- Confronting the Nation: Jewish and Western Nationalism (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 13, Number 4, Summer 1995
- p. pp. 117-119
- View Citation
Book Reviews 117 during the Restoration? Why did the play take so long to gain a hold in France? Why do some modern Israeli productions find it useful to revert to Macklinesque renditions of Shylock's role? Why does the play remain popular? What cannot be denied is the extraordinary impact of the play upon generations of thinkers, writers, and audiences. By chronicling and assessing that impact, Shylock: A Legend and Its Legacy consistently leads out of itself into rich and often vexing realms of speculation. It is a book with which one will persistently quarrel and quibble, and one to which one will persistently return. It is, in short, a book to buy and cherish, and its constellations of observations make it evident why the Merchant of Venice remains worth reading and seeing. Clayton D. Lein Department of English Purdue University Confronting the Nation: Jewish and Western Nationalism, by George L. Mosse. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1993. 220 pp. $35.00 (c); $15.95 (P). Confronting the Nation is quintessential George Mosse: passionate, articulate, and wide-ranging. Drawing on his prodigious background in European intellectual and cultural history, Mosse examines the changing concept of the nation during the past two centuries and how European Jews confronted these changes. Rather than investigating the theoretical suppositions of nationalism, however, Professor Mosse focuses on aesthetics, an arena of discourse in which he is completely at home. The monograph is divided into two sections. The first, entitled "The Nation Displays Itself," offers a thematic discussion of the ways in which nations represent themselves through their symbols: flags, national anthems, military cemeteries, monuments, and buildings. The second portion, called "TheJews and the Modern Nation," evaluates the response of European Jews to the emergence of the nation state in general, and exclusive, chauvinistic nationalism in particular. Central to Mosse's discussion is the argument that by the end of the nineteenth century nationalism had become a "civic religion," a movement which served as a guiding light in an increasingly complex world. Unlike liberal nationalism of the nineteenth century that was flexible and capable of embracing "a variety of political, social, and religious attitudes," the 118 SHOFAR Summer 1995 Vol. 13, No.4 civic religion of nationalism challengedJewish citizenship. Although Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler differed on the use of the historical past to define a national identity, both fascism and Nazism featured camaraderie, masculinity, and the vigor of youth as symbols of their movements. Such political symbols, according to Mosse, were designed to "engage the people's allegiance" and provide them "a political faith with which they could identify." A second theme that runs throughout the book is the relationship between nationalism and the French Revolution. According to Mosse, the French Revolution heralded the advent of modern nationalism and inaugurated a new age of mass politics characterized by the emphasis on visual images and the spoken word over the medium of print as the vehicle for political thought. The celebration of revolutionary festivals, the planting of the Tree of Liberty, and the adoption of traditional religious liturgy to the needs of contemporary politics give witness to the aestheticization of national politics. While Italian fascism and German Nazism were defined in opposition to the ideals of the French Revolution, both movements employed the symbolic representations of the nation first introduced by the revolutionaries ofeighteenth-century France to construct totalitarian civic religions. Professor Mosse's examination ofJewish responses to the emergence of nationalism as a civic religion focuses largely on Germany, a country in which the relationship between Jewish emancipation and membership in a national community was especially problematic. The terms of emancipation were developed at a time when the ideology of liberalism and its emphasis on individuality were employed to create independent, sovereign states. In exchange for citizenship, Jews were to abandon their national heritage and assimilate into the national communities in which they lived. In Germany, the ideals of self-education and character formation known as Bildung were integral to the emancipatory process. Following the unification ofGermany, however, Jews found themselves in the paradoxical situation of remaining committed to liberalism and acquiring Bildung when German nationalism eschewed these principles in favor of...