“The Spectacles of Isaiah Berlin”

Inbari, Assaf. “The Spectacles of Isaiah Berlin.” Azure Online, 2006  


Honest liberals know that they are not pluralists. They know that the liberal worldview does not recognize the validity of other worldviews, and that it aspires—using all the economic, media, and military means at its disposal—to make itself dominant. Liberalism is not tolerance, liberalism is not pluralism, and admitting this is not a mark against it; it is simply to recognize the difference between the perception of a liberal agenda as the just, indispensable agenda, and ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.’

But not all liberals are willing to admit this. The greatest teacher of those liberals who are convinced that they are pluralists was Isaiah Berlin. Berlin’s thought, more than any other liberal doctrine formulated in the twentieth century, reveals a conceptual confusion between pluralism and liberalism. At the end of the twentieth century, this confusion did not appear to be critical or potentially dangerous. In the 1990s, with the fall of the Eastern Bloc, with the euphoric rise of capital markets, and with the fashionable post-modernist discourse that flourished in academia, the West celebrated what seemed to be its final victory. For ten years it had no enemies, and when you have no enemies, it is possible to babble on about pluralism, denigrate the ‘oppressive’ culture of the West, and demand that the “voice of the other should also be heard.” The multicultural discourse that flourished at the time did not stand up to scrutiny, because the ‘other’ did not speak. On September 11, 2001, four years after the death of Berlin, we heard the clear voice of the ‘other.'”