Sombart, Werner°

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

SOMBART, WERNER°

SOMBART, WERNER ° (1863–1941), German political economist and sociologist. Born in Ermsleben, Sombart acquired a reputation through his work Der Moderne Kapitalismus (2 vols., 1902, 19162) in which he traced the development of capitalism from the late Middle Ages. In 1917 he was appointed professor of political economy at the University of Berlin. He wrote two works on capitalism and the Jews: Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (1911; The Jews and Modern Capitalism, 1913, 1951), and Die Zukunft der Juden (1912) which aroused considerable controversy. In Sombart's view, the Jews were the principal cause of the disruption of the medieval economic system and its replacement by capitalism. The Jews, he held, were foreigners and came up against the hostility of the guilds which controlled the commerce of the medieval cities. Consequently they sought to break away from the restrictive economic framework of city life and, by doing so, became the pioneers of international trade. In this way they helped to lay the foundation of the capitalist system. Sombart maintained that the Jewish intellect, "concrete, stubborn, and systematic," was ideally suited to fostering a capitalist economy: "When Israel appears upon the face of Europe, the place where it appears comes to life; and when it departs, everything which had previously flourished withers away." Such statements made for the ambivalent reception of Sombart's work among Jews at the time. Thus, while liberal Jews strongly criticized Sombart as an antisemite, others, particularly in the Zionist camp, praised him as a nonpartisan researcher and held up his theses as evidence of Jewish perseverance and as acknowledgement of the special contribution of the Jews.

Although it has been generally accepted that Jews played an important part in the early development of capitalism, Sombart's theories were generally considered to be wildly exaggerated. They provided Nazi Germany with considerable material for antisemitic propaganda, since he stressed the incompatibility of Jewish commercialism with the spirit of the "nordic farmer," and in Deutscher Sozialismus (1934) favored the Nazi policy of excluding Jews from German economic and cultural life.

In 1911, David Ben-Gurion translated Sombart's Sozialismus und Soziale Bewegung im xix Jahrhundert into Hebrew. A Hebrew translation of Sombart's Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben was published in 1912 in Kiev by a group of young Zionists.

bibliography:

Ziegler, in: azdj, 75 (1911), 271–2; I. Taglicht, Juden und Judentum in der Darstellung Werner Sombarts (1911); J. Henningsen, Professor Sombarts Forschungsergebnisse zur Judenfrage (19133); H. Wätjen, Das Judentum und die Anfaenge der modernen Kolonisation; Kritische Bemerkungen zu Werner Sombarts "Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben" (1914); A. Philipp, Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben; Eine antikritisch-bibliographische Studie (1929). add. bibliography: A. Mitzman, Sociology and Estrangement … (1973); F. Raphael, Judaisme et capitalisme … (1982); M. Appel, Werner Sombart (1992); F. Lenger, Werner Sombart 18631941 … (1995); J. Backhaus, Werner Sombart (18631941) (2000).