Isaiah Berlin and European Politics

Isaiah Berlin and European Politics

By Ideas Editor

New editions of works by Isaiah Berlin will be rolling out this spring into next fall! Among the works that will be reprinted is one of his quintessential essays, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. Berlin’s work has influenced numerous other scholars and philosophers specifically due to his work on positive and negative liberty on the value of political freedom and value pluralism. Most recently, Berlin’s writings on hedgehogs and foxes have been utilized in a piece examining the state of British politics. Read the piece from the Wall Street Journal below to see how Berlin’s work still relates to our current events.

The Rise of the UKIP 'Hedgehogs'

The ‘foxes’ of European politics have presided over a still-ongoing car crash.


A divide has opened in British politics. It is not between north and south, or left and right, but between hedgehogs and foxes. Isaiah Berlin first popularized the idea (taken from a fragment of the Greek poet Archilochus) that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He used the notion to categorize the difference between various thinkers. But since last week’s local-election upset for the U.K.’s major political parties, it is a way to understand our changing politics.

For some years, in Britain and the rest of Europe, politics has been dominated by foxes who knew (or at least pretended to know) many things. They were of varying quality: some sleek and impressive, others akin to those mangy specimens you find in cities. But whatever their attributes, the foxes also presided over a still-ongoing, continent-wide car crash.

So today, in a time of apparently endless and insoluble crises, the attraction of those who know one big thing is very considerable. And if that one big thing happens to be the big thing of your day? Well then perhaps it is right that we’ve arrived at the age of the hedgehog.

Read the complete article here:

About the Author

Isaiah Berlin was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was renowned as an essayist and as the author of many books, among them Karl Marx, Four Essays on Liberty, Russian Thinkers, The Sense of Reality, The Proper Study of Mankind, and, from Princeton, Concepts and CategoriesPersonal ImpressionsThe Crooked Timber of HumanityThe Hedgehog and the FoxThe Roots of RomanticismThe Power of Ideas, and Three Critics of the EnlightenmentHenry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin’s literary trustees. He has edited several other volumes by Berlin and is currently preparing Berlin’s letters and remaining unpublished writings for publication.