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The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine

Chaim Amalek emails:

I’m only about 140 pages into The Jewish Century and so far it reads like a Jewish confimation of “Mein Kampf.” If correct, the Jews really were running things in Europe prior to the advent of German National Socialism/Late Stalinism. You should interview the author, and ask him if his book is good for the Jews...

The book is an odd thing, in that it assumes a lot of background knowledge on the part of the reader. It also meanders, and the device of framing the history of 20th Century Jewry - mainly from the Pale of Settlement - in terms of the daughters of a fictional character is a bit odd. But it is still an interesting book for documenting the predominance of Jews in the economic and cultural lives of Europe during the first half of the 20th century, which leads to this question: Is this book good for the Jews? Won't it provide antisemites with proof that Jews were the driving, necessary force without which the Bolshevik yoke would never have been fastened to the backs of Christian Europeans? Doesn't it read like a mirror-image of Hitlers's books, with assertions that Hitler routinely made about the putative power of the Jews how presented as documented fact by a Jew in admitedly less hostile terms?

Feb. 20, 2007

Here's the audio (part two).

Luke: "Are there are any ways you would refine your book [today]?"

Yuri: "I would explain in greater detail Mercurianism and Apollonianism...where human beings end and metaphors begin."

"I would say more about Judaism the religion and about the relationship between Jews and Christians in Europe."

"Finally, I would write in more depth and with more compassion about the sister who went to Palestine. Not more warmth towards Israel as a state but more nuance towards Chava..."

Luke: "You didn't write much about Judaism."

Yuri: "For my purposes, it wasn't very important for the argument I was going to make and the story I was going to tell."

Luke: "Was there something unique you wanted to say about Judaism and Christianity?"

Yuri: "No."

"I'm not saying that Judaism is the embodiment of modernity. I'm saying that traditional diaspora Judaism is peculiarly compatible with modernity."

"Self-discipline. Commitment to the written word. The habit of cultural mediation and textual interpretation and all sorts of other things that would become important in the modern world. Entrepreneurship, communication, learning..."

Luke: "Do you have any religious faith?"

Yuri: "No."

Luke: "Is there anything you believe in that is non-rational?"

Yuri laughs. "I don't believe in God or flying saucers."

Luke: "So many people have great discomfort with generalizations."

Yuri: "You can't have an interesting argument without making generalizations. You can't even have a non-interesting argument without making generalizations."

Luke: "Are you a Zionist?"

Yuri: "No."

Luke: "What is your reaction to Zionism?"

Yuri: "If you read my book, you know that I'm not a fan of Zionism but I'm not opposed to it either. It's rise is understandable. I am interested in the problems that result from the migration of Jews into a place that was occupied by other people."

Luke: "I'm Jewish and the thought that there is a land run by Jews that I can run to if there' s another holocaust is comforting. Do you think there is something inherently wrong with Jews having a state, forget where it is located?"

Yuri: "I don't."

Luke: "I saw you got slammed on the internet for sneering at Zionism. What is your primary objection to the modern Jewish state of Israel?"

Yuri: "One thing people objected to was that I described Zionism as the rise of a nationalist ideology in connection with the rise of other organic nationalist ideologies...such as fascism. People don't like to hear that."

"Zionism inculcated warrior culture, an organic national family-like entity. A state that would be the embodiment of that family-like community. The cult of masculinity. Warrior dignity. Armed resistance. All those things Zionism shared with all sorts of nationalisms that are not fashionable to like these days, which doesn't mean I'm on a crusade against them."

"The Israeli state...with the settlements and occupied territories is an unusual state with unusual politics by today's western standards. It's not always pleasant to look at, even though I enjoyed my visit. I can not look at that wall with total equanimity."

"In some ways, Zionism is [as old as the Jews]. On the other hand, the shape that [the modern form] took [was secular nationalism]. There were a lot more radical socialists among Jews than Zionists [at the beginning of the 20th Century]."

Luke: "Do you look at some civilizations as better than others? That the United States in the 20th Century was a freer and better civilization than the Soviet Union or that Israel, whatever its flaws, is still a democracy and a higher form of civilization than the Arab states surrounding it?"

Yuri: "I don't know. Better or worse depends on the standards [used]. If you have certain desires, some societies are better for you than others."

Luke: "But you don't think there's any absolute?"

Yuri: "No."

Luke: "I think it was Bertrand Russell who said that 'I believe there's something wrong with cruelty beyond the fact that I don't like it.'"

Yuri laughs. "I don't know. That's what so much missionary activity is based upon. Being a child of my age, I am more comfortable in some places than others...but I would not put it in absolute terms. I'm not sure I agree with what you say Bertrand Russell said. Who's to say what's cruel? I'm not sure I can come up with a universal [answer]."

Luke: "What about the use of the word 'evil' for things like the genocides in Russia and in Europe such as the Holocaust?"

Yuri: "I don't use the word very much. But sure."

Luke: Why do you think Two Hundred Years Together, 1795-1995, Solzhenitsyn's two-volume history of the Russians and Jews can't get an English-language publisher?

Yuri: "It's not a good book. It's too long and boring. It's one-sided. The Soviet part of the story is similar to the story I tell except that it is set within a doctrinaire strident nationalist framework. He puts it in moral terms."

Luke: "Do you think that the average Jew is smarter than the average non-Jew?"

Yuri laughs. "I think most Jews and most non-Jews think that. Being smart is a tricky category... Just quick. There are certain skills that Jews on average... Call it devious or cunning but there are some expectations that in some things, [Jews] are quicker."

Luke: "That's a part of reality that you are not allowed to discuss today in polite society. That some peoples can be better and quicker at things than other peoples."

Yuri: "Right. That's true."

Luke: Israel has public rhetoric you won't find elsewhere in the West, such as yay, the Jewish birth rate is up and how can we get rid of non-Jews. But I suspect these same type of sentiments are shared by many people in Germany and America etc.

Yuri: "You're probably right."