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Eric Hobsbawm on the Benefits of Diaspora - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
October 20th, 2005
06:32 am

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Eric Hobsbawm on the Benefits of Diaspora
The famous English historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote an essay entitled "Benefits of Diaspora" in today's issue of the London Review of Books. Despite a pleasing prose style, I found it longish, a bit rambly, and cast in too loose a form for the sort of claims it makes.

Interestingly, in his closing paragraphs, having ostensibly prepared us for his conclusions, he concludes that the state of integrated diaspora is the best there can be, and rejects both its alternatives -- ultra-orthodoxy self-segregation (thinking mostly of the US, I imagine), and the nationalist solution embodied by the State of Israel.

He neglects to address the issues that are considered key by the proponents of both alternatives -- assimilation and conversion for the orthodox, and loss of sovereignty and the power of self-defense for the nationalists. To me, that's quite disappointing, coming from such a distinguished historian; I'd have expected him, even in a non-academic essay, to at least acknowledge, if not address, the concerns of the approaches he rejects.

He also does not mention the fate of the revived Hebrew language, existing and thriving in and thanks to the native Hebrew speakers in the State of Israel. In this increasingly anglophonic world, Hebrew culture without a continued State of Israel would be doomed, and would necessarily revert to being cultivated solely as a hobby of disparate handfuls of learned Jews in the diaspora, as it had been in 19th-century Europe. Hobsbawm himself is not a member of the Hebrew culture, so naturally it does not concern him very urgently, but, again, the man's scope certainly made me expect some attention to this matter, as he extols the virtues of diasporic existence.

Current Mood: procrastinatory

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From:cleobatya
Date:October 20th, 2005 01:33 am (UTC)
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that was interesting. (your commentary)
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From:guygrobler
Date:October 20th, 2005 07:26 am (UTC)
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agreed (with your analysis).
Its not the first time an esteemed prof' has become so much of a "believer" in his own theory that he has not paid enough attention to competing/alternative theories.

I can still remember how in one lecture my class was given by Prof' Shlomo Avineri (Course Title: Zionist political thought [or something like that, but you get the geest]) - and despite having rather objective reading material in his own created sylabus, in the lecture itself - he quite ruthlessly SLAMMED Jabotinsky... maybe he was in a bad mood that day?
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