How does social Darwinism correlate with discrimination

Racism and anti-semitism

A definition of racism comes from the Tunisian-French sociologist Albert Memmi. He describes it as "the generalized and absolute valuation of actual or fictitious differences for the benefit of the accuser and to the detriment of his victim, with which his privileges or his aggressions are to be justified."1 Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and other similar views are often grouped under the heading of group-related enmity (GMF) in research and education. This is understood to mean different forms of derogatory attitudes and attitudes, of prejudice and resentment towards certain people and groups of people.2

Debates about the recognition of different forms of discrimination

In empirical attitude research, the prevalence of these different forms is often examined together. But the exact relationship between the individual ways of thinking about group-related enmity among themselves and to each other is always the starting point for controversial debates, especially on the issues of racism and anti-Semitism. It's not just about the comparability, parallels and differences between the two phenomena. Rather, questions of national or religious self-image, questions of recognition and memory as well as questions of social majority relationships and interpretative sovereignty are often implicitly or explicitly negotiated.

Again and again it happens that different phenomena of group-related enmity are played off against each other, for example by portraying one form as more problematic than the others. This leads to a hierarchy that creates a useless competitive situation between victims of social devaluation and discrimination. In addition, racism and anti-Semitism can be instrumentalized to stir up a mood against certain minorities.

This can be observed, for example, in the debates about so-called Arab Muslim anti-Semitism in Germany. In the course of the dispute over Islamic life in Germany and new refugee and migration movements, young Muslim men were generally identified as a particular danger to Jewish life in Germany. Various politicians well into the liberal camp saw themselves called upon to denounce 'imported' anti-Semitism and to conjure up the myth of a 'Christian-Jewish community of values', which should be defended against a 'Muslim threat'. The fateful history and general social spread of anti-Semitism are demonstratively ignored in this argument. The constant approval ratings for traditional, but above all the high approval ratings for secondary and Israel-related anti-Semitism show, however, that anti-Semitism in Germany is not the sole problem of a Muslim minority. Other critics, on the other hand, complain of an inequality in the recognition of experiences of discrimination: While the German majority society is sensitized to anti-Semitism and condemns it publicly, it would turn a blind eye to anti-Muslim racism, for example. Some even declare Muslims to be 'the new Jews', which is not only historically wrong, but also creates dubious analogies and memory competitions.

Treatment of anti-Semitism in political education

The relationship between racism and anti-Semitism is also discussed in political education. The focus is on the question of the framework in which anti-Semitism should be dealt with. For a long time it was treated as a specific sub-form of racism in historical-political educational work and in educational work critical of racism. At first glance, this seems plausible: Both are forms of resentment-laden thinking based on an ideology of human inequality. Both constructed foreign and in-house groups, to which different values ​​and specific, supposedly unchangeable properties are ascribed. The group constructions take place on the basis of culturalizing and / or biological-racist characteristics, which are only given special importance in the construction process. In both racism and anti-Semitism, the phenomenon of projection can also be observed, which provides information about the suppressed fantasies of those who wear it.

Parallels and differences

Another reason for a supposedly plausible equation of the different phenomena lies in their history. Both racism and anti-Semitism are subject to constant changes and transformations, especially with regard to the context in which they are justified. Since the late 18th century, the natural sciences have increasingly been used to justify and legitimize violence and inequality, claims to power and rule and to explain social phenomena. Biologism, social Darwinism and racial ideologies not only founded modern racism, but also changed anti-Semitism - this changed from a religiously based anti-Judaism to a primarily biological-racist based anti-Semitism. Due to the historical congruence of these two developments, it often appears as if these phenomena are identical, even if they are based on very specific and different development histories and (thought) traditions.

Despite all the similarities between these two ideologies of inequality, there are relevant distinguishing features that speak in favor of analyzing and processing both phenomena separately, both in terms of their historical development and in their current manifestations, motives and structures. The most serious difference between racism and anti-Semitism lies in their enemy image constructions: In racism, those affected by it are mostly devalued, condemned as primitive, instinct-driven, violent, etc. While the ingroup is seen as superior, the racially constructed outgroup is portrayed as inferior. Even in anti-Semitism, 'the Jews' experience a collective devaluation on the one hand, but at the same time a strange exaggeration on the other. According to anti-Semitic thinking, 'Jews' are considered to be extremely powerful, 'omnipotent masterminds' and cunning conspirators who secretly steer the fate of the world through their supposed influence on politics, the media and the financial markets. You can thus be held responsible for all evil in the world. We are faced with both admiration and contempt: anti-Semites despise 'the Jews' and all who make them so for the power they ascribe to them. At the same time, however, precisely this power, precisely because it has nothing to do with reality, but rather with its own repressed desires, exerts an enormous fascination on them. While racism primarily asserts the inferiority of 'the others', anti-Semitism assumes 'Jewish superiority' and explains society through the supposed work of 'Jews' and thus takes the form of a meaningful explanation of the world.

Independent phenomena

It is precisely this distinction that makes it necessary to view anti-Semitism and racism as separate phenomena in their specific social and political context. Alliances that emerge are to be promoted as well as false assumptions to be vigorously countered: Neither own experiences of racism protect against expressing oneself in an anti-Semitic way - or vice versa - nor is it helpful to seek racism or anti-Semitism exclusively in 'the other'. According to the results of empirical prejudice research, both phenomena are widespread attitudes and thought patterns in the entire German population, which also often correlate: Those who express themselves racist often also agree with anti-Semitic statements and vice versa.

Jan Harig is co-founder and was editor of "Thinking differently - the online platform for anti-Semitism criticism and educational work" until 2019