Between Zionism, Liberalism and Diaspora: The Case of Isaiah Berlin and Its Relevance to Contemporary Dilemmas | Congregation Beth Am

Between Zionism, Liberalism and Diaspora: The Case of Isaiah Berlin and Its Relevance to Contemporary Dilemmas

By Dr. Arie Dubnov on
May 7, 2017

Beth Am welcomee Guthaner lecturer Dr. Arie Dubnov, Associate Professor of History and Chair of Israel Studies, George Washington University and Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Haifa University in Israel.

This year’s Guthaner lecture gave us a fascinating opportunity to ponder contemporary debates over Zionism and anti-Zionism on the left by studying the life and thought of Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997), a prominent Russian-Jewish-British philosopher, political thinker and public intellectual. From an early stage of his career, Berlin was renowned for his wit and conversational brilliance, and as the first Jew to break barriers in the British academic world and win numerous prestigious academic prizes. His most famous essay, Two Concepts of Liberty (1958), is considered to this day a landmark text in political theory and part of the canon of 20th century liberalism. At the very same time, Berlin was an active supporter of Zionism and the State of Israel.

What role did Berlin’s Jewish identity play in his thought? How could Berlin support liberalism and Zionism simultaneously? How did he manage to navigate between the two poles, without contradicting himself philosophically and without being accused of dual loyalty? And how are Berlin’s dilemmas related to the predicaments of our own age?

Each year the Guthaner Fund makes possible outstanding cultural events for our Beth Am community, including musical programs, lecturers and scholars-in-residence.

Arie M. Dubnov is a Senior Lecturer at the School of History and the Department of General History at the University of Haifa, Israel and, starting January 2017, the inaugural Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies at the George Washington University. Dubnov is the author of Isaiah Berlin: The Journey of a Jewish Liberal (2012), and the editor of Zionism – A View from the Outside (2010 [in Hebrew]), seeking to put Zionist history in a larger comparative trajectory. In addition, he has published essays in journals such as Nations & Nationalism, Modern Intellectual History, History of European Ideas, and The Journal of Israeli History. His current research project seeks to trace the genealogy of the idea of partition in the British interwar Imperial context, and to uncover other alternative, neglected federalist political schemes that were circulating at the time.

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