Boerne, Ludwig

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BOERNE, LUDWIG (1786–1837), German political essayist and champion of Jewish emancipation. Born Loeb Baruch, into a prominent Frankfurt banking family, he was raised in the Frankfurt ghetto. Since medicine was one of the few professions then open to Jews, he was sent to Berlin in 1802 to study under Markus *Herz. After his master's death in 1803 he abandoned medicine and went to study political science at Halle and Heidelberg. He received his doctorate from Giessen University in 1808. In 1811 Boerne became an official in the Frankfurt police department; but when the anti-Jewish restrictions of the pre-Napoleonic era were reimposed after Bonaparte's defeat in 1815, he was dismissed. In the following years of political restoration, Boerne became an ardent advocate of the idea of political freedom. His thought developed from classical early liberal ideas to somewhat "neo-Jacobin" notions of freedom.

In 1818 Boerne converted to Lutheranism, not out of religious conviction but to open the door to wider public activity, and adopted the name by which he was known thereafter. In the same year he founded the periodical Die Waage. This journal was ostensibly devoted to art, literature, and social gossip and Boerne earned a reputation with his witty theatrical criticism. But, as a master of innuendo, he managed to inject subversive political allusions into the most harmless subjects. In his feuilletons, of which he was a pioneer, he scourged the bureaucracy of Frankfurt and ridiculed the whole pompous political structure of Central Europe. He soon ran into difficulties with the political authorities, and in 1821 gave up the editorship of Die Waage.

In 1830 constant police interference compelled Boerne to transfer his activities to Paris, where he was generally regarded as the leader of the political émigrés. His Briefe aus Paris (1830–1833), described by Heine as "paperbound sunbeams," were literary bullets fired across the German border with the aim of drawing public attention to glaring injustices. Boerne's influence reached its zenith in 1832, when he participated in the Hambach Festival, a gathering of 30,000 liberals from German-speaking states. He allied himself for a time with the influential but conservative Stuttgart editor Wolfgang Menzel, in the struggle against the idealization of Goethe by the Romanticists. But when Menzel espoused antisemitism and induced the German Federal Diet in 1835 to ban the works of Young Germany (a group of writers holding liberal views on politics and society), Boerne published his vitriolic diatribe, Menzel der Franzosenfresser (1838), a masterpiece of wit and irony.

Sensitive to the Jewish problem, Boerne wanted to be thought of as an individual apart from his Jewishness, and was chagrined when his utterances were attributed to his heredity. The idea that the freedom of mankind as a whole is inextricably bound up with freedom for the Jews recurs constantly in his writings, and he refused to acknowledge the existence of a Jewish problem distinct from the general issue of emancipation. Boerne held that the Jewish mission had been to teach the world cosmopolitanism and that the Jewish nation had disappeared in the most enviable manner; it had merged with mankind as a whole and had given birth to Christian idealism. On Boerne's death, Heine published an uncomplimentary study entitled Ueber Ludwig Boerne (1840), in which he expressed resentment against his erstwhile fellow liberal. This provoked Karl Gutzkow's defense of Boerne as a maligned German patriot and led to an extended controversy. Many years later, the old Frankfurt Judengasse where he had lived was renamed "Boernestrasse" in his honor and, throughout the 19th century, Boerne and Heine were regarded as the major Jewish influences in German literature. Boerne's Saemtliche Schriften (letters and writings) were edited in 1964–68.


L. Marcuse, Revolutionaer und Patriot; das Leben Ludwig Boernes (1929). add. bibliography: W. Jasper, Ludwig Boerne (Ger., 1989); R. Heuer (ed.), Lexikon deutsch-juedischer Autoren, 3 (1995), 255–70; J.S. Chase, Inciting Laughter (1999); F. Stern and M. Gierlinger (eds.), Ludwig Boerne. Deutscher, Jude, Demokrat (2003).

[Sol Liptzin /

Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]

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