“Was Liberalism’s Philosopher-in-Chief a Conservative?” by Michael Knox Beran

Michael Knox Beran “Was Liberalism’s Philosopher-in-Chief a Conservative?” city-journal.org, Winter 2006.


Sir Isaiah (pronounced aye-ZYE-ah) Berlin, who died in 1997 at 88, was one of the last century’s notable talkers. “One was startled from the beginning,” Arthur Schlesinger said, “by the glittering rush of words and wit, the dazzling command of ideas, the graceful and unforced erudition, the penetrating assessments of personalities, the passion for music, the talent for merriment and, most remarkable of all, the generosity of spirit that led him to treat all of us as his intellectual equals. He had the exciting quality of intensifying life so that one perceived more and thought more and understood more.”

Such exuberance opened doors; Berlin’s ascent began early. Eleven years after arriving in England as a refugee from the Russian Revolution (the 12-year-old spoke scarcely a word of English), “Shaya” was elected a fellow of Oxford’s All Souls College, the intellectual pinnacle of the realm. When, in 1957, he received his knighthood, a friend, contemplating the slenderness of his œuvre, said that it must have been bestowed in recognition of his services to conversation.”

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