The simplicity and brevity of this title belie the strength and importance of its argument. Professor Muller has done more than produce another descriptive portrait of the sometimes tortured relationship in people’s minds about Jews and money. Rather, he has demystified and clarified this history for both the Jews and their many accusers. In four trenchant chapters, Muller goes far beyond his direct topic to provide a history of modern anti-Semitism.
Most importantly, Muller jettisons old notions and backs up his thesis with a serious survey of Western intellectual thought. He thoroughly examines the concept of usury and shows how the Church and Europeans from the Middle through the Modern Ages used the term as a marker for any capitalistic activity. Thus, it is not only the Jews being forced into money-lending that made them pariahs. It is the very activity of financial risktaking of any kind that is suspect to many minds that both condemned the Jews and provided them with a more open field in which to succeed.
Finally, Muller throws much light on the phenomenon of anti-Semitism on the political left. Far from the typical relegation of the occurrence as a minor eruption of the “socialism of fools,” the author demonstrates that it is genetically linked to the ancient conception of usury, and therefore all productive capitalistic activity, as being the true “original sin.”
Jerry Muller has produced an important contribution in political and economic thought, and has done so with clarity, fairness, and skill.