Visite nuestro sitio/Visit our home page:
VS ISAAC: A PHILOSOPHERS' CATFIGHT CHRISTOPHER BRAY
REVIEWER AND AUTHORA new book on Isaiah Berlin's run-ins with Isaac
Deutscher confirms what a bitch Berlin could be.O
11 JULY 2014
One evening in December 1966, the great American writer and critic Edmund Wilson had Sir Isaiah Berlin over for dinner.
And a good time they doubtless
had of it, but later that night Wilson recorded in his diary that he found
Berlin prone to 'violent, sometimes irrational prejudice against people'. On
the evening in question the object of Berlin's ire was the philosopher and
political theorist Hannah Arendt, whose book about the trial of the Nazi
officer Adolf Eichmann,Eichmann in Jerusalem, he excoriated without, Wilson
claimed, his ever having troubled to read it.
On that last point at least, Wilson seems to have been wrong. Granted the evidence marshalled in David Caute's Isaac & Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic, it is fair to conclude that Berlin had not only read Arendt's bestseller, but had also likely arranged for his close friend John Sparrow, then warden of All Souls College at Oxford, to give the book a kicking in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement. Since TLS reviews were printed without bylines back then, why didn't Berlin write about the book himself? Because, Caute argues, he had for some reason 'always avoided referring to Arendt in print'. Privately, though, he was happy to rubbish her work. A few years earlier, he had written Faber & Faber a report on Arendt's The Human Condition. It opened by telling them he 'could recommend no publisher to buy the UK rights of this book. There are two objections to it: it won't sell, and it is no good.'
Fans of Berlin's waspish wit will relish those last two clauses (invert them, as the logic of the sentence dictates, and the wit is gone), but did Arendt's most considered work really merit such a stinging rebuke? Did Eichmann in Jerusalem, whose insights into what its subtitle calls 'the banality of evil' are still potent, really deserve that TLS hatchet job? To be sure, subsequent research has disproven many of the book's claims about Eichmann himself. But half a century ago nobody save Eichmann was in a position to know that Arendt's belief that he was no more than a stupid, anonymous cog in the Nazi machinery was quite wrong.
Caute believes that the antipathy Berlin felt for Arendt was largely explicable by the fact of his fealty to Zionism and her belief that
nationalism was past its sell-by-date. But even though history proved Arendt wrong on this count, oughtn't the philosopher who made his name by arguing that incompatible values can all be valid have been less ready to take offence over the disagreement? Nationalists need not be nasty, but nor is everyone who longs for a better tomorrow willing to worsen the here and now in order to bring it on.
Previous page Next Page
|Read about our specially designed tours||Click here to know who we are||Customers Testimonials||Site map|
|News and Media||Prices||Directory of Synagogues|
|More info? Click here to send us an email||Related links||Other services|