Portrait of Berlin by Maryleen Schiltkamp, 2013
ISAIAH BERLIN (1909–1997) was one of the most celebrated thinkers of the twentieth century. His defence of freedom and diversity against control and uniformity is widely endorsed. His distinction between the monist hedgehog and the pluralist fox, and his celebration of ‘the crooked timber of humanity’, have entered the vocabulary of modern culture, together with his hugely influential elaboration of the concepts of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ political liberty. A consummate essayist and letter-writer, he was famous for his virtuosity as a lecturer and talker. His distinctive deep, rapid voice was often heard on the radio, and he led many to explore his chosen subject – the history of ideas. He founded Oxford’s largest graduate college, Wolfson, which expresses his generous, unhidebound personality to this day.
[O]ne of the distinguishing characteristics of a great man is that his active intervention makes what seemed highly improbable in fact happen.
‘Chaim Weizmann’ (1958)
The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library is the website of The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust, which looks after all aspects of Berlin’s literary estate. The Trust’s main tasks are to publish Berlin’s work, including his letters; to maintain this website, on which unpublished material and relevant information is posted; and in general to foster awareness of and access to Berlin’s intellectual, literary and personal legacy. It is also hoped that this site may help bring to light those of Berlin’s letters that are still unknown to the Trust (some of which are in library archives, some in private hands), so that they may be considered for inclusion in the edition of his letters whose fourth and last volume is now in preparation.
The facade of Berlin’s birthplace, restored and redecorated in 2013
Recent items available online (latest first)
The recent conference pithily summarised | Berlin’s 1975 lecture ‘Some Opponents of the Enlightenment’ | Jeremy Waldron on Berlin | Cunctator Prize for procrastination sponsored by IBLT | Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane on Berlin on freedom | Trailer for previous item | Forthcoming film about Berlin and Eisenstein | BBC Radio 4 play by John Banville featuring IB in a minor role | A selection of Berlin quotes | Who invented the term ‘Counter-Enlightenment?’ | Blog comment on next item | IB on FDR revisited | The Sydney Morning Herald on Caute | Jan-Werner Müller on the letters | Eichler on Berlin on Shostakovich | ‘Isaiah Berlin in 10 Great Quotes’ | Review of Crooked Timber by Stephen Joyce | An anonymous survey on Airing News | Lukes on Caute
Ha’aretz on Berlin on Eichmann | John Banville on The Power of Ideas | Listen to Berlin dictating Two Concepts of Liberty | Vladimir Tismaneanu on Caute | Timothy Garton Ash: ‘Isaiah Berlin and the Challenge of Multiculturalism’ (part 1) | Part 2 of previous item | Nicholas Kristof chooses Crooked Timber for Xmas | Gallagher on Vargas Llosa on Berlin and others | Mario Vargas Llosa on Caute | John Banville picks Building as a book of the year | Building named ‘Literature book of the year’ in the Sunday Times | John Banville on Building | The development of the text of Two Concepts of Liberty | Berlin in Iran | Anniversary item in Jewish Currents | All 11 of the new Princeton covers together | Walter Laqueur on Caute | Isaiah Berlin Lecture (in English) by Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands [video also available] | Isaiah Berlin Day in Riga, including video of John Gray’s keynote lecture and a debate on Europe | Works submitted for a Latvian competition to illustrate quotations from Berlin (more about this on Facebook) | Robert Wistrich on Caute | Ferdinand Mount on Caute | Robert Kaiser on Caute | A Dutch review of the letters | Gloria Nneoma Onwuneme reviews the new edition of The Crooked Timber of Humanity | Dubnov versus Kelly in the New York Review | David Mikics on Caute | John Jolliffe on the letters (briefly) | Podcast of the June NYRB conference on Berlin, Hampshire and Williams | Jewish Chronicle review of the letters | Duncan Kelly on the letters, Caute and Cherniss | Mike Brearley invokes Berlin on cricket | New podcasts of Berlin lecturing | Harold Bloom tells an anecdote about Berlin (begins 9:40) | Julian Baggini on the letters | An Indian view of Caute | Robert Fulford on the new edition of The Hedgehog and the Fox | Jonathan Sacks’s memories of Berlin (begins 15:30) | Duncan White on the letters and more | Nicholas Lezard on the new edition of ‘Crooked Timber’ | Roger Morgan on Caute and Caute on himself | Adam Kirsch reviews Caute | Podcasts of Wolfson College’s Isaiah Berlin Lectures | Moral conflict, tragedy and political action in Berlin’s political thought | James Schmidt blog on ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ | Arie Dubnov talk on Berlin | D. J. Taylor on the letters and on Caute | Eric Christiansen reviews the letters | Spoof letter by John Crace | David Herman on the letters | Round-up of reviews of the letters | Lesley Chamberlain on the letters and on Caute | John Gray on the letters and on Caute | Kirkus on Caute on Berlin and Deutscher | Letters in Prospect | Tariq Ali on David Caute on Berlin | Dalya Alberge on a theme in Berlin’s letters | See the covers of the recent and upcoming Berlinian publications | A bird’s-eye view of Berlin by Henry Hardy | ‘My Name Is Isaiah Berlin, and I Come from Riga’ (video) | Aileen Kelly reviews Arie Dubnov | Kindle edition of The Book of Isaiah | Hedgehog and fox – again | Addis Mason reviews Arie Dubnov’s biography of Berlin | Can anyone identify any more of Berlin’s heroes and villains (on his study door)? | Lessons from Isaiah Berlin’s liberal Zionism | Arie Dubnov at Jewish Book Week | A Mind and Its Time: The Development of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought
Isaiah Berlin and the Politics of Freedom: ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ 50 Years Later | Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic | Isaiah Berlin and the Humanity of History | Isaiah Berlin’s Cold War Liberalism: Conference Report | A note on the webmaster | IB’s Desert Island Discs | Spartacus Educational biography | Filmed interview with Michael Ignatieff | Footage of the future Aline Berlin disembarking from SS Excambion in New York, January 1941 | Berlin and Trevor-Roper | Isaiah Berlin and Counter-Enlightenment Liberalism | Berlin on Twitter | Berlin, Liberal Democracy, Russia and China | Anna: Love in the Cold War – new Hawaii run | Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture by Michael Ignatieff in Riga | Trailer for new film on Berlin, Eisenstein and Riga | Panels from centenary exhibition at Wolfson College | Isaiah Berlin Day in Riga, 6 June 2012 | Isaiah Berlin and the Riga of His Time | What is Jewish (if anything) about Isaiah Berlin’s philosophy? | ‘My Name Is Isaiah Berlin, and I Come from Riga’ (transcript) | The Wolfson College Isaiah Berlin Lecture 2012: Helena Kennedy | Liberal Pluralism and Its Critics: September colloquium in Paris | New Facebook page for Berlin | Isaiah Berlin Riga Memorial Lecture, 6 June 2012: Michael Ignatieff, ‘Isaiah Berlin, the Soviet Empire and the Captive Nations’ | What is true political wisdom? | Berlin in Moscow | Dag Einar Thorsen on Berlin, Popper and Neoliberalism | NKVD intercepts of IB’s wartime dispatches [search for ‘Halifax’] · Other examples in Alexander Vassiliev’s notebooks | The Bed, the Map and the Butterfly | Lucian Freud paints Isaiah Berlin
‘Bastardised libertarianism’ | Charles Blattberg on Berlin | Video clips of/about Berlin | Hermione Lee on Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova | Dressing like a grownup | Isaiah Berlin, part 4: Liberalism’s flawed freedom | Treacherous liberties | Isaiah Berlin, part 3: The anti-liberalism of the ‘big society’ | Isaiah Berlin, part 2: What Is ‘Good’ Freedom? | Berlin and Derrida | Michael Ignatieff on Berlin | Isaiah Berlin, part 1: What is liberalism? | So much for the Encyclopædia Britannica | Ich bin ein Berliner | The crooked timber of Isaiah Berlin | Adam Curtis’s TV treatment of negative and positive liberty | A reply to Perry Anderson | Rights must be grounded in eternal truths | Broken Britain: Blame Isaiah Berlin! | Why America is deeply in need of a good hedgehog | Head to Head (BBC Radio 4): Quentin Skinner and Paul Kelly on Berlin’s 1974 conversation with John Vaizey about equality | Great thinkers in their own words (BBC4): clips of Berlin in Episode 2 | New collection of essays in Spanish on Berlin | Berlin and anti-liberalism in Israel | Hedgehogs and foxes in Cameron’s cabinet | Book on Berlin by Connie Aarsbergen-Ligtvoet | Negative and positive liberty defined | Berlin the preserver of forgotten genius | Berlin and Riga | Two concepts of liberty in a nutshell | Perfectionist liberalism | Berlin and human rights | Liberalism in Australia | Is Jairam Ramesh a fox? | Berlin on the USA | Can the Pope be a Berlinian? | Berlin room in Ben-Gurion University | Documentary film by Michael Ignatieff | Angus Sibley on negative liberty | Can one be an American Zionist rabbi? | Aung San Suu Kyi on Berlin | Portrait by R. B. Kitaj