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Werner Sombart on the Jewish Character

January 15, 2013

Werner_Sombart_vor_1930.jpg (left, The distinguished German sociologist Werner Sombart, 1863-1941, was an informed and generally  sympathetic observer of the Jewish people.)

In his book "The Jews & Modern Capitalism," (1911) Sombart credits Jews for the rise of capitalism which he regards as the most dynamic force in the modern world.

In the excerpt below (from pp. 183-7) he describes the Jewish character as overly intellectual and goal-oriented. 

"[The Jews'] greatest interest is always in the result of a thing, not in the thing itself. It is un-Jewish to regard any activity as an end in itself; un-Jewish to live your life without having any purpose, to leave all to chance; un-Jewish to get harmless pleasure out of Nature."

In the words of Goethe, "No Jew, not even the most insignificant, but is busy towards the achievement of some worldly, temporary or momentary aim." This activity often enough degenerates into restlessness. He must for ever be up and doing, for ever managing something and carrying it to fruition. 

by Werner Sombart
(edited & abridged by 

The intellectuality of the Jew is so strong that it tends to develop at the expense of other mental qualities, and the mind is apt to become one-sided. 

The Jew certainly sees remarkably clearly, but he does not see much.

He does not think of his environment as something alive, and that is why he has lost the true conception of life, of its oneness, of its being an organism, a natural growth. In short, he has lost the true conception of the personal side of life. General experience must surely support this view; but if other proofs are demanded they will be found in the pecuiarities of Jewish law, which abolished personal relationships and replaced them by impersonal, abstract connections or activities or aims.

Hence the [Jewish] lack of sympathy for every status where the nexus is a personal one. The Jews' whole being is opposed to all that is usually understood by chivalry, to all sentimentality, knight-errantry, feudalism, patriarchalism. Nor does he comprehend a social order based on relationships such as these. "Estates of the realm" and craft organizations are a loathing to him. 

The conception of the universe in the mind of such an intellectual people must perforce have been that of a structure well-ordered in accordance with reason. By the aid of reason, therefore, they sought to understand the world; they were rationalists, both in theory and in practice.

Now as soon as a strong consciousness of the ego attaches itself to the predominating intellectuality in the thinking being, he will tend to group the world round that ego. In other words, he will look at the world from the point of view of end, or goal, or purpose. 
Take any expression of the Jewish genius and you will be certain to find in it this teleological tendency, which has sometimes been called extreme subjectivity. Whether or no the Indo-Germanic races are objective and the Semitic subjective,certain it is that the Jews are the most subjective of peoples. The Jew never loses himself in the outer world, never sinks in the depth of the cosmos, never soars in the endless realms of thought, but, as Jellinek well puts it, dives below the surface to seek for pearls.

He brings everything into relation with his ego. He is for ever asking why, what for, what will it bring? Cui bono? His greatest interest is always in the result of a thing, not in the thing itself. It is un-Jewish to regard any activity, be it what you will, as an end in itself; un-Jewish to live your life without having any purpose, to leave all to chance; un-Jewish to get harmless pleasure out of Nature. 

The Jew has taken all that is in Nature and made of it "the loose pages of a text-book of ethics which shall advance the higher moral life." The Jewish religion, as we have already seen, is teleological in its aim; in each of its regulations it as the ethical norm in view. The entire universe, in the Jew's eyes, is something that was made in accordance with a plan. 

No term is more familiar to the ear of the Jew than Tachlis, which means purpose, aim, end or goal. If you are to do anything it must have a tachlis; life itself, whether as a whole or in its single activities, must have some tachlis, and so must the universe. Those who assert that the meaning of Life, of the World, is not tachlis but tragedy, the Jew will reckon as foolish visionaries.

How deeply the teleological view of things is embedded in the nature of the Jew may be seen in the case of those of them who, like the Chassidim, pay no attention to the needs of practical life because "there is no purpose in them." There is no purpose in making a living, and so they let their wives and children starve, and devote themselves to the study of their sacred books.

When this attitude of mind that seeks for a purpose in all things is united with a strong will, with a large fund of energy (as is generally the case with the Jew), it ceases to be merely a point of view; it becomes a policy. The man sets himself a goal and makes for it, allowing nothing whatever to turn him aside from his course; he is determined, if you like, stiff-necked. Heine in characterizing his people called it stubbornness, and Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends.

Comments for "Werner Sombart on the Jewish Character"

Dan said (January 16, 2013):

Sombart's stereotype impression that Jews reduce human relationships to transactions relative to 'non-Jews' is antique. The atrophy of human empathy in society during the 20th century was a phenomenon of urbanity - it is directly proportional to movement populations from agriculture to urbanization.

From my perspective - because I come from agricultural people - I think it's what happens to people once they're uprooted from the land. North America is a land of European immigration so we all come from that experience whether our ancestors came here fleeing the Irish potato famine, or a Tsarist pogrom.

The way of thinking Sombart wrote about has been assimilated into the mainstream through television, movies, pop music and the common treadmill of the 'rat race' of an increasingly 'consumer/producer' world in which all people are forced to wander the globe chasing the highest paying job of the year.

K (who is Jewish) said (January 16, 2013):

Interesting, & many accurate insights, although maybe somewhat of an over generalization - a set of observations which must be at least partially tempered by historical & cultural context. Worth of note & reflection none-the-less.

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at