Usury, Jews, and libertine cruelty
October 20, 2016 § 29 Comments
In retrospect I suppose it is odd that this hasn’t come up before; but it isn’t the sort of angle I’d thought to raise myself. That’s just not how my mind works.
In the comments below MarcusD writes:
A priest in my diocese, when the subject of usury comes up (well, all two times), states that opposition to usury is “inextricably linked with antisemitism.” Do you have any thoughts on that position? Will you add a rebuttal to that to the “Usury FAQ”?
My first thought was that the assertions of this priest are just obviously ridiculous, the sort of modern guilt-by-association lunacy unworthy of the validation involved in treating it as a serious objection. (To be clear: it is certainly not a serious objection).
Several things may be noteworthy though, at least in terms of characterizing the association and the guilt — to the best of my knowledge, and with all the usual caveats, this being well outside the domain of what I consider substantively pertinent to the basic moral question.
First, the fact that diaspora Jews in Christian lands gravitated toward usury as a profession is as much Christians’ fault as Jews’ fault. The attitude was that Jews were heathens and were going to Hell anyway, so the Christian sovereign’s law actually treated Jews more leniently than it treated Christians. Christians were prohibited from engaging in usury for the sake of their own souls; but Jews were damned anyway so why not let them do what they want? A libertine approach to the laws that applied to Jews was really a form of cruelty toward them, as is true of libertine legalism in general. It was also a good way to cultivate anti-Christian forces within Christian society over the long term.
Just imagine if there were a tribe in modern America who were treated as if the law against violent crime didn’t apply to them. Wouldn’t that in objective fact be cruelty toward that tribe? Wouldn’t we expect the violent behavior of that tribe to increase, to their own detriment and ours?
Second, the situation illustrates the lie built into ‘libertine’ law in the first place. Without the Christian sovereign’s enforcement, usurious contracts would have no teeth. To the extent that the Christian sovereign enforced usurious contracts he formally cooperated with them: you can’t enforce contract terms without intending them. So professional usury on the part of Jews was really a partnership between Jews and their Christian enforcers.
Third, there were in fact significant non-Jewish tribes or dynasties associated with professional usury, notably the Lombards. As is the case in many high IQ professions Jews were doubtless overrepresented in part simply because they have greater intelligence than most of the rest of the bell curve. But it isn’t as if they had a monopoly on the particular sin in question.
Of course it is risible in the first place to claim that the Church’s doctrinal condemnation of usury depends on whether or not one tribe or other has become, fairly or unfairly, disproportionately associated with that sin. Alcohol abuse doesn’t become immune to criticism in virtue of its (fair or unfair) association with the Irish.
But in any case with usury, as with any basic execrable disgusting filthy sin against nature and nature’s God, there is plenty of guilt to go around.