The Old New Land

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The Old New Land
1st edition cover
Author Theodor Herzl
Original title Altneuland
Translator Lotta Levensohn (1997 edition)
Country Austria-Hungary
Language German
Genre Utopian novel
Publisher Seemann Nachf
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 343 pp
OCLC 38767535

The Old New Land (German: Altneuland; Hebrew: תֵּל־אָבִיב Tel Aviv, "Mound of spring") is a utopian novel published by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, in 1902. Outlining Herzl’s vision for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, Altneuland became one of Zionism's establishing texts. It was translated into Yiddish by Israel Isidor Elyashev. It was translated into Hebrew by Nahum Sokolow as Tel Aviv, which directly influenced the choice of the same name for the Jewish-Zionist Jaffa suburb founded in 1909 which was to become a major Israeli city.

Plot introduction[edit]

The novel tells the story of Friedrich Löwenberg, a young Jewish Viennese intellectual, who, tired with European decadence, joins an Americanized Prussian aristocrat named Kingscourt as they retire to a remote Pacific island (it is specifically mentioned as being part of the Cook Islands, near Raratonga). Stopping in Jaffa on their way to the Pacific, they find Palestine a backward, destitute and sparsely populated land, as it appeared to Herzl on his visit in 1898.

Löwenberg and Kingscourt spend the following twenty years on the island, cut off from civilization. As they pass through Palestine on their way back to Europe, they discover a land drastically transformed, showcasing a free, open and cosmopolitan modern society, and boasting a thriving cooperative industry based on state-of-the-art technology.

In the two decades that have passed, European Jews have rediscovered and re-inhabited their Altneuland, reclaiming their own destiny in the Land of Israel.

Major themes[edit]

Herzl’s novel depicts his blueprint for the realization of Jewish national emancipation, as put forward in his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) published in 1896. Both ideological and utopian, it presents a model society which was to adopt a liberal and egalitarian social model, resembling a modern welfare state. Herzl called his model "Mutualism" and it is based on a mixed economy, with public ownership of the land and natural resources, agricultural cooperatives, state welfare, while at the same time encouraging private entrepreneurship. A true modernist, Herzl rejected the European class system, yet remained loyal to Europe’s cultural heritage.

Rather than imagining the Jews in Altneuland speaking exclusively Hebrew, the society is multi-lingual – with German, Hebrew and Yiddish being the main languages and reproducing European customs, going to the opera and enjoying the theatre. While Jerusalem is the capital, with the seat of parliament ("Congress") and the Jewish Academy, the country's industrial center is the modern city of Haifa. In the actual Israel, this role was to be taken by Tel Aviv, a city which did not yet exist at the time of writing and whose name was inspired by the book itself (see below).

Herzl saw the potential of Haifa Bay for constructing a modern deep-water port. However, in reality it would be the British Empire rather than the Zionists which would realise that potential and make considerable strategic use of it during the Second World War. Though Israel would eventually inherit the Haifa port and city, by 1948 the central role of Tel Aviv was established, with Haifa – though a major Israeli city – relegated to a secondary position.

As envisioned by Herzl, "All the way from Acco to Mount Carmel stretched what seemed to be one great park". In the actual Israel the very same area became a giant industrial zone, reckoned the most heavily polluted part of the country.

It is noteworthy that Herzl uses the name "Palestine" for the country, even in very specific Zionist contexts such as "Palestine, the land of our ancestors". The book clearly antedates the naming dispute which continues up to the present, whereby Zionists and Israelis avoid this name and prefer "Eretz Yisrael" or "Israel", while "Palestine" (or "Filastin" in Arabic) became identified with the Arab side in the conflict.

References to Arabs[edit]

In Herzl's vision, the New Society in Palestine is thoroughly multicultural; anyone who wants to contribute, and is willing to take up the duties of citizenship, is welcome to join in and receive the substantial benefits associated with the new infrastructure. Several times, characters insist that national origins and religion make absolutely no difference to a person's status; the society is essentially a very large cooperative, and runs substantially according to Rochdale principles (which are explained and lauded). The Temple will be rebuilt, but not on the site of the original Temple Mount, and it would be much more like a modern synagogue (no animal sacrifices, for example). Hence there is no Arab opposition to it. One of the major characters in the novel, an Arab engineer from Haifa, Reshid Bey, tells the protagonists that the Jews had in no way harmed him, but on the contrary, increased the value of his property and helped developed and modernize Arab villages. The Arab residents of the country are full fledged citizens, vote in elections and are represented in leading positions; they come, as do the Jews, emphatically from every state in the world.

It is worthwhile to note the "New Society" in the book (Herzl does not call it explicitly a "state" but rather a "society," "Gesellschaft"—hence, "Die Neue Gesellschaft") is depicted as having no armed forces at all, possibly implying that the territory is still part of the Ottoman Empire; the book states in fact that the "New Society", a kind of public company that embodies the new multicultural state and represents it as a financial entity, has an agreement with Turkey's government to lease the land for thirty years from it, in exchange for substantial payments each year; at the end of the thirty years, the New Society and Turkey would be able, if both sides agreed, to move to a situation where Turkey received half of the monetary profits of the New Society each year as its due (an amount perhaps more than the original "rent," but also less onerous to the New Society because in thirty years' time it would be flourishing financially).

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science[edit]

Altneuland had an immediate impact on the nascent Zionist movement, and served as a major inspiration for Socialist Zionism which became the dominant strain in Zionism during its early days. The cooperative agricultural settlement portrayed in the novel is in many ways a precursor to the kibbutz, while the phrase "If you will it – it is no fairy tale", adapted from the novel’s epilogue, was adopted as a popular Zionist slogan. Ahuzat Bayit, the 'first Hebrew city' founded in 1909, was soon renamed Tel Aviv after the novel’s Hebrew title as translated by Nahum Sokolov (a conflation of 'old' – an archeological mound, Tel – and 'new' – represented by spring, Aviv). However the novel was also received with criticism by some, most notably Ahad Ha'am who lambasted Altneuland both for its lack of Jewish identity, conceived of as religious conviction alone (Torah), and the unfeasibility of its vision of settling millions of Jews in Palestine without disowning the Arab population. The novel, and Herzl, was relying instead on the concept of Jewish internationalism and the idea that every nation would have a hand in the founding of the "New Society," which would consequently pride itself on its tolerance (especially religious tolerance), and prove to be a model for the rest of the world in its fair treatment of the existing inhabitants of Palestine, and its forward-thinking positions on a number of other social issues, including women's suffrage and the adoption of true Cooperative principles on a large economic and political scale.

Literary influence[edit]

The basic plot device of a person finding himself transported to an utopian future and being given a "guided tour" of the society he finds there is similar to the plot of "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy, already considered a classic Utopian work at the time of writing and with which Herzl was familiar.

Release details[edit]

  • 1902, Germany, Hermann Seemann Nachfolger, Leipzig, hardback (First edition) (as Altneuland in German)
  • 1941, USA, Bloch Publishing (ISBN NA), Pub date ? ? 1941, paperback (translated ... by Lotta Levensohn)
  • 1961, Israel, Haifa Publishing (ISBN NA), Pub date ? ? 1961, paperback (as Altneuland in German)
  • 1987, USA, Random House (ISBN 0-910129-61-4), Pub date ? December 1987, paperback
  • 1997, USA, Wiener (Markus) Publishing (ISBN 1-55876-160-8), Pub date ? November 1997, paperback

External links[edit]