Enlightenment and Emancipation

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Enlightenment and Emancipation

Richard Wagner's essays, "Judaism in Music" and "What is German" does not just cast aside the ideology of Jewish emancipation as stated by Christian Wilhelm von Dohm in "On the Civic Improvement of the Jews". Instead, Richard Wagner's essays outline the struggles with the legacy of the Enlightenment and lead him to promote theories of culture and regeneration that would rewrite those of prior Enlightenment visionaries, making those people of Jewish descent seen as humans before Jews.

One of the more noticeable themes surrounding Jewish culture is perhaps their dealings with money. As a result of being forced out of the trades and regular channels of commerce during the 12th and 13th centuries, money lending became the main livelihood of the Jews in Germany in the 18th century. Dohm argued that "the true reasons for [the Jews'] shortcomings" could be traced to the "oppression from which [they] still suffer" and the restrictions and limitations placed upon them throughout their history. He proposed that better treatment would reform them and their customs and lead ultimately to their assimilation into the outside world. As stated in Dohm's "On the Civic Improvement of the Jews," Dohm expresses how even those Jews with sufficient amounts of money were not allowed to use any of it for self benefit. If a Jew was given permission to reside in a German state, his place of residence would be subject to a heavy tax to be repaid each year. Each child birthed to the Jew would increase the amount of his taxes. Many of the Jewish business dealings were marked with these unfair burdens. In "Judaism in Music," Wagner explains that it makes no sense to talk about Jewish emancipation, while the Jews already rule them because money is a central power. Jews, in his mentality, are the very symbol of capitalism. "…[T]he Jew in truth is already more than emancipate: he rules, and will rule, so long as Money remains the power before which all our...
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