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Whatever Rosenzweig may have had in mind, one point that he never accepted was the necessity of a Jewish state. He lived and died a Jew of the Diaspora. Almost immediately after his death in 1929, however, the assimilated Jews — to whom his appeals to reinvigorate their Jewish identity by rediscovering tradition and the Bible had been directed — found themselves increasingly excluded from German society. For a while, at least, Rosenzweig’s words still resonated among those driven to fall back Far worse, of course, was to come. The catastrophe we know as the Holocaust or Shoah left those European Jews who survived with little choice but to embrace Zionism, even if they did not all choose to make aliyah. The State of Israel was the answer to the prayer of those, perhaps including Rosenzweig, for whom the universality of Jewish identity could never be wholly reconciled with the particularity of German nationhood.

If the Germans had moved from cosmopolitanism to the nation state in the century beginning in 1848, by the 1940s the “double ideal”, in Meinecke’s phrase, had morphed into National Socialism: a political religion which sought to impose the German racial state on the whole of Europe to create a new supranational empire. The Third Reich  was the nemesis of European nationalism. But it gave cosmopolitanism, driven by the German desire to exchange a national for a European identity, a new lease of life.

Israel was the great exception to the eclipse of nationalism after the Second World War. The Zionist idea, originally driven by a loose alliance of Austro-German and Russian-Polish movements, was given international legitimacy by the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations. The British Empire established a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire; and the United Nations recognised the Jewish state that emerged in 1948, even though its Arab neighbours tried and failed to strangle it at birth. Israel, perhaps the first truly post-imperial state, was also the first truly cosmopolitan nation.

Yet the Jewish State, lacking a history as such — though of course the Jews have the richest history of any people — has taken time to develop a corpus of political theory that fits its unique circumstances. The many German thinkers who exercised a profound influence on the culture of the new state were peculiarly unsuited to explaining Israel’s distinctive characteristics or repelling the relentless assault of its enemies. The various currents of ideas that converged into the relentless drive towards a European superstate were all inimical to Israel, which was and is a liberal nation state, albeit situated in a region where most political entities are artificial and imperialistic.
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Lawrence James
September 2nd, 2018
12:09 PM
For the whole of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, the British parliament debated the affairs of the colonies. There was a big and fascinating debate on the Amritsar affair and parliamentary questions on such lesser matters as to whether or not district officers in Somaliland could pass death sentences. The conduct of empire was always the business of Parliament and this gave moral validity to the imperial state. This was true of France and Germany, where imperial policy was regularly discussed. In many instances, the interests of native populations were better cared for in countries that are no longer colonies but nation states.

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