- Why the early German socialists opposed the world’s first modern welfare state Adam Sacks, Jacobin
- Russia’s twin Soviet nostalgias Anna Nemtsova, Atlantic
- Is our economists learning? Ryan Cooper, American Prospect
- An excellent history of China in Ghana Joseph Hammond, Diplomat
Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. The 20th century produced more Christian martyrs than any other period in history. During a great part of that century, Christians were mostly persecuted by totalitarian regimes in communist countries like the USSR and China. Today persecution still comes from communist governments, such as the ones in China, Cuba and North Korea, but mostly Christians are persecuted in countries where Muslims control the government. With that in mind, I would like to answer two questions: Why is that and can Christians in the West do something about it?
Typically, Christians (and other religious groups) are persecuted by totalitarian governments. The definition of a totalitarian regime is that it can comport no opposition or dissidence. A totalitarian regime is characterized by the attempt to control your whole life, including your religious life. Totalitarian regimes fear losing control over their population. Christians gathering for worship are mistaken for a seditious group. This is the reason why these governments persecute Christians.
Until World War I, US foreign policy was mostly characterized by what is typically defined as isolationism. US presidents since the Founding Fathers understood that Europe was a mess and that the US would do well to keep away from political entanglements with it. This changed with Woodrow Wilson. Wilson understood that it was the US’ mission to rebuild the World after its own image. With that in mind, he struggled, against the US population, to get the country into World War I.
US involvement in World War I proved to be essential for that war and for all US foreign policy since then. The tendency in Europe, since the 17th century, was for major wars to end with a new power equilibrium. This is not hard science, but pretty much every hundred years Europeans would fight a major war and then rest for another hundred. That was so with the 30 Years War, the War of Spanish Succession, and the Napoleonic Wars. All these conflicts had one thing in common: the emergence of a new great power in Europe moved other countries to balance that power. The tendency, in the end, was equilibrium. That was the case with World War I: the European system was balanced after the Napoleonic Wars. However, towards the end of the 19th century, Germany emerged as a new great power. Other countries allied against it. This scenario was delayed by Otto von Bismarck’s brilliant foreign policy but proved ultimately inevitable.
World War I should end like any other European War since the 17th century: that generation realizes that it is impossible for a single country to dominate the entire continent, diplomats accept the status quo and anyway, everybody becomes war-weary and more inclined to peace. But US intervention prevented that from happening. My hypothesis (that I have no idea how to test) is this: without US intervention, World War I would finish with peace without winners. It would be considered a draw. With US intervention, however, France managed to punish Germany for the War. Germany, on its part, became vengeful against France. England understood that it was better to stay on the other side of the channel. World War I became only the first half of a major conflict that continued some twenty years later with World War II. If in World War I US involvement was optional, in World War II it became inevitable. And after World War II came the Cold War, and the US hasn’t stop ever since.
US involvement in World War I had a number of consequences. German revanchism against France gave way to the rise of Nazism. In Russia, the Bolsheviks rose to power as well. Another effect of World War I was the end of the Turco-Ottoman Empire. Following Woodrow Wilson’s vision, that empire was to be divided into several countries, according to several ethnic groups identified by westerners. In actuality, England and France took the chance to divide the Middle East into several colonies. Christians were persecuted in Nazi-Germany and the USSR. The Middle East is a mess to this day. Before World War I, American missionaries were welcomed in the Turco-Ottoman Empire.
British ones were not, because that empire understood (I suppose correctly) that they would be hard to separate from the imperialist interests of Great Britain. The US mostly took England’s place in this regard. To make matters worse, oil was the fuel of the second industrial revolution that began at the end of the 19th century. Soon after, it was discovered that the Middle East had some of the greatest deposits on the planet. The US became the first world superpower, and to maintain that it needed oil. Lots of oil. It is a vicious cycle.
In sum, I am blaming Woodrow Wilson and his foreign policy for everything bad that happened ever since. The Founding Fathers had a very good foreign policy, that made the US and US citizens welcomed worldwide. Woodrow Wilson broke that pattern, much because he was a liberal Christian who thought that the US role was to make the world democratic by force.
I don’t think it’s too late to change. It might be unthinkable to just withdraw from every international commitment the US has today, but it is definitely time for a gradual change. A world without major US military intervention may be – counterintuitively – a world safer for Christians.
The first post in this series concentrates on the more radical authoritarian populist side of conservatism in Europe. Before getting on to American conservatism and other aspects of European conservatism, I will respond to requests in the comments for definitions of what I mean by liberalism and conservatism. The shortest class definition I am aware of is that of David Hume in his essay ‘Of the Parties of Great Britain’ where he suggests that Whigs (liberals) favour liberty with a monarchy and that Tories (conservatives) favour monarchy with liberty. This can be expanded with little, if any controversy, to be taken as: liberals advocate liberty with order; conservatives favour order with liberty.
I will move from Hume to Benjamin Constant in Principles of Politics Applicable to all Governments. Constant is surely an unimpeachable source on what it is to be a classical liberal and it is important to note that Constant thinks there is something different in a politics based on principles of freedom than the thought of Edmund Burke. The distinction Constant makes is key to thinking about the relation between classical liberalism and conservatism, so is key to the claim that I make that (classical) liberalism are very distinct.
To increase the force of collective authority is never other than giving more power to some individuals. If the wickedness of men [an emphasis on this is a mark of conservative thinking], it is an even stronger one against power. For despotism is only the freedom of one or a few against the rest. Burke says that freedom is power. One can likewise say that power is freedom.(Book XV, Chapter 2)
This thought flows right into this thought from a later chapter:
Freedom is a power only in the sense that a shield is a weapon. So that when one speaks of possible abuses of the principle of freedom, such an expression is inaccurate. The principles of freedom would have prevented anything under the heading of abuses of freedom. These abuses, whoever their author, taking place always at the expense of another’s freedom, have never been the consequence of these principles, but rather their reversal. (Book XVII. Chapter 1)
In my summary of the above: conservatism defines freedom as limited because of a dangerous power in excess, so requiring tradition, hierarchy, and the aggressive use of state sovereignty to to curb it, while liberalism suggests that more freedom is the answer to abuses of power.
Since Burke is a key figure for those advocating some kind of kind of intimate alliance, or even identity, between (classical) liberalism and conservatism or libertarian conservative fusionism, Constant’s criticism of Burke is important. I won’t get into the detail of Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke’s central text on politics here, I will just note that the reader of this classic of conservatism will find many passages on the absolute sovereignty of the state, the virtues of rigid social hierarchy and of traditions supporting such hierarchy, along with the perfection of the British constitution of the time.
These passages, it seems to me, should raise concern to the advocate of liberty, which I believe derives its energy from the criticism of tradition, hierarchy, and existing institutions. As Constant recognises, we should not be quick to replace institutions that have grown over centuries with a perfect new design, but we should certainly not be afraid to innovate either, as we should not be slow to notice the growing faults of institutions over time as they come into conflict with new circumstances.
Burke was perhaps a bit more liberty-minded and a bit more innovation-friendly than the other famous critics of liberalism and Jacobinism – de Maistre, de Bonald and Donoso Cortés, but the understanding of liberty as particular Liberties inherited from tradition, upheld by a state that insists on its own absolute authority is something he has in common with them. For Constant, the excesses of the French Revolution are a reason to argue for more liberty, for Burke they are a reason to uphold hierarchy, tradition, and royal authority along with endless war against the French.
While addressing comments to the last post, I should refer to my fellow Notewriter, Edwin van de Haar, though thinking just as much of a previous social media conversation as his recent comment. As far as I understand, he advocates a definition of conservative liberalism that corresponds with F.A. Hayek’s views in The Constitution of Liberty and a share of GDP devoted to public spending substantially below the the average in advanced industrial countries. I’m not aware of anywhere in which Hayek used such a term, though he was certainly more sympathetic to Burke than I am here.
My argument is that there is nothing inherent to conservatism that makes it opposed to expanding the state in terms of welfare intervention or in terms of the police power of the state. Otto von Bismarck is just one particularly notable conservative from history who had a great belief in an intrusive state in various ways, including measures designed to take voters away from the strong Marxist-socialist current of the time, through incorporating socialist-friendly policies. Conservatism is a doctrine of order, state power (where national or imperial), and tradition.
Where conservatives have favoured market-friendly and relatively small state polices, they have done so in order to preserve order, the core of state power and tradition. Economically liberal conservatives like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were also great believers in narratives of restored national grandeur, the security state, ‘law and order’ and ‘war on drugs’ polices expanding state power, while sucking an increasing number of people into the extreme state-socialist institution of prison.
As far as I can see Thatcher and Reagan are the heroes of ‘liberal conservatism’. With all due respect to their valuable economic reforms, the liberalism seems to me to be very subordinate to the conservatism. As I pointed out in the last post, ideas of aggressive populism are growing in the conservative world, ideas which have deep precedents in the ways that Bismarck figures have mobilised nationalism, statism, and reactionary identity politics against liberals.
That’s the title of my weekend piece over at RealClearHistory. The structure of the pieces, if you’ll remember, is Top 10 style, but I try to throw some more in-depth stuff into the mix, too. An excerpt:
3. World War I showed the world what a united Germany could do. Germany was formed in 1871, making it almost 100 years younger than the United States and much younger than France and the United Kingdom. Prior to the formation of Germany, which came about due to Prussian diplomat Otto von Bismarck’s genius machinations, observers and thinkers throughout the world penned works speculating on what a unified German-speaking world would do, politically, economically, culturally, and militarily. Rome’s decentralized barbarian enemies were from Germania, the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire), the Hanseatic League, and the German Confederation which all tried, in vain, to do what Bismarck did. Many of the attempts to unite Germany were foiled by French, British, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian statesmen because of fears that a united Germany would come to dominate Europe and upset the balance of power that European elites had come to rely on as their foreign affairs blueprint. They weren’t wrong.
Please, read the whole thing.
After reading Brandon’s post on the historical context for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I was inspired to pen something similar, but distinct, on the same topic. Namely, the religious basis for Zionism.
I’ll start with a short textual primer. Religious Jews use a variety of prayerbooks, or siddurim, but the basic content of all of them remains the same: Shacharit, or morning prayers, Minchah, or afternoon prayers, Maariv, or evening prayers, Kabbalat Shabbat, or “welcoming the Shabbat” (Sabbath), and if the siddur is full size, a variety of other prayers for religious holidays and festivals, explanatory bits about various prayers and songs, how to don the tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin (phylacteries, little black boxes containing verses from the Torah). A cursory look through this book will reveal the various emphases the ancient authors placed on aspects of belief, and it reflects a decidedly post-Second Temple Judaic outlook.
What does this mean? In the pre-morning prayer, which is said upon arising, after a variety of blessings bestowed on the creator and reminders to keep His commandments, Jews read a portion from the Torah detailing the korbanot, or offerings, and the ketoret, or incense, that were to be given and burned in the temple. Following this are descriptions of the priestly functions, various explanations and speculations on how these functions were fulfilled, and concluding with Talmudic rules on how to interpret the Torah. So, before a Jew even gets to his morning prayers, he has to do pre-morning prayers that remind him or her of the significance of the temple and exactly how it was constituted and run by the priests, and how common Jews would offer tribute there. Obviously, this has little practical significance – there is no temple, and so all of these commandments given in the Torah and subsequent Talmudic commentary are irrelevant. If the temple is rebuilt that is a different story, of course.
So, why would the authors of the siddur put this information in? The most logical reason is that they wanted Jews everywhere, everyday to remember the temple, to remember their unity as a people in the historical Kingdom of Israel, and to never forget who and what they are: b’nai Israel, children of Israel, a term with two meanings, the children of Yaakov (Jacob, who gained the name Israel after wrestling with an angel), and the children of the land God promised them. This emphasis does not end with the initial prayers, but is found in the first paragraph of Shacharit:
“Remember the wonders He has wrought, His miracles, and the judgments of His mouth. O descendants of Israel His servant, children of Jacob, His chosen ones: He is the Lord our God; His judgments extend over the entire earth. Remember his covenant forever, the word which He has commanded to a thousand generations; the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac. He established it for Jacob as a statute, for Israel as an everlasting covenant, stating, “To you I shall give the land of Canaan” – the portion of your inheritance, when you were but few, very few, and strangers in it” (emphasis mine).
Here, the emphasis continues on the historical Kingdom of Israel, but it is also broader, in line with the goal of unity and cohesion amongst all of b’nai Israel. This is repeated in numerous other places, but not simply in the morning prayer; the Amidah, the central prayer recited in the morning, the afternoon, and the night, ends with the words “May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, that the Beit Hamikdash [Holy Temple] be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah.” The siddur is replete with such references, and if you wanted you could likely find hundreds within it – I merely wish to highlight their frequency, and elucidate their general purpose, to serve the aforementioned goals of religious cohesion. Further, they serve the goal of instilling a yearning for Zion amongst the Jewish people, a desire that their temple be rebuilt, and their holy rites reinstated.
What is the point of this discussion? According to My Jewish Learning, “the particular order of Jewish worship was established largely during the first four or five centuries CE, although the components of that worship were drawn from earlier periods and have continued to develop until modern times.” Religious Jews (and it should be important to note here, that such a term is relatively recent; in past times, there was no such thing as a non-religious Jew) said these prayers in some form for at least 1500 years, and likely for longer periods of time for the older prayers such as the Psalms (Tehillim in Hebrew). The passages referring to the temple and the restitution of Israel are obviously of a younger vintage, as they would only have been added sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD by the besieging Roman general Titus.
That is, this yearning for Zion has been instilled in Jews on a daily basis for over 1500 years. The dream of a Jewish people reunited in the historical Kingdom of Israel has a clear and distinct theological pedigree that cannot be overstated. It is probably not too much of a stretch to claim that without this daily insistence, this daily urgency, that there would not be a state of Israel within its historical boundaries.
If we take Brandon’s analysis to be true, that the founding of Israel has a historic basis with the emergence of nationalist movements in Europe, this is not to say that a Jewish state would not have developed. Indeed, before the various Zionist movements coalesced around a firm demand for the historical land of Israel, there was talk of moving the Jews en masse to Uganda, and during the Nazi period, to Madagascar. It is conceivable that, without a strong connection to this specific land, Israel might have ended up in a different place, or not ended up at all (as was the case with other persecuted groups like the Roma, who to this day do not have a state of their own).
I should clarify here that I am not attempting to justify the establishment of the modern Israeli state. Many such arguments abound, many of them exploring the same terrain I have just traversed, using references in the Torah to Abraham buying a tomb for Sarah in Canaan, or God’s proclamation that Canaan was marked out for the Israelites, or referring to the voluminous archaeological and historical evidence of Jewish habitation in historical Israel, or whatnot. I am attempting to explain instead not reasons for, but reasons why – why was historical Israel a better choice than Uganda or Madagascar for instance? More importantly, why would the Zionist movement, which was predominantly secular, attach itself so strongly to these theological premises for Zion in Israel?
To answer these questions, we must return to some of the ground Brandon’s post went over: the historical and economic realities driving Zionism in late 19th, early 20th century Europe. In the late 19th century, what was a collection of principalities in Central Europe, united only by a superficially common language and a set of loose traditions, became consolidated under the rule of Prussia, with the Prussian ruler Otto von Bismarck being named Chancellor of a unified German state – the first Reich. In this nationalizing movement, the first articulation of what would be called the “Jewish Question” or the “Jewish Problem” was formed. How does one integrate a minority, non-German, non-German speaking, non-Christian group of transients into the new nation-state? There were a variety of solutions:
- Fully integrate them into German society – the ethnic over the civic identity.
- Integrate them into German society without assimilating them, allowing them their unique religious traditions, but subsumed within a broader Germanic citizen ideal – the civic over the ethnic identity.
- Expel them all.
- Kill them all (this was, of course, the Nazi answer to the Jewish Question, and why it has been called ever since the “Final Solution”)
What was ultimately settled upon was a track of full integration with assimilation, and what resulted was the greatest flowering of Jewish civilization until modern times. History’s annals are replete with Jewish expressions of genius, from music (Moses Mendelssohn) to science (Albert Einstein) to psychiatry (Viktor Frankl, Sigmund Freud), all of whom were nurtured within the cultural confines of Germanic civilization. Indeed, Jews were never more prosperous than at that time, when they abandoned most of their traditions and flocked to the banner of the rising German civilization.
What is wrong with this picture? In every European society, there was a current of anti-Semitism, varying in degree of severity from place to place. Germany was not particularly anti-Semitic relative to other countries in Europe, and indeed, the top contenders in this category were on either side of the German Empire: France to the west, with the Dreyfus affair, and Russia to the East, with numerous pogroms (organized destruction, rape, and murder of Jews and Jewish property by the non-Jewish population of a town or city), most notably in Kishinev. (I recommend the work of Professor Zipperstein at Stanford to understand the far reaching implications of this one event, which are truly fascinating.) While Germany cannot take the crown for standard bearer of anti-Semitism in this period, Germany may be distinguished from other European countries in the kind of anti-Semitism that flourished there. In Germany, anti-Semitism was bracketed within newly emerging racial categories, so that Jew was not thought of simply in religious terms, but in ethnic terms as well – a Jew was not a Jew because he practiced Judaism, but he was born and would always remain a Jew. Interestingly, this rhetoric is now dominant amongst many Orthodox groups such as Chabad-Lubavitch, and indeed the Nazi racial laws which defined a Jew from a non-Jew were adopted for the state of Israel’s immigration policy: if the Nazis considered you a Jew, the Israelis consider you a Jew. But, that is a different discussion.
With what seemed like a rising current of anti-Semitism, in stepped the figure of Theodor Herzl. I tend to be wary of overarching historiographical theories like the “Great Man” theory, but in this case it seems to fit the bill; it cannot be underestimated how important Herzl’s contribution to the Zionist movement was, how critical he was to its foundation, maintenance, and lasting success. Without him, there would likely be no Zionist movement. The story of his conversion from German assimilationist to Zionist leader is canonical, but it bears summarizing here. A correspondent for a German newspaper in France, Herzl witnessed the Dreyfus affair and was galvanized, Or, according to recent scholarship, a Viennese anti-Semitic demagogue inspired him. Regardless, in 1896 he published Der Judenstaat, which almost immediately caused all the existing Zionist groups, along with many new adherents, to join his cause. I have not read the book, but I have read descriptions of it, and within it he seconds the racializing element in anti-Semitism, stating that the Jews are a people with a distinct nationality, and all they were missing was a national homeland – according to Herzl, it ought to be in Argentina, or preferably historical Israel. These ideas eventually gained great currency, and in a long process from the publication of Der Judenstaat to the founding of Israel in the borders of the Kingdom of Israel, these ideas bore themselves out to fruition.
At this point, we should be ready to answer why Zionism sought a Jewish state in historical Israel, and the impetus for why that idea gained currency at all. For centuries, as was stated above, the Jewish people yearned for a reestablished Israel. Yet, they made no concerted efforts to make this state a reality. To understand why this is, we must return to theology, this time to the concept of Jewish messianism. The basic tenets of this are derived from various prophetic texts, outside the scope of the Torah itself, which is generally circumscribed to the Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Some of the claims of what the messiah, or moshiach, will do are listed below:
- And I will restore your judges as at first and your counsellors as in the beginning; afterwards you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City. (Isaiah 1:26; some Jews interpret this to mean that the Sanhedrin will be re-established.)
- Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4)
- The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:11-17)
- He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:8-10,2 Chronicles 7:18)
- The “spirit of the Lord” will be upon him, and he will have a “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)
- Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
- Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
- He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
- All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)
- Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
- There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
- All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
- The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
- He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)
- Nations will recognize the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5)
- The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
- The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
- Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
- The people of Israel will have direct access to the Torah through their minds and Torah study will become the study of the wisdom of the heart (Jeremiah 31:33)
- He will give you all the worthy desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)
- He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9)
These beliefs account for two things: first, a Jewish eschatalogical account for how the world will end, and what will occur when it does, who will bring this about, and more importantly for this post, a strong theological basis for Zionism; and second, why the rest of the Western world cared about Zionism at all.
The first factor accounts for the broad theological basis for “why Israel,” and it also brings to light certain long-standing divisions in the Zionist movement. For example, many groups of Orthodox Jews such as the Haredi Naturei Karta reject Zionism and call for the dissolution of the state of Israel. Indeed, they are so vocal about this, a group of Naturei Karta rabbis was invited by then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a conference of prominent anti-Zionists and Holocaust deniers. Naturei Karta is so vehement on this point because, technically speaking, only the messiah is able to return to refound Israel, create the Third Temple, usher in world peace, et cetera. And this is why, historically speaking, Jews were content to wallow in galut (exile) until the future coming of the Messiah, who would bring them back to Israel. Tangentially, it also accounts for much of the religious suspicion, embodied in Natueri Karta, towards the Zionist movement; during the early modern period, many Messianic movements emerged under the charismatic demagogues Joseph Frank and Sabbetai Tzvi, who lured many Jews into their movements before failing spectacularly, the former converting to Christianity, the latter along with his flock converting to Islam somewhere in Anatolia (the story of Sabbetai Tzvi does not end there, for his followers thereafter became known as the Dönmeh, many of whom were instrumental in the Young Turk movement. But that is a different story).
The religious pushback against Zionism simultaneously accounts for the strong religious appeal of a Zionism that takes Israel as its logical terminus: not only does it attract secular, assimilated Jews with nationalist rhetoric, it attracts religious Jews who would see in the foundation of Israel a fulfillment of the eschatological prophecies, and perhaps an ushering in of the age of the messiah.
The second factor explains the broad gentile appeal for a new Jewish state. What initially separated Christianity from Judaism was the belief among Christian Jews that Jesus was the messiah ordained in these foregoing passages, and the contrary belief amongst non-Christian Jews that he was not. Over time, this sectarian difference widened to the point that Christianity diverged from Judaism, probably some time in the post-Second Temple era. However, the common Christian belief that Jesus came to fulfill and, in time, supersede the Jewish prophecies has remained current throughout history, and profoundly influenced non-Jewish support for Zionism.
Indeed, much of the British and American community that supported the Zionist cause did so on explicitly religious grounds, conceiving of the Jews as the historical inheritors of the ancient Israelite religion, and by extension to the Holy Land itself. Coupled with the predominant historical arc of nationalism, just then winding its way through European society, you are left with the perfect confluence of factors – a certain benevolence towards the Jews on religious grounds, along with an assent to the basic premises of nationalism that provided the impetus for the initial Zionist movement.
This is why Zionism fixated on Israel, and this is why secular Jewish leaders such as Herzl, and later Weizmann, would so strongly advocate for a Jewish state in historical Israel. The theological undercurrent was so pervasive amongst Jewish people, so universally recognized, and so compelling – especially to religious Jews – that to choose any other geographical area would likely have torn the movement apart. Indeed, this happened in the period between 1903 and 1917, when Herzl introduced the British plan for Jewish settlement in Uganda, causing an immediate split between the anti-Uganda and pro-Uganda segments of the World Zionist Organization. This rift was not fully healed until 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was published, and the pro-Uganda segment fizzled into irrelevance.
So what we have here are two broad trends, as I said above, the theological undercurrent of messianism and “yearning for Zion,” which was wedded at just the right time to a dominant discourse of ethnic nationalism, which can be seen as the birth of Zionism.
Further, this did not have significance for the Jews only, but garnered great sympathy amongst non-Jews, which was crucial for certain guarantees such as the Balfour Declaration to have any currency. Without the movement, which was not explicitly theological but nonetheless tapped into theological ideas at its core, I do not believe that Zionism in the form we know of it would have emerged. Furthermore, without the theological underpinnings, if I may extend the argument further, the Jewish people would not even exist – there would be coherence amongst the Jewish people, over such broad geographic distances, without the theology that had united them or almost two thousand years between the dissolution of historical Israel and the foundation of the new state of Israel. But, that is another discussion.
The reader, if he has followed me up to this point, may be wondering why I took the time to outline my idea of the development of the Zionist movement. “What relevance does this have for today?” he may ask. First, it is a small inference to make that if the state of Israel can owe a large part of its foundation to theology, it owes a large part of the form of its existence to that same theology. Settler colonialism in the West Bank is driven by many factors, many of them economic in nature, but it is indubitable that many settlers have an explicitly religious vision – the conquest of the entire historical Israel, comprising not just the West Bank but parts of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt as well. Further, the debate over the future of Jerusalem is not just political – how could the Jewish people split their historical capital, where their temple stood, where the Sanhedrin met, where thousands of years of Jewish history took place? Furthermore, how could any part of historical Israel be split off?
There is much to be discussed about the religious significance behind conflict in Israel today, but my goal in this post was simply to trace a path from theology to nationalism and to its synthesis in Zionism, which could not have taken shape without both movements. Further, I want to impress upon you that Zionism would never have gotten off the ground without the good will of non-Jewish friends in high places, those Christian philanthropists and statesmen who shared the messianic vision that Zionism used as a core tenet of its ideology. Thus, while many nationalist movements can be explained with reference to economic and social factors only, Zionism seems to be unique in that religion played such a pivotal role in its foundational story and its raison d’etre.