The 19th Century Jewish Critique of Modern Liberal Western Degeneracy

“Western degeneracy” is an expression that we hear frequently… but is it just empty words, or is it a meaningful term descriptive of an actual concept?

During the years 1892-1893, a Jewish doctor born in Hungary named Max Nordeau released a book in two volumes, Entartung or Degeneration. Nordeau, who would later go on to be one of the founders of the Zionist movement, looked at all of the major cultural figures of Europe within his time. These were individuals such as Oscar Wilde, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Wagner, etc. He found that Europe was literally becoming—in the clinical sense of the term—degenerate.

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According to Nordeau, this degeneracy was linked with industrialization, urbanization and other things related to these such as individualism. Nordeau asserted that this degeneracy was expressed within the fascination Europeans felt towards fictional characters—characters who were never previously considered exemplars or individuals worthy of admiration and adoration—such as petty criminals.

Interestingly, Nordeau had actually dedicated his book to Cesare Lombroso; a Jewish professor of psychiatry who founded the modern field of criminology.

As we’re often accused of “exaggeration” when it comes to Western degeneracy, let’s present an “insider” from within the modern West: Someone who witnessed the wider societal trends of degeneracy in the works of Europe’s most celebrated writers and artists. And this is actually from over a century ago—so at a time when they weren’t even close to insane levels of degeneracy that we’re witnessing now.

Worship of the Self and Godlessness

For Nordeau, one of these prototypical degenerates was Baudelaire (d. 1867) who is respected immensely in France till this very day as pretty much the founder of modern French poetry.

So what Nordeau wrote about him on p. 294 could be representative of France and even the West as a whole:

We now know all the features which compose Baudelaire’s character. He has the ‘cult of self’; he abhors nature, movement and life; he dreams of an ideal of immobility, of eternal silence, of symmetry and artificiality; he loves disease, ugliness and crime; all his inclinations, in profound aberration, are opposed to those of sane beings; what charms his sense of smell is the odour of corruption; his eye, the sight of carrion, suppurating wounds and the pain of others; he feels happy in muddy, cloudy, autumn weather; his senses are excited by unnatural pleasures only. He complains of frightful tedium and of feelings of anguish; his mind is filled with sombre ideas, the association of his ideas works exclusively with sad or loathsome images; the only thing which can distract or interest him is badness—murder, blood, lewdness and falsehood. He addresses his prayers to Satan, and aspires to hell.

Thus Nordeau links narcissism with Satanism and thereby a love of the ugly in general.

Just consider for a moment how many popular contemporary movies, TV series and songs explicitly idolize and push for bad behavior and how they even portray villains in a good light?

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Proto-Feminism

Besides ego-centrism and Satan-worship, another feature of the modern West that was detected by Nordeau is that of feminism, which he finds in the works of the Norwegian playwright Ibsen (d. 1906)⁠—someone who is still hailed as one of the greatest ever Scandinavian authors.

We read on pp. 412-413:

Woman is always the clever, strong, courageous being; man always the simpleton and coward. In every encounter the wife is victorious, and the man flattened out like a pancake. Woman need live for herself alone. With Ibsen she has even overcome her most primitive instinct—that of motherhood—and abandons her brood without twitching an eyelid when the caprice seizes her to seek satisfactions elsewhere. Such abject adoration of woman—a pendant to Wagner’s woman-idolatry—such unqualified approval of all feminine depravities, was bound to secure the applause of those women who in the viragoes of Ibsen’s drama—hysterical, nymphomaniacal, perverted in maternal instinct—recognise either their own portrait or the ideal of development of their degenerate imagination.

Degenerate Art

Perhaps more controversial is his idea of Entartete Kunst or degenerate art.

Indeed, it was a formula mobilized by the national-socialists of Germany. They destroyed what they called degenerate paintings and sculptures for being “too Jewish” or “too communist.”

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But when it comes to Nordeau himself, he wrote on p. 198, targeting the pre-Raphaelites in particular (a British artistic movement from the second half of the 19th century⁠—a movement which is also still highly regarded):

Here again is found the phenomenon already repeatedly indicated by us as a mark of the mode of thought among the degenerate—the unconscious moon-struck somnambulous way in which they transgress the most firmly-established limits of the particular artistic domain, annul the differentiation of the arts arrived at by long historical evolution, and lead them back to the period of the lacustrines, nay, of the most primitive troglodytes. We have seen that the pre-Raphaelites reduce the picture to a writing which is no longer to produce its effect by its pictorial qualities, but must express an abstract idea; and that the Symbolists make of the word, that conventional vehicle of a conception, a musical harmony, by whose aid they endeavour to awaken not an idea, but a phonetic effect. In precisely the same way Wagner wishes to divest music of its proper essence, and to transform it from a vehicle of emotion into a vehicle of rational thought. The disguise produced by this interchange of costumes is in this way complete. Painters proclaim themselves writers; poets behave like the composers of symphonies; the musician plays the poet.

Again, keep in mind that he died decades prior to the rise of the postmodern “art” such as abstract painting, which of course⁠—from every angle⁠—in comparison is far worse that what he mentions here.

“Muscular Judaism” and How Nordeau Goes Beyond Conservatives

As we mentioned earlier, Nordeau was a passionate Zionist.

In fact he co-founded of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) along with none other than Theodor Herzl himself, known as the father of Zionism.

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Like Herzl, what pushed Nordeau towards Zionism was his disillusionment with European civilization due to the Dreyfus affair. They both perceived it to be impossible to ever “assimilate” into the West.

Herzl remained a Western supremacist throughout his entire life. He even saw the establishment of the Zionist state as a form of European colonialism. Nordeau on the other hand was completely disillusioned with the West, and so he pushed for what he called a “muscular Judaism” (Muskeljudentum) with the aim for Jews to become stronger, both spiritually and physically, so as to avoid the fate of the degenerate West.

What is also particularly interesting with regard to Nordeau is how his critique is still more pertinent than that of mainstream Anglo-American conservatism.

Indeed, these conservatives often have a sort of highly idealized past, such as ’50s America. Yet the US was under the spell of liberal-modernity even in the ’50s and thus planted the seeds of all that was to come.

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Thus these same conservatives will not only approvingly quote the likes of Tolstoy and so on, but in fact they even try to portray them as conservative figures.

Yet Nordeau’s thesis is that the entirety of European liberal-modernity, including their prized and beloved thinkers and artists, were degenerate⁠—a critique more radical than anything that contemporary Anglo-American conservatism are able to come up with.

You can’t reject Western degeneracy selectively because you like this person’s poetry or that person’s painting. In order to be coherent you have to be “radical.”

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Pauline

Bheria you really never disappoint, you always somehow find the most interesting and insightful tidbits of history and connect them to our modern relevance

MSReader

Thanks Bheria. Enlightening as always.

Ahmad

You mention the ‘conservative’ 50s USA.

Muslim scholars of Muslim lands afflicted by colonial pursuits, wrote in the early 1800s that the Roman Christian man is essentially a dayyuth who not only doesn’t feel jealousy or anger, but rather promotes and enjoys seeing his drunk on wine, dancing and pressing her bosom onto the chests his fellow Roman comrades, lavishing her feminine beauty and charm on them.

Yup that was the ‘conservative’ Christian culture even 300 years back.

Ahmad

^ … seeing his wife drunk on wine …^

Zaid Diaz

Greek and Roman ‘civilizations’ were nothing but cesspools of all sorts of degeneracy.

Yusuf ibn Tashfin

The Muslims were more conservative than the westerners then.A proof of it are the numerous chronicles written by european travellers(french, british, german) that travelled in muslim lands in the 1700’s and 1800’s gathering information such as geography, culture, etc.All of them were surprised how the women used to dress fully covered, they were surprised despite that even in Europe in that time women used to dress modestly covering their hair (they just did not cover the face).

Ahmad

In medieval Europe, the nobles and feudal lords would sleep with any woman they felt like. Back then too, it was common for the peasants to let their new brides sleep with the feudal masters of the area.

https :// en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droit_du_seigneur

Takeshi

Nordeau was not fully right by blaming industrialization and urbanization for the growing degeneracy and individualism. Because thanks to the industrialization(result of a healthy economy) people began to emerge from absolute poverty, because life in rural areas was extremely hard and difficult ; thanks to the industrilization the life expectancy started to grow and child morality to decline(that’s how the populations started to increase reaching our current levels worldwide)

Last edited 11 days ago by Takeshi
akh

The ancient Greeks were noted for their degeneracy, as were the medieval troubadours of the French Provence. So, it definitely preceded industrialization. Even Ibn Taymiyya mentioned the lack of sexual mores under nisaa al-Ifranj (the Franks) “ولهذا تجد من الفواحش في نساء التتر ونساء الإفرنج، ما لا يوجد في نساء المسلمين”.

I don’t get the industralization is a result of economic health. Industralization was the result of the invention of the steam engine/technological innovation.

Takeshi

Any technological innovation, is a solution(supply) to a problem(demand).
People needed to increase their productivity and efficiency while decreasing also the effort to supply the increasing demand. What firstly motivated people to make an effort to innovate and create was the reward they would get by solving a big problem for other people.
That’s only possible in a free market society with respect for private ownership, that’s how the industrial revolution started, thanks to a good economy

akh

Words like “healthy” and “good” denote moral judgement. But I see, in your understanding efficiency equates “good” and “healthy”. This is a very libertarian (Austrian school) mode of thinking. The problem is that from a purely economic point of view prostitution for example is highly efficient…much more efficient than marriage….this is why libertarians defend it. As is the case with drugs, which they also defend.

akh

An economy can only be called good if it answers to the needs of people and preserves (and increases) their morals. When every whim is met and morals are destroyed a system ceases to be good. Which is the case with both capitialism and socialism.

Hamid

Informative article!

Regarding the Western “humanization” or glorification of evil and unbelief, one example in popular culture are series like “Lucifer” who is played by a good-looking man, wearing expensive clothes and educing people to give in to hedonism, which is then made to appear “normal” or less abnormal by the ad-hoc fact of the plot, that he’s helping a human (woman) to solve crime cases.

Or the contemporary increase of “humanizing” villains in anime..

Wee Jim

Who is this chap Max Nordeau?
Do you mean Max Nordau?