This lecture seeks to answer the questions: To what extent can the Western Enlightenment be said to have opened the door to a new kind of Jewish intellectual secularism, and is there, or is there not, such a thing as an enlightened Jewish secularism that can survive as a distinct cultural tendency and national tradition in the twenty-first century? The uniquely powerful attraction of the figure and philosophy of Spinoza in the tradition of nineteenth and early twentieth century Jewish secularism was in part based on a pervasive myth that is no longer viable. But certain elements in Spinoza’s mature outlook more solidly and genuinely contributed to the ground-plan for a secular Jewishness in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, allowing us to assert – contrary to the aspersions of the philosopher Hermann Cohen in his late phase – that Spinoza can in a sense be seen as the West’s prototype of a secular Jew and a ‘revolutionary Jew’. Spinoza opposed a universal ethics of justice and charity, the preserve of an almost invisible sect, to the prevailing (despotic, wasteful and oppressive) order among humanity. He also believed that an underground fraternity based not on dogma but on argument, persuasion and demonstration, and on a universalist secular ethics, can function effectively and not just resist but at some level even penetrate and defeat the ignorance and blindness of the unknowing majority. Spinoza’s blend of ethics, reformism and intellectual activism comprises genuine elements of a Jewish secularist (and secularized Marrano) identity that can still have life and relevance today.
Jonathan Israel spent most of his academic career, between 1970 and 2000, teaching in British universities, since 1985 as Professor of Dutch History and Institutions at University College London. He was one of the permanent faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, from 2001 to 2016. He lives in Princeton. His most recent book is The Expanding Blaze: How the American revolution Ignited the World, 1775–1848 (Princeton University Press, 2017).
The lecture was delivered on November 7, 2017.
שנת ההוצאה: 2018
מסת"ב: ISSN 1565-8465
מספר העמודים: 21
מידות (ס"מ): 15 × 24