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How cafes developed Jewish culture – and modern democracy

TJI Pick
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Published: 28 December 2018

Last updated: 5 March 2024

ADAM GOPNIK: For Jews, with their constant habit of self-expression and their distant dream of self-government, the café was an especially inviting space.

SHACHAR PINSKER’S BOOK A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture might seem, at a glance, like one of those “Bagels of Our Fathers” books that a Leo Rosten could have written back when Jewishness, as a cultural subject, still struck Americans as fresh and mostly funny.

The cover shows an appealing pastel of a sunny, amazingly high-ceilinged and arch-filled café in Berlin—a lost Eden of conviviality and conversation. And the book itself is hugely entertaining and intimidatingly well researched, with scarcely a café in which a Jewish writer raised a cup of coffee from Warsaw to New York left undocumented. Yet it’s really a close empirical study of an abstract political theory.

The theory, associated with the eminent German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, is that the coffeehouses and salons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries helped lay the foundation for the liberal Enlightenment—a caffeinated pathway out of clan society into cosmopolitan society. Democracy was not made in the streets but among the saucers.

FULL STORY What cafés did for liberalism (New Yorker)

Photo: Café Central in Vienna, 1900 (Pinterest)

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