A man of thought in times of action (Isaiah Berlin, 1940)

I juni 1940 befinner sig Isaiah Berlin i stor ovisshet om framtiden. Inte bara är utgången av kriget helt öppen och en tysk invasion av de brittiska öarna fullt tänkbar, utan även hans personliga roll i krigsinsatsen är osäker. Många av hans vänner och kollegor har tagit värvning, men Isaiah är förhindrad av hälsoskäl att ge sig in i soldatlivet, och i egenskap av judisk exil-ryss är dörrarna stängda till poster högre upp i administrationen. Han skriver följande i ett brev till Marion Frankfurter.

I join on the whole in the general chorus of condemnation of Auden, Isherwood, Macneice, who have removed to the U.S.A.: they were, as some one said, recruting sergeants of the left, they gladly accepted the part of prophets, social critics, directors of consciences. They preached passionately and effectively against the others who locked themselves into ivory towers. That self preservation should have taken this form is sordid and discredits their moral pathos. Mr Spender, my old friend, who is here, emerges as a tragic liberal figure, less inspired and far more dignified. I see no excuse for anyone leaving inless directly in the interests of their political institutions, directly by orders of their government, or else because they are exposed racially or politically, and the end has come.

[. . .]

Personal survival is no doubt a legitimate end: one fights while one can & then one either dies or escapes. I am not a soldier, & can’t be one, and am in certain respects highly exposed, if only because I am a Jew & have written on Marx: I should do my best not to be caught: if I could induce some institution in the U.S.A. to invite me, I would. But cold blooded flight is monstrous. And indifference to a conflict on which the outcome of which all art & thought depend, repulsive and stupid.

I perceive that I am being violent and unusually public minded. That is perhaps a genuine change. The private world has cracked in numerous places. I should terribly like to be able to help in the great historical process in some way. [. . .] And I really share Maurice’s feeling about the desirability of mourir en combattant. The only horror is Pétainisme. To save what they want to save seems very detestable: our Franco chickens are coming home to roost. If that ever happened in England I should want to emigrate or die.

Isaiah Berlin, Flourishing. Letters 1928—1946, Chatto & Windus, London, 2004, s. 306–7.

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