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Henry Ford's Antisemitism

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DarkWaters
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Henry Ford's antisemitism was well documented. According to Wikipedia:

(I)n the United States, Henry Ford sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies (of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion), and from 1920 to 1922 published a series of antisemitic articles, entitled the The International Jew, The World's Foremost Problem.

Henry Ford's contributions to the industrial revolution are legendary. However, his abominous hatreds certainly were not representative of those in the United States during his time. How should he be recorded in history books? Is he any less of a hero of the industrial age because of his views?

I suppose the principle in question here is to what extent should we discredit productive men who possess grotesquely reprehensible personal views that are seemingly unrelated to their virtues in productivity?

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I bet you'd find a lot of people who were productively competent but held contradictory personal views. I think we should respect people for the good in them and that's all...not concern ourselves with all their shortcomings. Henry Ford was an excellent businessman. Props to him for that. Unless you were writing a biography about him, his personal life shouldn't really matter.

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Henry Ford's contributions to the industrial revolution are legendary. However, his abominous hatreds certainly were not representative of those in the United States during his time. How should he be recorded in history books? Is he any less of a hero of the industrial age because of his views?

As horrendous as they are, I do not think Ford's anti-Semitism is relevant to judging his business accomplishments. They are what they are, regardless of how good or bad he was in other aspects of his life.

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Unless you were writing a biography about him, his personal life shouldn't really matter.
However, publishing and sponsoring articles isn't technically his "personal life," but his public life, which perhaps shouldn't matter either, since it was predominantly his professional life which was interesting.

But his public life does have relevance to world history (such as his influence on events of WWII and Nazism) which is perhaps of broader interest than a mere biography of Henry Ford would be.

Edited by Bold Standard
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How should he be recorded in history books?
Why should he be recorded in history books? Because he was a great industrialist. How should he be recorded in history books? As a great industrialist.

We don't denounce Jonas Salk for being a lousy chef or Beethoven for having stupid political ideas. Praise is never unconditional and universal: it's praise for something.

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Also, whenever I hear some traditionally hero-figure being denounced (e.g. Ford, Lincoln, Jefferson), I'm just a little sceptical about the nature and extent of their evil. Until I look into this further -- which I doubt I'll ever do -- the way I hold it in my mind is "Ford might have had done anti-Semitic things".

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These are the answers that I expected. Henry Ford, who was a virtuous industrialist, shall be recorded as one. Similarly, if someone were writing on prominent americans who used their influence to mass market racism, then it would be appropriate to include Henry Ford there as well.

I bet you'd find a lot of people who were productively competent but held contradictory personal views. I think we should respect people for the good in them and that's all...not concern ourselves with all their shortcomings.
(emphasis mine)

As Bold Standard already said, this is well beyond his personal life. However, I mainly wanted to address the section that I put in bold. We should only disregard character flaws that are non-essential to an individual's life achievements or are out of context in which the individual is being presented. For example, it would be dangerous to merely list Adolf Hitler as one of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century.

Also, whenever I hear some traditionally hero-figure being denounced (e.g. Ford, Lincoln, Jefferson), I'm just a little sceptical about the nature and extent of their evil. Until I look into this further -- which I doubt I'll ever do -- the way I hold it in my mind is "Ford might have had done anti-Semitic things".

You are definitely right that many people love to discredit prominent figures in history. A good example is Thomas Edison, who is often accused of anti-semitism but I presently see no reason to believe that he was anything more than a curmudgeon. However, the accusations against Henry Ford are that he was largely responsible for disseminating around 500,000 copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the United States. This literature is arguably one of the most influential sources of anti-semitism in the 20th century. In light of these allegations, to merely say that "Ford might have done anti-Semitic things" would be an understatement.

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...Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the United States. This literature is arguably one of the most influential sources of anti-semitism in the 20th century.
Interesting; I have no idea what these were about. What did this document/treatise say? To whom were they distributed? How many people were influenced by them? In what ways were these people influenced?
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Interesting; I have no idea what these were about. What did this document/treatise say? To whom were they distributed? How many people were influenced by them? In what ways were these people influenced?
There is a pretty good summary here. It seems that that specific text were first published in 1903 in Russia, which spread in the 1920's at which point it got into the hands of Ford, but were exposed as a forgery a year later. Their most significant influence was in Nazi Germany, but it is popular in the modern world. Basically, it is a faked document purporting to be the plan of the Jews to take over the world (via encouraging alcoholism, porn, economic depression, destruction of Christianity, giving women the vote, brain washing, etc.). Louis Farrakhan sells copies, unsurprisingly.
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It turns out that this book resulted in a legal case against Mr. Ford and that he ended up putting out an apology. Some have said that the apology was drafted by his opponents and that he did not even read it, but simply told his aide to sign his name to it (sounds fishy that a businessman would do something like that), to make it "go away", without really meaning it. Anyway, for what it's worth, here are snippets from the apology as reported on one web-site...

The apology acknowledged that Ford was the publisher of The Dearborn Independent and The International Jew. However; in his "multitude of activities," he had been unable to pay attention to what made up their contents. "To my great regret," read the apology, "I have learned that Jews generally, and particularly those of the country, not only resent these publications as promoting anti-Semitism, but regard me as their enemy." The document went on to defend such an assessment, in light of the "mental anguish" the articles had caused. This led Ford to direct his "personal attention" to the subject and claimed to be "deeply mortified" by what he had found. "Had I appreciated even the general nature, to say nothing of the details of those utterances, I would have forbidden their circulation without a moment's hesitation." The document praised the Jewish culture for its vast contributions to civilization, and for its sobriety, diligence, benevolence, and "unselfish interest in public welfare." "Those who know me," the document asserted, "can bear witness that it is not in my nature to inflict injury upon and occasion pain to anybody, and that it has been my effort to free myself from prejudice." Therefore, he was "greatly shocked" by the publications done in his name. He saw it as his duty as an "honorable man" to make amends to his Jewish brothers by "asking their forgiveness for the harm I have unintentionally committed." The statement then presented a retraction of Ford's charges against the Jews and a promise that, henceforth, they may look to him for friendship and goodwill.
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You are definitely right that many people love to discredit prominent figures in history. A good example is Thomas Edison, who is often accused of anti-semitism but I presently see no reason to believe that he was anything more than a curmudgeon.
There are people who love to discredit prominent figures, and even worse, some who love to discredit great innovators, political liberators, and industrialists in particular. That type of cynicism is one of my pet peeves too. However, I think looking critically at the lives of prominent and even heroic historical figures can be an important and productive activity, if not done with the goal of denigrating greatness. To use Thomas Edison as an example--I'm not familiar with accusations of antisemitism with him. But there are some things he did that I think are pretty despicable. The worst is that he not infrequently attempted to use political pull to initiate force against and immorally eliminate his competition. For instance, he initiated the most infuriating campaign against AC power, in favor of his far inferior DC electrical generation, which if it had been successful would have slowed down progress in this country to an almost unimaginable degree. Based on the arguments he presented against AC at that time, I wouldn't be surprised if he would have had more success convincing a modern American government to ban it than he did then, if he were arguing it today instead (not knowing everything we do now about it, but only the information we had at the time). Something like that is important to know about one of the greatest inventors in American history--not because it illustrates his dark side and proves that "nobody's perfect" or any of that sort of nonsense. But because of what it teaches us about history and about the psychology of those great historical figures who we can admire and at the same time view critically.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here are snippets from the apology as reported on one web-site...
Interesting--my knowledge on this issue of Ford and antisemitism is extremely sketchy, and I'd never heard of this apology before.. It's encouraging and I hope it's true, but I'd like to research it some more when I have time. Edited by Bold Standard
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There are people who love to discredit prominent figures, and even worse, some who love to discredit great innovators, political liberators, and industrialists in particular. That type of cynicism is one of my pet peeves too. However, I think looking critically at the lives of prominent and even heroic historical figures can be an important and productive activity, if not done with the goal of denigrating greatness.
Sure, it's best to be objective. I do think that if we step back a century or so, people of that time looked back at their historical heroes as nearly blemish-free. Now, the trend is to look back at them as "pretty ordinary" or even as "really and truly bad underneath that facade of goodness". Epistemologically, both are mistakes. Psychologically, the change is not good.
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Henry Ford's contributions to the industrial revolution are legendary. However, his abominous hatreds certainly were not representative of those in the United States during his time. How should he be recorded in history books?

Henry Ford was successful in his productive endevours to such a degree that they should be recorded in the history books. He was a second rate antisemite, and couldn't hold a candle to those that devoted their entire lives to undermining and destroying Jews. History books are no place for listing every second rate accomplishment, and it wouldn't be possible to anyway.

Is he any less of a hero of the industrial age because of his views?

He would be a more perfect example of a human being if he wasn't antisemitc, but that doesn't make him any less of a hero.

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I do think that if we step back a century or so, people of that time looked back at their historical heroes as nearly blemish-free.
Hm, really? Could you give some specific examples of that? It seems to me that 19th Century writers were often critical of Enlightenment writers, and Enlightenment writers critical of Renaissance writers, and so on. I agree that the trend of the past 100+ years has been towards more cynicism, and that that's not good; but I'm not aware of *most* writers a hundred years ago looking at their predecessors as "blemish free."
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He was given the highest award possible to a non-german citizen by Hitler's govt., the imperial flying cross of the eagle, or some such monkeyshines. He might have been a great industrialist, I can give credit where it's due - but don't expect me to buy a ford. The guy was a nazi. I feel bad enough about buying gas from arabia. Oh, and the elders of zion thing was agitprop.

Edited by [email protected]
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  • 1 month later...
I have to disagree with your use of the word "hero". We can all agree he was a great innovater. However a true hero would not support the lowest form of collectivism; racism.

Sorry, I meant to write "industrialist hero." I'll go edit that now :lol:

*EDIT* I can't edit, it's been too long.

Edited by LaVache
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