The Geniuses of Zionism: Pinsker to Herzl

The great genius founders of modern Israel wrote astounding essays and books. From The Zionist Idea by Arthur Hertzberg - introductions by Hertzberg and primary texts by the Zionist writers, here is another installment.

Part 2: Outcry in Russia -- the 1870's and 1880's. Page 141.

PERETZ SMOLENSKIN 1842-1885. Page 142.
IT IS TIME TO PLANT (1875-1877). Page 145.
LET US SEARCH OUR WAYS (1881). Page 146.
THE HASKALAH OF BERLIN (1883). Page 154.
ELIEZER BEN-YEHUDAH 1858-1923. Page 158.
A LETTER OF BEN-YEHUDAH (1880). Page 160.
MOSHE LEIB LILIENBLUM 1843-1910. Page 166.
THE WAY OF RETURN (1881). Page 168.
THE FUTURE OF OUR PEOPLE (1883). Page 173.
LEO PINSKER 1821-1891. Page 178.
Summary. Page 198.

Part 3: Headlong into the World Arena -- Theodor Herzl Appears. Page 199.

THEODOR HERZL 1860-1904. Page 200.
FIRST ENTRY IN HIS DIARY (1895). Page 204.
THE JEWISH STATE (1896). Page 204.
Preface. Page 204.
Chapter 1: Introduction. Page 207.
Chapter 2: The Jewish Question. Page 215.
THE PLAN. Page 220.
Conclusion. Page 223.

MAX NORDAU 1849-1923. Page 232.
ZIONISM (1902). Page 242.
Hertzberg provides this penetrating analysis of the work of Pinsker:
The most significant reaction to the events of 1881 was the pamphlet Auto-Emancipation by Leo Pinsker. Like Lilienblum, he could not avoid the knowledge that the persecution of the Jew in Russia "is...not a result of the low cultural status of the Russian people; we have found our bitterest opponents, indeed, in a large part of the press, which ought to be intelligent." Pinsker, therefore, did not pretend to himself that Jew-hatred was merely a hang-over from the medieval past. On the contrary, the historic importance of his essay is in its assertion that anti-Semitism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon, beyond the reach of any future triumphs of "humanity and enlightenment" in society as a whole. Pinsker defined three causes of anti-Semitism: the Jews are a "ghost people," unlike any other in the world, and therefore feared as a thing apart; they are everywhere foreigners and nowhere hosts in their own national right; and they are in economic competition with every majority within which they live. To hope for better days in Russia, or wherever else the Jews were under serious attack, was, therefore, a delusion, and piecemeal emigration to a variety of underdeveloped lands which might be hospitable for a moment meant merely to export and to exacerbate the problem. There was only one workable solution: the Jews must organize all their strength and, with whatever help they could muster from the world as a whole, they must find a country of their own (if possible, their ancestral home in the Holy Land) where the bulk of Jewry would at last come to rest.

In the next decade Herzl was to arrive at the same analysis independently, 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 Christkiller accusation with greater emphasis as a symptom of the basic malaise, which is national conflict, and his terminology, in which antiSemitism is called a "psychic aberration -- demonopathy -- the fear of ghosts," shows an intuitive awareness of its unplumbable and unmanageable 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 ( Hess's vision of nations which are "noble rivals and faithful allies") 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 tranquillity. 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. Pinsker writes: "The great ideas of the eighteenth century have not passed by our people without leaving a trace. We feel not only as Jews; we feel as men. As men, we, too, would fain live and be a nation like all others." 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.

Hertzberg rightly calls Theodor Herzl, "the central and seminal figure in the history of Zionism." He gives us this wonderfully compact picture of the impact of Herzl's thought and action.

Particularly in the light of Nazism and the holocaust of World War II, Herzl has been read in recent years as if he had been Pinsker. This misreading has made it more difficult to account for the startling impact that he had in his day. It is certainly true that there is no accounting for the force of genius, and yet too much can be attributed to the power of even this majestic and compelling personality. There are other reasons of considerable importance. That he was a man of the West, a successful journalist with a European reputation, helped lend him stature among the Jews of the East, who still instinctively looked to those of their brethren who were recognized and valued by the wider world. By drawing Zionist consequences from the Dreyfus affair, the crucial political event of Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, he, in effect, affirmed for his willing listeners in Russia that the proud Jews of western Europe actually shared their historical situation, and by projecting Zionism as a movement into the international political arena he gave his followers a dignity that no organized body of Jews had recently possessed in quite the same way. Nonetheless, despite the truth of these considerations, they tend to overvalue Herzl as leader and man of action at the expense of his profound originality and importance as theoretician. The central idea of the book was at least as important as the compulsion of the man, for what he offered was Zionism as optimism, as the most complex of modern Jewish reconciliations with the world. Messianism is the essence of his stance, because he proclaimed the historical inevitability of a Jewish state in a world of peaceful nations.
Underlying the whole of Herzl's theory is an implicit syllogism which is more Hegelian than Aristotelian: All men, even Jew-haters, are reasonable, and they will do what is to their interest, once they understand it. Anti-Semitism disturbs the public peace and stability of Europe. Therefore, the gentile nations will be induced to purchase the social place they must desire by reasonable action in regard to the Jews -- and what is reasonable and modern is sketched out by Zionism.
As is immediately apparent, this reasoning is a reincarnation of Hess's theory. Nonetheless, there are vital differences, for it was now almost forty years later in both European and Jewish history. First of all, nationalism had changed meaning by Herzl's time. Hess could still imagine that the struggle between liberal and conservative nationalism had a geographic base, that the Teutonic soul was predisposed to racism and reaction but that France, which had given birth to the Revolution, was the unshakable bastion and beacon of liberalism. With French society splitting into two warring camps over Dreyfus before his very eyes (he was then the Paris correspondent of the leading Viennese daily), Herzl was constrained to view the conflict between liberal and reactionary nationalism as international, with a line of cleavage that ran through every country of Europe. More important still, by the end of the century the forces of reaction had completely pre-empted the mystique and religion of nationalism.
The most significant difference between the two, however, is in their implicit assumptions about what is the ultimate dynamic of history. Hess had no doubt that it was the indwelling Moral Spirit; he therefore rested his hope for a Jewish restoration on the certain triumph of humanitarianism. Herzl, in his turn, paid considerable attention to garnering support from men of good will for his proposals, but his assurance that history would vindicate him came from two sources: the iron law of self-interest and the power of will. One senses, standing over his shoulder as he wrote, the presence of the two gods of the fin de siecle advanced intellectuals, Marx and Nietzsche. Though Herzl was certainly not a follower of either, the seething discussions of the Marxists had made it almost mandatory for a man who wished to avoid the label "utopian" to prove that his vision was grounded in real (i.e., tangible and amoral) factors and that its victory was historically inevitable. The Nietzschean strain in Herzl is more personal; it is to be found in the Promethean overtones of his conception of his mission, in his willing acceptance and conscious use of the legend which quickly grew around him. It became his tool with which to inspire the masses with his own sense of purpose -and, often, his support for acting alone, over the objections of his associates. As a "Nietzschean," Herzl came to Zionism in order to change history; as an historical determinist, he buttressed himself with a theory in which anti-Semitism appeared, for the first time, not merely as the eternal problem of the Jew but as the major unsolved problem of the western world.
In his Jewish State Herzl therefore insisted, correctly proclaiming this notion to be his central idea, that the Jewish question is a "national question, and to solve it we must first of all establish it as an international political problem to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council." Two years later, in the most important speech of his life, the address to the First Zionist Congress, he went further, to add his own commentary to this argument. After expatiating on the advantages to the world, and to Turkey in particular, of a restored Zion, he added: "But it is not solely from this aspect that Zionism may count upon the sympathy of the nations. You know that in some lands the Jewish problem has come to mean calamity for the government. If it sides with the Jews, it is confronted by the ire of the masses; if it sides against the Jews, it may call considerable consequences down upon its head because of the peculiar influence of the Jews upon the business affairs of the world. Examples of the latter may be found in Russia. But if the government maintains a neutral attitude, the Jews find themselves unprotected by the established regime and rush into the arms of the revolutionaries. Zionism, or self-help for the Jews, points to a way out of these numerous and extraordinary difficulties. Zionism is simply a peacemaker." This was no casual utterance unrelated to the basic thesis of political Zionism; Nordau, his closest associate, ended a lengthy pamphlet on the meaning of Zionism with the same thought as the clincher.
Despite the shock of many of his devoted followers, especially in Russia, Herzl therefore had ample theoretical justification for visiting the Russian Minister of the Interior, von Plehwe, right after the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, even though that arch anti-Semite was known to be implicated in those atrocities. Herzl could imagine a von Plehwe who was "a sensible anti-Semite," who could be convinced that it was to his country's advantage to use its influence with the Sultan of Turkey on behalf of Zionism, for it would thereby be relieved of its indigestible Jews. In the era between the two world wars, Vladimir Jabotinsky, who claimed with some justice to be the valid heir to unadulterated political Zionism (Nordau supported him in this self-definition), is to be found negotiating with Pilsudski of Poland along the same lines: Poland is troubled by a "surplus of Jews," which arouses anti-Semitic outbursts; it is, therefore, to Poland's interest, for the sake of its own internal stability, to follow a radically pro-Zionist policy in the League of Nations.
The assumption that anti-Semitism "makes sense" and that it can be put to constructive uses-this is at once the subtlest, most daring, and most optimistic conception to be found in political Zionism. Here Herzl stands as both the heir and the transcender of post-Emancipation Jewish thought. He is an heir of the preceding century, for the notion that anti-Semitism has a reasonable use was first propounded by the assimilationists. As was said earlier in this essay, they had explained the persistence of Jew-hatred as a punishment for the sin of imperfect individual assimilation to western norms. This idea, however, like all pre-Herzl ian modern Jewish thought (Hess's theories excepted), was inner-directed, toward convincing the Jew to do something within his power, which would save him pain or elevate his status in the world. What is new in Herzl is that, assuming, as the heir of assimilation, that anti-Semitism is rational, he boldly turned this idea outward into the international arena.
Herzl inherited, as well, most of the other certainties of that Jewish modernity against which he was rebelling. Though of course he denied the possibility of the Jew's personal assimilation in Europe ("we shall not be let alone"), he assumes as beyond doubt that which Pinsker had mentioned with evident pain, that the Jew is, and ought to be, culturally and spiritually a man of the secular West. With pride, Herzl speaks of transferring into the renascent state the most advanced values that the Jew can bring with him from his former homes. Despite the pressure of his own east European followers, Herzl never really came to regard the modern Hebrew revival as more than a semiprivate affair, which certain circles could be permitted to foster within the broad framework of his political nationalism. Even when he spoke, at his most romantic and visionary, of restoring the Temple in Jerusalem, the separation of church and state was never in question; his Jerusalem was a more refined Paris and the Temple a more imposing version of the great cathedral synagogues which had been built in the second half of the nineteenth century by the Jewish bourgeoisie in the capital cities of Europe. But these issues, important though they are as guides to the total tone of his thought, are not matters of prime importance. They have been mentioned here as a useful preamble to understanding Herzl's position on the really fundamental issue of the Emancipation.
Pinsker had already argued, as cogently as Herzl, that Jew-hatred would persist as long as the mass of Jewry lived within non-Jewish majorities. To go beyond, to establish that the gentile keepers of the keys to the kingdom of Jewish desire had no choice but to turn them in the lock, Herzl had to make one more basic assumption about western society -- that the emancipation of the Jew in Europe is irreversible! "At the same time, the equal rights of Jews before the law cannot be rescinded where they have once been granted. Not only because their recision would be contrary to the spirit of our age, but also because it would immediately drive all Jews, rich and poor alike, into the ranks of the revolutionary parties. No serious harm can really be done us."
This is perhaps the most overlooked idea in the whole arsenal of Herzl's thought, because it seems so paradoxical in the light of his insistence on the great force of anti-Semitism; and yet, it is not a parenthetical lapse from logic -- it is of the very essence of his position. Herzl is a dialectical thinker, in the mold into which most European intellectuals of his generation were cast. The thesis is anti-Semitism, omnipresent and everywhere troubling public order; the antithesis is the world of liberal nationalism, which must continue to be disturbed by anti-Semitism because it is inconceivable that it should forever ignore the problem, merely temporize, or attempt a solution for itself by forcing the Jews back into the ghetto (or, horror of horrors, by fostering pogroms and extermination as a consistent policy). Therefore, the inevitable synthesis, Zionism. Let it be noted in passing that that complex figure, Herzl, is thus also the unrecognized ancestor of the much more consciously dialectic Marxist school of Zionism. Borochov, who is generally presumed to be the source of the idea that Jewish mass emigration to Palestine is a historical inevitability (his phrase, famous in its day, is that it is a "stychic process"), proceeded from premises expressed in consciously proletarian, socialist terminology, but he really adds up to the same thing. It is, to sum up, an assessment of anti-Semitism as guaranteed to be at a certain temperature: it will be hot enough to push the Jews out, but, in a basically liberal world, it can never break the ultimate bonds of decency. Its influence, therefore, will not ever serve to unite individual nations against the Jews, but to divide them in moral crisis (e.g., France in the Dreyfus affair) or to embarrass and hinder the most vicious in their intercourse with the liberal segments of humanity (e.g., Russia in the aftermath of the various pogroms). Perforce, the world will have to answer its own problem in the only conceivable way, the territorial concentration of the Jews.
Political Zionism's theory of anti-Semitism is, therefore, neither as simple nor as negative as may seem at first glance. Its explanation of Jew-hatred as a mixture of national antipathy and economic struggle made anti-Semitism the visa to the Jew's passport into the world of modernity; seen as the engine driving the train toward Zion, it is, paradox of paradoxes, one of the great acts of faith in liberalism that was produced by the nineteenth century; as an offer on the part of the Jew to assure the peace of western society by abandoning it for a state of his own, it is the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of his love for the modern world.(originally published 2/18/2007)


Bryce said...

"Herzl could imagine a von Plehwe who was "a sensible anti-Semite," who could be convinced that it was to his country's advantage to use its influence with the Sultan of Turkey on behalf of Zionism, for it would thereby be relieved of its indigestible Jews."

Herzl wrote: "ra'ayon metzuyon oleh b'libi lim'shoch antishemim yesharim v'la'asotam mechasley ha'richush ha'yehudi." (Yoman aleph, amud 68)

Sounds pretty heartless to me, Hertzberg's apologetics notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

Nice Blog. I will keep reading. Please take the time and visit my blog about: Internet Marketing and Making Money Online