Einstein and Israel

As I get older, I am becoming more of an instinctive nationalist. I think that European states are best organised as national communities which cooperate on legal and pragmatic lines.

But I write that as someone who doesn't actually belong to any one nation. In Ireland I am a mish-mash of British and something Northern, and in England I am Irish and British. Do I have an urge to pigeonhole myself? I wouldn't deny the feeling I have when an Irish team does well to anyone, though it is curious to me that I feel that. There is really not very much basis for it, since I was born here and have only ever been in Ireland for a few weeks of my life.

Perhaps all I am doing in seeking comfort with nationalism is saying that my own cognitive delusions should be accorded to others when they wish it, even if I know them to be some sort of confection.

Truth, after all, is ever complicated. Reading about Albert Einstein yesterday, I found myself wondering at his attitude to the state of Israel, which seems enormously complex.

'We are no longer the Jews of Maccabees' he would say to an audience, whilst calling for cultural nationalism at the same time as denouncing the idea of a jewish nation-state. What seems to have happened, however, is that he too felt an emotional pull towards the land of Israel once it was established by others. This pull, though not great enough to make him accept the presidency of that country when it was offered, was enough to alter and reify his zionism.

It is perfectly possible to take a snapshot of individual life, as some do, and, given the nature of the depiction, to ignore any change. It is also possible to make a person seem contradictory simply for having grown. For all the words on the internet, the most interesting thing I could find about Einstein's attitudes was by Isiaiah Berlin, whom I once encountered walking in circles in Balliol at the steps of hall, trying to find the senior common room in an empty space.

One can load terms with meaning they may not have had for an individual, or with a resonance that is out of context.It's a human trait. With Einstein and Jewish non-cultural nationalism, the lazy thing to could be the correct one. One could note note that Einstein rose to prominence on the rubble of a Europe that tore itself apart on the rock of Imperialism, then, after the breaking of Empires, on nationalist lunacy and the Holocaust.

It also strikes me, however, that the pre-eminent nationalist revolution of modernity was the French one, and Einstein was a hundred years closer to it than we are. Did he feel the waves of agony and smell the blood more pungently from that lunatic event than we can? And was he confused at the rationalist legacy of an enlightenment republic that could send Lavoisier to the guillotine?

Einstein saw Israel coming and saw its inevitable troubles and pains and fairly plainly resiled from them, but then embraced the moment. He allowed himself to be contradictory rather than cold, outside of his relations with women. He should be admired for that, shouldn't he?

I seem to be asking lots of rhetorical questions lately. It may be because anyone with any sense isn't listening, but I also think it a function of living through the end of a year and the end of an era of selfishness and boom. One of the things about blogging, after all, is that it allows a person to think out loud and to clarify thoughts but with the discipline of knowing that someone else might read them.

It also allows one to write disconnected and somewhat unfocused posts like this one. At 7am, on a dark morning the week before Christmas, I find myself thinking of how histories tangle themselves around the likes of Einstein, and of how nationalism may in the end confuse us all with its flexibility. Since I'm off to the cold war modern exhibition later, and am recovering from a party at Julie's in Holland Park yesterday, I think that wondering about that sort of thing is no bad way to start a hung-over day.


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