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Title: Isaiah Berlin and Leo Strauss: The Jewish Question and the Limits of Politics
Authors: May, Daniel David
Advisors: Batnitzky, Leora
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: Liberalism
Subjects: Religion
Judaic studies
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: “Isaiah Berlin and Leo Strauss: The Jewish Question and the Limits of Politics” brings two immensely influential 20th-century political thinkers into conversation around their engagement with the question of how Jews might achieve freedom and security in the context of the modern nation-state. Despite the renown of both figures, no study has brought the two into sustained conversation, and with some reason. Strauss and Berlin drew what are generally considered to be opposing conclusions from the catastrophes of 20th century European politics, the latter famously arguing on behalf of a liberalism that recognized that values were plural and incommensurate, the latter holding that such pluralism descended into relativism. This dissertation, however, argues that both thinkers attempted to rethink 20th-century politics out of their shared conclusion that the Jewish experience represented an indictment on Western thought as a whole. Doing so not only reveals surprising resonance between the two figures, it illuminates the significance of their thought for modern Jewish politics and liberalism at a time when both are considered by many to be in a state of crisis. The dissertation begins by exploring how Berlin and Strauss answered what they agreed was the fundamental political question of their era: how had Enlightenment liberalism descended into fascism? Both responded by concluding that modern liberalism’s unjustified aspirations provoked a nationalist backlash against its most basic assumptions. As a consequence, they attempted to reconstruct modern political thought in ways that emphasized recognition of the inherent and insurmountable dilemma of political life, of which for both the Jewish question was exemplary. From this beginning, the work explores the approach of both to what they each took as the only viable options for Jewish politics under modern conditions, liberalism and Zionism. It then critiques the constructive politics that each developed out of their reflections on the modern Jewish experience, tracing the disagreement between the two over whether the limits of political life are or ought to be considered tragic and the practical implications of their respective positions. It concludes by interrogating the ways that their influence continues to shape and limit contemporary Jewish political thought.  
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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