Werner Sombart is undoubtedly one of the most striking personalities in the Germany of to-day. Born in 1863, he has devoted himself to research in economics, and has contributed much that is valuable to economic thought. Though his work has not always been accepted without challenge, it has received universal recognition for its brilliance, and his reputation has drawn hosts of students to his lectures, both at Breslau, where he held the Chair of Economics at the University (1890–1906), and now in Berlin at the Handelshochschule, where he occupies a similar position.
But Sombart is an artist as well as a scholar; he combines reason with imagination in an eminent degree, and he has the gift, seldom enough associated with German professors, of writing in a lucid, flowing, almost eloquent style. That is one characteristic of all his books, which are worth noting. The rise and development of modern capitalism has been the theme that has attracted him most, and his masterly treatment of it may be found in his Der moderne Kapitalismus (2 vols., Leipzig, 1902). In 1896 he published Sozialismus und soziale Bewegung, which quickly went through numerous editions and may be described as one of the most widely read books in German-speaking countries.1Die deutsche Volkswirtschaft im 19ten Jahrhundert appeared in 1903, and Das Proletariat in 1906.
For some years past Sombart has been considering the revision of his magnum opus on modern capitalism, and in the course of his studies came across the problem, quite accidentally, as he himself tells us, of the relation between the Jews and modern capitalism. The topic fascinated him, and he set about inquiring what that relationship precisely was. The results of his labours were published in the book2 of which this is an English edition. The English version is slightly shorter than the German original. The portions that have been left out (with the author’s concurrence) are not very long and relate to general technical questions, such as the modern race theory or the early history of credit instruments. Furthermore, everything found within square brackets has been added by the translator. My best thanks are due to my wife, who has been constantly helpful with suggestions and criticisms, and to my friend Leon Simon for the verse rendering on pp. 000–000.
M. E. London, April 21, 1913.
Part I — The Contribution of the Jews to Modern Economic Life
Chapter 1: Introductory
Two possible methods may be used to discover to what extent any group of people participated in a particular form of economic organization. One is the statistical; the other may be termed the genetic.
By means of the first we endeavour to ascertain the actual number of persons taking part in some economic activity—say, those who establish trade with a particular country, or who found any given industry—and then we calculate what percentage is represented by the members of the group in which we happen to be interested. There is no doubt that the statistical method has many advantages. A pretty clear conception of the relative importance for any branch of commerce of, let us say, foreigners or Jews, is at once evolved if we are able to show by actual figures that 50 or 75 per cent of all the persons engaged in that branch belong to either the first or the second category named. More especially is this apparent when statistical information is forthcoming, not only as to the number of persons but also concerning other or more striking economic factors—e.g., the amount of paid-up capital, the quantity of the commodities produced, the size of the turnover, and so forth. It will be useful, therefore, to adopt the statistical method in questions such as the one we have set ourselves. But at the same time it will soon become evident that by its aid alone the complete solution cannot be found. In the first place, even the best statistics do not tell us everything; nay, often the most important aspect of what we are trying to discover is omitted. Statistics are silent as to the dynamic effects which strong individualities produce in economic, as indeed in all human life—effects which have consequences reaching far beyond the limits of their immediate surroundings. Their actual importance for the general tendency of any particular development is greater far than any set of figures can reveal. Therefore the statistical method must be supplemented by some other.
But more than this. The statistical method, owing to lack of information, cannot always be utilized. It is indeed a lucky accident that we possess figures recording the number of those engaged in any industry or trade, and showing their comparative relation to the rest of the population. But a statistical study of this kind, on a large scale, is really only a possibility for modern and future times. Even then the path of the investigator is beset by difficulties. Still, a careful examination of various sources, including the assessments made by Jewish communities on their members, may lead to fruitful results. I hope that this book will give an impetus to such studies, of which, at the present time, there is only one that is really useful—the enquiry of Sigmund Mayr, of Vienna.
When all is said, therefore, the other method (the genetic), to which I have already alluded, must be used to supplement the results of statistics. What is this method? We wish to discover to what extent a group of people (the Jews) influence or have influenced the form and development of modern economic life—to discover, that is, their qualitative or, as I have already called it, their dynamic importance. We can do this best of all by enquiring whether certain characteristics that mark our modern economic life were given their first form by Jews, i.e., either that some particular form of organization was first introduced by the Jews, or that some well-known business principles, now accepted on all hands as fundamental, are specific expressions of the Jewish spirit. This of necessity demands that the history of the factors in economic development should be traced to their earliest beginnings. In other words, we must study the childhood of the modern capitalistic system, or, at any rate, the age in which it received its modern form. But not the childhood only: its whole history must be considered. For throughout, down to these very days, new elements are constantly entering the fabric of capitalism and changes appear in its characteristics. Wherever such are noted our aim must be to discover to whose influence they are due. Often enough this will not be easy; sometimes it will even be impossible; and scientific imagination must come to the aid of the scholar.
Another point should not be overlooked. In many cases the people who are responsible for a fundamental idea or innovation in economic life are not always the inventors (using that word in its narrowest meaning). It has often been asserted that the Jews have no inventive powers; that not only technical but also economic discoveries were made by non-Jews alone, and that the Jews have always been able cleverly to utilize the ideas of others. I dissent from this general view in its entirety. We meet with Jewish inventors in the sphere of technical science, and certainly in that of economics, as I hope to show in this work. But even if the assertion which we have mentioned were true, it would prove nothing against the view that Jews have given certain aspects of economic life the specific features they bear. In the economic world it is not so much the inventors that matter as those who are able to apply the inventions: not those who conceive ideas (e.g., the hire-purchase system) as those who can utilize them in everyday life.
Before proceeding to the problem before us—the share of the Jews in the work of building up our modern capitalistic system—we must mention one other point of importance. In a specialized study of this kind Jewish influence may appear larger than it actually was. That is in the nature of our study, where the whole problem is looked at from only one point of view. If we were enquiring into the influence of mechanical inventions on modern economic life the same would apply: in a monograph that influence would tend to appear larger than it really was. I mention this point, obvious though it is, lest it be said that I have exaggerated the part played by the Jews. There were undoubtedly a thousand and one other causes that helped to make the economic system of our time what it is. Without the discovery of America and its silver treasures, without the mechanical inventions of technical science, without the ethnical peculiarities of modern European nations and their vicissitudes, capitalism would have been as impossible as without the Jews.
In the long story of capitalism, Jewish influence forms but one chapter. Its relative importance to the others I shall show in the new edition of my Modern Capitalism, which I hope to have ready before long.
This caveat will, I trust, help the general reader to a proper appreciation of the influence of Jews on modern economic life. But it must be taken in conjunction with another. If on the one hand we are to make some allowance, should our studies apparently tend to give Jews a preponderating weight in economic affairs, on the other hand, their contribution is very often even larger than we are led to believe. For our researches can deal only with one portion of the problem, seeing that all the material is not available. Who to-day knows anything definite about the individuals, or groups, who founded this or that industry, established this or that branch of commerce, first adopted this or that business principle? And even where we are able to name these pioneers with certainty, there comes the further question, were they Jews or not?
Jews—that is to say, members of the people who profess the Jewish faith. And I need hardly add that although in this definition I purposely leave out any reference to race characteristics, it yet includes those Jews who have withdrawn from their religious community, and even descendants of such, seeing that historically they remain Jews. This must be borne in mind, for when we are determining the influence of the Jew on modern economic life, again and again men appear on the scene as Christians, who in reality are Jews. They or their fathers were baptized, that is all. The assumption that many Jews in all ages changed their faith is not far fetched. We hear of cases from the earliest Middle Ages; in Italy, in the 7th and 8th centuries; at the same period in Spain and in the Merovingian kingdoms; and from that time to this we find them among all Christian nations. In the last third of the 19th century, indeed, wholesale baptisms constantly occurred. But we have reliable figures for the last two or three decades only, and I am therefore inclined to doubt the statement of Jacob Fromer that towards the end of the twenties in last century something like half the Jews of Berlin had gone over to Christianity.1 Equally improbable is the view of Dr. Wemer, Rabbi in Munich, who, in a paper which he recently read, stated that altogether 120,000 Jews have been baptized in Berlin. The most reliable figures we have are all against such a likelihood. According to these, it was in the nineties that apostasy on a large scale first showed itself, and even then the highest annual percentage never exceeded 1.28 (in 1905), while the average percentage per annum (since 1895) was 1. Nevertheless, the number of Jews in Berlin who from 1873 to 1906 went over to Christianity was not small; their total was 1869 precisely.2
The tendency to apostasy is stronger among Austrian Jews, especially among those of Vienna. At the present time, between five and six hundred Jews in that city renounce their faith every year, and from 1868 to 1903 there have been no less than 9085. The process grows apace; in the years 1868 to 1879 there was on an average one baptism annually for every 1200 Jews; in the period 1880 to 1889 it was one for 420–430 Jews; while between 1890 and 1903 it had reached one for every 260– 270.3
But the renegade Jews are not the only group whose influence on the economic development of our time it is difficult to estimate. There are others to which the same applies. I am not thinking of the Jewesses who married into Christian families, and who, though they thus ceased to be Jewish, at any rate in name, must nevertheless have retained their Jewish characteristics. The people I have in mind are the crypto-Jews, who played so important a part in history, and whom we encounter in every century. In some periods they formed a very large section of Jewry. But their non-Jewish pose was so admirably sustained that among their contemporaries they passed as Christians or Mohammedans. We are told, for example, of the Jews of the South of France in the 15th and 16th centuries, who came originally from Spain and Portugal (and the description applies to the Marannos everywhere): “They practised all the outward forms of Catholicism; their births, marriages and deaths were entered on the registers of the church, and they received the sacraments of baptism, marriage and extreme unction. Some even took orders and became priests.”4 No wonder then that they do not appear as Jews in the reports of commercial enterprises, industrial undertakings and so forth. Some historians even to-day speak in admiring phrase of the beneficial influence of Spanish or Portuguese “immigrants.” So skillfully did the crypto-Jews hide their racial origin that specialists in the field of Jewish history are still in doubt as to whether a certain family was Jewish or not.5 In those cases where they adopted Christian names, the uncertainty is even greater. There must have been a large number of Jews among the Protestant refugees in the 17th century. General reasons would warrant this assumption, but when we take into consideration the numerous Jewish names found among the Huguenots the probability is strong indeed.6
Finally, our enquiries will not be able to take any account of all those Jews who, prior to 1848, took an active part in the economic life of their time, but who were unknown to the authorities. The laws forbade Jews to exercise their callings. They were therefore compelled to do so, either under cover of some fictitious Christian person or under the protection of a “privileged” Jew, or they were forced to resort to some other trick in order to circumvent the law. Reliable authorities are of opinion that the number of Jews who in many a town lived secretly in this way must have been exceedingly large. In the forties of last century, for example, it is said that no less than 12,000 Jews, at a moderate estimate, were to be found in Vienna. The wholesale textile trade was at that time already in their hands, and entire districts in the centre of the city were full of Jewish shops. But the official list of traders of 1845 contained in an appendix the names of only sixty-three Jews, who were described as “tolerated Jewish traders,” and these were allowed to deal only in a limited number of articles.7
But enough. My point was to show that, for many and various reasons, the number of Jews of whom we hear is less than those who actually existed. The reader should therefore bear in mind that the contribution of the Jews to the fabric of modern economic life will, of necessity, appear smaller than it was in reality.
What that contribution was we shall now proceed to show.