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Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought$
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Chad Alan Goldberg

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226460413

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226460697.001.0001

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The German Tradition: Capitalism and the Jews

The German Tradition: Capitalism and the Jews

(p.43) 3 The German Tradition: Capitalism and the Jews
Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought

Chad Alan Goldberg

University of Chicago Press

Through a comparison of Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber, this chapter identifies two patterns in how they conceived the relationship between modern capitalism and the Jews. On the one hand, modern economic life is described as the universalization of a Jewish spirit. On the other hand, modern capitalism is described as superseding Jewish contributions that made it possible. These two patterns, it is argued, reproduce in secularized form cultural assumptions derived from Christian theology. The chapter suggests that cultural schemas derived from Christian theology shaped the thinking of Marx, Simmel, Sombart, and Weber by way of their religious backgrounds, formal schooling, and/or the philosophical tradition of German idealism. The chapter concludes that contemporary scholars should not abandon historical inquiry into the social carriers of capitalist rationality in favor of an ahistorical approach to economic life. Instead, social scientists must become more historical in a double sense: in regard to the groups they study, so as to avoid essentializing them, and in regard to themselves, so as to become more attentive to how the social scientist’s own internalized history shapes his or her vision and division of the social world.

Keywords:   Jews, modernity, capitalism, Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Werner Sombart, Max Weber

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