Hot Best Seller

The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History

Availability: Ready to download

The masterly essay on Tolstoy's view of history, in which Sir Isaiah underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. The masterly essay on Tolstoy's view of history, in which Sir Isaiah underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system.


Compare

The masterly essay on Tolstoy's view of history, in which Sir Isaiah underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. The masterly essay on Tolstoy's view of history, in which Sir Isaiah underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system.

30 review for The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lea

    A brilliant essay by the late Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin about Tolstoy's philosophy and view of history. Recommended to be accompanied read to War and Peace (on which I'm attempting to write a review for 3 months), especially to the parts of Tolstoy's essay about history. Berlin divides thinkers and writers into two categories; foxes, ones that know many things (Shakespeare, Goethe, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Montaigne, Erasmus, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce), and hedgehogs, ones that know one big thi A brilliant essay by the late Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin about Tolstoy's philosophy and view of history. Recommended to be accompanied read to War and Peace (on which I'm attempting to write a review for 3 months), especially to the parts of Tolstoy's essay about history. Berlin divides thinkers and writers into two categories; foxes, ones that know many things (Shakespeare, Goethe, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Montaigne, Erasmus, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce), and hedgehogs, ones that know one big thing (Dante, Plato, Pascal, Hegel, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust, Dostoevsky, Henry James). Hedgehogs are the ones who relate everything to a single central vision, one coherent and articulate system in which they understand, think and feel, a universal organizing principle, unitary unchanging inner vision. Foxes, on the other side, pursue many ends, sometimes even unrelated and contradictory, related to no governing aesthetic or moral principle, connected only through some psychological or physiological cause. Their thought can be scattered or diffused, moving on many levels and seizing upon the essence of the vast variety of objects and experiences. The main point he makes about Tolstoy is that he is a fox by nature, pluralist of many visions, one of the most brilliant, gifted and genius foxes that ever existed, but wants to be a hedgehog and vivisect himself into one, longing for a single substance. “The celebrated lifelikeness of every object and every person in his world derives from this astonishing capacity of presenting every ingredient of it in its fullest individual essence, in all its many dimensions, as it were: never as a mere datum, however vivid, within some stream of consciousness, with blurred edges, an outline, a shadow, an impressionistic representation; nor yet calling for, and dependent on, some process of reasoning in the mind of the reader; but always as a solid object, seen simultaneously from near and far, in natural, unaltering daylight, from all possible angles of vision, set in an absolutely specific context in time and space – an event fully present to the senses or the imagination in all its facets, with every nuance sharply and firmly articulated. Yet what he believed in was the opposite. He advocated a single embracing vision; he preached not variety but simplicity, not many levels of consciousness but reduction to some single level.” Tolstoy's has an immense gift that enables him to see all the details and finesses that makes things individual and unique, creating "marvellously accurate reproduction of the irreproducible, the almost miraculous evocation of the full, untranslatable individuality of the individual, which induces in the reader an acute awareness of the presence of the object itself, and not of a mere description of it, employing for this purpose metaphors which fix the quality of a particular experience as such, and avoiding those general terms which relate it to similar instances by ignoring individual differences – the ‘oscillations’ of feeling – in favour of what is common to them all". That leads to his genius both microscopic and macroscopic view of the course of history. Tolstoy's interest in history began early in his life. The interest was not nearly in past things as such, but in history as a means to an end to understand how and why things happen, and to penetrate the first cause, to get to the root of every matter. He had a great love for empirical, concrete, verifiable, among with disbelief in abstract, metaphysical, impalpable, supernatural. In Tolstoy's eyes, history can provide the ”hard” facts he was looking for, one that could be grasped by the intellect and uncorrupted by theories divorced from tangible reality, as the answers served by theologians and metaphysicians struck him as absurd. But history is not absurd, it is a sum of truths, empirically discoverable data, the sum of the actual experience of men and women in the relation to one another and physical environment - that is material from this genuine answers can arise, as history holds the key to mysteries of universe. “He is obsessed by the thought that philosophical principles can be understood only in their concrete expression in history.‘To write the genuine history of present-day Europe: there is an aim for the whole of one’s life.” As we can see in Tolstoy's characters in War and Peace, experience, not knowledge, generate wisdom, as theories only give corrupt answers to main life's questions. Patient empirical observation leads to wisdom and simple people often know the truth better than learned men, because their observation is less clouded by empty theories. That lead to his heroes, idealization of "simple people" close to "universal truth" in their folk wisdom, who go with the flow of life, accepting the circumstance, rather than trying to change the course of events in the illusion of its possibility. In the genius of his instinctive judgment, he is painfully aware of how much we don't know about the cause of all things, but in his deeply metaphysical conviction, he is desperate to believe in a unique system to which we must belong. The strain and conflict of conviction opposite of his judgment, from which he could not liberate himself, his gifts and opinions, causes him to vigorously discredit all the flawed systems of beliefs, illusions of laws that govern everything, falsely made by humans. “Tolstoy was the least superficial of men: he could not swim with the tide without being drawn irresistibly beneath the surface to investigate the darker depths below; and he could not avoid seeing what he saw and doubting even that; he could close his eyes but not forget that he was doing so; his appalling, destructive sense of what was false frustrated this final effort at self-deception as it did all the earlier ones; and he died in agony, oppressed by the burden of his intellectual infallibility and his sense of perpetual moral error, the greatest of those who can neither reconcile, nor leave unreconciled, the conflict of what there is with what there ought to be.” Going deeper and wider than anyone before in vivisection of both individual and collective history, in a complex web of event, object, characteristics, connected and divided by innumerable unidentifiable links - Tolstoy is painfully aware that we can only know a neglige portion of causes and laws that govern everything. His view on reality makes all logical and clear constructions ineffective as means of description or analysis of life. “ ....we never shall discover all the causal chains that operate: the number of such causes is infinitely great, the causes themselves infinitely small; historians select an absurdly small portion of them and attribute everything to this arbitrarily chosen tiny section.” So he passionately rejects both the liberal theory of history and scientific sociology, the scientists and historians who explain history by their own theories and are lying and deceiving in the process, as well as the concepts they use – ‘cause’, ‘accident’, ‘genius’ – that explain nothing: they are merely thin disguises for ignorance. ” Tolstoy was also furious that some historians attribute events to actions of individuals. He was exceptionally passionate to strip the "great men" of history from the imaginary power we attach to them. “...there is a natural law whereby the lives of human beings no less than that of nature are determined; but that men, unable to face this inexorable process, seek to represent it as a succession of free choices, to fix responsibility for what occurs upon persons endowed by them with heroic virtues or heroic vices, and called by them ‘great men’. What are great men? They are ordinary human beings who are ignorant and vain enough to accept responsibility for the life of society, individuals who would rather take the blame for all the cruelties, injustices, disasters justified in their name than recognise their own insignificance and impotence in the cosmic flow which pursues its course irrespective of their wills and ideals.” Tolstoy is set to expose the lie and the great illusion that individuals can, by their own resources understand and control the course of events. "And side by side with these public faces – these hollow men, half self-deluded, half aware of being fraudulent, talking, writing desperately and aimlessly in order to keep up appearances and avoid the bleak truths – side by side with all this elaborate machinery for concealing the spectacle of human impotence and irrelevance and blindness lies the real world, the stream of life which men understand, the attending to the ordinary details of daily existence.” To attach history to one cause of things and to look at events only through your own lens of theories is a saturated explanation that Tolstoy despised and rejects as a cowardly escape from the vastness of causes of the unknown and our irrelevance. Tolstoy also believed that the history written as it is, is more than flawed, representing ‘perhaps only 0.001 per cent of the elements which actually constitute the real history of peoples’. In War and Peace Tolstoy makes his stance and take on history, one in which collective and individual are of equal importance, as political and public events are not greater than the spiritual, inner events, that are largely forgotten in all other written histories. Tolstoy emphasized the inner world, as the human experience of both individuals and communities contains more truth than big events of history, usually shallowly glorified by political historians. In brilliant passages of War and Peace, he compares the actual course of events side by side with the absurd, egocentric explanation, inflated with a sense of the importance of the will of one man. That is a real texture of life with its treasures, in juxtaposition to the often distorted, "unreal" picture of great events painted by historians, the tension between reality described and reality that occurred. In War and Peace Tolstoy put on himself what he perceived as the ultimate historian's task - to describe the subjective experience, personal lives lived by men, ”the ‘thoughts, knowledge, poetry, music, love, friendship, hate, passions’ of which, for Tolstoy, ‘real’ life is compounded.” Tolstoy clings to historical determinism, undermining the importance of free will. Freedom is real but confined and relevant only in trivial acts. The individual is free when he alone is involved, but once he is in a relationship with another, he is no longer free, but part of an inexorable stream. “True, man is at once an atom living its own conscious life ‘for itself’, and at the same time the unconscious agent of some historical trend, a relatively insignificant element in the vast whole composed of a very large number of such elements.” Tolstoy made an impeccable case for protesting to the view of history which attributed the power to make things happen to abstract entities such as heroes, ideas, nationalism. He rejected the political reform because he believed that the ultimate revolution will come from within and that the inner life was lived truly only in the untouched depths of the mass of the people. But man must learn how little even the cleverest and most gifted among them can control, and how much of perceived is meaningless chaos - reflected in an intense degree in war. ”Tolstoy can say only what it is not. His genius is devastatingly destructive. He can only attempt to point towards his goal by exposing the false signposts to it; to isolate the truth by annihilating that which it is not – namely all that can be said in the clear, analytical language that corresponds to the all too clear, but necessarily limited, vision of the foxes. Like Moses, he must halt at the borders of the Promised Land; without it his journey is meaningless; but he cannot enter it; yet he knows that it exists, and can tell us, as no one else has ever told us, all that it is not – above all, not anything that art, or science or civilisation or rational criticism, can achieve.“ That is a tragic, genius and beautiful philosophy of Tolstoy, one he couldn't be at peace at. Tolstoy was always at war, more than anything with himself because he could "close his eyes, but never be rid of the awareness that his eyes were closed."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I cannot tell you how delighted I am that I did not discover this book until just this month. I'll give you an overview of this wonderful essay and then explain my personal satisfaction to those who care to stick around afterwards. "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This is the translation of the fragment of verse of Greek poet Archilochus that this essay is based on. In short, Isaiah Berlin's argument is that there are two kinds of thinkers: foxes and hedgehogs. I cannot tell you how delighted I am that I did not discover this book until just this month. I'll give you an overview of this wonderful essay and then explain my personal satisfaction to those who care to stick around afterwards. "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This is the translation of the fragment of verse of Greek poet Archilochus that this essay is based on. In short, Isaiah Berlin's argument is that there are two kinds of thinkers: foxes and hedgehogs. He argues that there is a great difference between the two types: "There exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel- a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance- and on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle." The first type being the hedgehogs and the second type being the foxes. Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Neitzsche, Ibsen and Proust are hedgehogs (to varying degrees). Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin ("the arch-fox, the greatest in the nineteenth century"), Shakespeare, Balzac and Joyce are foxes. Berlin's famous argument is that Tolstoy: "is by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog; that his gifts and achievement are one thing, and his belief and consequently his interpretation of his own achievement, another." That is, Tolstoy had all the gifts of a fox. But he had no desire to be one. He would have much preferred to find an "all-embracing" vision of the world, a unitary set of principles that explained everything. He had a very deep sense that this is what he should feel and want, despite the fact that all the evidence told him otherwise. Yet, tragically for him: "Tolstoy was by nature not a visionary... Any comforting theory which attempted to collect, relate, 'synthesize' reveal hidden substrata and concealed inner connections, which, though not apparent to the naked eye, nevertheless guaranteed the unity of all things... he exploded without difficulty. His genius lay in the perception of specific properties, the almost inexpressible individual quality in virtue of which the given object is uniquely different from all others. Nevertheless he longed for a universal explanatory principle, that is, the perception of resemblances or common origins or single purpose or unity int he apparent variety of the mutually exclusive bits and pieces which composed the furniture of the world." Berlin argues that this is most clearly shown through his unfairly denigrated and ignored views on history. Tolstoy was strongly contemptuous of the typical composition of and apparent beliefs of, current history. He believed that free will was an illusion and that the idea that great events happen because of "great men", that we can say that one thing happens because one commander made this decision, is ludicrous. There are too many factors that go into why one thing happens to account for it by the actions of one individual, and only the decisions that actually were made and were known to be made are perceived to be important (that is, we discount the thousands of other unknown decisions, and, more importantly, the could-have-beens that now seem impossible next to the "inevitable" nature of what actually occurred). Moreover, the actions of the individual are so constrained by their place, their time, their society, their upbringing and the conventions of relations with those around them that the idea of "free will" in any sort of society is false (Tolstoy allowed for immediate physical free will- lifting of one's arm- but as soon as two people related to each other, he no longer believed that it existed). "Great men", he believed were "ordinary human beings who are ignorant enough and vain enough to accept responsibility for the life of society, individuals who would rather take the blame for all the cruelties, injustices, disasters justified int heir name than recognize their own insignificance and impotence in the flow which pursues its course irrespective of their wills and desires." (Tolstoy paraphrased by Berlin.) This explains the extended "fuck you," to Napoleon, most of the Russian generals and even a little bit, Alexander, that was War and Peace. He believed that historians were too apt to ascribe some advance in history to someone's "power" over others, or to "historical forces" or "national forces," all of which are unquantifiable, mystical things that cannot be verified. Therefore, history was an unscientific study that produced results that could not be trusted. This would never work for Tolstoy because, as Berlin argues, Tolstoy was and always professed to be an empiricist. He thought that experience, concrete observation and analysis were the only ways towards true knowledge- in that much he was agreed with the scientific spirit of his day. However, he firmly believed that the scope of what humans could know was firmly limited to the "surface" of life. That is, physics was all very well and good and true as far as it went- but it wasn't what really mattered. What really mattered was the "inner" parts of life, the things under the surface that were impossible to observe or quantify- the daily motivations and decisions that make up human life, and the greater decisions that come together to create history and societies. Thus far, he agrees with some of the other great authors of his generation- Turgenev and Flaubert in particular, both of whom urged him to abandon his philosophizing and get back to what he did best- drawing the inner life of characters and the minute particulars of every day life, since the inner life is the only real truth in the world. But although he agreed with them on this point, that that could never satisfy Tolstoy because "this was not to give the answer to the question of what there is, and why and how it comes to be and passes away, but to turn one's back upon it altogether." And he cared about these questions more than anything. He had the deep theoretical conviction that there should be a unifying system in life. That it was just below the surface and in our unconscious somewhere and we would never quite be able to get to it because it could not be empirically observed. This is what eventually lead to his idealization of peasants and "simple people" whose minds were "uncorrupted" by the empty theories and false ideas of learned men- he thought that "simple people" usually had feelings and ideas that were closer to the "universal truth" around them that others could not see. That their lives were closer to universal truths and therefore more likely to reveal that almost-too-subconscious-to-perceive set of universal principles. Therefore, his heroes are almost always those with simple "folk wisdom" who sit back and "go with the flow" of life, rather than trying to change or effect it in any way, since this was a complete illusion. As both his writings on history and his philosophical writings attest, his deep divide between what he knew very well was and what should be was never resolved. This explains both the phase of his great novels and his late religious and prophetic phase since "the more obsessive that perhaps the quest was vain, that no core and no unifying principle would ever be discovered, the more ferocious the measures to drive this thought away by increasingly merciless and ingenious executions and more and more false claimants to the title of truth...all his life he looked for some edifice strong enough to resist his engines of destruction and his minds and battering rams; he wished to be stopped by an immovable obstacle, he wished his violent projectiles to be resisted by impregnable fortifications." He was by his talents a critic who excelled and tearing down edifices and yet "what oppressed Tolstoy most was his lack of positive convictions; and that famous passage in Anna Karenina in which Levin's brother tells him that he- Levin- has no positive beliefs, that even communism, with its artificial 'geometrical' symmetry, is better than the total scepticism of his- Levin's- kind, in fact refers to Lev Nikolaevich himself and to the attacks on him by his brother Nickolay Nikolaevich." Thus his tragedy was a dual one: first, that he could never reconcile his talents and his beliefs (which would have entailed giving up the desire to be a hedgehog) and that he never found the belief that would have justified his lifelong search. In the end, Tolstoy could "close his eyes, but never be rid of the awareness that his eyes were closed." * * * Beyond the immediate interest and insight offered on Tolstoy personally (which is rich enough), it is evident how Isaiah Berlin's thesis would provide a wonderful intellectual parlor game and argument to be had around a fire at the holidays. The temptation to begin sorting the authors one has read into 'foxes' and 'hedgehogs' immediately is irresistible. Berlin has even started the list for us. As mentioned above, Dante, Dostoevsky, Proust, Henry James, hedgehogs. Shakespeare, Turgenev, Pushkin, Joyce, Balzac, foxes. Discuss and expand. See how it illuminates their thoughts and your own. Further discussion: Which do you find superior? Foxes or Hedgehogs? Resist the easy temptation, given modern democratic sensibilities, to say "fox," immediately (let's be real, it's hard not to) and really think about what each has offered to the progress of thought and can offer us now to help us figure out what we ourselves think. Which one are you? Are you a hybrid? Why? See? Endless amusement. Judging by the secondary material included after the main essay itself, it seems to certainly have become just such a game for many intellectuals. By way of fault, so you don't think that I am merely here to praise Caesar, I will say that Berlin can be quite repetitive and even this short 80 page essay could have been an elegant 10 pages in a literary magazine, especially if his Part II, where he analyzes the similarity of de Maistre's thought with Tolstoy's was separated, as it probably deserves to be, into its own argument. (And it was fascinating on its own, though I can see why he wanted the link and thought it belonged here.) Also, he loves Tolstoy. He really does- it is impossible not to see his passion for him- that's part of the reason he repeats himself- I think both in unconscious imitation of Tolstoy himself and due to his deep respect and passion for his view about him. I will say that despite this love he does offer some criticism of Tolstoy and agree with some critics of him, namely the historian Kareev who protested that the "great man" theory could not be totally discounted, and that individual decisions and the "power" that they exercised over others could not be totally discounted. Even if the concept of "power" was unsatisfyingly explained, the fact remained that it existed and could be proved to have some effect on life. So he is not completely biased here. But nonetheless, he thinks, as I do, of Tolstoy as a great tragic, brilliant figure who never came to peace with himself or with the world around him, and perhaps, given the state of the world at the time, it is understandable he should not have. * * * And now, as a postscript, my personal satisfaction in reading this book is that before I was aware of its existence, this dictotomy of what Tolstoy wanted and what his intellectual gifts allowed him to do was the main thing in Tolstoy that I also responded to and pulled out of my reading experiences. Of course, I did it without the erudition, learning, manifold examples and development that Berlin did, but nonetheless, it was nice to know that someone smarter than me agreed with me and responded to this as well. In Anna Karenina, I had very strong feelings about the ending and what he does to Anna, which I felt stemmed from Tolstoy's reluctance to leave us with an "unresolved" ending or answer- the same thing with Levin's indescribable, unexplainable epiphany as he looks at Kitty and their child. That Tolstoy felt just too guilty, too wrong about leaving us with nihilism and questions at the end (the worst thing he could possibly imagine for himself.) Similarly, in War and Peace, what I responded to was Tolstoy's author-proxies looking and looking all their lives for some great vision or great man that they could hand off their responsibilities to, and never finding it. I thought that his longing for The Answer was just as strongly evident as his scornful inability to find something satisfying- because he can't stop asking questions. Anyway, the upshot of that is that I am totally biased about this work because Berlin responded to all the same stuff I did and defended his feelings much better than I could have, and so provided me with much better ammunition the next time I go back into the Tolstoy argument fray. You're the best, Berlin! I will be reading more of you.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    I've added a quote and a question at the bottom. This was the first book I read by Isaiah Berlin, and thus came to learn that he was one of the great scholars of the 20th century. After reading it I dragged out my old Modern Library copy of War and Peace (which I had never read) and discovered that following Part One of the book (the novel itself, all 1100 pages of it) comes Part Two, Tolstoy's essay on his view of history (about 35 pages). I immediately read the essay, then put W&P away for ano I've added a quote and a question at the bottom. This was the first book I read by Isaiah Berlin, and thus came to learn that he was one of the great scholars of the 20th century. After reading it I dragged out my old Modern Library copy of War and Peace (which I had never read) and discovered that following Part One of the book (the novel itself, all 1100 pages of it) comes Part Two, Tolstoy's essay on his view of history (about 35 pages). I immediately read the essay, then put W&P away for another couple years (when I finally did read it, it blew me away - possibly the one novel I would rate above all others I've read). A year or two after this I read The Crooked Timber of Humanity, also by Berlin, and also an extremely interesting book. These two books are surely among the dozen or so books that I have found to be the most densely intellectual books I've ever read. - - - - - - - - - - - - The short book reviewed here (basically an essay) first appeared in 1951, and was published with this title in '53. Herewith a quite edited version of Berlin's first paragraph, which covers the first page and then some....among fragments of a Greek poet we find, 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'... Taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general... on one side, some relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel - a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are or say has significance - and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle... The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes. One (this one), ruminating, asks himself whether Berlin ever reflected while writing it about where to place, in this dichotomy, a woman who, over that long Leningrad night in November 1945, revealed to him - as she discussed her life, her views of other writers, and especially as she read to him her poetic masterpieces: Poem Without a Hero and Requiem - an older woman who had an intellectual, artistic, and emotional depth he had never encountered before. Anna Akhmatova - hedgehog or fox?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    Long ago, the Greek poet Archilochus famously wrote, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." In 1952, Isaiah Berlin borrowed Archilochus’ parable to distinguish between two very different ways of looking at history. The hedgehog interprets history according to a unifying principle. Whereas the fox is skeptical that such a principle exists and learns a craftiness that embraces variety, subtlety and unresolved multiplicity. Examples of the former include Plato, Dostoyevs Long ago, the Greek poet Archilochus famously wrote, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." In 1952, Isaiah Berlin borrowed Archilochus’ parable to distinguish between two very different ways of looking at history. The hedgehog interprets history according to a unifying principle. Whereas the fox is skeptical that such a principle exists and learns a craftiness that embraces variety, subtlety and unresolved multiplicity. Examples of the former include Plato, Dostoyevsky and Dante Alighieri. The latter include Shakespeare, Montaigne, Goethe and Aristotle. Leo Tolstoy defies such easy categorization. According to Berlin, that is because Tolstoy is by nature a fox. Indeed, Berlin considers him one of the most talented foxes ever. However, Tolstoy’s nature as a fox is belied by his belief that there must be a unifying principle. He is, therefore, a fox who longs to be a hedgehog. Berlin’s essay THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG is quite persuasive and fun. I have decided to read WAR AND PEACE and have placed it in my queue coming up shortly. As for reading more Berlin, I am uncommitted. Evidently, he hated writing and THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG was put into book form by others working from the transcript of a largely extemporaneous lecture given by Berlin at Oxford University, where he taught for many decades. He must have been a wonderful teacher. His spoken prose was said to be a thing to behold. Judging from this essay, which is only 80 pages (not including extensive footnotes added by others) and barely edited from the original, he was indeed a unique talent. I would love to know if there exist recordings of his spoken word. It seems to me that would be a superior way to engage with him rather than reading more of his “books”.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I still remember the day when I finished War and Peace. It was both one of the most triumphant and most perplexing days of my reading life. Imagine me, on a hot summer day, having woken up early to devote the necessary hours to plow through the remaining hundred pages or so of this novel that had so completely dominated the previous month of my life. As I saw the finish-line approaching, my heart began to beat faster and faster—my mouth watered at the prospect of completing this iconic tome: a b I still remember the day when I finished War and Peace. It was both one of the most triumphant and most perplexing days of my reading life. Imagine me, on a hot summer day, having woken up early to devote the necessary hours to plow through the remaining hundred pages or so of this novel that had so completely dominated the previous month of my life. As I saw the finish-line approaching, my heart began to beat faster and faster—my mouth watered at the prospect of completing this iconic tome: a book big enough to brag about until the day I die. And then, fifty pages from the end, I reached “Part Two.” The curtain had just closed on the action of the novel; I had said my final goodbye to the characters I watched grow and mature and struggle for 1300 pages. What did Tolstoy have in store for me now? What I got—what all who struggle to the end of War and Peace get—is an essay on Tolstoy’s philosophy of history. A perplexing, pointless, pugnacious piece of writing that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the grand story you have just completed. It makes about as much sense as if Tolstoy appended his grocery list to the back of the book. I remember finally reaching the end of it and thinking, “Man, Tolstoy wasn’t that smart, was he?” It is perhaps the greatest anti-climax in all of literature. So when I heard that Isaiah Berlin had written a famous book-length essay on the topic, I was intrigued. And when I came across a copy in a book store for only 35 cents, I picked it up and dug in. Turns out, Tolstoy was not as dumb as I had supposed. As Berlin explains, Tolstoy’s view of history is actually a sophisticated perspective—if a bit fatalistic. So, for any who, like me, were completely put off by Part Two of Tolstoy’s great novel, give this essay a read. It’s short enough to complete on a lazy afternoon, and goes a long way toward explaining that strange piece of writing. Tolstoy aside, the hedgehog vs. fox distinction is one that I will probably remember until I can't go to the bathroom by myself. It’s a brilliantly simple classification—one that I had been struggling to formulate for a long while before I’d heard of it. For example, when I was in Kenya learning about human evolution, I was told that there were two species of paleo-anthropologists: lumpers and splitters. Lumpers like to group skeletal remains under the same species-name; splitters like to create a new species for every bone they find. This tendency towards unity or plurality is one that seems to cut deep in intellectual life. William James discusses it at length in his book Pragmatism, using “pluralists” for foxes and “monists” for hedgehogs. But aside from that classification (which actually is a relatively minor part of this book), Berlin is worth reading for the writing alone. His prose is excellent—erudite, engaging, and eloquent. In fact, if there’s any flaw with his writing, it is that Berlin sometimes gets too enamored of his own silver-tongue. He will spin out long sentences, endlessly repeating and rewording the same idea, filling up whole pages with pleasant but redundant words. Luckily for him, he is almost as good a writer as he thinks he is.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    Thanks to Ted's review I finally read this essay (82 pages in length) yesterday. I'm definitely not on a philosophical level as such but this work is brilliant. The analysis of Leo Tolstoy and, more particularly, his War and Peace is sublime. I must confess that there are some "thinkers" mentioned that I had never heard of but then that's life... Thanks to Ted's review I finally read this essay (82 pages in length) yesterday. I'm definitely not on a philosophical level as such but this work is brilliant. The analysis of Leo Tolstoy and, more particularly, his War and Peace is sublime. I must confess that there are some "thinkers" mentioned that I had never heard of but then that's life...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Canon

    "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This fragment from the Greek poet Archilochus gives this engrossing, famous essay its title. Taken figuratively, Berlin says, the difference between hedgehogs and foxes "[marks] one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general." Berlin explains: For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or mo "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This fragment from the Greek poet Archilochus gives this engrossing, famous essay its title. Taken figuratively, Berlin says, the difference between hedgehogs and foxes "[marks] one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general." Berlin explains: For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel – a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance [hedgehogs] – and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle [foxes]. Examples of hedgehogs: Plato, Lucretius, Dante, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust. Examples of foxes: Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce. Refreshingly, Berlin acknowledges that, "like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic and ultimately absurd" — nevertheless, this distinction, in embodying some degree of insight, offers a starting point for comparison and genuine investigation. Having set up this distinction, most of the essay analyses Tolstoy's philosophy of history as contained, and, according to Berlin, largely ignored (I guess no longer true upon the success of Berlin's essay), in War and Peace. Now, I haven't read a single page of Tolstoy, unless I'm forgetting some excerpt from his My Religion assigned years ago, which is entirely possible. At any rate, I didn't find this to be an obstacle in following Berlin's argument. What did happen is that Berlin made me want to actually read Tolstoy for more than here's a gargantuan book, therefore I must read it urges. War and Peace, (Warren Peece?), Anna also, I'm coming for you. What's fascinating about (Berlin's interpretation of) Tolstoy is that he combined the fervent anti-bullshit temperament of a fox — "always and in every situation he looked for ‘hard’ facts – for what could be grasped and verified by the normal intellect, uncorrupted by intricate theories divorced from tangible realities, or by otherworldly mysteries, theological, poetical and metaphysical alike" — with a fanatical belief in being a hedgehog — particularly, the central tenet "that there is a natural law whereby the lives of human beings no less than that of nature are determined." Most of Tolstoy's foxy fans (i.e. admirers of his literary powers of describing individuals and particular events), such as Flaubert, were baffled and horrified by the hedgehogesque historical-determinist ideology added into War and Peace — whereas Tolstoy saw these very passages as its central point and crowning achievement. This mismatch between Tolstoy's "gifts and achievement... and his beliefs, and consequently his interpretation of his own achievement" versus everyone else's interpretation is both kind of tragic and funny. It reminds me of W.H. Lewis's assessment of Louis XIV's (non-)military genius: "like so many of us, it is not on the thing that he can really do, but on that which he imagines he can do, that his mind rests with most satisfaction." For me, the most fascinating thing in this essay is how Tolstoy's uneasy fox-hedgehog duality resulted in a strangely authoritarian, quasi-mystical-Kantian epistemology — a result that Berlin brilliantly illuminates by comparing Tolstoy, a radical nihilist, with Joseph de Maistre, a dogmatic Catholic arch-reactionary. Tolstoy and Maistre, so different in many ways, are both acute observers of the varieties of experience: every attempt to represent these falsely, or to offer delusive explanations of them, they detect immediately and deride savagely. Yet they both know that the full truth, the ultimate basis of the correlation of all the ingredients of the universe with one another, the context in which alone anything that they, or anyone else, can say can ever be true or false, trivial or important – that resides in a synoptic vision which, because they do not possess it, they cannot express. Among the many interesting things about this for me is that the very hedgehog beliefs of Tolstoy, this great half-fox, are exactly the kind of metaphysical delusions that I have waged a fox's war against in my personal intellectual journey. Whereas Tolstoy seems to have derided explanations of the ultimate synoptic vision he nevertheless believed existed in reality, giving him felt superiority over the trendy intellectuals of his day, I deride the belief in such a synoptic vision being there beyond any ability of humans beings practically to know. For me, Tolstoy comes perilously close to being the very sort of metaphysical crank he deplored, someone who says they know there's an ultimate way reality is and also claim to know ahead of time what the limits of human understanding are such that their synoptic vision is insulated by the very ignorance that should render their own pronouncements void. At any rate, I basically agree with Kareev's criticisms of Tolstoy as enumerated by Berlin. Yet as Berlin notes, these criticisms in some sense miss the point, since Tolstoy's concern with history sprung "from something more personal, a bitter inner conflict... between his vision of life and his theory of what it, and he himself, ought to be if the vision was to be bearable at all." That is, this tension was emotionally deep-rooted and personally incurable: a ruthless driver of thought. I was able to trace a fox-hedgehog tension in my own intellectual life, in fact connecting it to a moment that in retrospect seems key in the awakening of my intellectually curiosity, an utterly banal incident when I was a youngish teenager reading an article in a bookshop on some topic that I was, coincidentally, puzzling about at the moment. I hadn't sought this article out to research the topic, I just stumbled upon it. It appeared. I can't even remember what it was about, just the feeling of overwhelming surprise at this serendipity, the link-up between my private wondering and other peoples' thoughts existing on this topic, being, as it were, in the general atmosphere. It made me wonder about the possibilities or rules of such intelligibility and link-up. Trying to understand or visualize in virtue of what individuals' apparently atomized and pluralistic understandings and experiences can be mutually intelligible, and how there is a reality in the midst of this, has in various ways obsessed me since that weird moment as a teenager. It's the problematic, as they say, which has made me feel at home with the pragmatists. I think that perhaps the wide-eyed Miranda-like naïveté of the moment, my very youth and ignorance, was important for impressing the sense of magnitude and significance of what was otherwise an extremely unremarkable and since often-repeated activity of stumbling on an article that happens to touch on something that interests me. Extremely small, insignificant moments can set lifelong trajectories of thinking and reading.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a deeply profound book, which, presumably about Tolstoy's philosophy of history in War and Peace, is actually about the nature of observable reality. In a mere 81 pages, Isaiah Berlin has gone far toward upsetting my apple cart -- for good and all. We all make assumptions about which we are comfortable, and these assumptions impact on our religious practices, political and social behavior, and in fact the whole nexus of our interrelationships with others:Tolstoy himself, too, knows that This is a deeply profound book, which, presumably about Tolstoy's philosophy of history in War and Peace, is actually about the nature of observable reality. In a mere 81 pages, Isaiah Berlin has gone far toward upsetting my apple cart -- for good and all. We all make assumptions about which we are comfortable, and these assumptions impact on our religious practices, political and social behavior, and in fact the whole nexus of our interrelationships with others:Tolstoy himself, too, knows that the truth is there, and not 'here' -- not in the regions susceptible to observation, discrimination, constructive imagination, not in the power of microscopic perception and analysis of which he is so much the greatest master of our time; but he has not, himself, seen it face to face; for he has not, do what he might, a vision of the whole; he is not, he is remote from being, a hedgehog; and what he sees is not the one, but always, with an ever growing minuteness, in all its teeming individuality, with an obsessive, inescapable, incorruptible, all-penetrating lucidity which maddens him, the many. This jawbreaker of a sentence packs a very large punch. We pretend we know what life is all about, but like a dishonest butcher, our fingers are resting on the scale. And we can't help it! Our beliefs are vitiated by desire, the complexity of our experience, the incompleteness of our experience, a wrong selection of point of view -- any of a near infinite number of things. This book has set a number of resolutions in motion. For one thing, I will read War and Peace a third time, and then I will venture into his later nonfiction works such as What I Believe. Then, I'll probably have to re-read this great essay by Berlin.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    While Hedgehog and Fox dichotomy is interesting; at least for first half of the book I didn't know what that 'one big thing' that hedgehogs knew. For example, what was the one thing that Dostoyevsky knew? As you read on, you get the idea that author is talking about some single system of values that explains it all. Thus Dostoevsky apparently had a single belief system that to him explained everything but Shakespeare had knew several systems? To be honest I still don't think Dostoevsky is hedgeh While Hedgehog and Fox dichotomy is interesting; at least for first half of the book I didn't know what that 'one big thing' that hedgehogs knew. For example, what was the one thing that Dostoyevsky knew? As you read on, you get the idea that author is talking about some single system of values that explains it all. Thus Dostoevsky apparently had a single belief system that to him explained everything but Shakespeare had knew several systems? To be honest I still don't think Dostoevsky is hedgehog though. You could argue that most philosophers - Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant are or want to be. You could argue it for someone like Karl Marx or Darwin but I think most great novelists are really foxes; though authors like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are trying to hedgehog; and failing to find their single system. If Dostoevsky was to ever preach in a book, it would be in The Idiot. Myshkin, who is considered the character most similar to Dostoevsky, might be said to contain impersonate author's one big idea, but then he ends up crazy after failing to effect the change he stood for, proving that FD's big trick won't work in the real world. Dostoevsky's other books have characters similarly seeing their ideas defeated in real world. So it seems I don't agree with Berlin on that one. I do agree on Tolstoy though. Tolstoy was definitely a fox trying to be hedgehog - which is book's main argument. Another thing that bothers me is that even if an thinker may be popularly associated with a single value system, it doesn't necessarily mean that he is hedgehog. He may be invested in other ideas he didn't feel need to write on. Marx once said that he is not a Marxist. So go figure. Also what if you don't have any tricks at all? Not many. Not one. None. What will you be then? That's the club I am going to end in.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Asim Bakhshi

    If you don't believe that a hundred page essay bordering on literary criticism, history and philosophy can prove to be an unputdownable jaw-dropper, you have to read this essay by Berlin who knew literature and specifically Russian literature like the back of his hand. Even if you are familiar with historical determinism in Tolstoy's War and Peace, you would be forced to revisit the complete tome once again and it is certainly worthwhile. And this is the least. It may happen that this little essa If you don't believe that a hundred page essay bordering on literary criticism, history and philosophy can prove to be an unputdownable jaw-dropper, you have to read this essay by Berlin who knew literature and specifically Russian literature like the back of his hand. Even if you are familiar with historical determinism in Tolstoy's War and Peace, you would be forced to revisit the complete tome once again and it is certainly worthwhile. And this is the least. It may happen that this little essay of Berlin would force you revisit your complete world-view with regards to observable and unobservable realities.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sajid

    Berlin begins by arguing that there are two general classes of thinkers and artists: foxes (e.g., Pushkin, Joyce, Aristotle, Moliere, Goethe), and hedgehogs (Dostoevsky, Nitzsche, Plato, Hegel). “But,” he says, “when we come to Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, and ask this of him…there is no clear or immediate answer. The question does not, somehow, seem wholly appropriate; it seems to breed more darkness than it dispels.” This is particularly confounding since Tolstoy wrote extensively, and exten Berlin begins by arguing that there are two general classes of thinkers and artists: foxes (e.g., Pushkin, Joyce, Aristotle, Moliere, Goethe), and hedgehogs (Dostoevsky, Nitzsche, Plato, Hegel). “But,” he says, “when we come to Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, and ask this of him…there is no clear or immediate answer. The question does not, somehow, seem wholly appropriate; it seems to breed more darkness than it dispels.” This is particularly confounding since Tolstoy wrote extensively, and extensively about himself. If there is one author whom we should understand, Tolstoy should be that author. The problem lies in part because, Berlin claims, “Tolstoy was himself not unaware of the problem, and did his best to falsify the answer. The hypothesis I wish to offer is that Tolstoy was by a nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog.” To try to come up with some simple and elegant formula explaining Tolstoy’s seemingly simple and elegant style and arguments is to run slap-bang into the fact that it can’t be done, and the more you try, the more Tolstoy falls apart in your hands, like tissue paper doused with water. Berlin calls Pushkin an “arch-fox,” but Tolstoy may have outfoxed them all. Having set up the problem, Berlin then provides a lucid discussion of Tolstoy’s conception of history in “War and Peace,” and its brilliance and its ultimately doomed nature. Tolstoy, Berlin says, and it is clear enough from his writings, “longed for a universal explanatory principle,” and went about destroying everyone else’s attempts at finding one, only to fall into “the suspicion that perhaps the quest was vain, that no core and no unifying principle would ever be discovered,” which led to “increasingly merciless and ingenious executions of more and more false claimants to the title of truth.” In the end, according to Berlin, Tolstoy’s was a destructive genius, able to see the falsities of others’ systems, but unable to create one of his own that could withstand his own assaults.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    This, then, is the great illusion which Tolstoy sets himself to expose: that individuals can, by the use of their own resources, understand and control the course of events… Tolstoy was not by nature a visionary; he saw the manifold objects and situations on earth in their full multiplicity…his genius lay in the perception of specific properties, the almost inexpressible individual quality in virtue of which the given object is uniquely different from all others. Nevertheless he longed for a univ This, then, is the great illusion which Tolstoy sets himself to expose: that individuals can, by the use of their own resources, understand and control the course of events… Tolstoy was not by nature a visionary; he saw the manifold objects and situations on earth in their full multiplicity…his genius lay in the perception of specific properties, the almost inexpressible individual quality in virtue of which the given object is uniquely different from all others. Nevertheless he longed for a universal explanatory principle; that is the perception of resemblances or common origins, or single purpose, or unity in the apparent variety of the mutually exclusive bits and pieces which composed the furniture of the world…he continued to kill his rivals’ rickety constructions with cold contempt…the irritated awareness at the back of his mind that no final solution was ever, in principle, to be found… Having just finished reading War and Peace, turning to Isaiah Berlin’s study of Tolstoy’s philosophy of history seemed appropriate. Any reflection on a theory of history is timely, it seems, as the world looks back 100 years to the beginning of WWI hostilities, and watches the conflagrations erupting in very old hot spots. On finishing War and Peace I was left with the sense that many critics have, that Tolstoy had a bee in his bonnet that marred the power of his novel with his incessant essays on the myth of the ‘great man’ and the deterministic theory of history: any ‘event’ is the result of an infinite number of other events beyond the ability of individual to capture and comprehend. He comes very close to saying there is no free will, but fears that to take that step would make life unlivable, according to Berlin. Yet, palpable on every page, is evidence that individuals—Pierre, Natasha, Andrei, Kutasov, Dolokhov-- do make conscious political, moral and practical decisions every day. Berlin calls this ‘the superior value of personal experience, the ‘thoughts, knowledge, poetry, music, love, friendship, hates, passions’ of which real life is compounded’. Berlin says that Tolstoy was a genius, and that there must be a way to reconcile these two aspects of the novel. He finds it in Archilochus’s line about the fox and the hedgehog: The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Dante and Dostoyevsky, says Berlin, are examples of hedgehog writers, while Joyce and Shakespeare are examples of foxes. But Tolstoy, continues Berlin, was a fox who desperately wanted to be a hedgehog. Tolstoy rejected Hegel and others because they could not develop scientific ‘laws’ of history that could predict future events. Why select some ‘causes’ and reject others? Or theorize as if you knew all the potential causes? He believed that it is not the external, political events that are the most important, but the inner, everyday and spiritual events which are fundamental to shaping the context in which we perceive and act. Thus the battle is really won by the spirit of the army, or the Russian people, not the orders of a general. Ultimately Berlin links Tolstoy and Joseph de Maistre, asserting that Tolstoy absorbed the core of Maistre’s skepticism about the ability of kings and generals to affect history, but not his rigid insistence on a return to quasi-medieval allegiance to Church and king. Both men’s power lay in their devastating ability to destroy grand theories of human development and political science. Tolstoy’s agony, Berlin claims, resulted from his inability to build as strong a case for a grand unifying theory that he could believe in. Berlin begins his essay with a beautifully concise and crystal clear explication of Tolstoy’s theory of history as set forth in War and Peace; if nothing else this book can be used as a crib for that examination question. He then proceeds to describe Tolstoy’s influences, (Rousseau, Stendhal, etc.) and the degree to which he drew on, or reacted to, them for his own approach. The book ends with Berlin attributing to Tolstoy a view that the wisdom that General Kutasov and Pierre embody is to become aware of, and move in concert with, the context and flow of our world that superficial facts and actions ‘reside’ in. This is not a mystical belief, Berlin asserts, but a state of mind that he sensed existed but could not himself attain. One is left to ponder whether the lasting appeal of War and Peace results not only from Tolstoy’s penetrating character studies enmeshed in the panorama of family and national conflicts, but also from the conflict between the two aspects of Tolstoy’s own character: his powerful grasp of facts and his awareness of a wisdom he could suspect existed, but could not feel himself. I had not read any Berlin before. I will read more. He is brilliant at walking the reader through an argument with clear, elegant prose and thoughtful, well-researched insights.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bertrand

    Some time ago I read Berlin’s The Roots of Romanticism – which, like the present book, was drawn from his lectures. At first sight, those two volumes testify to the steadiness of Berlin’s concerns and approach throughout his career. In the posthumous ‘The Roots’ he built on the unacknowledged current of French anti-romanticism, and their Anglo-Saxon continuators, to paint romanticism as the root, if not of all evil, at least of all illiberalism. (though I see now draws more on Benda than on Maur Some time ago I read Berlin’s The Roots of Romanticism – which, like the present book, was drawn from his lectures. At first sight, those two volumes testify to the steadiness of Berlin’s concerns and approach throughout his career. In the posthumous ‘The Roots’ he built on the unacknowledged current of French anti-romanticism, and their Anglo-Saxon continuators, to paint romanticism as the root, if not of all evil, at least of all illiberalism. (though I see now draws more on Benda than on Maurras). The Hedgehog and the Fox start from a similar dualism: according to Archilochus, ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’ Towering figures of European intellectual history are then distributed between foxes, pragmatic, realist, pluralist and moderate, and hedgehogs, all dreamy platonists, mystics and irrationalists. 'Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes' (2). Such sharp binaries can bring great clarity and immediacy to a subject, the history of ideas, which can so easily slide into obfuscation, but obviously it also imposes stringent limits, so that Berlin’s unacknowledged defense of the foxes is at risk of itself belonging to the hedgehogs. In ‘The Roots’ that is precisely the issue: Berlin appear ‘romantically antiromantic,’ to use Babbit’s barb against Maurras, of which I tire not. But in The Hedgehog and the Fox, a fairly short essay written early in his career, this political Gnosticism only serves as a platform for the analysis of Tolstoi’s philosophy of history. And here Berlin moves rapidly to complicate his system: ‘Tolstoy was by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog;’ (4). While moving well beyond the philosophy of history in any conventional sense (Berlin focuses on the early, pre-Christian Tolstoi of War and Peace), we get a perceptive and multi-layered portrait of the writer. Berlin tells us first of Tolstoy’s infatuation with history, less as a taste for the past, and more as a tool for the scientific study of the present. Yet this is rapidly compounded with a pointed understanding of the inadequacy of history’s imperfect means to the grandiosity of its ends: tales of great men, economic determinism and other formulas meant to extract the determining circumstances from the innumerable flow of past occurrences, can never even approach the true causes, which are too numerous, too complex and too obscure for a science necessarily selective, today and probably of all eternity: ‘‘Power’ and ‘accident’ are but names for ignorance of the causal chains, but the chains exist whether we feel them or not’ (34). While the magic circle that science draws around the experiment can justify somewhat its abstraction of efficient causes from the totality of the instant, history’s ambition (and that of sociology too) denies it such indulgence. Hence Tolstoy’s relish at juxtaposing in his fiction the lived experience of chaos, against the inane theorizing of the authorized: in a formulation where the fog of war prefigures Bloch’s darkness of the now, Tolstoi writes ‘nowhere is the commandment not to taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge so clearly written as in the course of history. Only unconscious activity bears fruit, and the individual who plays a part in historical events never understands their significance. If he attempts to understand them, he is struck with sterility’ (quoted p. 20). The world soul on horseback, for all his exalted image in his own and others’ imaginations, is none the wiser. In fact, the inner experience of the little people ultimately grasps in its humility more of the real and of the course of things, than grand strategy or any theory. Tolstoi, then, was a critic: bent on taking apart each toy handed to him, but according to Berlin, with little ability to put it back together, either as it was or in some new configuration. And yet, ‘Nevertheless he longed for a universal explanatory principle; that is, the perception of resemblances or common origins, or single purpose, or unity in the apparent variety of the mutually exclusive bits and pieces which composed the furniture of the world’ (40). In the third and most surprising part of the book, and on the basis of such repressed monism, Berlin proceeds to draw a learned parallel with a figure he explored elsewhere: Joseph de Maistre. After tracing the scanty paper trail between the two, Berlin proceeds to show that the profound (foxy) skepticism of the two authors serves in each case a ultimate longing for the hedgehog’s unitary truth. The reconciliation is found, in both cases, in the first-hand experience of the flow of existence, away from all a posteriori rationalization. What might have turned into a facile reductio ab maistrium is perhaps the book’s highlight: Maistre and Tolstoi are both what Antoine Compagnon has more recently termed antimodernes, a tradition he traces across the landscape of modernism all the way to Roland Barthes, where pessimism reaches beyond (though often through) mere reaction, into an existential register refused to the more enlightened spirits of the age. That part alone would make the book worth reading - yet there are also serious problems, in particular with the aforementioned characterization of Tolstoi as ‘ by nature ’ a fox, seeking to be a hedgehog: it implies a personal essence that persists independent from the writer’s life-course, and thus unsurprisingly discounts his ultimate turn to religion as the self-delusion of a conflicted man. Berlin’s own spite for the tormented romantic soul, for the individual incapable of achieving ‘ integration’ (i.e. 46) walks a very thin line. He is both reliant on his subject’s contradictions to provide his intellectual portraits with the depth his system lacks, and seemingly just one bad day away from pathologizing the whole thing, as in the later Goethe. This I suspect is born from his attachment to the self-same, theoretically autonomous liberal subject: the liberal critic of romanticism, built upon the horseshoe convergence of extremes, can only claim moderation as its moral high-ground. Hence Berlin’s unsurprising confession: ‘I am probably a fox; I’m not a hedgehog.’ (91). In Berlin’s age already, the likes of Nietzsche or William James had disproven the necessary ties of pluralism and moderation. Berlin would probably file the first, and perhaps the second, along with Maistre among the foxes dreaming of hedgehogness. While this doubling provides some much-needed depth to the binary model, today’s postmodernism, and its recent conservative twists, ought to give us a pause. Ultimately I suspect that, like many liberals and liberal-conservatives, Berlin cannot but ground his ‘moderate’ anti-dogmaticism in dogmatic humanism, a groundless faith in the self-causing dignity of the individual, which in a democracy has great functional value, but to scientists, philosophers and novelists, should remain a regulative fiction. Thus moderation, as is perhaps evident, has meaning only once the spectrum has been established by designating the extremes. That a priori spectrum is provided to many moderates by ‘human nature’ – of which knowledge can be acquired either by tapping into the reservoir of human wisdom known as tradition (or ‘history’ for the more squeamish), or alternatively is taken to be self-evident, perhaps inferred from pre-theoretical day-to-day experience. In either case, this foundation must go unexamined, despite being evidently theory-laden. Recently I came across Simone de Beauvoir’s felicitous formulation of the liberal dilemma: ‘the rising bourgeoisie forged for itself an ideology that served its own liberation ; once the dominant class, it cannot think of repudiating its legacy. But all thought aims for universality: to justify in the universal mode the possession of particular advantages is no easy task’ (Faut-il brûler Sade?). One widespread solution is to temporise: yes, our liberalism fails to live up to its own ideals, but ‘moderation’ is all that stands between such imperfect freedom and the horrors of the [French/Russian/Vietnamese/etc.] Revolution. That ‘integration’ of the Fox knowing itself for what it is (an experience presumably refused in this world to the hedgehog) – which Berlin faults the romantics for lacking – is I suspect often performative: an enactment of this stable human nature demanded by the system, an empirical proof of its immediate availability to the reader. More perhaps than Tolstoi a fox playing the hedgehog, I suspect that Berlin, and fellow Cold War moderates, are hedgehogs in fox clothing. All in all, this book is an excellent read: excellent most of all because of the author’s free-flowing prose, memorable similes and distinct but understated presence throughout the text, much of which must spring from its origins as a lecture, and thus comes at the price of the footnotes, reduced here to an impressionistic minimum. Berlin’s enduring popularity, post-mortem still the main representative of the history of idea in the lay imagination, must owe at least as much to his literary talent as to the accessibility of his binary framework. But that framework itself, despite its limitations, is a historical artefact of great interest: one that testifies to unsuspected continuities between turn of the century concerns, and those of the Cold War. Finally, as what it intends to be, a discussion of Tolstoi, it is both learned and perceptive, even as the overarching thesis at times borders on the naïve.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ida Wry

    You have to read at least the first few pages. Then you will think about hedgehogs and foxes for the rest of your life.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Abubakar Mehdi

    On reading War and Peace, one of my favourite books, I was left with a unique perspective on how we conceive history and how things are made to make sense in hindsight. Tolstoy dedicated passage after passage on the erroneous approach taken by many historians, who use vast generalizations and oversimplifications to explain historical events. Tolstoy disagrees with this view of history, as a series of events that can be neatly laid out for evaluation by the historian. This is not only a fallacy t On reading War and Peace, one of my favourite books, I was left with a unique perspective on how we conceive history and how things are made to make sense in hindsight. Tolstoy dedicated passage after passage on the erroneous approach taken by many historians, who use vast generalizations and oversimplifications to explain historical events. Tolstoy disagrees with this view of history, as a series of events that can be neatly laid out for evaluation by the historian. This is not only a fallacy that historians are susceptible to but rather something that afflicts all of us. In our desire for a coherent and meaningful narrative, we are constantly engaged in a struggle to piece together a patchwork of random events, ideas and accidents that our lives are. For instance, most people have a story as to how they chose their profession or their current position in life, and if they were to be entirely honest, I am sure that a majority of them will have to credit sheer luck or misfortune – powers entirely out of our control – for bringing them to where they are. But that doesn’t make for a sexy story. It’s not punchy and doesn’t make us look as clever, driven and motivated as we’d like. So, we create our own narratives, where we are the heroes and the sole captains of our ships. Perhaps there is a sense of freedom in that which allows us to bring a romantic/mythic beauty to our often boring existence. So why not! Berlin’s principal contribution via this essay, in my opinion, is the parallel he has drawn between the philosophy of Joseph de Maistre and Tolstoy. Beyond that, Berlin has also successfully placed War and Peace as a work of genius and something that cannot be solely read as a piece of historical fiction, but also a philosophical treatise that goes beyond the conventional ideation of what a novel can be. Any reader interested in War and Peace would find this book extremely stimulating and rewarding.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Interesting discussion of the nature and utility of history. Berlin provides an insightful analysis of Tolstoy, his inner torment and contradictory nature. I hope to read more of Berlin's works, he had an impressive intellect. Interesting discussion of the nature and utility of history. Berlin provides an insightful analysis of Tolstoy, his inner torment and contradictory nature. I hope to read more of Berlin's works, he had an impressive intellect.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    Any great novel deserves to be followed by reading what someone else has written about that novel or novelist. After finishing Anna Karenina, I turned to Isaiah Berlin's famous essay in which he establishes a contrast between those writers and philosophers who are absorbed in multiplicity and distinctions (foxes) and those who know "one big thing," which then becomes the basis for a grand, unified vision (hedgehogs). Tolstoy, he argues, is caught, ultimately tragically so, between these two type Any great novel deserves to be followed by reading what someone else has written about that novel or novelist. After finishing Anna Karenina, I turned to Isaiah Berlin's famous essay in which he establishes a contrast between those writers and philosophers who are absorbed in multiplicity and distinctions (foxes) and those who know "one big thing," which then becomes the basis for a grand, unified vision (hedgehogs). Tolstoy, he argues, is caught, ultimately tragically so, between these two types--he is a fox who wishes to be a hedgehog. Levin, in Anna Karenina is a fox who toward the end of the novel becomes a "happy" hedgehog, a sort of projection of Tolstoy's own frustrated desire. Whatever one thinks of this paradigm, which Berlin himself acknowledges as a bit overly simplistic, it makes for provocative reading. And, let's face it, they just don't make many critics these days who can write as beautifully and clearly as Berlin.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Richard Levine

    Once I'd taken two months or so to work my way through the entirety of Tolstoy's War and Peace, it didn't seem like much of an additional commitment to spend a few more hours on this (merely) 82-page essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin about Tolstoy's view of history (primarily as articulated in W&P, although with a few references to Anna Karenina and other Tolstoy works). And I'm glad I did, although I admit that at times Berlin is just so damn brilliant that it made my head hurt. The title of the essay Once I'd taken two months or so to work my way through the entirety of Tolstoy's War and Peace, it didn't seem like much of an additional commitment to spend a few more hours on this (merely) 82-page essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin about Tolstoy's view of history (primarily as articulated in W&P, although with a few references to Anna Karenina and other Tolstoy works). And I'm glad I did, although I admit that at times Berlin is just so damn brilliant that it made my head hurt. The title of the essay, and the premise, is fully explained in just the first few pages. Berlin begins with a fragment from the Greek poet Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." From this he posits that writers and thinkers, indeed all humans, can be divided between hedgehogs and foxes; hedgehogs being those who see and relate everything to a single unifying vision or principal, and foxes being those who see the multiplicity of things without needing to fit them into a single vision. And by the end of his first paragraph Berlin has tossed off a brilliant list of examples: hedgehogs include Dante, Plato, Nietzsche, Proust; foxes include Shakespeare, Aristotle, Montaigne, Goethe, Joyce. But Tolstoy, Berlin suggests, is a puzzling case -- not clearly one or the other -- and the reason for this, Berlin hypothesizes, is that Tolstoy was a fox by nature, but that he believed in being a hedgehog. That's the easy part -- to understand and to summarize. After that, well, all I can say is that I was totally swept up by Berlin’s beautiful, long, complex sentences and paragraphs, but I often had to stop after a particularly stunning sentence or paragraph and reread it once or twice, because while I felt I had understood it while I was reading it, I wasn’t able, having completed it, to summarize for myself the point that Berlin was making. Berlin is undeniably a brilliant scholar, and he uses his vast learning and his love and sympathy for Tolstoy to dig into and try to explain the perversity of Tolstoy’s theory of history; I found his explanation quite convincing -- and, ultimately, quite moving -- but I’m not able to briefly explain why. I will say this: I’d previously been thinking that I’d like to read a full biography of Tolstoy to understand this extraordinary artist better; but Berlin’s essay gave me such a brilliant explanation of the man, concluding with this devastating thumbnail of his tortured final days, that I was left wondering what more I could possibly want to know. * * * “Tolstoy began with a view of human life and history which contradicted all his knowledge, all his gifts, all his inclinations, and which, in consequence, he could scarcely be said to have embraced in the sense of practicing it, either as a writer or as a man. From this, in his old age, he passed into a form of life in which he tried to resolve the glaring contradiction between what he believed about men and events, and what he thought he believed, or ought to believe, by behaving, in the end, as if factual questions of this kind were not the fundamental issues at all, only the trivial preoccupations of an idle, ill-conducted life, while the real questions were quite different. But it was of no use . . . . his appalling, destructive sense of what was false frustrated this final effort at self-deception as it did all the earlier ones; and he died in agony, oppressed by the burden of his intellectual infallibility and his sense of perpetual moral error, the greatest of those who can neither reconcile, nor leave unreconciled, the conflict of what there is with what there ought to be. Tolstoy’s sense of reality was until the end too devastating to be compatible with any moral ideal which he was able to construct out of the fragments into which his intellect shivered the world, and he dedicated all of his vast strength of mind and will to the lifelong denial of this fact. At once insanely proud and filled with self-hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and self-abasing, tormented and detached, surrounded by an adoring family, by devoted followers, by the admiration of the entire civilized world, and yet almost wholly isolated, he is the most tragic of the great writers, a desperate old man, beyond human aid, wandering self-blinded at Colonus.”

  19. 5 out of 5

    Balsam Alesawi

    Tho am so idle to write reviews these days; I`m so tempted to write one. Isaiah in his analysed Tolstoys thinking and writing so profoundly and in fascinating way. Being a fan of the romantic movement (the hedgehogs) I had always the fear to read for nihilistics and pessimistics (the foxes), but this book made a tranfromative revolution in my mind, Tolstoy as Isaiah described him reminded me of faust, he says "Tolstoy was the least superficial of men: he could not swim with the tide without bei Tho am so idle to write reviews these days; I`m so tempted to write one. Isaiah in his analysed Tolstoys thinking and writing so profoundly and in fascinating way. Being a fan of the romantic movement (the hedgehogs) I had always the fear to read for nihilistics and pessimistics (the foxes), but this book made a tranfromative revolution in my mind, Tolstoy as Isaiah described him reminded me of faust, he says "Tolstoy was the least superficial of men: he could not swim with the tide without being drawn irresistibly beneath the surface to investigate the darker depths below; and he could not avoid seeing what he saw and doubting even that; he could close his eyes but not forget that he was doing so; his appalling, destructive sense of what was false frustrated this final effort at self-deception as it did all the earlier ones; and he died in agony, oppressed by the burden of his intellectual infallibility and his sense of perpetual moral error, the greatest of those who can neither reconcile, nor leave unreconciled, the conflict of what there is with what there ought to be." Now am eager to read his" War and peace". I would have reviewed the book in better details to the one who aims to read it, but when you give five stars you shut your brain and let your heart speaks.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Henry Phillips

    Isaiah Berlin, once again, is both insightful and eloquent. He is a delight. This is the kind of scholarship to aim for.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aidan McGuire

    A profound essay with reaching insights to Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Yana

    Is there anyone else in the world besides yourself and me who does not think that Tolstoy’s long epilogues and philosophical excursuses are tedious interruptions of the story? Typical Russian amateur home-made bits of eccentric philosophy? - Isaiah Berlin to his publisher Lincoln Schuster Most readers would agree with the above. I remember the time when I finished War and peace - the last 100 pages or so surely took me by surprise. I kept thinking that Tolstoy would eventually return to the story Is there anyone else in the world besides yourself and me who does not think that Tolstoy’s long epilogues and philosophical excursuses are tedious interruptions of the story? Typical Russian amateur home-made bits of eccentric philosophy? - Isaiah Berlin to his publisher Lincoln Schuster Most readers would agree with the above. I remember the time when I finished War and peace - the last 100 pages or so surely took me by surprise. I kept thinking that Tolstoy would eventually return to the story and tell us more about our favorite personages. Was I wrong... As everyone knows, the ending of one of the most brilliant pieces of literature introduces Tolstoy's view of history. And I can understand why most people find it terribly annoying - they were not in it for the philosophical analysis so it was major turn off for them. At the time I read the epilogue, I didn't think much of it. But surprisingly enough this strange ending kept coming back in my thoughts. So I was genuinely interested when I randomly discovered Isaiah Berlin's essay. It took me long enough to read the 122 pages - more than one year since I started, a year that included change of a job, and maybe 35 books in between. But that's typical of me, since I can't always concentrate in one thing. One of the aforementioned 35 books was Tolstoy's Confession. It actually helped me get the most out of this essay, since it provides a deeper look into his most personal thoughts. And in my opinion it also coincides with I. Berlin's conclusions. Berlin builds up his work around the Greek poet Archilochus' line that says "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"* He goes on by dividing some of the greatest writers and philosophers into two categories (yes, you guessed it) - foxes and hedgehogs. The foxes draw on a wide variety of experiences and for them the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (Shakespeare, Goethe, Aristotle). The hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (Plato, Pascal, Dostoevsky, Henry James)** His conclusion about Tolstoy is that he is a fox, who believes in being a hedgehog. And that is his great tragedy: Tolstoy began with a view of human life and history which contradicted all his knowledge, all his gifts, all his inclinations, and which, in consequence, he could scarcely be said to have embraced in the sense of practising it, either as a writer or as a man. From this, in his old age, he passed into a form of life in which he tried to resolve the glaring contradiction between what he believed about men and events, and what he thought he believed, or ought to believe, by behaving, in the end, as if factual questions of this kind were not the fundamental issues at all, only the trivial preoccupations of an idle, ill-conducted life, while the real questions were quite different. But it was of no use: the Muse cannot be cheated. Tolstoy was the least superficial of men: he could not swim with the tide without being drawn irresistibly beneath the surface to investigate the darker depths below; and he could not avoid seeing what he saw and doubting even that; he could close his eyes but not forget that he was doing so; his appalling, destructive sense of what was false frustrated this final effort at self-deception as it did all the earlier ones; and he died in agony, oppressed by the burden of his intellectual infallibility and his sense of perpetual moral error, the greatest of those who can neither reconcile, nor leave unreconciled, the conflict of what there is with what there ought to be. Tolstoy’s sense of reality was until the end too devastating to be compatible with any moral ideal which he was able to construct out of the fragments into which his intellect shivered the world, and he dedicated all of his vast strength of mind and will to the lifelong denial of this fact. At once insanely proud and filled with self-hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and self-abasing, tormented and detached, surrounded by an adoring family, by devoted followers, by the admiration of the entire civilised world, and yet almost wholly isolated, he is the most tragic of the great writers, a desperate old man, beyond human aid, wandering selfblinded at Colonus. This section speaks for itself - you see that in addition to some very interesting ideas, Berlin is also capable of beautiful writing. So I strongly recommend this essay to anyone with interest in literature, philosophy, and obviously - Tolstoy. * In this edition's notes it becomes clear that there are (of course) more than one possible translation of this line. ** Used a little help from Wikipedia here, since I tend to go into complicated explanations of ideas, which are otherwise beautifully simple.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Otto Lehto

    Come for the famous animal analogy but stay for the fascinating biography of Tolstoy. A fox is someone who knows many small things with incredible acumen but doesn't see the forest for the trees whereas a hedgehog only knows the One Big Thing to which everything relates but is oblivious to the world of particulars. This fascinating distinction between hedgehogs and foxes has become part of common philosophical parlance ever since the publication of this essay. However, Berlin uses the distinctio Come for the famous animal analogy but stay for the fascinating biography of Tolstoy. A fox is someone who knows many small things with incredible acumen but doesn't see the forest for the trees whereas a hedgehog only knows the One Big Thing to which everything relates but is oblivious to the world of particulars. This fascinating distinction between hedgehogs and foxes has become part of common philosophical parlance ever since the publication of this essay. However, Berlin uses the distinction as nothing but a pragmatic framing device. He mostly abandons it after the introduction like a pretty but distracting diamond, without any qualms. This is because the book is not about that distinction at all. Actually, it is about a rather DIFFERENT dichotomy. The intellectual dichotomy that the book wants to explore, and which only minimally overlaps with the Fox/Hedgehog distinction, is that between two "rival types of knowledge": 1) On the one hand, the scientistic, rationalistic type of knowledge which attempts to make sense of the totality of the facts and laws of the universe by the means of "methodical inquiry"; 2) On the other hand, the type of "non-scientific knowledge" that attempts to distill deeper human "wisdom" from a recognition of our irrational, fallible human nature in the face of the unknowable cosmos. The latter type, Berlin argues, is what Tolstoy aspired to portray in his literary works and to personally reach. Berlin's terminology brilliantly encapsulates Tolstoy's painstakingly empirical yet nihilistic description of war and Napoleonism, but also of the peacetime follies of Russian high society and the educated elite, as mere instances of the hubris of humanity unaware of its own limits. And it also fits into Tolstoy's latter year hermitage as a champion of the simple peasant who is IN tune with the rhythms of the soul and OUT of tune with the modern world. These two archetypes are presented as eternal figures that have existed in human society since the dawn of man. In the context of Tolstoy's 19th century society, type 1 is represented by optimistic scientific planners, Utopian social reformers, and warriors like Napoleon, while type 2 is, in divergent ways, represented by existentialists, mystics, religious reactionaries, skeptics, and nihilists. By way of a perverse but illuminating comparison, the arch reactionary Joseph de Maistre is introduced as a parallel figure, as another sharp and critical mind who knew how to tear down the "masters of the universe". They both wanted to expose the unintended consequences and social catastrophes that, in their minds, resulted from excessive faith in the powers of human reason. The story is told in a way that only Berlin can. Although its factual substance can be debated in the particulars, the analysis is clear, learned, and full of novel associations that continue to inspire. The prose is scintillating, joyful, rich, evocative, and constantly gushing with vitality. It occasionally veers into strange metaphors, dreamy invocations, and excessively baroque rhetorical flourishes, but it has to be admired as one of the most melodious products of English prose. No wonder that Berlin's style continues to be an inspiration to many second rate scribblers and imitators. Although it is somewhat misleadingly titled, occasionally florid in its metaphors, and full of underdeveloped ideas, The Hedgehog and the Fox is classic Isaiah Berlin. It introduces and successfully exploits several novel distinctions that have vast potential as analytical tools beyond their original locus of application. They are often left undeveloped in the purely systematic way. Berlin uses them pragmatically and abandons them when they are no longer useful to him. But this is alright, since Berlin is a dynamic producer of evocative insights, striking metaphors, and useful concepts - NOT a system builder. He is neither a fox nor a hedgehog (although more of the former). Perhaps he should be classified as a worker bee, hardworking and exploratory, whose mellifluous prose is like philosophical nectar collected from the rich tapestry of life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kirti Upreti

    Riveting. Enlightening. Humbling.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    The Russian born, British philosopher and critic, wrote this famous book-length essay about Tolstoy’s philosophy of history (as presented and explained in War and Peace) in 1953. Not quite 80 pages in length, it is a masterful analysis of Tolstoy’s ideas, commencing by using a fragment from Archilochus, an ancient Greek poet, who observed “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He applies this observation to artistic approaches and briefly plays the game of placing wri The Russian born, British philosopher and critic, wrote this famous book-length essay about Tolstoy’s philosophy of history (as presented and explained in War and Peace) in 1953. Not quite 80 pages in length, it is a masterful analysis of Tolstoy’s ideas, commencing by using a fragment from Archilochus, an ancient Greek poet, who observed “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He applies this observation to artistic approaches and briefly plays the game of placing writers into the two types: Joyce, fox; Dostoyevsky, hedgehog; Shakespeare, fox; Proust, hedgehog. Foxes present a world that is rich, elusive, a complex potpourri of interests, rules, theories, impulses, perspectives, and approaches. The world is ineffably beautiful or ugly or both. Hedgehogs have a unifying vision or theme. It all comes down to one thing, psychology, religion, economics, a specific aesthetic. Tolstoy it seems was both, a fox in his fiction and a hedgehog in his nonfiction. In War and Peace, which concludes with a long essay on history, he was both. Writing this epic, multi-character novel, Tolstoy wrote with an insight and diversity of perspective that actually challenges his summative essay’s theoretical assertion about the impossibility of capturing any true accounting of any event and the idea that great individuals have any kind of impact on the flow of history. History is not logical or reason-driven but random and driven as much by passion, spirituality, and a myriad of shifting actions of self-interest that defy prediction and control. Berlin points out how characters in the novel contradict this, both minor and major characters. It does not diminish the genius of Tolstoy’s fiction or much undermine the argument he makes in his essay. Essentially Berlin is a moderator in a great debate not between two brilliant minds but within ideas housed in one incredibly fecund and searching mind.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Phrodrick

    This is an extended essay, 95 pages in this copy. Sir Isaiah Berlin applies the conceit that human thinkers are either: `hedgehogs" - focused on single topics / world views, or philosophies or "foxes" interested in conflicting philosophies and multiple areas of interest - to Leo Tolstoy. Sir Berlin tightens his case by limiting the essay to War and Peace. This essay is a classic and far better minds than mine have ruled it to be a masterpiece. I echo this acclaim and urge it as a worthy read both This is an extended essay, 95 pages in this copy. Sir Isaiah Berlin applies the conceit that human thinkers are either: `hedgehogs" - focused on single topics / world views, or philosophies or "foxes" interested in conflicting philosophies and multiple areas of interest - to Leo Tolstoy. Sir Berlin tightens his case by limiting the essay to War and Peace. This essay is a classic and far better minds than mine have ruled it to be a masterpiece. I echo this acclaim and urge it as a worthy read both as an example of readable language in the service of a tightly and exhaustively written logical argument and as an insightful analysis of War and Peace. That it also has important things to say about Leo Tolstoy elevates it to greater heights. I am not sure that the Hedgehog and Fox conceit fits Leo Tolstoy. The fact that Sir Berlin limited his essay to War and Peace speaks to the polymath mind that is reflected in the breath of Tolstoy's interests and writings. Alternately, Tolstoy's biography makes a strong case for the master's desire to isolate a consistent singular philosophy. Does this make him a `polymathic' hedgehog or a fox ultimately focused on a single den? Or does the typology break down by implying only exclusive categories? My read of this essay is that Sir Berlin knows that Tolstoy does not fit into either category. The impression is that IB maintains the conceit as a useful introduction to his essay. There are several places where IB makes clear that he is struggling to maintain the fox/hedgehog distinction and knew it fails to type Tolstoy. IB could have explicitly stated that Tolstoy cannot be placed in either classification, that the fox/hedgehog categories are useful but not exhaustive. Once freed from the limits of this insightful if ancient division, the rest of his essay remains intact as a masterpiece.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Richard Seltzer

    Read for the second time.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Prabodh Sharma

    "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" Archilochus Isaiah Berlin uses this quote by a Greek poet to classify authors into 2 categories: 1. Foxes: Know many things including the limit to what they can know, but they make peace with this limitation. Berlin (himself an admitted fox) says, "we are a part of a larger scheme of things than we can understand" They pursue many ends - often unrelated and contradictory- on vast variety of experiences, have scattered and diffused t "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" Archilochus Isaiah Berlin uses this quote by a Greek poet to classify authors into 2 categories: 1. Foxes: Know many things including the limit to what they can know, but they make peace with this limitation. Berlin (himself an admitted fox) says, "we are a part of a larger scheme of things than we can understand" They pursue many ends - often unrelated and contradictory- on vast variety of experiences, have scattered and diffused thoughts without seeking to fit them into any unitary vision. For eg. Shakespeare, Pushkin. 2.  Hedgehogs: Berlin uses this term not for one who knows one big thing, but for one who strives to give a one single unified view of all things. They relate everything to a single central vision, one system, a single universal organising principle. They do not reconcile to the idea that there may not be an ultimate truth.  Prime example being Karl Marx. The essay then proceeds to analyse Tolstoy's views on history (primarily expounded in War and Peace) with the hypothesis that Tolstoy was by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog. Berlin feels that Tolstoy's interest in history arose from the desire to penetrate to first causes, to understand how and why things happen as they do. Metaphysical and abstract explanations were too removed from reality for Tolstoy and only history, as a sum total of human experiences alone could provide the truth. However, young Tolstoy was disappointed to find history as it was taught as "nothing but a collection of fables and useless trifles." If history was a science, Tolstoy believed, then it must be possible to formulate a set of laws which along with empirical data may help in predicting the future. But as he saw it has not been achieved, he gave arguments for why this goal itself is non achievable! Tolstoy then batters historians stating that as the causes for any event were too many to be accounted for, historians select a few aspects ("perhaps only 0.001%") and attribute them the whole credit or blame. History is then, "only a succession of accidents whose origin and consequences are by and large, untraceable and unpredictable, only loosely strung group of events forming an ever varying pattern, with no discernible order". Tolstoy exposes the fallacy in the idea that "individuals can by the use of their own resources, understand and control the course of events". The inner events, the most immediate experience of humans is ignored by the historians, hence the desire for writing War and Peace. This novel in its war portions portrays how an individual soldier views the war, as not a glorifying systematic attack as shown in movies, but an experience of confusion and fear, with no idea who is winning or losing, where to go or do what. But despite acknowledging that, he feels these are the trivial flowers of life while he wished to understand "what power is it that moves the destinies of people?" Why on exhortation of Hitler, would Christians massacre the Jews? Number of causes upon which events turn is too great for human knowledge or calculation. The conflict between the belief that attributes of personal life alone are real but analysis of them is insufficient to explain the course of history remained unresolved for Tolstoy. The more closely we relate an act to its context, the less free the actor seems to be. Tolstoy sees a natural law whereby the lives of human beings are determined, but they represent it as a succession of free choices, making men heroes and villains, who don't recognise their own insignificance and impotence in the cosmic flow which pursues it's course irrespective of their wills and ideals. Power and accident are but names for ignorance of the causal chains. But this ignorance of historical determinism, if it didn't exist would lead to paralysis. "Since we are not free, but could not live without the conviction that we are, what are we to do?" Tolstoy doesn't provide a solution to this problem, rather like Camus, proposes to reconcile with the existence of absurdity. Historian Kareev provides a rational refutation of Tolstoy's views by stating that "Man is at once an atom living its own conscious life for itself and at the same time, the unconscious agent of some historical trend. The important people are less important than they themselves or the more foolish historians may suppose, but neither are they shadows" Berlin then traces the source of Tolstoy's ideas in the writings of Rousseau, Slavophile contemporaries, Schopenhauer, Stendhal and the unadmitted, Joseph de Maistre. It's the tale of one of the greatest authors in history and his battle for reconciliation of foxian and hedgehog-ian thoughts, or may be it is simply an intellectual cracker for cocktail conversations by Isaiah Berlin!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Henry Cooksley

    I came for the philosophy and the intuition pumps, I left with a slightly better idea of what literary critics think of Tolstoy. I really wanted this to live up to expectations, and it certainly fluctuates between great and less great throughout the essay. But the whole thing just reeks of scientific illiteracy, even though that's partly what the essay and, I suppose, Tolstoy himself, is getting at. The essay touches on free will, rationalism vs. empiricism, causation, and related philosophical I came for the philosophy and the intuition pumps, I left with a slightly better idea of what literary critics think of Tolstoy. I really wanted this to live up to expectations, and it certainly fluctuates between great and less great throughout the essay. But the whole thing just reeks of scientific illiteracy, even though that's partly what the essay and, I suppose, Tolstoy himself, is getting at. The essay touches on free will, rationalism vs. empiricism, causation, and related philosophical topics, but there's never any serious discussion. Instead, the essay is really a (naive) English literature essay, and it's frustrating to read knowing how much better it could be with a bit of expansion. As Berlin seemed to not take this essay particularly seriously himself, according to a Wikipedia source, it's a shame that this essay is as famous and oft-quoted as it is. I see it everywhere in academic philosophy. “Opposed as Tolstoy and Maistre were – one the apostle of the gospel that all men are brothers, the other the cold defender of the claims of violence, blind sacrifice, and eternal suffering – they were united by inability to escape from the same tragic paradox: they were both by nature sharp-eyed foxes, inescapably aware of sheer, de facto differences which divide and forces which disrupt the human world, observers utterly incapable of being deceived by the many subtle devices, the unifying systems and faiths and sciences, by which the superficial or the desperate sought to conceal the chaos from themselves and from one another. Both looked for a harmonious universe, but everywhere found war and disorder, which no attempt to cheat, however heavily disguised, could even begin to hide; and so, in a condition of final despair, offered to throw away the terrible weapons of criticism, with which both, but particularly Tolstoy, were over-generously endowed, in favour of the single great vision, something too indivisibly simple and remote from normal intellectual processes to be assailable by the instruments of reason, and therefore, perhaps, offering a path to peace and salvation. Maistre began as a moderate liberal and ended by pulverising the new nineteenth-century world from the solitary citadel of his own variety of ultramontane Catholicism. Tolstoy began with a view of human life and history which contradicted all his knowledge, all his gifts, all his inclinations, and which, in consequence, he could scarcely be said to have embraced in the sense of practising it, either as a writer or as a man. From this, in his old age, he passed into a form of life in which he tried to resolve the glaring contradiction between what he believed about men and events, and what he thought he believed, or ought to believe, by behaving, in the end, as if factual questions of this kind were not the fundamental issues at all, only the trivial preoccupations of an idle, ill-conducted life, while the real questions were quite different. But it was of no use: the Muse cannot be cheated. Tolstoy was the least superficial of men: he could not swim with the tide without being drawn irresistibly beneath the surface to investigate the darker depths below; and he could not avoid seeing what he saw and doubting even that; he could close his eyes but not forget that he was doing so; his appalling, destructive sense of what was false frustrated this final effort at self-deception as it did all the earlier ones; and he died in agony, oppressed by the burden of his intellectual infallibility and his sense of perpetual moral error, the greatest of those who can neither reconcile, nor leave unreconciled, the conflict of what there is with what there ought to be. Tolstoy’s sense of reality was until the end too devastating to be compatible with any moral ideal which he was able to construct out of the fragments into which his intellect shivered the world, and he dedicated all of his vast strength of mind and will to the lifelong denial of this fact. At once insanely proud and filled with self-hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and self-abasing, tormented and detached, surrounded by an adoring family, by devoted followers, by the admiration of the entire civilised world, and yet almost wholly isolated, he is the most tragic of the great writers, a desperate old man, beyond human aid, wandering self-blinded at Colonus.” Maybe the whole thing was written out of spite, to make up for the huge amount of time lost wading through the entirety of War and Peace.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    So, first things first. If I’m going to include books I read for class, I’m going to update my reading challenge for this year to exclude them, because I don’t think that’s fair, considering just how much reading I might do throughout any given semester. Second, I have to resist the urge to update my reading challenge goal too much, even though I’m reading a ton. I clearly thought I could only read 20 books for pleasure the start of the year, and feel like it would also be unfair to change my ch So, first things first. If I’m going to include books I read for class, I’m going to update my reading challenge for this year to exclude them, because I don’t think that’s fair, considering just how much reading I might do throughout any given semester. Second, I have to resist the urge to update my reading challenge goal too much, even though I’m reading a ton. I clearly thought I could only read 20 books for pleasure the start of the year, and feel like it would also be unfair to change my challenge halfway through the year. Thoughts? Now onto Berlin’s animal-themed philosophy. This book deserves five stars. It really does. Though it’s not a pleasure read and I didn’t expect it to be “fun,” it was a fascinating intellectual exercise. I can’t consciously actually give it five stars though, mostly because it was a bit too dense at times. I think this was because the majority of the book was about Tolstoy and War and Peace, which I have never actually read and know little to nothing about. If I’d known more about this great book at its author, I undoubtedly would have been able to see the insights in this book more easily. Once I got to the final sections where Berlin discusses Maistre and the intellectual currents of the time, I felt much more within my depth. The book (or rather, long essay) is essentially about the phrase “the fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing“ from the Greek poet writings. The idea behind the entire essay is that all people can be categorized as either Foxes, who know many things, and Hedgehogs, who know only one big thing. If you need more information on these categories, I highly suggest reading the foreword and first couple sections of the essay. Berlin then tries to fit Tolstoy into one of these two categories using his theory of history. (view spoiler)[He concludes that Tolstoy was a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog. (hide spoiler)] Berlin’s revelations in this book are fascinating - though for me, not so much for the usefulness of the division of individuals into ‘Foxes’ or ‘Hedgehogs’. While I understand he purpose of such a division, I believe, as Berlin himself admits later, that the world is not so black and white that we can cleanly divide all people into two categories. So, while the categorization of great minds, and indeed, intellectual individuals is an interesting philosophical process, it does not seem to be the most important revelation in this book. Rather, the most significant idea presented in this book is its explanation of competing theories of history. Berlin describes that Tolstoy, while believing that there are too many factors affecting each historical event for humans to determine its ‘cause’, also believed history must occur according to some order. This idea that history must occur according to some empirical order is akin to that of Marx, for example - but Tolstoy derides all such existing theories without presenting one of his own. However Tolstoy’s skepticism of the study of history presents us historians with an important question: can we ever hope to determine the ‘cause’ of some event? How much influence do the ‘great men of history’ (and by this I mean both those who partake in it and those who write it) truly have over its direction? Do we study these great influencers or the nameless masses, of whom we can hope to know only very little? These are the questions Berlin’s essay begged for me, and though I will undoubtedly begin categorizing my family and friends into Foxes and Hedgehogs as soon as I am able, I will also be thinking about how I approach my research, my writing, and even the questions I ask of history.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...