A Hedgehog After All

When Isaiah Berlin died last November, there was a cascade of adulatory essays and obituaries, all of them well deserved. Yet there is a sense in which the wrong Berlin was being celebrated; or if not exactly the wrong Berlin then only a half of h

Issue: Spring 1998

John Gray, Isaiah Berlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

The best known anecdote about Isaiah Berlin refers to the occasion during World War II when his work at the British embassy in Washington caught the attention of Winston Churchill. The Prime Minister expressed a wish to meet Berlin, and this was arranged. At the lunch that followed, Churchill asked: "Berlin, what do you think is your most important piece you've done for us lately?" The surprising response: "White Christmas." The invitation had been sent in error to the wrong I. Berlin.

Funny as it is--especially as one contemplates Churchill's bewilderment at the answer--and familiar as it has become, the story is also especially apt today. In recalling and celebrating Berlin, it is important to make sure that we have the right man.

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