Gems from the Archives on Zionism, Liberalism
Plugging away at the Horace Kallen papers here at the American Jewish Archives, I’ve uncovered some fascinating correspondence (Box 32, folder 20) between Kallen and Sir Alfred Zimmern, the British Zionist of some Jewish extraction who became a famous internationalist and Labour party member.
In a letter dated April 27, probably 1913, Zimmern describes another Zionist who “said that wherever he had been (Rome, Paris, etc) except in London the Jewish national question was regarded as an amiable fad, on a line with Esperanto and Vegetarianism.”
I’m grateful Zionism wasn’t a fad; though I wish that vegetarianism was one.
More interestingly, however, was a letter Zimmern sent to Kallen on March 21, 1912, from Los Angeles. Here Zimmern compared the United States to England, with specific reference to that year’s textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts and the harsh government response:
America makes one both a conservative and a revolutionary. In England I am a liberal. But liberalism is too high a thing for this country. Nobody knows what it is. Liberalism is the creed of men who need no platforms because they have the stars to steer by. Massachusetts must have had liberals in it once: but there can’t be many left in a state which allows what went on at Lawrence. It is useful for an Englishman to be shown how little liberalism and laissez-faire have to do with one another. They just happened to coincide in Victorian England.
The term liberalism had already been shifting from its classical usage to its more modern one. I’m not really sure what it means anymore. Liberals, lost today, might have to start looking to the stars again. And I don’t necessarily mean Barack Obama.