Lectures about Heaven

Thomas Laqueur looks at Five Germanys I have Known by Fritz Stern, in the London Review of Books:

SternStern’s ancestors stood at the pinnacle of the Bildungsbürgertum, the cultivated middle class, who regarded culture generally and Wissenschaft – science in the broadest, purest sense – as the core of an ethical and useful life, both private and public. All four of his great-grandfathers, both grandfathers and his father were successful, well-regarded doctors. The physician’s white coat, as Stern writes, ‘was the one uniform of dignity to which Jews could aspire and in which they could feel a measure of authority and grateful acceptance’. Although medicine was in the 19th century, as it is today, far from a pure science, it held out the promise of a dispassionate, unideological, rational approach to the ills of the body, both social and individual. It was, in Max Weber’s sense, ‘a calling’, a secular equivalent to being chosen by God for his purposes. Germany’s Jews embraced this calling: at the beginning of the 19th century, perhaps 2 per cent of German doctors were Jews; by the early 20th century, at a time when Jews constituted something like 1 per cent of the population, they provided 16 per cent of all doctors. The proportion was far higher in big cities. Excluded from the higher ranks of the civil service and the military, medicine offered them entry into the life of the nation.

For Stern’s people, the ‘German question’ had been settled in 1871; Bismarck was their hero; they were, if anything, more German than the Germans.

More here.