top of page
< Back

Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity

Sir Isaiah Berlin

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity* Sir ISAIAH BERLIN, C.B.E., MA., F.BA. I must begin by expressing my gratitude to this distinguished Society for being so large-minded as to have elected me President for the current year. This is a generous act, for I am not, and have never claimed to be, a historian, still less a historian of the Jews. This is why I have chosen a theme which, I hope, may be of some general interest, but which does not require me to display erudition which I do not possess, or the gifts of the historical researcher, with which I am not endowed. To offer you a learned historical discourse is beyond my capacities. It would be pure presumption for an amateur to seek to instruct an audience which has among its members so many professional social, political, and literary historians. But there is, of course, a larger sense in which all Jews who are at all conscious of their identity as Jews are steeped in history. They have longer memories, they are aware of a longer continuity as a community than any other which has survived. The bonds that unite them have proved stronger than the weapons of their persecutors and detractors; and stronger than a far more insidious weapon : the persuasions of their own brothers, fellow Jews who, at times, with much sincerity and skill try to argue that these bonds are not as strong or as peculiar as they seem, that the Jews are united by no more than a common religion, or common suffering, that their differences are greater than their similarities, and therefore that a more enlightened way of life?liberal, rationalist, socialist, communist ?will cause them to dissolve peacefully as a group into their social and national environ? ment?that at most their unity may come to be no greater than that of, say, Unitarians, Buddhists, vegetarians, or any other world? wide group, sharing certain common, not always too passionately held, convictions. If this * Presidential Address, delivered 15 November 1967. had been true, there would not have been enough vitality, not enough desire to live a common life, to have made colonisation of Palestine, and ultimately the State of Israel, possible. Whatever other factors may have entered into the unique amalgam which, if not always Jews themselves, at any rate the rest of the world instantly recognises as the Jewish people, historical consciousness?sense of con? tinuity with the past?is among the most powerful. The nineteenth-century Russian Revolu? tionary, Herzen, said of his own country that its strength lay not in history, of which it did not have a great deal, but in geography? the extent of its territory, barbarous but vast. The Jews could reasonably say that what they have lacked at all times is geography?enough soil to live on and develop?for of history they have had, if anything, more than enough. The late Lewis Namier once reported that upon being asked by a splendid English peer why he, a Jew, devoted himself to writing English history, and not Jewish history, he replied: 'Derby! There is no modern Jewish history. There is only a Jewish martyrology, and that is not amusing enough for me.' This was in character and no doubt was mainly intended to put the thoughtless peer in his place. But there is a certain truth in it. The annals of the Jews between the destruction of the Second Temple and comparatively recent times is indeed largely a story of persecution and martyrdom, weakness and heroism, an unbroken struggle against greater odds than any other human com? munity has ever had to contend with. Neverthe? less, from the point of view of the historian of the Jews, the task was rendered relatively easier by the fact that inasmuch as systematic and concerted persecution, mainly by Christians, but to some degree also by Moslems, drove the Jews into the confined spaces of ghettoes, Pales of Settlement, and the like, their communal 1</page><page sequence="2">2 Sir Isaiah Berlin history was made thereby only too painfully easy to identify, describe, and analyse. It certainly seemed to have been so in Europe at any rate until the eighteenth century. Indi? vidual Jews left their communities and lived among gentiles; sometimes they accepted baptism, at other times they secretly practised the whole or some part of their ancestral religion, or, like Spinoza, were open heretics, abjured by their own community, and treated with, at best, nervous respect by the larger society in which they lived, but with which they never became wholly identified. There were not many of these. Hence the question of who is and who is not a Jew in the ancient world or the Middle Ages, or during the Renaissance and its aftermath, is not a grave historical problem. If we are to attempt a rough periodisation of Jewish history, we could say that there are at least three main periods in it: (1) While they live in their own land, with colonies dispersed not very widely in Asia Minor or North Africa; (2) The Diaspora, where they live in insulated groups and where their fortunes, at least in theory, can, for this very reason, be followed without too much difficulty; (3) After emanci? pation. Here genuine difficulties for historians arise: what is, and what is not, Jewish history ? Who belongs to it, and who does not? The social, intellectual, and religious history of the Eastern communities clearly does. So does that of the Russo-Polish Pale of Settlement. But what are we to say of the Western Jews ? Is it possible to trace the history of their institutions as a community? In England, where their history is one of the most fortunate in this period, it is least dramatic and of least interest to those like Namier, who like colour and movement and the play of complex personalities and situations. Happy periods, as Hegel said, are blank pages in the volume of history. But now a problem arises: is the history of individuals of Jewish origin, or even the Jewish faith, also part and parcel of Jewish history? Most historians of the Jews mention such figures as, say, Joseph of Naxos, or Spinoza, when historians of Italy would scarcely count Cardinal Mazarin or Cardinal Alberoni or Marie de Medicis as figures in Italian history. This is rendered plausible because, until modern times, serious problems of identifica? tion scarcely arise: Plutarch is not faced with the question of whether he is a Greek or a Roman; Josephus is in no doubt about his identity; Spinoza does not ask himself whether he is or is not truly a Dutchman. The dis? solution of corporations by the European nation state and its claim to total allegiance altered this picture and led to conflicts of loyalty. This crisis began for the Jews later than for their neighbours; it became explicit when the gates of the ghettoes were opened, and Jews began, timidly at first, but then with growing confid? ence and success, to mingle with their fellow citizens of other faiths, and increasingly to share in their common life, both public and private. Where, in recent history, are we to draw the line between the history of the Jews as such and the history of the larger societies of which they happen to be members ? We are all familiar with those somewhat pathetic lists of contributions to general culture with which apologists for the Jews have sought to remind their detractors how much Christian civilisation owed them. Are the lives and the achievements of Heine, Felix Mendelssohn, Ricardo, part of the history of the Jews ? Or, if these are excluded on the ground of their baptism, what are we to say of?to take random examples from the last century?Lassalle, Meyerbeer, Pissarro, who were not baptised but had no special bonds with institutional Jewish life ? We do not speak of Francis Bacon or John Stuart Mill or Russell as Christian thinkers, however dissident; should we, nevertheless, look upon Husserl or Bergson or Freud as Jewish thinkers in some special sense ? This very question raises the ancient prob? lem, which has been brought home to us so directly now, as a result both of the most fearful genocide in history and the creation of a Jewish State?the problem, 'What is a Jew?' What is his relation to the rest of his society ? In what sense is it, and in what sense is it not, 'his' society? Are the differences between him and other members of it analogous to other, more familiar differences, which divide classes, professions, churches and other social groups,</page><page sequence="3">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 3 within what are normally regarded as single social wholes?states, nations, countries? This problem became particularly acute after the French Revolution for those who were released from the ancient prison house and were moving into the light of day, out of the confinement of the ghettoes?or what were so in name or in fact?of the Western world. The liberation had been relatively sudden: the problems of adjustment had not been prepared for. Some recoiled before the prospect of a strange, wider world, and preferred to linger in the shadows of the narrow but familiar place of ancient confinement. Others, the most eager, the most ambitious and most idealistic and optimistic, went towards the light with passionate hopes. Some successfully assimilated with their new brothers, changed their faith, or, at any rate, their habits, with evidently no great agony or expense of spirit, like the Jewish banker Gideon in eighteenth-century England whose name is all but forgotten today; like the economist, David Ricardo, or those emi? nent financiers and railway-builders, the Sephardic disciples of Saint-Simon. Others, for a variety of reasons, but often psychological causes?some unsurrendering quality in their temperament, sometimes against their con? scious wills, felt incapable of assimilation, incapable of the degree of accommodation which those who seek to alter their habits radically must achieve, and at times remained betwixt and between, unmoored from one bank without reaching the other, tantalised but incapable of yielding, complicated, somewhat tormented figures, floating in mid-stream, or, to change the metaphor, wandering in a no man's-land, liable to waves of self-pity, aggres? sive arrogance, exaggerated pride in those very attributes which divided them from their fellows; with alternating bouts of self-contempt and self-hatred, feeling themselves to be objects of scorn or antipathy to those very members of the new society by whom they most wished to be recognised and respected. This is a well known condition of men forced into an alien culture, by no means confined to the Jews; it is a well-known neurosis in an age of nationalism in which self-identification with a dominant group becomes supremely important, but, for some individuals, abnormally difficult. Anyone who reads the letters, for example, of Ferruccio Busoni, the half-Italian, half-German musician, will realise that his life was torn by such tensions. The late Mr. Hilaire Belloc's exaggerated violence of style and opinion is traceable to his insecure position in English society, something of which he was not unaware. There are a great many less-known figures who belong to what in the United States are called hyphenated groups,! recent immigrants not fully integrated into the new life of a foreign land. But the most vivid examples of this disease can be found among the most famous and gifted of all the wandering tribes of men?the Jews of the West who have lost the supporting framework of the rigorous discipline of their faith, and stood facing a new and by no means friendly world, marvel? lous but dangerous, in which any untoward step might be fatal, but the rewards were correspondingly great, where ignorance, anx? iety, ambition, danger, hope, fear, all fed the imagination. Over-anxiety to enter into a heritage not obviously one's own can be self defeating, lead to over-eager desire for immediate acceptance, hopes held out, then betrayed: to unrequited love, frustration, re? sentment, bitterness, although it also sharpens the perceptions, and, like the grit which rubs against an oyster, causes suffering from which pearls of genius sometimes spring. This was the fate of the first generation of gifted and ambitious Jews to seek admission to the outer world. Everyone knows the story of Ludwig B?rne and Heinrich Heine, 2 to whom their anomalous status became a kind of obsession. The more they insisted that they were Germans, true heirs of German culture, concerned only about German values, or at any rate about bringing the fruits of enlighten 1 Italian-American, Greek-American, etc. 2 Heine of course, identified himself with the Jew? ish community to a far greater extent than B?rne ever did at any rate before his baptism; but even after it in his alternating moods of mocking irony and sentimental attachment to the old religion, and in particular the Old Testament, he never severed himself spiritually from it, as other Jewish converts of his time did, for example, Stahl or Mendel? ssohn's daughters and their brother who changed into Bartholdy clearly did.</page><page sequence="4">4 Sir Isaiah Berlin merit to their compatriots, the less German they seemed to these same Germans. The search for security seems to those who are secure a symptom of abnormality, and often irritates them. Less temperamental and quieter personalities among the Jews slipped through the doors of the European world unperceived. Their children mingled peacefully and naturally with its inhabitants. The bolder spirits ham? mered upon the gates, attracted unwelcome attention, were admitted grudgingly, and never attained to complete ease in their new surround? ings. They resorted to various expedients in order to keep going, to triumph over their disabilities, to convince the others of their good faith, of their loyalty, of their genius, of their eligibility to the club. The more they protested, the more evidence they provided of the nature of the problem which they constituted and of the difficulties of any simple solution. It is about two cardinal representatives of this pe? culiar historical and psychological predicament that I should like to speak. I have chosen two men, both famous, influential, exceptionally gifted, to point my moral. They differ vastly from each other in obvious respects; yet they share in the particular qualities which I have touched upon, and were involved in a common situation. It was Herder, the German philosopher of history, who first drew wide attention to the proposition that among elementary human needs?as basic as those for food, shelter, security, procreation, communication?is the need to belong to a particular group, united by some common links?especially language, collective memories, continuous life upon the same soil, to which some added characteristics of which we have heard much in our time? race, blood, religion, a sense of common mission and the like. However greatly we may deplore the appalling consequences of the exaggeration or perversion of what in Herder was a peaceful and humanitarian doctrine, there can be no doubt that the world which succeeded the great French revolution in Europe was dominated by the principle of conscious cohesion, and the emergence of hitherto relatively suppressed groups? national, social, religious, political, and the like. In this age of the self-conscious solidarity of nations, of ethnic and linguistic minorities, of classes, parties, social orders, the question of what group a given individual belonged to, where he was naturally at home, became increasingly acute. The Jews were emancipated under the great banner of humanism, equality, toleration, internationalism, enlightened ideals in the name of which men rose against kings and priests, ignorance and privilege. Yet, as all students of history discover, the Revolution and the wars that followed unchained the aggressive forces of submerged nations, classes, movements, individuals. The Europe into which the victims of injustice and inequality were admitted was a world more and more dominated by the violent struggles of hitherto suppressed groups for liberty and self-determination, by national? ism, by ferocious competition for status, power, acquisition. The desire on the part of the most discriminated against minority in history to be integrated, to be at one with respected members of mankind, was naturally over? whelming. The great eighteenth-century apostle of secular education for the Jews, Moses Mendelssohn, had wished them to attain to the social and educational and cultural level of their neighbours: to be as others are. The fact that one of his sons and both his daughters became Christian is not altogether surprising; how much Christian doctrine they believed remains uncertain. What is clear is that they wished to be at one with the enviable part of humanity, the upper, civilised, liberated section of it. Cultural and political unity, national?so called?'organic' solidarity, these were among the watchwords of the day. To some of those who were outside this development, it seemed at times bathed in a golden light. It is a well-known psychological phenomenon that outsiders tend to idealise the land beyond the frontier on which their gaze is fixed. Those who are born in the solid security of a settled society, and remain full members of it, and look upon it as their natural home, tend to have a stronger sense of social reality: to see public life in reasonably just perspective, without the need to escape into political fantasy or romantic invention. This tendency to idealisation is most frequently found among those who</page><page sequence="5">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 5 belong to minorities which are to some degree excluded from participation in the central life of their community. They are liable to develop either exaggerated resentment of, or contempt for, the dominant majority, or else over intense admiration or indeed worship for it, or, at times, a combination of the two, which leads both to unusual insights and?born of over? wrought sensibilities?a neurotic distortion of the facts. This has often been noticed in the case of political leaders who come from outside the society that they lead or, at any rate, its edges, the outer marches of it. Napoleon's vision of France was not that of a Frenchman; Gambetta came from the southern border? lands, Stalin was a Georgian, Hitler an Austrian, Kipling came from India, De Valera is half-Irish, Rosenberg came from Estonia, Theodor Herzl and Jabotinsky, as well as Trotsky, from the assimilated edges of the Jewish world?all these were men of fiery vision, whether noble or degraded, idealistic or perverted, which had its origin in wounds inflicted upon their amour propre and upon their insulted national consciousness, because they lived near the borders of the nation, where the pressure of other societies, of foreign civilisations, was strongest. Professor Trevor Roper has justly remarked that the most fanatical nationalism comes from centres where nationalities and cultures mingle, where friction is sharpest, in, for example, Vienna? to which could be added the Baltic provinces which formed Herder, the independent Duchy of Savoy, in which de Maistre, the father of French chauvinism, was born and bred, or Lorraine, the birthplace of General de Gaulle. It is in these outlying provinces that the ideal vision of the people or the nation as it should be, as one sees it with the eyes of faith, whatever the actual facts, is generated and grows fervent. It is, therefore, not surprising to find this same process in the case of the newly emanci? pated members of a community which, being a minority everywhere, longed to identify itself with the majority, men who saw themselves in their daydreams as being recognised at last, granted equality and status, or, in the case of more passionate temperaments, as lifted from the status of liberated slaves to that of masters who determine the fate of others. But even if the imagination of such members of excluded groups did not reach this pitch of ardour, they looked for liberation from their anomalous, and often inferior, social status. This tended to take two forms: either conscious demands for equality or superiority, struggles for self-determination and independence on the part of submerged nations, for conquest and glory on the part of rising empires, for social or economic recognition or domination by militant classes, religious communities, churches, and other human groups. That was one form. The history of nationalism, of socialism, of clerical and anti-clerical move? ments, of imperialism, militarism, fascism, racial conflict and the like, is familiar enough to us today. But there is also another form of this craving for recognition: and that is an effort to escape from the weakness and humiliation of a depressed or wounded social group by identifying oneself with some other group or movement that is free from the defects of one's original condition: consisting in an attempt to acquire a new person? ality, and that which goes with it, a new set of clothing, a new set of values, habits, new armour which does not press upon the old wounds, on the old scars left by the chains one wore as a slave. That is indeed the point of armies, discipline, uniforms. Men who feel lost and defenceless in their original condition are transformed into brave and disciplined fighters when they are given a brand-new cause to fight for, especially one which can historically be connected with real or imaginary past glories. Irishmen, demoralised in conquered Ireland, fought magnificently in British or American armies. Bohemians, crushed by Austria, performed feats of valour in the Czech Legion. Theodor Herzl knew what he was about when he com? pelled his bewildered followers at the first Zionist Congress to wear the most formal possible dress in order to rise to the dignity and historical grandeur of the occasion?an occa? sion which was to lead to their spiritual and material metamorphosis from a collection of disorganised individuals into a national move? ment. Herzl's demand for ceremonial was regarded by the more doubting delegates from Eastern Europe, including Weizmann, with ill</page><page sequence="6">6 Sir Isaiah Berlin disguised irony and scepticism. Weizmann recognised his error in due course. To acquire a new persona, to shed the emblems of servitude and inferiority, and don the garments and badges, acquire the gestures and habits and style of life of free men?that was the natural craving of a good many members of hitherto oppressed groups standing on the threshold? so at any rate they hoped?of a new life of equality, dignity, and a career open to their hitherto frustrated talents. Such was the new hope given by Napoleon's victories to the Jews of the Rhineland, a great storm blowing down the ancient feudal restrictions, destroying ghettoes, raising their denizens to their full stature as human beings; a new beginning which Heine, who lived through it, half celebrated, half-derided, as he did everything. The winds of change, unleashed by events abroad, began to blow in England too. It is the psychological peculiarity of this situation that I should like to illustrate by the reactions of the two very dissimilar men, Benjamin Disraeli and Karl Marx. II At first the contrast between them must seem very sharp: the first a somewhat fantastic figure, an ambitious opportunist, a social and political adventurer, flamboyant, over-dressed, the epitome of dandyism and artificiality: rings on his gloved fingers, elaborate ringlets of hair falling about his pale, exotic features, with his fancy waistcoats, his rococo eloquence, his epigrams, his malice, his flattery, and his dazzling social and political gifts, admired but distrusted and by some feared and loathed, a Pied Piper leading a bemused collection of dukes, earls, solid country gentlemen, and burly farmers, one of the oddest and most fantastic phenomena of the entire nineteenth century. And on the other side, a grim and poverty stricken subversive pamphleteer, a bitter, lonely, and fanatical exile, hurling imprecations against the rich and the powerful, a remorseless plotter, preparing the doom of the accursed class of exploiters and enemies of the workers; a single-minded and solitary worker in the British Museum, who with his pen has caused a greater transformation in the world than heads of State and soldiers and men of action. And yet there is a certain parallel to which I should like to call attention. Their origins were not wholly dissimilar; neither came of celebrated ancestors. Disraeli's family appears to have come from Italy, and before that, if my eminent predecessor, Pro? fessor Cecil Roth, is allowed his plausible con? jecture, from the Levant. As for Karl Marx, his ancestors on both sides of his family were German, Hungarian, and Polish rabbis. His paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were both rabbis in his native city of Trier. Karl Marx's father was the son of the Rabbi Meier Halevy Marx, or Marx Levi. His brother, Karl's uncle, married the daughter of Moses Lwow. Moses Lwow's father, Heschel Lwow, was Rabbi of Trier in 1773, and was descended from rabbis in the Polish city of that name; other ancestors were rabbis in Padua, Cracow, and Mainz. Karl's earliest traceable ancestor migrated to Italy from Germany in the early fifteenth century. His maternal grandfather moved from Hungary to Holland, where he became a rabbi in Nijmegen. One daughter married Heschel Marx, Karl's father. The other married a banker named Philips, grandfather of the founder of the electrical firm which today has grown to world size. In both cases the families benefited socially from the oppor? tunities offered by the Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century. There is, too, a certain psychological similarity between the fathers of these greatly, though perhaps unequally, gifted men. Isaac d'lsraeli, who refused to enter the commercial career intended for him by his father Benjamin, was by all accounts a gentle and amiable minor man of letters, a bookish and unassuming compiler of entertaining miscellanies of anec? dotes and odd English literary bric-a-brac. He was a good-natured and unpretentious man, and it was by these characteristics rather than literary distinction that he won the patronage of eminent men of letters?Scott, Lockhart, Byron, Samuel Rogers, as well as the friendship of the publisher John Murray II, and became a welcome figure in the literary London society of his time. An affable host, almost a country</page><page sequence="7">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 7 gentleman,3 an enlightened Tory with a passion for Charles I, he was irritated by the reiterated demands that he perform administrative functions in the Sephardi Synagogue of London; he left it, and the Jewish community, easily. He seems to have been remote from any kind of passionate belief. If anything, he was probably something of an eighteenth-century deist, neither particularly pleased nor displeased at being born a Jew. He was an easygoing man, not bothered with spiritual problems? a state of mind which he shared with a great many of the liberal agnostics of his civilised age and milieu. His friend, Sharon Turner, persuaded him to baptise his children; he did this, as many similar persons have done since, in order to let them have an easier path in the world, unencumbered by burdens which, in any case, he saw no good reason to bear or make others carry. His son Benjamin was baptised in 1817. In this same year, Heschel Marx, Karl's father, was received into the Lutheran Church and baptised Heinrich. Like Isaac dTsraeli, the elder Marx came of an orthodox family?his father and brother were, after all, rabbis in Trier, but he too had been brought up on the works of anti-clerical writers, Voltaire and Rousseau. He was 34 or 35 when the restoration of Prussian rule in the Rhineland, after the defeat of Napoleon, placed a barrier to the em? ployment of Jews as lawyers. Since he wished to continue with his career, and had evidently long lost his Jewish faith, and probably looked on official Protestantism as not so very different from the vague deism of many of the founders of the Enlightenment, he too painlessly crossed the frontier, and baptised Karl and his other children in August 1824. Mild, respectful to authority, anxious to please, he wished to stand well with his fellow-citizens. He was devoted to Karl, worried by his headstrong character, eager that he should pursue a success? ful career and not irritate important persons. Kindly, tremulous, anxious to do what is right, he was a model Prussian citizen, as Isaac dTsraeli was a model British one. Both these gentle, middle-class fathers gave to the world sons driven on by an inner dynamism remote from their own constitution, passionate, im? perious, with fiery temperaments, unbending wills, and considerable contempt for most of the human beings by whom they were surrounded; determined to be and do something, and, in their very different ways, successful in this ambition. In both cases, bonds of affection united son to father. Benjamin Disraeli always spoke in the most touching terms of Isaac; Karl Marx all his life carried on him a picture of his father; he was never as intimate with anyone else, not even with Engels. The famous letter he wrote to his father in November 1837, when he was nineteen years old, is the most complete, indeed the only, self-disclosure that we have of him. Both looked on their mothers with relative indifference. What this shows about either I must leave to psychologists to consider. Profoundly as Marx and Disraeli differed in outlook as well as circumstances and tempera? ment, they did evidently have something in common: above all, both were filled with a passionate desire to dominate their society. Marx wished to alter it, Disraeli to be accepted by it and lead it. Both wrote extravagant, romantic fantasies in their youth; both, each in his own fashion, turned against the milieu into which they had been born; both discovered the proletariat as its victim: Marx saw it as the carrier of revolution; Disraeli as an object of concern to the landed classes and their ally against the bourgeoisie.4 As for Christian doctrine, it was rejected by Marx quite early in life, by the time he was a university student. It meant a good deal to Disraeli. He was not in the least cynical about religion in general, nor about Christianity in particular. All his life he seems to have believed in a quasi-mystical, somewhat literary Chris? tianity of his own, a religion deeply tinged by a sense of historical continuity and a faith sancti? fied by tradition which Burke and Coleridge had done much to reinvigorate. In spite of this he was, of course, thought of as a Jew by almost everyone, and more or less thought of himself 3 M. Maurois in his biography of Benjamin Disraeli seems to me to make too much of this. His book reveals more about the author than about the subject. B 4 I owe this point to Mr. Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister of Israel.</page><page sequence="8">8 Sir Isaiah Berlin as one at all times. He was no more like an average Englishman in appearance or bearing than Marx was like an average German. Both were outsiders, both took steps to rid themselves of the disadvantages of their origins; Disraeli took one path, Marx another. Disraeli's position was thoroughly ambiva? lent. He was not in any ordinary sense an Englishman, that was clear; what, then, was he ? Others did not need to answer this question. To them he was an odd, anomalous being, an object of admiration or disdain, envy or ridicule, found irresistibly attractive or vul? garly exhibitionistic, the 'Jew d'esprit', as he was known in certain London circles in the earlier part of the century. But to himself he was a problem. If he was to be effective?and he made no secret of the intense ambition that drove him on?he must find his place in a deeply class-ridden and, despite the rapid social trans? formation produced by the Industrial Revolu? tion, still very hierarchical English society. What was he? What interest, class, social structure, did he represent ? He could float on as an amus? ing and exotic literary dilettante?the author of Vivian Grey, a roman a clef, a sparkling and iron? ical account of the London society of his time. He began as an outsider, a forerunner of Oscar Wilde, Proust, Evelyn Waugh, fascinated by the aristocracy, half in love with it, half mocking it, an amusing young satirist, the inventor of the political novel, a brilliant talker and diner out, thought something of a bounder by men, and found attractive by women?in that easy world he could continue without identifying himself with any particular segment of society, a cool observer from the outside, whose sense of perspective came from his very distance from the material of his art. But this was not enough for him. He wanted power, and he wanted recognition by those on the inside, as one of them, at least as an equal if not as a superior. Hence the psychological need to establish an identity for himself, for which he would secure recognition, an identity that would enable him to develop his gifts freely, to their utmost extent. And in due course he did create a personality for himself, at least in his own imagination. He saw before him a society of aristocrats, free, arrogant, and power ful, which, however sharply he may have seen through them, he nevertheless viewed with bemused eyes as a rich and marvellous world. His novels make this very clear. A man may not be sincere in his political speeches or his letters, but his works of art are himself and tell one where his true values lie. He did not set himself to conquer this world solely because it was politically important. Perhaps the new order of manufacturers and technicians, the still rising middle class which was creating the wealth of England, was, as he well knew, more important in terms of present and future power. But Disraeli was hopelessly fascinated by the aristocracy as a class and a principle. It was by it that he wished to be recognised, it that he admired, and it that he wished to govern the universe; he describes it with the most loving devotion, even at his most malicious and ironical. Disraeli was always drawn to the non rational sides of life. He was a genuine romantic, not merely in the extravagance and flamboyance of his works, the poses that he struck, and the many vanities of his private and political life? these could be regarded as relatively superficial. He was a romantic in a deeper sense, in that he believed that the true forces that governed the lives of individuals and societies were not intelligible to analytical reason, not codifiable by any kind of systematic, scientific investi? gation, but were unique, mysterious, dark and impalpable, beyond the reach of reason. He believed deeply in the vast influence of superior individuals?men of genius lifted high over the head of the mob?masters of the destinies of nations. He believed in heroes no less than his detractor Carlyle. He despised equality, mediocrity, and the common man. He saw history as the story of conspiracies by men of hidden power everywhere, and delighted in the thought. Utilitarianism, sober observation, experiment, mathematical reasoning, rational? ism, common sense, the astonishing achieve? ments and constructions of scientific reason? the true glory of humanity since the seventeenth century?these were almost nothing to him. His contempt for Bentham or Mill was not stimulated by the mere fact that he was con? servative and they were not; it was rooted in his particular vision which made their values seem</page><page sequence="9">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 9 to him dreary and vulgar, as, say, Bertrand Russell's values appeared to T. S. Eliot (another 'alien' Tory). He was passionately convinced that intuition and imagination were vastly superior to reason and method. He believed in temperament, blood, race, the unaccountable leaps of genius. He was an anti-rationalist through and through. Art, love, passion, the mystical elements of religion, meant more to him than railways or the transforming discover? ies of the natural sciences, or the industrial might of England, or social improvement, or any truth obtained by measurement, statistics, deduction. A man of this outlook, which re? mained unaltered from the beginning to the end of his days, could not but be dazzled by the aristocracy, as Balzac, or Wilde, or Proust were, as many a sensitive, imaginative, inferiority ridden boy of plebeian or middle-class origin must have been, when he came into contact with what seemed, and perhaps was, a freer, gayer, more confident world. Given these characteristics, and an over? whelming desire to enter this exhilarating society and play a great part in it, Disraeli gave free rein to his fantasy, not indeed consciously, but all the more passionately. He came to see himself lifted high above the milling multitude?the middle and lower classes, the masses of men of limited vision; for he was not of them, he was a brilliant high-born figure. How could this be? It was, it must be so, because he was a member of an elite, an ancient race which had given the world its most precious possessions?religion, laws, social institutions, its sacred books, and finally its Divine Saviour, who completed the work of the great lawgiver Moses, his own family being among the noblest and proudest of this ancient race. The race was indeed ancient; as for his ancestors, in 1849, in his edition of his father's works, Disraeli told his readers this: My grandfather was an Italian descendant of one of those Hebrew families whom the Inquisition forced to emigrate from the Spanish Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century, and who found refuge in the more tolerant territories of the Venetian Republic. His ancestors had dropped their Gothic surname . . . and grateful to the God of Jacob who had sustained them through unprecedented trials, and guarded them through unheard-of perils, they assumed the name of Disraeli, a name never borne before or since by any other family, in order that their race might be for ever recognized. Undisturbed and unmolested, they flourished as merchants for more than two hundred years under the protection of the Lion of St. Mark. And so on. There is no word of truth in this. My distinguished predecessors, Mr. Lucien Wolf and Professor Cecil Roth, have torn it all to shreds, and Mr. Robert Blake in his recently published admirable biography accepts their findings. It is probably all pure fiction. There is no evidence that Disraeli's family came from Spain, nor that they had settled in Venice; his grandfather came to England from the Papal States, from Cento, near Ferrara, and two poor relatives of his did live in the Venetian ghetto in his own lifetime, but that is all. There are no records of any earlier d'lsraelis in Spain or Venice. Nor was the well-known De Lara family, with whom he claimed kinship, related to him; and so, I am afraid, it goes on. But he evidently persuaded himself of all this, and this belief buoyed him up. The reality was too embarrassing: he needed a role to act, otherwise he could not perform. He was the most brilliant performer of his age, and if he had not half believed in the reality of his own invention he could scarcely have mounted the public stage. It was as a fellow-aristocrat that he led the dukes and the baronets against the manufacturers and the Benthamites. His opponents, and many a later observer, thought him no better than a cunning and cynical impostor. Yet this cannot possibly be anywhere near the whole truth. Certainly he invented; but he was, as happens with imaginative men, largely taken in by his own inventions. His achievement and his ascendancy are not intelligible without this. He was an actor, and he became one with his act: the mask became one with his features: second nature replaced first?otherwise the gestures would have been too hollow, and in the end would have deceived no one. Yet, despite all the artifice and rhetoric and exotic airs, he</page><page sequence="10">10 Sir Isaiah Berlin carried conviction. He did so because he had convinced himself: his ideas, his political ideals, his religious views may have struck some both then and later as tawdry, theatrical, or even wicked; but they were not sham. Disraeli was an adventurer and an exhibitionist, but he was not, in politics or religion, either a cynic or a hypocrite. There is a puzzle here. Even if the Tory party, after it was split by Peel over the repeal of the Corn Laws, needed a clever man to restore its fortunes, since it was not too well endowed with able men itself ('The Conserva? tive party is the stupid man's party', said John. Stuart Mill. 'I do not mean that all Conserva? tives are stupid, only that all stupid men are Conservatives'), and even if the country squires and the dukes, and even the burly farmers, thought that they needed this oriental-looking spellbinder to save them from follies and blunders, yet the fact that he became their undisputed leader, that he achieved this astonishing symbiosis with men so utterly different from himself, with men who suffered from every possible prejudice against all that he was and stood for, cannot be explained unless he truly believed himself called upon to be the champion of their cause, genuinely believed in their attributes, idealised them as something far superior to qualities and interests represented by the Whigs and the Radicals with whom he had begun life. More than this. The most intimate political associates of his middle years were those members of Young England who believed profoundly in an organic national society, in the duties of aristocratic landowners to their dependants, in the restoration of a Christian neo-feudal order, young men with a horror of industrial? ism and a desire to restore the broken texture of faith and community, a sense of social dedication, a spirit of loyalty and duty directed against the bleak individualism and self-interest of the manufacturers and shopkeepers and the market society which Carlyle and Ruskin, Kingsley and William Morris denounced with equal fury, despite all their profound differ? ences. How could these deeply earnest, deeply Christian, sensitive, fastidious young noblemen, how could they, of all people, not only accept as one of themselves but faithfully follow as their leader a clever Levantine manipulator, a kind of hired mercenary condottierey without principles or ideals, the kind of soulless leprechaun that Disraeli had from time to time been represented as being by unsympathetic biographers and historians ? It is as a diabolical figure, false through and through, a deadly opponent of all that was right and good that Gladstone, for instance, or the Duke of Argyll, saw him. This is the viper whom Lord John Manners and Lord George Bentinck pressed to their bosom; whom, despite their parents' warnings, these young Tory lords followed and never repented of their allegiance. But there is no need to be too deeply puzzled by this fact. Disraeli's novels afford all the evidence needed to show that his faith in aristocracy, in race, in genius, his hatred of industrial exploitation, his belief in blood and soil (before these words had become degraded by the use made of them by insane German nationalists), his adoring devotion to history, the land, the continuity that breeds distinction, to ancient institutions? however irrational, fanciful, reactionary all this may have been?were, at any rate, genuine. This was the material out of which his own historical, or pseudo-historical, imagination constructed the personality with which he faced England and the world. Unlike some of the assimilated Jews of his time, baptised and unbaptised, he did no violence to what he felt to be true of himself. No one can fail to notice that he boasted of his Jewish origins almost too insistently, and mentioned them in and out of season at some risk to his political career, and this despite his eccentric but genuine Christian? ity. No doubt the fact that he was born a Jew offered an obstacle to his career: he overcame it by inflating it into a tremendous claim to noble birth. He needed to do this in order to feel that he was dealing on equal terms with the leaders of his family's adopted country, which he so profoundly venerated. Hence the extra? ordinary fantasies in his novels. It is plain that at school he was, or came near to being, mocked and persecuted. The famous passage in his early novel, Vivian Grey, in which the usher at school speaks of the hero, namely himself, as a 'seditious stranger' (he</page><page sequence="11">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 11 made no secret that his novels were largely autobiographical) gives us the key. And again: 'They were called my brothers, but nature gave the lie to the reiterated assertion. There was no similitude between us. Their blue eyes, their flaxen hair, their white visages, claimed no kindred with my Venetian countenance. Wherever I moved, I looked around me and it beheld a race different from myself. There was no sympathy between my frame and the rigid clime whither I have been brought to live'. This is a passage from Contarini Fleming and it tells its own tale. How was he to get even with these people? Why, by asserting, and over asserting, his true origin. Who were these people who set themselves up above him? In Vivian Grey they are described as 'A troop of Norman knights, whose fathers were wreckers, Baltic pirates'. 'Was then this mixed population of Saxons and Normans, among whom he had first seen the light, of purer blood than he ? Oh no, he was descended in a direct line from one of the oldest races in the world, from that rigidly separate and unmixed Bedouin race who had developed a high civilization at a time when the inhabitants of England were going half-naked and eating acorns in their woods'. He goes on to declare that he was of pure blood, and yet, strange to say, they regarded his race as of lower caste, and neverthe? less they had adopted most of the laws, and many of the customs, which constituted the peculiarity of this caste in their 'Arabian' home. They had appropriated all the religion and all the literature of his fathers. The heritage of the Jews was the basis of all subsequent civilised society. They revered the literature, the Sab? bath, the sacred history of the Jewish people, its hymns, laments and praises, finally, 'the son of a Jewish woman as their God'. 'Yet, nevertheless, they excluded with disdain from their society and their parliament, as if they were the off-scourings of the earth, the race to which they owed their festivals, their psalms, their semi-civilization, their religion and their God. He racked his brains'. I need not remind you of all the passages quoted by Disraeli's many biographers, par? ticularly by the Jews among them, of all those lyrical outbursts in which he speaks of the ancient Hebrews and of the Jews in general. In his early fantasy. The Wondrous Tale of Alroy, the hero restores the Jews to their ancient land, conquers the whole of Asia Minor, and finally perishes in glorious fashion. In Coningsby, the mysterious and omnipotent figure of Sidonia, benevolent, powerful, all but omniscient, is a representative of the 'pure Asian breed' that makes Jews and Arabs cousins, and causes Disraeli to describe the Arabs as merely 'Jews on horseback'. Sidonia explains that the Jews have triumphed over time and persecution because of their 'Caucasian blood' and the wise laws that segregate them from lower races. He compares them favourably with 'some flat-nosed Frank, full of bustle, and puffed-up with self-conceit (a race, spawned perhaps in the morasses of some northern forest, hardly yet cleared)'. There is the strange vision of the feverish Lothair. There is the epiphany in Tonered when 'The Angel of Arabia' addresses the hero in Palestine in mys? tical phrases. This novel, Disraeli's favourite, is more than any of his other works penetrated by the notion that all that is Eastern is good, noble, fine, destined to triumph. This is not Jewish nationalism in any simple sense. To suppose that Disraeli was a Zionist is anach? ronistic and not plausible.5 The Eastern melodies were called into being in response to the need to construct a persona, an inner image of himself with which he could establish for himself a place in the world, and play a part in history and in society. That is what is meant by the search for iden? tity contained in the title of this lecture. As the son of a minor litterateur, an Italianate stranger, who clearly did not belong to any of the normal social groups which composed British political society in the nineteenth cen? tury, he could not easily make his way without some decisive act of psychological self-trans? formation, if he was not to be consumed by the painful consciousness that he was out of place, did not belong, was a foreign body, 5 The story of the Austrian journalist Ghlumiecki that Disraeli was the author of a Zionist tract which only Bismarck persuaded him not to place before the Congress of Berlin does not seem, to say the least, plausible enough to deserve closer scrutiny.</page><page sequence="12">12 Sir Isaiah Berlin stared at and dismissed as a mountebank, Carlyle's 'superlative Hebrew juggler', a foreign adventurer of whom E. T. Raymond declared that 'his heart was not that of an Englishman'. He was, therefore, driven to invent a role for himself, to find a desirable class of persons with whom he could worthily identify himself. This was accomplished by a mysterious, unconscious sleight of mind. 'The influence of a great race will be felt.' Hence 'it is impossible to destroy the Jews'. All Jews were aristocrats: their peers were the ancient landed gentry who were being done down, defeated and destroyed by ill-bred upstarts, Burke's utilitarian sophisters, econo? mists and calculators, heartless industrial exploiters who were destroying the bodies and souls of their fellow-men in mines and factories, vulgarians unaware of history, men who did not know what their feet were trampling, atheists, utilitarians, Manchester individualists, materialists remote from all spiritual values, from the sacred mystery of being, blind leaders of the blind, dead to the spiritual bonds that united men to each other and to God. This fantasy was fed by his luxuriant imagination and, growing round the older doctrine derived from the Anglican tradition, Burke and the romantics, became one of the roots of that mystique which is still at the heart of what remains of English Conservative thought. In the course of developing this splendid vision, Disraeli invested the British Empire, and in particular its Oriental possessions, India and the dominion over Egypt still to come, with the same opulent imagination that was intrinsically so foreign to ordinary empiri? cal, cautious British thought. The combination of this richly coloured fantasy with more traditional strains affected British political thought, and shaped it for many fateful decades. When Disraeli presided over the elevation of Queen Victoria to the throne of the Empress of India, and all that went with it, the gorgeous trappings of Empire, the elephants and the Durbars, and all those Eastern splendours which had succeeded the realistic, hard-headed rule of the East India Company and inspired the vast and occasionally hollow periods of later imperialist rhetoric, it is difficult to resist the impression that something of this stems from Disraeli's genuine Orientalism. There is, after all, none of it in Dutch or French or Spanish or Portuguese imperialism? nor are any native British roots perceptible. So, too, Disraeli's relationship to the Queen, those enormous compliments, which seemed so shameless to his rivals, were a natural expression of this vision. Doubtless there was a good dose of irony, not to say cynicism, in his courtship of the Queen. But it sprang no less from the craving for splendour and glory with which hard-headed, shrewd, even ruth? less personalities?even Victoria herself?need to comfort themselves to compensate for the hollow qualities of public life. Like all those whose lives are in part a fantasy, yet not wholly cut off from reality, Disraeli knew that some of this was make-believe, that David Alroy, as he once said, was not to be taken too seriously, for it was but a legend. Yet it also penetrated his being. His vision of his relationship to Queen Victoria was an imaginative creation in which he believed, even while he was aware of the element of sheer invention. He did half genuinely see Victoria as a great Empress and himself as her Vizier; she was Semiramis and Titania, Empress of the East and Queen of the Fairies. His own rise must have seemed incredible and marvellous to him; when he played his part in the pantomime, he was transported by it; his mockery of it did not make it unreal to him; it is like the jokes that believers make about their own faith. If he did not at least half-believe in the world he conjured up, he could scarcely have carried it all through. The hypnotist half-hypnotised himself. If this is not recognised, his whole career is not intelligible. It is not enough, as some of his biographers are apt to do, to describe his outer gestures; the inner dynamism must be grasped, and this is bound up with the identity that he invented for himself, that seemed gimcrack and false to the Gladstonian Duke of Argyle, whom Dr. Cecil Roth quotes as saying of Disraeli, 'Having as a Jew no opinions of his own, and no tradi? tions with which to break, he was free to play with prejudices that he did not share, and to express passions which were not his own,</page><page sequence="13">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 13 except insofar as they were tinged with personal resentment'. This seems to me a false diagnosis: Disraeli may not have shared the prejudices, but the passions had indeed been made his own; if he had no relevant traditions of his own, he constructed them, and in the end believed in them, lived by them. Of course any life founded on as much Byronic fantasy as Disraeli's is bound to seem 'deceitful', 'politic? ally dishonest', immoral and cynical, to high minded and unsympathetic observers. But when Disraeli says, as he does in Tancred, 'an unmixed race, with an organization of the first class, is a true aristocracy of nature', he clearly believes this. His advocacy of race, nationality, tradition, his distaste for liberal cosmopolitanism, and so, too, for atheism, rationalism, free trade, is the genuine faith he lives by. The only way in which he could avoid what was irregular in his own position was by clothing himself in the play of a transforming fancy. 'How limited is human reason', he exclaimed, 'the profound est en? quirers are most conscious. We are not in? debted to the reason of man for any of the great achievements which are the landmarks of human action and human progress. It was not reason that sent for the Saracen from the desert to conquer the world, that inspired the Crusades, that instituted the monastic orders; it was not reason that produced the Jesuits; above all, it was not reason that created the French Revolution. Man is only truly great when he acts from the passions; never irresis? tible but when he appeals to the imagination. Even Mormon counts more votaries than Bentham'. This comes from Coningsby. 'Mor? mon counts more votaries than Bentham'. This is certainly an irrationalist creed. It is this that enabled him to say (I quote from Dr. Roth's biography), T am not disposed for a moment to admit that my pedigree is not as good as, and even superior to, that of the Cavendishes', a remark he made during the election of 1847; and again, 'Fancy calling a fellow an adven? turer when his ancestors were probably on intimate terms with the Queen of Sheba'. His religious feeling, without which his in? volvement with Tory England is inexplicable, springs from the same source: when in the lecture at Oxford he said against Darwin and Huxley that he was on the side not of the apes but of the angels, I feel sure that this was more than a bon mot. It was typical of him: amusing, ironical, not intended to be taken seriously, and yet his deepest belief. There are those who can only bear to say what they most deeply feel in language purged of all solemnity. This sort of flippant irony may be defensive, but it is not therefore frivolous or superficial. Unable to function in his proper person, as a man of dubious pedigree in a highly class conscious society, Disraeli invented a splendid fairy tale, bound its spell upon the mind of England, and thereby influenced men and events to a considerable degree. Instead of ignor? ing or concealing his origins, which must have irked him when he was a schoolboy, and which were constantly cast in his face by his enemies (including Gladstone, who spoke of his fanati? cism in the Jewish cause and called him a crypto-Jew), he went too far. He harps on it, exaggerates its importance, introduces it irrelevantly in his novels, and inserts a long excursus on the Jews in his life of Lord George Bentinck, which, he himself admits, has little to do with Bentinck's acts or opinions: after a lengthy refutation of the doctrine that the Jewish dispersion is a punishment for deicide, as being both theologically and historically un? sound, he goes on apropos of nothing in particular: 'the toiling multitude rest every seventh day, by virtue of Jewish law; they are perpetually reading, for their example, the records of Jewish history, and singing the odes of Jewish poets; and daily acknowledge on their knees with reverent gratitude that the only medium between the Creator and them? selves is the Jewish race. Yet they treat that race as the vilest of generations', as they did 'the Attic race' before the restoration of Greece as a modern state. Such excursuses may crop up anywhere in his works. The idea of Jews grows obsessive: the world is for him populated with imaginary Jews: not only the all-powerful, slightly sinister Sidonia, and the bizarre figures in Tancred, but a host of strange and surprising figures, early Jesuits and German professors, Russian diplomatists, Italian composers and prima donnas?all are</page><page sequence="14">14 Sir Isaiah Berlin Jews: they pull all the strings, they dominate all countries, 'All is race?there is no other truth', says Sidonia, 'All is race?progress and reaction are but words to mystify the millions', he says elsewhere, and the Jews are the quintessence of race. He was possessed by the idea of race, and, indeed, by that of his own origins. He denounced the 'pernicious doctrine of the natural equality of man', of cosmopolitanism, of mingling with 'inferior' races. Not socialism or internationalism but 'religion, property, natural aristocracy'?these are 'the Jewish bias'. Jews do become revolutionaries, as in 1848, but only because of wounds inflicted on them by 'ungrateful Christendom'. All is race. In the Life of Bentinck he declares that 'the political equality of a particular race is a matter of municipal arrangement, and depends entirely on political considerations and circumstances, but the natural equality of man, now in vogue, and taking the form of a cosmopolitan fraternity, is a principle that, were it possible to act on it, would deteriorate the great races and destroy all the genius of the world'. If the 'great Anglo Saxon republic' allowed itself to 'mingle with their negro and coloured populations' they would decline and 'probably' be reconquered by the very 'aborigines whom they have expelled and who would then be their superiors'. But this will not be: 'It is in vain for men to attempt to baffle the inexorable law of nature which has decreed that a superior race shall never be destroyed or absorbed by an inferior'. That is why the Jews have survived: for 'none but one of the great races could have survived the trials which it has endured'. The basis of Disraeli's claims on behalf of the Jews is their 'Arabian' faith and the glories of their sacred history. It is arguable that such an argument could not have originated in, or been addressed to, any society less given to veneration of the past or intimate knowledge of Biblical texts, than that of Victorian England (and Scotland). The nationalist doctrines of Arndt, Gobineau, Danilevsky, and H. S. Chamberlain, with their racist or biological fantasies, spring from very different traditions. Disraeli was one of the most troubled and most gifted of these 'alien? ated' men, whose problems today worry politicians, sociologists, educators, psycholo gists and all those who are concerned with the disintegrating effects of centralisation and industrialism. Of all the uprooted individuals and groups whom the nineteenth century generated, the Jews were, perhaps, the most striking and tragic example. It became clear that some way out of their dilemmas would have to be found, if they were not to be driven out of their minds, or drive others out of theirs. Assimilation, Socialism, nationalism, re? doubled efforts to preserve the ancient Jewish faith in all its rigour and purity, all these solutions have been proffered. The life of Benjamin Disraeli, the least Victorian of the Victorian age, a man out of his proper element, yet subduing it by sheer power of will and imagi? nation, is one of the most vivid illustrations of a desperate search for a set of operative ideas, a plan of action, but above all, for a group loyalty, a regiment with which he could identify himself, in whose name he could speak and act, because he could not face the awful pros? pect of speaking in his own?indeed, he could not be certain that, if he tried to find what was his own, he would find an answer. The very doubt was unbearable. If the answer could not be found, it would have to be invented. Disraeli's conceptions of England, Europe, Jews, himself were bold romantic fantasies. 'When I want to read a book', he once declared, T write one'. His entire life was a sustained attempt to live a fiction, and to cast its spell over the minds of others. Ill I shall not dwell at length on Disraeli's dia? metrical opposite, Karl Marx, whose case is better known. Karl Marx, as we all know, took a path directly contrary to that of Disraeli. So far from spurning reason, he wished to apply it to human affairs. He believed himself to be a scientist, Engels saw him as the Darwin of the social sciences. He wished to perform a rational analysis of what caused social develop? ment to occur as it did, why human beings had hitherto largely failed, and why they could and would in the future succeed in attaining to peace, harmony, co-operation, and above all, the self-understanding which is a prerequisite of</page><page sequence="15">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 15 rational self-direction. This was remote from Disraeli's mode of thought; indeed it was what he most deeply abhorred. Yet there is some? thing analogous about their social environ? ment. Marx was directly descended from two long generations of rabbis. His father belonged, as Disraeli's did, to the first generation of eman? cipated Jews: both were mild conformists against whom their sons seemed to react violently, even while they retained affection for them, if no deep respect. Since Marx was baptised, he did not suffer from the disabilities of the Jews in Germany. But he was subject to antisemitic gibes from fellow socialists and radicals during the greater part of his life?he was taunted on this account by the Russian anarchist Bakunin, and he could scarcely have been unaware of Proudhon's violent hatred of the Jews, nor of the similar views held by Arnold Ruge and Eugen D?hring. He attacks these men with violence; but there is no hint about his own Jewish origins. On this he is silent. His only contact with Jews as such is mentioned in a letter to Ruge, in 1842, in which he writes that 'the President of the Israelites here in Cologne has just come to see me to get my help in the matter of a petition from the Jews addressed to the Diet. I will do it for them, repugnant as the Israelite faith is to me'. He explains this on the ground that the inevitable rejection of Jewish petitions, by causing resentment to grow, might be a blow at the Christian state. He mentions his origins, we are told by Marxologists, only once: in a letter to his uncle in Holland, Lion Philips, in 1864, he refers, as it happens, to Disraeli as a man coming 'from our common stock'.6 This is all. He comments casually and not unsympathetically on the conditions of the poor Jews in Jerusalem, who, Disraeli had remarked earlier in the century, were being converted by Christian missionaries at twenty piastres a head. He sent a dedicated copy of Das Kapital to the Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz. Apart from this, his attitude to Jews is uncompromisingly hostile. In a celebrated passage in his essay on the Jewish Question of 1844, he says that the secular morality of the Jews is egoism, their secular religion is huckster ing, their secular god is money. The real God of the Jews is the bill of exchange. 'Money is the jealous God of Israel, before whom no other god may be', and this is, in effect, repeated in the summary of the argument in the Holy Family. His specific argument against Bruno Bauer's objections to Jewish emancipation is not relevant: what is striking is the ferocity of his language, which resembles that of many later antisemitic tracts, both right and left wing, German, French, Russian, English: chauvinis? tic and Fascist, anarchist and Communist, past and in growing measure in our own time. In the Theses on Feuerbach of 1845, Marx speaks of a mistaken conception of praxis in its 'dirty Jewish manifestation'. He calls the Paris Bourse the 'stock exchange synagogue', suggests that the tenth muse is Hebraic?'the muse of stock exchange quotations'. He omits no opportunity of stressing the Jewish origin of the Foulds, the Rothschilds, and other financiers in Paris, and in 1856, in one of his articles in the New York Tribune, remarks 'every tyrant is backed by a Jew and every Pope by a Jesuit'. His language rises to a climax of real hatred when he speaks of Lassalle (who remained unbaptised and did not conceal his Jewish sentiments). In a letter to Engels, he calls him 'the Jewish nigger'; advances the hypo? thesis that Negro blood must have entered his veins as the result of the racial admixtures acquired by the Jews during the exodus from Egypt, and complains of Lassalle's typically 'Jewish whine'. Lassalle is usually referred to as Itzig, or Baron Itzig. (There was a real person of this name in the eighteenth century, much mocked by Heine, but here the name is used as a derogatory nickname for a Jew.) There is therefore something odd, to say the least, in the assertion made in a publication of the Marx-Engels Institute in 1943 that 'Marx denounced anti-semitism in the strongest terms'. It is difficult to resist Thomas Masaryk's judgment that Marx is justly described as antisemitic. Yet it is clear that the issue was not one of complete indifference to him. When his son-in-law, Longuet, in his obituary of Marx's wife, Jenny von Westphalen, written for the Socialist journal La Justice in 1881, wrote of her hard fight against the resistance 6 iUnser Stammesgenosse'.</page><page sequence="16">16 Sir Isaiah Berlin of her family to her marriage to him, and attributed this to racial prejudice, Marx was furious. He wrote to his daughter, Longuet's wife, that no such prejudice existed in the Westphalen family, and said that Monsieur Longuet would oblige him if he never men? tioned his name again. That no antisemitic feeling at all existed even among enlightened aristocrats in the Rhineland at that period is not probable. The testimony of both Heine and Hess scarcely supports this. Even if the Westphalens were wholly untouched by anti semitism, Marx's reaction seems, on the face of it, over-violent. This was evidently a painfully sensitive area. What does seem clear is that Marx was a man of strong will and decisive action, who decided once and for all to destroy within himself the source of the doubts, un? easiness, and self-questioning which tended to torment men like B?rne, Heine, Lassalle, and a good many others, including the founders of Reform Judaism, and?until he resolved the problem in a Zionist sense?the first German Communist, Moses Hess, whose origins and intellectual formation resembled Marx's own. Marx contemptuously swept this question out of the way and decided to treat it as unreal. No doubt he would have found this more difficult if he had not been genuinely remote from Judaism. Yet he, too, was faced with the difficulty that the youthful Disraeli had en? countered: he wished not merely to describe society but to alter it. He wanted to make his mark. He was a fighter, and wished to destroy those whom he conceived as obstacles to human progress. Germany in his day was more acutely nationalistic, after her humiliation by the French, not only under Napoleon but con? tinuously during the two preceding centuries, than England or Holland or Italy or even France. Extreme German chauvinism had taken pathologically antisemitic forms in the years before Marx's birth. This occurred in the Rhineland no less than elsewhere in Germany. Anti-Jewish feeling was not confined to religious intolerance. In the powerful propaganda of Arndt, Jahn, Goerres, and, for that matter, also Fichte, and in the outbreaks of patriotic student associations, it was openly racialist. Lassalle once said, with penetrating candour (although I cannot recollect where or when), that if he had not been born a Jew he would probably have become a right-wing nationalist. Indeed, one of the traits which made the socially ambitious, at times intolerably showy and vain, Lassalle so astonishingly effec? tive as an agitator and organiser of German Socialism was his complete personal integrity. It was this as much as anything that enabled him to exercise a moral influence over the German workers scarcely ever again attained by anyone else. Marx's systematic omission of all reference to his own origins and the taunts with which his references to Jews were accompanied are attributed by the eminent Russo-Jewish historian Simon Dubnov to the natural hatred of a renegade for the camp which he has deserted?which need not prevent him from attacking others, e.g., Joseph Moses Levy, the proprietor of the London Daily Telegraph, for concealing his Jewish origins. But I suspect that Marx's most recent biographer, the late Dr. Blumenberg, comes nearer the truth when he attributes this notorious fact to a peculiar form of self-hatred to which others among the newly emancipated Jews were also liable. Disraeli, in describing his grandmother Sarah Shiprut, once said that she had 'imbibed that dislike for her race which the vain are too apt to adopt when they find that they are born to public contempt'. This, it seems to me, does something to explain the attitude to his former brethren of the other? wise rational and realistic Karl Marx. Self hatred is not a mysterious phenomenon. Most human beings are affected by opinions prevalent in their environment, especially when these are long and widely held. Antisemitism was, after all, a universal senti? ment in Europe long before Marx's day, and became exceedingly virulent in Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Germany. It naturally breeds self-contempt and self-hatred among its vic? tims, who cannot but judge themselves in the light of the normal values prevalent in their society. This was less general while the Jews were insulated in the ghetto; the two ways of life touched at the edges, but did not collide. But contact and mingling with their fellows exposed the Jews to new modes of thought and,</page><page sequence="17">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 17 as part of these, to systems of values in terms of which they stood condemned. The term juedischer Selbsthass?Jewish self hatred (as opposed to self-criticism or realistic analysis)?was appropriately enough coined by a German Jewish writer, Theodor Lessing, and describes a feeling with the peculiar mani? festations of which all Heine's readers are familiar. It is, after all, in Germany that a Jewish party, however small and today justly forgotten, accepted Hitler's estimate of the Jewish character, and declared the Jews to be their own greatest misfortune. Perhaps the most violent of all forms of Jewish self-abasement is to be found in the one Jewish writer admired by the Nazis, the once celebrated Otto Weinin ger, who suffered from paroxysms of Jewish self-hatred. There is painful evidence of a neurotic distortion of the problem in the diaries of Rathenau, with his ecstatic admiration for the antisemitic nationalists who ultimately murdered him, there are symptoms of it in the high-minded and deeply tormented essays of Simone Weil, and in the works of some living Jewish writers whom it would be uncharitable to mention. This is the kind of milieu in an early phase of which Marx grew to manhood. But he had a stronger and harsher nature than those who grappled with what, at times, developed into a psychosis that lasted all their lives. The baptised Jewish intellectual, still regarded as racially a Jew by his fellows, could not hope to be politically effective so long as nationalism remained a problem for him. It had somehow to be eliminated as an issue. Con? sciously or not, Marx all his life systematically underestimated nationalism as an independent force; an illusion which led his followers in the twentieth century to a faulty analysis of Fascism and National Socialism, for which many of them paid with their lives, and which led to a good deal of false diagnosis and prediction of the course of human history in our own time. Despite the depth and originality of his major theses, Marx failed to give an adequate account of the sources and nature of nationalism, and underestimated it, as he underestimated the force of religion, as independent factors in society. This is one of the major weaknesses of his great synthesis. Once again an effort to escape from intoler? able reality is observable. As Disraeli, faced with a similar predicament, identified himself with the British landed aristocracy and gentry, and worked his magic on the squires and the great landowners until they all but accepted this metamorphosis, so Marx, too, donned a uniform that liberated him from his own oppressive garments and entered and trans? formed a movement and a party that bore none of the scars of the highly vulnerable social group in which he was brought up. In short, as all the world knows, Marx identified himself with a social force, the great international class of the disinherited workers, in whose name he could thunder his anathemas, the class which his writings would arm for inevitable victory, inasmuch as its triumph seemed to him to em? body the promise of all that he truly believed in: reason in action, the establishment of a harmon? iously, rationally organised society, the end of the self-destructive struggles that distorted the vision and the acts of mankind?in a word, the proletariat. Marx had as little affinity with individual proletarians?individual unskilled factory workers or miners or landless labourers ?as Disraeli with the inner core of the British upper class. That is to say, the group in question was an intensive object of study to Disraeli and Marx respectively; it was their subject and the ark of their covenant; they had made themselves its poets and its priests, even though Marx claimed scientific status; but they remained outside it, observers, analysts, propagandists, allies, champions, leaders, but not of it, not its kith and kin. The proletariat remains an abstract cate? gory in Marx. Despite all his accusations against other thinkers of ignoring history, of indulging in timeless abstractions, of erecting idealised entities and then treating them as real men engaged in the processes of real life, he himself is not wholly innocent in this respect. His proletarians are a body of men without national allegiance, utterly deprived of all but the barest means of life, mere machine fodder, men so destitute as to have almost no individual needs of their own, starving, brutalised, scarcely at the minimum subsistence level. This concept of the workers, even in the terrible nineteenth</page><page sequence="18">18 Sir Isaiah Berlin century, even today in countries where con? ditions are still abominable, is nevertheless an abstraction. The picture is too stylised, too undifferentiated. Marx knew poverty and he knew humiliation; he grasped the dynamics of modern industrialism as a world-wide system, in all its guises and disguises, as no one had done before him. He understood the mentality and activities of capitalists in his own time, both in general and in specific cases, with an accuracy of vision sharpened by indignation and hatred, and a degree of intellectual and prophetic power, not hitherto brought to bear on fully developed industrial society. But when he speaks of the proletariat, he speaks not of real workers but of humanity in general, or, at times, of his own indignant self. When he denies that any armistice or compromise between the classes can be reached, when he denounces appeals for understanding, and prophesies that the last shall be the first, that the arrogant enemy who lords it today will bite the dust when the day of the revolution comes, it is the oppression of centuries of a people of pariahs, not of a recently risen class, that seems to be speaking in him. The insults he is avenging and the enemies he is pulverising are, as often as not, his own?the adversary?the bourgeoisie, and its executives?governments, judges, police? men?are the persecutors of the rootless cosmo? politans, the revolutionary Jewish intellectuals, the cosmopolitan avengers of insulted man? kind. This it is that lends passion and reality to his words, and for that very reason they appeal most deeply to other persons like himself, alienated members of a world-wide intelli? gentsia, the dispossessed, revolts children of bourgeois or aristocratic parents, outraged by the injustice or the irrationality and vulgarity of the order supported by their own class. Marx spoke to such men, and speaks to them still, more directly than to operatives in the factories of industrialised countries in whose name he is ostensibly addressing mankind. Marx's pro? letariat is a class to some extent constructed after Marx's own specifications, as a vessel to carry the vials of his justified wrath. Its function in his system is similar to that of its exact opposite?the racial elites of Coningsby and Tancred and Lothair and Contarini Fleming in Disraeli, as the voice of the author, the idealised human beings with whom and with whose ills the author identifies himself, the platform, as it were, from which he can direct his fire. The class, which embodies the vision of the writer, despite all talk of concreteness, remains ideal? ised. These figments constitute the precise measure of the degree to which the author does not feel firmly rooted in the real world, in the place and time and social position to which, in fact, and not only in his aspirations, he truly belongs. Marx's workers possess virtues (like Disraeli's ideal aristocrats) which re? present what Marx wants humanity to be, they are not the product of actual psychological or social experience: they are in a sense Marx himself writ large. Let me repeat my thesis: When Marx speaks for the proletariat, in particular when he alters the history of socialism (and of mankind) by asserting that there is no common interest between the proletarians and the capitalists, and therefore no possibility of reconciliation; when he insists that there is no common ground, and therefore no possibility of converting the opponents of mankind by appeals to common principles of justice, or common reason or common desire for happiness, for there are no such things; when, by the same token, he denounces appeals to the humanity or sense of duty of the bourgeois as mere pathetic delusion on the part of their victims, and declares a war of extermination against capitalism, and prophesies the triumph of the proletariat as the inexorable verdict of history itself, of the triumph of human reason over human irration? ality?when he says all that (and is virtually the first to say it, for the Puritans and Jacobins did, at least in theory, allow the possibility of persuasion and agreement), it is difficult not to think that the voice is that of a proud and defiant pariah, not so much of the friend of the proletariat as of a member of a long humiliated race. The German Ideology, the Communist Manifesto, the polemical pages of Capital, are the works of a man who is shaking his fist at the establishment and, in the manner of an ancient Hebrew prophet who speaks in the name of the elect, pronouncing the burden of capitalism, the doom of the accursed system, the punishment</page><page sequence="19">Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the Search for Identity 19 that is in store for those who are blind to the course and goal of history, and therefore self destructive and condemned to liquidation. Marx's idealisation of the proletariat, despite all his own preaching against illusions of this kind, is itself the idealised image of a man craving to identify himself with a favoured group of men who do not suffer from his particular wounds. I am here not concerned with the validity of Marx's analysis of industrial society and culture: only with its psychological roots in his own personality and predicament. His metamorphosis generates from the role of an itinerant radical journalist to that of the organ? iser and leader of an army of men wholly distinct from his own milieu, at least partly, because he needs it, because he is an outsider, because his credentials are doubtful, particularly suspect in a society acutely conscious of social and national origins. His baptism rendered him what Sheridan in The Duenna described as a blank page between the Old and the New Testaments (a quip which Disraeli once applied to himself), and he therefore needed to find a secure platform from which to deliver his shafts, from which to organise his forces. Marx did meet members of the proletariat during his life, but not very many; and never became truly intimate with any. He preached to them; he told them what to do; he impressed British trade union leaders, dominated the First Inter? national; but his friends, those to whom he could speak, were declasse figures like himself: Engels, Freiligrath, Heine. Particularly Heine, because his antecedents, and social and personal outlook, resembled his own: they shared an intolerable irritation about their origins, not turned to exaggerated pride like Disraeli, but viewed as a maddening fact (as it was by other gifted and acutely sensitive men, caught and isolated in a similar impasse, by Pasternak in Dr. Zhivago, for example, who suffered from similar ancestral trouble). It is one thing not to believe in the dominant importance of race, tradition, nationality, religion; still less not to wish to make a fetish of them. It is another fiercely to deny their intrinsic importance, to relegate them (desperately) to the role of super? structure or by-product, with no independent role in history?phenomena which, with the inevitable change in the economic base, will vanish like the evil dreams and irrational fantasies that the wise can recognise in them already. My thesis is not that anything that either Disraeli or Marx said is false, or even dubious. I do, indeed, think that Disraeli's social and historical views were shot through with extra? ordinary and, at times, absurd, deeply reac? tionary, and dangerous fancies; and also that Marx laid too little stress on the play of non economic factors in history. But that is not the point at issue here. I am concerned with a personal, not a universal, topic: the social predicament in which these exceptionally intelligent, imaginative, ambitious, and ener? getic men of similar antecedents found them? selves, and its effect upon them. Even if all that either said turned out to be wholly correct, my thesis?and I advance it cautiously and tentatively, for I am no psychologist?is that one of the sources of the vision of both Disraeli and Marx?what made the former see himself as a natural leader of an aristocratic elite, and the latter as the teacher and strategist of the world proletariat?was their personal need to find their proper place, to establish a personal identity, to determine in a world in which this question was posed much more insistently than it had ever been posed before, what section of mankind, what nation, party, class, they properly belonged to. It was an attempt on the part of those whom history and social circum? stances had cut off from their original establish? ment?the once familiar, safely segregated Jewish minority?to replant themselves in some new and no less secure and nourishing soil. The unambitious, those who merely wished to get by, Isaac dTsraeli, Heinrich Marx, against whose view of life their sons so sharply reacted, managed, like many before and after them, to assimilate peacefully without worry? ing overmuch about who they were and what they were. Their sons, the ironical (and passionate) political romantic, Disraeli, the no less passionate moralist and social theorist, Karl Marx, needed firmer moorings and, since they were not born with them, invented them. They did this only at the price of ignoring a good deal of reality, seen by less agonised, more ordinary, but saner men.</page><page sequence="20">20 Sir Isaiah Berlin The fact that men seek to belong to some group, and that the need for this is a basic need; and that they seek for the recognition by their fellows of their status and their rights? these facts, together with the abnormal position of the children and grandchildren of the ghetto in the early nineteenth century, faced, as they were, by an alien and none too welcoming world, does much to explain both the irration alist fantasies of Disraeli and the rationalist ideals of Marx. Both were outsiders, with no accepted place in society. Both rebelled against the middle-class society of their time, which their fathers were only too anxious to enter; rebelled perhaps largely because of this. Both turned vehemently against the social class from which they came. Disraeli set himself against the tide of what Mill, I think, called conglomerated mediocrity, by seeking to preserve and promote the aristocratic elite with which he identified his imaginary ancestors, and offering it a morally acceptable role as defender against the predatory bourgeoisie of the poor, the simple, and the weak. Marx more realistically identi? fied the Jews with the bourgeoisie, and attacked it from below, in the name of the insulted and the oppressed. Their origins irked both; they could not accept them, or their own selves, for what they were. Disraeli was obsessed by this. He brought the Jews into everything, irrele? vantly and compulsively, and transformed them into something rich and strange in the fantasy which sustained him all his life. Marx virtually shut out all awareness of his ancestors from his conscious thought. When nevertheless it broke through the crust, it did so in the form of violent caricature, the nightmarish product of powerful repression, something that modern psychologists would find it all too easy to interpret. As Disraeli wrapped himself in the mantle of a mysterious princely being, moving among other superior spirits, lifted high above the teeming multitude by the genius of a 'great' race, so Marx identified himself with an idealised proletariat, the heir to the perfect human society; remote from his own origins and from his environment as a bourgeois intellectual, a purifying source of strength and integrity. Both, at least spiritually, lived at a distance from the class they idealised. Both sought to dominate and guide, identifying themselves with the group conceived in general terms, rather than the real members of it who were to be met in the drawing-rooms and the factories. The doctrines which gave intellectual form to these visions evoked passionate dedica? tion, fervent loyalties, religious worship. Neither Disraeli's mystical conservatism nor Marx's vision of a classless society were, as a rule, viewed by them as testable hypotheses, liable to error, correction, modification, still less to radical revision in the light of experience. This could not but be so if, as I wish to suggest, these doctrines sprang, to a degree, from psycho? logical needs to which they were the response: their function was not primarily to describe or analyse reality, but rather more, to comfort, strengthen resolution, compensate for defeat and weakness, generate a fighting spirit principally in the authors of the doctrines them? selves. Disraeli's open aversion to the rational methods of scientific inquiry and Marx's identification of scientific method with his own dialectical teleology, and consequent disdain for the more objective, if less transforming, recourse to empirical techniques, seem to me to spring from similar psychological roots. Self-understanding is man's highest require? ment. If there is any substance in this thesis, the story of these two sons of newly emancipated fathers, men of dissimilar character, unequal gifts, but placed in a common predicament, may serve as a moral tale, to inspire some and warn others.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page