Lewis Namier: Nationality, Territory and Zionism

D. W. Hayton*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The historian Sir Lewis Namier, born Ludwik Bernstein in Russian Poland in 1888 and brought up in east Galicia, was an unusual figure amongst Jewish theorists of nationalism. His father’s family were assimilated Jews, and Namier grew up in a household that was thoroughly Polonised. Though registered as Jewish, he was not circumcised and was brought up in ignorance of Jewish traditions; his parents and sister subsequently converted to Catholicism. Unlike other Jewish intellectuals, he had no love for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy nor for German culture in general, and as a young man was an ardent pan-Slavist. Education at Oxford also imprinted in him a lifelong admiration for the British Empire, which he regarded as a force for good because it embodied the libertarian ethos inherent in Britain’s national traditions. In his early writings, he defined nationality principally by race, and took religion, and attachment to a particular territory, as the principal markers of racial identity. This analysis derived chiefly from his observation of the history and geopolitics of central and eastern Europe, but he was also able to apply the same calculus to the “Anglo-Saxon” empires of the Atlantic world. These ideas, which he refined in later life but never abandoned, also fuelled a growing attachment to Zionism, accelerated by his own experiences of anti-Semitism, and his observation of the maltreatment of Jews in eastern Europe, of which he became increasingly aware through his role as an expert adviser in the British Foreign Office in 1916–1920.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Politics, Culture and Society
Early online date30 Jan 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 30 Jan 2017


  • Empire
  • Nationalism
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Sir Lewis Namier
  • Zionism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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