The Allure of Omnipotent Explanations

On a visit to a secondhand bookshop in Paris, Dalrymple judges a book by its cover:

It consisted of a black-and-white drawing with despairing peasants in the foreground, dying, praying, breaking the ground with picks, all among scattered sacks of grain with smoking factory chimneys far in the background, and looming over all, emerging from the sky just above the horizon, a clawlike hand with nails like talons, obviously connected to an unseen monster of immense power, indeed omnipotence, responsible for all the ills of the world.

This was typical of the anti-Semitic iconography of the time, but not just of anti-Semitic iconography. The year in which the book was published, 1905, was the year in which France became a fully secular state, and the ferocious anti-clerical propaganda that led to the final divorce between France and the Church was iconographically indistinguishable from anti-Semitic propaganda, being complete with giant Vatican hands looming over the world, Vatican spiders whose thin legs encompassed the globe, and hook-nosed Vatican priests luring innocent children into their dark, smothering cloaks, from which they would never again emerge.

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