Hannah Arendt slices and dices the French Third Republic as part of her explanation of the genesis of anti-semitism. As with everything in her book, what is most chilling are the parallels. She talks about the Dreyfus affair, but she places it squarely in the context of the situation of Jews, the contributions that leading Jews made towards dealing with that situation, and the Panama Scandal. In the interest of brevity I’ll talk about the existential issue.
She talks about the existential quandary that Jews were put into by emancipation and then goes on to talk about how Jews reacted to social anti-semitism. What is more important here than the history itself are the processes. Some Jews chose to stick together and to not assimilate. Some chose to rebel against being labeled as Jews and to try to break the stereotypes labeled against them and did their best to be “exception jews”. Some chose to go along with those stereotypes and were quite willing to be “pariahs”. All three courses only served to reinforce the stereotypes and give credence to the false and abusive narratives that the Anti-Semites were developing.


She talks about the contributions made by Disraeli and the Rothschilds to the anti-jew narrative. Disraeli, apparently, partly because he was a convert to Christianity, and partly because he knew how to use people’s prejudices to help himself advance. According to her, some people of the time became “parvenues” “one that has recently or suddenly risen to an unaccustomed position of wealth or power and has not yet gained the prestige, dignity, or manner associated with it”, and some became rebels or “pariahs.” And they were invited to salons and enjoyed because they were different from other members of society. Most emancipated Jews dealt with their emancipation by trying to make their religion a private thing.
But along with this difference, there was a slide in meaning. “Crime” had once been a definition of behavior. A person might be a bad person for what they did and go to jail, but in the 19th century crime became “vice” and “bad” went from sinning to being “vice” — under the general decline in morals of the third republic
and vice became a condition that labeled human beings. In this context anti-”Jew” beliefs transformed from social anti-semitism based on purported religious crimes to But this acceptance transformed the “crime” of being of the Jewish Religion to the “vice” of being a Jew.
In our own time we are seeing this slide again. Homosexuals are seen as people who are bad, not because of what they do in public, but because of what they are. Increasingly our laws try to arrest people for what they are thinking and feeling, and “who they are” rather than what they are doing or planning to do. The result is that we are sliding down a road that parallels Weimar Germany or Third Republic France…. And venal politicians are quite willing to look for scape goats for their own treachery, and greed….
It is frightful.