Shortly before his death (on 5 November 1997), Berlin received the following letter from the then Prime Minister (who was unaware, since Prospect had concealed this, that the interview he was enquiring about had been given at least 5 years earlier). Berlin was too ill to reply.
I very much enjoyed your interview with Steven Lukes in Prospect this month. I hope you don’t mind me following up with a letter asking your thoughts.
The brief discussion in the interview of the relationship between your two concepts of liberty is, I think, illuminating. The limitations of negative liberty are what have motivated generations of people to work for positive liberty, whatever its depradations [sic] in the Soviet model. That determination to go beyond laissez-faire continues to motivate people today. And it is in that context that I would be interested in your views on the future of the Left.
You seem to be saying in the interview that because traditional socialism no longer exists, there is no Left. But surely the Left over the last 200 years has been based on a value system, predating the Soviet model and living on beyond it. As you say, the origins of the Left lie in opposition to arbitrary authority, intolerance and hierarchy. The values remain as strong as ever, but no longer have a ready made vehicle to take them forward. That seems to me to be today’s challenge. Political economy has been transformed over the last 25 years, and it is here that there is a great deal of work to be done. But there remains action, too, to devolve political power and to build a more egalitarian community.
So reconstruction, yes, but the end no!
I would be interested in your further views on the current situation, its historical place and significance, and the prospects for renewal.
All good wishes.