The contemporary tragedy of the Jewish people, both the outer tragedy and the inner tragedy, is not least to be attributed to the superficial and unrealistic interpretation of the terms “rights” and “equal rights.” This interpretation, which has done us immeasurable harm, derives from the eighteenth century Enlightenment, a period and a movement never to be mentioned without honor, but a period and a movement that did not know enough, that did not and would not reckon with the basic facts of human nature.
It assumed that all men were alike; hence it reasoned that identical rights were equivalent rights, and proceeded to plead for equal, meaning identical rights, for all men. Along came Napoleon Bonaparte, that harsh realist, and summoned the Sanhedrin to Paris. He placed before that assembly certain questions. He said, in brief: You shall have civic rights equal to those of other French citizens if you will sell out spiritually and ethically, if you will abandon all separateness not only of action but of feeling, give up the Messianic hope, consider all Frenchmen your brethren and no one else across the frontier and, as a proof of your sincerity, approve of intermarriage. Well, poor old Sinzheimer and the others writhed and whimpered. They were no fools. But they accepted. What else could they do? But did they have equal rights? What other group of citizens had been asked to give up all that was dear and all that was venerable and all that they and their ancestors had cherished and had lived and died for during millennia? It was and it is to this day a ribald joke to say that for Jews or for any cultural minority identical rights are equivalent rights. We have never during the entire period of the emancipation had rights equal in value to us of the rights accorded to our fellow-citizens, for the glaring reason that identical rights could not in the nature of the case be equivalent rights to us. In the deepest sense we have never been emancipated; nor can we ever be except by a state that is based upon the concept of cultural and ideological pluralism sincerely and ab initia.
Let us revert in illustration once more to the ghastly situation in Vienna. Anyone at all in touch with the German situation knows that the cruellest part of it is the spiritual suffering of our children in the German schools, the psychical wounds (traumas) inflicted on them which through them will corrode generations yet unborn. Can any Jew, can any human being possessing a last rag of humane feeling, think of this tormenting of children without unbearable grief and rage? Well, those Jewish children in German schools have on paper equal rights. Does anyone doubt that in Vienna today the situation is rapidly becoming identical with the German situation? To speak of five Jewish children in a class of fifty in a school corrupted by anti-Semitic demoonology as having any rights, identical or equivalent, is a joke of deathly gruesomeness. The first step toward giving them any rights is to concentrate them in Jewish schools, to make these schools nobly and self-affirmatively Jewish and thus to take away from them the burden of hatred, the corruption of soul and mind that has attacked their fellow-countrymen like a foul disease. Take it at its worst. Take it that the Austrian government has the quite literally insane brutality not to staff the Jewish schools with Jewish teachers. Well, in the face of a class of fifty Jewish children even a Nazi teacher would be powerless to insult, to wound, to harry. There is still a vestige of world-opinion. I do not think even Austria would proceed against Jewish children for quiet non-cooperation with a teacher who did not respect their Jewish sensibilities.
This simple but quite crucial example illustrates the fact that identical rights far from being equivalent rights (rights equal in value and effectiveness and the opportunity of exercising freedom) can become the source of the most fiendish tyranny and inhumanity. And this example can be multiplied a thousandfold. For the pagan neo-nationalistic state has tended all through the past century more or less toward totalitarian structure and tribal stupor. Both have arrived in country after country. The old pagan disease (see Plutarch on the Spartan state) has reached a virulent and poisonous crisis that may destroy civilization as we know it. Let us Jews at least think clearly; let us at least think the matter through. In the still libertarian and civilized countries let us decrease friction and train both ourselves and our Gentile fellow-citizens by making it clear that identical rights tend to impoverish us and irritate them. We need equivalent rights. Thus and thus only can a gradual process of happier readjustment set in. Once more I call attention to the fact that Catholic minorities in Protestant countries have always most wisely and most honorably sought in education, in the question of marriage and divorce, in the solution of still other problems, to achieve equivalent rights and have refused to avail themselves of identical rights which would have been to them not rights but oppression and injustice.