The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library

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From this it follows not only that people should be free (within the crucial but rather broad limits set by the demands of sheer humanity), both individually and collectively, to adopt their own guiding priorities and visions of life; but also, perhaps more radically, that a perfect, frictionless society, as well as being impossible in practice, is in principle incoherent as an ideal. Insights of this kind may seem unstartling to some today, but this, Berlin maintained, is a more recent, less widespread and less secure development than might be supposed; it is also a beneficent one, and may be laid partly at his door. 

Like other great men he was a catalyst of excellence. Those who have had the good fortune to know him can testify to the strikingly positive, enlarging, warming experience of being in his company and listening to his irrepressible flow of captivating talk. He was legendary as a talker both for his imitable rapid, syllable-swallowing diction and for his inimitable range – he was astonishingly widely read in a number of languages, he knew (and deeply influenced) a great many prominent men and women in England and elsewhere, and he peppered his conversation and writings with a bewildering cascade of names. (This was not name-dropping: the names were a shorthand for their bearers’ ideas.) 
Though he spent his whole professional life, apart from his war service, as an Oxford academic, he did not suffer from parochialism, and moved with equal ease in the many worlds he inhabited, often simultaneously, surviving day after day, without flagging, a punishing schedule of commitments and diversions. He lectured to learned and distinguished audiences in many countries, talked to undergraduate societies (not only in Oxford), colleges of education and sixth forms, and gave generously of his time to the growing number of those who made demands on it: former students with problems, scholars studying his work, strangers who sought his advice or help in connection with projects of their own. He was often heard on the radio, especially the Third Programme, and gave numerous interviews, particularly to foreign journalists. He positively relished what others would have found intolerable pressures and, though he was perfectly serious when the occasion demanded, brought a sometimes impish sense of fun to everything that he undertook. 
© Copyright Henry Hardy 1997 N E X T > > 

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The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library