Jerry Z. Muller


On his book Capitalism and the Jews

Cover Interview of June 13, 2010

In a nutshell

The modern history of the Jews is deeply intertwined with the history of capitalism. My book tries, in a brief compass, to show the many facets of this relationship.

The way in which capitalism itself was interpreted by modern Western thinkers and political movements was often influenced by the linkage between Jews and commerce—a linkage going back to the medieval Christian stigmatization of usury and the Jews’ role as lenders of money.

Historically, the way in which Jews were viewed by non-Jews was often linked to the Jews’ economic roles, and to broader ideas about the benefits and evils of commerce.  The ways in which Jews understood themselves was also linked to their reactions to modern capitalism.  The varieties of modern Jewish politics—liberal, socialist, communist, and Zionist—can only be understood in relationship to capitalist development and its effects on the Jews.

In the space of a short book, I try to give the reader a variety of angles from which to think about the ways in which the history of capitalism and the history of the Jews have been interlinked.