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  • Thoughts on Zionism as a Utopian Ideology *
  • Yosef Gorny (bio)

In this period of transition between the hundredth anniversary of the first Zionist Congress and the fiftieth anniversary of Israeli statehood, the examination of Zionism as an ideology is of outstanding symbolic significance. This symbolism stems from the link between policy and ideology in a period in which ideologies are playing a decreasing role in political action, and the world is witness to brutal and destructive conduct on the part of regimes which, at least in their initial stages, were motivated by ideologies. But—even if we discount the moral bankruptcy of ideological regimes—the ascendancy of the western democratic system and the global success of the market economy reinforce the view that collectivist ideologies have failed. These developments, as we know, have been reflected in the academic world as well, in the outlook and research methods of postmodernism, which in the antithesis of the modernism advocated so ardently by those universalist ideologies that have failed. This trend in research also feeds on the methodology—though not always the ideology—of neo-Marxism in the spheres of social science and social history. This methodology denies a priori the historical value of ideologies, and implies that their proponents present a false picture of their views and aspirations, in order to disguise their true class of group interests.

Zionism as an ideology and as a political movement, which drew its sustenance both from traditional roots and from the sources of rational and optimistic modernism in its conception of the development of society—is also the “victim” of our era. It is becoming increasingly clear that there can be no absolute and perfect solutions to political and social problems, and that the historical process is not moving ceaselessly towards progress. This is the case notwithstanding the fact that, a sober and objective consideration of the facts, indicates that Zionism, relatively to other ideologies, has succeeded in realizing most of its objectives. It has done so perhaps more than any other contemporary [End Page 241] movement, particularly in light of its unique initial odds, which caused it to be the weakest political movement of all. For all these reasons, it can serve as an example of the success of modernism.

Moreover, one can also assert with confidence that Zionism’s manifest difficulties today are the result of its successes in establishing a great Jewish national society, founding a sovereign state, and normalizing Jewish life.

I do not intend, in the present context to conduct a stock-taking or to offer a historical summation of Zionism. In this centennial of the first Zionist Congress, many historians (of whom I am one) are taking stock elsewhere. As for historical summations, I believe the time is not yet ripe. I would like to discuss the character of Zionism as a historical movement rather than its modes of historical action. I am concerned with the connection between political ideology and social utopia as the moving force in Zionism on its path from Hibat Zion to the establishment and consolidation of the State of Israel.

Such a discussion of Zionism requires, first and foremost, a clarification of the concepts we are employing, and first among these is ideology and its meaning in a changing historical reality. My basic hypothesis is that, since the American and French revolutions, modern society has been charged with two types of ideology: one a force for change and one a conserving factor. It was ideologies of the former type that fuelled the American, French, Bolshevik, and Zionist revolutions, and even the Fascist revolution. Ideologies of the second kind constitute the framework for social regimes constructed out of a combination of ideological elements. Thus, Western society is composed of the ideological foundations of democracy, liberalism, free market economies, and socialism. The former type of ideology is overt, and the latter is covert. In the former, ideological slogans are brandished, while in the latter pragmatism is the accepted approach. In the former, the moving spirit is ideological fanaticism, and in the latter, political compromise. However, the comprehensive pragmatism of the latter does not imply that ideology has been renounced. Any attempt to undermine the prevailing social...