Sunday, April 29, 2007

Response of Mr. Ben-David to my letter


Thanks for you very thoughtful (and thorough!) response. I think I make it clear in my review the high regard in which I hold some of Arendt’s work, although we clearly disagree when it comes to her role as a specifically Jewish thinker.

I referred to The Origins of Totalitarianism as a work of political philosophy only in the broadest sense; it is indeed a difficult work to define (not quite history, not quite theory), and I’m not sure you have done so any better than me.

The reference to Chaplin as “Jewish” is meant in the same sense that Arendt uses in her essay on the Jew as pariah, not obviously in the literal sense (actually though, Chaplin clearly wasn’t a halachic Jew, his Jewish familial connections are still a matter of dispute).

Re: “It is entirely mistaken to assert that she lost all interest in what you term 'parochial Jewish affairs'; it is worthwhile remembering her involvement in the Committee for Jewish Cultural Reconstruction in Germany from the 1950's until her death, and her undeniable role as a 'Jew' during her public life in Germany.”

I only wrote that it “appeared” she lost interest in parochial Jewish affairs during the 1950s, because she published no work relating to it during that period.

Finally, re your remark that “Once the 19th century nationalism narrative ceased to have enough strength to be a secular political theology, there was nothing left in this country to be named a stronghold... ”; I think your report of the death of the “nationalism narrative” is exaggerated. Plenty of people still believe in it as a secular political theology, both here and elsewhere – not least the Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian statehood!

All the best,

Calev Ben-David

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