Altneuland- Theodor Herzl's Zionist Utopia
"True, you worked with all the fervor of Jewish love for the sacred soil. That soil was unproductive for others, but for us it was a good soil. Because we fertilized it with our love. Our first settlers had proven thirty years earlier what could be done here. Yet their settlements were worth little from the economic viewpoint because they were based on a false principle. With all their modern machinery, those settlers were able to create only the old type of village. But you have the New Village. And that, my friends, is not the work of your hands only.
"Don't imagine I am jesting when I say that Neudorf was built not in Palestine, but elsewhere. It was built in England, in America, in France and in Germany. It was evolved out of experiments, books, and dreams. The unsuccessful experiments of both practical men and dreamers were to serve you as object lessons, though you did not know it.
"In the old days there were peasants just as hardworking as yourselves, and yet they could make no headway. These old-time peasants did not know their own soil. They did not know what was in it, because they were too narrow-minded to have it chemically analyzed. They merely sweated over their land, and worked much harder than was necessary. They either worked the wrong fields or used wrong methods. They could not operate their farms economically because they were too befogged to see three feet in front of their noses. When they borrowed money for improvements, they became so deeply involved in usurious debts that the best crops could not extricate them. They had no insurance against hail or cattle plagues. No individual farmer could afford to have his land drained or irrigated. A bad crop ruined him; but good crops did not enrich him because he did not know how to reach the world markets. Of hired labor he had either too little or too much. He could not afford to educate his hungry children, and they grew up as ignorant as he himself and his ancestors. The new transportation facilities seemed to have been invented for his ruin. In virgin countries, agriculture was conducted as a large-scale industry. Machinery enriched the large landowners and still further impoverished the small ones. A new order of slavery was created. The free farmer became a serf, and his children drifted into the industrial wage slavery of the factory.
"The foundations of the old order were undermined through its peasantry. Many a noble soul sighed over the situation, studied and experimented in the hope of improvement. All the aids of science and experience were invoked. Everyone realized, however, that in an age of machinery the basic conditions of human life had to be adapted to our new knowledge of natural forces. The nineteenth century, however, was a curiously backward era.
"At the beginning of that era, muddle-headed visionaries were taken seriously, while sober, practical men were branded as lunatics. Napoleon the Great did not believe that Fulton's steamboat was practical. On the other hand, the absurd Fourier easily won adherents for his phalansteries, which were intended to provide homes and workshops for several hundred families. Stephenson, the inventor of the railway, and Cabet, the dreamer of Icaria, were contemporaries. I could mention many other names with which you may not be familiar."
David's words were listened to attentively, though he was delivering what was an academic lecture rather than a popular oration. As he stopped for breath, Mendel rose and said civilly, but loudly, "Come to the point! What has all that to do with our Neudorf?"
"Very much, my friends," responded David calmly. "A socialistic dream rose to answer every new machine invented during that peculiar nineteenth century, which has always seemed to me like a great factory where ingenious machinery was served by wretched human beings. Clouds of smoke ascended from the chimneys of that factory, and darkened the blue heavens. Those beautifully formed, dissolving smoke clouds, however, symbolized the socialistic promises for the society of the future. When the wishful human beings looked up, they no longer saw the heavens, but the factory-born clouds of a Utopia.
"But there were rosy clouds as well. Take the famous one of the American, Edward Bellamy, who outlined a noble communistic society in his Looking Backward. In that Utopia, all may eat as much as they please from the common platter. The lamb and the wolf feed in the same pasture. Fine. Very fine. Only then, the wolves are no longer wolves, and human beings no longer human. After Bellamy's book came Freiland, a utopian romance by the publicist Hertzka. Freiland is a brilliant bit of magic, which may well be compared with the juggler's inexhaustible hat. Beautiful dreams, indeed, or airships if you care to call them that-but not dirigible. Because these noble lovers of humanity based their ingenious schemes on a false premise. The scholars among you-and I know that in Neudorf today as in Katrah thirty years ago, there are educated peasants-will understand me when I say that they were guilty of a petitio princpii. They used as evidence something that still had to be proven, namely, that humanity had already achieved that degree of maturity and freedom of judgment which is necessary for the establishment of a new social order. Or, perhaps they were clear enough about it in their own minds, and lacked only the bit of solid ground that Archimedes needed for his lever. They believed that the most important factor in creating a new order of things was machinery. Machinery was their sine qua non. But that is not correct. No ...it is power that counts. Now and always, power is the thing. For, having power, I can exploit the newest inventions to the utmost. But we-we had the power that was needed. Whence did we have it? From the terrible pressure to which we were subjected on all sides, from poverty and persecution. That was the centripetal force that drew all our scattered forces to a focus, and strengthened a union that included not only the downtrodden, but the powerful; not only the young, but the wise; not only thoughtless enthusiasts, but cultured men and women. Not only hands, but heads...all together. A people, a whole people, found itself together-nay, found itself again.
"We made the New Society not because we were better than others, but simply because we were ordinary men with the ordinary human needs for air and light, health and honor, for the right to acquire property and security of possession. And since we were about to build ourselves a home, we chose a 1900 model, and not one of the year 1600 or 1800 or any other date. All this is certainly clear and obvious. We did nothing very meritorious. We achieved nothing extraordinary. We did only that which, under the given circumstances and at the given moment, was an historical necessity."
Mendel shouted an interruption again. "To the point! Get to the point!"
"I have almost finished," said David pleasantly. "I wish only to recall your beginnings to you. Without the gigantic social-economic labors of the nineteenth century, your beginnings would have been impossible. Individual Jews participated in those labors, but by no means Jews alone. What resulted from the common endeavors ought to be claimed by no one nation for itself. It belongs to all men. Anyone who is grateful to those old pathfinders, or even merely curious about them, will find it worth while to look into the subject. And in this connection, my friends, the Anglo-Saxon race deserves the highest praise. For it is among the English that we find the first traces of the co-operative social order, which we have taken over and adapted. German science, too, has added its profound word here. If anyone here cares to know more about this subject, I shall be glad to refer you to books on the co-operative movement in England, Germany, and France:'
A young peasant raised his hand. "What do you wish, Jacob?" inquired the chairman.
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