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Altmann the Philosophical Roots of Mendelssohn's Emancipation Plea

Altmann the Philosophical Roots of Mendelssohn's Emancipation Plea

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The Philosophical Roots of Moses Mendelssohn's Plea for EmancipationAuthor(s): Alexander AltmannSource:
Jewish Social Studies,
Vol. 36, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1974), pp. 191-202Published by:
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Accessed: 29/06/2011 12:37
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ThePhilosophicalRootsofMosesMendelssohn'sPleaforEmancipation
byAlexander Altmann
Inthefallof1781,when ChristianWilhelmDohm's treatise"On theCivilIm-provementof the Jews"appeared,'MosesMendelssohneimmersedimselfnthestudyof naturalaw,asubjecthat hadalwaysattractedhim,and certainaspectsofwhichhehadalreadyoucheduponinhisAcademyprizeessayof1763.2The reasonthatmovedhimto returnothesubjectsnot far toseek.The issueofthe civiladmis-sion oftheJews,whichhad been raisednDohm'streatise,wasenteringanewstageafterhepromulgationf the PatentofTolerancenBohemiaonOctober19,1781
3
Itwasobviouslydesirableo fosteralivelydebateconcerninghe matternPrussia,where hegovernmenthowednointentionoffollowingtheprecedentetby JosephII.AsMendelssohnutit inalettertohis friendFriedrichNicolai:"Ithink that atthepresentime oneoughttokeepthepublicconstantlyenhaleineinsuspense]nregardothismatter,andthat theprosand cons ofthisissueshouldcontinue o be asubjectof debate."4He felt that as aphilosopheremightnterjectnto thediscussionviewpointsofhisown. Hencehis resumedpreoccupationwith naturalaw. Thefirstresultof hiseffortswas ashortfragment"On PerfectandImperfectDuties,"whichwas writtennNovember1781.Theideassketched hereinbecame henucleusofhistheoryof therelationshipbetweenchurchandstate,atheorythat wasmeanttoundergirdispleaforemancipation.6Mendelssohnirstpresentedhisnotions aboutchurchand stateinthePrefacetoMarcus Herz'sGermanversionof ManassehbenIsrael's Vindiciaeudaeorum,publishedbyhimintheearlyspringof1782as a"Supplement"oDohm's earliertreatise.7Mendelssohnmodestlyremarked hat therewaslittle he couldadd,Dohm
Christian WilhelmDohm,Ober diebirgerlicheVerbesserungderJuden(Berlin&Stettin,1781).For the dateofpublication,see AlexanderAltmann,MosesMendelssohn: ABiographical Study (Univer-sity,Alabama1973) [hereafterreferredto asMendelssohn],p.454.2Seeibid.,pp.281,469.
3
See Jacob Katz'sessayinZion,vol. xxix(1964),pp.127f.,where theprincipal bibliographicalreferencesaregiven.The Austrian versionof thePatent followedonJanuary2,1782.
4
Theletterfromwhichthis statementisquotedis nowpublishedinAlexanderAltmann,"Neuer-schlossene BriefeMoses Mendelssohns an FriedrichNicolai,"LessingYearbookV1973(Munich 1973),p.42(no.49).ThedateisFebruary8,1782.
5
Published in MosesMendelssohn'sgesammelteSchriften,ed.byG. B. Mendelssohn(Leipzig1843-1845) [hereafterreferred to asGS],IV.1,pp.128-31.
6
The term"emancipation"isused hereanachronistically,since it wasnotemployedat the time.See JacobKatz,"The Term 'JewishEmancipation':ItsOriginand HistoricalImpact,"Studies in Nine-teenth-CenturyJewishIntellectualHistory,ed.byAlexander Altmann(Cambridge,Mass.1964),pp.1-25.
7
ManassehBenIsrael,RettungderJuden. Aus demEnglischenibersetzt.NebsteinerVorrede vonMosesMendelssohn.AlseinAnhangzudesHrn.KriegsrathsDohmAbhandlung:Uber diebiirgerlicheVerbesserungder Juden(Berlin& Stettin1782);reproducedinGS,III,177-254.
191
 
192
JEWISH SOCIALSTUDIES
havingall butexhaustedhephilosophicalandpoliticalaspectsof the matter.8Inactualfact,however,MendelssohnaddedanentirelynewdimensiontoDohm'shumanitarianleabyofferinganoutlineof histheoryofstate and churchhathadadirectbearingonthe civiladmissionofthe Jews.Yet it did soonlytowardheend,andalmostncidentally,nconnectionwithhisremonstrationgainsthe useof thebanbythe rabbinate.9Evenso,his remarkswerewidelynoted andprovokeddiversereactions,nresponseto which Mendelssohnwrotehis Jerusalem r OnReligiousPowerandJudaism1783).1It is here thatwefindhisfull-fledgedreatment f stateandreligion,romwhichmportantonsequencesollowfortheissueof civilequality.Althoughthepleafor Jewishemancipations not the overtthemeofthebook,noonereadingtcouldfail tosee theimplicationsofMendelssohn'spoliticaltheory.It is thepurposeof thispaperoarticulatewhat wasdeliberatelyeft unsaidyetcouldnotbemissedupontheleastreflection.n sodoingweshallbetracinghephilosoph-icalrootsof Mendelssohn'sleafor thecivil admissionoftheJews.Thetheoryoftheoriginandfunctionsofthestateaspresentedn Part OneofJerusalemmergesromanelaboratediscussionoftherightsand dutiesncumbentuponmaninthe stateofnature.Mendelssohnssumedhat,evenpriortothe socialcontract,man hasbothrightsandduties-aview thatwasnotsharedbyeitherHobbesor Rousseaubutwas takenoverfromAdamFerguson'sPrinciplesfMoralPhilosophy1769).In1772ChristianGarvehadbroughtout anannotatedGermantranslationofthiswork,"1and thereis clear evidencethatMendelssohnavailedhimselfofGarve's
notes.12
Thedistinctionbetweenperfectandimperfectightsandduties,whichis thecornerstoneof Mendelssohn'sheory,goesbacktoFerguson:if arightordutyisofsuchanaturethat itmaybe exactedbyforce,itis called a"perfect"ightorduty.If itismerelyn the natureofa claim thatmaybedirectedtoanotherperson'sgoodwill (e.g.,askingforcharity),t istermedan"imperfect"right,and thecorrespondingdutyis an"imperfect"duty;thatis,ameredutyofconscience,whichsnonenforceable.Omittingo fulfillaperfectdutyistantamounttoinjustice,whereasnoncompliancewith adutyof conscienceismerelyunfair.Havingclarifiedheseelementary oncepts,Mendelssohn ontinued:"Mancannotbehappywithoutbeneficence-whethert bepassive,hroughreceivingt,oractive,throughextendingt.He cannotattainperfectionxcepthroughmutualassistance."Manis thereforebligedouseforthe benefitofhis fellowmen asmuchofhisprop-ertyashecansparewithoutdetrimentohisownwell-being.Conversely,hemayexpectto besupportedbyothers,shouldhefindhimself n needofhelp.In thestateofnaturet is leftentirelyto the individual'sdiscretion o decidetheamount,thetiming,and the natureof his benefactions.Theremaybecompetingclaims onhis
8Ibid.,p.181.9Ibid.,pp.194-202.10SeeMendelssohn,pp.489-96,502-13.JerusalemoderuberreligioseMachtund Judentum(Berlin1883)isquotedhere.GS,III,255-362.11AdamFergusonsGrundsatze derMoralphilosophie.ObersetztundmiteinigenAnmerkungenversehenvonChristian Garve(Leipzig1772).
12
SeeGS,III,279, note;Mendelssohn,pp.523,525.

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