval and served as a vivid, obtrusive reminder of the erosion of old certainties. Whoever felt out of balance, threatened or displaced, could easily--and rationally (since modernity requires any problem to be "rationalized")--make sense of his own anxiety through articulating the experienced turbulence as an imprint of Jewish subversive incongruity.

- Among early critics of modernism, there's a tendency to conflate Judaism with money, power and the ills of capitalism.

- Unlike the membership of those "born into" a national community, for the Jews membership was a matter of choice, and hence in principle revokable until "further notice". The sight of a large group of people free to flip at will from one national fortress to another must have aroused deep anxiety. It defied the very truth on which all nations, new and old alike, rested their claims: the ascribed character of nationhood, heredity and naturalness of national entities. The short-lived liberal dream of assimilation foundered on the essential incompatibility between nationalism and the idea of free choice.

- As the Jews "socialized", and became culturally indistinguishable from and socially invisible among their host, their distinctiveness had to be rearticulated and laid on new foundations, stronger than human powers of culture and self-determination. And thus, Judaism was replaced with Jewishness.