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  • Liberals, Socialists, Internationalists, Jews*
  • Abigail Green

In his landmark 1997 book Cultural Internationalism and World Order, Akira Iriye set out to 'show that it is perfectly possible to narrate the drama of international relations without giving principal roles to separate national existence'.1 Thus he sought to 'downplay the theme of power' by emphasising instead the role of 'individuals and groups of people from different lands' in seeking to develop an alternative community of nations through cross-national cooperation and interchange. Historians and social scientists have certainly heeded Iriye's call. This new historiography has highlighted the long-term significance of internationalism, its deep roots in the nineteenth century, and its role in shaping the twentieth century.2 In this context, Glenda Sluga has emphasised both the importance of 'objective internationalism' as a historic preoccupation, and the mutually constitutive nature of nationalism and internationalism more generally.3 International gatherings like the Hague Peace Conferences [End Page 11] and the Universal Races Congress certainly acted as magnets for a fascinating range of individuals and organisations. Nor is it surprising that these eclectic, cosmopolitan events seem so appealing to historians of our self-consciously global age. Yet the framework of the national or imperial state remained a far more meaningful context than these ephemeral international gatherings, even for participants. This article, therefore, seeks to turn Iriye's proposition on its head by arguing that a bottom-up, actor-focused approach to writing the history of international relations – and of internationalism in particular – must take proper account of the national arena in ways that go beyond the national/international binary. It is easy to pay lip-service to the role of individuals in constructing internationalism, but far harder to think about what this meant in practice in ways that go beyond the banal.

Thinking about the relationship between liberalism and socialism provides a good way into this problem precisely because – in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – this relationship was not clear-cut. In this period, both liberalism and socialism were broadly conceived ideologies with international horizons and more narrowly conceived political movements that sought to promote these ideologies in specific national contexts. We cannot understand the relationship between the former without considering the latter, and we need to understand both if we want to think about how individuals navigated the boundaries between them and what, if anything, this tells us about the international as a sphere of action. I propose to explore these issues by thinking about Jews – more specifically Jewish men, since Jewish women faced a different set of limits and opportunities that were conditioned as much by their gender as by their Jewishness.4 On one level, Jewishness provides a useful point of comparison across otherwise divergent nation states in which key issues like religion and class were very differently weighted. On another level, as we shall see, Jewishness cuts across liberal/socialist, religious/secular and national/international boundaries in ways that defy easy ideological categorisation.

Using Jewishness as a point of comparison may appear problematic because it implies a homogeneity that is entirely at odds with the realities of Jewish life at the turn of the nineteenth century: none of the [End Page 12] protagonists of this article were conventionally religious or observant Jews. Yet as Hannah Arendt argued in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, the unique place Jews occupied in the European political imagination reified Jewishness in a way that made it possible to live a self-consciously Jewish life without frequent or even any explicit engagement with Jewish communal or religious life.5 The subjective nature of Jewishness makes for a complicated category of analysis, but it is precisely this subjectivity that promises to shed new light on how individuals navigated the boundary between the national and the international. If variability is the essence of ethnicity in its significance for the structuring of social relations in diverse contexts, then thinking about the different behaviour of individuals in distinct national contexts and in the international arena can help us to identify the shifting balance between cognitive and structural determinants of Jewishness – and vice versa.6

The article is framed as a comparative survey of fin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 11-41
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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