Samuel Clements on Religion and Competition

Click this link for the extended version.

From Harper’s Magazine (1898). The abbreviated version follows:

When I was a boy, in the back settlements of the
Mississippi Valley, where a gracious and beautiful Sunday-school
simplicity and unpracticality prevailed, the “Yankee” (citizen
of the New England States) was hated with a splendid energy.
But religion had nothing to do with it. In a trade, the Yankee
was held to be about five times the match of the Westerner. His
shrewdness, his insight, his judgment, his knowledge, his
enterprise, and his formidable cleverness in applying these
forces were frankly confessed, and most competently cursed.

In the cotton States, after the war, the simple and
ignorant negroes made the crops for the white planter on
shares. The Jew came down in force, set up shop on the
plantation, supplied all the negro’s wants on credit, and at the
end of the season was proprietor of the negro’s share of the
present crop and of part of his share of the next one. Before
long, the whites detested the Jew, and it is doubtful if the
negro loved him.

The Jew is being legislated out of Russia. The reason is
not concealed. The movement was instituted because the Christian
peasant and villager stood no chance against his commercial
abilities. He was always ready to lend money on a crop, and
sell vodka and other necessaries of life on credit while the
crop was growing. When settlement day came he owned the crop;
and next year or year after he owned the farm, like Joseph.

In the dull and ignorant England of John’s time everybody
got into debt to the Jew. He gathered all lucrative enterprises
into his hands; he was the king of commerce; he was ready to be
helpful in all profitable ways; he even financed crusades for
the rescue of the Sepulchre. To wipe out his account with the
nation and restore business to its natural and incompetent
channels he had to be banished the realm.

For the like reasons Spain had to banish him four hundred
years ago, and Austria about a couple of centuries later.

In all the ages Christian Europe has been obliged to
curtail his activities. If he entered upon a mechanical trade,
the Christian had to retire from it. If he set up as a doctor,
he was the best one, and he took the business. If he exploited
agriculture, the other farmers had to get at something else.
Since there was no way to successfully compete with him in any
vocation, the law had to step in and save the Christian from the
poor-house. Trade after trade was taken away from the Jew by
statute till practically none was left. He was forbidden to
engage in agriculture; he was forbidden to practise law; he was
forbidden to practise medicine, except among Jews; he was
forbidden the handicrafts. Even the seats of learning and the
schools of science had to be closed against this tremendous
antagonist. Still, almost bereft of employments, he found ways
to make money, even ways to get rich. Also ways to invest his
takings well, for usury was not denied him. In the hard
conditions suggested, the Jew without brains could not survive,
and the Jew with brains had to keep them in good training and
well sharpened up, or starve. Ages of restriction to the one
tool which the law was not able to take from him – his brain –
have made that tool singularly competent; ages of compulsory
disuse of his hands have atrophied them, and he never uses them
now. This history has a very, very commercial look, a most
sordid and practical commercial look, the business aspect of a
Chinese cheap-labor crusade. Religious prejudices may account
for one part of it, but not for the other nine.

Protestants have persecuted Catholics, but they did not
take their livelihoods away from them. The Catholics have
persecuted the Protestants with bloody and awful bitterness, but
they never closed agriculture and the handicrafts against them.
Why was that? That has the candid look of genuine religious
persecution, not a trade-union boycott in a religious disguise.

The Jews are harried and obstructed in Austria and Germany,
and lately in France; but England and America give them an open
field and yet survive. Scotland offers them an unembarrassed
field too, but there are not many takers. There are a few Jews
in Glasgow, and one in Aberdeen; but that is because they can’t
earn enough to get away. The Scotch pay themselves that
compliment, but it is authentic.

I feel convinced that the Crucifixion has not much to do
with the world’s attitude towards the Jew; that the reasons for
it are older than that event, as suggested by Egypt’s experience
and by Rome’s regret for having persecuted an unknown quantity
called a Christian, under the mistaken impression that she was
merely persecuting a Jew. Merely a Jew – a skinned eel who was
used to it, presumably. I am persuaded that in Russia, Austria,
and Germany nine-tenths of the hostility to the Jew comes from
the average Christian’s inability to compete successfully with
the average Jew in business
– in either straight business or the
questionable sort.

2 comments

  1. I’ve always felt that way — as it relates to Black folks as well. I believe (and you would know best), that there is likely a biological calculus that is conducted BEFORE a competition starts — where we all know the most likely winner.

    At some point, these people decided engaging in competition was not in their interests — so they needed to change the game. I find this to be an obvious explanation for things like “intentional walks” to Barry Bonds, rules changes prohibiting dunks for Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    There are countless others — but this failure to compete, particularly on a commercial basis lie at the heart of the Lynching Campaign by whites in the American South. Ida Wells herself was drawn into the defense of her people on the heels of a lynching of wealthy Black store owners in Nashville, TN.

    If they thought they could win,
    they might a shot,
    but the game is over before its begun,
    hence the need for false images and guns.
    Its the only shot they’ve got.

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