Isaiah Berlin Essay Research Paper Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin Essay, Research Paper Isaiah Berlin became one of our century?s most important political theorists for liberty and liberalism in an age of totalitarianism. He was born in Riga,

Isaiah Berlin Essay, Research Paper

Isaiah Berlin became one of our century?s most important political theorists

for liberty and liberalism in an age of totalitarianism. He was born in Riga,

Latvia in 1909 into a well to do Jewish family. At the age of 12 he moved to

Petrograd and experienced first hand the Bolshevik revolution, which would later

influence his intellectual ideas about totalitarianism (Gray 3). In 1921 his

family moved to London and sent Isaiah to school. His schooling lead him to

Oxford where he took a position as philosophy professor in 1931. His English

schooling led him to become a disciple of classical liberalism in the English

tradition of Mill, Locke, and others (Berger). During World War II the British

put him to work in their Foreign Service department where he became a favorite

advisor of Churchill (Honderich 92). After the war his major political theory

was developed as he moved into political philosophy and history as his areas of

emphasis. His most famous and important works, a lecture, ?Two Concepts on

Liberty?, and an essay, ?The Hedgehog and the Fox? where produced in the

1950?s. Knighted in 1957 and he became the first Jewish fellow at Oxford?s

All Souls College and chair of social and political theory at Oxford. After that

he later became president of the newly created Wolfson College and then

President of the British Academy (Honderich 92). After his death in 1997

historian Arthur Schlesinger stated that he is one of the finest liberal

thinkers and political theorists of the twentieth century (Schlesinger 1).

Isaiah Berlin is unique among intellectuals in the fact the he didn?t produce

a magnum opus during his life. He stated, ?that he had no desire to sit in

front of a desk with a blank piece of paper,? and didn?t care about it

influencing his academic legacy (Berger). Most of his works came in the form of

essay?s and lectures, as his two most famous are, ?The Hedgehog and the

Fox? and ?Two Concepts of Liberty.? He wrote few actual books and had most

of his work collected and published by Henry Hardy, once of his graduate

students (Gray 4). He never tried to advocate a certain political philosophy and

was actually quite against any ?right? political philosophy. Through his

essays and lectures he made critiques on the current systems and made

observations on liberty, nationalism, and socialism. A strict stand against

totalitarianism is one of the concepts that can be seen throughout much of

Berlin?s work. His strong liberal views clashed with totalitarianism in age

where it dominated. Much of his distaste also came from his own personal

experience with communism and fascism. He lived during the Russian Revolution

and saw first hand its effect on the Russian people. ?I was never

pro-communist. Never?anyone who had, like me, seen the Russian revolution at

work was not likely to be tempted (Houston Chronicle News Service).? He

detested fascism but not as vocally as communism since most of it had been

eradicated during World War II. Berlin had relatives during World War II left in

Riga who where killed both by Nazi and Soviet Communist forces (Gray 3). This

fact no doubt further heightened his contempt for both systems. An essay in 1953

entitled the ?Hedgehog and the Fox? became one of his most popular works in

the United States. Taking its name from a line by the Greek poet Archilochus, it

was one part literary criticism on War and Peace and an attack on the

inevitability of history (Greenburg). Initially published under the title ?Leo

Tolstoy?s Historical Sceptiscism? he changed it to the, which according to

British Publisher George Weidenfeld did more for his reputation than any other (Greenburg).

Berlin asserted that individual?s act freely in history and has a choice in

their destiny. Tolstoy took the Marxian view that history was inevitable. ?The

characters despite the constraints of circumstance according to Berlin act

freely and thus are morally accountable for their decisions? (Greenburg).

Berlin thought that the characters still had free wills over their choices

despite the situation they where in and thus history was undecided. This attack

on historical inevitability shows Berlin?s distaste for Marx?s philosophy,

particularly the Bolshevik brand of communism. Berlin?s contention with the

Marxian view of history has to do with historical anthropology of Marx. Marx

asserts in his works that national culture would simply go away under communism

and if it did survive, it wouldn?t hold any political importance (Gray 94). He

strongly stands against this view on the grounds humans being so vastly

different in culture that they wouldn?t be able to lose their national

identities (Gray 96). This goes along with his idea in the value of human

diversity and the belief that one fixed political system wouldn?t be able to

be assimilated under one system. One of Berlins other important beliefs shown in

the essay was the idea of value pluralism. He believed that with such a

diversity of human beings are so different that there can be no one overall set

of human values (Houston Chronicle News Service). ?The fox knows many things;

the hedgehog knows one big thing." Berlin asserted that Tolstoy needs only

one principle to live life by such as the philosophy of Plato, Dante, Pascal,

Nietzsche and Proust. ?The Fox, pluralist travels many roads, according to the

idea that there can be different, equally valid but mutually incompatible,

conceptions of how to live (Kirijasto).? Berlin supported the fox?s ideal of

being able to travel down a choice of roads and ideas other than the singular

view of the hedgehog. The roads don?t have much connection, as is seen in the

works of Aristoteles, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Moliйre, Goethe and Balzac (Kirijasto).

This idea of value pluralism is also in numerous other works by Berlin and it is

one of the concepts he values most. Value pluralism can be seen towards the end

of his ?Two Concepts of Liberty? and also in ?The Hedgehog and the Fox.?

Value pluralism is one of the most logical ideas in all of political philosophy.

Throughout most of history philosophers have been stating that thier one way of

doing things is the right way. Plato, Nietzsche, Marx claimed that they had

found the ?right? way to go about things. As history shows neither of them

or any other political philosopher had found a right away to do things. People

and governments simply draw from what they need of each political philosophy to

make a government. Marx, Plato and Nietzsche made their philosophies too narrow

to be practiced in the world with any real success. They also as Berlin suggests

failed to take into account the differences in people and their ideas. Also much

of their philosophy comes from a very euro centric perspective. In the realm of

political philosophy Berlin?s most important contribution came in the form of

a lecture called ?Two Concepts of Liberty.? Later released in a book called

Four Essays on Liberty, it represented his interpretation on how liberty is

divided up. The two concepts of liberty he discusses in his lecture are positive

and negative liberty. Negative liberty is the freedom to do, not the freedom

from doing something (Berlin 16). Positive liberty is the freedom from

?restrictions? seen in government (Berlin 22). Berlin feels that a balance

between the two must be achieved to have to a ?maximum? amount of liberty.

Too much freedom leads to others freedom being restricted in one form or

another. Negative liberty has been used as an excuse to restrict liberty and

create tyranny according to Berlin (Berger). Stalin and others committed acts of

tyranny in the name of negative liberty for the proletariat. A liberal in the

modern political sense he believes in government intervention as a positive.

Looking to the history of our country we can see the validity of positive and

negative liberty. The history of the United States using Berlin?s perspective

can be divided into two time periods. The era in the United States before

reconstruction can be seen as an era of negative liberty in the constitution and

after that it became predominately positive in it?s liberty to balance with

the negative. This move towards positive liberty after reconstruction is what

Berlin would consider the proper balance between the two types of liberty so

that in a utilitarian sense the most people have the most liberty. Since Mill

was a major influence for Berlin we can see this utilitarian view of liberty as

logical. The Constitution in its first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights,

grants the citizens of the United States negative liberty. One has the freedom

to speak, petition, practice religion, etc. with out restriction. This concept

of absolute freedom is no doubt good but as Berlin and history would tell it has

many drawbacks. One of the obvious ones is regarding slavery, which isn?t

restricted. This is an example of how too much negative liberty actually affects

other individual?s liberty. This is why positive liberty is good and not

simply a form of tyranny. When the United States enacted the thirteenth

amendment to the constitution it granted others a liberty at the cost of others,

but in the case it was a fair and just trade off. The delicate part of positive

liberty is making sure it?s used in the right places to achieve a proper

balance for society. Another example of how positive liberty was used properly

in achieving balance in our country was the control of industry, especially the

Pure Food and Drug Act of 1905, by the Progressives in the early part of our

century. This moved the negative liberty held by corporations from freely doing

whatever they wanted to a safer one for the consumer. American History is filled

with many more examples like these some clearly for the better like those two

and others that are debatable if they are too positive in liberty. All most all

of the amendments dealing with Liberty starting with Reconstruction and beyond

are positive in nature. Berlin would argue this is the US trying to achieve the

proper balance in the two types of liberty. Balance is key with regards to

positive and negative liberty for liberty to be truly had by all. ?If you have

maximum liberty, then the strong can destroy the weak, and if you absolute

equality, you can not have absolute liberty, because you have to coerce the

powerful?if they are not to devour the poor and the meek?Total liberty can

be dreadful, total equality can be equally frightful (Berger).? Our country

started out with too much freedom and the strong could destroy the weak.

Unregulated business and financial systems and the Southern aristocracy are

examples of how the powerful as Berlin mentioned subjugated the week to their

power. Since the almost absolute freedom had in the beginning of our country the

laws have been changed to try to add more positive liberty to achieve a balance.

All of the aforementioned things have lost their power through law along with

many other institutions of negative liberty. Today the move has occurred for the

most part acheiving balance, the strong are not destroying the week. Berlin

makes no decision on what the balance should be instead leaving it up to the

personal discretion of the society. Today much of the conflict over political

issues can be seen it terms of positive and negative liberty. Abortion, gun

control, right to life, and many other issues are just splits over positive and

negative liberty. The battle between positive and negative liberty appears to

have shifted to these issues. Slavery and other major issues along the same

magnitude already being decided the battle has turned to them. Abortion would be

seen by Berlin as a classic battle between positive and negative liberty. The

pro-choice would fall on the side of negative liberty since they desire the

freedom to choose. The pro-life side would fall on the positive liberty side

since the want the freedom to choose restricted. To take from Berlin they would

argue that terminating a pregnancy would be a case of the strong dominating the

weak. This argument is of course just in terms of liberty. Many other social

issues don?t deal with the strong dominating the weak but yet still deal with

positive and negative liberty. Berlin might not have developed a specific

political philosophy but regardless he had as much impact on the twentieth

century as any other political philosopher. He made numerous contributions to

the idea of liberalism in an era where totalitarianism rained. His notions of

utopias where wiped away in the bloody snow of Petrograd of his youth. He

didn?t try and preach that one system was better than another instead he made

comments on what he saw. Berlin was less concerned with his legacy and was

hoping that liberalism and liberty would survive and age of horror and