The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formation, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and Franceby Frederic Cople Jaher
This book is the first systematic comparison of the civic integration of Jews in the United States and France--specifically, from the two countries' revolutions through the American republic and the Napoleonic era (1775-1815). Frederic Jaher develops a vehicle for a broader and uniquely rich analysis of French and American nation-building and political culture. He
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This book is the first systematic comparison of the civic integration of Jews in the United States and France--specifically, from the two countries' revolutions through the American republic and the Napoleonic era (1775-1815). Frederic Jaher develops a vehicle for a broader and uniquely rich analysis of French and American nation-building and political culture. He returns grand theory to historical scholarship by examining the Jewish encounter with state formation and Jewish acquisition of civic equality from the perspective of the "paradigm of liberal inclusiveness" as formulated by Alexis de Tocqueville and Louis Hartz.
Jaher argues that the liberal paradigm worked for American Jews but that France's illiberal impulses hindered its Jewish population in acquiring full civic rights. He also explores the relevance of the Tocqueville-Hartz theory for other marginalized groups, particularly blacks and women in France and America. However, the experience of these groups suggests that the theory has its limits.
A central issue of this penetrating study is whether a state with democratic-liberal pretensions (America) can better protect the rights of marginalized enclaves than can a state with authoritarian tendencies (France). The Tocqueville-Hartz thesis has become a major issue in political science, and this book marks the first time it has been tested in a historical study. The Jews and the Nation returns a unifying theory to a discipline fragmented by microtopical scholarship.
"This is a thoughtful, original, and systematic comparison of the civic integration of Jews in the United States and France from the period of the American and French revolutions through the beginnings of the American republic and the Napoleonic era. . . . [A] signal contribution to American Jewish historiography and to American ethnic history in general."Robert Rockaway, Journal of American History
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THE JEWS AND THE NATION
By Frederic Cople Jaher
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2002 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Prospect
The Jews and the Nation is a multilayered meditation on the early national history of France and the United States. The exploration features an account of the experience of each country's Jews respectively during the War for Independence and the early Republic and the French Revolution and the First Empire. Since treatment of the Jews always reflects broader conditions and circumstances, this inquiry further ramifies into analytical perspectives on both French and American civic culture and society. In expanding from group to nation-"contextualization" in current jargon-the exploration moves from narrative to interpretation and from account to theory.
The history of the Jews in these epochs and places and its amplification into, and illumination of, state and society is starkly revealed by the resonance of the "Jewish Question," especially those aspects of it that involved emancipation and citizenship in revolutionary France. According to the latest and best study of the cahiers de doléances, in frequency of subjects mentioned the lowest ranked subject for the Parish cahiers (primary documents from preliminary rural peasant assemblies of the Third Estate) listed 1088. In the general cahiers (those brought to Versailles in 1789) from the Third Estate and the Nobility, the least-mentioned subjects ranked 1197 and 1125, respectively. In those listings, Jews placed 367, 492.5, and 470, again respectively; nearly in the top third for the Parish documents and high in the top half for the general cahiers. Nevertheless, at least for the cahiers that reached the Estates General, Jews were not a major source of grievance. Only 337 called attention to problems associated with Jews. Compared to Protestants, a much larger, more volatile, and important group, however, Jews were a veritable obsession. The Protestants, who in recent times had waged momentous and bloody struggles with Catholic France, scored 743 in the Parish Cahiers, 824.5 in the general cahiers of the Third Estate, and 955.5 in those of the Nobility.
During the short life of the National Constituent Assembly, the status of Jews was discussed at thirty sessions between August 1789 and September 1791. This issue preoccupied the nation's legislature and was frequently raised in meetings of municipal bodies and Jacobin clubs at a time when the 40,000 Jews in France comprised but .16 percent of the national population. In these debates, lifting economic, occupational, and residential restrictions and special taxes imposed upon Jews was rarely and weakly disputed. The primary points of contention were whether Jews should be citizens and the relationship between their emancipation and rights, revolution, republicanism, political culture, civic morality, and the nation-state. As Gary Kates and Ronald Schecter observe, in the debates of the National Assembly the Jews were less substantive than representative. Emancipation and the Jews were markers of greater national concerns like liberty, virtue, and citizenship. Jews compelled attention not only in civic matters and bodies. The ARTFL database of French literature shows for the eighteenth century 2,346 listings for Jews, compared to 1,755 references to the English. Conversely, in America Jews were a minor consideration in deliberations about the Revolution, citizenship, and other matters of freedom and state formation.
For most of their history as nation-states, or at least since their seminal Revolutions, France and the United States have been Republics. They have also tended toward liberal immigration policies and their nationalisms have been territorial rather than völkisch, as in Germany. Such differences in national culture have meant that Jews in France and, still more, in America have been likelier than those in Germany to be perceived as a religious rather than an ethnic group. In the intersection of religion, ethnicity and nationhood, Jews were less of a threat to the modern nation-state as another creed than as another blood.
Commitments to democracy, newcomers, and inclusive nationalism (at least for white males) are prevalences rather than absolutes. Xenophobia, organic nationalism, and antirepublicanism have existed in both countries, especially France. Yet the presence of overlapping attitudes toward individual freedom, popular sovereignty, immigrants, and national identity in America and France suggests that variances in these civic sensibilities cannot alone account for differences in each country's treatment of the Jews. Revolutionary and republican France have largely associated religion with a discredited and repudiated past, whereas revolutionary and republican America have prevalently identified their history and community as connected to, and even fulfilled by, religion. Besides showing that nationalism, secularization, and modernism are not necessarily sequential phenomena, this divergence also contributes to the dissimilar trajectories of Jews in France and the United States.
National variances in multiculturalism, state structure and governance, republicanism, and liberalism produced different types of emancipation, particularly since treatment of Jews was emblematic of these larger forces. Since Jews were granted political equality in France during a time of revolution and the formation of a nation-state, what were the interconnections among these developments? Did a similar convergence take place in America during the War for Independence and the early Republic? And, if so, did revolution, emancipation, and state formation interact in the same way? In a related, but slightly different, analytic mode, was emancipation a sudden, seismic eruption or a gradual emergence?
What is the relationship between multiculturalism and emancipation? The United States is a federated polity and a pluralistic society; France is a centralized state and, compared to America, a monocultural society: Would a more mediated and privatized society give Jews greater autonomy in the sense that citizenship and Judaism would not be presented as conflicting alternatives? Were Jews in this kind of nation less likely to face mutually exclusive choices of withdrawal in closed, pariah communities, participation in the civic community, or emigration to avoid the dilemma of ethnocide or rejection?
Did divisions over emancipation exist within the Jewish national communities? What, if any, dissimilarities on this matter existed between French and American Jewry? Were Jews the primary procurers of their rights? If not, who was and why? Did national variances distinguish liberalizers in France and the United States?
What were the repercussions of emancipation? How did Jews respond to their new political status? What was the reaction of non-Jews to Jews as fellow citizens? Did the responses of Jews and Gentiles to emancipation differ within France and America? Did the degree and results of civic equality vary between these countries? Was emancipation permanent or reversible?
Of particular relevance to this study, which links the Jewish predicament to state creation and national culture, what were the forces that transcended this predicament while simultaneously shaping it? In this category of concerns are the cultural dynamics of spiritual (especially Christian) and secular commitment, of authority and autonomy, of inclusion and exclusion, of diversity and homogeneity, and of rigidity and adaptation to social change. Associated with these phenomenological exigencies are equally insistent imperatives of revolution, nation building, war, conquest, economic development and crisis, and the multitudinous complexities of politics and governance.
Like all complex social phenomena, emancipation was multidimensional: ideological (Enlightenment principles, liberalism, pluralism, republicanism, nationalism, egalitarianism, communitarianism); cultural (national culture as inclusive or exclusive, xenophobia versus tolerance, historical and contemporary attitudes toward Jews in particular and outsiders in general, as well as to Judaism in particular and religion in general); and structural (citizenship in the nation-state, revolutionary transitions, republican rule). Subsumed in yet another analytic rubric is the issue of whether the controversy over Jewish liberation arose primarily from national or transnational forces and whether it had a master (transnational) or differentiated (national) typology.
These and other issues concerning Jews are developed in chapters 3-5. The discussion of theory, however, cannot be wholly postponed or preempted by referral to subsequent examination. Here it is relevant to address the historiographical role of theory and which paradigm has been selected or rejected and why. A conceptual framework is also the subject of chapter 2. Nationalism and national culture and identity are discussed in the abstract and as they generally apply to France, the United States, and Jews. Chapter 6 elaborates on the coherence of the chosen construct by testing its applicability to other marginalized groups, particularly women and blacks, the national context of France and America from 1775 to 1815 and, beyond that, to the respective social structures and values of these countries. Chapter 7 refocuses on the Jewish experience in France and America by bringing it up to date. As usual, these post-1815 developments are integrated into the national cultures of these countries, especially as they touch on issues relevant to liberalism, pluralism, and consensus.
It is well to begin this discussion of historiography and paradigms by reviewing a current dispute and paradox. As noted by Daniel T. Rodgers in 1992 in The Journal of American History, from the 1930s to the 1980s several successive "reigning paradigms" have emerged in U.S. history. The Beardian-Progressive construct dominated in the 1930s and 1940s and was followed, in the 1950s and 1960s, by the Tocqueville-Hartz model of liberalism. Starting in the mid-1960s, events and consequent ideological changes radicalized the country and the profession and increasingly discredited the liberal thesis. But fragmentation did not endure. By the mid-1970s, another theory, republicanism, emerged to bring order to American historical studies. This model, however, never dispensed with Hartzian ideas and, by the late 1980s, had lost conceptual sovereignty.
Where Rodgers depicted a current conceptual wasteland, Keith Windschuttle, in The Killing of History (1996), found a conceptual overgrowth that threatened to divert, defile, and degenerate historical scholarship. Borrowed from other disciplines, paradigms formulated by structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and critical theory endangered the historical enterprise. Particularly perilous was the deconstructionist thrust of the latter three discourses. By asserting that truth and reality had no validity independent of time, place, and personal bias, deconstructionism struck at the heart of historical endeavor. For Windschuttle, historians were embracing theories that privileged text over context, language (signs, signifiers, discourses, metaphors) over events, movements, circumstances, and conditions, and heremeneutics over history. The new order of priorities erased distinctions between the subjective and the objective and between fiction and truth. Thus were negated the basic principles, procedures, and aspirations of the profession-narrative structure, empirical research, and inductive reasoning employed to authenticate a palpable past.
One trend transcends the contention of whether too little or too much theory best describes the present state of the field. Historians of all schools of thought, with varying reservations and degrees of resistance, agree that minihistory is the mode of scholarship presently predominant. Small subjects are tentatively treated, which may or may not reveal an uncontested actuality or clarify larger contexts and developments. This long and hotly debated historiographical turn has been attributed to a changed disciplinary cynosure. Since the 1960s, previously peripheral groups, among them women, Indians, blacks, and gays and lesbians, have become central concerns of scholarship. Rather than leading to more comprehensive interpretations, these new studies have been centrifugal analytic forces. Instead of promoting synthesis, they have fragmented American history into a mosaic of independent forces, enclaves, and cultures, each marching under its own banner of agency and autonomy and displaying its own noble wounds of contested oppression.
The rise of transnational and global studies and their putative displacement of national history is another explanation for the current trends toward difference and relativity. The nation as an organizing and determinative category has been weakened. Its increasing displacement by other modes of analysis has further reduced the possibility of an acceptable synthesis of the particular experiences of the multivariate genders, races, ethnicities, classes, and religions that constitute U.S. history and society. Finally, it has been contended that the discrediting of earlier comprehensive grand theories-Progressive history, Marxism, and liberal consensus-as reliable accounts of the American experience has discouraged the search for definitive paradigms.
Windschuttle's philippic against recent developments in the humanities and social sciences particularly excoriated the French. Semiotics, structuralism, and deconstruction were French concoctions that imperiled not only historical studies but truth itself. This defender of a beleaguered status quo arraigned the usual culprits-Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Levi-Strauss. Windschuttle's harshest critique was reserved for Michel Foucault, possibly because he was a historian, and thus a traitor in the service of the postmodern conspiracy against research, relevance, and reality.
Another prime Windschuttle target, Hayden White's Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973), the historiographical bible of the new methodology, exasperated the doughty defender of traditional history. The offensive words in the title were "Metahistory" and "Imagination," which in Windshuttle's view convey the outrageous notion that "histories ... contain a deep structural content which is generally poetic, and specifically linguistic." The template "serves as the precritically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively 'historical' explanation should be. This paradigm functions as the 'metahistorical' element in all [comprehensive] historical works." History is poetry, its explanatory process is "prefiguration," and its truth is a matter of "linguistic protocol." What White defined as historical inquiry, Windschuttle recoiled from as "a depressing omen" of what "theorists of cultural studies" can inflict upon the historical endeavor.
More polemical than prudent, Windschuttle did at least correctly identify the trends. Since before World War II, French historians have differed from their American counterparts in taking Marx more seriously and being more open to new topics and methodologies and more inclined to social theory. Starting in the 1960s, however, American scholars in a variety of fields have looked to France, and especially to the Annales school, for conceptual and methodological leadership. From that turbulent decade to this day historiographical trajectories in these nations have more closely corresponded. French scholars have shown a higher regard for Marxism, but its discourse never dominated historical studies in that country. Historians from France persisted longer in undertaking grand topics, as in the works of Philippe Ariès and Foucault in the 1970s, but they also, as with the Annales school, led the downsizing movement that influenced American historians to particularize their own efforts. Finally, the dispersion of subject, theme, and method, which Rodgers reported in American historical studies, took place about the same time and drew the same notice in France.
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Seymour Drescher, author of "The Mighty Experiment" and "From Slavery to Freedom"
Meet the Author
Frederic Cople Jaher is Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of several books, including "A Scapegoat in the New Wilderness: The Origins and Rise of Anti-Semitism in America".
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