For reasons that have more to do with the historiographical traditions of modern Jewish history and the history of critical thought than history itself, Georg Simmel – of Jewish descent – is rarely discussed within the frame of modern Jewish history. Bringing the two together as a theoretical contribution to Simmel studies and modern Jewish history alike, this article explores Simmel’s logic of contingency in the context of modern Jewish history. Which forms and types could Jews realistically seek to fulfill from the perspective of Simmel’s thought? Which could they hope to escape and what could they expect from the future? The author suggests that in answering these questions we disclose a peculiar notion of ‘bounded contingency’ embedded in Simmel’s positing of a non-binary, ‘gray area’ between the necessary and the impossible. This hypothesis is tested in several distinct contexts: a letter on Zionism from around 1900; an odd passage on love in the excursus on ‘The Stranger’ (1908); and a letter on individuals of Jewish background in German academia (1906). Simmel’s coherency lies in the ‘realist’ approach he adopts to reality as the domain of the contingently possible. When applied to Jewish history in general and Zionism in particular, this notion not only explains why Zionism is unfeasible but also demystifies its emergence as an attempt to escape the status of stranger in Europe. It also evinces why this Jewish national enterprise inevitably carried within it the seeds of the problem it sought to solve.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.
- Jewish minority/majority
- ‘The Stranger’
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science
- Social Sciences (all)