Ethnic and Racial Studies Essay

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Ethnic and Racial Studies

In the next decade Herzl was to arrive at the same analysis in- dependently, for he did not know of the existence of Pinsker’s work when he wrote The Jewish State. In his diary, and on several public occasions, Herzl, indeed, made the beau geste of saying that he would not have written his book had he been aware of Pinsker. On the other hand, Ahad Ha-Am, Herzl’s great antagonist, devoted a lengthy essay to analyzing Pinsker (whose pamphlet he translated into Hebrew) in order to deny that Pinsker was a political Zionist of Herzl’s stripe.

Obviously neither Herzl nor his opponent Ahad Ha-Am was engaged in self-delusion. Pinsker’s thesis, that anti-Semitism must henceforth be the determining consideration of a modern Jewish policy, indeed is central to Herzl’s thought and, even though less apparent, it is equally at the core of Ahad Ha-Am’s philosophizing. Nonetheless, the intent and direction of Pinsker’s construction are significantly different from those of both his successors, and the definition of that difference is of great importance.

Pinsker’s analysis of anti-Semitism, despite its surface rationalism, is, in reality, far more pessimistic than Herzl’s. He mentions the Christ- killer accusation with greater emphasis as a symptom of the basic malaise, which is national conflict, and his terminology, in which anti- Semitism is called a “psychic aberration — demonopathy — the fear of ghosts,” shows an intuitive awareness of its unplumbable and un- manageable depths that is not equally evident in Herzl’s work.

The most important difference between the two, however, appears in their conceptions of the role of the gentile world in the founding of the Jewish state. The most that Pinsker hopes for is its grudging assent to an effort that really depends, in his view, on the summoning up of the last desperate energies of the Jew. Almost every page of Herzl’s volume contains some reference to his confidence that the western nations will collaborate in creating the state he envisaged and some further proof of the great benefits his plan would confer not only on the Jew but on society as a whole.

As a west European who had grown up in relative freedom, Herzl could assume even at the end of the century that a world of liberal nationalism is attainable, and he imagined Zionism’s solution of the Jewish problem as a major contribution to such a future of international social peace and tranquility. For Pinsker, writing in Odessa in the midst of pogroms, the focus was almost entirely on the woes of the Jew, on removing him from the recurring and inevitable nightmare.

Pinsker’s generation had far less stake in the political and social structure of Europe than did Herzl’s, even at its most disenchanted, but there is one level on which it was indissolubly involved in modernity. These Russian Jews had, indeed, never lived even a day as equal citizens of their native land, but, nonetheless, they had been schooled by western culture and were creations of its spirit. Conclusion Though the Jew must evacuate the terribly hostile world those values have created, Pinsker can imagine no alternate to modern civilization.

Ahad Ha-Am is, therefore, wrong in attempting to make Pinsker a forerunner of his own basic notion of a cultural renaissance, a reinterpretation of the old values of Judaism in terms of modernity. What Pinsker reflects is the “rent in the heart,” the torment of a man who cannot believe in the good will of the general society whose faiths he shares. As the horizons of the Jew kept darkening in recent decades, this complete loss of trust in society, which began in 1881, was to lead to serious and fundamental questioning of the very foundations of western culture.

Pinsker, and not Herzl, is the ultimate ancestor of the profoundly pessimistic strain in Zionism. With him there begins a new age in modern Jewish thought, the era of recoil from the values of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a result, after the various revolutions lost their initial elan, a conflict of interest ensued between the makers of the revolution and those Jews who accepted or followed it.

It was useful to the newly powerful to discard the label of subverters of society and become legitimized as true heirs of the past; emancipated Jewry, on the other hand, especially in its “messianic” segment, needed a utopia based on reason, i. e. , it required a true revolutionary break by all of society with its past. Here we stand at the threshold of the ultimate paradox in the relationship between the Jew and modernity.

His defensive schools of thought have found themselves coming to terms with ideas and social structures which were outrunning them, and the more messianic doctrines soon acquired a certain shrillness, for they inevitably assumed the unwanted role of keepers of the conscience of the main modern movements. The last doctrinaires of the Enlightenment and what followed after, the epigones of the true faiths as opposed to their sullying compromises with the world, are to be found in modern Jewish thought.


Bulmer, M. and Solomon, J., Conceptualizing multi-ethnic societies. Ethnic and Racial Studies 24 6 (2001), pp. 889–891. Esses, V. M. , Dovidio, J. F. , Jackson, L. M. and Armstrong, T. L. , The immigration dilemma: The role of perceived group competition, ethnic prejudice and national identity. Journal of Social Issues 57 3 (2001), pp. 389–412. Goldberg, G. , Changes in Israeli voting behavior in the municipal elections. In: D. J. Elazar and C. Kalchheim, Editors, Local Government in Israel, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2001), pp. 249–276.

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