In his new book, Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought
(University of Chicago Press, 2017), Chad Alan Goldberg
looks at how social thinkers from Karl Marx, to Emile Durkheim, to Robert Park mobilized ideas and ideologies about Jews to conceptualize the big themes of modernity. Goldberg shows for example how inherited schemas, which had historically painted Jews as both backwards "Orientals" and, at the same time, as ultra-modern cosmopolitans, were mobilized consciously and unconsciously to serve different sociological theories. That is, as Goldberg illustrates, because of their contradictory and ambivalent status within the European imagination, the Jew became a central object of study and a key symbol for social theorists, a symbol that they found useful for thinking through the contradictions and ambivalences of nationhood and citizenship in France, economics and power in Germany, and urbanization and assimilation in the United States. As Goldberg writes, in a phrase borrowed from Claude Levi-Strauss, "Jews were good to think."
In this episode, we talk about Durkheim's reactions to the reactionary right, and how his view about Jews may have informed other aspects of his thought; we talk about the Chicago schools idea of assimilation, which, as Goldberg argues, begins with recognizing the "marginal man" as a key character of the Modern era and ends with a vision of diversity and collaboration; we talk about the two different ways Karl Marx depicted Jews and their relationship to capital and to European history; and we talk about how the Jew or rather, the figure of the Jew continues to serve "as an intermediary for self-reflection in our own time."
Daveeda Goldberg is a PhD candidate in the Department of Humanities at York University, in Toronto, Canada.