Page 139 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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ROBERT SINGERMAN
Nordau’s
The Conventional Lies
o f Our Civilization
A Centennial Appreciation
As
AN EARLY
collaborator with Theodo r Herzl in shaping the des­
tiny o f the Zionist movement beginning with the first Zionist Con­
gress in Basle, 1897, Max N o rdau ’s fame is secure for his public
role in the Jewish nationalist cause that led to the state o f Israel.
Blessed with a keen analytic mind, oratorically gifted, and recog­
nized th roughou t European intellectual circles for his social criti­
cism and for his German literary and publicistic endeavors, Max
Nordau (1849-1923) is today largely forgotten, his name
remembered , if at all, for his loyal suppo rt o f Herzl. T he year
1983 marks the centennial o f N o rdau ’s
The Conventional Lies of
Our Civilization
, the devastating frontal attack on hypocrisy, intel­
lectual dishonesty, and the very legitimacy o f society’s institutions
tha t won for its th irty-four year-old au tho r instant fame and rec­
ognition th roughou t the world. Indeed , obituaries o f Nordau
four decades afterwards portrayed him as the “Jerem iah o f the
Cen tury” and a “P rophe t in Gath” for his best-selling book (the
nine teen th German edition appeared in 1903) and for his even
more controversial and best known work,
Degeneration
(1892-93).1On the occasion o f this centennial, a revisit with
The
Conventional Lies of Our Civilization
is in o rd e r if we are to acquaint
ourselves with what Meir Ben-Horin in his
Max Nordau, Philoso­
pher o fHuman Solidarity
(1956) has termed , “The O ther No rdau .”
1 A noteworthy critique o f
Degeneration
and its author is by P.M. Baldwin,
“Liberalism, Nationalism, and Degeneration: The Case o f Max Nordau,”
Cen­
tral European History
13 (June 1980): 99-120. For a recent appraisal o f Nordau
the Zionist, consult Shlomo Avineri,
The Making ofModem Zionism: The Intellec­
tual Origins of the Jewish State
(New York, 1981), pp. 101-11.
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