Page 144 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
tu rn ed me back to the Jewishness which I had forgo tten .”3 Such
was one Jew’s reb irth th rough Zionism, a conversion closely p a r ­
allel to Herzl’s awakening following the Dreyfus Affair which
dem onstrated to both tha t Jewish assimilation in Europe was a
hopeless illusion. Reading Herzl’s
DerJudenstaat (TheJewish State)
in 1895 prior to its publication, an emotional Nordau embraced
its au tho r, proclaiming, “I f you are insane, we are insane
toge ther. Count on me!”4
In a new preface to the German edition o f
Conventional Lies
(1909) marking the book’s twenty-fifth year o f publication,
N o rdau expressed satisfaction with his success while lamenting
tha t his “proclamation o f tru th and the liberating word o f reason”
did not cause the “worm-eaten institutions” to d isappear over­
nigh t as he had envisioned in 1883. He could, however, po in t to
g rea ter self-realization stemming from w idespread diffusion o f
learn ing and science, with the old monarchies now being replaced
by parliamentary democracies and a separation o f church and
state in France. An o lder and wiser N o rdau reflected tha t “the
most vulgar er ro rs” are still to be found because in the final
analysis, man is ru led by feelings, not reason, hence the persist­
ence o f so many closed minds. Happily, the situation o f thirty
years ago when Alfred W erner
(The Reconstructionist
,Jan . 9, 1953)
could not find any o f N o rdau ’s books in his search o f “scores o f
bookshops on th ree continents” no longer holds, thanks to the
availability o f rep r in t editions today.
T he repu ta tion o f the once world-famous au tho r o f
Conven­
tional Lies
and
Degeneration
has greatly dim inished in the literary
world, his influence as a social critic and litte ra teu r having waned
already du r ing his lifetime though his name was certainly kept
alive in Jewish circles as an awesome Zionist orator . According to
Zvi Woyslavski, the Hebrew critic, N o rdau ’s views “were not taken
3 Autobiographical letter from Nordau to Reuben Brainin, June 16, 1896,
The
New Palestine,
Jan. 26, 1923.
4 Anna and Maxa Nordau,
Max Nordau, a Biography
(New York, 1943), p. 120.
Nordau’s contribution to the Zionist cause is challenged by Chaim Weizmann,
Trial and Error
(New York, 1949), p. 46, who observes, “The passionate devo­
tion o f selflessness which commanded respect in Herzl was lacking in Nordau,
whom we found artificial, as well as inclined to arrogance.. . . he was an ardent
Zionist only during the sessions o f the [Zionist] Congresses. During the other
three hundred and fifty odd days o f the year we heard only occasionally o f him
within the movement; for then he attended to his business, which was that of
writer.”