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Religions 2012, 3(2), 289-319; doi:10.3390/rel3020289
Article

What is Jewish (If Anything) about Isaiah Berlin’s Philosophy?

Received: 23 March 2012 / Revised: 28 March 2012 / Accepted: 31 March 2012 / Published: 13 April 2012
Download PDF [731 KB, 16 April 2012; original version 13 April 2012]

Abstract

This paper has two central aims: First, to reappraise Isaiah Berlin’s political thought in a historically contextualized way, and in particular: to pay attention to a central conceptual tensions which animates it between, on the one hand, his famous definition of liberalism as resting on a negative concept of liberty and, on the other, his defense of cultural nationalism in general and Zionism in particular. Second, to see what do we gain and what do we lose by dubbing his philosophy Jewish. The discussion will proceed as follows: after describing the conceptual tension (Section 1), I will examine Berlin’s discussion of nationalism and explain why comparisons between him and Hans Kohn as well as communitarian interpretations of him are incomplete and have limited merit. I will continue with a brief discussion of Berlin’s Jewishness and Zionism (Section 3) and explain why I define this position “Diaspora Zionism”. The two concluding sections will discuss Berlin’s place within a larger Cold War liberal discourse (Section 5) and why I find it problematic to see his political writings as part of a Jewish political tradition (Section 6).
Keywords: Berlin, Isaiah (1909–1997); Kohn, Hans (1891–1971); Namier, Lewis B. (1880–1960); Shklar, Judith N. (1928–1992); nationalism; communitarianism; Cold War liberalism; Jewish political tradition Berlin, Isaiah (1909–1997); Kohn, Hans (1891–1971); Namier, Lewis B. (1880–1960); Shklar, Judith N. (1928–1992); nationalism; communitarianism; Cold War liberalism; Jewish political tradition
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Dubnov, A.M. What is Jewish (If Anything) about Isaiah Berlin’s Philosophy? Religions 2012, 3, 289-319.

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