Gustav Struve as Jewish Rights Activist
Despite Gustav Struve's prominence in histories of the German revolutions of 1848-49 as one of the main military and political leaders of the three uprisings in Baden, and as one of Germany's most renowned radical liberal activists of the pre-revolutionary decade, his ideas about Jewish-Christian relations have never been discussed by historians. Indeed, Struve's religious attitudes in general have received only cursory, and often inarticulate, attention in the extensive literature devoted to his political efforts. Yet religious issues were of primary concern to Struve in the years before the Baden revolutions--he was an active member of the dissenting German-Catholic congregation in his home town of Mannheim--and, although his specific interest in Jewish issues dropped away, religious matters in general continued to preoccupy him throughout his post-revolutionary exile in the United States.
Much like utopian socialists in France and England, Struve advanced a "religion of love" and believed that the kingdom of God was meant to be realized on earth. His efforts to improve Jewish-Christian relations were inseparable from his concern to recall Christianity to its own origins as a radically humanitarian and social justice-oriented religion.. Christians, he believed, needed to atone for their historical subjection of Jews. While most non-Jews of his day--whether of not they claimed to favor an expansion of Jewish rights--demanded that Jews prove themselves worthy of emancipation by becoming more similar to Christians, Struve insisted that it was Christians, not Jews, who needed to change.
Struve's first and fullest articulation of his views on Jewish-Christian relations appeared in the form of a five-act tragic drama, Die Verfolgung der Juden durch Emicho (1841), inspired perhaps by G. E. Lessing's similar and obviously much more successful Nathan the Wise. Set in the city of Trier in the year 1096, the story was based on a real event that occurred in the midst of the First Crusade--the slaughtering of Jews in Trier and other Rhenish cities by a band of German crusaders on their way to Jerusalem, a band led by Count Emicho of Leiningen. The melodramatic plot was filled with political intrigues, an evil archbishop, and Christian-Jewish love affairs.
Despite its eleventh-century focus, the drama gave substantial evidence of nineteenth-century concerns. It offered Struve an excellent vehicle to present not only encapsulated versions of nineteenth-century debates about Jewish-Christian relations, but also of intra-Jewish disputes over how much to assimilate to Christian society, and of the intensifying conflicts between ultramontanist and humanist Christians that would in 1845 lead to the emergence of the German-Catholic dissenting movement. Furthermore, precisely in its relentless sentimentality, it underscored the depth of Christian radicals' faith in the transformative power of love and also handily expressed Struve's overarching argument: Total solidarity with the oppressed, a solidarity extending to the creation of new families by adoption and marriage--in which, significantly, everyone would nonetheless retain their own religious affiliation--was the only proper response to the religious persecution of others. Given the bouts of anti-Jewish violence recurring in Baden in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the persistent foot-dragging of the otherwise famously liberal parliamentarians in the Lower Chamber of the Baden diet whenever the subject of Jewish emancipation was broached, this was radical indeed.
Struve's journalistic writings of the 1840s also give evidence of his concern for Jewish emancipation. In an 1845 essay "About the legal situation of those who confess the Mosaic faith," for example, he criticized "the false liberalism, which itself wants to have all possible freedom, but wants to concede as little as possible to one's neighbor, that is, one's rival." Similarly, in 1846--castigating Mannheim's liberal bourgeoisie for excluding Jews from the town's main social club and its elite girls' schools--Struve declared the "whoever bows down before the narrow-minded views of zealots, who does not have the courage to resist them without being worried about endangering his own popularity, he may be a good party-man, a man of freedom and justice he will never be." Struve clearly found mainstream liberals' inconsistencies when it came to the question of Jewish rights indicative of a larger tendency towards hypocrisy and cowardice.
Struve was one of very few non-Jews who saw that political equality for Jews, while crucial, would be inadequate to bring an end to anti-Jewish attitudes. The only real solution would be to bring Jews and Christians together socially so that personal intimacy could be developed. In this spirit, he himself repeatedly worked together with Jewish intellectuals and activists. For example, his first effort as a political journalist, in 1843, had been to join Berthold Auerbach and Gabriel Riesser in publishing the Konstitutionelle Jahrbücher in Stuttgart. In pre-revolutionary Mannheim, he repeatedly organized political actions together with the Jewish lawyer Elias Eller, and he was involved in proto-political clubs like the Mannheim Turnverein and the "Club for the advancement of the welfare of the laboring classes" that had both Jewish and gentile members.
It was only the founding of the dissenting congregation in 1845, however, which provided Struve with a real opportunity to turn his theoretical commitment into practical reality. Jews regularly attended services and the congregation's preacher and leader, Carl Scholl, was extraordinarily committed to making them feel welcome in the congregation--redefining communion as a "love-meal" and making Jewish-Christian reconciliation a frequent theme in his sermons. An even more important forum for such work was the Mannheim Monday Club Struve and Scholl founded together in February 1847. For over a year, it brought together Jews and Christians, women and men, for mutual discussion and instruction about religious matters. In short, while Jews and Christians cooperated in various Mannheim clubs, it was only the specifically religious forums of the dissenting congregation of the Monday Club that made closer relations between Jews and Christians one of their explicit goals.
Precisely as Struve was finding more concrete ways to bring Jews and Christians together, however, there were also moments when his increasing impatience with traditionalist religions of any sort led him to shift away from the respect for religious diversity expressed in his fiction to a rather more authoritarian demand that Jews give up their common project. This attitude owed much to a simplistic progressivism inherited from the Enlightenment and shared by many of the dissenters--a conviction that history inevitably was moving forward from Judaism through Christianity to rationalism; Jews who adhered to their Judaism thus seemed doubly "backward."
The ambiguities of Struve's views thus point to a larger fundamental contradiction within the Enlightenment project as it was carried forth into the nineteenth century--a persistent difficulty in coming to terms with difference, an almost irresolvable vacillation between tolerance and intolerance. It was nonetheless incontrovertibly unfortunate t hat the German revolutions' introduction of political equality for all regardless of religious affiliation was accompanied by the marginalization of efforts like the Monday Club. Whatever Struve's conceptual shortcomings, the later development of gentile-Jewish relations in Germany suggests just how tragic it was that, as Struve's friend Scholl lamented, "the political revolt pushed these efforts directed chiefly towards spiritual and personal closeness into the background."
Herzog, Dagmar. Intimacy and Exclusion: Religious Politics in Baden 1803-1849: Princeton University Press, 1996.
jgc revised this file (http://www.ohiou.edu/~chastain/rz/strg.htm) on October 26, 2004.
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© 1998, 2004 James Chastain.