Altmann the Philosophical Roots of Mendelssohn's Emancipation Plea

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The Philosophical Roots of Moses Mendelssohn's Plea for Emancipation Author(s): Alexander Altmann Source: Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1974), pp. 191-202 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 29/06/2011 12:37 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Jewish Social Studies.

Transcript of Altmann the Philosophical Roots of Mendelssohn's Emancipation Plea

The Philosophical Roots of Moses Mendelssohn's Plea for Emancipation Author(s): Alexander Altmann Source: Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1974), pp. 191-202 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 29/06/2011 12:37Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Jewish Social Studies.

The Philosophical Roots of Moses Mendelssohn's Plea for Emancipationby Alexander AltmannIn the fall of 1781,when Christian WilhelmDohm's treatise"On the Civil Imof the Jews"appeared,'Moses Mendelssohn reimmersed himselfin the provement of naturallaw, a subjectthat had alwaysattractedhim, and certainaspectsof study whichhe had alreadytouchedupon in his Academyprizeessayof 1763.2The reason that movedhim to returnto the subjectis not farto seek.The issueof the civil admission of the Jews,whichhad beenraisedin Dohm's treatise,was enteringa new stage of in afterthe promulgation thePatentof Tolerance Bohemiaon October19, 1781 It .3 was obviouslydesirableto foster a lively debateconcerningthe matterin Prussia, wherethe government showedno intentionof followingthe precedentset by Joseph II. As Mendelssohn it in a letterto his friendFriedrichNicolai: "I think that at put the presenttime one ought to keep the publicconstantlyen haleine[in suspense] in regardto this matter,and that the prosand cons of this issueshouldcontinueto be a He he into subjectof debate."4 felt thatas a philosopher mightinterject the discussion of his own. Hencehis resumedpreoccupation with naturallaw. The first viewpoints resultof his effortswas a shortfragment"On Perfectand Imperfect Duties,"which was writtenin November1781. The ideassketchedthereinbecamethe nucleusof his theory of the relationshipbetween churchand state, a theory that was meant to his undergird pleafor emancipation.6 Mendelssohnfirstpresentedhis notions about churchand state in the Preface to MarcusHerz's Germanversion of Manassehben Israel's Vindiciae Judaeorum, him in the earlyspringof 1782as a "Supplement" Dohm's earlier to publishedby treatise.7Mendelssohn that therewas littlehe could add, Dohm modestlyremarkedChristian Wilhelm Dohm, Ober die birgerliche Verbesserungder Juden (Berlin & Stettin, 1781). For the date of publication, see Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (University, Alabama 1973) [hereafter referred to as Mendelssohn], p. 454. 2 See ibid., pp. 281, 469. 3 See Jacob Katz's essay in Zion, vol. xxix (1964), pp. 127 f., where the principal bibliographical references are given. The Austrian version of the Patent followed on January 2, 1782. 4 The letter from which this statement is quoted is now published in Alexander Altmann, "Neuerschlossene Briefe Moses Mendelssohns an Friedrich Nicolai," Lessing Yearbook V 1973 (Munich 1973), p. 42 (no. 49). The date is February 8, 1782. 5 Published in Moses Mendelssohn's gesammelte Schriften, ed. by G. B. Mendelssohn (Leipzig 18431845) [hereafter referred to as GS], IV. 1, pp. 128-31. 6 The term "emancipation" is used here anachronistically, since it was not employed at the time. See Jacob Katz, "The Term 'Jewish Emancipation': Its Origin and Historical Impact," Studies in Nineteenth-CenturyJewish Intellectual History, ed. by Alexander Altmann (Cambridge, Mass. 1964), pp. 1-25. 7 Manasseh Ben Israel, Rettung der Juden. Aus dem Englischen ibersetzt. Nebst einer Vorrede von Moses Mendelssohn. Als ein Anhang zu des Hrn. Kriegsraths Dohm Abhandlung: Uber die biirgerliche der Verbesserung Juden (Berlin & Stettin 1782); reproduced in GS, III, 177-254.




having all but exhaustedthe philosophicaland political aspects of the matter.8In actual fact, however, Mendelssohnadded an entirelynew dimensionto Dohm's humanitarian plea by offeringan outline of his theory of state and churchthat had a directbearingon the civil admissionof the Jews.Yet it did so only towardthe end, in and almostincidentally, connectionwith his remonstration againstthe use of the werewidelynoted and provokeddiverse Evenso, his remarks ban by the rabbinate.9 or reactions,in responseto which Mendelssohnwrote his Jerusalem On Religious 1 It is here that we findhis full-fledged treatment state of PowerandJudaism (1783). followfor the issueof civilequality. andreligion,fromwhichimportant consequences Althoughthe plea for Jewishemancipationis not the overt theme of the book, no one readingit could fail to see the implicationsof Mendelssohn's politicaltheory. left whatwas deliberately unsaidyet could It is the purposeof this paperto articulate In not be missedupon the least reflection. so doing we shallbe tracingthe philosophical roots of Mendelssohn's for the civil admissionof the Jews. plea in The theoryof the originand functionsof the state as presented Part One of and dutiesincumbent Jerusalem emergesfrom an elaboratediscussionof the rights assumedthat, even priorto the social upon man in the state of nature.Mendelssohn contract,man has both rights and duties-a view that was not shared by either Hobbesor Rousseaubut was takenover fromAdam Ferguson'sPrinciples Moral of (1769).In 1772ChristianGarvehad broughtout an annotatedGerman Philosophy translationof this work,"1and there is clear evidence that Mendelssohnavailed himselfof Garve'snotes.12 The distinctionbetweenperfectand imperfect rightsand duties, which is the cornerstoneof Mendelssohn'stheory,goes back to Ferguson: if a rightor duty is of such a naturethat it may be exactedby force, it is called a "perfect"rightor duty. If it is merelyin the natureof a claim that may be directed to anotherperson'sgoodwill (e.g., askingfor charity),it is termedan "imperfect" duty; that is, a mere duty of duty is an "imperfect" right, and the corresponding conscience,whichis nonenforceable. Omittingto fulfilla perfectduty is tantamount to injustice,whereasnoncompliancewith a duty of conscienceis merely unfair. concepts,Mendelssohncontinued:"Man cannot Havingclarifiedthese elementary be happywithoutbeneficence-whetherit be passive,throughreceiving or active, it, it. He cannotattainperfection throughmutualassistance." except throughextending Man is therefore obligedto use for the benefitof his fellowmen as muchof his prophe erty as he can spare without detrimentto his own well-being.Conversely, may to be supported others,shouldhe findhimselfin need of help. In the state by expect of natureit is left entirelyto the individual'sdiscretionto decide the amount, the timing, and the natureof his benefactions.There may be competingclaims on his8 Ibid., p. 181. 9 Ibid., pp. 194-202. 10 See Mendelssohn, pp. 489-96, 502-13. Jerusalem oder uber religiose Macht und Judentum(Berlin 1883) is quoted here. GS, III, 255-362. 11 Adam Fergusons Grundsatze der Moralphilosophie. Obersetzt und mit einigen Anmerkungen versehen von Christian Garve (Leipzig 1772). 12 See GS, III, 279, note; Mendelssohn, pp. 523, 525.

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and beneficence, sincea person'smeansarelimitedandnot all claimscanbe satisfied, the benefactor musthave the choice in the matter."Hence,in the stateof natureIand I alone-am entitledto decidewhether,to what extent,when,to whose benefit, and underwhatconditionsI am obligedto practicebenevolence." follows that in It the state of nature all positiveduties are nonenforceable, imperfectduties;just as positive rights are imperfectrights. In the naturalstate only duties and rights of omission are perfect:I am perfectly(i.e., absolutelyand unconditionally) obliged not to injureanyone, and I am just as perfectlyempowered preventanyonefrom toinjuring me. 13

The identicalview (no doubtalso borrowedfromFerguson) beenexpressed had in 1773 by SamuelJohnson, as reportedby JamesBoswell in his Life of Johnson: "Sir, you must consider that we have perfect and imperfectobligations. Perfect not obligations,whichare generally to do something,areclearand positive,as 'thou shaltnot kill.' But charity,for instance,is not definable limits.It is a dutyto give by to the poor, but no man can say how much another should give to the poor."14 Mendelssohn, however,addeda rider:by concludingcontracts,man left his natural stateandenteredinto moreor less definedsocialrelationships. own natureurged His him to do this so as to changehis undecided,unsettledrightsand dutiesinto somecontractsobviouslyreflected sucha desire thingmore settledand decided.Marriage for stable relations.The social contractby whichthe state came into being was not different fromall otherprivately concludedagreements. Thoughthe right essentially to decide on the meritsof competingclaims and to dispensehis goods restedwith the individual,it seemedadvisableto renouncethe right of autonomousdecision what portions by meansof a specialcontract;thatis, by a legalagreement specifying of his rightsa personcould be compelledto give up for the good of society.By virtue of the social contracta certainpart of the person'sduties of consciencetherefore becamecompulsory duties;they werenow enforceable the state.Henceif a citizen by was remissin the fulfillment his stipulatedduties,the state had the authorityand of suchauthority power and powerto compelhis action.The socialcontractconferring had come into beingeitherby tacit agreement in rarecases,by explicitcompacts. or, this derivationof statepowerfromthe transferof personalprivilege Underlying throughthe social contract,is a highlyoptimisticview of man in the state of nature. MendelssohndistinctlyrejectedHobbes's view that the social contractbroughtto an end man's naturalstate of anarchy,in which therewas a war of all againstall. If it weretrue,he argued,thatnaturalmanwas underno moralobligation(as Hobbes had suggested),what could preventhim from breakingcontractsat any time when he had the physicalpower to do so with impunity?He believedhimself to have evidenceof an impliedadmissionon Hobbes'spartthat naturalman was, discovered Mendelssohndid not discussRousin fact, not devoid of morality.15 In Jerusalem13 14

GS, III, 269-81.

Quoted in Mendelssohn,p. 843, note 74. GS, 11, 259-61. By acknowledging the sovereign's fear of Divine power (Leviathan, II, 30), Mendelssohn argued, Hobbes had shown the possible source of a "solemn right of nature." 15



seau'stheory,but we know froman earlierwork of his that he interpreted Rousseau in a mannerthat broughtthe Frenchphilosophersomewhatinto line with his own view. In the Epistle (Sendschreiben) Lessingwhich he appendedto his German to he translation secondDiscours, claimedthaton closerinspection of Rousseau's (1756) than animalinstincts.He pointedout Rousseaucreditedeven the savagewith more that the feelingof pity ascribedby the Discoursto presocialman, necessarily implied love, and that love, in turn,was basedon the pleasurefound in harmonyand order; which could moreover, that Rousseau had also attributedto him perfectibility, mean nothing less than a strivingfor perfectionand hence an actual, not merely In potential,propensity.16 replyto the Epistle,Lessingvoiced doubtsas to the correctnessof Mendelssohn'sreadingof the Discours,17and it seems obvious from Martin Rang's incisive analysis of Rousseau'sdoctrine of man that Lessing was of Rousseauunderstoodthe almost infinitemalleability man, right.Byperfectibility faith in naturallaw that he not any moral quality.18Yet such was Mendelssohn's could not conceiveof man in any condition as bereftof reasonand morality.For Rousseau,man becameman only when he becamea citizen; only the state and its laws make humanecoexistencepossible.19For Mendelssohn,on the other hand, the state only transforms imperfectinto perfectduties;it cannotcreatecompulsory obligationswhereno duties of conscienceexistedpreviously.Hence man must be wouldagreewith assumedto havebeen man even priorto statelaw.20Mendelssohn thatthe statealonesecuresthe equalityof men. Rousseau,however, This bringsus to the heart of the matterthat we wish to discuss:the way in views the natureand functionof the state as inextricably whichMendelssohn bound with civil equality.To put it succinctly:the social contractby which man relinup the quishedthe state of natureand surrendered legislationof positivedutiesto the as state,must by its verynaturebe considered limitedin scope. It appliesexclusively of to such determination positiveduties as was withinman'soriginalpowerto surrender,but it has no validityin the sphereof inalienablerightsand duties. In more concrete terms: through the social contract the individualrenounceshis right to his be the sole arbiterof the extent,manner,and timingof his benefactions; contributionsto the commonweal are henceforthimposedupon him to a largeextentby law, and the state has coercivepowerto securethem. Yet the individualcan at no time have yieldedto his fellow man in the state of nature,or to the state through his the social contract,the rightto determine own thoughtsand beliefs.No one can, for the sake of good fellowshipor any earthlyreason,go so far as to relinquish his innermostand private sentimentsand convictions. Hence the state cannot haveSee Moses Mendelssohn Gesammelte Schriften Jubilaumsausgabe[Jub A], II (Berlin 1931; reprint, Stuttgart 1972), 86-90. 17 See Lessing's letter of January 21, 1756; JubA, XI (Berlin 1932), 34. 18 See Martin Rang, Rousseaus Lehre vom Menschen (Gottingen 1959), pp. 129-40; Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago 1953), p. 271. 19 Rang, op. cit., pp. 143-46.20 16

GS, III, 196, 281.

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acquiredthe rightof coercionwheremattersof personalconvictionare concerned. The intimatedomainof a person'sfaith must thereforeremaininviolate,free from any kind of state interference.2'A similar view had been expressedby Hobbes, was argumentation the specific Spinoza,and Locke.Whatwasnew in Mendelssohn's the mannerin whichhe established principlefromthe verynatureof the socialcontract.Yet this was not all. He went on to apply the principlein a highly ingenious manner:grantingthe least privilegein civil mattersto membersof a certainchurch, amountsto a kind or withholding certainfreedomsfrom dissidents,he maintained, of coercion.For everyprivilegeis a bribe,and everydenialof freedomis a punishment. A state that accordshonor and dignityto one set of believers,and decreesor permitscontemptand povertyfor another,therebycoerceshumanbeingsto think and feel-or at least tempts them to think and feel-in a certain state-approved manner.For such coercionthere is no valid legal foundation.Such an invasionof of privacyis utterlybeyondthe competence the state.22 With one masterfulstroke Mendelssohnthus demolishedall semblanceof againstthe Jew. The very definitionof legitimacyattachingto civil discrimination the stateas the legalexecutorof the socialcontractwas shownto invalidate claim any to preferentialtreatment granted to any church. The premium paid to any group in terms of civil rights was unmasked, as it were, as an unlawful act of coercion of conscience. Without uttering a plea, without a single word of direct appeal, Mendelssohnstated the case for the civil admission of the Jews. In his Preface to VindiciaeJudaeorumhe had noted that previous debates while Jews, about tolerancehad been concerned solely with dissidentChristians, believersin naturalreligion hardly enteredinto the pictureat all. Muslims, and the Lessingin his Nathanthe Wise(1779),and Dohm in his treatise,had considered monarch"(JosephII) of humanityas a whole," and an "admirable "prerogatives was In Mendelssohn morereserved. them.23 Jerusalem hadcommenced implement to for the "wisemaxim"of tolerance the He praisedFrederick Great,his own monarch, whichhe wasthe firstrulerin the eighteenth centuryto apply,buthe did not explicitly the king to do more than he had alreadydone. Mendelssohneven condoned urge and the prevailing discrimination, expecteda changefor the betteronly in the distant future.To quote his words: "True,with wise moderationhe left the privilegesof the public24religionintact, preserving therebythe statusquo.Perhapscenturiesof that priviwill cultureand preparation still be requiredbeforemen will understand leges accordedon groundsof religionare neitherlawful nor reallybeneficial,and21 Ibid., pp. 197, 285 f. 22 Ibid., pp. 285-86. 23 Ibid., pp. 179-80. 24 Lit. "external" (iusseren), contrasting the interior worship of man with the external, public worship of the dominant church. The same sentiments are expressed in Christian Siegmund Krause's anonymously published work Ueber kirchliche Gewalt. Nach Moses Mendelssohn (Berlin 1786), in which Krause rejects the notion of an established religion as advocated by Emmerich de Vattel and G. L. Bohmer; see pp. 39, 44.



that it would be a true blessing if all civil discriminationbased on religion were While leaving no doubt that he considereddiscrimination entirely abolished."25 of this sort to be devoidof all legality,he was contentto statehis viewwithoutpleading the case of civil admission.It was an attitudeworthy of a philosopher. There was yet another philosophicalapproach that indirectlyadvancedthe of causehe had so much at heart.Its immediateconcernwas the separation church as and state. Locke had drawn a neat distinctionbetween the "commonwealth" and advancingof "a society of men constitutedonly for the procuring,preserving their own civil interests"[and]the churchas "a voluntarysociety of men"devoted to "the public worshippingof God in such a manneras they judge acceptableto Him, and effectualto the salvationof their souls."26Mendelssohnadvancedtwo spheresof interestof church objectionsto this strictdivisionbetweenthe respective with the temporalwelfareof and state. First,if the state concerneditselfexclusively its citizensand left theireternalfelicityentirelyto the church,it was inevitablethat the church, being in charge of men's ultimate vocation, would claim superiority over the state and assertits authorityin cases of conflictingduties. Second, Mendelssohn consideredit neithertrue nor in the best interestsof man to distinguish so sharplybetweenthe temporaland the eternal. It seemed to him that Locke's radicalseparationof temporaland eternalwelfarewas bound to encouragemen to neglect their duties as citizens on earth "in the hope of therebybecomingbetter In citizensof heaven."27 a similarvein, Rousseauhad voiced the fear that a truly good Christian might lose all interestin the mundaneaffairsof state, believingthat only life eternalmattered.28 Against such undue emphasison the world-to-come, Mendelssohnquoted a well-knownrabbinic saying (Abot 4:12), which he paraphrasedas follows: "Thislife is a vestibulein which we have to conductourselves in as we wishto appear the innermost chamber."29 beingthecase,the bifurcation This of society into state and religionshouldnot mean a total separation.The state has no interestin religion insofar as strictlytheologicaltenets are concerned,but the in state is vitallyinterested religioninsofaras it teachesmoralityand social conduct. If the nation is to be governedultimatelyby the inculcationof moral principles, ratherthan by fearof the coercivepowerof the state,the churchmust be considered an invaluable assetto the state.30 By emphasizingthe moral function of religion,Mendelssohnfound a way of the integrating churchinto the state'ssphereof interestwithoutpermitting state any in interference thetheologiesandinternal affairsof the variouschurches. the same By token he placed all religionson one and the same level vis-a-visthe state. Again,25 GS, III, pp. 300-02. 26 See The Worksof John Locke (London 1823; reprint, Aalen 1963), VI, 5 ff. ("A Letter concerning Toleration," First Letter); cf. GS, III, 261. 27 Ibid.,pp. 262-63. 28 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres completes, III, 465 (Du Contract social, IV). 29 GS, III, 263. 30 Ibid., pp. 264-67.

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and the principle equalitywasasserted, seeingthatthe Jewwasbeingdiscriminated of on purelyreligiousgrounds,it followedwith inexorable against logic that the denial of civil equalityto the Jew was unjustifiable. The state was entitledto apply one criterion only; namely, the degree of moral influence exercisedby the various churches.It was by this yardstick,and it alone, that a religiouscommunitywas to be judgedfroma politicalaspect. How seriouslyMendelssohn took this criterionmay be gaugedby the fact that he assignedto the statethe dutyas well as the rightto supervise churches some the in broadfashionto preventthe spreadof antisocialideas. Lockehad excludedatheists from the commonwealth the assumptionthat "promises,covenants,and oaths, on which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist."31 The of whetheratheism and moralitycould exist togetherhad been a major question topic of debatefor some time past. PierreBayle and John Toland,takingtheir cue from Plutarch,had arguedthat superstitionand idolatrywere far more injurious to moralitythan atheism, but Mendelssohnstronglycontestedthis view.32In his he Jerusalem referred againto this question,pointingout that one evil was as pernithat it was incumbent cious as the other,andsuggesting uponthe stateto ensurethat the doctrineswhich undermined body politic would not take root. Yet he stressed the need to do so only "froma distance"-that is, in the most generalway, without enteringinto philosophicalor theologicalminutiae;in other words, without exercising coercive power and assuming the mantle of authority in the intellectualrealm.33

I suggestthat Mendelssohn's plea for noninterference the state in matters by of specificdoctrine,religiousor otherwise,servesagain to underlinehis advocacy and vis-a-visthe churches.Dohm held of the state'scompleteneutrality impartiality the sameview.WhentheAustrianemperor expelleda deisticsectof Bohemian exactly peasantsand in the expulsionorder invoked "the only saving faith," Dohm was outraged,both at the action itself and at the formulaused, the latterbeing "wholly Dohm's reaction unworthyof the officialstyle of an enlightenedgovernment."34 shows that in his view the state was to conductits businessin a completelysecular vein.The notion of a Christian statewas utterlyforeignto him.It was this secularized of the state that enabledMendelssohnto base his hopes for the Jews'civil concept admissionon the intrinsiccharacter the state-church of relationship. Mendelssohn's theorywould have been a mereblueprintfor utopiahad not the in conceptof the churchitselfundergonea radicalmetamorphosis the more enlight35 circlesthat had adopted"collegianism." This school of thought enedecclesiastical character a divinelyfoundedmysticalbody, as divestedthe churchof its traditional and consideredit instead,by analogy with the state, as a free associationof like32

31 Locke, op. cit., p. 47. JubA, II, 21 f.; see Fritz Bamberger's note, pp. 375 f. 33 GS, III, 287. 34 See Mendelssohn,pp. 462 f. 35 See ibid., pp. 518-19.



minded individuals, established by contract. The theory of the churches as mere "collegia" goes back to Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and Samuel Pufendorf (16321694). It was developed and designated "collegianism" by Christian M. Pfaff of Tiibingen in his "Academic Addresses on Ecclesiastical Law" (1742). J. H. Boehmer's monumental Jus ecclesiasticum Protestanticum reflected the fundamental outlook of collegianism in its repudiation of the ban as an instrument for the enforcement of church discipline.36 A work of similar orientation was Israel Gottlieb Canz's Disciplinae morales omnes, from which Mendelssohn made excerpts in preparation for writing Jerusalem.37In one of his notes on those excerpts, Mendelssohn referred to an inconsistency in Canz's provisions for the treatment of dissidents: while they were not to be deprived of their civil rights, they had to forgo the ecclesiastical rights enjoyed by other members of the church.38 We are not surprised to find that this position was regarded as unsatisfactory by Mendelssohn, who in his Preface to Manasseh's Vindiciae Judaeorum had made the point that ecclesiastical ostracism inevitably injured the social and civil status of a person.39 His critique of Canz also anticipated the strong stand he made in Jerusalem on what he called the pretentious claim of the post-Reformation churches to undisputed authority and the right of coercion. In his view the churches still behaved as if they represented the Church (with a capital C), whereas in fact they were freely established religious associationsa fact conceded by collegianism, as we have noted. Whereas collegianism clung to the notion of the contractual origin of the churches, however, Mendelssohn strenuously denied this thesis. Only the state had come into being as a result of a social contract. In the case of religious associations the concept of contractual origin made no sense whatever. He considered this a point of tremendous significance, and he defined the difference as follows: The coercive power of the state is the corollary of the social contract. It derives from the surrender of the individuals' natural prerogative to decide in cases of competing claims, as has been explained above. In the case of religion or church the raison d'etre for a social contract is lacking. The idea of a transference of the right to settle conflicting claims to one's benevolence simply has no place where religion is concerned. For religion is essentially a concern for one's relation to God. No conflict of duties toward God-the settling of which might have been passed on to the church-can be conceived. For which benefits could God receive from man? It follows that the church could never have acquired the right to use coercion. "Divine religion .. . does not prod men with an iron rod; it guides them with 'bands of love.' It draws no avenging sword, dispenses no worldly goods, arrogates to itself no right to earthly possessions, and usurps no external power over any person's mind. Its sole weapons are reason and persuasion; its strength is the divine power of truth."4036 See lusti Henningii Boehmeri Ius Ecclesiasticum Protestanticum,vol. V, 3d ed. (Halle, 1763), Book V, chap. 34, par. 55, pp. 962 ff. 37 See Mendelssohn,p. 519. 38 Ibid. 39 GS, III, 197-201. 40 Ibid., pp. 282, 294-98.

Plea TheRootsof Mendelssohn's for Emancipation


with an appealto Judaeorum Mendelssohnconcludedhis Prefaceto Vindiciae the "most enlightenedand most pious" among the rabbis and Jewish elders to he renouncethe weaponof herem,and at the end of PartOne of his Jerusalem struck the samenote again.Seenin thecontextof his concernfor civiladmission,thispowerful advocacyof a totally noncoercivetype of religionappearsas the final efforton Mendelssohn's part to facilitatethe integrationof the Jews into the secularstate. Coercivepowerin the form of heremhad indicateda measureof Jewishautonomy in and was a relicof Jewishself-government the MiddleAges. Unlike the excommubut nicationpracticedby the church,it was not entirelyecclesiastical, had a certain connotation.It was the vestigeof a state within the state.41(Not that the political exercise of this form of power had been left completelyto the discretionof the rabbinate.We know, for example,that a royalresolutionof May 5, 1781,deprived the ban"againstanymember thechiefrabbiof Altonaof therightto pronounce "great with To of the community.42) Mendelssohnthe use of heremseemedincompatible of the desiredintegration Jewryinto the body politic.In the contextof his theoryof of state and religionit had lost all validity.The verydesireto wield this instrument was to him evidenceof an attitudethat had to be overcomeif the community power was to qualifyfor civil admission.43 betweenciviladmission saw Onthe otherhand,Mendelssohn no incompatibility and the preservation the Jews'separateidentityas a nation. WhenJohannDavid of Michaelisargued,againstDohm's plea, that so long as the Jewskept theirlaws they would be unable to coalesce with the citizenry,Mendelssohnpublisheda spirited reply in Part Two of Dohm's treatise:44He did not deny that the Jews wished to preservetheir separatenationalidentity.In his view, however,a group'sreadiness to coalescewas no criterionof worthinessas far as civil rightswereconcerned.The only legitimatequestion was, Can the Jews be expected to dischargethe duties incumbentupon citizens?He had no doubt that the answerto this questionwas in order. was But the affirmative. the issueof herem of a different A philosophicalmotif of a truly metaphysical nature,bearingon the plea for Jerusalem. maycallit an argument We of in appears the lastparagraph emancipation, for religiouspluralism.It is embeddedin an appealto the Jewishcommunitynot to It sacrificeJewishidentityon the altar of emancipation. had becomeclear to Menin delssohn that the celebratedPatent of Toleranceas promulgated BohemiaconHe taineda clausethat put a premiumon conversionto Christianity.45 himselfhad been imploredto lead his people toward a union with enlightenedChristianity.46 It seemedthat the issueof civil rightswas beinglinkedto the lureof baptismor some41 See Mendelssohn, pp. 472 f. 42 See Heinz Mosche Graupe, Die Statuten der drei GemeindenAltona, Hamburg und Wandsbeck (Hamburg 1973), I, 93, note 118. 43 See Mendelssohn, p. 471. 44 See ibid., pp. 465 f. 45 See ibid., p. 462. 46 See ibid., pp. 495 f., 508 ff.



more moderateform of religiousunification.It was againstthis dangerthat Mendelssohn called upon his brethrento be on their guard.As he put it, therewas no purpose in trying to effect a specious unity through some contrived theological formulaof compromise. The endeavorto obliteratedistinctiveness tantamount was to thwartingthe purposesof Providence;for variety, not uniformity,was God's design. This metaphysical concept was not stated here for the first time or merely at random.It was partand parcelof Mendelssohn's philosophy.In 1777the baron Karl Theodor von Dalberg had solicited Mendelssohn'sopinion on the treatise "Reflectionson the Universe",which Dalberghad publishedthat year. According to Dalberg, the universallaw governingthe coexistenceof things was to be found in theirtendency assimilate to witheachother.Mendelssohn criticized thesis. had this He had distinguished betweensamenessand unity. Samenesscancelsthe manifold, unity connectsit. The degreeof unity dependson the varietyit combines.The more the manifoldis connected,the greaterthe ensuingunity.The forcesof natureseemto aim not so muchat the obliterationof differences at the connectionof the manias fold.47In Jerusalem Mendelssohnappliedthis metaphysical principleto the socioreligious issue at stake. Religious pluralism,not uniformity,was the design of Providence.The civil admissionof the Jewshad to be dissociatedfromany demand for Jewishself-obliteration. In his endeavorto securethe Jews' civil admission,Mendelssohndevelopeda theory of churchand state that went beyond the principleof tolerationadvocated by Locke. What he propoundedwas a political doctrine conduciveto equalitarianism. There is good reason to assume that Mendelssohnwas emboldenedto advancehis strikinglyprogressiveideas becausethe principleof religiousequality was just then being implemented the wake of the AmericanRevolution.That he in closely followedthe eventsacrossthe Atlanticis obvious froma footnote at the end of Jerusalem:"Alas, now even the Congressin Americarehashesthe old sloganand speaks of a dominant religion."48 This remark clearly shows that until this

latest news reachedhim he had been greatlyencouraged the Americanexample. by He may have guessedthat the setbackwas only a temporary affair.In the veryyear in which Mendelssohn wrote Jerusalem(1782), Thomas Jeffersonwrote his Notes in on Virginia, whichhe expressedthe view that a varietyof religiousopinionswas in the best interestsof progressand freedom;that the legitimatepowersof government extendedonly to such acts as were injuriousto others; and that nobody was injuredby his neighbor's religiousbeliefs.49 Some similarityin outlook may be noted between Mendelssohn'spolitical creedand the views expressed threeyearslaterby anotheradmirerof the AmericanGS, V, 537 f.; Mendelssohn, pp. 313-15; 809, note 5. GS, III, 361, note. 49 See Anson Phelps Stokes, Churchand State in the United States (New York 1950), I, 334 f. It was due to James Madison's efforts that Patrick Henry's assessment bill imposing a federal tax "for the support of the Christian religion, or of some Christian church, denomination or communion of Christians, or of some form of Christian worship" did not become law. See ibid., I, 388 f.47 48

The Roots of Mendelssohn's Pleafor Emancipation


Revolution, Richard Price, who was a fellow both of the Royal Society in England and of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in New England. Like Mendelssohn, he had criticized the moral-sense theory of Francis Hutcheson and, like Mendelssohn, he had shown considerable interest in the theory of probability. 50 In 1785 he published in London his Observationson the Importance of the American Revolution, in which he wrote as follows: I In Libertyof Conscience includemuch more than Toleration.... Not only all Christians, but all menof all religionsought to be consideredby a State as equallyentitled to its protectionas far as they demeanthemselveshonestlyand peaceably.Toleration mode of religion; of can take placeonly wherethereis a civil establishment a particular and sect that is, wherea predominant enjoysexclusive advantages, makesthe encouragement of its own mode of faith and worshipa part of the constitutionof the State; but at the same time thinksfit to sufferthe exerciseof other modes of faith and worship. to Thanksbe to God, the new AmericanStatesare at presentstrangers such establishments.In this respect,as well as many others,they have shewn,in framingtheirconsti5 whichis aboveall praise. of tution,a degree wisdomandliberality There is no evidence that Price's treatise came to Mendelssohn's notice. Yet Mendelssohn would have been highly pleased not only by the paragraph just quoted but also by another one bearing on an issue treated in Part One of Jerusalem, an issue which had involved Mendelssohn in some unpleasantness. He had attacked the imposition of oaths upon the appointment of ministers of religion, and he had dared to question the veracity of many of the oaths taken. In this context he had referred to the thirty-nine articles of faith to which the Anglican clergy, including the lord bishops of the realm, had to subscribe.52 Johann David Michaelis had reprimanded him severely for what he considered a calumny, and Mendelssohn had to vindicate himself.53 He would have been amused had he read what Price had to say on the very same subject: in is The ChurchEstablishment England one of the mildestand best sort. But even here what a snare has it been to integrity?And what a check to free enquiry? .. What a of burthenis it on the consciencesof some of its best clergy,who, in consequence being bound down to a systemthey do not approve,and havingno supportexceptthat which they derivefrom conformingto it, find themselvesunder the hard necessityof either

50 Richard Price, Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals (1758; 3d ed. 1787), ed. by D. D. Raphael (Oxford 1948). Price's Observations on Reversionary Payments (1771), which laid the foundations of a scientific system of life insurance, was based on his work on a problem in the theory of probability; see Encyclopaedia Britannica (1964), vol. 18, pp. 467 f.; and Thomas Bayes, Facsimile of two papers... I. An essay toward solving a problem in the doctrine of chances, with Richard Price's foreword and discussion ... (Washington 1940). For Mendelssohn's critique of Hutcheson, see my Moses Mendelssohns Friihschriftenzur Metaphysik (Tiibingen 1969), pp. 170, 344-56; for his theory of probability, see ibid., pp. 209-51. on the Importanceof the American Revolutionand the Means of making 51 Richard Price, Observations it a Benefit to the World(London 1785), pp. 34-35.52

GS, III, 291-92.

53 See Mendelssohn, pp. 529-31.



or prevaricating starving?-No one doubts but that the Englishclergyin generalcould assentto with moretruthdeclarethat they do not, than that they do give theirunfeigned all andeverythingcontained the thirty-nine in Articlesand the Book of Common-prayer; and yet, with a solemndeclarationto this purpose,are they obliged to enter upon an officewhichabove all officesrequiresthose who exerciseit to be examplesof simplicity the and sincerity.-Who can helpexecrating causeof suchan evil?54

It is astonishingto find how correctlyMendelssohnhad diagnosedthe situation church.The specificcase he had createdin Englandby the existenceof an established presentedwas ostensiblyconcernedonly with the separationof churchand state. Yet the aim that was uppermostin his mind was the civil admissionof the Jews. In conclusionwe may say: Mendelssohn's proposal to transcendall religious in divisionsas irrelevant termsof human rights,was a liberalsolution. In arguing from certainpremises naturallaw, he clearlyconsideredthe state of naturenot as of a historicalphasepreceding establishment politicalsociety,but as a hypothesis the of abstractedfrom all the obligations voluntarilyaccepted by men for the best of society, a hypothesiswhichconsideredman in his very essence.55 WhetherHobbes, the Locke, and Rousseauregarded state of natureas a merelyhypotheticalassumption or as a historicalfact is a matter of debate among scholars.56It seems that Mendelssohnlooked upon the state of nature as a present reality insofar as the In positionof the Jewsin civilsocietywas concerned. one of his notebookshe entered the following remarka propos Rousseau's Second Discours: "One whose rights areviolatedin an illicitfashionis beingwarred against:hencetheJewsarecontinually 7 of beingwarred against."5 Theterm"war"is reminiscent Hobbes,as is the reference to the violationof rights.It was Hobbeswho in the discussionof naturallaw shifted the emphasisfrom dutiesto rights,as Leo Strausshas shown:58in the naturalstate there are no absolute or unconditionalduties; only the right of self-preservation is unconditionaland absolute.Consequently,the prime functionof civil society is the safeguardingof this natural right of each individual. Mendelssohn,though with Hobbesin most respects,fully sharedhis emphasison this inaliendisagreeing able rightof the individual; from this liberaldoctrinefollowedthe view that the and who was constantlybeingwarredagainst,mustbe emancipated. Jew,

54 Price, op. cit., pp. 36-37. 55 See JubA, II, 92. 56 See Strauss, op. cit., pp. 230, 274 f.; M. Seliger, The Liberal Politics of John Locke (London 1968). 57 JubA, II, 8. 58 Op. cit., pp. 182 f. For the view of Mendelssohn as a "disciple of Hobbes," see Strauss' Philosophie und Gesetz (Berlin 1935), p. 66, note 1.