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Stefan Zweig’s Struggle with Nietzsche and the Daimonic Spirit

Stefan Zweig was a prolific Austrian author of novels, short stories, plays and biographies. He was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna in November 1881 and committed suicide in Petrópolis, Brazil, in February 1942.

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Zweig Photo

 Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

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Zweig developed a fascination with Friedrich Nietzsche when he was a student at the Maximilian gymnasium (school) in Vienna. According to Zweig’s autobiography, The World of Yesterday, and his examination of Nietzsche in Der Kampf mit dem Dämon (The Struggle with the Daemon), the gymnasium provided a “treadmill” of learning which was designed to suppress the exuberant spirit of youth. Zweig cast about for solace and found it in Nietzsche’s books. These he discussed at coffee houses and read under the desk as his teacher “delivered his time-worn lecture.” It was the rebellious nature of Nietzsche that attracted Zweig. According to Zweig, Nietzsche chose to “kick over the traces of his official duties and, with a sigh of relief, quit the chair of philology at Basel University.” Having broken the “shackles which bound him to the past” he was ready to become “an outlaw, an amoralist, a sceptic, a poet, a musician.” Ironically the gymnasium’s oppressive regime provided the fertile environment necessary for Nietzsche’s influence to take hold of Zweig, and consequently he developed a “hatred for all authority” and a “passion to be free – vehement to a degree” that was, according to Zweig, “scarcely known to present-day youth.”

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 Nietzsche PictureFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

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The aspect of Nietzsche that appealed most to Zweig was his so-called “Dionysian” spirit. Zweig’s examination of Nietzsche in The Struggle with the Daemon was, as he acknowledged, not so much a biography as a portrait of a life as “a tragedy of the spirit, as a work of dramatic art.” It was “the fact that his daimonic nature was given free reign,” despite the inherent self destructive risk, that appealed to Zweig. This he felt transformed Nietzsche’s destiny into “legendary wonder.” Zweig repeatedly contrasted Nietzsche with Goethe. He suggested that Goethe also had a daimonic spirit, but that he recognised it and kept it under tight control, so that he could “be the ruler of his own destiny.” According to Zweig, as a rule “the thralls of the daimon were torn to pieces,” but Goethe opposed or subdued the “Dionysian disposition,” and “having subdued the daimon, was self-controlled to the end.” For Zweig this made Goethe a less interesting character than Nietzsche. However, in placing the unrestrained Dionysian spirit on a pedestal, Zweig ignored a critical aspect of Nietzsche’s own philosophy. Nietzsche developed a complex vision of two contrasting human drives. According to Nietzsche, the “Apollonian” exemplified the principle of individuation; the distinct, well ordered, disciplined, coldly logical, restrained and carefully bounded nature of individual existence. Conversely, the “Dionysian” exemplified the collapse of the principle of individuation: passion, intoxication, ecstasy, primal savagery and the dissolution of the boundaries that keep the individual distinct from nature. Whilst Nietzsche regarded neither the Apollonian nor Dionysian drives as healthy in isolation, he did emphasise the Dionysian spirit as the key to cultural regeneration in The Birth of Tragedy. However, Nietzsche later warned that this Dionysian spirit, though crucially important, should be tempered by the Apollonian.

Despite Zweig’s admiration of the Dionysian spirit, his portrait of Nietzsche was not without a measure of equivocation. He suggested in The Struggle with the Daemon that Nietzsche (along with Hölderlin and Kleist) was a thrall, “possessed … by a higher power, the daimonic.” This daimonic nature impelled him “towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.”  He argued that this spirit enabled his mind to reach new heights but that ultimately it destroyed him. While Zweig admired Nietzsche’s spirit he also recognised the surface reality of his life. Nietzsche worshiped amor fati, happiness and good health. Yet as Zweig showed, the reality was that he was also a lonely man, constantly ill, reliant on tinctures and medicaments, unhappy and timid in his everyday dealings with other people.

Despite this equivocation, Zweig’s life would suggest that he did more than pay lip service to Nietzsche’s Dionysian ideal. He glorified composers, poets and writers, infused his own prolific works with his emotional life, and deployed his art as his primary response to the suffering and catastrophes of his time. Zweig informs us that “Nietzsche wished neither to better the world nor to inform the world.” “His ecstasy was,” Zweig suggested, “an end in itself, a delight sufficient in itself, a personal voluptuousness, wholly egoistical and elementary.” Zweig likewise privileged the artistic spirit as a superior end in itself over active worldly participation. He regarded Erasmus of Rotterdam as an example of the anti-fanatical life par excellence, a man to whom “artistic achievement and inner peace is the most important thing on earth.” He suggested that Jews should refrain from pursuing political goals and solutions which only draw attention and increase antisemitism, and instead follow the example of Erasmus. This, Zweig suggested, was his “own way of life symbolized.”

Zweig had always been a pacifist. During the First World War he felt that his pacifism demanded that he use his pen in solidarity with the innocent victims of the conflict. Consequently he worked with Romain Rolland and other literary figures to develop a peace campaign in Switzerland. However, by the time the Nazis rose to power, his pacifism had warped into a paralyzing passivity. Such was his interpretation of Erasmus’s way of life. This probably explains why Zweig refused requests from his friends during the early 1930s to write anything against fascism and Nazism. Referring to an operatic project he had collaborated on with Richard Strauss (Zweig wrote the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau), he observed in The World of Yesterday that “from all quarters friends urged me to protest publicly against a performance in National Socialist Germany.” He refused to protest, stating that he “fundamentally” loathed “public and pathetic gestures.” According to one of his biographers, Donald Prater, when Zweig was encouraged by his friend Ernst Fischer to write an article against fascism, he felt unable to comply, feeling that it was the author’s duty in such times to publish only things that were “inspiring and satisfying.”

Zweig’s failure to deploy his pen against fascism and antisemitism can be contrasted with Nietzsche. Nietzsche was ambivalent if not hostile about Judaism and Christianity as cultural systems (he regarded both as forms of slave morality), but he praised and defended Jews qua Jews. For example, in Beyond Good and Evil (§251), he described Jews as “the strongest, toughest, and purest people now living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions,” and he envisaged an important role for Jews in the regeneration of European culture. He stated that “to that end it might be useful and fair to expel the anti-Semitic screamers from the country.” Nietzsche expressed similar sentiments in Human, All-Too-Human (§475) and Daybreak (§205). In a letter to his sister around Christmas 1887, Nietzsche stated that he was filled with “ire or melancholy” over her marriage to “an anti-Semitic chief.” He even stated in a letter to Franz Overbeck in January 1889, shortly after the beginning of his psychological breakdown, that he was having all “anti-Semites shot”.

Zweig’s Dionysian ideal had a dark side. According to Friderike Zweig (Friderike was Stefan’s first wife and his close friend even after he remarried), he was “interested in mediocre, stupid or luke-warm people only if they were suffering.” Friderike observed that he depicted “illiterates as mental cripples, unable to grasp the breadth of the universe,” and considered “average people as a ‘quantité négligeable’”. According to Friderike, in this respect, he “contradicted his otherwise humane approach” (in Friderike Zweig’s biography: Stefan Zweig). Something of this can be seen in Erasmus, in which Stefan blamed the “broad masses of the people” for preventing his hero’s “lofty and humane ideals of spiritual understanding” from coming to fruition. The “average man,” he concluded, was too far “under the spell of hatred, which demands its rights to the detriment of loving-kindness.”

Zweig’s air of superiority over the “average” or “illiterate” man can also be found in his Schachnovelle (1942; published as The Royal Game in 1944 and subsequently as Chess or Chess Story). In this novella, Czentovic, an almost unbeatable chess playing prodigy, is depicted as the antithesis of Zweig’s Dionysian ideal. Czentovic is portrayed as a “half-illiterate” simpleton, “indolent,” “slow-speaking,” “narrow-minded,” with a “vulgar greed,” ignorant “in every field of culture,” unable “to write a single sentence in any language without misspelling a word,” and completely lacking in “imaginative power.” However, eminent intellectuals who were “his superior in brains, imagination, and audacity” all collapsed before his “tough, cold logic.” This depiction of the one dimensional simpleton, a pure Apollonian with no Dionysian spirit, stands in contrast to the tragic culture loving “Dr B.” Dr B is presented as having suffered a prolonged isolation at the hands of the Nazis resulting in a psychological breakdown. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this was clearly based upon Zweig’s perception of his own experience of isolation in Brazil. Dr B, now free from his isolation in the hotel room, challenges and at first manages to defeat the chess prodigy, but Czentovic adapts to his new opponent. Recognizing Dr B’s psychological fragility, he adopts an infuriating slow pace in order to break him. In the rematch, Dr B is not only defeated but driven to the brink of madness by Czentovic’s relentless but snail paced logic. Dr B’s Dionysian spirit is crushed by the cold Apollonian logic and brutal psychology of his supposedly inferior opponent.

Zweig’s so-called “humane approach,” which privileged those with an artistic spirit over the “illiterate” and “average” person, had more than a passing resemblance to Nietzsche’s portrayal of “noble” benevolence. In On the Genealogy of Morals (bk I, §10-11), Nietzsche expressed admiration for the “nobility” who employ “benevolent nuances” in their dealings with the so-called “lower orders”. According to Nietzsche, these lower orders are driven by the “venomous eye of ressentiment.” Zweig similarly suggested that the “average man” was “under the spell of hatred.” Conversely, they both believed that the so-called noble man, with his Dionysian artistic spirit, is able to consider those unlike him with a benign forbearance, as merely “bad” rather than “evil.” Zweig’s intoxication with freedom, his consistent dissolution of the boundaries between art and life, and his compassionate but disdainfully patronising attitude towards so-called “average” people, does seem to fit with Nietzsche’s Dionysian ideal, though crucially he ignored Nietzsche’s later observation that it was dangerous not to temper it with Apollonian self control.

Jacob Golomb argued in “Stefan Zweig: The Jewish Tragedy of a Nietzschean ‘Free Spirit’” that Zweig’s suicide was the result of “his indefatigable determination to subsist all his life as a ‘pure’ Nietzschean.” Golomb observes that “speaking of Nietzsche’s aversion to pity, Zweig continues to refer to him as to ‘the most brilliant man of the last century.’” However, Zweig in fact developed an ambivalent rather than purist attitude towards Nietzsche. The short extract, “the most brilliant man of the last century,” is found in his novel Beware of Pity (1939). The full passage from this novel reveals an abhorrence to Nietzsche’s aversion to pity rather than, as Golomb implies, a sympathy for it: “But you’ll never get me to utter the word ‘incurable.’ Never! I know that it is to the most brilliant man of the last century, Nietzsche, that we owe the horrible aphorism: a doctor should never try to cure the incurable. But that is about the most fallacious proposition of all the paradoxical and dangerous propositions he propounded. The exact opposite is the truth.” Unlike Dr. Condor, the character in the novel that articulates this sentiment, Zweig did not have the emotional resources to attempt to cure the incurable. This does not demonstrate, as Golomb suggests, the “bankruptcy of the existential stance of a Jewish ‘free spirit’” – but simply that Stefan Zweig lacked, like many other people of his time, the resilience necessary to deal with the catastrophe occurring in Europe. One reason for this weakness was the emotional scars he carried from the First World War. One moment Europe had been in a golden age of progress and the next it was falling apart. Zweig’s previously unflinching faith in a supra-national Europe crumbled as a consequence.

In Schachnovelle, Zweig contrasted Dr B’s isolation, forced by the Nazis to remain in a comfortable but plain hotel room for months at end with only a clandestinely hidden book of chess solutions to entertain him, with that of Jews who suffered physically in concentration camps. This comparison (in which he suggested that Dr B’s fate was worse) would seem to reveal Zweig’s inability to truly confront or understand the horrors that Jews were facing in Europe during the early 1940s. However, when Zweig wrote this novella, he, like Dr B, was on the brink of a psychological break. Shortly thereafter he committed suicide (and the novella was published posthumously). His alter-ego, Dr B, surmised that the Jews in the concentration camps at least “have seen faces, would have had space, a tree, a star, something, anything, to stare at, while here everything stood before one unchangeably the same, always the same, maddeningly the same.” Like Dr B, Zweig was unable to cope with his sense of isolation. Zweig managed to escape the Nazi plague spreading across Europe and ended up in Brazil in August 1940 (two years prior to the publication of Schachnovelle). According to Friderike Zweig (by this point Stefan’s ex-wife), he wrote to her to inform her that “the landscape was indescribably beautiful, the people charming, Europe and the war more remote.” He stated that “with a good library, life here could be very pleasant.” He expressed a similar sentiment in Brazil: A Land of the Future. According to Zweig, “the European arrogance which I had brought with me as so much superfluous luggage vanished with astonishing rapidity. I knew I had looked into the future of our world.” However, the “fairy-like Petrópolis” provided only a temporary respite. He felt guilt about the fate of the Jews he had left behind. He also felt a crushing sense of isolation. His attempts to overcome these feelings through his usual solution, the creation of uplifting literary works, failed. Like Nietzsche, Zweig was ultimately torn to pieces by his struggle with the Daemon. When he could endure these feelings no longer, he committed suicide.

Cecil Roth, Arthur Day and the Mortara Affair (1928-1930)

In June 1929, Father Arthur Day, an English Jesuit, the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel, and author of several booklets and articles on converting the Jews, published an article on the Mortara Affair in the The Month (the periodical of the English Jesuits): Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and later became a Catholic priest. For a detailed examination of the Mortara Affair as it unfolded in the 1850s, see the following excellent book by Professor David Kertzer: The Kidnapping of Edgardo MortaraFor responses to the abduction in the English Catholic Tablet newspaper at the time, please see my blog post entitled “The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)”.

Incidentally, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link]. This has spurred the publication of an English translation of the until recently unpublished memoirs of Edgardo Mortara with an introduction by Vittorio Messori defending Pius IX’s abduction of the young Jewish child [link], as well a series of online review articles and responses by those who support (e.g. Romanus Cessario in First Things) or abhor this defence of Pius IX (e.g. Robert T. Miller in Public Discourse). [See also Armin Rosen in Tablet Magazine for a brief survey of the recent responses].

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Edgardo Mortara Painting

Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). See Maya Benton’s article (link)

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Returning to the subject in hand, Father Day wrote his article about the Mortara Affair after a heated altercation on the subject of forced baptisms with the prominent Anglo-Jewish scholar, Cecil Roth, in the pages of the Jewish Guardian. Cecil Roth had presented a lecture at the Jewish Historical Society of England in December 1928 on “the Last Phase in Spain.” According to the Jewish Chronicle, Roth discussed the persecution of Jews in Spain at the end of the fourteenth century, the institution of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Roth explained that a series of massacres in 1391 sapped the will of the Jews in Spain, and that “the number of those killed in these massacres was as nothing compared with the number of those who submitted to mass conversion in order to save their lives.” “Jewish History in Spain,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 December 1928, 10.

Father Day attended Roth’s lecture and a heated debate apparently ensued between them on the subject of forced baptisms (according to the Jewish Guardian, Day raised objections to Roth’s “historiography”; Day denied this, stating that he was not “conscious of having objected to the lecturer’s ‘historiography,'” but rather simply asked Roth a “few questions” which “resulted in a friendly argument”). “Dr. Cecil Roth and Father Day,” Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12, and Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 31 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4.

JG - Dr Cecil Roth and Father Day - 28 Dec 1928, p.12-page-0JG - Dr Roth and Father Day - 4 Jan 1929-page-0

Jewish Guardian: 28 December 1928, p.12 and 4 January 1929, p.4.

After the lecture, Day wrote a letter to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928. His letter explained that whilst under normal circumstances (“cases less urgent”), the permission of the parents must be obtained before baptising Jewish children, in the exceptional circumstance in which “an unbaptized person is in danger of death, baptism, which we regard as of primary importance for salvation, should, if possible, be conferred.” Day argued that the Mortara family had “broken the law in having a Catholic servant in their household, and so to some extent they brought the trouble on themselves.” He also invoked a traditional anti-Masonic narrative, claiming that the opposition to Mortara’s removal from his parents was “to a great extent of the anti-Popery and Continental freemason type.” Cecil Roth subsequently published Father Day’s letter (without first asking Day’s permission) in the Jewish Guardian. Letter from Arthur F. Day to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12.

After Roth published Father Day’s letter, Day in turn published the rest of the correspondence between them (two letters from Day, dated 21 December and 26 December 1928, and two letters from Roth, dated 23 December and 28 December 1928) in the next issue of the Jewish Guardian. See “Dr. Roth and Father Day: Further Correspondence on the Mortara Case,” Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4. See also Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 14 January 1929, Jewish Guardian, 18 January 1929, 9.

Roth was not impressed by Day’s arguments. In a letter dated 19 December 1928, he noted that the young Mortara was only two or three years of age at the time he was baptized, and that the “ceremony of baptism was a merest travesty, having been performed with ordinary water and by an uneducated servant girl.” In a letter dated 23 December, he stated that he had “no desire nor intention to protract correspondence upon an episode the facts of which are quite clear. Those who, like myself, respect the noble traditions of the Catholic Church can only look forward to the day when this outrage upon humanity will be buried in oblivion.” Whilst Father Day was eager to keep the conversation alive, Roth correctly observed that Day distorted the facts, and that there was therefore little to be gained in continuing the correspondence. After writing his own short essay on the history of forced baptisms and the Mortara Affair, published on 11 January 1929, Roth concluded with the following statement: “I have no intention to protract the correspondence upon this question between myself and Father Day. But it may be noticed en passant that there are curious discrepancies between the singularly unconvincing facts which he cites in the name of the Jewish Encyclopedia and what is to be found in the ordinary editions of that work.” Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 19 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 23 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4; Cecil Roth, “Forced Baptisms: A Chapter of Persecution,” Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, page 7 and page 8.

JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.7-page-0JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.8-page-0

Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, pp.7-8.

Day subsequently published his article defending the Mortara abduction in The Month in June 1929, informing his readers that it should not be “impossible for Jews to realize the importance we attach to baptism seeing that they, if at all orthodox, regard circumcision as a religious ordinance of the very first rank.” He rejected Roth’s argument that the baptism was a “ridiculous travesty,” noting that “it should occur to anyone at all experienced in historical research that the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition is a fairly competent body which may be trusted to decide whether a clinical baptism has been correctly performed.” The crux of Day’s argument was that “if an infant is in serious danger of death, theologians teach that it should be baptised even without the consent of the parents.” He clarified that this “apparent overriding of parental rights” was explained and justified by the Catholic belief that “under such circumstances this sacrament is of eternal importance to the child, and to withhold it, when there is the opportunity of bestowing it, would be a violation of the law of charity.” According to Day, it is laid down as a “general rule” that in the instances where this occurs with “Hebrew infants,” with the child having been “validly” even if “illicitly” baptised, then they must be “separated from their relations and educated in the Christian faith. The parents, even though they may make promises, cannot be trusted in such a matter to fulfil them. The injury done to them is not so great as that which would be done to the dying child if the sacrament which opens heaven were withheld.” Father Day observed that “Dr. Cecil Roth persisted in inveighing against the inhumanity of the papal procedure and refused to consider what we might call for the moment, in deference to his view, the extenuating circumstances.” He described his “duel” with Cecil Roth as a “useful object-lesson regarding Jewish mentality when confronted by the Catholic claim.” As he had in his letter dated 13 December 1928, he suggested that the Mortara outcry and agitation was “set on foot” by “Protestants”, “Freemasons” and the “riffraff of the revolutionary parties.” Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

On 18 September 1929, Arthur day visited the nearly 80-year old Edgardo Mortara (by then Father Mortara, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran) at his “monastic home” just outside Liège. In 1930, he appended an account of this visit to the article he had written for The Month. This was published as a 28-page Catholic Guild of Israel booklet by the Catholic Truth Society.  In this, Arthur Day observed that Father Mortara’s “buoyant and enthusiastic temperament is so prone to exult at the memory of the great deliverance and the many graces and favours that followed it, that it is not easy to get from him the sort of information that is dear to reporters. He is so full of fervour and fire that it is difficult for him to adapt himself to a matter-of-fact enquirer. Nobody could be more obliging: his Prior said to me of him, using a French proverb: ‘If it could give pleasure to anyone he would gladly be cut into four.'” Arthur Day recorded that Father Mortara told him that he became a member of his religious order early in his life because he felt that “God has given me such great graces; I must belong entirely to him.” A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1930), 17-19. He also wrote to Cecil Roth to present him with a copy of the booklet, and he noted at the end of the booklet that “it is pleasant to record that Dr. Roth … acknowledged the receipt of a copy in a kindly and friendly tone.” Letter from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 19 June 1930, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220; A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery, 28.

In 1936, Cecil Roth published a book presenting a short history of the Jewish people. In this book, he mentioned in passing the Mortara Affair. He stated that in 1858, a “wave of indignation swept through Europe by reason of the kidnapping at Bologna (still under Papal rule) of a six-year-old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, on the pretext that he had been submitted to some sort of baptismal ceremony by a servant-girl four years previous.” In May 1936, Father Day was reported (in the Catholic Herald) as saying that “there is undeniably much anti-Christian and still more anti-Catholic bigotry among the London Jews.” He probably had Cecil Roth’s comments about the Mortara Affair in mind when he added that “in spite of appalling ignorance, they pose as competent critics of Catholic theology. The puerility of it passes comprehension; and yet it is among the intelligentsia that one finds the worst offenders.” A few weeks later, on 2 June 1936, Father Day wrote to Cecil Roth about his short history of the Jewish people, stating that he “found much to admire, but also some portions distinctly less admirable.” Unsurprisingly, the portions that Day found “less admirable” were those relating to the Mortara Affair. Day argued that “‘kidnapping’ is not the right word” because “at that time and in that place it was a legal act.” He also stated that the baptism performed by the young Catholic maid was “a valid clinical baptism” and “not a pretext.” It was, he suggested, not merely a pretext for abduction but a genuine reason. Cecil Roth must have replied to Day (letter not found), because Father Day sent him another letter on 10 June 1936, thanking him for acknowledging his letter. In this second letter, Day suggested that it was not a kidnapping because “the Oxford Dictionary … defines ‘kidnapping’ as ‘carrying off a child by illegal force'” (the emphasis by underlining was Father Day’s). Day concluded that “if a modern incident can be so maltreated, what about the poor old Middle Ages!” See Cecil Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People (London: Macmillan and Company, 1936), 378; “Jews and Christians: A Priest’s Experience,” Catholic Herald, 15 May 1936, 2; Letters from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 2 June 1936 (with attached note) and 10 June 1936, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220.

In 1953, Cecil Roth returned to the Mortara Affair. He noted that “Modern apologists endeavoured to justify what occurred by calling attention to the breach of the law committed by the Mortara family in having a Christian servant in their employment at all, and by pointing out that on the capture of Rome twelve years later, after having been sedulously kept away from all Jewish influence during the most impressionable years of his life, Edgardo Mortara neglected the opportunity to return to his ancestral faith.” Roth referred to the controversy with Father Day which began in 1928, observing that Day later wrote to him in response to his A Short History of the Jewish People (i.e. Day’s letter of 2 June 1936), “indignantly protesting against my statement that Edgardo Mortara was ‘kidnapped.'” Roth was understandably surprised and frustrated that Father Day believed it was in any sense a creditable defence of the kidnapping that the six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, as a result of being illicitly baptised as a baby by a servant girl, had been “removed from his parents’ custody by process of the law!” Cecil Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953), 273-274.

Cecil Roth, Arthur Day and the Mortara Affair (1928-1930)

In June 1929, Father Arthur Day, an English Jesuit, the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel, and author of several booklets and articles on converting the Jews, published an article on the Mortara Affair in the The Month (the periodical of the English Jesuits): Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and later became a Catholic priest. For a detailed examination of the Mortara Affair as it unfolded in the 1850s, see the following excellent book by Professor David Kertzer: The Kidnapping of Edgardo MortaraFor responses to the abduction in the English Catholic Tablet newspaper at the time, please see my blog post entitled “The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)”.

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Edgardo Mortara Painting

Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). See Maya Benton’s article (link)

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Father Day wrote his article about the Mortara Affair after a heated altercation on the subject of forced baptisms with the prominent Anglo-Jewish scholar, Cecil Roth, in the pages of the Jewish Guardian. Cecil Roth had presented a lecture at the Jewish Historical Society of England in December 1928 on “the Last Phase in Spain.” According to the Jewish Chronicle, Roth discussed the persecution of Jews in Spain at the end of the fourteenth century, the institution of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Roth explained that a series of massacres in 1391 sapped the will of the Jews in Spain, and that “the number of those killed in these massacres was as nothing compared with the number of those who submitted to mass conversion in order to save their lives.” “Jewish History in Spain,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 December 1928, 10.

Father Day attended Roth’s lecture and a heated debate apparently ensued between them on the subject of forced baptisms (according to the Jewish Guardian, Day raised objections to Roth’s “historiography”; Day denied this, stating that he was not “conscious of having objected to the lecturer’s ‘historiography,'” but rather simply asked Roth a “few questions” which “resulted in a friendly argument”). “Dr. Cecil Roth and Father Day,” Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12, and Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 31 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4.

JG - Dr Cecil Roth and Father Day - 28 Dec 1928, p.12-page-0JG - Dr Roth and Father Day - 4 Jan 1929-page-0

Jewish Guardian: 28 December 1928, p.12 and 4 January 1929, p.4.

After the lecture, Day wrote a letter to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928. His letter explained that whilst under normal circumstances (“cases less urgent”), the permission of the parents must be obtained before baptising Jewish children, in the exceptional circumstance in which “an unbaptized person is in danger of death, baptism, which we regard as of primary importance for salvation, should, if possible, be conferred.” Day argued that the Mortara family had “broken the law in having a Catholic servant in their household, and so to some extent they brought the trouble on themselves.” He also invoked a traditional anti-Masonic narrative, claiming that the opposition to Mortara’s removal from his parents was “to a great extent of the anti-Popery and Continental freemason type.” Cecil Roth subsequently published Father Day’s letter (without first asking Day’s permission) in the Jewish Guardian. Letter from Arthur F. Day to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12.

After Roth published Father Day’s letter, Day in turn published the rest of the correspondence between them (two letters from Day, dated 21 December and 26 December 1928, and two letters from Roth, dated 23 December and 28 December 1928) in the next issue of the Jewish Guardian. See “Dr. Roth and Father Day: Further Correspondence on the Mortara Case,” Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4. See also Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 14 January 1929, Jewish Guardian, 18 January 1929, 9.

Roth was not impressed by Day’s arguments. In a letter dated 19 December 1928, he noted that the young Mortara was only two or three years of age at the time he was baptized, and that the “ceremony of baptism was a merest travesty, having been performed with ordinary water and by an uneducated servant girl.” In a letter dated 23 December, he stated that he had “no desire nor intention to protract correspondence upon an episode the facts of which are quite clear. Those who, like myself, respect the noble traditions of the Catholic Church can only look forward to the day when this outrage upon humanity will be buried in oblivion.” Whilst Father Day was eager to keep the conversation alive, Roth correctly observed that Day distorted the facts, and that there was therefore little to be gained in continuing the correspondence. After writing his own short essay on the history of forced baptisms and the Mortara Affair, published on 11 January 1929, Roth concluded with the following statement: “I have no intention to protract the correspondence upon this question between myself and Father Day. But it may be noticed en passant that there are curious discrepancies between the singularly unconvincing facts which he cites in the name of the Jewish Encyclopedia and what is to be found in the ordinary editions of that work.” Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 19 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 23 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4; Cecil Roth, “Forced Baptisms: A Chapter of Persecution,” Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, page 7 and page 8.

JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.7-page-0JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.8-page-0

Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, pp.7-8.

Day subsequently published his article defending the Mortara abduction in The Month in June 1929, informing his readers that it should not be “impossible for Jews to realize the importance we attach to baptism seeing that they, if at all orthodox, regard circumcision as a religious ordinance of the very first rank.” He rejected Roth’s argument that the baptism was a “ridiculous travesty,” noting that “it should occur to anyone at all experienced in historical research that the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition is a fairly competent body which may be trusted to decide whether a clinical baptism has been correctly performed.” The crux of Day’s argument was that “if an infant is in serious danger of death, theologians teach that it should be baptised even without the consent of the parents.” He clarified that this “apparent overriding of parental rights” was explained and justified by the Catholic belief that “under such circumstances this sacrament is of eternal importance to the child, and to withhold it, when there is the opportunity of bestowing it, would be a violation of the law of charity.” According to Day, it is laid down as a “general rule” that in the instances where this occurs with “Hebrew infants,” with the child having been “validly” even if “illicitly” baptised, then they must be “separated from their relations and educated in the Christian faith. The parents, even though they may make promises, cannot be trusted in such a matter to fulfil them. The injury done to them is not so great as that which would be done to the dying child if the sacrament which opens heaven were withheld.” Father Day observed that “Dr. Cecil Roth persisted in inveighing against the inhumanity of the papal procedure and refused to consider what we might call for the moment, in deference to his view, the extenuating circumstances.” He described his “duel” with Cecil Roth as a “useful object-lesson regarding Jewish mentality when confronted by the Catholic claim.” As he had in his letter dated 13 December 1928, he suggested that the Mortara outcry and agitation was “set on foot” by “Protestants”, “Freemasons” and the “riffraff of the revolutionary parties.” Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

On 18 September 1929, Arthur day visited the nearly 80-year old Edgardo Mortara (by then Father Mortara, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran) at his “monastic home” just outside Liège. In 1930, he appended an account of this visit to the article he had written for The Month. This was published as a 28-page Catholic Guild of Israel booklet by the Catholic Truth Society.  In this, Arthur Day observed that Father Mortara’s “buoyant and enthusiastic temperament is so prone to exult at the memory of the great deliverance and the many graces and favours that followed it, that it is not easy to get from him the sort of information that is dear to reporters. He is so full of fervour and fire that it is difficult for him to adapt himself to a matter-of-fact enquirer. Nobody could be more obliging: his Prior said to me of him, using a French proverb: ‘If it could give pleasure to anyone he would gladly be cut into four.'” Arthur Day recorded that Father Mortara told him that he became a member of his religious order early in his life because he felt that “God has given me such great graces; I must belong entirely to him.” A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1930), 17-19. He also wrote to Cecil Roth to present him with a copy of the booklet, and he noted at the end of the booklet that “it is pleasant to record that Dr. Roth … acknowledged the receipt of a copy in a kindly and friendly tone.” Letter from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 19 June 1930, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220; A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery, 28.

In 1936, Cecil Roth published a book presenting a short history of the Jewish people. In this book, he mentioned in passing the Mortara Affair. He stated that in 1858, a “wave of indignation swept through Europe by reason of the kidnapping at Bologna (still under Papal rule) of a six-year-old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, on the pretext that he had been submitted to some sort of baptismal ceremony by a servant-girl four years previous.” In May 1936, Father Day was reported (in the Catholic Herald) as saying that “there is undeniably much anti-Christian and still more anti-Catholic bigotry among the London Jews.” He probably had Cecil Roth’s comments about the Mortara Affair in mind when he added that “in spite of appalling ignorance, they pose as competent critics of Catholic theology. The puerility of it passes comprehension; and yet it is among the intelligentsia that one finds the worst offenders.” A few weeks later, on 2 June 1936, Father Day wrote to Cecil Roth about his short history of the Jewish people, stating that he “found much to admire, but also some portions distinctly less admirable.” Unsurprisingly, the portions that Day found “less admirable” were those relating to the Mortara Affair. Day argued that “‘kidnapping’ is not the right word” because “at that time and in that place it was a legal act.” He also stated that the baptism performed by the young Catholic maid was “a valid clinical baptism” and “not a pretext.” It was, he suggested, not merely a pretext for abduction but a genuine reason. Cecil Roth must have replied to Day (letter not found), because Father Day sent him another letter on 10 June 1936, thanking him for acknowledging his letter. In this second letter, Day suggested that it was not a kidnapping because “the Oxford Dictionary … defines ‘kidnapping’ as ‘carrying off a child by illegal force'” (the emphasis by underlining was Father Day’s). Day concluded that “if a modern incident can be so maltreated, what about the poor old Middle Ages!” See Cecil Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People (London: Macmillan and Company, 1936), 378; “Jews and Christians: A Priest’s Experience,” Catholic Herald, 15 May 1936, 2; Letters from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 2 June 1936 (with attached note) and 10 June 1936, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220.

In 1953, Cecil Roth returned to the Mortara Affair. He noted that “Modern apologists endeavoured to justify what occurred by calling attention to the breach of the law committed by the Mortara family in having a Christian servant in their employment at all, and by pointing out that on the capture of Rome twelve years later, after having been sedulously kept away from all Jewish influence during the most impressionable years of his life, Edgardo Mortara neglected the opportunity to return to his ancestral faith.” Roth referred to the controversy with Father Day which began in 1928, observing that Day later wrote to him in response to his A Short History of the Jewish People (i.e. Day’s letter of 2 June 1936), “indignantly protesting against my statement that Edgardo Mortara was ‘kidnapped.'” Roth was understandably surprised and frustrated that Father Day believed it was in any sense a creditable defence of the kidnapping that the six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, as a result of being illicitly baptised as a baby by a servant girl, had been “removed from his parents’ custody by process of the law!” Cecil Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953), 273-274.

As a postscript, according to reports on the internet, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link]..

Stefan Zweig’s Struggle with Nietzsche and the Daimonic Spirit (1881-1942)

Stefan Zweig was a prolific Austrian author of novels, short stories, plays and biographies. He was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna in November 1881 and committed suicide in Petrópolis, Brazil, in February 1942.

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Zweig Photo

 Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

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Zweig developed a fascination with Friedrich Nietzsche when he was a student at the Maximilian gymnasium (school) in Vienna. According to Zweig’s autobiography, The World of Yesterday, and his examination of Nietzsche in Der Kampf mit dem Dämon (The Struggle with the Daemon), the gymnasium provided a “treadmill” of learning which was designed to suppress the exuberant spirit of youth. Zweig cast about for solace and found it in Nietzsche’s books. These he discussed at coffee houses and read under the desk as his teacher “delivered his time-worn lecture.” It was the rebellious nature of Nietzsche that attracted Zweig. According to Zweig, Nietzsche chose to “kick over the traces of his official duties and, with a sigh of relief, quit the chair of philology at Basel University.” Having broken the “shackles which bound him to the past” he was ready to become “an outlaw, an amoralist, a sceptic, a poet, a musician.” Ironically the gymnasium’s oppressive regime provided the fertile environment necessary for Nietzsche’s influence to take hold of Zweig, and consequently he developed a “hatred for all authority” and a “passion to be free – vehement to a degree” that was, according to Zweig, “scarcely known to present-day youth.”

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 Nietzsche PictureFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

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The aspect of Nietzsche that appealed most to Zweig was his so-called “Dionysian” spirit. Zweig’s examination of Nietzsche in The Struggle with the Daemon was, as he acknowledged, not so much a biography as a portrait of a life as “a tragedy of the spirit, as a work of dramatic art.” It was “the fact that his daimonic nature was given free reign,” despite the inherent self destructive risk, that appealed to Zweig. This he felt transformed Nietzsche’s destiny into “legendary wonder.” Zweig repeatedly contrasted Nietzsche with Goethe. He suggested that Goethe also had a daimonic spirit, but that he recognised it and kept it under tight control, so that he could “be the ruler of his own destiny.” According to Zweig, as a rule “the thralls of the daimon were torn to pieces,” but Goethe opposed or subdued the “Dionysian disposition,” and “having subdued the daimon, was self-controlled to the end.” For Zweig this made Goethe a less interesting character than Nietzsche. However, in placing the unrestrained Dionysian spirit on a pedestal, Zweig ignored a critical aspect of Nietzsche’s own philosophy. Nietzsche developed a complex vision of two contrasting human drives. According to Nietzsche, the “Apollonian” exemplified the principle of individuation; the distinct, well ordered, disciplined, coldly logical, restrained and carefully bounded nature of individual existence. Conversely, the “Dionysian” exemplified the collapse of the principle of individuation: passion, intoxication, ecstasy, primal savagery and the dissolution of the boundaries that keep the individual distinct from nature. Whilst Nietzsche regarded neither the Apollonian nor Dionysian drives as healthy in isolation, he did emphasise the Dionysian spirit as the key to cultural regeneration in The Birth of Tragedy. However, Nietzsche later warned that this Dionysian spirit, though crucially important, should be tempered by the Apollonian.

Despite Zweig’s admiration of the Dionysian spirit, his portrait of Nietzsche was not without a measure of equivocation. He suggested in The Struggle with the Daemon that Nietzsche (along with Hölderlin and Kleist) was a thrall, “possessed … by a higher power, the daimonic.” This daimonic nature impelled him “towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.”  He argued that this spirit enabled his mind to reach new heights but that ultimately it destroyed him. While Zweig admired Nietzsche’s spirit he also recognised the surface reality of his life. Nietzsche worshiped amor fati, happiness and good health. Yet as Zweig showed, the reality was that he was also a lonely man, constantly ill, reliant on tinctures and medicaments, unhappy and timid in his everyday dealings with other people.

Despite this equivocation, Zweig’s life would suggest that he did more than pay lip service to Nietzsche’s Dionysian ideal. He glorified composers, poets and writers, infused his own prolific works with his emotional life, and deployed his art as his primary response to the suffering and catastrophes of his time. Zweig informs us that “Nietzsche wished neither to better the world nor to inform the world.” “His ecstasy was,” Zweig suggested, “an end in itself, a delight sufficient in itself, a personal voluptuousness, wholly egoistical and elementary.” Zweig likewise privileged the artistic spirit as a superior end in itself over active worldly participation. He regarded Erasmus of Rotterdam as an example of the anti-fanatical life par excellence, a man to whom “artistic achievement and inner peace is the most important thing on earth.” He suggested that Jews should refrain from pursuing political goals and solutions which only draw attention and increase antisemitism, and instead follow the example of Erasmus. This, Zweig suggested, was his “own way of life symbolized.”

Zweig had always been a pacifist. During the First World War he felt that his pacifism demanded that he use his pen in solidarity with the innocent victims of the conflict. Consequently he worked with Romain Rolland and other literary figures to develop a peace campaign in Switzerland. However, by the time the Nazis rose to power, his pacifism had warped into a paralyzing passivity. Such was his interpretation of Erasmus’s way of life. This probably explains why Zweig refused requests from his friends during the early 1930s to write anything against fascism and Nazism. Referring to an operatic project he had collaborated on with Richard Strauss (Zweig wrote the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau), he observed in The World of Yesterday that “from all quarters friends urged me to protest publicly against a performance in National Socialist Germany.” He refused to protest, stating that he “fundamentally” loathed “public and pathetic gestures.” According to one of his biographers, Donald Prater, when Zweig was encouraged by his friend Ernst Fischer to write an article against fascism, he felt unable to comply, feeling that it was the author’s duty in such times to publish only things that were “inspiring and satisfying.”

Zweig’s failure to deploy his pen against fascism and antisemitism can be contrasted with Nietzsche’s success. Nietzsche was ambivalent about Judaism and hostile to Christianity as cultural systems (he regarded both as forms of slave morality), but he was full of praise for Jews qua Jews. For example, in Beyond Good and Evil (§251), he described Jews as “the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions,” and he envisaged an important role for Jews in the regeneration of European culture. He stated that “to that end it might be useful and fair to expel the anti-Semitic screamers from the country.” Nietzsche expressed similar sentiments in Human, All-Too-Human (§475) and Daybreak (§205). In a letter to his sister around Christmas 1887, Nietzsche stated that he was filled with “ire or melancholy” over her marriage to “an anti-Semitic chief.” He even stated in a letter to Franz Overbeck in January 1889, shortly after the beginning of his psychological breakdown, that he was having all “anti-Semites shot” (see Walter Kaufmann’s The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 456-457, 687).

Zweig’s Dionysian ideal also had a dark side. According to Friderike Zweig (Friderike was Stefan’s first wife and his close friend even after he remarried), he was “interested in mediocre, stupid or luke-warm people only if they were suffering.” She observed that he depicted “illiterates as mental cripples, unable to grasp the breadth of the universe,” and considered “average people as a ‘quantité négligeable’”. According to Friderike, in this respect, he “contradicted his otherwise humane approach” (see Friderike Zweig’s biography: Stefan Zweig). Something of this can be seen in Erasmus, in which Stefan blamed the “broad masses of the people” for preventing his hero’s “lofty and humane ideals of spiritual understanding” from coming to fruition. The “average man,” he concluded, was too far “under the spell of hatred, which demands its rights to the detriment of loving-kindness.”

Zweig’s air of superiority over the “average” or “illiterate” man can also be found in his Schachnovelle (1942; published as The Royal Game in 1944 and subsequently as Chess or Chess Story). In this novella, Czentovic, an almost unbeatable chess playing prodigy, is depicted as the antithesis of Zweig’s Dionysian ideal. Czentovic is portrayed as a “half-illiterate” simpleton, “indolent,” “slow-speaking,” “narrow-minded,” with a “vulgar greed,” ignorant “in every field of culture,” unable “to write a single sentence in any language without misspelling a word,” and completely lacking in “imaginative power.” However, eminent intellectuals who were “his superior in brains, imagination, and audacity” all collapsed before his “tough, cold logic.” This depiction of the one dimensional simpleton, a pure Apollonian with no Dionysian spirit, stands in contrast to the tragic culture loving “Dr B.” Dr B is presented as having suffered a prolonged isolation at the hands of the Nazis resulting in a psychological breakdown. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this was clearly based upon Zweig’s perception of his own experience of isolation in Brazil. Dr B, now free from his isolation in the hotel room, challenges and at first manages to defeat the chess prodigy, but Czentovic adapts to his new opponent. Recognizing Dr B’s psychological fragility, he adopts an infuriating slow pace in order to break him. In the rematch, Dr B is not only defeated but driven to the brink of madness by Czentovic’s relentless but snail paced logic. Dr B’s Dionysian spirit is crushed by the cold Apollonian logic and brutal psychology of his supposedly inferior opponent.

Zweig’s so-called “humane approach,” which privileged those with an artistic spirit over the “illiterate” and “average” person, had more than a passing resemblance to Nietzsche’s portrayal of “noble” benevolence. In On the Genealogy of Morals (bk I, §10-11), Nietzsche expressed admiration for the “nobility” who employ “benevolent nuances” in their dealings with the so-called “lower orders”. According to Nietzsche, these lower orders are driven by the “venomous eye of ressentiment.” Zweig similarly suggested that the “average man” was “under the spell of hatred.” Conversely, they both believed that the so-called noble man, with his Dionysian artistic spirit, is able to consider those unlike him with a benign forbearance, as merely “bad” rather than “evil.” Zweig’s intoxication with freedom, his consistent dissolution of the boundaries between art and life, and his compassionate but disdainfully patronising attitude towards so-called “average” people, does seem to fit with Nietzsche’s Dionysian ideal, though crucially he ignored Nietzsche’s later observation that it was dangerous not to temper it with Apollonian self control.

Jacob Golomb argued in “Stefan Zweig: The Jewish Tragedy of a Nietzschean ‘Free Spirit’” that Zweig’s suicide was the result of “his indefatigable determination to subsist all his life as a ‘pure’ Nietzschean.” Golomb observes that “speaking of Nietzsche’s aversion to pity, Zweig continues to refer to him as to ‘the most brilliant man of the last century.’” However, Zweig in fact developed an ambivalent rather than purist attitude towards Nietzsche. The short extract, “the most brilliant man of the last century,” is found in his novel Beware of Pity (1939). The full passage from this novel reveals an abhorrence to Nietzsche’s aversion to pity rather than, as Golomb implies, a sympathy for it: “But you’ll never get me to utter the word ‘incurable.’ Never! I know that it is to the most brilliant man of the last century, Nietzsche, that we owe the horrible aphorism: a doctor should never try to cure the incurable. But that is about the most fallacious proposition of all the paradoxical and dangerous propositions he propounded. The exact opposite is the truth.” Unlike Dr. Condor, the character in the novel that articulates this sentiment, Zweig did not have the emotional resources to attempt to cure the incurable. This does not demonstrate, as Golomb suggests, the “bankruptcy of the existential stance of a Jewish ‘free spirit’” – but simply that Stefan Zweig lacked, like many other people of his time, the resilience necessary to deal with the catastrophe occurring in Europe. One reason for this weakness was the emotional scars he carried from the First World War. One moment Europe had been in a golden age of progress and the next it was falling apart. Zweig’s previously unflinching faith in a supra-national Europe crumbled as a consequence.

In Schachnovelle, Zweig contrasted Dr B’s isolation, forced by the Nazis to remain in a comfortable but plain hotel room for months at end with only a clandestinely hidden book of chess solutions to entertain him, with that of Jews who suffered physically in concentration camps. This comparison (in which he suggested that Dr B’s fate was worse) would seem to reveal Zweig’s inability to truly confront or understand the horrors that Jews were facing in Europe during the early 1940s. However, when Zweig wrote this novella, he, like Dr B, was on the brink of a psychological break. Shortly thereafter he committed suicide (and the novella was published posthumously). His alter-ego, Dr B, surmised that the Jews in the concentration camps at least “have seen faces, would have had space, a tree, a star, something, anything, to stare at, while here everything stood before one unchangeably the same, always the same, maddeningly the same.” Like Dr B, Zweig was unable to cope with his sense of isolation. Zweig managed to escape the Nazi plague spreading across Europe and ended up in Brazil in August 1940 (two years prior to the publication of Schachnovelle). According to Friderike Zweig (by this point Stefan’s ex-wife), he wrote to her to inform her that “the landscape was indescribably beautiful, the people charming, Europe and the war more remote.” He stated that “with a good library, life here could be very pleasant.” He expressed a similar sentiment in Brazil: A Land of the Future. According to Zweig, “the European arrogance which I had brought with me as so much superfluous luggage vanished with astonishing rapidity. I knew I had looked into the future of our world.” However, the “supposedly fairy-like Petrópolis” provided only a temporary respite. He felt guilt about the fate of the Jews he had left behind. He also felt a crushing sense of isolation. His attempts to overcome these feelings through his usual solution, the creation of uplifting literary works, failed. Like Nietzsche, Zweig was ultimately torn to pieces by his struggle with the Daemon. When he could endure these feelings no longer, he committed suicide.

Sources 

Golomb, Jacob. ‘Stefan Zweig: The Jewish Tragedy of a Nietzschean “Free Spirit”’, in Jacob Golomb (ed.), Nietzsche and the Austrian Culture (Vienna: WUV, 2004).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Birth of Tragedy,” “Beyond Good and Evil” and “On the Genealogy of Morals,” in Walter Kaufmann, ed., The Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: The Modern Library, 2000).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality (trans. R. J. Hollingdale; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Extracts from “Human, All-Too-Human” and various letters, in Walter Kaufmann, ed., The Portable Nietzsche (London: Penguin Books, 1976).

Prater, Donald A. European of Yesterday: A Biography of Stefan Zweig (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).

Zweig, Friderike. Stefan Zweig (trans. Erna McArthur; London: W.H. Allen, 1946).

Zweig, Stefan. Beware of Pity (trans. Phyllis Blewitt and Trevor Blewitt; London: Cassell, 1939).

Zweig, Stefan. Brazil: A Land of the Future (trans. Andrew St. James; London: Cassell, 1942).

Zweig, Stefan. Erasmus (trans. Eden Paul and Cedar Paul; London: Cassell, 1934).

Zweig, Stefan. Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: The Struggle with the Daemon (London: Transaction Publishers, 2010). Originally published as Der Kampf mit dem Dämon in 1939.

Zweig, Stefan. The Royal Game (trans. B. W. Huebsch; London: Cassell, 1944). Originally published as Schachnovelle (Chess Story) in 1942.

Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1964). Originally published in 1943. Zweig started writing this volume in the early 1930s and sent it to his publisher the day before he and his second wife committed suicide.

A look at G. K. Chesterton and Oscar Levy on the “169th birthday” of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche Picture

Friedrich Nietzsche

As Heather Saul in the Independent observes, today’s “Google Doodle” (15/10/2013) celebrates the “169th birthday” of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. As G. K. Chesterton’s “holiness” and “antisemitism” are currently being discussed and debated in various internet forums, it seems an opportune moment to look at some of his exchanges with Oscar Levy, a prominent German Jewish Nietzsche scholar in the early twentieth century.

Oscar Levy was probably the main advocate of Nietzsche’s ideas in Britain during the early decades of the twentieth century (he settled in Britain in the 1890s and he described himself as “a Nietzschean Jew”). Like Nietzsche, he was also deeply critical of Judaism and Christianity. According to Professor Dan Stone, Levy’s essential position was as follows: “modern European society is degenerating because it is bound to an effete moral value system; these effete values derive from Judaism”. Levy argued that “this Jewish ethic was taken a step further by Christianity, which is a ‘Super-Semitism’” [1]. Following Nietzsche, Levy argued that Christianity was a development of Judaism, and that both were manifestations of a slave mentality. According to Levy, “the Semitic idea has finally conquered and entirely subdued this only apparently irreligious universe of ours.” He stated that “it has conquered it through Christianity, which of course, as Disraeli pointed out long ago, is nothing but ‘Judaism for the people’” [2].

Clearly Levy and Chesterton could not have been more diametrically opposed to each other when it came to their views on Nietzsche (and Christianity). Chesterton dismissed Nietzsche on a number of occasions as a raving madman; Levy celebrated Nietzsche as a clear-sighted diagnostician. However, they shared one thing in common: they both viewed and portrayed Bolshevism with concern if not disdain. Their essays and articles were peppered with disparaging remarks about Bolshevism, and they both suggested that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement. Discussing “the Jewish element in Bolshevism,” Chesterton argued that “it is not necessary to have every man a Jew to make a thing a Jewish movement; it is at least clear that there are quite enough Jews to prevent it from being a Russian movement” [3]. He stated that “there has arisen on the ruins of Russia a Jewish servile State, the strongest Jewish power hitherto known in history. We do not say, we should certainly deny, that every Jew is its friend; but we do say that no Jew is in the national sense its enemy” [4].

When Levy argued that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement, Chesterton and Belloc at first believed they had found a Jew they could identify with and support. They either ignored or did not notice his criticisms of Christianity. When the British Home Office arranged for Levy to be expelled from Britain, they argued that the Jews had arranged it in revenge for his deprecating remarks about Judaism. Belloc wrote in The Jews in 1922 that “the case of Dr. Levy turned out of this country by his compatriots in the Government for having written unfavourably of the Moscow Jews will be fresh in every one’s memory” [5]. Referring to Dr Oscar Levy, Chesterton stated in 1926 that he had “a great regard for him, which is more than a good many of his countrymen or co-religionists can say.” According to Chesterton: “He is a very real example of a persecuted Jew; and he was persecuted, not merely by Gentiles, but rather specially by Jews. He was hounded out of this country in the most heartless and brutal fashion, because he had let the cat out of the bag; a very wild cat out of the very respectable bag of the commercial Jewish bagman. He told the truth about the Jewish basis of Bolshevism, though only to deplore and repudiate it” [6].

Chesterton photo

G. K. Chesterton

After supposedly defending Levy from the Jews, Chesterton must have felt a little disappointed with Levy’s reply. Oscar Levy wrote to Chesterton, pointing out that he was not driven out of England by Jews at all, that the astonishing thing was that his statements about Jews and Judaism had “created so little stir amongst them,” and that the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World had supported him against the decision by the Home Office [7]. Levy argued that Bolshevism was more closely related to Christianity than to Judaism. In this he was of course constructing a caricature of Christianity and so-called Christian Bolshevism in much the same way that Chesterton caricatured Jewish culture and so-called Jewish Bolshevism. He denied that “these Russian Jews, who are Jews in race, are also Jews in spirit.” “They are not,” he concluded, “they are really Christians. The Jewish mind has a great affinity to Christianity: the first Christians were one and all Jews, and these latter-day Jews are likewise all imbued with the Christian Spirit (though they themselves are entirely unaware of this). But the Jew on the whole is not a Christian …” According to Levy, “the doctrine of the Bolshevists is then – au fond – a Jewish doctrine, in as much as Christianity is a Jewish creed.” [8].

The idea that the Anglo-Jewish community pulled the strings of the Home Office to arrange for Levy to be removed from Britain was simply a Bellocian and Chestertonian antisemitic invention. In fact it was not only the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World (the two most prominent Anglo-Jewish newspapers at the time) that argued that Levy should be allowed to stay. The other prominent Anglo-Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Guardian, also defended his right to stay in Britain. The Jewish Guardian expressed relief that the Chief Rabbi added his name to the appeal to allow Oscar Levy to stay. The Jewish Guardian did not admire Oscar Levy’s views or his decision to write a preface for George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (an antisemitic conspiracy theorist), but it did not believe that it was right for an Act of Parliament to be administered against Levy on the basis of his philosophical theories [9].

Notes for A look at G. K. Chesterton and Oscar Levy on the “169th birthday” of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

1. Dan Stone, “Oscar Levy: A Nietzschean Vision,” in Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002), pp.12-32.

2. Oscar Levy, “Prefatory Letter,” in George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, The World Significance of the Russian Revolution (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1920), vi.

3. G. K. Chesterton, “The Beard of the Bolshevist,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 14 January 1921, p.22.

4. G. K. Chesterton, “The Feud of the Foreigner,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 20 August 1920, p.309.

5. Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), p.193, footnote 1.

6. G. K. Chesterton, “The Napoleon of Nonsense City,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 14 August 1926, pp.388-389.

7. Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Dr. Oscar Levy and Christianity,” The Cockpit, 13 November 1926, p.126. For examples of these newspapers defending Oscar Levy’s right to stay in England, see “Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish Chronicle, 16 September 1921, p.10; “Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish Chronicle, 30 September 1921, p.10; “Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish Chronicle, 7 October 1921, p.7; “The Case of Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish World, 4 May 1922, p.5.

8. Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Mr. Nietzsche Wags a Leg,” The Cockpit, 2 October 1926, 44-45; Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Dr. Oscar Levy and Christianity,” The Cockpit, 13 November 1926, p.126.

9. See “The Case of Dr. Levy,” Jewish Guardian, 14 October 1921, pp. 1, 3.

Israel Zangwill and G. K. Chesterton: Were they friends?

In a previous report I examined the resilient myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism. In this posting I raise a more complex question: what was the relationship that existed between the prominent Anglo-Jewish author, Israel Zangwill, and G. K. Chesterton?

 

Image of Israel Zangwill Israel Zangwill (1864-1926)

Michael Coren stated in 1989 that Israel Zangwill was a friend of Chesterton, describing them as a “noted literary combination of the time.”[1] Joseph Pearce has likewise reported that Israel Zangwill was someone with whom Chesterton had “remained good friends from the early years of the century until Zangwill’s death in 1926.”[2] One of the pieces of evidence of a friendship, circumstantial at best, is a photograph of Chesterton and Zangwill walking side by side after leaving a parliamentary select committee about the censorship of stage plays on 24 September 1909. The photograph was originally used for the front cover of the Daily Mirror on 25 September 1909. As they were both prominent authors, it is hardly shocking that they would both attend and give evidence at such a gathering. The photograph probably demonstrates little beyond that they shared an interest in government censorship and that they left the meeting at the same time (there is simply no way to tell for sure). According to an entire issue of Gilbert Magazine (2008) that was dedicated to defending Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism, Zangwill and Chesterton “had respect and admiration for one another.”[3] The photograph of them leaving the select committee on censorship was used as the front cover of the issue of Gilbert Magazine.[4] It has also been used in a number of other books and periodicals about Chesterton.

 

Zangwill and Chesterton

Chesterton and Zangwill after a parliamentary select committee about the censorship of stage plays on 24 September 1909

 

Prior to 1915, Chesterton had on occasion referred to Zangwill in positive terms, describing him as a “great Jew,” “a very earnest thinker,” and the “nobler sort of Jew.”[5] Likewise, Zangwill wrote a letter in 1914 and another in January 1915 which together suggest that an amicable relationship may have existed for a time (possibly until 1916). In 1914, he wrote to apologise for not being able to attend a public debate with Chesterton and several other people about the veracity of miracles. The letter was friendly though somewhat equivocal in its expressed sympathy for Chesterton’s play.[6] On 25 November 1914, Chesterton was overcome by dizziness whilst presenting to students at Oxford. Later that day he collapsed at home. He was critically ill, and it was feared that he might not survive. Whilst he did not fully recover until Easter, his wife reported on 18 January 1915 that he was showing some signs of recovery.[7] On 19 January, Israel Zangwill wrote a letter to Frances Chesterton, in which he expressed his pleasure at hearing that her husband was on the mend.[8]

Whatever the nature of their relationship, it did not prevent Chesterton from accusing Zangwill in 1917 of being “Pro-German; or at any rate very insufficiently Pro-Ally.” He suggested that “Mr. Zangwill, then, is practically Pro-German, though he probably means at most to be Pro-Jew.”[9] Their so-called friendship also did not prevent Zangwill from describing Chesterton as an antisemite. In The War for the World (1916), Zangwill dismissed the New Witness as the magazine of a “band of Jew-baiters,” whose “anti-Semitism” is rooted in “rancour, ignorance, envy, and mediaeval prejudice.” He suggested that G. K. Chesterton provided the “intellectual side” of the movement, which was, he concluded, “not strong except in names.” He stated that “Mr. G. K. Chesterton has tried to give it some rational basis by the allegation that the Jew’s intellect is so disruptive and sceptical. The Jew is even capable, he says, of urging that in some other planet two and two may perhaps make five.” Zangwill stated that the “conductors” of The New Witness would “do better to call it The False Witness.[10] In 1920, Zangwill stated: “Yet in Mr. Chesterton’s own organ, The New Witness – the change of whose name to The False Witness I have already recommended – the most paradoxical accusations against the Jew find Christian hospitality.”[11]

In February 1921, in a letter to the editor of the Spectator, Zangwill described the proposal by Chesterton’s close friend, Hilaire Belloc, that Jews living in Great Britain should be characterised as a separate nationality, with special “disabilities and privileges,” as “ridiculously retrograde.”[12] Zangwill criticised Belloc’s scheme of “re-established Ghettos” in other articles, letters and notes in 1922. [13] Zangwill also observed in his letter to the Spectator, quite correctly, that Belloc’s “fellow-fantast, Mr. Chesterton, would revive the Jewish badge and have English Jews dressed as Arabs.”[12] This was a reference to a proposal by G. K. Chesterton in 1913 and again in 1920 that the Jews of England should be required to wear distinctive dress (he suggested the robes of an Arab).[14] According to Chesterton:

“But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews, and no other.  Be it enacted, by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled, that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab. Let him sit on the Woolsack, but let him sit there dressed as an Arab. Let him preach in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but let him preach there dressed as an Arab. It is not my point at present to dwell on the pleasing if flippant fancy of how much this would transform the political scene; of the dapper figure of Sir Herbert Samuel swathed as a Bedouin, or Sir Alfred Mond gaining a yet greater grandeur from the gorgeous and trailing robes of the East. If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.”[15]

Whilst these letters and articles do not disprove the argument that Zangwill and Chesterton had an amicable relationship, at least for a time, they do suggest that Zangwill did not believe that Chesterton was guiltless of antisemitism. If Zangwill considered Chesterton a friend after 1915, let alone a pro-Jewish friend, he had a strange way of showing it. At the very least they problematize the argument that Chesterton could not have been antisemitic on the grounds that Zangwill was his friend, as from 1916 onwards Zangwill clearly came to perceive and describe Chesterton as an antisemite.

I would love to hear from anyone that has found any other evidence of a friendship or enmity between Zangwill and Chesterton (please click here to contact me). 

Notes for the claim that Chesterton and the Anglo Jewish author Israel Zangwill were friends

[1]     Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who was G. K. Chesterton (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989), p.209.

[2]     Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), p.446.

[3]      Sean P. Dailey, “Tremendous Trifles,” Gilbert Magazine 12, no. 2&3 (November/December 2008), p.4. Gilbert Magazine is the periodical of the American Chesterton Society.

[4]      Gilbert Magazine 12, no. 2&3 (November/December 2008), p.1 [front cover].

[5]      See G. K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1911), xi; Letter from G. K. Chesterton to the Editor, Jewish Chronicle, 16 June 1911, p.39; G. K. Chesterton, Our Notebook, Illustrated London News, 28 February 1914, p.322.

[6]     According to Zangwill, Chesterton was “putting back the clock of philosophy even while he [was] putting forward the clock of drama. My satisfaction with the success of his play would thus be marred were it not that people enjoy it without understanding what Mr. Chesterton is driving at.” The letter is cited in G. K. Chesterton, Joseph McCabe, Hilaire Belloc, et al., Do Miracles Happen? (London: Christian Commonwealth, [1914]), p.23. The letter is also quoted by Joseph Pearce in Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), p.205.

[7]      See Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), pp.213-220 and Dudley Barker, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography (London: Constable, 1973), pp.226-230.

[8]     Letter from Israel Zangwill to Frances Chesterton, 19 January 1915, ADD MS 73454, fol. 44, G. K. Chesterton Papers, British Library, London.

[9]      G. K. Chesterton, “Mr. Zangwill on Patriotism,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 18 October 1917, pp.586-587.

[10]    Israel Zangwill, The War for the World (London: William Heinemann, 1916), p.58.

[11]    Israel Zangwill, “The Jewish Bogey (July 1920),” in Maurice Simon, ed., Speeches, Articles and Letters of Israel Zangwill (London: Soncino Press, 1937), p.103.

[12]    Letter from Israel Zangwill to the Editor, “Problems of Zionism,” Spectator, 26 February 1921, p.263. In this letter, he went on to state that the so-called Jewish problem does “not concern Mr. Belloc, and I would respectfully suggest to him to mind his own business.” See also “Mr. Zangwill and Zionism,” Jewish Guardian, 4 March 1921, p.1.

[13]    In May 1922, Zangwill referred to Belloc on a couple of occasions whilst criticising a non-territorial “spiritual” Zionism. He stated in the Jewish Guardian that “what the victims of anti-Semitism (the unassorted or downtrodden of our race) require is not a spiritual Zion, which ‘is no more a solution of the Jewish problem than Mr. Belloc’s fantastic scheme of re-established ghettos,’ but a ‘solid, surveyable territory.’” See “The Degradation of Zionism,” Jewish Guardian, 12 May 1922, p.8. He made similar remarks in a letter to the editor of the Times newspaper on 8 May 1922. He also wrote twenty-five pages of unpublished notes and criticisms of Belloc’s book, The Jews (1922).

[14]    G. K. Chesterton, “What shall we do with our Jews?”, New Witness, 24 July 1913, p.370 and G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]),  p.227.

[15]    G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]),  p.227.