Ear­li­er this week, Ned Beau­man wrote about Oscar Paniz­za and Hen­ry Ford. His debut nov­el, Box­er, Bee­tle (Blooms­bury), is now available.

Can an anti-Semi­te reach cor­rect con­clu­sions about Jews? Here is Jef­frey Herf in his book Reac­tionary Mod­ernism on the work of Wern­er Som­bart, a lead­ing Ger­man soci­ol­o­gist of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth century:

Som­bart stressed four aspects of Euro­pean Jew­ish social his­to­ry that con­tributed to the ori­gins of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism. First, the Jews were dis­persed in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and thus had inter­na­tion­al con­tacts. Sec­ond, their exis­tence as out­siders forced them to be more atten­tive to new eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties and to favor eco­nom­ic ratio­nal­ism over local cus­tom and tra­di­tion. Third, because Jews had been exclud­ed from full cit­i­zen­ship rights, they turned their atten­tion away from pol­i­tics to eco­nom­ics. Fourth, Jew­ish wealth made bank­ing and lend­ing pos­si­ble, activ­i­ties from which mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism was born.”

All those points seem both valid and inter­est­ing out of con­text, and indeed Sombart’s 1911 book The Jews and Mod­ern Cap­i­tal­ism was not seen as anti-Semit­ic when it was pub­lished. Fur­ther­more, the records of Sombart’s feel­ings on Nazism is vague and con­tra­dic­to­ry, and his views seem to have fluc­tu­at­ed over his life­time. Nonethe­less, read­ing more about Som­bart, one feels cer­tain he was basi­cal­ly pret­ty hos­tile to Jews – at one point he even wrote that he didn’t like Berlin depart­ment stores because their crass jux­ta­po­si­tions’ were a prod­uct of Jew­ish sensibilities.

So where does that leave his soci­o­log­i­cal insights? The fact is, anti-Semi­tes do spend a lot of time think­ing about Judaism – more time than a lot of Jews spend think­ing about Judaism. Occa­sion­al­ly, they are going to come up with some­thing sol­id. When I was research­ing the his­to­ry of anti-Semi­tism for Box­er, Bee­tle, I encoun­tered this prob­lem often, and it seems to me that at a hun­dred years’ dis­tance, maybe it’s final­ly time to go back to some of these old sources – even if we have to employ the intel­lec­tu­al equiv­a­lent of those steel box­es with built-in lead-lined gloves like they install in nuclear research laboratories.

Ned Beau­man is the author of Box­er, Bee­tle