Liberalism and the Jews: an international history

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: History Faculty

Abstract

Liberalism was the dominant ideology of the 19th century and has served as one of the principal common elements in Western political culture ever since. This Fellowship will launch an ambitious new research agenda that explores Jewish liberal activism as an international phenomenon for the first time. Equally concerned with liberalism and with modern Jewish history, it will promote cross-fertilisation between these fields.

This research will generate a book, "Children of 1848: Liberalism and the Jews from the Revolutions to Human Rights"; a comparatively framed article; and a workshop exploring the distinctive place of Jewish women in liberal internationalism. These activities complement a Visiting Fellowship program directed by the PI exploring 'Liberalism, Jews, Anti-semitism: the Dialectics of Inclusion c.1780-1950' and culminating in a major international conference. Both the conference and workshop will lead to collaborative publications.

Jews and the Jewish question lay at the heart of many issues that preoccupied liberals: from capitalism and its impact on traditional societies, through religious toleration, civil rights and secularism, to problems of national identity and racial hierarchy in an age of empire, internationalism and globalization. Repeatedly, Jewish businessmen, politicians, journalists, lawyers, society hostesses and social reformers emerged as key figures during moments of liberal ascendancy: from the 1848 revolutions, through 'liberal era' Germany and Austria, to Edwardian England, Giolitti's Italy and the New Deal. Examples include Viennese revolutionary leader Adolf Fischhof; Italian Prime Minister Luigi Luzzatti; Hugo Preuss writer of the Weimar Constitution; international feminist and social reformer, Alice Salomon; and US Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis. Later, Jewish economists, lawyers and philosophers like Ludwig von Mises, Hersch Lauterpacht and Isaiah Berlin, all of whom reached maturity between the wars, helped redefine liberalism in the 20th century. Some strands of this story are familiar, but the overarching importance of this dynamic - over such a long timeframe, in such a wide variety of geographical and political contexts - remains obscured.

Focusing on Jews as liberal actors, not just objects of the liberal imagination, this project breaks new ground in several key respects.

First, the emphasis on Jewish liberal activism undercuts an assumption that lies at the heart of existing scholarship on liberalism, namely that liberalism was a product of Christian Europe. It therefore promises to illuminate 'presentist' debates about the nature of liberal universalism and, by extension, the origins of human rights. How does our view of Western liberalism as a political tradition change, once we appreciate how far it was constructed from the margins?

Second, this project addresses the problem of Jewish integration in European and American political life from a new angle. The historiography of modern Jewish politics has engaged primarily with socialism and zionism. Even historians interested in Jewish liberal activism have approached this largely from a Jewish-rights perspective. This optic is too limited to address the political careers of leading liberal politicians, whose impact and agendas were not defined by their Judaism, although it was rarely incidental to them. Such figures may be the subject of individual biographies, but the connections and parallels between them remain unexplored, as do the broader liberal and Jewish networks that underpinned their activity.

Third, the project brings new work on liberalism that reflects the global and imperial turns into conversation with older work on liberalism and the Jews, rooted in local and national contexts. Sitting at the interface between the historiography of Western liberalism and modern Jewish history, it promises to make a transformative impact on both fields.

Planned Impact

This Fellowship aims to make a major contribution to well-established historical debates and the principal outcomes of this research are therefore primarily aimed at the academic community. But this research also strikes at the heart of key questions about Jewish history and the nature of Western liberalism that are highly relevant to contemporary debates about the balance between particular identities and 'universal' values in Western liberal democracies, about secularism, and about the place of Jews in European society past and present. In order to highlight the relevance of this research to a broader public, I shall engage with a range of audiences at a number of different levels, and from a variety of angles.

1. This research has important implications for current debates about civil and religious liberty both in Britain and more generally. I will build on my track-record of producing and publicising academically rigorous work that is accessible to the general public, and secure a contract with an academic publisher with a 'trade' presence. Harvard University Press, which published my prize-winning biography of Sir Moses Montefiore as a cross-over title of this kind, has expressed an interest in publishing my next book as well. Publishing with Harvard, Oxford or a publisher of similar standing will help me secure high-profile review coverage for the book. This will make it easier to disseminate my ideas and explore their relevance to our contemporary world for a broader public, for instance through one or two strategically placed newspaper articles highlighting the key role religious and ethnic minorities have played in universalising Western liberalism from within. Podcasts of the final workshop, and a 'key-note podcast' giving the big picture will be made available to the general public.

2. This research will make an important contribution to Jewish cultural life both in Britain today and internationally. Both my book and the questions it asks are likely to be of particular interest to an educated public already interested in and engaged by the Jewish past and, more specifically, to members of the Jewish community. I will use existing contacts in Britain and the U.S. to engage this more specific demographic through public lectures, adult education activities, and newspaper articles designed to entertain, to inform and to disseminate the underlying themes of this research.

3. This project, which considers Jewish liberal activism as an international phenomenon, resonates differently in different national contexts. In Britain, it can help us to understand the role of immigrant Jews from Ferdinand de Rothschild M.P. to the pre-eminent international lawyer Herscht Lauterpacht in forging connections between British liberal culture broadly conceived and its continental and trans-Atlantic counterparts. This research can therefore be a prism through which we reimagine our national past in less parochial and more cosmopolitan ways, with obvious relevance for pressing contemporary debates about immigration and the relationship between Britain and Europe. There is the potential here for a really significant impact through knowledge exchange with the heritage sector, in collaboration with institutions such as the National Trust property Waddesdon Manor or the Jewish Museum in London, and I am actively exploring these possibilities.

Publications

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Green, AFF Liberals, Socialists, Internationalists, Jews in Journal of World History

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Levi D'Ancona Modena, L (2018) Prospero Moise Loria: a case study of Jewish secularism in liberal Italy in Jewish History

 
Description With the support of this grant I have launched a new research agenda that illuminates the role of Jews in the making of liberal politics and culture, and created an interface between scholars working on the history of liberalism and scholars working within modern Jewish History. This has been achieved in three ways (1) I led a major collaborative programme involving international scholars from the UK, US, Israel and continental Europe based at the University of Oxford, which culminated in a large and successful conference. This has resulted in a collaborative volume 'Liberalism, Jews, Antisemitism: a New History' currently under review with Indiana University Press, with contributions from scholars known either for their work on the history of liberalism or for the work in modern Jewish history. The volume fundamentally reframes how we understand the history of Jewish politics, the role of Jews in the history of liberalism, and liberalism itself. Its broad geographical sweep serves to decentre existing debates about Jews, liberalism and antisemitism, by introducing a broad range of extra-European contexts, for instance Syria, the Caribbean and Ottoman Turkey. (2) I have made substantial progress on my book-in-progress 'Children of 1848: Liberalism and the Jews from the Revolutions to Human Rights', which is now under contract with Princeton University Press. (3) I have written a major, comparatively conceived article for the Journal of World History which compares and connects nationally-inflected liberal cultures through the prism of Jews and the 'Jewish question'. (4) Working in partnership with Dr. Jaclyn Granick, through a related BA Newton Fellowship in which I was the Co-I, I have begun to open up the gender dimension of this research agenda, through a Special Issue of the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 2020: 'Gendering Jewish Inter/Nationalism', which we are editing that draws on a workshop held to mark the conclusion of the grant.
Exploitation Route One of the principal aims of our collaborative volume 'Jews, Liberalism, Antisemitism: a New History' is to challenge post-Holocaust assumptions that antisemitism is inevitably linked to illiberal politics, demonstrating the ways in which antisemitism can also be a product of liberal political culture. The current crisis over antisemitism in the Labour Party render this an exceptionally timely piece of work, and these insights can be fruitfully deployed by this phenomenon.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Collaboration with Curators at Waddesdon Manor, home of the liberal MP Ferdinand de Rothschild, has led to an Oxford-funded KE Fellowship in partnership with the National Trust and Historic England, focusing on the Jewish country house. Substantial extra funding has been obtained for a KE event, partly funded by the AHRC LF, but with contributions from the University of Oxford John Fell Fund and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art. This event involves substantial participation by curators, museum managers and those in the Jewish heritage sector. Work with Historic England is leading to a programme of Minor Amendments to the list, which will transform the presentation of 'Jewish' properties in that context and highlight the existence of a whole category of 'Jewish countryhouses'. Work with the National Trust I am embedding Jewish narratives and an engagement with Jewish audiences in the work of individual houses such as Nymans, Hughenden Manor, Upton House and Monks House. This will involve participation in the EUropean Days of Jewish Culture. Working with Strawberry Hill House, which was the venue for Lady Waldegrave's liberal political salon, I am developing a best-practice case-study to illustrate how to illumiante marginalised narratives, tell Jewish stories and engage the public, and we are working towards an exhibition on Lady Waldegrave and Geraldine Stern at Strawberry. We are working towards a longer-term collaboration with the AEPJ, which will create a website hub with touristic and academic dimensions, incorporating also European properties including those with a liberal dimension like Villa Kerylos, as a staging post to establishing a European Cultural route around the 'Jewish country house' concept. Houses belonging to Jewish liberal politicians and thinkers like Ferdinand de Rothschild, Leonard Wolf, David Salomons and Philip Sassoon would be obvious candidates because of the different issues they raise. Separately, the significance of my research on Jewish liberals was highlighted in a major policy speech by minister Jo Johnson on 'Free speech in the liberal university' given at Limmud, 2017.
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Mention in major speech given by Jo Johnson, then Minister for universities, to Limmud on Free speech in the liberal university.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/free-speech-in-the-liberal-university
 
Description Educational Programme Grants
Amount £2,700 (GBP)
Organisation Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description John Fell Fund
Amount £7,260 (GBP)
Funding ID CDD00010 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 05/2018
 
Description KE Fellowship
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Description KE Fellowship
Amount £9,968 (GBP)
Funding ID 0003015 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 07/2018
 
Description KE Seed Fund
Amount £4,277 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description AEPJ - Jewish country houses 
Organisation European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage
PI Contribution Through the proposed Jewish Country House project, which I have developed, we are adding a new dimension to the Routes of Jewish Heritage managed by the AEPJ.
Collaborator Contribution Through the activities we have promoted in the different NT properties we have greatly enriched the European Days of Jewish Heritage in the UK. The colloque at Kerylos hosted by the CMN will act as a launch pad for a European Route of Jewish Culture supported by the AEPJ.
Impact AEPJ is now a Project Partner in our AHRC Standard Grant application which has just been approved for funding.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Jewish country house - Historic England 
Organisation Historic England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My research team has conducted a survey of Jewish country houses, resulting in an initial list that we will use to recommend a series of changes to Historic England listings highlighting the Jewish dimension of country houses that are already listed, which will result in a programme of minor amendments to the HIstoric England listed buildings list.
Collaborator Contribution They will be implementing the programme of minor amendments
Impact Programme of minor amendments to the Historic England list of listed buildings (still to be implemented)
Start Year 2017
 
Description Jewish country house - Hughenden Manor 
Organisation Hughenden Manor
PI Contribution We led an away-day at Hughenden Manor to discuss the Jewish country house project, as a result of which Hughenden will be holding an exhibition on 'Disraeli the Other' within the framework of European Days of Jewish culture. We will provide dedicated volunteer training to support this. We are still collaborating with Hughenden as part of our broader collaboration with the National Trust.
Collaborator Contribution Hughenden put on an exhibition on Disraeli the Other, and have begun exploring with their volunteers which particular gaps of knowledge they have with regard to Disraeli's Jewishness. The House Manager of Hugheden presented at our KE event in Oxford 03/2018 and will present at our event in Kerylos 05/2019.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Jewish country house - National Trust 
Organisation National Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution My interest in Jewish country houses as political salons and sites of Jewish liberal activism, prompted by the collaboration with Waddesdon highlighted as a potential pathway to impact in my application, has led to a collaboration with the National Trust exploring the Jewish dimension of various NT properties (Waddesdon Manor, Nymans, Upton House, Hughenden, Monks House, Mottisfont Abbey) as well as NT partner property Strawberry Hill House, working closely with Head of Research Nino Strachey. We have had two away-days with the relevant curators, are involving them in a major Knowledge-Exchange conference 'The Jewish country house' partly funded by this AHRC grant, and I am now supporting them as they embed Jewishness more actively in the stories they tell about these properties and the way they engage with the public. In this context we are supporting the research of Celia Hughes, at Upton House, who will combine a talk at our conference in France in 2019 with conducting research in local archives on the Bearsteds' Riviera Villa. I am producing a Research Pack as a resource which will support them, and we are refining this on the basis of NT feedback. We have provided volunteer training at 6 NT properties in the past year, with Mottisfont still to come. In the next year we will expand this programme to include a centrally organised day for Events, Marketing and House teams across these different properties. Funding has just been approved for a 4 year AHRC standard grant, which will allow us to develop these activities further.
Collaborator Contribution NT curators and house managers are committing time and resources to telling new stories about their properties, and to participating in the European Days of Jewish Culture initiative in September 2018, and going forward. NT house managers from Nymans, Hughenden and Upton will present at the 'Jewish country house' conference; Waddesdon Manor has committed c.£1000 towards hosting the 2nd day of the conference which involves a visit to Waddesdon; NT curators will take scholars on a tour of Waddesdon manor during Day 2 of the conference. The NT has committed £15,000 to our AHRC standard grant and will be a project partner.
Impact AHRC Standard Grant, with the NT as a Project Partner.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Jewish country house - Strawberry 
Organisation Strawberry Hill House Trust and Charity
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution My research has prompted research curator Silvia Davoli to engage with others at Strawberry Hill to think about its Jewish owners (Lady Waldegrave, the Sterns) as well as Walpole, who is currently the only narrative given prominence in the property. I am working closely with Silvia to develop Strawberry Hill as a best-practice case-study in this area. I have promoted contact between STrawberry Hill and the Salomons Estate, drawing their attention to a close family connection of which they were unaware, and to previously unknown archival material relevant to the Stern family. We are now working together on a proposal for an exhibiton on Lady Waldegrave and Geraldine Stern, the two 'Jewish' owners of Strawberry Hill.
Collaborator Contribution Strawberry Hill curators and staff are committing time and resources to conceptualising the Jewish narrative of the house, which will have an impact on displays within it, and to participating in European Days of Jewish Culture in September 2018, and hopefully going forward. There are plans for a special exhibition dedicated to the Sterns and Lady Waldegrave. Strawberry Hill is a Project Partner in my AHRC Standard Grant on Jewish Country Houses, now approved for funding
Impact AHRC standard grant approved for funding. Strawberry Hill participated in the European Days of Jewish Culture
Start Year 2016
 
Description Jewish country house HOD 
Organisation Heritage Open Days
PI Contribution I have identified a range of Jewish country houses participating in Heritage Open Days and encouraged them to cross-list with the European Days of Jewish Culture
Collaborator Contribution Heritage Open Days will flag the Jewish dimension of these activities on their website through a blog and other initiatives. They have made contact between me and Townhill Park House, and will try and integrate Jewish country houses in their comprehensive evaluation process so that I am able to evaluate the progress of the project.
Impact not yet.
Start Year 2018
 
Description 1848-1948: a century of Jewish liberalism 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sherman Community Lecture in Modern Jewish Studies, organised by the Jewish Representative Council of Manchester in collaboration with the Unviersity of Manchester. It is a public lecture. Over 100 people attended, despite the fact that it occured 2 days after the bomb in Manchester, there was a lively question and answer session afterwards, and the organisers reported that feedback was very positive and the lecture had given those who attended a much better understanding of the issues raised..
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Jewish country house conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A major Knowledge-Exchange event scheduled to take place next week (March 5-6), involving over 60 people, of whom perhaps 10 are scholars working in the field and the rest curators and heritage practitioners drawn from the Jewish Heritage sector (AEPJ, J-Trails, Foundation for Jewish Heritage), the National Trust, non-National Trust country houses (Salomons Estate, Tunbridge Wells; Strawberry Hill House); foreign Jewish country house museums (Villa Kerylos, Chateau de Champs (France); Villa Stiassni, Brno; Villa Liebermann, Berlin)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public Lecture at JW3, Jewish cultural centre in North London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 17 people attended this lecture which was the first in a series held at JW3 and organised in collaboration with project-partner OCHJS. The lecture sparked an hour or questions and discussion afterwards. The organiser reported that this event, and the entire series of talks which relates to the programme I am running with the support of the AHRC, were far better attended than previous lecture series of this kind organised at that venue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.ochjs.ac.uk/academic-activities/previous-events/london-lectures-at-jw3/