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The Balfour Declaration | The Nation

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The Balfour Declaration

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So the situation defined itself when German dynastic aggression started its assault upon civilization, compelling the world's thought to turn its attention finally upon the ultimate causes at issue. The survey of the history of democracy in the western world, of the rise and development and operation there of the principle of nationality, revealed the interdependence and neutral implications of both repeatedly outlined in the statements of Messrs. Asquith and Lloyd George and President Wilson. The events leading up to the ends for which the democratic powers are at war are momentous. Modern Europe begins with the mediaeval assumption of the identity of church and state, the church using the state to enforce religious conformity. The Middle Ages is the period of religious lmperialism. With the Protestant Reformation this imperialism is shattered, to be followed by religious nationalism. States disable dissenters with the infinite variety that the ingenuity of the creed-monger is so distinguished for. In Protestantism sects multiply, however, and the alternative to tolerance is anarchy or rebellion. Hence little by little the absolute divorce between church and state which political theory advocated from the beginning gets achieved in the compromises of political practice. What helps more than anything else to secure this end is the steady secularization of mankind by the substitution of scientific industrial and aesthetic interests for the religious ones, so that finally citizenship is altogether detached from adherence to a special confession.

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The lost political prerogative of the church is, however, monopolized by the nationality. Democracy, brought to Europe by the French Revolution, and threatened by Napoleonic imperialism, awakened the sleeping nationalities of Europe to consciousness, the desire for unity, freedom, and autonomy. At first a call to self-defence and self-respect, as in the utterances of Fichte and Mazzini, the call to nationality became, under the influence of their theorizing successors in Germany, a call to aggression and empire in the name of national cultures. Religious imperialism was succeeded by cultural imperialism, with its extraordinary Aryan myth, its monstrous missionary paranoia, its demand that all mankind shall abandon their own grown fruits of the spirit to live by that made in Germany. From the centre there, the venomous infection spread to Russia, to Turkey, and Messrs. Roosevelt and Maxse are signs that even the United States and England did not escape a touch of it. Pan-Germanism and policies of Germanification were paralleled by Pan-Slavism and policies of Russification, and so on, down the line of national hegemonies in central and eastern Europe. England alone, thanks to the character of her empire, escaped the evils of infection, and the eventualities of the war have shown how wise her democratic statesmanship has been. Its issues have justified her, as they have, even more, America.

What they have taught the democracies of the world is essentially this: that there is no more necessary connection between nationality and citizenship than between religion and citizenship. A nationality is a very intimate form of historic and cultural creative association, related to the group as personality is to the individual. To function effectively, it must be even freer and more self-governed than a church. A state is a secondary form of association designed by those who participate in it. I am speaking, of course, from the democratic standpoint--to secure them "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A nationality is creative, a state regulative. The state's business is to prevent the encroachment or persecution of individuals and associations upon and by one another, to keep opportunity equal, to do justice. Citizenship, thus, is independent of nationality and a safeguard of it, as it is of religion, in every free land--in Switzerland, in the United States, in the British Empire. Just states, free states, secure freedom of nationality as they do freedom of worship.

Now it is freedom so understood that the Jewish people have always represented. Loyal and devoted citizens of whatever state they lived in, they have also remained, en masse , a self-reverent national community, an historic organization true to its traditions of spirit and vision. They are history's greatest and oldest incarnation of the casus belli. Their record of significant contribution to the economic and political liberation of the peoples of Europe derives directly from their own national constitution and the life it enjoined, and it is a record made in the process of their undergoing a hundred Belgian tragedies. For a millennium and a half the whole of Europe has waged war upon them, bitter and relentless. They have suffered it without resistance, and they have survived. They are the living refutation of the whole Teutonic philosophy of military enterprise. Enough food to keep life together and to nourish the coming generation, a system of education, perseverance in the endeavors of peace, loyalty to the spiritual forms of the group-life--these, not war, give a culture life, and cause it to prevail. What the Jewish nationality has ever asked for, hence, has been, not the sovereignty that constitutes a state, but freedom to achieve those excellences appropriate to its nature, and through this achievement to make its contribution to the free-trade of the spirit among nationalities that we call civilization.

"Zionism," says Mr. Justice Brandeis, "seeks to establish in Palestine, for such Jews as choose to go and remain there, and for their descendants, a legally secured home, where they may live together and lead a Jewish life, where they may expect ultimately to constitute a majority of the population, and may look forward to what we should call home rule. The Zionists seek to establish this home in Palestine because they are convinced that the undying longing of Jews for Palestine is a fact of deepest significance; that it is a manifestation in the struggle for existence by an ancient people which had established its right to live--a people whose three thousand years of civilization has produced a faith, culture, and individuality which enable them to contribute largely in the future, as they had in the past, to the advance of civilization; and that it is not a right merely, but a duty of the Jewish nationality to survive and develop. They believe that there only can Jewish life be fully protected from the forces of disintegration; that there alone can the Jewish spirit reach its full and natural development; and that by securing for those Jews who wish to settle in Palestine the opportunity to do so, not only those Jews, but all other Jews will be benefited and that the long perplexing Jewish Problem will, at last, find solution."

And in the course of a generation they have laid in Palestine the foundation for the excellences they hope to attain. In this land, desolate through neglect, they have built, against the resistance of nature and of man, with great devotion and hardship, forty prosperous, self-governing agricultural colonies; for the slums of its cities they had begun to substitute modern sanitary dwellings; for disease, hygiene and hospital service; for a mediaeval and restricted educational system, a radically modern one, from kindergarten to university, and to be directed by the society of teachers, not trustees, nor Aldermen. Their chief instruments--the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Colonial Trust, the Anglo-Palestine Company--are constituted upon the principle of democratic control of the fiscal and industrial machinery of the nation, and their use aimed always to eliminate as nearly as might be the avoidable injustices which are the social problems of modern states. The war has endangered this whole achievement. It has brought death and starvation to Palestine also, and has there undermined the credit upon which the work is done. Yet so completely did the fiscal instruments of Zionism have the confidence of the non-Jewish as well as the Jewish population of Palestine that its paper was preferred above all others, even that of the Government. It and the other institutions are under English charter. They have been shaken, but by tremendous effort the Zionists have kept them from shattering.

The association of Zionism with England dates from its very beginnings. The English mind understands nationality. Its statesmanship has been sympathetic towards the Zionist programme from the days of Joseph Chamberlain on. Mr. Balfour's declaration is but the most recent step in the fulfillment of the English desire to help right the greatest of historic wrongs. It is a step taken, the Zionist Organization confidently infers, with "the approval of all the Entente Powers, and will have the unquestioned support and approbation of the Government of the United States." The statement is issued, moreover, at the moment when the agitation of anti-Jewish Jews against Zionism is most intense, and is the direct effect of negotiations of more than two years between the Zionist Organization and the British Government. It is a first step in the candid and disinterested application of "the principle of nationality" to the solution of international problems.

Of those, the "Jewish problem" is the oldest. Its solution through Zionism by the concentration of a free and self-governing and creative commonwealth of Jews in the Palestinian homeland rests upon the fact that the existence of such a commonwealth will abolish the ambiguity of the Jewish position elsewhere. A Jew will be able to say with reference to a definite political Jewish entity--"I belong there" or "I do not belong there." If the Belgian, Servian, Russian, or any nationality does not constitute a problem as do the Jews, it is because these peoples actually inhabit as majorities politically definite areas universally acknowledged to be their homelands. The definition by public law of the ancient home of the Jewish people as their actual centre of life will work the same effect for the Jews. This is the intention of Mr. Balfour's statement. By virtue of it, the Jewish people appears, for the first time since the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, as a recognized equal in the family of nationalities, acknowledged as such by the foremost democratic commonwealth in the world. By virtue of it an evil thing has gone out of Europe, never to come back. Its implications are not merely the conditions and purposes of the war. Its implications are science, industry, democracy, the whole growth of that torturous and bloody liberation of the masses of men from their oppressors in which consists the humanization of mankind.

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