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May/June 2004 · Historically SpeakingIl With very few stylistic caveats Gannett's writing is as good as his reading, which is no mean compliment. His interest in Tocqueville 'swritinginspired Gannett'slastchapter , dealing with Tocqueville's style and method.Jakob Burckhardt, perhaps the greatest historian in the 19th century,3 once told his students that, strictly speaking, there is no historical method: bisogna saper leggere is the onlyone, he said, "one mustknowhowto read."Well RobertGannettknows. To prove this letme concludewith fourgreatinstances, scattered (and, we must hope, not buried) in Gannett's book that illuminate, in a flash, Tocqueville's genius. There is Gannett's discovery that in one ofhis letters from Tours in 1853 Tocqueville was preoccupied with finding "the necessaryword"—thus preceding Flaubert's famous and immortal phrase ofthe motjuste (135). There is Tocqueville's eternally valid question: "But is it the institutions that made the mores, or the mores that made the institutions?"(14). There is Tocqueville's antimaterialist comprehension of human nature: "Deeds are but the outer structure ofthought"(99). And there is what I like to call "the Tocqueville effect," a recognition as profound and revolutionaryin political history as the Heisenberg effect in physics: in "all the historyofthe world" governments enter a dangerous course notwhen they are most oppressive but "when they begin to become less oppressive"(67). Unfortunately, Tocqueville Unveiled will most likelybe designated as a monograph by an amateur scholar. So itwill be categorized, so it will be put on, alas, not many library shelves, so it may be unread or inadequately read byacademicswho oughtto knowbetter. Yet this is one ofthe most important books aboutTocqueville thathas everbeenwritten. John Lukacs is the authorofover twenty-five books, the most recentofwhich isChurchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian (Yale University Press, 2002). 1 Cf. my article, "The Last Days ofAlexis de Tocqueville '' in the October 1964 issue oiThe Catholic HistoricalReview (ignored by almost all American Tocqueville scholars, though not byFrench ones). 2 Robert T. Gannett,Jr., Tocqueville Unveiled: The Historian and His Sourcesfor The Old Regime and theRevolution (UniversityofChicago Press, 2003). 3 As in the case ofBurke and Tocqueville, a studyof Burckhardt and Tocqueville is yet to be written. American Judaism in Historical Perspective' Jonathan D. Sarna Thirtyyears ago, when Imentioned my interest in American Jewish history to a scholar at a distinguished rabbinical seminary, he was absolutely appalled. "AmericanJewish history," he growled, "I'll tell you all that you need to know about American Jewish history: The Jews came to America, they abandoned their faith, they began to live like goyim, and after a generation or two theyintermarried and disappeared. That is American Jewish history ; all the rest is commentary . Don't waste your time. Go and study Talmud." Manyreaders surelyrecognize this assimilationist paradigm. It is a close cousin to the secularization thesis that once held sway in the study of religion. In American Judaism, it might be called "the myth of linear descent," the beliefthat AmericanJews start offOrthodox, back in the immigrant generation , and each subsequent generation is a UtOften . . . AmericanJewish religious life, because ofits great diversity, has seethedwith acrimonious contention, the unseemly specter ofJews battlingJews. assumed to be unavoidable. Myfield ofAmericanJewish history, ifnot a complete waste of time, is viewed as a foredoomed enterprise. Yet the history ofAmericanJudaism, at least as I have come to understand it in writing myAmericanJudaism: A History (Yale University Press, 2004), is in many ways a response to this ongoing fear thatJudaism in the New World will wither away. Over and over again I found Jews rising to meet the challenges both internal and external that threatened tie less Jewish in its observance until that Jewish continuity, sometimes, paradoxically, inevitable day when a descendant intermar- by promoting radical discontinuities. Castries and ends up marching down the aisle of ing aside old paradigms, Jews transformed a church. Actively by choice, or passively their faith, reinventingAmericanJudaism in throughinaction, assimilation has beenwidely an attempt to make it more appealing, more f This essay is adapted from the 13th Annual David W. Belin Lecture in AmericanJewish Affairs, delivered at the Frankel Center forJudaic Studies at the University ofMichigan on March 5, 2003. ©Jonathan D. Sarna 12Historically Speaking · May/June 2004 meaningful, and more sensitive to the concerns...


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