Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

Basic HTML Version

S t e in b e r g —
Two
S o u r c e s o f D u b n ow ’ s T h o u g h t
81
belies its creator; that his thought as reflected in the immense
mirror of his main work is different from that revealed in his
theories related to the contemporary currents of Jewish opinion
and practical problems, for example, Zionism and Diaspora
Nationalism.
The Complexity of Dubnow3s Thought
In view of the complexity and apparent inconsistency of
Dubnow’s thought, any adequate presentation of its proper
character has to be based on a clear distinction between its two
main layers, the one nearer the surface and the other pointing
in the direction of depth, each drawing its nourishment from a
separate source. The confluence of both sources in the integrated
personality and life of Simon Dubnow is the most impressive
aspect of his biography as narrated by his daughter, Mrs. Sofia
Dubnow-Erlich, and especially as expounded by himself in his
three-volume autobiography with its sub-title, “Recollections
and Meditations.”
In the light of his self-awareness, Simon Dubnow remained
faithful to the philosophical convictions he had hammered out
for himself towards the end of his 20’s. Since then he never
ceased to believe that the principle of gradual evolution was the
real clue to an all-comprehensive understanding of human destiny
on earth. At the same time he firmly believed, in accordance with
the first principles of sociology, that human life stood under the
unrestricted rule of general laws which made it possible to pro­
vide a rational explanation for any sequence of historical events.
Such were the fundamental ideas which Dubnow held in com­
mon with the avant-garde of contemporary Russian intelligentsia
(see
World History,
vol. IX, para. 47, “The Cultural Revolu­
tion”) and which determined the substance of the upper layer
of his thought. And yet, beneath its surface other forces and
factors were unceasingly at work, which in the end proved no
less decisive in delineating the thinker’s profile and in giving a
coherent meaning to his whole life.
When in his early 30’s Dubnow finally made up his mind to
dedicate his life to Jewish historiography (“History has revealed
herself to me,” he recorded in his diary, quoting from Victor
Hugo), his decision was far from being in line with Jewish secu­
larism then current in Russia. The Jewish intellectuals around
Dubnow did not care for the past of their people and would
under no circumstances choose it as a subject of their study. No
doubt Dubnow’s original preference for his people’s past derived
from no other source than from this past itself.
With his first step, in essence an act of faith, the Jewish his­
torian and his thought unavoidably became hostages to fortune,
to the fate and fortunes of the Jewish people since the days of