Joseph Roth: The Sublime Novelist of Habsburg Nostalgia and Jewish Pessimism

Sept. 8 2022

While he remains little known in the English-speaking world, those who have read the work of Joseph Roth almost invariably believe him to be one of the great European writers—and one of the great Jewish writers—of the 20th century. Born and raised in the heart of Jewish Eastern Europe in the now-Ukrainian, then-Austrian city of Brody, Roth spent the better part of his life in the Vienna of Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl. His homeland remained Habsburg Austria-Hungary until his death in 1939—some twenty years after that country disappeared. David Mikics discusses Roth’s life, and the stories he told:

In 1930 Roth wrote Job, the story of an East European Jew named Mendel Singer, whose little son is both lame and unable to speak. Heartbreakingly, Mendel abandons his son when he moves to America. . . . Job was a commercial success, though Roth didn’t make much money from it. Marlene Dietrich said it was her favorite novel. It even became a Hollywood movie, though the studio turned Mendel into a Tirolean peasant and the novel’s wonder rabbi into a Franciscan monk. (“Mendel Singer Gets Baptized” was one reviewer’s headline.)

Two years after Job, on the cusp of the Nazis’ victory in Germany, Roth published his magnum opus The Radetzky March, [which] evokes the comfort supplied by time-honored order and propriety. But Roth also invokes the abyss of loneliness and self-doubt concealed by the old-fashioned code of honor. The endless passage of years, the falling apart of empires, and the death of fathers and sons all imply a fathomless melancholia. Alcohol is a well of oblivion, a tempting means of escape.

In particular, Roth was deeply pessimistic about the Jewish future. In March 1933 he wrote to [his close friend and fellow Viennese writer] Stefan Zweig that in 50 years’ time the Jews would no longer exist. He reminded Zweig that they were both fundamentally European, and nonreligious: “We come from ‘Emancipation’ . . . rather more than we come out of Egypt.”

Accordingly, Roth could be sympathetic to Zionism at times. “Zionism is the only way out: patriotism, okay, but for one’s own land.” But as far as the fate of the Jews was concerned, he inclined toward hopelessness. In June 1932 Roth wrote to Zweig, “They mean to burn our books, and us along with them.”

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More about: Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, Joseph Roth, Nazism, Stefan Zweig, Vienna

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy