Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

January 30, 1981 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-01-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

64 Friday, January 30, 1981


Sir Isaiah Berlin's 'Personal Impressions' Portray
World's Leading Literary and Political Notables

Sir Isaiah Berlin has a
major role as historian,
literary critic, academician.
He was knighted in recogni-
tion of his masterful style
and his literary creations.
He retains recognition,
first acquired in England
and now attained on a world
scale, as a master biog-
rapher. He proves it again
in "Personal Impressions"
(Viking Press) in which he
masterfully describes the
roles of 13 personalities:
Winston .Churchill,
Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Chaim Weizmann, Lewis B.
Namier, Felix Frankfurter,
Richard Pares, Hubert
Henderson, J.L. Austin; ways lived in close contact
John Petrov Plamenatz, with the life of the Jewish
Maurice Bowra, Auberon masses, and his optimism
Herbert, Aldous Huxley, had its source in the belief
Albert Einstein and a group which they shared — that
of Russian writers.
their cause was just, their
Sir Isaiah Berlin sufferings could not last
authored many notewor- forever, that somewhere on
thy biographical earth a corner must exist, in
sketches. The one on which their claim to human
Chaim Weizmann in his rights — their deepest de-
new book portrays the sires and hopes — would
Zionist leader he had find satisfaction at last.
known for many years. In
"Neither he nor they
this essay he pays honor would accept the propo-
to a Zionist who was rec- sition that the mass of
ognized as a statesman, mankind could remain
as Berlin declares in the forever indifferent to the
cry for justice and equal-
"He was not a religiously ity even on the part of the
Orthodox Jew, but he lived weakest and most
the full life of a Jew. He had wretched minority on
no love for clericalism, but earth. Men must them-
he possessed an affectionate selves work and fight to
familiarity with every de- secure their basic rights.
tail of the rich, traditional This was the first pre-
life of the devout and obser- requisite.
vant Jewish communities,
"Then, if these claims
as it was lived in his child- were recognized as valid in
hood, in the villages and the great court of justice
small towns of eastern that was the public con-
science of mankind, they
"I cannot speak of his would, soon or late, obtain
religious beliefs; I can only their due. Neither force nor
testify to his profound cunning could help. Only
natural piety. I was present faith and work, founded on
on more than one occasion, real needs. 'Miracles do
towards the end of his life, happen,' he said to me once,
when he celebrated the `but one has to work very
Seder service of the hard for them.'
Passover with a moving
"He believed that he
dignity and nobility, like would succeed — he never
the Jewish patriarch that doubted it — because he-felt
he had become.
the pressure of millions be-
"In this sense he had al- hind him. He believed that
what so many desired so
passionately and so justifi-
ably could not for ever be
denied; that moral force, if it
was competently organized,
always defeated mere mate-
rial power.
"It was this serene and
absolute conviction that
made it possible for him to
create the strange illusion
among the statesmen of the
world that he was himself a
world statesman, represent-
ing a government in exile,
behind which stood a large,
coherent, powerful, articu-
late community. Nothing
was — in the literal sense —

less true, and both sides
knew it well. And yet both
sides behaved — negotiated
— as if it were true, as if
they were equals.
If he did not cause the
embarrassment that
suppliants so often
engender, it was because
he was very dignified,
and quite free.
"He could be very in-
timidating; he uttered, in
his day, some very memora-
ble insults. Ministers were
known to shrink nervously
from the mere prospect of an
approaching visit from this
formidable emissary of a
non-existent power, be-
cause they feared that the
interview might prove al-
together too much of a
moral experience: and that
no matter how well briefed
by their officials, they
would end, for reasons
which they themselves
could not subsequently ex-
plain or understand, by
making some crucial con-
cession to their inexorable
"But whatever the nature
of the extraordinary magic
that he exercised, the one
element signally absent
from it was pathos. Chaim
Weizmann was the first to-
tally free Jew of the modern
world, and the state of Israel
was constructed, whether or
not it knows it, in his image.
No man has ever had a com-
parable monument built to
him in his own lifetime."
Dr. Weizmann's confron-
tations with opponents in
the Zionist movement is
noted by Berlin. The per-
sonal analysis of the first
president of Israel is
analyzed by Berlin as fol-
"When biographers
come to consider his dis-
agreements with the
founder of the movement,
Theoddr Herzl, his duels
with Justice Louis Bran-
deis, and with the leader
of the extreme right-wing
Zionists, Vladimir
Jabotinsky; or, for that
matter, his differences
with such genuine sup-
porters of his own mod-
erate policies as (Nahum)
Sokolov, or (David)
Ben-Gurion, and many
lesser figures, they will—
they inevitably must —
ask how much of this was
due to personal ambition,
love of pdwer, under-
estimation of opponents,
impatient autocracy of
temper; and how much
was principle, devotion
to ideas, rational convic-
tion of what was right or
"When this question is
posed, I do not believe that it

will find any very clear an-
swer: perhaps no answer at
all. For in his case, as in that
of virtually every states-
man, personal motives were
inextricably connected with
— at the lowest — concep-
tions of political expediency
and, at the highest, a pure
and disinterested public
Berlin's "Personal Im-
pressions" pays honor to an
other eminent personality
of this century, the noted
historian Lewis B. Namier.
Namier is described by Be-
rlin as "one of the most dis-
tinguished historians of our
time, a man of fame and
influence. His achieve-
ments as an historian, still
more his decisive influence
on the English historical re-
search and writing, as well
as his extraordinary life,
deserve full and detailed
study." This is how the
noted historian Namier is
viewed by Berlin:
"He was a child of a pos-
itivistic, deflationary,
anti-romantic age, and his
deep natural romanticism
came out in other — politi-
cal directions. Dedicated
historian that he was, he de-
liberately confined himself
to his atomic data.
"He did indeed split up
and reduce his material
to tiny fragments, then he
reintegrated them with a
marvelous power of
imaginative generaliza-
tion ag great as that of
any other historian of his
time. He was not a narra-
tive historian, and unde-
restimated the impor-
tance and the influence of
"He admired individual
greatness, and despised
equality; mediocrity,
stupidity. He worshipped
political and personal lib-
erty. His attitude to eco-
nomic facts was at best am-
bivalent: and he was a very
half-hearted determinist in
his writing of history, what-
ever he may have said about
it in his theoretical essays.
"Materialism, excessive
determinism, were criti-
cisms leveled against him,
but they fit better those his-
torians who, using the
method without the genius,
tend towards pedantry and
timidity, where he was_
boldly constructive, intui-
tive and untrammelled." -
Berlin's view of Felix
Frankfurter is a mark of
recognition of the late
jurist's devotion to Zionism.
Frankfurter is to be noted in
this quotation from that
sketch in Berlin's book:
"That which has some-
times been taken for
snobbery in Felix
Frankfurter — a pro-
found possible misread-
ing of his character —
was, in fact, precisely
"His feeling for England
was subjected to strain dur-
ing the troubles in Pales-
tine: he was a stout-hearted
Zionist, and his conversa-
tions in Oxford on this topic
with Reginald Coupland —


the principal author of the
Royal Commission's report,
which to this day is the best
account of the Palestine
issue of its time — are still
"Coupland frequently
remarked that Frankfurter
had taught him more on this
subject than the officials in-
structed to brief him and
had doubtless made
enemies by the courage and
candor of his views."
If the reader were to judge
a single essay in the Isaiah
Berlin book as meriting
significance for the entire
collection it would be the
one on Albert Einstein. It is
a deeply moving story of a
genius and it also contains a
remarkable definition of
Zionism as elaborated upon
by Einstein. The Berlin
essay on Einstein draws
upon the scientist's experi-
ences as a Jew. It is em-
phasized in the following:
"But if the impact of
Einstein's scientific
thought on the general
ideas of his time is in
some doubt, there can be
none about the relevance
of his non-scientific
views to one of the most
positive political
phenomena of our time.
Einstein lent the prestige
mondial of his great
name, and in fact gave his
heart, to the movement
which created the state of
"Men and nations owe a
debt to those who help to
transform their realistic
self-image for the better. No
Zionist with the least de-
gree of self-esteem can re-
fuse to pay him homage if
the opportunity of doing so
is offered to 'him. Einstein's
support of the Zionist
movement and his interest
in the Hebrew University
were lifelong.
"He quarreled with
Weizmann more than once;
he was highly critical of the
Hebrew University and, in
particular,' of its first
president; he deplored the
shortcomings of Zionist pol-
icy towards the Arabs; but
he never abandoned his be-
lief in the central principles
of Zionism.
"If young people (or
others) today, whether Jews
or gentiles, who, like the
young Einstein, abhor
nationalism and sec-
tarianism and seek social
justice and believe in uni-
versal human values — if
such people wish to know

why he, a child of assimi-
lated Bavarian Jews, sup-
ported the return of the
Jews to Palestine, Zionism,
and the Jewish state, not
uncritically nor without the
anguish which any decent
and sensitive man cannot
but feel about acts done in
the name of his people
which seem to him wrong - -
unwise, but neverthel
steadily, to the end of his lite
— if they wish to under-
stand this, then they should
read his writings on the sub-
"With his- customary
lucidity and gift for
penetrating to the central
core of any issue,
whether in science or in.
life, Einstein said what _
' had to be said with
simplicity and truth. Let
me recall some of the
things he said and did,
and in particular the pa,
which led toward them.
"He was born in Ulm, the
child of irreligious parents.
He was educated in Munich,
where he seems to have
encountered no discrimina-
tion; if he reacted strongly
against his school and suf-
fered something approach-
ing a nervous breakdown,
this does not seem to have
been due to anti-Jewish
feeling. What he reacted
against was, perhaps, the
quasi-military discipline
and nationalist fervor of
German education in the



"He studied'intermit-
tently in Milan and Zurich,
taught in Zurich, obtained a
post in the Patent Office in
Bern, then held university
chairs in Prague and
Zurich, and in 1913 was
persuaded by Nernst and
Haber, as well as Planck,
whose reputations were
then at their peak, to accept
a research post in Berlin.
"I do not need to describe
the ' atmosphere of Prussia
on the eve of the First
World War. In a letter writ-
ten in 1929 to a German
minister of state, Einstein
said, 'When I came to Ger-
many 15 years ago (that is,
in 1914) I discovered for the
first time that I was a Jew. I
owed this discovery more to
gentiles than Jews.'
"Nevertheless, the influ-
ence of some early German
Zionists, in particular Kurt
Blumenfeld, the apostle to
the German Jews, played a
significant part in this —
and Einstein remained on
terms of warm friendship

(Continued on Page 5)

Back to Top

© 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan