Page 185 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

Basic HTML Version

SELTZER / GRAETZ, DUBNOW, BARON
1 7 7
scorned) were means employed by the nation to preserve itself
against the dangers o f history. Dubnow was influenced in this
regard by the popu lar Darwinism o f his day: the supreme
raison
d ’etre
o f organisms was survival, and psychologically strong na­
tions were able to adjust to the challenges o f changing envi­
ronm en ts and grow even stronger.
DUBNOW’S DEVELOPMENT
Dubnow’s historical writing became more overtly secularistic
and social-scientific in the late nineties in Odessa and af te r he
moved in the early years o f the new century to St. Petersburg.
In his
Letters on Old and New Judaism
(published as a book in
1907), Jewry is presen ted as the most evolved nation in the
world, a model o f the non-territorial personal nationhood o f
the fu tu re , inasmuch as it had demonstrated that a viable col­
lective identity was not dependen t on a single land, language,
or state. This period also saw the issuance by him o f a series
o f textbooks on Jewish history, culminating in the
World History
of the Jewish People,
written du ring World War One and the
years o f revolution and civil war in Russia and published in
the 1920s in German and in the 1930s in Hebrew and Russian
editions.
Dubnow’s labelled his approach in the
Weltgeschichte
“socio­
logical,” bu t it was above all a narration o f the political events
affecting the Jews and an analysis o f the successful adaptation
of the Jewish communities to changing diaspora conditions and
needs. Because Dubnow was a 19th-century liberal nationalist
(albeit a liberalism adjusted to the mass society o f pre-World
War One Europe) and had an unshakable faith in the benev­
olent impact o f enlightenment, science, and progress, he looked
forward to the happy resolution o f the conund rum o f Jewish
survival. He felt this could be achieved th rough a synthesis o f
the old communal autonomy with the freedom o f though t o f
the Haskalah in a new
kahal
system to be incorporated into a
multinational structu re on the ruins o f the old order. This hope
gave substance to his unders tand ing o f the successes and fail­
ures o f recent Jewish history, periodized according to various
waves o f emancipation and reaction. Aside from the close re ­
lation o f his historiography to his ideology, however, Dubnow
played a leading role in reorien ting Jewish historiography in