“Interpreting Berlin’s Liberalism”

Riley, Jonathan, “Interpreting Berlin's Liberalism,” American Political Science Review, 95: 283–95, 2001.


“I argue that Isaiah Berlin’s pluralistic liberalism is best interpreted as a sophisticated form of liberal rationalism, as Berlin himself suggests. His value pluralism, even if it is viewed (as his critics typically view it, with considerable justification) as claiming that any choice between conflicting incommensurable values cannot be a rational choice, does not subvert his liberalism. Rather, this agonistic pluralism emanates from his liberal rationalism, which pictures reason as too weak to resolve conflicts of incommensurables. Yet, reason remains strong enough to discover that certain basic liberal values, including those associated with some minimum core of equal rights, are far more important than any competing values created by mankind. Berlin apparently sees his pluralistic liberal rationalism as a genuine rationalism that, in stark contrast to mainstream utopian rationalisms which wildly exaggerate the power of reason, makes suitable room for the valid insights provided by the romantics.”