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Ruth Wisse – Jews and Power

April 8, 2014

Lord Acton famously proposed that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  In Jews and Power, Ruth Wisse provides an analysis of Jewish history that suggests the exact opposite. With neither sovereignty, nor centralized government, nor even mechanisms of self-defense, the Jewish people reconceived the meaning of their nation in manifestly moral terms. They fell prey to the danger of being corrupted by powerlessness. Generations of exilic Jews sought to live as “a light unto the nations,” seeking toleration and protection from their host rulers.  But their political dependency left diaspora Jews vulnerable to being scapegoated–a tendency that has persisted despite the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in Israel.  Ranging from the Hebrew Bible to contemporary politics, how does Professor Wisse’s analysis of Jewish history affect our understanding of the State of Israel, the United States, and all those nations who–admirably–insist on the moral dimension of political life?

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Watch and reconsider Jews and Power with its author, Professor Ruth Wisse, Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University


More about: Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism  • Jewish Political Thought  • Zionism