No return to Babel

NATIONALISM should not be the enemy of globalization but it should temper a universalism that robs individuals and civilizations and nations of their unique identity.

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May 19, 2019 00:24
4 minute read.
The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/GOOGLE ART PROJECT)

 
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I call it “The Esperanto Delusion.” It is the flawed belief that if all humanity spoke the same language, there would be no war or strife and all would be global harmony. Esperanto was the creation of L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish Jew and ophthalmologist, who introduced “the international language” in the late 19th century. Zamenhof’s goal was to foster peace and international understanding by introducing an easy and flexible language shared by all. To his credit, Zamenhof did not intend for Esperanto to replace existing languages but to build an international community of speakers of a second universal language. But the idea that uniformity of communication would lead to world peace was utopian and ignored the reality that common language was an elixir of false hope. In English, Esperanto means “one who hopes.” But what Zamenhof was hoping for was a notion not grounded in reality and in human history.

Throughout history there are many examples of peoples speaking the same language – be it with different accents and dialects – who slaughtered each other with great brutality. The Peloponnesian War that pitted Athens versus Sparta, the 30 Years War that tore apart Germanic lands in a vicious struggle between Protestants and Catholics, and America’s bloodiest war – the Civil War – debunk the idea that shared language is the key to peace. Diverse languages are both a blessing and a curse. While shared language does often unite a society or nation, often it does not. And if the whole world had spoken and written in the identical language, it would have robbed the creativity and diversity that is the core of genius of individual civilizations. Perhaps it could be argued that if humanity spoke one language, history would have been a placid affair without war and strife. Yet, the opposite argument can be made: a monolithic language opens the way for enforced uniformity and totalitarianism.
NATIONALISM SHOULD not be the enemy of globalization but it should temper a universalism that robs individuals and civilizations and nations of their unique identity. A One World Order impoverishes creativity and genius and assumes that national, religious, and cultural identities are malignant and nefarious. No one will deny that the trenches of the Somme and Verdun were bloodied symbols of the nation-states’ folly – but that is a small part of a larger story. Conflicts between nations should not erase the history of individual civilizations contributions to the greater good. Those who dream of global utopia will rob human beings of their history, their legacy, their culture and their faith by imposing a generic system of the myth that everyone can be a citizen of the world. There is no such citizen. We are all the inheritors of a unique legacy through unique nations and peoples. I do not want to be a citizen of the world. I want to be a Jew and an American. While I appreciate the genius of Euripides, Seneca, Montaigne, Dostoyevsky and Orwell, I integrate their work into my existing identity. Who will decide in the New World Order what my identity will be?


Moses Hess writes in Rome and Jerusalem (1862): “Nationality is the individuality of a people. It is this individuality, however, which is the activating element: just as humanity cannot be actual without distinct individuals, so it cannot be actual without distinct, specific nations and peoples. Like any other being, humanity cannot actualize itself without mediation, it needs the medium of the individuality.” The nation is the vehicle through which we express ourselves and fashion our identity. Genius and entrepreneurship cannot emerge in a generic world that is devoid of cultural and historical context. The citizen of the world is a fiction – no such person exists. The world has not grown smaller. The divisions that lead to both alliances and enemies are the result of a diversity that is expressed through language.


We often hear that “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” I argue that patriotism is the first refuge of defenders of democracy, free speech, freedom of religion, history and heritage. We must study and celebrate the societies from which we emerge. That is who we are. To deny that we are all the inheritors of a past that is as strong as physical DNA is to deny who we are and to engage in self-destructive self-hatred. I don’t want to surrender the English and Hebrew that have shaped my life and identity. A one-world language would decimate who we are. There will be no Jeremiah, Dante or Hemingway. All we will be left with is a generic tongue stripped of diversity and genius, denying the specific culture and faith communities from which we emerge. Diversity of language fosters diversity of ideas. The prostitution of scholarship and creativity to ideology is the greatest danger we face as human beings. I am no citizen of the world. No one will dictate what language I speak and who I am.


We are not returning to the biblical Tower of Babel. That was a disaster of uniformity and totalitarianism. The world is meant to be a diverse place and our languages are diverse. A One World Language, a movement that denies our Identify our history, our nation, and our past is the fantasy of globalists who would like to destroy the concept of citizenship and sovereignty and replace it with the worship of commerce, of countries without borders. The global ambitions of the Jacobins and the jihadis are doomed to fail. We must fight the totalitarian impulse and stand up for our culture, our heritage, and our identity. 


The writer is rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sholom in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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