Note — Jan 13, 2019

What Cafés Did for Liberalism

Review of a book on “how cafés created modern Jewish culture” but really, a good read for anyone interested in cafés, especially their seventeenth and eighteenth century incarnations. Closes with a good quote on the current laptop lined version.

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. […]

Pinsker, lovingly attentive to the habitués of his cafés, leaves the economics of the cafés quite shadowy. The rule, still in place in much of Europe, was that you need buy only a cup of coffee to occupy a seat indefinitely. Customer loyalty is the commercial principle here. […]

[Regarding hordes of laptop wielding workers.] Yet all those lonely and alienated Jewish writers were elsewhere, too—lost in books and newspapers, which were the true pastime of the café. What matters is not the words of the person at the next table but the feeling of nearness—the sense of being able to carve out an identity among other identities, of being potentially private in a public space and casually public even while lost in private reveries.