Berlin and Popper between nation and empire: diaspora, cosmopolitanism and Jewish life*

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I . . . begin with the strange fact that the State of Israel exists The Jews have enjoyed rather too much history and too little geography. And . . . Israel must be regarded as . . . historical redress for this anomalous situation.1 [L]ike other human beings, [Jews now] can make a free choice either ... to live as . . . normal member[s] of a natural community without having to worry about . . . identity. Or [to accept] a certain degree of spiritual discomfort [and] remain in the Diaspora.2

Living in an overwhelmingly Christian society imposed [on Jews] the obliga- tion to give as little offense as possible - to become assimilated.3 I opposed Zionism initially because I was against . . . nationalism, but I never expected the Zionists to become racists. It makes me feel ashamed in my origin: I feel responsible for the . . . Israeli nationalists.4

Isaiah Berlin (i 909-1 997) and Karl Popper (1 902-1 994), leading twentieth- century liberal thinkers, were European émigrés to Great Britain, prominent in transatlantic intellectual life after the Second World War. Among the gen- eration of Cold War liberals, who struggled to reconcile their international- ist and pro-Western commitments with their Jewish sympathies for Zionism

1 Isaiah Berlin, "The Origins of Israel" (1953), in his The Power of Ideas , ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton, NJ, 2000), 143.

2 Isaiah Berlin, "The Achievement of Zionism" (1975), in The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library,,accessed 3 june 2012.

3 Karl Popper, Draft of Autobiography , section 20 (later 21), Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Popper Collection (135, 1; henceforth Popper Archives). I used the corrected type- script (pp. 140-41) but retained phrases that appeared in the earlier holograph (21 pp). See also p. 142 of the slightly later version (137, 3).

4 Karl Popper, interview with the author, 26 Jan. 1984.

and Israel, Berlin and Popper represented polar positions on the Jewish Question - Diaspora Zionism versus anti-Zionist cosmopolitanism.5 In the aftermath of the Holocaust, both confronted the failure of Jewish emancipa- tion in the European nation state, and their responses to the Jewish predica- ment were formative for their liberalism. Popper rejected nationalism, envisioned a cosmopolitan empire and demanded Jewish assimilation. Berlin developed Diaspora Zionism and sought to pluralize the nation state to make room for a Jewish culture.

Berlin came to Great Britain in 192 1 as a youth from Latvia (and Russia) and Popper came in 1935 as a young philosopher from Austria in search of a job and then again in 1945, after a sojourn in New Zealand during the war. The two held professorships at Oxford and the London School of Economics (LSE), respectively, were knighted and received multiple public recogni- tions. Yet, neither rid themselves altogether of the alien's unease in British intellectual life. They had warm feelings for British political culture but their discomfort as outsiders gave rise to innovative liberal thinking that was designed, partly, to resolve Jewish dilemmas. Berlin sought to accentuate British political pluralism to

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