Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Moses Hess according to Isaiah Berlin

Oxford University is commemorating a hundred years since the birth of the philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin. For the occasion they publish recordings of his lectures from the 1950's on the podcast Isaiah Berlin Centenary (Oxford on iTunesU) (feed) I was glad to find this podcast with the help of Dara from DIY Scholar

I started my listening with a lecture from 1957, in which Berlin introduces the audience to the Socialist and Zionist Moses Hess (1812 - 1875). The initial part of the lecture describes how Hess comes to his early thoughts which were mark him in the future as one of the founders of socialism. Two things are striking at this point. One is the emphasis Berlin places on Hess's Jewish religious roots and the disdain he expresses for Hess's socialist thought. This unexpected start begins to make sense when Hess in a way very similar to Herzl, discovers how deep antisemitism roots and begins to embrace Judaism and develops his socialism into a Proto-Zionism. When Hess dies in 1875, Herzl is still a young adolescent.

Remarkable is also the firm accusation of antisemitism Berlin throws at Karl Marx. In Berlin's opinion, where Marx thought that the Jewish identity will dissolve in the international proletariat, this is all too similar to general nineteenth century thought that Jewish identity should dissolve in national identity. German Jews should be first Germans, just as the British Jews should be Britons. The antisemitism, apparently, is that it denies to Judaism the genuine culture of itself, as Hess assumed.
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