Leon Pinsker, "Auto-Emancipation," 1882
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Auto-Emancipation

Leon Pinsker

1882
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"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when?"
HILLEL

THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE

After the terror of the bloody atrocities a moment of calm followed for baiter and baited to catch their breath. Meanwhile the Jewish refugees, with the very funds collected for their immigration, are being -- "repatriated"! But the Western Jews have again learned to suffer the cry, "hep! hep!" as their brothers in the old days. The eruption of blazing indignation over the shame to which they were subjected has turned to a rain of ashes, gradually covering the glowing soil. Shut your eyes and hide your head like an ostrich -- there is to be no lasting peace unless in the fleeting intervals of relaxation you apply a remedy more thoroughgoing than those palliatives to which our hapless people have been turning for 2000 years.


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Auto-Emancipation:
AN APPEAL TO HIS PEOPLE

By a Russian Jew

That hoary problem, subsumed under the Jewish question, today, as ever in the past, provokes discussion. Like the squaring of the circle it remains unsolved, but unlike it, continues to be the ever-burning question of the day. That is because the problem is not one of mere theoretical interest: it renews and revives in every-day life and presses ever more urgently for solution.

This is the kernel of the problem, as we see it: the Jews comprise a distinctive element among the nations under which they dwell, and as such can neither assimilate nor be readily digested by any nation.

Hence the solution lies in finding a means of so readjusting this exclusive element to the family of nations, that the basis of the Jewish question will be permanently removed.

This does not mean, of course, that we must think of waiting for the age of universal harmony.

No previous civilization has been able to achieve it, nor can we see even in the remote distance, that day of the Messiah, when national barriers will no longer exist and all mankind will live in brotherhood and concord. Until then, the nations must narrow their aspirations to achieve a tolerable modus vivendi.

The world has yet long to wait for eternal peace. Meanwhile nations live side by side in a state of relative peace, secured by treaties and international law, but based chiefly on the fundamental equality between them.

But it is different with the people of Israel. There is no such equality in the nations' dealings with the Jews. The basis is absent upon which treaties and international law may be applied: mutual respect. Only when this basis is established, when the equality of Jews with other nations becomes a fact, can the Jewish problem be considered solved.

An equality of this kind did exist in the now long forgotten past, but unfortunately, under present conditions, the prospect that will readmit the Jewish people to the status of nationhood is so remote as to seem illusory. It lacks most of the essential attributes by which a nation is recognized. It lacks that autochthonous life which is inconceivable without a common language and customs and without cohesion in space. The Jewish people has no fatherland of its own, though many motherlands; no center of focus or gravity, no government of its own, no official representation. They home everywhere, but are nowhere at home. The nations have never to deal with a Jewish nation but always with mere Jews. The Jews are not a nation because they lack a certain distinctive national character, inherent in all other nations, which is formed by common residence in a single state. It was clearly impossible for this national character to be developed in the Diaspora; the Jews seem rather to have lost all remembrance of their former home. Thanks to their ready adaptability, they have all the more easily acquired characteristics, not inborn, of the people among whom fate has thrown them. Often to please their protectors, they recommend their traditional individuality entirely. They acquired or persuaded themselves into certain cosmopolitan tendencies which could no more appeal to others than bring satisfaction to themselves.

In seeking to fuse with other peoples they deliberately renounced to some extent their own nationality. Yet nowhere did they succeed in obtaining from their fellow-citizens recognition as natives of equal status.

But the greatest impediment in the path of the Jews to an independent national existence is that they do not feel its need. Not only that, but they go so far as to deny its authenticity.

In the case of a sick man, the absence of desire for food is a very serious symptom. It is not always possible to cure him of this ominous loss of appetite. And even if his appetite is restored, it is still a question whether he will be able to digest food, even though he desire it.

The Jews are in the unhappy condition of such a patient. We must discuss this most important point with all possible precision. We must prove that the misfortunes of the Jews are due, above all, to their lack of desire for national independence; and that this desire must be awakened and maintained in time if they do not wish to be subjected forever to disgraceful existence -- in a word, we must prove that they must become a nation.

In the seemingly irrelevant circumstances, that the Jews are not regarded as an independent nation by other nations, rests in part the secret of their abnormal position and of their endless misery. Merely to belong to this people is to be indelibly stigmatized, a mark repellent to non-Jews and painful to the Jews themselves. However, this phenomenon is rooted deeply in human nature.

Among the living nations of the earth the Jews are as a nation long since dead.

With the loss of their country, the Jewish people lost their independence, and fell into a decay which is not compatible with existence as a whole vital organism. The state was crushed before the eyes of the nations. But after the Jewish people had ceased to exist as an actual state, as a political entity, they could nevertheless not submit to total annihilation -- they lived on spiritually as a nation. The world saw in this people the uncanny form of one of the dead walking among the living. The Ghostlike apparition of a living corpse, of a people without unity or organization, without land or other bonds of unity, no longer alive, and yet walking among the living -- this spectral form without precedence in history, unlike anything that preceded or followed it, could but strangely affect the imagination of the nations. And if the fear of ghosts is something inborn, and has a certain justification in the psychic life of mankind, why be surprised at the effect produced by this dead but still living nation

A fear of the Jewish ghost has passed down the generations and the centuries. First a breeder of prejudice, later in conjunction with other forces we are about to discuss, it culminated in Judeophobia.

Judeophobia, together with other symbols, superstitions and idiosyncrasies, has acquired legitimacy phobia among all the peoples of the earth with whom the Jews had intercourse. Judeophobia is a variety of demonopathy with the distinction that it is not peculiar to particular races but is common to the whole of mankind, and that this ghost is not disembodied like other ghosts but partakes of flesh and blood, must endure pain inflicted by the fearful mob who imagines itself endangered.

Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable.

It is this fear of ghosts, the mother of Judeophobia, that has evoked this abstract, I might say Platonic hatred, thanks to which the whole Jewish nation is wont to be held responsible for the real or supposed misdeeds of its individual members, and to be libeled in so many ways, to be buffeted about so shamefully.

Friend and foe alike have tried to explain or to justify this hatred of the Jews by bringing all sorts of charges against them. They are said to have crucified Jesus, to have drunk the blood of Christians, to have poisoned wells, to have taken usury, to have exploited the peasant, and so on. These and a thousand and one other charges against an entire people have been proved groundless. They showed their own weakness in that they had to be trumped up wholesale in order to quiet the evil conscience of the Jew-baiters, to justify the condemnation of an entire nation, to demonstrate the necessity of burning the Jew, or rather the Jewish ghost, at the stake. He who tries to prove too much proves nothing at all. Though the Jews may justly be charged with many shortcomings, those shortcomings are, at all events, not such great vices, not such capital crimes, as to justify the condemnation of the entire people. In individual cases, indeed, these accusations are contradicted by the fact that the Jews get along fairly well with their Gentile neighbors. This is the reason that the charges preferred are usually of the most general character, made up out of whole cloth, based to a certain extent on a priori reasoning, and true at best in individual cases, but not admitting of proof as regards the whole people

In this way have Judaism and Anti-Semitism passed for centuries through history as inseparable companions. Like the Jewish people, the real wandering Jew, Anti-Semitism, too, seems as if it would never die. He must be blind indeed who will assert that the Jews are not the chosen people, the people chosen for universal hatred. No matter how much the nations are at variance in their relations with one another, however diverse their instincts and aims, they join hands in their hatred of the Jews; on this one matter all are agreed. The extent and the manner in which this antipathy is shown depends of course upon the cultural status of each people. The antipathy as such, however, exists in all places and at ail times, whether it appears in the form of deeds of violence, as envious jealousy, or under the guise of tolerance and protection. To be robbed as a Jew or to be protected as a Jew is equally humiliating, equally destructive to the self-respect of the Jews.

Having analyzed Judeophobia as an hereditary form of demonopathy, peculiar to the human race, and having represented Anti-Semitism as proceeding from an inherited aberration of the human mind, we must draw the important conclusion that we must give' up contending against these hostile impulses as we must against every other inherited predisposition. This view is especially important because it should persuade us that polemics are useless and that we should abstain from it as a waste of time and energy, for against superstition even the gods contend in vain. Prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument, however forceful and clear. These sinister powers must either be kept within bounds by force like every other blind natural force or simply evaded.

In human psychology, then, we find the roots of the prejudice against the Jewish nation; but there are other factors not less important which render impossible the fusion or equalization of the Jews with the other peoples to be considered.

No people, generally speaking, likes foreigners. Ethnologically, this cannot be brought as a charge against any people. Now, is the Jew subject to this general law to the same extent as the other nationalities? Not at all! The aversion which meets the foreigner in a strange land can be repaid in equal coin in his home country. The non-Jew pursues his own interest in a foreign country openly and without giving offense. It is everywhere considered natural that he should fight for these interests, alone or in conjunction with others. The foreigner has no need to be, or to seem to be, a patriot. But as for the Jew, not only is he not a native in his own home country, but he is also not a foreigner; he is, in very truth, the stranger par excellence. He is regarded as neither friend nor foe but an alien, of whom the only thing known is that he has no home.

One distrusts the foreigner but does not trust the Jew. The foreigner has a claim to hospitality, which he can repay in the same coin. The Jew can make no such return; consequently he can make no claim to hospitality. He is not a guest, much less a welcome guest. He is more like a beggar; and what beggar is welcome! He is rather a refugee; and where is the refugee to whom a refuge may not be refused?

The Jews are aliens who can have no representatives, because they have no country. Because they have none, because their home has no boundaries within which they can be entrenched, their misery too is boundless. The general law does not apply to the Jews as true aliens, but there are everywhere laws for the Jews, and if the general law is to apply to them, a special and explicit by-law is required to confirm it. Like the Negroes, like women, and unlike all free peoples, they must be emancipated. If, unlike the Negroes, they belong to an advanced race, and if, unlike women, they can produce not only women of distinction, but also distinguished men, even men of greatness, then it is very much the worse for them.

Since the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native, he remains an alien everywhere. That he himself and his ancestors as well are born in the country does not alter this fact in the least.

In the great majority of cases, he is treated as a stepchild, as a Cinderella; in the most favorable cases he is regarded as an adopted child whose rights may be questioned; never is he considered a legitimate child of the fatherland.

The German proud of his Teutonism, the Slav, the Celt, not one of them admits that the Semitic Jew is his equal by birth; and even if he be ready, as a man of culture, to admit him to all civil rights, he will never quite forget that his fellow-citizen is a Jew. The legal emancipation of the Jews is the culminating achievement of our century. But legal emancipation is not social emancipation, and with the proclamation of the former the Jews are still far from being emancipated from their exceptional social position.

The emancipation of the Jews is required as a postulate of logic, of law, and of enlightened national interest, but it can never be a spontaneous expression of human feeling. Far from owing its origin to spontaneous feeling, it is never a matter of course; and it has never yet taken root so deeply that further discussion of it becomes unnecessary. In any event, whether emancipation was undertaken from spontaneous impulse or from conscious motives, it remains a rich gift, a splendid alms, willingly or unwillingly flung to the poor, humble beggars whom no one, however, cares to shelter, because a homeless, wandering beggar wins confidence or sympathy from now. The Jew is not permitted to forget that the daily bread of civil rights must be given him.

So long as this people produces in accordance with its nature, vagrant nomads; so long as it cannot give a satisfactory account of whence it comes and whither it goes; so long as the Jews themselves prefer not to speak in Aryan society of their Semitic descent and prefer not to be reminded of it; so long as they are persecuted, tolerated, protected or emancipated, the stigma attached to this people, which forces it into an undesirable isolation from all nations, cannot be removed by any sort of legal emancipation.

This degrading dependence of the ever alien Jew upon the non-Jew is reinforced by another factor, which makes amalgamation of the Jews with the original inhabitants of a land absolutely impossible. In the great struggle for existence, civilized peoples readily submit to laws which help to transform their struggle into a peaceful competition, a noble emulation. In this respect a distinction is usually made between the native and the foreigner, the first, of course, always receiving the preference. Now, if this distinction is drawn even against the foreigner of equal birth, how harshly is it applied to the ever alien Jew! The beggar who dares to cast longing eyes upon a country not his own is in the position of a young virgin's suitor, guarded against him by jealous relatives! And if he nevertheless prosper and succeed in plucking a flower here and there from its soil, woe to the ill-fated man! He must expect the fate of the Jews of Spain and Russia.

The Jews, moreover, do not suffer only when they meet with notable success. Wherever they are congregated in large numbers, they must, by their very preponderance, hold an advantage in competition with the non-Jewish population. Thus, in the western provinces we see the Jews squeezed together, leading a wretched existence in dreadful poverty, while charges of Jewish exploitation are continually pressed.

To sum up then, to the living the Jew is a corpse, to the native a foreigner, to the homesteader a vagrant, to the proprietary a beggar, to the poor an exploiter and a millionaire, to the patriot a man without a country, for all a hated rival.

This natural antagonism is the source of numberless misunderstandings, accusations and reproaches which both parties rightfully or wrongfully hurl at each other. Instead of realizing their own position and adopting a rational line of conduct, the Jews appeal to eternal justice, and fondly imagine that the appeal will have some effect. And whereas the non-Jew should simply plead superior strength, the historical prerogative of the strong over the weak, he seeks to justify his attitude by a mass of accusations which, on closer examination, prove to be baseless or negligible. The impartial thinker, who does not desire to judge and interpret the affairs of this world according to the principles of some Utopian Arcadia, but would merely ascertain the facts in order to draw a conclusion of practical value, will not seriously charge either of the parties with responsibility for this antagonism. To the Jews, however, he will say: "You are foolish, because you stand there non-plussed and expect of human nature something which it has never produced -- humanity. You are also contemptible, because you have no real self-estimation and no national self- respect."

National self-respect! Where can we find it! It is precisely the great misfortune of our race that we do not constitute a nation, but are merely Jews. We are a flock scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no shepherd to protect us and bring us together. At best we attain the rank of goats, which in Russia are mated with racehorses. And that is the highest reach of our ambition!

It is true that those who claim to sympathize with us have always taken good care that we should have no respite in which to recover our self-respect. As individual Jews, but not as a Jewish nation, we have carried on for centuries the hard and unequal struggle for existence. Each man singly has sequestered his genius and energy for a little oxygen and a morsel of bread, moistened with tears. We did not succumb in this desperate struggle. We waged the most glorious of all guerrilla struggles with the peoples of the earth, who with one accord wished to destroy us. But the war we have waged -- and God knows how long we shall continue to wage it -- has not been for a fatherland, but for the wretched maintenance of millions of "Jew peddlers."

The nations of the earth could not destroy us bodily, yet they were able to suppress in us every sense of national independence. So now we look on with caution fatalistic indifference when in many countries we are refused such recognition as would not lightly be denied to Zulus. In the Diaspora we maintained our individual life, and proved our power of resistance, but we broke the common tie of national consciousness. Seeking to maintain our material existence, we were compelled very often to forget our moral dignity. We did not perceive that unworthy tactics, though forced upon us, have lowered us still more in the eyes of our opponents, that we were only the more exposed to humiliating contempt and outlawed existence, which has at length become our baleful heritage. In the great, wide world there was no place for us. We pray only for a little place somewhere to lay our weary head to rest. And as our claims diminished, our dignity vanished away.

We were the shuttle-cock which the peoples tossed in turn to one another. The cruel game was equally amusing whether we were caught or thrown, and was enjoyed all the more as our national respect became more elastic and yielding in the hands of the peoples. Under such circumstances, how could there be any question of national self-determination, of a free, active development of our national force or of our native genius ?

By the way, our enemies did not fail to make capital of this trait, though irrelevant, in order to prove our inferiority. One would think that a man of genius among them grew as blackberries on the hedges. The wretches! They mock the eagle who once soared to heaven and saw Divinity itself, because he can no longer fly after his wings are broken! Even so we have remained on the level with the great peoples of civilization. Grant us but our independence, allow us to take care of ourselves, give us but a little strip of land like that of the Serbians and Romanians, give us a chance to lead a national existence and then prate about our lacking manly virtues! Today we live under the weight of evils you have brought upon us. What we lack is not genius but self-consciousness, an appreciation of our value as men of which we were deprived by you!

When we are ill-used, robbed, plundered and dishonored, we dare not defend ourselves, and, worse still, we take it almost as a matter of course. When our face is slapped, we soothe our burning cheek. with cold water; and when a bloody wound has been inflicted, we apply a bandage. When we are turned out of the house which we ourselves built, we beg humbly for mercy, and when we fail to reach the heart of our oppressor we move on in search of another exile.

When an idle spectator on the road calls out to us: "You poor Jewish devils are certainly to be pitied," we are most deeply touched; and when a Jew is said to be an honor to his people, we are foolish enough to be proud of it. We have sunk so low that we become almost jubilant when, as in the West, a small fraction of our people is put on equal footing with non-Jews. But he who must be put on a footing stands but weakly. If no notice is taken of our descent and we are treated like others born in the country, we express our gratitude by actually turning renegades. For the sake of the comfortable position we are granted, for the flesh-pots which we may enjoy in peace, we persuade ourselves, and others, that we are no longer Jews, but full-blooded citizens. Idle delusion! Though you prove yourselves patriots a thousand times, you will still be reminded at every opportunity of your Semitic descent. This fateful memento mori will not prevent you, however, from accepting the extended hospitality, until some fine morning you find yourself crossing the border and you are reminded by the mob that you are, after all, nothing but vagrants and parasites, without the protection of law.

But even humane treatment does not prove that we are welcome.

Indeed, what a pitiful figure we cut! We are not counted among the nations, neither have we a voice in their councils, even when the affairs concern us. Our fatherland -- the other man's country; our unity-dispersion; our solidarity -- the battle against us; our weapon -- humility; our defense -- flight; our individuality -- adaptability ; our future -- the next day. What a miserable role for a nation which descends from the Maccabees!

Do you wonder that a people which allowed itself for dear life's sake to be trampled upon, and has learned to love these very feet that trample upon them, should have fallen into the utmost contempt!

Our tragedy is that we can neither live nor die. We cannot die despite the blows of our enemies, and we do not wish to die by our own hand, through apostasy or self-destruction. Neither can we live; our enemies have taken care of that. We will not recommence life as a nation, live like the other peoples, thanks to those over-zealous patriots, who think it is necessary to sacrifice every claim upon independent national life to their loyalty as citizens -- which should be a matter of course. Such fanatical patriots deny their ancient national character for the sake of any other nationality, whatever it may be, of high rank or low. But they deceive no one. They do not see how glad one is to decline Jewish companionship.

Thus for eighteen centuries we have lived in disgrace, without a single earnest attempt to shake it off!

We know well the great martyrology of our people and we would be the last to place the responsibility upon our ancestors. The demands of individual self-preservation necessarily sup- press in the germ every national thought, every united movement. If the non-Jewish peoples, thanks to our dispersion, deserved to strike through each of us the whole Jewish people, we had the resistance to survive as a people, but we were left too powerless to raise ourselves and carry on an active struggle in our own behalf. Under the pressure of the hostile world we have lost in the course of our long exile all self-confidence, all initiative.

Moreover, the belief in a Messiah, in the intervention of a higher power to bring about our political resurrection, and the religious assumption that we must bear patiently divine punishment, caused us to abandon every thought of our national liberation, unity and independence. Consequently, we have renounced the idea of a nationhood and did so the more readily since we were preoccupied with our immediate needs. Thus we sank lower and lower. The people without a country forgot their country. Is it not high time to perceive the disgrace of it all?

Happily, matters stand somewhat differently now. The events of the last few years in enlightened Germany, in Roumania, in Hungary, and especially in Russia, have effected what the far bloodiest persecutions of the Middle Ages could not. The national consciousness which until then had lain dormant in sterile martyrdom awoke the masses of the Russian and Roumanian Jews and took form in an irresistible movement toward Palestine. Mistaken as this movement has proved to be by its results, it was, nevertheless, a right instinct to strike out for home. The severe trials which they have endured have now provoked a reaction quite different from the fatalistic submission to a divine condign punishment. Even the unenlightened masses of the Russian Jews have not entirely escaped the influences of the ptinciples of modern culture. Without renouncing Judaism and their faith, they revolted against undeserved ill-treatment which could be inflicted with impunity only because the Russian Government regards the Jews as aliens. And the other European Governments -- why should they concern themselves with the citizens of a state in whose internal affairs they have no right to interfere?


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Translated from the German by Dr. D. S. Blondheim, Federation of American Zionists, 1916
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