During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Jews were increasingly depicted as members of a unique race rather than as members of a separate religious group. Spurred on by European colonialism, nationalistic fervor, and fear of immigration, the new science of race dug deep roots into European mass culture. “Scientific racism,” or “race science,” referred to the ideology that differences in human behavior derive from inherent group characteristics, and that human differences can be demonstrated through anthropological, biological, and statistical proofs. During the nineteenth century, race science rose and gained respectability. To assert that race science won wide acceptability by no means overstates the case. Between 1870 and 1940, race science was not merely the ideology of an extremist fringe of rabid anti-Semitic demagogues. The belief in the existence of separate races and that fundamental differences among races derived from physical and psychological attributes was shared by all social classes and ethnic groups, including well-educated Jews. Proponents of racial theory held a firm belief that there are inexorable natural laws, beyond the control of humans, governing individuals and cultures. Arguments that territorial national sovereignty should be based on a culturally identifiable nation and that the superior cultures of Europe had the right and duty to colonize non-European areas of the world found justification in scientific racism.
The impact of scientific racism on European Jewry would be profound, for race science permitted anti-Semites to attire their hatred of Jews in the disguise of science.