Author and Catholic University professor Jerry Muller wrote his book “The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought” for a simple reason — it was a book he wanted to read.
Speaking about his new work at a Monday lecture in the Slifka Center, Muller discussed the similarities between anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism. He said his book, which was published in November 2002, focuses on how people in modern Europe think about capitalism and its moral, cultural and political ramifications.
After a 15-minute opening reception, audience members filed into the second-floor chapel at Slifka to attend the lecture, which was filmed by C-SPAN. Political science professor and Branford College Master Steven Smith introduced Muller, who is the year’s second installment in the Kohn lecture series.
Muller began by defining the terms “anti-Semitism” and “anti-capitalism.” Anti-capitalism, he said, does not refer to dissatisfaction with different elements of capitalism; rather, it simply refers to an antipathy to the general concept of capitalism, or a “social market in which most economic activity is coordinated through the market.” Likewise, anti-Semitism does not refer to a critique of different elements of Judaism or the behavior of Jews, but rather a general, ideological animosity towards Jews or Judaism.
Muller went on to describe the link between hostility to Jews and hostility to capitalism. He described the similarities along four different axes — the unproductive nature of commerce; the suspicion of self interest, or greed; the evils of innovation; and the resentment of success.
Muller said he began writing the book almost a decade ago when he taught a class on the subject and realized there was no corresponding textbook. He then set out to produce a book that would tie together several major ideas in a clear and understandable way.
“The trick was to take a theme and follow it over a long period of time in a way people could understand,” Muller said.
After his lecture, Smith asked whether anti-Semitism drove anti-capitalism or vice-versa. He also asked whether the two forces were invariably linked or whether they could exist as “independent variables.”
Muller responded by saying that anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism can fuel each other, and that they are not exactly “independent variables.”
“They can exist independent of one another, but they are certainly linked causally and in other ways,” Muller said.
Rabbi James Ponet asked Muller to speak at the suggestion of his son, Eli Muller ’03. Eli Muller is a former Yale Daily News features editor.
Audience members — including the lecture series’ founder Henry Kohn ’39 — said they were impressed by Muller’s lecture for its innovative topic.
“It’s not a subject I ordinarily think about,” said Nanette Stahl, the Judaica Curator at Sterling Memorial Library. “It was very thought-provoking.”
Kohn also expressed his admiration for Muller’s work.
“I read every word in his book because I found it so interesting,” Kohn said. “The subject is so filled with ideological suggestions and intellectual history. At Yale, I majored in economics and minored in philosophy. This book draws on both.”