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Jews on Spengler and Toynbee on Jews


Part 2: Cycles of culture, civilization and organizations

As part 1 cited Wald's 'historian review', seeking more creative solutions for Jewish and Israeli survival than diplomatic obstruction, and part 2 dwelt on the long cultural cycles of Spengler and Toynbee, it seemed useful to round out the series with Wald's synopsis of the opinions of Spengler and Toynbee towards Jews:

[NOTE: As of this writing, the Wald document cited below has no extension. Should your PC ask, instruct it to open as a PDF.]

Spengler and the Jews [pages 17, 18]

Spengler was greatly interested in and sympathetic to the Jews, notwithstanding his right-wing political ideas. His knowledge of Jewish scriptures was vast. The Jew of whom he speaks with the deepest affection is the Baal Shem-Tov, the founder of Chassidism. He calls the Jewish people a “magic consensus”, which explains their “silent and self-evident cohesion”. The magic consensus is without a land and free of geographic limitations. It is magic because it is deeply believed but not based on rational or measurable criteria: “a completely unconscious metaphysical drive”. “This silent cohesion contained the idea of a magic nation; it was state, church and people at the same time”.

But the Enlightenment corroded and poisoned this magic consensus. Spengler’s predictions for the Jewish people are grim. The Jews will disappear; this is historically inevitable. He asserts that Western Judaism, which dominates all of Judaism, got entangled with Western civilization and will die with it. “The fate of Judaism is completed”. Spengler did not believe in Zionism and saw no future for it.

Toynbee and the Jews [pages 19, 20]

No other non-Jewish historian of civilizations of modern times was as interested in the Jews and the Bible as Toynbee. Chapters and paragraphs on Jewish history are spread across his work and could fill several hundred pages. Toynbee denied during most of his life that Jews had a genuine civilization. He argued with his Jewish detractors that Judaism was a “fossil”, comparable to the Parsees in India. Even in Biblical times, their civilization was not truly authentic and independent, but part of an over-arching “Syriac” civilization. After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, they became “debris”, “drifting about in the world down to this day”. He mentions with admiration Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai who transformed Judaism after this catastrophe and helped it to survive. But he refuses to see that Judaism, which survived so many catastrophes, provides one of the most convincing examples for his “challenge-and-response” theory. He deplored the Shoah in more severe terms than most others before the Eichmann trial and promised the Occident “lasting infamy” for having allowed this crime to happen. But he also condemned Israel for the injustices allegedly committed against the Palestinians. His anti-Zionist statements of the 1950s and 1960s, often associated with attacks against America and the Jewish lobby there, are almost identical to the hostile statements that were made again, particularly in Europe, during the 2000 – 2005 period.

But in parallel, and prior to 1961 when the last volume of his Study of History appeared, something happened that made him overturn many of his old convictions, except for his anti-Zionism. There is no explanation for his radical reappraisal of the Jewish people. No longer are the Jews a “fossil”, they are now commended for having created an alternative model for civilizations that is no less important then the Chinese and Hellenic models. The Jews were the first to show how a people could maintain themselves after being uprooted. The world needs the Jewish Diaspora model: “this pioneer achievement has proved to be the wave of the future”. But there was more to come. Toynbee now calls on the Jewish people to seek converts, to address itself to the entire world and make it Jewish. This would be “Judaism’s achievement of its destiny”. Toynbee hopes a Jewish prophet will appear to convince his people of their universal mission: “The world has been waiting for this prophet for 2500 years” – which can only mean that Jesus was not the right prophet. By then, the Jews had stopped reading Toynbee.

Part 4 to follow

Jewish Civilization between Rise, Thriving and Decline
Project Head: Dr. Shalom Solomon Wald
Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI)
[NOTE: File name is Wald-Wye without an extension. Save it to disk and open it as a PDF]

Gordon Housworth

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