Conventional accounts maintain that the Dreyfus Affair was the turning point in Herzl’s life towards Zionism. However, a careful analysis of his writings and voluminous diary suggest a much more complex picture. More than many others in his generation and Viennese environment, Herzl reacted to the major crises in European society and culture at the fin de siècle, which to his mind suggested a descent into nationalistic and xenophobic politics. Such developments would also endanger the relative security Jews have enjoyed towards the end of the 19th century in Central Europe, and would make the plight of Russian Jewry even more profound. Addressing these structural developments of European history, Herzl constructed his call for national self-determination of the Jewish people in a homeland of their own.
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Shlomo Avineri, one of Israel's leading public intellectuals, teaches at the Hebrew University and is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He served as Director-General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, and is the recipient of the Israel Prize. His books on Hegel, Marx and Zionism have been translated into many languages.