a philosophy blog

Damned if we do…

Notes on:
Edward J. Bristow, Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery 1870-1939

White slavery was a term used to describe the rampant procurement of European women to serve as prostitutes worldwide in the decades before and after 1900. While they were scarcely a majority of those involved in the trade, Jews were often the focus of popular outrage.

Bristow writes,

After all, if there were ritual-murder trials in this period based on superstitions of medieval origin that Jews murdered Christian children to obtain their blood for the baking of unleavened Passover bread, what about the potential of an accusation that actually had some basis in fact?

German-Jewish feminist, Bertha Pappenheim, stated the dilemma at a conference on the matter in 1927:

If we admit the existence of this traffic our enemies decry us; if we deny it they say we are trying to conceal it.

More specifically of Vienna,

The connection between the Jews and prostitution remained notorious in Vienna, out of all proportion to their real involvement. This was true at every level of society. Following his organizing tour, William Coote, the British leader of the movement against white slavery, reported to his Jewish friends that nowhere was anti-semitic feeling occasioned by white slavery ‘nearly so marked or prevalent as it is in Austria,’ where he heard it expressed more bitterly than anywhere else.

Adolf Hitler was 18 when he first came to Vienna in 1907. He describes his experience in the Leopoldsdadt, the heavily Jewish district of the city (as quoted in Bristow):

In no other city of Western Europe could the relationship of Jewry and prostitution and even now the white slave traffic, be studied better than in Vienna… An icy shudder ran down my spine when seeing for the first time, the Jew as an evil, shameless and calculating manager of this shocking vice, the outcome of the scum of the big city. [Mein Kampf (New York. 1939 ed.), p. 78.]

Bristow notes that it was mostly Jewish women who were the victims of the trafficking by Jews… In America today, it is mostly blacks who are the victims of crimes by blacks and mostly whites are the victims of crimes by whites… It has never been otherwise anywhere. It is not that people prefer to prey on their own. Not counting structural and institutional forms of human exploitation such as slave labor or white collar crime at its highest and most protected level, true criminal behavior, is conservative in its reach: it is almost by definition aligned against those who are nearest and available and, like the criminal, vulnerable. Criminality directed at the group most centrally protected by reigning institutions is something quite different. It is insurrection, rebellion, terrorism and requires a level of enlightenment about conditions not found in the common miscreant, who is always his own best victim first.

In fact, the true criminal is punished in anticipation of his crime. The other only after the fact, if at all… [Ed. Note: The prefixing of moral desert in contrast to the ex post facto aspect of legal retribution is an extention of an idea Luno derives from Kant and Weininger.]

Bristow describes the dilemma of concerned Jews. Fin de siècle Vienna was a major hub of the worldwide traffic in women, a traffic that landed European women in brothels from Russia to Egypt to Argentina to Southeast Asia to New York City to South Africa. And some Jews, “the unclean ones” (as Bristow refers to them), played quite visible roles in the procurement and supply of prostitutes, a fact, of course, not lost on opportunists like Hitler, but also not lost on a host of concerned Jewish moralists. Bristow focuses on the stories of many individuals and organizations that mobilized in Europe, North and South America to confront it… Our concern is with the likely impact on the moral climate that bred important Jewish cultural figures, notably, Karl Kraus, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Simone Weil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Otto Weininger. We suspect a great deal of what is usually dismissed as pathological self-hate and misogyny in these and many other Jewish intellectuals of the time would benefit from being viewed against still largely ignored episodes like this in Jewish history.

Pappenheim put her finger on it: Not to do something about it was to appear complicit in the eyes of anti-Semites, who scarcely needed another excuse. But to face the fact that Jews were prominently involved in a business popularly viewed as the lowest of the low and openly inveigh against it and even instigate efforts at curbing it was to seriously risk not only drawing the unwanted attention of anti-Semites but also awakening the ancient, always latent reactionary specter of Semitic self-flagellation.

In particular, if Weininger, a Jew and, seemingly, everybody’s favorite self-incriminator, linked women and Jews by placing them on the same amoral level, we think it is not from any irrational hatred of the Jew or woman in (or out) of himself, but from a genuine concern for their predicament, even as he sought to call attention to the largely unpracticed ideals of the Aryan male. He sought to do this in a (perhaps at first sight) paradoxical way: by showing that only males, Aryan males, especially, were capable of true morality, that is to say, because the two go hand in hand—immorality.

The benefactor and/or victim of a qualified moral agent is—in his or her capacity as such—amoral. The chronically so are chronically so. When Weininger seemed to be pointing up deficiency in women and Jews, he was in fact railing against a world that had come to accept that they not only were but should be lacking. The prevailing morality of that world was undeniably male. Weininger reacted by spelling out the consequences of that morality. The ideal was virtually not of this world in its divinity, and the reality was genital deep in hypocrisy.

He all but did for morality what Kierkegaard had earlier for Christendom: run it up a tree.

Posted by luno in philosophy and sex, anti-Semitism, prostitution, female criminality, philosophical hatred, Weininger (Tuesday March 28, 2006 at 1:39 pm)

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