The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Sociology against Zionism? The French Sociologist René Worms and the Société de Sociologie de Paris in 1920

Zionism before the WWII was largely rejected by the French Jewish community. Prominent Jewish intellectuals, such as Sylvain Lévi or the Reinach brothers, epitomized this rejection which was based on the Franco-judaïsme model of integration which denied any political dimension to the Jewish identity which was seen as a purely religious one.

Among this Jewish intellectual, a sociologist, René Worms, who competed with another Jewish sociologist, EmileDurkheim, in the development of academic sociology around 1900, took a very strong stance against Zionism. He was the founder of the first French scientific society dedicated to sociology, the Société de sociologie de Paris. During the debates organized by this society in 1920-21, he exposed his sociological opposition to Jewish nationalism while other participants discussed the case of Palestine and Zionism.

This communication will aim at showing how René Worms used sociological arguments of his time in order to contradict Zionist claims. After describing Worms intellectual and professional trajectory, we will analyze how sociology was understood by him as a weapon against Zionism. His sociological stance was based on a mix of racial science, positivist conception of religion and political sociology. Strongly influenced by biology and raciology, his first argument was to deny that there was a jewish race. A second sociological argument was founded on his sociological understanding of the evolution of modern religions influenced by Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim, while the third argument is based on Worms’ sociological theory of nationality. Our presentation will then shed light on a neglected dimension of the Jewish-French rejection of Zionism in the first half of the 20th century.