Talmon, Jacob Leib

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TALMON, JACOB LEIB (1916–1980), Israeli historian. Born in Rypin, Poland, Talmon went to Ereẓ Israel in 1934 and in 1939 graduated from the Hebrew University, later studying at the Sorbonne, and the London School of Economics. From 1944 to 1947 he was secretary to the Palestine Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In 1949 Talmon was appointed lecturer at the Hebrew University and in 1960 professor. Talmon is best known for his contribution to the history of ideas, the analysis of the intricate texture of political and social trends in 19th-century Europe, which contained the roots of the apparently new ideological phenomena of the 20th century, particularly totalitarianism.

His main work is contained in his The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (1952) and Political Messiahism: The Romantic Phase (1960). Its theme is the struggle between the empirical-liberal and the totalitarian-messianic types of democracy. Both are shown to stem from 18th-century philosophical premises and the clash in the French Revolution. The political and ideological currents since 1800 are seen as variations of these types. Modern revolutionary movements including Marxism and its offshoots are thus presented as expressions of political messianism which still dominates a large part of the world. In another work, Romanticism and Revolt (1967), Talmon portrays the age of Romanticism. He delineates the movement of the forces released by the revolution of 1789 toward the tragic clash and denouement of 1848. The Unique and the Universal (1965) is a collection of essays designed to bring out the significantly modern tensions between those developments – technological, social, and ideological – which lead to universal uniformity on the one hand and the self-assertion of racial and national peculiarities on the other. In these essays the Jewish phenomenon is highlighted as the outstanding sample of this dilemma, "ultimately a sample of the great human condition."

In his books as well as in numerous essays, articles, and public debates, Talmon proved himself an outstanding interpreter of Zionism in a changing world context. His exchange with Toynbee attracted the attention of the intellectual world. Talmon took an active and determined stand on topical questions of Jewish life such as the Arab-Israel conflict, religion and state, Jewish and Israel identity, continuity and innovation, and Jews and revolution. He showed himself a confirmed believer in the principles of political liberty, freedom of conscience, religious toleration, self-determination, and mutual respect among nations.

After the *Six-Day War (1967) Talmon resolutely advocated a compromise solution of the conflict based on territorial concessions and primarily on the mutual recognition of the Jewish and Palestinian-Arab right of self-determination. Talmon received the Israel Prize for social sciences and law in 1956. He was a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

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