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We all know how that bid for Weltmacht oder Niedergang ended. In 1920, soon after the German defeat and the “Carthaginian peace” of Versailles, Meinecke received a remarkable letter from his star pupil, Franz Rosenzweig, who had just published a scholarly work on Hegel und der Staat (“Hegel and the State”) which seemed to promise a glittering career as a German professor. But Rosenzweig had news for his old teacher. Rather than follow in Meinecke’s footsteps, subsuming his Jewish identity in the greater glory of the German nation, Rosenzweig had decided to return to his Jewish roots. After following the path of assimilation almost to the point of conversion, in 1913 he had undergone an existential crisis that he later called a “collapse”. This led him eventually to abandon a promising academic career and to found and teach in the Frankfurt Jüdisches Lehrhaus, a kind of Jewish adult education centre inspired by his ideas. He told Meinecke that:

. . . my life has fallen under the rule of a “dark drive” which I’m aware that I merely name by calling it “my Judaism”. The scholarly aspect of this whole process — the conversion of the historian into a philosopher — is only a corollary, though it has furnished me with a welcome corroboration of my own conviction that the “ghost I saw” was not the devil; it seems to me that I am more firmly rooted in the earth than I was seven years ago.

The reference to roots reminds us that by reaffirming his primordial allegiance to the universality of the Jewish people, Rosenzweig was not renouncing the particularity of his German nationality. The Prussian-led drive towards the nation state was not uncongenial to Jewish patriots such as Rosenzweig, who fought for Germany during the First World War. Indeed, it was while stationed in the Balkans that he wrote his masterpiece, Der Stern der Erlösung (“The Star of Redemption”), on postcards home. This visionary work proclaimed Rosenzweig’s turn away from German nationalism and towards a revelatory philosophy of Judaism. This “new thinking” focused on lived experience rather than faith, and it propelled Rosenzweig to undertake the mammoth task of translating the Hebrew Bible into a modern literary German that would make the text fresh, “naked” and even alien to assimilated German Jews, familiar only with the Lutheran version. He collaborated with Martin Buber on this project, which the latter completed long after Rosenzweig succumbed to motor-neurone disease. Unlike Rosenzweig, Buber was a Zionist, albeit of an unusual kind (he wanted a binational state rather than a Jewish one), but he and Rosenzweig agreed on the crucial importance of the Hebrew Bible for any revival of Jewish consciousness. Totally paralysed for the last few years of his life, Rosenzweig communicated only by blinking. He nevertheless managed to translate all the books from Genesis to Isaiah, leaving his last cryptic message to Buber incomplete: “und — jetzt kommt sie, die Pointe aller Pointen, die der Herr mir wirklich im Schlaf verliehen hat: die Pointe aller Pointen für die es . . .” (“and — now it comes, the point of all points, which the Lord really has vouchsafed me in my sleep: the point of all points for which there . . .”)
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Emmet Fahy
November 21st, 2018
3:11 PM
Superb article

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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