- Cosmopolitanism and the Jews by Cathy S. Gelbin and Sander L. Gilman
Cosmopolitanism and the Jews, coauthored by Cathy S. Gelbin and Sander L. Gilman, is an important scholarly contribution in which the authors provide a detailed analysis of the complex relationship between cosmopolitanism and the Jews. The book consists of eight chapters in which a good number of primary sources, mainly from the field of belles lettres, are analyzed. The book is organized in chronological order beginning with a theoretical introduction to the topic. Other chapters discuss cosmopolitanism during the Enlightenment, the nineteenth century in both Austria-Hungary and Germany, the interwar period with its new appreciation of a European idea, National Socialism and exile, German Jewish writers under Stalinist oppression, and finally "Russian Jews as the Newest Cosmopolitans." The title of the book is misleadingly general because the book focuses almost entirely on Jews writing in German; the exception is chapter 7, "Russian Jews as the Newest Cosmopolitans," which also takes into account Russian-Jewish authors writing in either German or American English.
Based on what Gelbin and Gilman call contemporary "fluid identity" (5), their intention is twofold: First, to "look at how the Jews, however defined, come to shape the various contemporary models of cosmopolitans and how such models, in turn, come to redefine what is understood as Jewish" (5). Second, it is Gelbin's and Gilman's objective to shed light on how the cosmopolitan as a concept over 250 years "turned into a global elite at the turn of the twenty-first century" (1). With the focus on a cultural elite of Jewish writers, the second objective does not become entirely clear in the book. Each chapter emphasizes different writers' depiction of cosmopolitanism, [End Page 615] beginning with the Enlightenment, in which, according to the authors, the notion of cosmopolitanism came into being. And as they correctly express, "the rootless, nomadic, cosmopolitan defined the Jew in European consciousness among non-Jews and Jews alike and shaped Jewish identity politics" (256). Non-Jewish authors like Schiller and Goethe held dear a concept of cosmopolitanism that opposed any kind of nationalism. But Schiller and Goethe (among others) were also concerned about the changes wrought by modernity, which enabled the Jews to blend in and become less visible. Gelbin and Gilman are therefore correct to emphasize that non-Jewish, Enlightened German thinkers understood cosmopolitanism as a part of Enlightened German culture. The widespread longing for a nation state during the course of the nineteenth century troubled the more inclusive idea of cosmopolitanism toward the Jews as expressed by Enlightened, Jewish and non-Jewish, intellectuals.
And skeptical voices regarding the Jews as cosmopolitans became ever more skeptical when asking whether Jews could actually express their loyalty to Germany. Through the close readings of multiple primary sources, the authors offer occasionally unexpected insight—from outsiders such as African American author W.E.B. Du Bois, then a graduate student in Berlin, who observed and described the minority complex of the Germans and applied it to the negative perception of the Jew as a cosmopolitan in his 1893 essay "The Present Condition of German Politics" (103). Another example is Thomas Mann, who saw himself in the tradition of Enlightened thinkers like Goethe and, together with many German Jewish writers, believed himself to represent the real and "healthy cosmopolitan" (146) German culture while living abroad during the Nazi period. But there were also writers like Stefan Zweig, who prioritized his loyalty to Germany over his cosmopolitanism, mainly because of external events like World War I and his time in exile. Or the many German Jewish authors who came to the heartbreaking realization that Stalinism had failed and found that the term "cosmopolitanism" how turned against the Jews. But non-Jews, too, became part of this cruel and perverted ideology, as the case of GDR politician Paul Merker shows. In these passages of the book the reader is fully immersed in these fascinating and painful stories.
Unfortunately, however, the book fails to...