Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought by David Myers

I mentioned the book last night on my show but perhaps my choice of music for the segment was not the most artful.

According to Princeton University Press:

Nineteenth-century European thought, especially in Germany, was increasingly dominated by a new historicist impulse to situate every event, person, or text in its particular context. At odds with the transcendent claims of philosophy and — more significantly — theology, historicism came to be attacked by its critics for reducing human experience to a series of disconnected moments, each of which was the product of decidedly mundane, rather than sacred, origins. By the late nineteenth century and into the Weimar period, historicism was seen by many as a grinding force that corroded social values and was emblematic of modern society’s gravest ills. Resisting History examines the backlash against historicism, focusing on four major Jewish thinkers. David Myers situates these thinkers in proximity to leading Protestant thinkers of the time, but argues that German Jews and Christians shared a complex cultural and discursive world best understood in terms of exchange and adaptation rather than influence.

After examining the growing dominance of the new historicist thinking in the nineteenth century, the book analyzes the critical responses of Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Strauss, and Isaac Breuer. For this fascinating and diverse quartet of thinkers, historicism posed a stark challenge to the ongoing vitality of Judaism in the modern world. And yet, as they set out to dilute or eliminate its destructive tendencies, these thinkers often made recourse to the very tools and methods of historicism. In doing so, they demonstrated the utter inescapability of historicism in modern culture, whether approached from a Christian or Jewish perspective.

Alan: “The idea that you can present the philosophical and theological objections to historicism by the four german-jewish scholars who Myers chose to examine, while enjoying a raucous hoe-down, may prove a tad optimistic Luke …. maybe you should run the idea past your sponsor first.”

LF: “I am glad you are there!”

Alan: “No worries mate …. a bit of banjo and fiddle to accompany Myers insights into jewish intellectual history …. it’s a mistake anyone could make.”

LF: “What would be the correct royalty free music to use as a bed for discussion of historicism?”

Alan: “There isn’t one Luke …. possibly in a sensitive, creative pair of hands, a bit of suitably esoteric german classical music of the period, could be woven into the narrative ….. to help illustrate why Myers places Rosenzweig into the context of “theological anti-historicism” as opposed to the “philosophical anti-historicism” of Heidegger …. but given your efforts to date I don’t hold out much hope.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Jews. Bookmark the permalink.