Habitus and national responses to the Jewish genocide / by Marilyn G. Chapman.
Historians' attempts to explain the dramatic differences in national responses to state mandated anti-Semitism in Nazi Europe often lean on conceptualizations of national character. Hannah Arendt ascribed the Italians' readiness to flout anti-Semitic legislation to “the almost automatic general humanity of an old and civilized people.”1 Daniel Goldhagen maintained that long standing “eliminationist anti-Semitic political culture” provided the sufficient condition for the society-wide acceptance of systematic cruelty to German Jews.2 A comparison of Italy's and Germany's “habitus” challenges such single factor analyses and supports a multicausal explanation for the divergence in their records of non-compliance with racial laws. Norbert Elias's term “habitus” captures the dynamic, non-essentialist nature of nation-state personalities. Formative historical experiences such as the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, nation-state formation, and World War I were active agents, influencing not just objective conditions, but also the substrata of evolving dispositions that helped to make up habitus. Causal arrows point in many directions, obstructing teleological theorizing and sociocultural determinism emanating from fixed, undifferentiated national identities. Each state-society harbored many, varied, and shifting potentials. This comparative history of the national consciousness, civic attitudes and traditions, and philo- and anti-Semitism of both countries casts doubt on the inexorability of German compliance and Italian non-compliance with racial politics. A tidy juxtaposition of humanitarian, “stateless” Italians with barbarian, obedient Germans has exhausted its usefulness. Proximate, contingent factors intertwined with elements in each habitus and played key roles in deciding the fates of the Jewish members of the national communities of Italy and Germany. Multiple and overlapping causal processes were at work in the national responses to mandated inhumanity. While disentangling them completely is impossible, future study should give greater emphasis to the branching possibilities delivered by short-term events.Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. p. 161 2Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Random House, Inc. 1997. pp. 369, 441–4.
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