Liu comes from a family of farmers. They are also Christians. In China, where religion is perceived as a threat to the ruling Communist Party, Christians are routinely persecuted and worship is allowed only in officially sanctioned churches. “Any ideas or philosophy or cultures are controlled. In the past it was controlled by the imperial emperors and now by the party,” said Liu. “But Jewish people don’t have such a strong political power. So, [Judaism] has more pluralism.”
It is this space and allowance—even encouragement—for debate that has helped Jews make cultural and scientific strides in the world, Liu said he believed: “In the Talmud, for one question they have different answers. But in China we have [either] correct or incorrect. If someone has different opinions, it is difficult to live.”
Here is the book’s thesis: Some groups (Cubans, Nigerians, Mormons, Jews, some Asian groups, south Asian Indians, and Iranians) have experienced upward mobility in the U.S. at higher rates because they possess three cultural qualities: impulse control, feelings of superiority, and feelings of inferiority. By impulse control, they mean the ability to resist temptation (to quit, for example); superiority and inferiority appear to be a simultaneous belief in your group’s specialness (e.g., God’s chosen people) and deep-seated anxiety about inadequacy, the kind that a Chinese mother might instill in her daughter by calling her garbage.
“Do you know how many Chinese Nobel Prize winners there are?” asked Liu, not waiting for an answer. He didn’t have to. The Chinese have long articulated ambitions to win more Nobel prizes. (No Chinese-born scientist, for example, has ever been awarded a Nobel Prize for work in the mainland.) “The Jewish population is very small but the Chinese is big,” Liu said. “Compare that, if you will. When we know that the Jewish people are so successful in both science and human studies, we feel that maybe we can learn from them.”
Announcement of the 2013 Nobel winners continues and enlarges the extraordinary record of Jewish recipients. According to Wikipedia, Nobel Laureates totaled 855 up to this year, of whom 125 were Jews, with another 60 counted as half of three-quarter Jews. In the sciences, the record was even more remarkable, with Jews taking 26 percent of the prizes in Physics, 27 percent in Physiology/Medicine, and 37 percent in Economic Science.
Since Jews make up only 0.2 percent of the world’s population, these are astonishing statistics and have led to considerable speculation about the existence of a “Jewish gene.” However, since Jews are not considered a distinct genetic group, the Israeli daily Haaretz looked elsewhere. It credited cultural aspects, such as the value Jews put on education, or that Jews had to be smart just to survive, whether amidst the tribal warfare of the ancient Middle East or later in exile.
The unique historical relationship between capitalism and the Jews is crucial to understanding modern European and Jewish history. But the subject has been addressed less often by mainstream historians than by anti-Semites or apologists. In this book Jerry Muller, a leading historian of capitalism, separates myth from reality to explain why the Jewish experience with capitalism has been so important and complex--and so ambivalent.
Drawing on economic, social, political, and intellectual history from medieval Europe through contemporary America and Israel, Capitalism and the Jews examines the ways in which thinking about capitalism and thinking about the Jews have gone hand in hand in European thought, and why anticapitalism and anti-Semitism have frequently been linked. The book explains why Jews have tended to be disproportionately successful in capitalist societies, but also why Jews have numbered among the fiercest anticapitalists and Communists. The book shows how the ancient idea that money was unproductive led from the stigmatization of usury and the Jews to the stigmatization of finance and, ultimately, in Marxism, the stigmatization of capitalism itself. Finally, the book traces how the traditional status of the Jews as a diasporic merchant minority both encouraged their economic success and made them particularly vulnerable to the ethnic nationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Providing a fresh look at an important but frequently misunderstood subject, Capitalism and the Jews will interest anyone who wants to understand the Jewish role in the development of capitalism, the role of capitalism in the modern fate of the Jews, or the ways in which the story of capitalism and the Jews has affected the history of Europe and beyond, from the medieval period to our own.
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