- Zionism and the Roads Not Taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn
Noam Pianko's important new book is written from the perspective of American Jewry at the moment when uncertainty about the moral standing of the State of Israel promises (or threatens) to move from the margins of communal consciousness to the center. Pianko revives three lost alternatives or "forgotten voices" that he thinks could and should inform this moment. His point is to show that solidarity and, indeed, nationalism need not take the form of statism. Mordecai Kaplan, Hans Kohn, and Simon Rawidowicz were different from one another but all, Pianko says, offered creativity in imagining different communal bonds than recent history has allowed.
The reason Pianko's book is so successful and stimulating is that his chapters on his three protagonists are so good at faithfully and empathetically reconstructing their positions. Pianko plausibly wants to move beyond a tired objection that commitment to solidarity based on shared culture is not "political" (though it is another matter whether it offers a persuasive institutional account of how cultural unity is embodied). Thanks to David Myers's useful recent book, some attention has already been lavished on Rawidowicz, the sage of Waltham, but Pianko's chapter on his Hebraist politics is insightful.1 And his sections on Kaplan and especially Kohn—generally thought to have given up Zionism on coming to America—are equally so. Pianko's exploration of Kaplan's better known depiction of "Jewish civilization" shines, and his case for the continuity of Kohn's concerns as he became a scholarly advocate of multinational states is convincing.
There are a few drawbacks to Pianko's enterprise, however. One is that his book is too American. Recognizing that all of his protagonists began as Europeans, Pianko starts out his book with a general picture of the options for Jewish solidarity after World War I (and dutifully covers the pre-American trajectories in his chapter on each thinker). But he understates or misunderstands both the imperial and eventually international frameworks that gave a non-statist nationalism salience in [End Page 307] the age in European politics. In an area and era when such frameworks were rife in imperial and post-imperial locales, it was indeed not obvious that nations always had states as their proper destiny (one should remember that the nation-state never became the normative political form for non-Jews either until long after World War II was over). As for the international realm, the League of Nations committed itself and precisely where the Jews were concerned to a non-statist recognition that nations often live amongst and athwart other nations, making a different model than the territorial nation-state most sensible for them. Strangely, however, Pianko remarks of the minorities regime that "the victorious powers [after World War I] refused to include a formal policy within the League of Nations charter because they feared challenges to their own sovereign authority. Instead of obligating member states to guarantee minority rights, the League underscored the importance of universal human rights" (218). This is wholly mistaken, for the Versailles settlement famously set up a minorities regime, one indeed in large part for Jews, to interfere with the sovereignty of the weaker new nations of Eastern Europe where Jews lived. As for human rights, they were reserved for after World War II, not before. The conceptual point is that much more detail about the European politics of the age when the non-statist thought of Pianko's characters germinated is necessary to grasp why it did so.
A related drawback is that Pianko fails to ask why, to the extent anyone noticed them at all, the roads not taken seemed worth bypassing. He acknowledges that his heroes were "idiosyncratic" even in their time but fails to theorize the consequences of this fact (9). Out of an understandable interest in establishing the theoretical credentials of non-statist nationalism, Pianko does not explain how marginal the alternatives really were, especially as time passed. One reason is surely that experiments like the...