Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Kids theorists (1884-93)

1. David Ben Gurion
2. Ernst Bloch

David Ben Gurion (1886-1973)

Born in Plonsk, Poland, Ben Gurion would eventually become the first Prime Minister of Israel. Ben Gurion's passion for Zionism, the movement he helped found, culminated in his instrumental role in the founding of the state of Israel. After leading Israel to victory in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Ben Gurion helped build the state institutions and oversaw the absorption of vast numbers of Jews from all over the world.

In 1935 Ben Gurion became chairman of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, a role he kept until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, Ben Gurion instigated a policy of restraint ("Havlagah") in which the Haganah and other Jewish groups did not retaliate for Arab attacks against Jewish civilians, concentrating only on self-defence. In 1937, the Peel Commission recommended partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas and Ben Gurion supported this policy.

Ben Gurion played a major role in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the resulting Palestinian exodus.

* Ben Gurion was a labor Zionist — in his view, exile had distorted Jewish society, primarily by preventing Jews from engaging in productive labor. Only a state sustained by a population of productive Jewish citizens held out any hope of Jewish survival. Only a Zionist socialist ethos could instil a level of altruism sufficient to build a Jewish economy and polity in Palestine. Like H.G. Wells, for example, he believed that a capitalist economy would not induce an adequate degree of cooperation or dedication. He wanted to condition Jews to the virtues of work and to alienate them from the idea of exploiting others. A Jewish state with a dominant working class would create an exemplary society which would serve as a model of equity and justice to the world.

* After the establishment of Israel in May 1948, Ben Gurion extolled the virtues of statehood. Israel's highly divergent population adhered to values inimial to the ethos of a modern state, he believed, and Israelis had to learn not to subvert the authoritative exercise of state power. A new national ideology which prepared Jews for self-government had to be formulated.


Ernst Bloch (1885-1977)

Bloch was born in Ludwigshafen, Germany, the son of an assimilated Jewish railway-employee. After studying philosophy, he married Else von Stritzky, daughter of a Baltic brewer in 1913, who died in 1921. His second marriage with Linda Oppenheimer lasted only a few years. His third wife was Karola Piotrowska, a Polish architect, whom he married 1934 in Vienna. When the Nazis came to power, they had to flee, first into Switzerland, then to Austria, France, Czechoslovakia, and finally the USA. Bloch returned to the GDR in 1949 and obtained a chair in philosophy at Leipzig. When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, he did not return to the GDR, but went to Tübingen in West Germany, where he received an honorary chair in Philosophy. He died in Tübingen.

After finishing his doctorate in 1909 (in Munich), he went to work with Georg Simmel, the famous sociologist and exponent of "life philosophy" in Berlin. Then he moved to Heidelberg where he established a close friendship with the already prominent aesthetician, and future Marxist philosopher, Georg Lukács (1885), who introduced him to the intellectual circle around Max Weber.

Like all members of the New Kids cohort, he grew up in an era of "romantic anti-capitalism," and tended to be nostalgic for a golden age — in the mythical past, in fairy tales, in childhood itself. Bloch transformed this backward-looking nostalgia, however, into a forward-looking utopian vision.

* WWI created the conditions for Bloch's unique eschatological reading of Marx, which he then fused with elements of neo-Kantianism, "life philosopy," and an "authentic expressionist impulse" to produce his first great work, The Spirit of Utopia (1918). This book set the stage for Bloch's later attempts to ground the concept of utopia in the unfinished character of reality as such and to forward a dynamic vision of nature as a set of unrealized potentialities which could become purposive if humanity decided to make them so.

* Ultimately, Bloch would fashion an ontology in which Being would be seen not as a static or finished entity but rather as inherently retaining an unexplored horizon that constantly projects a utopian novum. Thus, whether consciously or unconsciously, human existence is understood as necessarily manifesting "anticipatory" qualities that point to a utopia which does "not yet" exist, but which nevertheless stands open to realization.

* Bloch's encyclopedic masterpiece, The Principle of Hope (1959), would analyze such anticipatory utopian projections in the realms of religion, art, and philosophy, as well as the daydreams and manifold occurrences of everyday life. Marx appears as just one example of utopian thinkers stretching back to medieval mystics, neo-platonists, and the thinkers of antiquity. From such a (cosmic?) perspective, people are seen as anthropologically motivated by a complex of instinctual drives which bring about a hope of the best world and a sense of frustration or Angst at not attaining it.

* Bloch was primarily concerned with analyzing the concept of utopia and calling for further experimental thinking. His works lack specifics regarding how the utopian order might be brought about, what institutions are necessary to ensure its liberating character, or even what socio-cutural relations should inform it. (For Russell Jacoby, this is precisely the strength of Bloch's work.) In other words, though he was a socialist, Bloch's philosophy need not lead to any particular form of socialist politics.

* For Bloch, past periods of history are not dead time but rather the repository of unresolved contradictions which can reassert themselves for good or ill. (This is a terrific reason to study history, by the way.) He produced an all-encompassing and experimental philosophical standpoint which speaks to humanity's best hopes for the future even while holding on to the most progressive unrealized possibilities of the past.

Author of, among other books:
Geist der Utopie (The Spirit of Utopia, 1918)
Spuren (1930)
Erbschaft dieser Zeit (Inheritance of our Time, 1935) — a study of Nazism
Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle of Hope, 1954-59, 3 vols.)

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