Critical Evaluation

The main theme of Power is anti-Semitism. The central thought that Lion Feuchtwanger wishes to communicate in the novel is that no Jew can ever be safe, whether or not he or she trusts the political and social system, and whether or not he or she achieves power in that system. In the end, Feuchtwanger says, the Jew will be murdered—and there will only be other Jews to mourn his or her passing.

Feuchtwanger was an important literary figure in pre-World War II Germany who was forced to flee the Nazis. He was a friend of playwright Bertolt Brecht and was at the center of much of the significant literary activity of the Weimar Republic. The flavor of the cultural life of Weimar is evident in Power. The density of the prose; the brutality; the sensuality and perversion; and the breakdown of values, minds, and political institutions have all been taken by Feuchtwanger and transposed to eighteenth century Germany, where they become the perfect medium for tracing the development of anti-Semitism.

In the 1920’s, when Power was first published, anti-Semitism had not yet reached genocidal proportions. There were a few groups, right-wing nationalists for the most part, who denounced the Jews as the cause of Germany’s defeat in World War I; but at the same time, there were still Jews in positions of prominence in German social, cultural, and political life. It is to Feuchtwanger’s special credit that he had the historical and dramatic insight to understand the embryonic stirrings of homicidal racism in Europe and especially in Germany and to develop this theme in a novel. Additionally, the use of a minority group as a scapegoat, and the casual indifference (or outright collaboration) of officialdom in the violence committed against that group, are phenomena that retain their significance for the contemporary reader. Power is incredibly and horribly prophetic.