Zamenhof & the new Jewish intellectual historiography (2)

The relevant documents by L. L. Zamenhof on Yiddish, Zionism, and the Jewish question are written in Yiddish, Russian, or Esperanto, and while there are Esperanto translations of most or all of the other writings, with the exception of a few letters, excerpts, or quotations everything in English is to be found in the scanty secondary literature in English. To get a picture of what Zamenhof was trying to accomplish, start here:

L.L. Zamenhof and the Shadow People: The Amazing Story of How Esperanto Came to Be by Esther Schor (2009)

Zamenhof and the Shadow People: video of presentation by Esther Schor, Zamenhof Symposium (15 December 2009)

There are revelant documents in Esperanto, Esperanto translation, and Yiddish on my web site:

Zamenhof & Zamenhofologio: Retgvidilo / Web Guide

For Zamenhof's conception of nationality in general, see:

International Language” (Universal Races Congress, 1911) by L. L. Zamenhof

 Now let's pick up where we left off in the previous post, and proceed to this article:

On the Idea of a Jewish Nation: Before and After Statism by David N. Myers, Perush, Volume 1, 2009

Myers find today's discourse about Jewish nationhood impoverished compared to the vigorous debates of a century ago:

I am intrigued by the once-vibrant ideological and theoretical debate of the early twentieth century that revolved around the idea of a Jewish nation. [. . . .] But our main task in the body of the paper will be to begin excavating a history of Jewish nationalism that has been somewhat forgotten, neglected, and at times, marginalized. I argue that there is in fact a common thread linking the theoretical poverty today and the partial narrative of Jewish nationalism that has been received: namely, the rise to dominance of one variant of Jewish nationalist ideology, what I call Statist Zionism.
One must of course determine at the outset what one means by nation. Myers begins with Renan, who centers the idea of nationhood around a spiritual principle. This notion was taken up by Simon Dubnow. Comparable contemporary constructivist notions of nationalism have been articulated by Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm, and Benedict Anderson. Here is how Myers summarizes the development of Jewish self-conceptions:
European Jews in the mid-nineteenth century, embedded in societies affirming their own sense of national integrity, labored to find the best way to name themselves. They described themselves as a confession of faith, a religious community, a community of fate (Schicksalsgemeinschaft), a tribe (Stamm). Later, toward the end of the century, they began to designate themselves more assertively as a nation. Throughout the early twentieth century, this language of Jewish nationhood was widespread among Jewish intellectuals, writers, and scholars, especially in Europe, though one of the characteristic features of this discursive moment was the considerable divergence over the ways in which the term was understood. Over the course of the latter half of the twentieth century, this mode of Jewish political discourse—marked by the ubiquitous use of the language of “nation,” alongside an obsessive need to name the collective—began to dissipate. Since that time, and up to the present, there has been relatively little meditation about the nature of Jewish collectivity, especially when compared to the golden age of ideological contestation that extended from 1897 to 1939.
Myers goes on to supply an explanation for the dissipation of this ideological contestation, and how it narrowed into the prevailing statism, which he now wishes to contest. But returning to the historical period that interests me:
So rather than begin in 1897 with the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland and then look forward to the inevitable creation (predicted by Theodor Herzl) of a Jewish state and again backward to the established “precursors of Zionism” (Alkalay, Kalischer, Hess, etc.) as they are known in Zionist historiography, I propose a somewhat less linear recounting that consists of the following chapters: first, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century phase in which Jews began to debate what to call themselves as a collective; second, a period that I’ll call the “golden age of Jewish nationalism,” commencing indeed in 1897, but highlighting less the historical inevitability of Statism and more the common commitment of Jewish nationalist movements to culture; and third, a phase in which rights of Jews as a national minority became a focus of international attention.
Myers begins with the French revolution and the subsequent re-definition of Jewish identity with respect to Jewish emancipation and loyal citizenship in the countries in which Jews lived. In 1869, Adolf Jellinek introduced a notion we might call ethnicity but which he called Stamm, or tribe, more suited to the conditions of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Then there was the Jewish rebellion against the thrust of a new configuration of anti-Semitism in the 1870s-80s, when the term "anti-Semitism" itself was launched. Into the Berlin Antisemitismusstreit of 1879-1881 comes the 1879 lecture by the German-Jewish philosopher and psychologist Moritz Lazarus, “Was heißt National?” In 1897, Ahad Ha-am, whose focus was cultural renewal, represented a dissenting view from the vision of Theodor Herzl that won the day. The Austro-Marxist (not identified by Myers as such) Social Democrats Otto Bauer and Karl Renner endeavored to disaggregate the notions of nation and state. Note Renner's notion of national cultural autonomy. And note the connection to Bundism:
On this view, it was not the state or territory or even race (in its biological sense) that made a nation, but, in the first instance, culture. Of course, we cannot forget the powerful class dimension in the Bund’s agenda, which added a deterministic quality to its view of Jewish nationalism. But it is the nexus between nation and culture that linked the Bund, in its 1905 platform, to the Folkspartay founded by Simon Dubnow in St. Petersburg a year later. Although the two parties disagreed over the question of socialism, they both agitated for the right of Jews to preside over their own cultural affairs, in their own language, Yiddish. In fact, it was that latter point that prompted the convening of an assembly of intellectuals and writers in Czernowitz a few years later in 1908—one hundred years ago (and now being marked with several centennial conferences). Amidst a typically discordant group of Jews, the conference demanded equal rights for Yiddish, but could not agree on declaring Yiddish “the national language of the Jewish people.” Instead, it opted for the formulation “a national language,” in recognition of the potent claims that Hebrew too deserved recognition as such.
One should compare this to Zamenhof's notion that a people is defined by language and religion.

Myers continues discussing Bundism (a phenomenon that merits sustained study), and summarizes:
. . .  there was a consequential debate among a growing and influential group of European Jews regarding the essence, preferred form, and desired venue of the Jewish nation in the first two decades of the twentieth century. It was not only Zionists, Autonomists, and Bundists, but also Territorialists of Israel Zangwill’s ilk and even the Agude, the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael, which arose formally in 1912 as a pan-national traditionalist alternative to secular nationalism. 
This is the debate that was cast down the memory hole by victorious statism. But continuing on, World War I and the subsequent reterritorialization spurred a new round of debate. Not mentioned by Myers: Zamenhof circulated his proposal to the world's diplomats on the post-war political order in 1915 and died in 1917, so he wasn't a party to the debates of 1919 and the 1919 peace conference where national minority rights were on the table. 

There is some debate on the ideological terrain in the interwar period, including the question of the definitive triumph of statism.  But if not earlier, the Extraordinary Zionist Conference at the Biltmore Hotel in 1942 sealed the deal. (Note that Hitler's Final Solution, formulated in 1941, was in macabre full throttle by 1942.)

Thus Myers seeks to resuscitate this complex ideological history drowned in the historical narrative instituted by victorious statism. And it is this history, apart from Myers and co.'s presentist political concerns, that is vital to understand, in general and in relationship to Zamenhof's lifelong struggle with the Jewish question. While Zamenhof is discussed in the context of Jewish intellectual historiography, I have not yet ascertained whether this recent turn in the historiography of Jewish nationalism has visibly incorporated Zamenhof into its narrative, and, lacking the recent scholarly books written on Zamenhof in Esperanto, German, and possibly other languages that slip my mind (but not English), I do not know how thoroughly this vein of scholarship has penetrated Zamenhofology. The interpenetration of these two foci of scholarship has got to be made to happen, above all in the English-speaking world.

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