International COnference of the Simon Dubnow Institute (Leipzig, Germany):
From Pre-Modern Corporation to Post-Modern Pluralism - Diasporic Cultures and Institutions of the Jews between Empires and Nation States
CFP for the International Annual Conference of the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University, 22 May 2004-24 May 2004 (CfP Deadline: 05 October 2003)
From Pre-Modern Corporation to Post-Modern Pluralism -
Diasporic Cultures and Institutions of the Jews between Empires and
In their Dialectics of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno characterized the Jews as the pioneers of modernity. There is much evidence to support that assertion. The 19th century in particular is replete with proofs. Jews indeed appear in many places to have some link with the attributes of modernity. This is true for finance, journalism, the sciences and niches in other worlds caught up in ever more rapid secularization. Jews emerged to an unusual degree as pacesetters, indeed as pioneers of an ever more accelerating age. In any event, they are its visible envoys.
Nonetheless, a few provisos are in order regarding such a perception, today almost universally acknowledged as valid. These are not meant to downplay the important role Jews played as trailblazers of modernism. Rather, our attention is directed by such provisos to a quite relevant and largely neglected aspect: though it is arguable that Jews as individuals and as an assemblage of many individuals certainly did occupy that social role in the advancement of modernity—as a collective they tended more to be agents of decidedly pre-modern forms of modernity. This is somewhat paradoxical.
Sharpening that observation, we may put forward the cautious thesis that in the case of the Jews qua Jews, in the phase of full-blown modernity, they represent a pre-modern corporation. In any event, they are inscribed with what might be called trace elements of a corporative constitution. If we sharpen that perception even further, it is possible to view the Jews, by dint of their collective autonomous organization, as an early modern natio extending itself down into modernity. Of course, the early modern forms undergo transformations in each case, in keeping with the tenor of the times. They can appear in the kehillot (incorporated communities), in associations or other vessels of autonomous organization which adapt to modernity in the interstices that open up between state and society. If this is true, it would mean that the Jews qua Jews are potentially of substantial epistemic importance in the investigation of modernity. From this vantage point, the history of the Jews could be employed more generally as an illuminating lens through which to describe the crisis-ridden course of modernity on a broader canvas. After all, the rationalizations accompanying modernity tend to homogenize the various states as they evolve. In the 19th century and the inter-war period, such a homogeneity is linked with a demonstrable deepening affinity between territoriality and ethnicity, or what is commonly understood as the consolidation of the nation-state.
Even the French Revolution tied the emancipation of the Jews it had spurred to their individuality. To Jews as individuals, the state might grant everything, i.e. civil equality, but to the Jews as a nation nothing. This conditional factor in the emancipation of the Jews was later perceived by those more desirous of a Jewish emancipation as an inappropriate restriction on a possible emergent national collective. But this interpretation had itself sprung from a later largely post-assimilatory and essentially national Jewish identity. The revolutionary determinate character of the emancipation of the Jews from within their particular era was oriented far more to what the French Revolution was eager to destroy: the prior corpus of privileges of the old order. Seen from that perspective, the argument that there was no valid Jewish claim to collectivity was bound up with the notion of Jews as members of a pre-modern natio. Now, individual equality was to replace what shortly before had been regulated by privilege, class and status.
The civil equality of the Jews, touted as the legal equality of the Jews as citizens and the transformation of their traditional religion into a private denomination, was largely in keeping with developments in Western Europe or the respective process of acculturation of the Jews to their respective nation-states. In the multinational empires, their situation was different. Despite the manifold of differences between Czarist Russia, the Habsburg monarchy and the European territories of the Ottoman Empire, on the basis of legal and social structures and demography, the common situation prevailing there differed from that in Western Europe. There too, it is possible to find forms of acculturation suited to Western development, and regionally conditioned as well. Yet a major hallmark of developments in the ‘East’ was the salience, still palpable, of autonomous organization along corporative lines. This would seem to confirm the suspicion that in imperial contexts, pre-modern and transnational, transterritorial forms of social life retain their validity if compared with the basic pattern of the modern organization of polities. These transnational and transterritorial organizational forms are more in keeping with a diasporic culture like that of the Jews than the patterns predominant in nation-states, oriented as they are to homogeneity.
Proceeding from the assumption that Jews, as members of a collective, possessed distinctive elements of a pre-modern corporation as the organized expression of their group attachment, it is necessary in imperial contexts to explore the forms of organization and integration which grant collective rights along with civil rights for the individual. In imperial contexts, such collective rights can only be accorded beyond certain perimeters of territoriality, due to the internal potential threat they pose to the Empire. A look at the Jewish (and non-Jewish) history of this experience points to various phenomena connected with the theme of the conference, associated in turn with the following questions for possible inquiry: first, the political program pursued by Simon Dubnow in his vision of Jewish autonomy in the Russian Empire. One useful tack would be to better explore Dubnow‘s autonomy concepts in terms of their traditional origins. That would require a new look at pre-modern Jewish traditions as manifested, for example, in the Council of Four Lands, the vaad arba arazot, as well as in the constitutions of the kehillot and their contemporary recognition by the respective powers and authorities.
A second intriguing question for the Habsburg monarchy is the trans-territorial principle of personal autonomy or the ‘personality principle‘ as developed by Karl Renner and Otto Bauer. Although this principle, as fleshed out in its concrete configuration by the two authors, did not conceptualize the Jews as a nationality, its conditions of genesis are of systematic importance for the perpetuation of pre-modern and corporative forms into modernity. This holds more broadly, not just for the more or less transformed reception of these ideas among the transnationally oriented movements and partisan groupings, such as the Jewish Bund in Poland and Lithuania. In the realm of the philosophy of the state, which inter alia tried to react to the manifestations of decay in the Empire and sought to sublate the ethnic diversity of the monarchy in a highly formalized and abstract unity of the law, as manifested for example in the universalistically oriented “pure theory of law” of Hans Kelsen, is part of this context.
In the conflict-ridden transition from empire to nation-states, stipulations were laid down in the law on minorities for those states which contained a large number of minorities on their territory in addition to the dominant national group, in particular at the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919. Jewish organizations, especially from within imperial topographies, were keen to have guarantees written into law for the Jews resident in these countries, and for other minorities as well. An intriguing question: to what extent were the minority treaties themselves akin to a modern transformation of pre-modern corporative privileges? Most particularly when a distinction is made between historical groups which also had enjoyed corporative rights in the past, over against those who had awoken one morning to find themselves in the situation of a demographic minority simply because some border had been (re)drawn. A distinction between historical minorities and ‘situative’ minorities can perhaps serve to highlight the genuine corporative and thus transterritorial traditions of the one in contrast with the manifestly territorialized traditions of the other.
In this connection, the United States can also be conceived as an imperial state--one in which despite or precisely because of its exceptional modernity, a pluralistic practice has crystallized which increasingly is reminiscent, at least in its consequences, of trace elements of a kind of corporative law à la americain, where religious pluralism transforms into ethnic pluralism. In its post-modern significance for Jews, the conception of a non-territorial ethnic and cultural pluralism points back to pre-modern imperial experiences. It was first developed in the U.S. in the 1920s, counterposed to the notion of ‘melting pot,’ at a time when Horace Kallen began to elaborate concepts of multiculturalism avant la lettre. It is a distinctive feature of American polity and society that would appear to amalgamate the two: generalizing structures of modernity on the one hand, along with a possible preservation of pre-modern aspects on the other. This combination of a public ‘generality’ and a privatizable and culturalizable ‘particularity’ points in post-modern guise backward to the nexus of empire and diaspora. Both forms of organization precede the nation-state, even as they appear, in a kind of temporal leapfrog, to succeed it as well. To that extent, the history of the Jews can stand as emblematic of the change in forms from an empire to a nation-state, just as much as that history is also able to illuminate the pre-modern and post-modern significance of diaspora.
The conference will attempt to examine the elements of empire and diaspora, territoriality and transterritoriality by reference to the history of Jewish institutions, politics and diplomacy. This will involve tracing transformations of pre-modern into post-modern forms, or what are conceived as ‘corporative’ forms, by looking at individuals such as Simon Dubnow, Otto Bauer, Horace Kallen and others, as well as at a Jewish history of institutions from the early modern period and extending on into fuller-blown modernity. And then making connections between these forms and their associated or conjoint political and cultural programs in the context of macro-concepts such as empire and diaspora. We welcome proposals for presentations on facets of this complex of questions from researchers in the field of Jewish and ‘general’ history interested in participating in the conference.
The Simon Dubnow Institute welcomes one-page proposals with a short CV (deadline 5 October 2003, e-mail: below). The conference language will be English.
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