Conigsby’s Myth of Jewish Racial Superiority
In Coningsby, the first political novel in English, Disraeli propounds his theory of Jewish superiority in the words of Sidonia, an enigmatic, Byronic character who has qualities of both Disraeli and his friend Baron Lionel de Rothschild. Coningsby, the novel’s protagonist, becomes fascinated by the stranger’s Oriental wisdom. As David Cesarani points out, ‘Sidonia is one Disraeli’s enduring creations, a landmark in Jewish literary history and a major trope in representation of the Jews’ (73).
Disraeli’s Sidonia, a foreigner of Spanish Marrano descent, has a knowledge both wide and deep not only of politics, political history, and theory but also of religion, science, art, sociology and anthropology. In fact,
Sidonia had exhausted all the sources of human knowledge; he was master of the learning of every nation, of all tongues dead or living, of every literature, Western and Oriental. He had pursued the speculations of science to their last term, and had himself illustrated them by observation and experiment. He had lived in all orders of society, had viewed every combination of Nature and of Art, and had observed man under every phasis of civilisation. He had even studied him in the wilderness. The influence of creeds and laws, manners, customs, traditions, in all their diversities, had been subjected to his personal scrutiny. [Bk IV, Ch 10]
Sidonia knows a lot about English institutions, and not suprirsingly his political and racial views reflect those of Disraeli. He urges Coningsby and the new generation of Conservatives to look for the future of England in what is more powerful than laws and institutions —‘in the national character’ (Bk IV, Ch 13). When Coningsby asks Sidonia what he understands by the term ‘national character’, Sidonia replies: ‘A character is an assemblage of qualities; the character of England should be an assemblage of great qualities’ (Bk IV, Ch 13). Next, Sidonia praises the indestructibility and superiority of the Hebrew race, which he considers to be predestined to exert enormous influence on other races. Surprisingly, he compares Jews to … Tories. He also tells Coningsby about the prejudice against the Jews in England, although, the Jewish people have contributed to the welfare of the country and have been its loyal subjects.
The Jews, for example, independently of the capital qualities for citizenship which they possess in their industry, temperance, and energy and vivacity of mind, are a race essentially monarchical, deeply religious, and shrinking themselves from converts as from a calamity, are ever anxious to see the religious systems of the countries in which they live flourish; yet, since your society has become agitated in England, and powerful combinations menace your institutions, you find the once loyal Hebrew invariably arrayed in the same ranks as the leveller, and the latitudinarian, and prepared to support the policy which may even endanger his life and property, rather than tamely continue under a system which seeks to degrade him. The Tories lose an important election at a critical moment; ‘tis the Jews come forward to vote against them. The Church is alarmed at the scheme of a latitudinarian university, and learns with relief that funds are not forthcoming for its establishment; a Jew immediately advances and endows it. Yet the Jews, Coningsby, are essentially Tories. Toryism, indeed, is but copied from the mighty prototype which has fashioned Europe …. And at this moment, in spite of centuries, of tens of centuries, of degradation, the Jewish mind exercises a vast influence on the affairs of Europe. I speak not of their laws, which you still obey; of their literature, with which your minds are saturated; but of the living Hebrew intellect. [Bk IV, Ch 15]
Sidonia expounds his theory of racial superiority also claiming that Jews occupy many high positions in European governments and universities as well as standing behind revolutionary movements. Contrary to the views of the majority of contemporary Anglo-Jews, Disraeli replicates some of the racist and anti-Semitic sentiments of Thomas Carlyle, in large part because he, like anti-Semites, treats Jews as a separate race rather than as a religious group.
Disraeli’s Myth of Jewish Racial Superiority in Endymion
In Endymion, which celebrates Disraeli’s myth of success, he once again propounds his ideas of Jewish racial superiority and secret power, which he formulated in some of his earlier novels (The Wondrous Tale of Alroy, Coningsby, Sibyl and even Lothair). Endymion’s mentor, a foreign aristocrat, Baron Sergius describes with appreciation the effectiveness of the Jewish race.
The Semites are unquestionably a great race, for among the few things in this world which appear to be certain, nothing is more sure than that they invented our alphabet.But the Semites now exercise a vast influence over affairs by their smallest though most peculiar family, the Jews. There is no race gifted with so much tenacity, and such skill in organisation. These qualities have given them an unprecedented hold over property and illimitable credit. As you advance in life, and get experience in affairs, the Jews will cross you everywhere. They have long been stealing into our secret diplomacy, which they have almost appropriated; in another quarter of a century they will claim their share of open government. Well, these are races; men and bodies of men influenced in their conduct by their particular organisation, and which must enter into all the calculations of a statesman. But what do they mean by the Latin race? Language and religion do not make a race — there is only one thing which makes a race, and that is blood. [Chapter LVI]
Baron Sergius argues that Jews are a superior 'aristocratic' race destined to become the spiritual and intellectual guide for modern Europe. Disraeli had long meditated on the question of race before racism emerged. In reaction to the anti-Semitism of the period, he expressed a conviction that race was the key to understand the progress of history. David Cesarani speculated in his last book that Disraeli contributed unintentionally to the construction of an anti-Semitic discourse in the twentieth century, which culminated in the appropriation of Disraeli by the Nazis. Hitler even cited Disraeli in a speech in the Reichstag in 1941: 'The British Jew, Lord Disraeli, once said that the racial problem was the key to world history. We National Socialists have grown up with that idea' (168-69). Cesarani admitted that 'Disraeli could not have foreseen the vector of racial thinking, and he lived in a time of innocence before “race science” was explicitly and deliberately conjoined with discrimination, persecution, population displacement, and genocide' (169). Did Baron Sergius’ opinions reflect Disraeli’s own views? There is no hard proof for it. A characteristic feature of both Disraeli's literary style and his public behaviour was ambivalence. His ambiguous attitude to Jewishness and the Jewish race stemmed from his ambivalent identity of a converted English Jew. He may have shared the belief of many of his contemporaries that race 'was the most important causal force in history and culture, though he also inverted conventional ideas about race and employed these inversions as elements of his self-fashioning and of his continual struggle against anti-Semitism' (Brantlinger quoted in Borgstede 21).
Endymion , Disraeli’s last finished novel, is his nostalgic farewell and a warm tribute to the world of politics and the beau monde of the post Regency and early Victorian London. Disraeli described a great number of public people, statesmen and fashionable ladies from his youth and at the beginning of his political apprenticeship between the 1830s and 1850s. The newspapers in England and America printed keys to the novel so that the public could match its characters with their real-life personages. Endymion reveals much of Disraeli’s long political career as well as his personal life, particularly his almost obsessive desire to change his social and ethnic standing and join the highest spheres of English politics and society.
- Endymion — Benjamin Disraeli’s Nostalgic Dream of Bygone Years
- From an Age of Ruins to an Age of Hope in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby
Cesarani, David. Disraeli: The Novel Politician. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016.
Last modified 19 March 2018