In his last post, Daniel Gordis wrote about the dis­course sur­round­ing Israel as a con­flict of ideas about the nation-state. Daniel is blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

In my pre­vi­ous blog, I wrote that I hoped that The Promise of Israel might give new shape and direc­tion to the con­ver­sa­tion we’re all hav­ing about Zion­ism. That seems like a tall order for a book, I know. But we’ve become too cyn­i­cal about pow­er of books and ideas to change the world. The Promise of Israel prob­a­bly will not change the world; of that, I’m pret­ty sure. But books have done that in the past, and ideas are still for­mi­da­ble weapons. Our com­mu­ni­ty of writ­ers and read­ers ought to remem­ber that.

In an era of nuclear weapons that can destroy the plan­et sev­er­al times over, the notion that ideas are the most for­mi­da­ble weapon we have in our pos­ses­sion may sound strange. But it is true. Many of the world’s most impor­tant rev­o­lu­tions were spurred by a book or its cen­tral idea. Karl Marx wrote The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo in 1848; by 1905, Rus­sia was rocked by rev­o­lu­tions that peaked in 1917 and over­threw the Czar. Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote his Social Con­tract in 1762; the French Rev­o­lu­tion fol­lowed a mere twen­ty-sev­en years lat­er. John Locke wrote Two Trea­tis­es of Gov­ern­ment in 1690; less than a cen­tu­ry lat­er, the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion changed the course of mod­ern his­to­ry. Theodor Her­zl wrote The Jew­ish State in 1896, and fifty-two years lat­er, David Ben-Guri­on stood in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 and declared Israel’s inde­pen­dence. And all that those peo­ple did, essen­tial­ly, was to write books and dis­sem­i­nate ideas.

Ideas do mat­ter. They shape his­to­ry. It is ideas, even more than ter­ri­to­ry or mon­ey, over which peo­ple go to war. Wit­ness the con­flict between rad­i­cal Islam and the West­ern world today. That con­flict, one of the gravest dan­gers fac­ing our world, is real­ly about ideas. Islam­ic fun­da­men­tal­ists and ter­ror­ists do not seek the West’s wealth. What they are doing is attack­ing the West’s cul­ture and ideas.

Israel, I want­ed my book to argue, can be our way of fight­ing back. For Israel is not just about bor­ders or an army, great uni­ver­si­ties and world class med­ical care. It’s a sto­ry, and even more than that, Israel is the plat­form from which the Jew­ish Peo­ple says some­thing to the world about the ideas that we have been cul­ti­vat­ing for mil­len­nia.

Jews have nev­er bought into post-eth­nic, post-iden­ti­ty ethos so in vogue in today’s dis­course. We’ve always believed it was good that peo­ple were dif­fer­ent, that we could learn from each oth­er pre­cise­ly because we were not the same. Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in Émile, more than a cen­tu­ry before Theodor Her­zl began his cam­paign for a Jew­ish State, I will nev­er believe that I have heard what it is that the Jews have to say until they have a state of their own.” Well, now we have that state. Our respon­si­bil­i­ty, I think, is to make sure that we’re speak­ing not only about bor­ders and secu­ri­ty, but about the very ideas that lie at the core of Israel, and that hope­ful­ly, the world will come to under­stand that it needs to hear.

Check back on Fri­day for Daniel Gordiss final post for the Vis­it­ing Scribe.
Daniel Gordis is senior vice pres­i­dent and the Koret Dis­tin­guished Fel­low at Shalem Col­lege in Jerusalem, Israel’s first lib­er­al arts col­lege, and for­mer vice pres­i­dent of the Man­del Foun­da­tion. He writes reg­u­lar columns forThe Jerusalem Postand­Bloomberg View.Israelis his 11th book to pub­lish in English.