Nation and Empire in Modern Jewish European History
In the past two decades, U.S. historians of Western colonialism and of central Europe have underlined empire’s normativity and the nation state’s exceptionalism. The implications of the imperial turn for Jewish European history are this essay’s subject. It focuses on the Jewish political experience of nation and empire in central Europe and, specifically, on its divergence in fin-de-siècle Germany and Austria. Both were nationalizing empires, but the former, at once a continental and overseas empire, abided by the nation state’s logic, which drove towards a uniformly ethnicized political culture, whereas the latter, a continental empire, nationalized against its will and experimented with federalism to attenuate nationalism and accommodate ethnocultural pluralism. The essay highlights the unique political opportunities which late imperial Austria opened for the Jews but projects them against a darker two-millennia-long Jewish engagement with empire. The imperial longue durée accounts both for liberal Jews’ enchantment with the nation state, the maker of Jewish emancipation, and for traditional Jews’ continued loyalty to imperial ideals.
Leo Baeck Institute Year Book
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