Jacob Talmon

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Jacob Leib Talmon (Hebrew: יעקב טלמון; June 14, 1916 – June 16, 1980) was Professor of Modern History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. By the Left he has been described as a 'Cold War liberal' because of the anti-Marxism which permeates his main works.[citation needed]

He studied the genealogy of totalitarianism, arguing that political Messianism stemmed from the French Revolution, and stressed the similarities between Jacobinism and Stalinism. He coined the terms "totalitarian democracy" and "Messianic democracy/political Messianism".


Talmon was born in Rypin, a town in central Poland, into an Orthodox Jewish family. He left in 1934 to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, then in the British Mandate of Palestine, now Israel. He continued his studies in France but left for London after the Nazi invasion; in 1943 he was awarded a PhD from the London School of Economics. His main works are The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy and Political Messianism: The Romantic Phase. Talmon argued that Rousseau's position may best be understood as "totalitarian democracy", a philosophy in which liberty is realized "only in the pursuit and attainment of an absolute collective purpose." Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Talmon engaged in a debate with Arnold J. Toynbee on the role of Jews and Zionism in history.[1]

Talmon died in Jerusalem on June 16, 1980, two days after his 64th birthday.[2]


In 1957, Talmon was awarded the Israel Prize, for social sciences.[3]

Major works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hedva Ben-Israel, "Debates With Toynbee: Herzog, Talmon, Friedman," Israel Studies (Spring 2006), pp. 83ff; and two newspaper reports in Hebrew: Jacob Talmon, "Arnold Toynbee and His Relationship to the Jews," Haaretz, Sept. 5, 1956 and "The Exchange of Letters Between Professor Arnold Toynbee and Professor Y. Talmon following the Six-Day War," Maariv, Aug. 4, 1967.
  2. ^ Shipler, David K. (June 18, 1980). "J.L. Talmon is dead; an Israeli historian; Hebrew University Professor Was Author of Books on Evolution of Totalitarian Systems Threat of 'Racial War' Seen". New York Times. p. 38.
  3. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1956 (in Hebrew)".
  4. ^ The work was unpublished at the time of his death; The New York Times, June 18, 1980, p. 38.

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