Quotations by Isaiah Berlin
I have quite a good memory for human beings: less good for facts, alas; appalling for quotations.
IB to G. R. Potter, 20 September 1971
We all breathe through our mouth and nostrils – but we are
by nature Greeks and barbarians.
Diels-Kranz, fr. 44 B, col. ii, lines 24–35: ‘None of us is by
definition barbarian or Greek, for we all breathe out into the air by
mouth and nostrils.’ There is a good version of the same thought
earlier in the fragment.
History is what Alcibiades did and suffered.
Fire burns both here and in Persia, but what is thought just
changes before our very eyes.
Nicomachean Ethics 1134b26 (freely rendered)
Le tribunal suprême & qui juge en dernier ressort
& sans apel de tout ce qui nous est proposé, est la Raison.
Pierre Bayle, Commentaire philosophique (1686), part 1, chapter
1: p. 368, col. 1, in Oeuvres diverses de Mr Pierre Bayle (La
Haye, 1737), vol. 2
Everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one.
Attributed by J. S. Mill in Utilitarianism, chapter 5 [near
end]: Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robson
(Toronto/London, 1981– ), vol. 10 (1969), p. 257
But we will content ourselves at this point with noting the
distinction and connection between the negative or juristic, and the
varyingly positive or political conception of liberty.
Bernard Bosanquet, The
Philosophical Theory of the State and Related Essays
1899), chapter 6 (‘The Conception of Liberty [. . .]’), 3 (b
), p. 136 (146 in 2001 ed.).
Plamenatz uses the distinction between negative and positive
liberty distinction in Consent,
Freedom and Political
(London, 1938; 2nd ed., 1968), p. 35.
One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is
thinking of firing it.
A. Chekhov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v tridsati tomakh,
Pis´ma, vol. 3 (Moscow, 1976), item 707, p. 273,
letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky),
1 November 1889; see p. 464 for the comment that ‘This idea had already
been expressed by Chekhov in the summer of 1889 at Yalta, in
conversation with I. Ya. Gurlyand: “If in the first act you have hung a
pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.
Otherwise don’t put it there.” From Gurlyand’s “Reminiscences of A. P.
Chekhov”, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No 28, 11 July, p. 521.’
Another version is quoted in S. Shchukin, Memoirs (1911): ‘If
say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in
second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to
fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.’
If we don’t allow free thought in mathematics, why on earth
should we allow it in morals and politics?
Paraphrase: see Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires
pour réorganiser la société (1822): p. 14 in
Auguste Comte, Systéme de politique positive, vol. 1,
part 1 (Paris, 1824); p. 53 in Auguste Comte, ‘Appendice
général du système de politique positive’, in Système
de politique positive (Paris, 1851–4), vol. 4 (1854). Mill quotes
this passage in Auguste Comte and
Positivism: pp. 301–2 in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill,
ed. J. M. Robson (Toronto/London, 1981– ), vol. 10.
La nature lie, par une chaîne indissoluble, la
verité, le bonheur et la vertu.
(Nature binds, by an indissoluble chain, truth, happiness and virtue.)
Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit
humain, ed. O. H. Prior and Yvon Belaval (Paris, 1970), p. 228
Cf. ‘Thus industry, knowledge, and humanity,
are linked together by an indissoluble chain, and are found, from
experience as well as reason, to be peculiar to the more polished, and,
what are commonly denominated, the more luxurious ages. Nor are these
advantages attended with
disadvantages, that bear any proportion to them.’
Hume, ‘Of Refinement in the Arts’: p. 271 in David Hume, Essays:
Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis,
A pair of boots is worth more than Shakespeare.
This remark, often mistakenly attributed to Pisarev (even by Gorky),
appears to have its true origins in a satirical ‘extract’ from a
contributed by Dostoevsky to the May 1864
(No 5) of his journal Epokha. This pastiche is aimed against
nihilists, who appear in it under thinly disguising pseudonyms. On p.
the eponymous character Shchedrodarov (Saltykov-Shchedrin), who has
joined the editorial board of the journal Svoevremenny – a
whose members include Pravdolyubov (Dobrolyubov) and Skribov (Pisarev)
encounters the board’s editorial principle that ‘a pair of boots are,
every sense, better than Pushkin, because [. . .] Pushkin is mere luxury
nonsense’; and, a little later, ‘Shakespeare too is mere luxury and
(Perhaps Dostoevsky had in mind Pushkin’s own remark in a letter of
1823 that he looked on his poems ‘as a cobbler looks on a pair of
I sell for profit [. . .]’, even though this letter was not published until
1903.) Versions of this ‘principle’, mentioning Pushkin rather than
appear in Saltykov-Schedrin’s Gentlemen of Tashkent (1869–72)
– p. 102 in M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, Sobranie sochinenii, vol.
10 (Moscow, 1970) – and Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (1871–2:
part 1, chapter 1, section 6). In due course the Shakespearian version
current, and began to be attributed to Pisarev.
You are an aspect of my LIFE,
and I am an aspect of yours.
In P. Enfantin and H. Saint-Simon, Science de l’homme: physiologie
religieuse (Paris, 1858), p. 199.
There is but one way to freedom – to despise what is not in
Encheiridion 19. 2.
Vain is the word of the philosopher which heals not the
suffering of man.
Fragment 247 Arrighetti.
It would be equally reasonable to say that sheep are born
carnivorous, and everywhere nibble grass.
Summarising Joseph de Maistre’s response to the first sentence of
Rousseau’s Contrat social: Politiques et moralistes du
dix-neuvième siècle, 1st series (Paris, 1899), p. 41
J. G. Fichte
Der Mensch soll etwas seyn und thun.
(Man shall be and do something.)
Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Sämmtliche Werke, ed. I. H.
Fichte (Berlin, 1845–6), vol. 6, p. 383
Sonate, que me veux-tu?
‘Sonate’, in the Encyclopédie (revised for Rousseau’s Dictionnaire
de musique, 1768)
Forster, E. M.
Everything must be like something, so what is this like?
‘Our Diversions’, 3, ‘The Doll Souse’ (1924): p. 49 in Abinger
Harvest (London, 1936). (‘This’ is Queen Mary’s dolls’ house.)
No, imbeciles! No! Fools and cretins, a book will not make a
plate of soup; a novel is not a pair of boots; a sonnet is not a
syringe; a drama is not a railway – those forms of civilisation which
have caused humanity to march on the road to progress.
By all the bowels of all the popes, past,
present and future, no! Ten thousand times no!
You cannot make a hat out of a metonymy, and
you cannot make a simile in the form of a bedroom slipper, and you
cannot use an antithesis as an umbrella [. . .] An ode is, I have a
light a garment for the winter.
Preface (1834) to Gautier, Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835); the full original appears below.
Non, imbéciles, non, crétins et
goîtreux que vous êtes, un livre ne fait pas de la soupe
à la gélatine; – un roman n’est pas une paire de bottes
sans couture; un sonnet, une seringue à jet continu; un drame
n’est pas un chemin de fer, toutes choses essentiellement civilisantes,
et faisant marcher l’humanité dans la vois du progrès.
De par les boyaux de tous les
papes passeé, présents et futurs, non et deux cent mille
On ne se fait pas un bonnet
de coton d’une métonymie, on ne chausse pas une comparaison en
guise de pantoufle; on ne se peut servir d’une anthithèse pour
parapluie; malheureusement, on ne saurait se plaquer sur le ventre
quelqus rimes bariolées en manière de gilet. J’ai la
conviction intime qu’une ode est un vêtement trop léger
pour l’hiver, et qu’on ne serait pas mieux habillé avec la
strophe, l’antistrophe et l’épode, que cette femme du cynique
qui se contentait de sa seule vertu pour chemise, et allait nue comme
la main, à ce que raconte l’histoire.
J. W. Goethe
Das Klassische nenne ich das Gesunde, und das Romantische das
(Classicism is health, romanticism is disease.)
J. P. Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of his
Life, 2 April 1829
G. W. F. Hegel
Hic Rhodus, hic salta.
The origin of this odd saying, whose currency is largely due to Hegel
and Marx, takes a little explaining. Its original form is ‘Hic Rhodus,
hic saltus’ (‘Rhodes is here, here is the place for your jump’), a
traditional Latin translation [see, e.g., Erasmus, Adagia 3. 3.
28] of a punchline from Aesop. In the fable ‘The Braggart’ an athlete
boasts that he once performed a stupendous jump in Rhodes, and can
produce witnesses: the punchline is
the comment of a bystander, who means that there is no need of
witnesses, since the athlete can demonstrate the jump here and now.
Special thanks to Terrell Carver for
assistance with this account.
The epigram is given by Hegel, rather out of the
blue, first in Greek, then in Latin (in the form ‘Hic Rhodus, hic
saltus’), in the Preface to his Philosophy of Right. [Georg
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts
[Sämtliche Werke, ed. Hermann Glockner, vol. 7] (Stuttgart,
1928), p. 35.] He does not explain what the proverb meant in its
original context (without which it can hardly be understood); indeed a
comment he makes about jumping over Rhodes suggests that he may not
have fully understood it himself. At any
rate, he then offers an adapted German version with a different
meaning, ‘Hier ist die Rose, hier tanze’ (‘Here is the
here’, an allusion to the rose in the cross of rosicrucianism, implying
that fulfilment should not be postponed to some Utopian future),
first on the Greek (Rhodos = Rhodes, rhodon = rose),
on the Latin (saltus = jump [noun], salta = dance
Marx adopts the saying in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
[Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Werke (Berlin, 1956–83), vol. 8,
p. 118.], where he first gives the Latin, in the form ‘Hic Rhodus, hic
a garbled mixture of Hegel’s two versions, and then immediately adds
ist die Rose, hier tanze!’, as if it were a translation, which it
be, since Greek Rhodos (despite what all the standard
say to the contrary), let alone Latin Rhodus, does not mean
The confusion, both deliberate and inadvertent, does
no credit to either Hegel or Marx as classical scholars, and the
epigram loses much of its original power – as well as its original
meaning – in their hands. They were evidently intent on turning it to
other purposes, but it seems doubtful whether their attempts to improve
on Aesop have been of much use to their readers.
I may not deserve to be remembered as a poet, but surely as a
soldier in the battle for human freedom.
Based on Heinrich Heines Sämtliche Werke, ed. Oskar Walzel
(Leipzig, 1911–20), vol. 4, p. 306
The ‘accursed questions’ [proklyatye voprosy] of Russian life.
The Russian phrase is probably a translation by Mikhail L. Mikhailov
of ‘die verdammten Fragen’ from Heine’s poem ‘Zum Lazarus’, in
‘Gedichte/1853 und 1854’, Heinrich Heines Sämtliche Werke,
vol. 3, p. 225. For Mikhailov’s version see his ‘Stikhotvoreniya Geine’
(‘Poems of Heine’), Sovremennik 1858 No 3, p. 125
J. G. Herder
Bin nicht zu denken hier! zu senn! zu fühlen! zu leben!
mich zu freun!
(I am not here to think, but to be, feel, live!)
Sämmtliche Werke, ed. Bernhard Suphan (Berlin,
1877–1913), vol. 29, p. 366
Out of the stones of a prison-house one cannot build a
dwelling for the free.
Paraphrase: see ‘From the Other Shore’, Sobranie sochinenii v
tridtsati tomakh (Moscow, 1954–66), vol. 6, p. 51
Where is the song before it is sung? Where is the dance
it is danced?
Paraphrase: see Sobranie sochinenii, vol 6, pp. 33, 335
History has no libretto.
Paraphrase: see Sobranie sochinenii, vol 6, pp. 36, 338:
‘because there is no libretto. And if there were a libretto, history
would lose all interest and become useless, boring, a joke [. . .]’, ‘and
this is difficult, especially when there is no libretto. And if there
were a libretto, then history would be unnecessary, and then it [would
be] a practical joke’
Happiness is not an ideal, happiness is ‘tepid water on the
Cf. ‘Glüklich seyn! mir ist, als hätt’ ich Brei und laues
Wasser auf der Zunge, wenn ihr mir sprecht von glüklich seyn.’ Hyperion,
vol. 1, book 1: ii 118 in Hölderlin, Sämtliche Werke,
ed. Norbert v. Hellingrath, Friedrich Seebass and Ludwig v. Pigenot
Dulce est desipere in loco.
(It’s nice to go mad in the right place.)
Horace, Odes 4. 12
Beings who have received the gift of freedom are not content
with the enjoyment of comfort granted by others.
The Quarrel Between the Faculties (1798), 2nd footnote to
§ 6 of II: Kant’s gesammelte Schriften (Berlin,
), vol. 7, p. 87, line 19
Kurz der Mensch der da abhängt ist nicht mehr ein Mensch
er hat diesen Rang verloren er ist nichts ausser ein Zubehor eines
(The man who is dependent on another is no longer a man, he has lost
his standing, he is nothing but the possession of another man.)
Kant’s gesammelte Schriften, vol. 20, p. 94, lines 1–3
‘Negative’ and ‘positive’ freedom
of Practical Reason, part 1, book 1, chapter 1, section 8, theorem 4
The unity of theory and practice.
For this fundamental Marxist formula (not apparently expressed in
exactly these terms by Marx himself, nor by Engels) see Georg
Lukács, ‘What is Orthodox Marxism?’ (1919): pp. 2–3 in
History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics
, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London, 1971). Leszek Kolakowski
offers as a gloss ‘the understanding and transformation of reality are
not two separate processes, but one and the same phenomenon’: Main
Currents of Marxism: Its Origins, Growth and Dissolution (Oxford,
1978: Oxford University Press), vol. 3, The Breakdown,
p. 270. For Soviet philosophy, in which it is repeated ad nauseam,
it meant roughly ‘Physical sciences should work for Soviet industry;
social and human sciences are instruments of political propaganda.’
Similar locutions (which should not, however, be regarded as equivalent
in meaning, even mutatis mutandis) are used by Marx’s
contemporaries. For example,
Mill himself attributes the ‘union of theory and practice’ to the
Greeks in ‘On Genius’ (1832) at i 336; there are also references by
Comte to ‘harmonie entre la théorie et la pratique’ (‘harmony
theory and practice’) in Système de politique positive (Paris,
1851–4), vol. 4, pp. 7, 172. More generally, of course, discussion of
relationship of theory and practice goes back to antiquity, perhaps
in Socrates’ doctrine that virtue is knowledge; see also Diogenes
7. 125 on the Stoic view that ‘the virtuous man is both a theorist, and
practitioner of things doable’. Especially well known is Leibniz’s
in 1700 ‘Theoriam cum praxi zu vereinigen’ (‘to combine theory with
in his proposal to establish a Brandenburg Academy in Berlin – see
Hans-Stephan Brather, Leibniz und seine Akademie: Ausgewählte
Quellen zur Geschichte der Berliner Sozietät der Wissenschaften
1697–1716 (Berlin, 1993), p. 72.
Mill, John Stuart
‘Pagan self-assertion’ is one of the elements of human worth,
as well as ‘Christian self-denial’.
J. S. Mill, On Liberty, chapter 3: vol. 18, p. 266, in in Collected
Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robson and others
(Toronto/London, 1963–91). The last two phrases are from John
Sterling’s 1838 essay on Simonides: vol. 1, p. 190, in Essays and
Tales, ed. Julius Charles Hare (London, 1848).
Human laws should be ‘les rapports nécessaires qui
dérivent de la nature des choses’.
De l’esprit des lois, book 1, chapter 1
L. B. Namier
Lord Derby: ‘Namier, you are a Jew. why do you write our
English History? Why do you not write Jewish history?’
Namier: ‘Derby! There is no modern Jewish history, only
a Jewish martyrology, and that is not amusing enough for me.’
IB, ‘L. B. Namier – A Personal Impression’, PI ?? [1st ed., 71–2]
Man does not desire happiness, only the Englishman
Götzen-Dämmerung (1889), ‘Sprüche und
Pfeile’, No 12: p. 55 in Werke, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino
Montinari, part 6, vol. 3 (Berlin, 1969)
Virtue is knowledge.
Protagoras 361b, Meno 87d–88d
Nihil agis, dolor! quamvis sis molestus, numquam te esse
(Do your worst, Pain! Nothing you do will make me admit that you are
Quoted by Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 2. 61
The whole pother about [the] difference [between ‘classicism’
and ‘romanticism’] amounts to nothing that need trouble a healthy man.
‘On the Terms “Classical” and “Romantic”’, Studies in Literature
[first series] (Cambridge, 1918), p. 94
‘Negative freedom and positive freedom’
Title of part 2, chapter 1, section 2 (pp. 350–6), of Guido de
Ruggiero, The History of European Liberalism, trans. R. G.
Collingwood (London, 1927: Oxford University Press [Italian original
Grand simplificateur/Terribles simplificateurs.
‘grand simplificateur’ is Sainte-Beuve, coining ‘simplificateur’ in the
process: ‘[. . .] il [Franklin] était lui-même, dans ses
manières générales de voir et de présenter
les choses, un grand, un trop grand simplificateur.’ In ‘Franklin
à Passy’ (29 November 1852): p. 181 in C.-A. Sainte-Beuve, Causeries
du lundi, 16 vols (Paris, [1926–42]), vol. 7; ‘terribles
simplificateurs’ is a phrase coined by Jacob Burckhardt in a letter of
24 July 1889 to Friedrich von Preen: p. 203 in Jacob Burckhardt, Briefe,
ed. Max Burckhardt, vol. 9 (Basel/Stuttgart, 1980); the idea appears in
earlier letters, and the phrase ‘furchtbaren Simplificateurs’ in a
letter of 18 July 1885 to Max Alioth, but this is the first occurrence
of the full French phrase; cf. Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois xxix
18 (‘Des idées d’uniformité’)
Henri de Saint-Simon
From everyone according to his capacity, to every capacity
according to its work.
The epigraph that appeared on the title page of Le Globe
the Saint-Simonians owned it. The latter part became ‘to each according
to his needs’ in the Marxist version.
See Georg G. Iggers, The Cult of Authority (The Hague, 1958),
p. 151, note 3
It was said that he got his valet to wake him every morning
with the words: ‘Rise, M. le Comte – you have great things to achieve.’
(Levez-vous, monsieur le comte, vous avez de grandes choses à
For this anecdote see Louis Reybaud, Études sur les
Réformateurs ou socialistes modernes (1840), chapter 2,
‘Saint-Simon et les Saint-Simoniens’: vol. 1, p. 67 in the 7th ed.
(Paris, 1864). It also appears in M. G. Hubbard, Saint-Simon: sa
vie et ses travaux (Paris, 1857), p. 9
Alle andere Dinge müssen; der Mensch ist das Wesen,
All other things must: man is the being that wills.)
‘Über das Erhabene’ [On the Sublime], in Schillers Werke,
ed. Lieselotte Blumenthal and Benno von Wiese, vol. 21 (Weimar, 1963),
p. 38, lines 8–9
For the ‘negative’ conception of freedom (der negative Begriff der
) see Schiller to Christian Gottfried Körner, 23
1793: vol. 26, p. 202, lines 12 ff., in Schillers Werke
(Weimar, 1943– ); cited by R. D. Miller, Schiller and the
of Freedom: A Study of Schiller’s Philosophical Works with Chapters on
(Oxford, 1970: Clarendon Press), 92; Schiller’s ‘positive
of its opposite’, however, does not tally with IB’s ‘positive
Joseph A. Schumpeter
To realise the relative validity of one’s convictions and yet
stand for them unflinchingly is what distinguishes a civilised man from
Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (London, 1943), p. 243
The invisible hand.
(Sometimes misquoted as ‘The hidden hand.’)
The Theory of Moral Sentiments IV 1. 10, p. 184 in Glasgow
Edition (Oxford, 1976); An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of
the Wealth of Nations IV ii 9, p. 456 in the same edition (Oxford,
1976). Cf. Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ‘History of
Astronomy’ III 2, p. 49 in the same edition (Oxford, 1980).
Germaine de Staël
What man, exhausted by the passions of life, can listen with
indifference to the tune which enlivened the dances and games of his
tranquil infancy? What woman whose beauty time has at last ravaged can
hear without tears the song that her lover once sang for her?
Lettres sur les ouvrages et le caractère de J. J. Rousseau
(Paris, 1788; photographic reprint, Geneva, 1979), letter 5 (p. 88)
Vincent of Lérins
Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.
(What is believed everywhere, always, by everyone.)
Commonitorium 2. 3
When the masses get involved in reasoning, everything is lost.
The Complete Works of Voltaire, ed. Theodore Besterman and
others, vol. 114 (Banbury, 1973), p. 155
Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
Whoso wishes to grasp God with his intellect becomes an
In M. Aug. Gottlieb Spangenbergs Apologetische Schluß-Schrift
[. . .] (Leipzig and Görlitz, 1752; photographically reprinted as
Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Ergänzungsbände zu den
Hauptschriften, ed. Erich Beyreuther and Gerhard Meyer, vol. 3,
Hildesheim 1964), p. 181