The sins of the fathers . . .

How persistent are cultural traits? This paper uses data on anti-Semitism in Germany and finds continuity at the local level over more than half a millennium. When the Black Death hit Europe in 1348-50, killing between one third and one half of the population, its cause was unknown. Many contemporaries blamed the Jews. Cities all over Germany witnessed mass killings of their Jewish population. At the same time, numerous Jewish communities were spared. We use plague pogroms as an indicator for medieval anti-Semitism. Pogroms during the Black Death are a strong and robust predictor of violence against Jews in the 1920s, and of votes for the Nazi Party. In addition, cities that saw medieval anti-Semitic violence also had higher deportation rates for Jews after 1933, were more likely to see synagogues damaged or destroyed in the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ in 1938, and their inhabitants wrote more anti-Jewish letters to the editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer.

From “Persecution Perpetuated: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Semitic Violence in Nazi Germany”, by Nico Voigtlaender, Hans-Joachim Voth, NBER Working Paper No. 17113

 

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Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

the observation is fascinating, though there are many dangers here of statistical artefacts that makes it hard to know what we really learn here (there are many new cities since 1349 so what do you assume about those; nearly all cities will have expanded a lot and its citizens will have come from many other cities (if only via marriage with people elsewhere), which means one can wonder if one is looking at something specific to a place or to the families involved; are we looking at the effects of ancient local culture transmitted between whomever lives there or a long presence of a jewish community interacted with particular event?).
To give you just one basic statistic that should make you wonder what one is really measuring here: in 1349 Germany, only 10% was living in the cities, and the life expectancy of the citizens was short whilst their population was relatively mobile (and, I believe, also had relatively small families). In 1938 (the year of the Kristalnacht) more than half the population lived in the cities meaning that almost none of the 1349 genes will remain in the same cities 600 years later.

Richard Tsukamasa Green

Paul – I’m fairly certain there’s no appeal to genes (it does explicitly say social), only the social structures, norms, insitutions etc in which new arrivals become socialised to, especially their children do. It’s similar to the assumptions underlying what I studied. Providing that new arrivals actually do participate in the society they move into (i.e unlike early European settlers) they will inevitably socialise to it, and thus perpetuate the socialisation on to further new arrivals (i.e like every subsequent wave of migrants to Australia). Path dependence rather than genetic determinism.
Who knows though, maybe you’re unconsciously carrying the logic that was behind pillarisation, where such socialisation was not expected. ;)

It puts me in mind of this which suggests a similar path dependence despite similar disruptions in populations. I also remember that Merriman in this series claimed that until the 1980s electoral maps of France could be largely predicted with electoral maps from the 19th century.

The empirical issues are still very fraught, and I’d be wary of being too enthusiastic about any of these claims, but the underlying logic behind these three examples is robust (perhaps strengthened) when population movements are taken into account.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Thinking of anti-Semitism in Australia, I can think of a case where stuff is probably transmitted in primary school from kid-to-kid (non-parental transmission) — At least when I went to primary school, there was something called a “Jew Jump” where some kid usually had some type of food that other kids wanted (generally chips in my school). When the kid decided to give some away, the kid with the food would throw some up in the air and shout “Jew Jump”, and all the other kids would fight over the bits. Now, as it happens, I think kids would have learnt this before they would have really thought too hard about the concept of ethnicity (indeed, where I went to school, I doubt there were very many Jewish kids at all — none that I can think of) yet all would know this saying. I’ve never known where this came from and why it survives. Do kids teach it to other kids, or are there really some parents out there that are basically keeping this idea alive? Does it still exist today?

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Yes that’s right: “You jew [insert name], give me a chip!”

My sense is that people didn’t take offence to the usual banter. My friends, at least, could make every racist joke you could imagine, but weren’t racist at all in that our group include people of every colour creed and background.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

As Pedro said. The darker questions come later when you’re an adult, like when you find out about child abuse or what grandad was really doing in Egypt in 1943.
I have a feeling that we are discussing a very old culture that developed both cosmopolitan urban forms during the Hellenistic era and fiercely determined rustic nationalist forms within ancient Palestine. When the Hellenes and then Romans smashed the stubborn resistance in Palestine, urban communities of mercantile literate modernist Jews with developing special skills in commerce, metallurgy, etc survived in the big cities of antiquity like Alexandria and Antioch. Ay least that’s the cultural line that I tend to follow, in understanding later examples of anti semitic persecution, as examples of rednecks reacting to bad times by attacking an urban ethnic minority identified with the class interests of the aristocracy.
That and the rise of Catholicism from 1000 AD, a doctrine that demanded scapegoats else where, in the establishing of its own truth claims and rationale for existance.
Maybe there is a parallel with the attitude to mid eastern folk in our community, easy targets for lazy politicians playing the race card for their own ends with the ignorant and ill-informed, as exemplified in the Cronulla incidents.
Nor are the Jews the only people who have suffered as a minority in a problematic urban setting, the Chinese and Indian middle classes of the developing world cities are often like wise regarded with suspicion and loathing by the local poor and have to batten down the hatches when food riots and the like breakout in hard times.
Scapegoats are sought out, and what better scapegoat than some business type that perhaps had been involved in holding up supply or fiddling prices in some other way.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
10 years ago

I think it is the distinctiveness that is the problem. The Jews for nearly three thousand years, and the expatriate Chinese in more modern times, keep themselves to themselves and when they prosper relative to non-Jews or non-Chinese, they excite envy. In the USA Jews did not suffer pogroms.

The separateness was enough for the ancient Romans who were not interested in subject peoples’ religions but cared about law. The Jews insisted on their own law and eventually the Romans lost patience.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

Yes, it’s the sort thing Australians should be able to notice and identify as a society that has seen several waves of population movement into the country over the last few generations.
Since WW2, Brits, Europeans from north then south, to south East Asians, now more frequently newies are from what used to be called the Fertile Crescent, Moslem Asia (India?), Africa and south mediterranean cultures constitute a smaller recent to current influx, but one that shows the usual traits, as to the process and and its discomforts. Ignoring the paradox of Hansonism, would Australia be more the equivalent of ancient Alexandria, a more cosmopolitan and worldly place where waves of minorities are often identified as off shore and roughly where from, by long term locals, through practice?
In contrast to the strange hysteria of the boat people saga, the nearest we’ve come to “pogroms”, is the ugly but relatively minor morass of Cronulla, unless you want to start scratching around the history of White Australia with Indigenes.
Whereas the American and Europeans tend to offshore their pogroms to less glamorous locations in Africa, Asia, etc, we’ve “offshored” internally window dressed Indigenes policy too, from whites, this time as “Intervention”, whilst acquiring a taste for involving our selves in their adventures, in out of the way places.
Like the Jews of “old” Europe, the Developing World poor today,some more than others, are “Beyond the Pale” for modern bourgeois society, as the treatment of one class against the other shows at fracture points like the border zones of Palestine/Israel and parts of Europe, or the north western maritime borders of Australia.
How dramatically the SBS doco gave us a snapshot of the contradictions, with difference in treatment between the Aussie “boat people” and the real boat people and poor locales for locals already resident, elsewhere.
The ideas the Jewish of antiquity were largely common and “with” most synonymous Foundational Big Ideas to do with, of and for humanity and all previous readings feed into Islam.
As with today, the dominant cultures and individuals did better and others lived walled off from the consequences of life much more than most others; their cultural knowledge likely allows us a glimpse into our own world, by example.
While we read of the deaths of figures in harsh times, as with Rabbi Akiva and slightly earlier, Christ, that can represent an example in how low humans can fall in their treatment of others, we also get a sense of what it must be like driven in stern times, as related in the works of Thucydides and Plato in a different age and place still, Athens.
So, we realise, as Nietzsche apparently did, that western culture long term is indebted to the martyrs for its individuation, sense and sensibility, sense of consciousness and self-reflexivity that allows a sense of value and meaning, life and death, yet can’t quite catch up with history, after two and half thousand years.
We know that as what we know as Rome faded, so ask, one day will the “West” as we know it,”fade”, or likely seem different to folk of five hundred years as Rome seems to us. What will stay familiar to future people that is recognised by us.
For what will the, “Song Remain the Same”.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

richard,

Nick makes an appeal to genes by labelling the post ‘the sins of the father’, not me. I basically argued it cant be genes…

On reflection though, I dont buy the ‘perpetuated stereotypes’ explanation of the correlation. There is too much change in this long period for that to be believable. If it doesnt turn out to be a complete statistical artefact, my vote would for the idea that it probably has more to do with similarities over time in the economic activities of the city and the role Jews have played in that local economy. I can believe that local industries and local laws regarding who can do what have great longevity and would thus be capable of leading to a correlation over this huge distance in time.

Richard Tsukamasa Green

I wouldn’t argue it was just stereotypes (provided I was arguing the case, I have no great leaning to any one hypothesis, including the statistical artefact one)), more a collection of perpetuated norms that provide for mob violence or simple scapegoating, here directed towards a particular minority that was available whenever discontent was around .
That does suggest a possible approach to distinguish a norms hypothesis from a perpetuated stereotypes hypothesis. In England, there was periodically massed episodes of violence against a minority associated with towns, mercantile greed and money lending – the Flemish (Jews having been expelled prior). It would be interesting to see if a correlation between a location’s violence against the Jews and then the Flemish and then later violence (or angry letters/subscriptions to the Daily Mail) against Catholics and more recently South Asians and West Indians. The stereotypes directed against these groups vary as well (dislike of Black Britons is expressed in very different terms to anti-catholic or antisemetic sentiment) so correlation would possibly rule out the steretype hypothesis. It would not of course rule out a legal or industry based hypothesis. If done crudely it would probably just show that minorities in any era are more likely to be closer to the Channel.