Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997) was a philosopher and historian of ideas who held the Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory at Oxford. The final volume of his correspondence, Affirming: Letters 1975–1997, in which the letter in the October 8, 2015 issue appears, will be published in December 2015.

The Unique Qualities of Joe Alsop

Joseph Alsop and Alexandra Schlesinger, New York City, early 1980s
On Tuesday, September 19, 1989, two long-standing friends of the columnist and commentator Joseph Alsop, Washington Post journalist Robert Kaiser1 and British historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin, were in the congregation at Alsop’s memorial service at St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. Kaiser’s father was an old …

A Message to the 21st Century

The grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London, March 2014
I am a very old man, and I have lived through almost the entire century. My life has been peaceful and secure, and I feel almost ashamed of this in view of what has happened to so many other human beings. I am not a historian, and so I cannot speak with authority on the causes of these horrors. Yet perhaps I can try.

Shostakovich at Oxford

From right, Harold Macmillan, Hugh Gaitskell, Alan Herbert, 
and Dmitry Shostakovich, Oxford, England, June 1958
The following letter from Isaiah Berlin to his friend Rowland Burdon-Muller about Dmitry Shostakovich’s visit to Oxford appears in Berlin’s Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960, to be published in the US in late July. The book marks the hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1909. Berlin and his wife Aline were hosts …

A Letter on Human Nature

Following are excerpts from a response by Isaiah Berlin to a letter from Beata Polanowska-Sygulska, then a researcher from the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland, who, while working on a Ph.D. thesis on Berlin’s philosophy of freedom, had written to him inquiring about his views. Dr. Polanowska-Sygulska later published a book …

Notes on Prejudice

Isaiah Berlin liked to allude to a passage in Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy where Russell says that, if we are to understand a philosopher’s views, we must “apprehend their imaginative background,”[^1] or the philosopher’s “inner citadel,” as Berlin calls it.[^2] The character of one of the main rooms …

The Arts in Russia Under Stalin

In the autumn of 1945 Isaiah Berlin, then an official of the British Foreign Office, visited Russia for the first time since he had left it in 1920, aged eleven. It was during this visit that his famous meetings with Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak took place.[^1] At the end …

The First and the Last

Following are the first known piece and the last essay written by Isaiah Berlin, who died on November 5, 1997. Isaiah Berlin came to England in early 1921, aged eleven, with virtually no English. This story (untitled in the manuscript), which according to Berlin won “a hamper of tuck” in …

On Political Judgment

What is it to have good judgment in politics? What is it to be politically wise, or gifted, to be a political genius, or even to be no more than politically competent, to know how to get things done? Perhaps one way of looking for the answer is by considering …

The Magus of the North

“Do either nothing or everything; the mediocre, the moderate, is repellent to me: I prefer an extreme.” —Hamann to J.G. Lindner, May 20, 1756[^1] “Think less and live more.” —Hamann to J.G. Herder, May 18, 1765 The most passionate, consistent, extreme and implacable enemy of …

Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism: III

Some of Joseph de Maistre’s acutest pages, directed against modern liberalism, skepticism, and science, are reserved for Russia, in which he spent fifteen of the most creative years of his life.[^1] Alexander I used him for a time as a confidential adviser, and Maistre furnished him with observations and advice …

Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism: II

A strong historical reaction against the central position of the classicism and the Enlightenment of Paris began to develop in the early years of the eighteenth century. It grew among Neapolitan jurists (influenced by Vico’s philosophy of history), Swiss scholars who resurrected early medieval lays and sagas, and among Homeric …

On the Pursuit of the Ideal

The following address was given at the award ceremony in Turin for the first Senator Giovanni Agnelli International Prize. I wish to begin by expressing my deep appreciation for the great honor that has been done me by the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation. I have noticed, with admiration, that in Italy …

A Note on ‘Khovanshchina’

On the occasion of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, we publish, in a slightly revised version, Isaiah Berlin’s program note for the Covent Garden production of 1963. In the spring of 1872 Vladimir Vassilievich Stassov, the friend, inspirer, critic, historian, and principal standard-bearer of the new national school …

The Gentle Genius

Ivan Turgenev died one hundred years ago. His letters contain some of his best writing; yet save for quotations in specialist studies, they have been somewhat neglected in English-speaking countries.[^1] Consequently, the appearance of two new editions of English versions of some of the most interesting of his letters should …

Conversations with Akhmatova and Pasternak

In the summer of 1945 the British Embassy in Moscow reported that it was short-handed, especially in the matter of officials who knew Russian, and it was suggested that I might fill a gap for four or five months. I accepted this offer eagerly, mainly. I must admit, because of …

Einstein and Israel

Albert Einstein’s chief title to immortal fame is his transcendent scientific genius, about which, like the vast majority of mankind, I am totally incompetent to speak. Einstein was universally revered as the most revolutionary innovator in the field of physics since Newton. The exceptional respect and attention that were everywhere …

‘A Revolutionary Without Fanaticism’

Alexander Ivanovich Herzen was born in his father’s house in Moscow on April 6, 1812, some six months before Napoleon occupied the city; he died in Paris on January 21, 1870, during the last days of the Second Empire. His father, Ivan Alekseyevich Yakovlev, came of an ancient, wealthy, and …

A Special Supplement: The Question of Machiavelli

There is something surprising about the sheer number of interpretations of Machiavelli’s political opinions. There exist, even now, over a score of leading theories of how to interpret The Prince and The Discourses—apart from a cloud of subsidiary views and glosses. The bibliography of this is vast and growing faster …