Isaiah Berlin Letters 1975-1997 | Politics
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About the Book
About the Author
Also by Isaiah Berlin
Title Page
Conventions and Abbreviations

 The British Academy suite et fin, 1975–1978
 ‘Retirement’, 1978–1997

Picture Section
Select Biographical Glossary
Supplementary Notes
Answers to Questions from Lars Roar Langslet
A Message to the Twenty-First Century
Remarks for Athens
Index of correspondents and sources
General index

The title of this final volume of Isaiah Berlin’s letters is echoed by John
Banville’s verdict in his review of its predecessor, Building: Letters 1960–75,
which saw Berlin publish some of his most important work, and create, in
Oxford’s Wolfson College, an institutional and architectural legacy. In the period
covered by this new volume (1975–97) he consolidates his intellectual legacy
with a series of essay collections. These generate many requests for clarification
from his readers, and stimulate him to reaffirm and sometimes refine his ideas,
throwing substantive new light on his thought as he grapples with human issues of
enduring importance.

Berlin’s comments on world affairs, especially the continuing conflict between

Israel and the Palestinians, and the collapse of Communism, are characteristically
acute. This is also the era of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Iranian revolution,
the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the fall of the
Berlin Wall, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the spread of
Islamic fundamentalism, and wars in the Falkland Islands, the Persian Gulf and the
Balkans. Berlin scrutinises the leading politicians of the day, including Reagan,
Thatcher and Gorbachev, and draws illuminating sketches of public figures,
notably contrasting the personas of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrey Sakharov.
He declines a peerage, is awarded the Agnelli Prize for ethics, campaigns against
philistine architecture in London and Jerusalem, helps run the National Gallery
and Covent Garden, and talks at length to his biographer. He reflects on the ideas
for which he is famous – especially liberty and pluralism – and there is a generous
leavening of the conversational brilliance for which he is also renowned, as he
corresponds with friends about politics, the academic world, music and
musicians, art and artists, and writers and their work, always displaying a
Shakespearean fascination with the variety of humankind.

Affirming is the crowning achievement both of Berlin’s epistolary life and of the
widely acclaimed edition of his letters whose first volume appeared in 2004.

Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga, now capital of Latvia, in 1909. When he was six,
his family moved to Russia, and in Petrograd in 1917 Berlin witnessed both
Revolutions – Social Democratic and Bolshevik. In 1921 he and his parents
emigrated to England, where he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and
Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Apart from his war service in New York,
Washington, Moscow and Leningrad, he remained at Oxford thereafter – as a
Fellow of All Souls, then of New College, as Chichele Professor of Social and
Political Theory, and as founding President of Wolfson College. He also held the
Presidency of the British Academy. His published work includes Karl Marx,
Russian Thinkers, Concepts and Categories, Against the Current, Personal
Impressions, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, The Sense of Reality, The
Proper Study of Mankind, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas, Three
Critics of the Enlightenment, Freedom and Its Betrayal, Liberty, The Soviet
Mind and Political Ideas in the Romantic Age. As an exponent of the history of
ideas he was awarded the Erasmus, Lippincott and Agnelli Prizes; he also
received the Jerusalem Prize for his lifelong defence of civil liberties. He died in

Henry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin’s

Literary Trustees. He has (co-)edited many other books by Berlin – including the
three other volumes of his letters, Flourishing, Enlightening and Building – and
by other authors, and is also the editor of The Book of Isaiah: Personal
Impressions of Isaiah Berlin (2009).

Mark Pottle is also a Fellow of Wolfson. He has (co-)edited the diaries and
letters of Violet Bonham Carter, has collaborated in publishing a number of
original First World War documents, and was Research Associate, Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, 2000-2. He co-edited the preceding volume of
these letters, Building.

For more information about Isaiah Berlin visit

Also by Isaiah Berlin

Karl Marx
The Hedgehog and the Fox
The Age of Enlightenment
Russian Thinkers
Concepts and Categories
Against the Current
Personal Impressions
The Crooked Timber of Humanity
The Sense of Reality
The Proper Study of Mankind
The First and the Last
The Roots of Romanticism
The Power of Ideas
Three Critics of the Enlightenment
Freedom and Its Betrayal
The Soviet Mind
Political Ideas in the Romantic Age
Unfinished Dialogue
(with Beata Polanowska-Sygulska)

Flourishing: Letters 1928–1946

Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960
Building: Letters 1960–1975
The subject is IB where not otherwise stated


Menu for IB’s 1979 Festschrift lunch

Travelling in Ireland, 1934
The island in Lough an Illaun, then and now
With Shirley Morgan in a punt, Oxford, 1946
IB on Desert Island Discs in 1992, drawn by Hugh Casson
Poster for Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, translated by IB, 1981
IB’s diary for 25–31 May 1986


 1 During his (Peter) Jay Interview, 1975

 2 Members of ‘The Club’ dining society, c.1975
 3 Tahiti, September 1975
 4 Feeding a kangaroo, Australia, September 1975
 5 With Bryan Magee for his Men of Ideas interview, 1976
 6 With Bob Silvers, Montepulciano, summer 1976
 7 With Isaac Stern, Alexander Zakin, Robert Mayer and Aline, Headington
House, May 1977
 8 With Max Mallowan and Aline, Persepolis, October 1977
 9 Anna Kallin and Nicolas Nabokov, November 1977
10 With Jacob Rothschild, Corfu, September 1978
11 At the lunch for his first Festschrift, Wolfson College, Oxford, June 1979
12 With Harry Levin, Harvard, 6 June 1979
13 With Sidney Morgenbesser, New York, early 1980s
14 Pat Utechin, July 1981
15 At Ugo’s Bar, Portofino, December 1980
16 Aline at Ugo’s Bar, Portofino, December 1980
17 With John Tooley, Aline and Liliane de Rothschild, 29 July 1981, for the
wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana Spencer
18 With Arthur Schlesinger and Bob Silvers, New York, 1982
19 With Alfred Brendel and Yitzhak Navon, Oxford, June 1983
20 In Paraggi, September 1983
21 On 1 January 1985
22 At a press conference after his Agnelli Prize address, Turin, February
23 With Noel Annan, c.1987
24 Joseph Alsop at Headington House, October 1987
25 With Aline and Élie de Rothschild, Headington House, 1987
26 At the launch of the Bodleian Library campaign, Oxford, July 1988
27 Stephen Spender and Kay Graham, 1989
28 With Tony Quinton and Princess Margaret, 1989
29, 30 With Andrey Sakharov, Headington House, June 1989
31 Accepting 80th birthday presents at Wolfson College, Oxford, 10 July
32 With Imogen Cooper, the Barbican, July 1992
33 With David Campbell, Charles, Prince of Wales, Trevor Nunn and Tom
Stoppard, London, October 1992
34 At the University of Toronto, November 1994, with members of the
35 Aline Berlin and members of her family, gathered for her 80th birthday,
January 1995
36 Being interviewed by Michael Ignatieff, May 1995
37 Henry Hardy and Peter Halban at the at the launch of Michael Ignatieff’s
biography of IB, October 1998
38 Unfinished portrait by Lucian Freud, 1997


Credits name as many as are known to the editors of the following: photographer
/agent / copyright owner / owner of original.

Illustrations in the text (listed by page)

Nicholas Utechin
1930s photos of IB’s travelling companions from an album belonging to the
late Mary Bennett (1934 photos by IB; 1938 photo by Christopher Cox);
1930s photo of the shacks supplied by the current owner; 2011 photos ©
Henry Hardy 2011
The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust
© Hugh Casson RA; reproduced with permission of the estate of Hugh
Casson RA
The National Theatre
Imaging Services, Bodleian Library, Oxford / The Isaiah Berlin Literary
Trust / Bodleian Library


All photos are from albums kept by Aline Berlin and members of her family,
photographers unknown, unless stated otherwise

 1   ITV
 2   unknown photographer / Raymond Carr private collection / scan
courtesy of María Jesús González
 5   BBC
 7   Bernard Lee (‘Bern’) Schwartz / © National Portrait Gallery,
11   Sandra Burman
13   Dominique Nabokov
14   David V. Hankey / Nicholas Utechin
18   Dominique Nabokov
21   © Gemma Levine / Getty Images
26   Billett Potter
29, 30  Pat Utechin
31   Gillman & Soame (B. J. Harris)
32   ‹›
33   © Norman McBeath 1992
34   Steve Frost
36   BBC
38   Nigel Francis / © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images /
courtesy Berlin Charitable Trust

The second column of this concise chronology records events of biographical

significance, the third, world events, focusing on those mentioned in the letters. At
the end of each year IB’s publications are listed in concise form: full references
are at ‹›. We have given as
continuous and accurate a record of IB’s movements as the sources, primarily his
letters and appointments diaries, allow, but there are naturally gaps in our
understanding, and the chronology should not be considered either exhaustive or
Aline generally, but not always, accompanied IB on his travels. When IB was in
Oxford his home address was Headington House, Old High Street, Headington,
and he also had a room in All Souls; in London (where they were to be found most
weekends) the Berlins lived in their set in Albany, Piccadilly; in Italy (in the late
summer) at their house in Paraggi; in New York they often stayed at the Ritz
Towers Hotel on 57th Street and Park Avenue, in Jerusalem generally at the King
David Hotel.


1 January–mid July Oxford/London

(IB 66 on 6 June)

11 February Margaret Thatcher

elected leader of
Conservative Party

15 March (the Retires as President of

Ides) Wolfson

April Elected Distinguished

Fellow, All Souls

17 April Khmer Rouge capture

Phnom Penh,
inaugurating a genocidal
regime that claims c.1.7
million lives

30 April Saigon government

surrenders to North
Vietnam, ending
Vietnam War

5 June British referendum on

membership of
European Community:
67% vote in favour on a
turnout of 64%

12 June Appointed Trustee of

National Gallery

10 July BA AGM

Mid July– late Paraggi


Early September Oxford/London

3–16 September Flies to Canberra via

Tahiti and Fiji

16 September– mid Visiting lecturer,

November History of Ideas Unit,
ANU; visits to Sydney,
Melbourne, New
Zealand, Tasmania,

29 October Franco’s dictatorship

ends with announcement
that Prince Juan Carlos
will become
provisional head of
Spanish state

10 November UN resolution ‘that

Zionism is a form of
racism and racial
revoked 16 December

Mid November–8 Return journey via

December Bali, Jakarta,
Singapore, Hong
Kong, Bangkok,

8–31 December Oxford/London

1975 publications
John Petrov Plamenatz, 1912–1975
Foreword (on Avraham Harman) to Dov Noy and Issachar Ben-Ami (eds),
Studies in the Cultural Life of the Jews in England
‘L’apoteosi della volontà romantica: la rivolta contro il tipo di un mondo ideale’
[‘The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will: The Revolt against the Myth of an
Ideal World’] (Lettere italiane)
‘Performances memorable and not so memorable’ (Opera)
Presidential Address (Proceedings of the British Academy)
Speech at the Official Opening of Wolfson College, Oxford, 12 November 1974
(unattributed) ‘Sir John Wheeler-Bennett’ (obituary, Times)
‘Sir John Wheeler-Bennett’ (supplementary obituary, Times)
(with others) ‘Writers and the Closed Shop’ (letter, TLS)


1–26 January Oxford/London

21 January Supersonic airliner
Concorde enters
service with British
Airways and Air

26 January– c.17 NY: keynote speaker at

February conference on ‘Vico
and Contemporary

5 February Lectures at MIT on


8–14 February Lectures at Yeshiva

University, NY, on

17/18 February– Oxford/London; IB

15 April ‘now installed in a
large panelled room
[5.2] in All Souls’
(letter to Burdon-
Muller, 17 March)

16 March Harold Wilson resigns

as prime minister

5 April James Callaghan

elected Labour leader
and becomes prime

15–25 April Paraggi

25 April–18 July Oxford/London

(IB 67)

16–17 May Zurich

16 June Soweto protest turns

violent, leaving many
dead; beginning of
popular uprising
against South African
apartheid state

1 July Presidential address at

annual dinner marking
75th BA anniversary

18 July–mid Paraggi

9 September Mao Zedong dies

Early September– Oxford/London

31 December

3 November Democrat Jimmy Carter

wins US presidential
election, defeating the
incumbent, Gerald Ford

Early December Hernia operation in


1976 publications
Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas
Contribution to John Jolliffe (ed.), Auberon Herbert: A Composite Portrait
‘Comment on Professor Verene’s Paper’ (Social Research)
‘Go There to Find Your Identity’ (JC)
Presidential Address (Proceedings of the British Academy)
‘Vico and the Ideal of the Enlightenment’ (Social Research)
Letter to Douglas Villiers, in id. (ed.), Next Year in Jerusalem: Jews in the
Twentieth Century
‘Vico’s Doctrines’ (letter, History Today)

1 January–3 April Oxford/London

3–10 April NY: speaks on

nationalism in
Trilling Seminar
series 7 April

10 April–1 May Japan: visits

Tokyo and
Kyoto at
invitation of

1 May–mid July Oxford/London

(IB 68)

17 May Likud under Menachem Begin

win historic landslide in
Knesset election, the first
victory by a party other than
Alignment/Mapai; popularly
known as the Mahapakh

20 June Begin prime minister of Israel

30 June Presidential
address at BA
annual dinner

18 July– 15 Paraggi

14–19 August Salzburg for

festival: at
Hotel Goldener
Hirsch and with
in Schloss
Prielau, Zell am

12 September South African anti-apartheid

activist Steve Biko dies in

15–17 September Basle and


17 September– 17 Oxford/London

17–26 October Tehran, for BA,

to open new
British Institute
of Persian
Studies; stays at
British Embassy

26 October– 4 Jerusalem

4 November– 31 Oxford/London

19 November Egyptian President Muhammad

Anwar al-Sadat becomes first
Arab leader to visit Israel;
addresses Knesset 20

17–22 December Paraggi

1977 publications
Sir Harry d’Avigdor Goldsmid, 1906–1976
Contribution to the programme Mstislav Rostropovich: 50th Birthday Gala
‘Hume and the Sources of German Anti-Rationalism’, in G. P. Morice (ed.),
David Hume: Bicentennial Papers
‘Old Russia’, review of Marvin Lyons, Russia in Original Photographs 1860–
1920, ed. Andrew Wheatcroft, and Kyril FitzLyon and Tatiana Browning,
Before the Revolution: A View of Russia under the Last Tsar (Guardian)
Presidential Address (Proceedings of the British Academy)
Contribution to ‘Reputations Revisited’ (TLS)


1 January–7 April Oxford/London

c.12 January Hospitalised for more

than a week (after
diagnosis of atrial
fibrillations) with high
fever and hepatitis-like
symptoms; cancels

16 March Former Italian prime

minister Aldo Moro
kidnapped in Rome,
and later murdered, by
Red Brigade terrorists

7–c.15 April Paraggi

c.15 April–14 July Oxford/London

(IB 69)

29 June Retires as President of


14 July–1 Paraggi

20 August 2 killed, 9 injured in

attack on London El Al
staff by Popular Front
for the Liberation of

1 September– 17 48 hours in UK, then

September Corfu for a week, then
Jerusalem for Isaac
Stern’s Music

17 September President Carter

brokers talks between
Begin and Sadat at
Camp David that lead
to a framework for
peace (‘the Camp
David Accords’)

17 September– 5 Oxford/London

16 October Polish cardinal Karol

Józef Wójtyła elected
Pope John Paul II

27 October Sadat and Begin joint

winners of 1978 Nobel
Peace Prize

5–19 November Ritz Towers Hotel, NY

8 November Lecture at Yale

11–12 November Weekend in


19 November– 31 Oxford/London;
December awarded 1979
Jerusalem Book Prize

6 December Spanish voters endorse

a new, democratic,

1978 publications
Russian Thinkers
Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays
Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West
Introduction to Derek Hill: Portraits
‘Comments’ (on Abraham Kaplan, ‘Historical Interpretation’, in the same volume)
and (with others) ‘Is a Philosophy of History Possible?’, in Yirmiahu Yovel
(ed.), Philosophy of History and Action
‘Marx’s Kapital and Darwin’ (Journal of the History of Ideas)
‘El nacionalismo: descuido del pasado y poder actual’ [‘Nationalism: Past
Neglect and Present Power’] (Diálogos)
Presidential Address (Proceedings of the British Academy)
‘Corsi e Ricorsi’, review of Giorgio Tagliacozzo and Donald Phillip Verene
(eds), Giambattista Vico’s Science of Humanity (Journal of Modern
‘Tolstoy Remembered’, review of Tatyana Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered (New
‘Mr Nicholas [sc. Nicolas] Nabokov’ (obituary, Times)


1 January–8 March Oxford/London

3 January Lorry drivers’ strike

begins, intensifying the
labour unrest of Britain’s
‘Winter of Discontent’

8 January Victory of Vietnamese-led

rebels over Khmer Rouge
in Cambodia

16 January Shah of Iran flees country

after months of violent
protests against his regime

1 February Ayatollah Khomeini

returns to Iran from 14
years’ exile and takes
over the revolution

8–c.17 March Jerusalem: meetings

about Stern’s Music
Centre; Rothschild
interviews; speaks
on Einstein at
celebrations 14

c.17 March–17 Oxford/London


26 March Egypt–Israel peace treaty

signed in Washington by
Sadat and Begin, in
presence of President

30 March Shadow Northern Ireland

Secretary Airey Neave
killed by car bomb as he
leaves Parliament;
Republican terror group
Irish National Liberation
Army claims

17–c.25 April Israel; presented

with Jerusalem
Book Prize 19 April

c.25 April–6 June Oxford/London

3 May Conservative General
Election victory with 43-
seat majority; Margaret
Thatcher becomes
Britain’s first female
prime minister

c.6–10 June NY, Ritz Towers


7 June (IB 70) Receives hon. LLD,


10–25 June Oxford/London

18 June President Carter and

Soviet leader Leonid
Brezhnev sign Strategic
Arms Limitation Treaty
(Salt II) in Vienna

25 June– 11 Paraggi

11–20 July Oxford/London

17 July Receives hon. LLD,


27 August IRA murders Earl

Mountbatten, the dowager
Baroness Brabourne and 2
teenage boys at
Mullaghmoor, Co. Sligo,
and 18 British soldiers at
Warrenpoint, Co. Down

30 August– 1 Pisa for conference

September lecture on relativism
on 1 September
11 September– 31 Oxford/London

3 October Aborts planned trip

to China as head of
BA delegation to
Chinese Academy of
Social Sciences
after contracting
high fever

4 November Islamist students storm US

Embassy in Tehran, taking
many hostages: 52 are
held until January 1981

15 November Mrs Thatcher identifies

Anthony Blunt as 4th man
in Cambridge spy ring

10 December Declines Mrs

Thatcher’s offer of

c.27 December Soviet invasion of

Afghanistan begins, in
support of a coup against
government of Hafizallah

1979 publications
Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas
‘Einstein and Israel’ (NYRB)
‘Professor Scouten on Herder and Vico’ (Comparative Literature Studies)
Note on Lydia Chukovsky, Notes about Anna Akhmatova, in ‘In absentia: Some
Books of the Year’ (TLS)
Letter to Adam Podgorecki (on the intelligentsia), in Adam Podgorecki and Maria
Los, Multi-Dimensional Sociology

1–13 January Oxford/London

13 January– 14 NY and
February Princeton

20 January President Carter announces US

boycott of Moscow Olympics
unless Soviet troops withdraw
from Afghanistan

22 January Andrey Sakharov sent into

internal exile in USSR after
calling for withdrawal of
Soviet troops from Afghanistan

14–27 February Oxford/London

27 February–5 Jerusalem, with

March Herbert Hart,
for Rothschild

5 March–14 July Oxford/London

(IB 71)

13 May Bowra Lecture,

with Russian

14 July–16 Paraggi, via

September Aix in France

20 August Via Genoa to

20–8 August Salzburg

28 August–1 Vienna

31 August Polish trade union federation

Solidarność (Solidarity)
emerges under leadership of
Gdańsk shipyard-worker Lech

16 September– Oxford/London
9/10 November

22 September Beginning of 8-year Iran–Iraq


10 October Mrs Thatcher tells

Conservative Party Conference
‘The lady’s not for turning’

4 November Republican Ronald Reagan

elected US President by a
landslide, defeating the
incumbent Democrat Jimmy

9/10–16 November Jerusalem, for

Stern’s Music

10 November Michael Foot elected Labour


16 November–31 Oxford/London

31 December–3 Paraggi
January 1981
1980 publications
Personal Impressions
Story in Pass the Port Again: The Best After-Dinner Stories of the Famous
‘The Incompatibility of Values’ and ‘Virtue and Practicality’, in Melvin Kranzberg
(ed.), Ethics in an Age of Pervasive Technology
‘Meetings with Russian Writers in 1945 and 1956’, in PI
‘Conversations with Russian Poets’ (Bowra Lecture, TLS and – with additions –
‘Note on Alleged Relativism in Eighteenth Century European Thought’ (British
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies)
‘On Philosophy’ (Good Book Guide)
‘A Tribute to my Friend’ (Jacob Talmon, Forum)
‘Upon Receiving the Jerusalem Prize’ (Conservative Judaism)
Contribution to ‘Books of the Year’ (Sunday Times)
‘The Hedgehog and the Fox Continued’ (letter, NYRB)


31 December Paraggi
1980– 3 January

3 January– 26 Oxford/London

21 January US hostages freed in


February Viral infection and

arrhythmia force
cancellation of
planned trip to

19 February Turgenev’s A
Month in the
Country opens at
the National
Theatre in IB’s

26 March Formation of Social

Democratic Party (SDP) by
Roy Jenkins, David Owen,
Bill Rodgers and Shirley

26 March–1 April Jerusalem:


1 April–28 May Oxford/London

11 April Riots in Brixton, south


5 May Bobby Sands first IRA

prisoner to die on hunger
strike, in Northern Ireland
prison protest

28 May–3 June Baltimore,

Washington, NY

3 June–14 July (IB Oxford/London


16 June Formation of SDP–Liberal


July First cases of HIV/Aids in


14 July– c.20 Paraggi (returning

September 25 July for royal

29 July Wedding of Prince Charles

and Diana Spencer, St

5–7 August Venice

7–c.21 August Salzburg

c.20 September– Oxford/London

31 December

6 October President Sadat

assassinated by members
of Egyptian Islamic Jihad
opposed to peace with

1981 publications
For Teddy Kollek
Introduction and unattributed contributions to H. G. Nicholas (ed.), Washington
Despatches 1941–45: Weekly Political Reports from the British Embassy
Translation, with Introduction, of Ivan Turgenev, A Month in the Country
Reply to Hans Aarsleff, ‘Vico and Berlin’ (LRB)
‘Russian Thought and the Slavophile Controversy’, review of Andrzej Walicki, A
History of Russian Thought (From the Enlightenment to Marxism) and
The Slavophile Controversy (Slavonic and East European Review)
Contribution to ‘Books of the Year: A Personal Choice’ (Observer)
‘Plea for a Library’ (letter, JC)
Contributions to Sandra Martin and Donald Hall (eds), Where Were You?
Memorable Events of the Twentieth Century
‘How Russian and English Lines Can Get Crossed’ (letter, Guardian)


1 January–6 Oxford/London; IB
February ill with mumps,
contracted by Aline
6–20/21 February NY

20/21 February– 6 Oxford/London


2 April Argentina invades

Falkland Islands,
precipitating the
Falklands War

3 June Shlomo Argov, Israeli

ambassador in London,
shot and severely
wounded by Arab

6–11 June NY, staying in an

apartment at 110 East
57th Street

6 June (IB 73) Begin uses Argov

shooting as pretext for
invading Southern
Lebanon to drive out

11 June–c.21 July Oxford/London

14 June Argentine surrender ends

Falklands War

17–23 June Jerusalem

18 June Notification of award

of Erasmus Prize

20 July IRA bombings in central

London parks: 11 dead,
nearly 50 injured; 7
horses killed/destroyed
21 July– 20 Paraggi

18–26 August Salzburg

16–18 September Massacre of Palestinians

and Lebanese Shiites in
Sabra and Shatila refugee
camps (in an area under
IDF control) by a
Christian Phalangist

20 September– 17 Oxford/London

12 November Poland: Lech Wałęsa

released from 11 months’

17–31 December Princeton, as member

of committee of
visitors at school of
historical studies,
IAS; then joins Aline
at 110 East 57th
Street, NY

1982 publications
‘A Letter from Sir Isaiah Berlin’ (Intellectual History)
‘Mrs Salome Halpern’ (obituary, Times)
‘Prof. Roman Jakobson’ (supplementary obituary, Times)


1 January–c.2 Oxford/London
10 January Writes to Shiela
Sokolov Grant: ‘I have
lost my voice – that is,
one of my vocal cords is
paralysed (don’t
laugh)’; forbidden by
his doctors to speak in

8 February Israeli government’s

Kahan Commission
finds Israel indirectly,
Defence Minister
Ariel Sharon
responsible for

14 February Sharon resigns

c.2 March–8 April Jerusalem, later joined

by Herbert Hart, for
Rothschild Fellowship
interviews; remains
abroad with Aline for
health reasons

23 March President Reagan

announces ‘Star Wars’
strategic defence
initiative (SDI)

31 March–8 April Italy

8 April–mid July Oxford/London

(IB 74)

4–17 May NY
9 June Landslide
Conservative General
Election victory

Mid July–29 Paraggi


23 June Pope John Paul II

meets Lech Wałęsa in

22 July Polish government

ends martial law and
takes steps to create
civil society

1 September Korean Airlines Flight

KAL 007 shot down
by Soviet jet after
straying off course; all
269 on board are

29 September– 5 Jerusalem

5 October– 31 Oxford/London

23 October Over 300 servicemen,

principally US
Marines, killed by
truck bombs in Beirut
planted by Islamist
terror group

25 October US invasion of

10–15 November NY to receive an hon.

Doctorate of Humane
Letters (DHL) from
CUNY 14 November

1983 publications
‘Giambattista Vico and Cultural History’, in Leigh S. Cauman and others (eds),
How Many Questions? Essays in Honor of Sidney Morgenbesser
‘The Conscience of Israel’ (tribute to Yishayahu Leibowitz, Ha’aretz)
‘Maynard and Lydia Keynes’, in Milo Keynes (ed.), Lydia Lopokova
‘The Gentle Genius’, review of Turgenev’s Letters, trans. and ed. A. V. Knowles
‘Isaiah Berlin et le progrès’ (letter, Monde Dimanche)
‘Reply to Robert Kocis’ (Political Studies)
Contribution to ‘Books of the Year’ (Sunday Times)
(with others) ‘Charges against KOR Repudiated’ (letter, Times)
Contribution to Linda Sternberg Katz and Bill Katz, Writer’s Choice: A Library of
Contribution to Morris Halle and Paul E. Gray (eds), A Tribute to Roman
Jakobson 1896–1982


1 January–10 Oxford/London

10–15 March Jerusalem

12 March National Union of

Mineworkers begins 51-week
strike over threatened pit

15 March–15 July Oxford/London,

with an early
visit to Paraggi

8 May Moscow, followed by almost

the entire Eastern bloc,
announces boycott of Los
Angeles Olympics

30 May Prince Charles denounces

design for an extension of the
National Gallery in London as
a ‘monstrous carbuncle on the
face of a much-loved and
elegant friend’ (243)

6 June (IB 75) Indian troops opposed to Sikh

militants storm Amritsar’s
Golden Temple; many
hundreds killed

15 July–9 Paraggi

31 July–6 August Salzburg

9 September– 31 Oxford/London

26 September Britain and China finalise

agreement to hand Hong Kong
to China in 1997

12 October IRA bombs Grand Hotel,

Brighton, during Conservative
Party conference: 5 killed; Mrs
Thatcher narrowly escapes

31 October Indira Gandhi, Indian prime

minister, assassinated in New
Delhi by Sikh bodyguards

6 November Ronald Reagan re-elected US

President, defeating Democrat
Walter Mondale
16 December Future Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev and his wife Raisa
entertained by Mrs Thatcher at

29 December Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv wins

landslide election victory

1984 publications
‘A New Woman in Russia’, review of John Carswell, The Exile: A Life of Ivy
Litvinov (Sunday Times)
‘Mozart at Glyndebourne Half a Century Ago’, in John Higgins (ed.),
Glyndebourne: A Celebration
Foreword to Sir Immanuel Jakobovits, ‘If Only My People …’: Zionism in My
Tribute to Sir Hugh Casson (RA, the magazine for the Friends of the Royal


1 January–15 July Oxford/London

(IB 76)

29 January Oxford votes against awarding

Mrs Thatcher hon. DCL

3 March National Union of Mineworkers

votes to end coal strike without
winning any concessions over
pit closures

11 March Mikhail Gorbachev becomes

Soviet leader and adopts
‘glasnost’ (‘openness’) in
politics and society and
‘perestroika’ (‘restructuring’)
in the Soviet economy
15 July–9 Paraggi

26 July–3 August Salzburg

9 September– 31 Oxford/London

28 September and Hostility to the police triggers

1 October riots first in Brixton, then in
Peckham and Toxteth

6 October Police officer Keith Blakelock

murdered in riot at Broadwater
Farm estate, Tottenham

15 November Mrs Thatcher and Eire

Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald
sign Anglo-Irish Agreement at
Hillsborough, Co. Down,
giving Dublin a role in
Northern Ireland government

19–21 November Geneva summit between

President Reagan and Mikhail

27 December– 4 Planned trip to

January NY: called off
because of
Aline’s ill

27 December 18 killed and over 100 injured

in gun attacks at Rome and
Vienna airports: Palestinian
terror group Abu Nidal held
1985 publications
‘Nahum Goldmann (1895–1982): A Personal Impression’, in William Frankel
(ed.), Survey of Jewish Affairs 1983
‘On Vico’ (reply to Zagorin) (Philosophical Quarterly)
Contribution to ‘Terence Cornelius Farmer Prittie, 15 December 1913 – 28 May
1985, In Memoriam’ (Britain & Israel)


c.1 January IB in Jerusalem

for funeral of
his aunt Ida

2 January–31 May Oxford/London

28 January US space shuttle Challenger

explodes after lift-off, killing
all 7 astronauts on board

15 April US air raids, mostly from

British bases, target Libya’s
President Mu’ammer Gaddafi

28 April Soviet authorities admit to

accident at Chernobyl reactor,
Ukraine, as probably the worst
civil nuclear disaster in history

31 May–5 June (IB Jerusalem, on

77) panel
design of new
Supreme Court

5 June–20 July Oxford/London

19–22 June Hohenems,
Austria, for

27 June International Court of Justice

finds US guilty of backing the
armed insurgency of Contra
rebels in Nicaragua

20 July– c.11 Paraggi


22–28/9 August Salzburg

c.11 September– Oxford/London

18 December

12 October Soviet–US disarmament

summit at Reykjavik ends in
failure, with President
Reagan’s refusal to abandon

27 October UK government introduces

deregulation of financial
markets, notably the stock
exchange, in City of London
(the ‘big bang’)

Late–31 December Oxford/London

23 December Andrey Sakharov vows to

continue public advocacy of
human rights after returning to
Moscow from 7 years’ internal
IB’s diary for 25–31 May 1986

1986 publications
‘The Cost of Curing an Oyster’ (Jerusalem Post)
‘Martin Cooper: In Memoriam’, in programme for memorial concert by Lindsay
String Quartet, 29 June 1986
‘Memories of Brief Meetings with Ben-Gurion’ (Jewish Quarterly)
‘A Personal Tribute to Adam von Trott (Balliol 1931)’ (Balliol College Annual
‘A Personal View of Super-Titles’, in Glyndebourne Touring Opera 1986
‘On Yitzhak Sadeh’ (Davar)
‘Spender’s “Journals”’ (letter, TLS)
Entry on J. P. Plamenatz in Lord Blake and C. S. Nicholls (eds), The Dictionary
of National Biography 1971–1980
(with others) ‘Polish-Jewish Studies’ (letter, NYRB)
Contribution to ‘Greetings’ (Secular Humanistic Judaism)
Foreword to Neil Cornwell, The Life, Times and Milieu of V. F. Odoyevsky


1 January–15 July Oxford/London

8–13 March Jerusalem

21–30 March Germany

May Hon. DHL (Doctor

of Humane
Letters) from New
School of Social
Research, NY

11 June (IB 78) Conservatives win General

Election with 102-seat
majority; Mrs Thatcher first
prime minister since Lord
Liverpool (1812, 1818,
1820) to win third
successive term

12 June President Reagan, at the

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin,
urges Mikhail Gorbachev to
‘Tear down this wall!’

24 June Roy Jenkins installed as

Oxford Chancellor

3 July Klaus Barbie, former head

of the Gestapo in Lyon,
sentenced to life
imprisonment for his role in
the Holocaust

14 July Leaves ROH


15 July–mid Paraggi

30 July Flying visit to

London for
performance of
The Queen of
Spades during
historic visit of
Kirov Opera to
Covent Garden

31 July–10 August Salzburg for 10


22–3 August Pesaro for Rossini


Mid September–31 Oxford/London


20 October Hon. DLitt, Oxford

22 October Joseph Brodsky wins Nobel

Prize in Literature

8 November IRA bomb kills 11 at

Remembrance Day service
in Enniskillen, Co.

8 December President Reagan and

Mikhail Gorbachev sign
Intermediate-range Nuclear
Forces (INF) treaty
9 December First intifada (‘uprising’)
against Israeli occupation of
Palestinian territories of
Gaza and West Bank begins

1987 publications
‘David Cecil (1902–1986)’, in Reports for 1985–86 and 1986–87 (Royal Society
of Literature)
‘Edmund Wilson at Oxford’ (Yale Review)
Contribution to ‘Books of the Year: Who Read What in 1987?’ (Sunday Times)


1 January–14 Oxford/London

14–16 February Turin, to receive

inaugural Agnelli
Prize ‘for the
Ethical Dimension
in Advanced
Societies’ on 15

16–28 February Oxford/London

28 February–3 Jerusalem:
March Rothschild

First half of March Oxford/London

3 March Liberal Democrat party

created by SDP–Liberal
16 March Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein launches chemical
weapons attack on Kurdish
city of Halabja, northern
Iraq, killing thousands

18–29 March Moscow and


29 March–28 April Oxford/London

14 April USSR commits to

withdrawal from
Afghanistan (begins in May,
completed February 1989)

28 April–4 May Israel: hon. DPhil

from Ben-Gurion
University of the
Negev 2 May

4 May–17 July (IB Oxford and London


3 July USS Vincennes shoots

down Iranian passenger
airliner over Persian Gulf,
mistaking it for a hostile

17 July–12 Paraggi

28 July–9 August Salzburg

31 July King Hussein announces the

severance of Jordan’s legal
and administrative ties with
the West Bank, effectively
recognising PLO
sovereignty there

12 September– 1 Oxford/London

9 October Mass movement launched

in Riga, seeking greater
independence for Latvia
from USSR

1–30 November Washington and


1 November HH begins full-

time work on IB’s
papers at Wolfson

8 November Republican George H. W.

Bush wins landslide victory
in US presidential election,
defeating Democrat
Michael Dukakis

30 November– 31 Oxford/London

21 December Libyan terror plot causes

Pan Am Flight 103 from
London to NY to blow up
over Lockerbie, Scotland,
killing all 259 on board and
11 on ground

1988 publications
Foreword to Ada Rapoport-Albert and Steven J. Zipperstein (eds), Jewish
History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky
On the Pursuit of the Ideal
‘Dorothy de Rothschild’ (obituary, Independent)
‘Israeli Solution’ (letter, Independent)
‘Wybór listów od Isaiaha Berlina’ (letters to Beata Polanowska-Sygulska), in
Beata Polanowska-Sygulska, Filozofia wolności Isaiaha Berlina


1 January–5 March Oxford/London

14 February Ayatollah Khomeini issues

fatwa condemning British
author Salman Rushdie to
death for publication of his
novel Satanic Verses

5–9 March Jerusalem

9 March–26 May Oxford/London

27 March Many Communist Party

candidates defeated in
unprecedentedly open
Soviet parliamentary
elections; Boris Yeltsin
wins landslide in Moscow

26–31 May NY

31 May–22 July Oxford/London:

(IB 80) celebration of IB’s
80th birthday
includes a dinner at
Corpus (6 June)
and a concert in
London (17 July)

3 June Tiananmen Square

massacre, Beijing:
unknown number of
civilian protestors killed
by Chinese military in
bloody suppression of
political protest centred

26–9 June Hohenems

22 July–21 Paraggi

18–19 August and Pesaro

6–7 September

21 September– 31 Oxford/London

18 October Erich Honecker, leader of

GDR, forced to step down
by widespread public

9 November GDR opens its border with

West, allowing protestors
access to West Berlin:
effective demise of Berlin

10 November Demolition of Berlin Wall

begins, prefiguring the end
of the Eastern Bloc and the
reunification of Germany

25 December Nicolae Ceauşescu,

deposed Communist
President of Romania, and
his wife Elena shot by
firing squad

1989 publications
‘Writers Remembered: Virginia Woolf’ (Author)
Foreword to Anatoly Nayman, Remembering Anna Akhmatova
Contribution to Academy of St Martin in the Fields 1959–1989


1 January–27 June Oxford/London

11 February Nelson Mandela freed from

prison in South Africa as
President F. W. de Klerk takes
steps towards ending apartheid

31 March Violent anti-Poll-Tax riot in

London’s West End, centred on
Trafalgar Square

24 April US Hubble space telescope

launched from Cape Canaveral,

4 May Latvia declares independence

27 June–1 July (IB Hohenems


1–mid July Oxford/London

Mid July–c.15 Paraggi


2 August Iraqi invasion of Kuwait starts

train of events leading to Gulf
War; Saddam Hussein annexes
Kuwait as 19th Iraqi province

4–6 August Pesaro

22–9 August Salzburg

29 August– 3 Mondsee

c.15 September– Oxford/London

31 December

3 October East and West Germany


14 November Michael Heseltine stands as

Conservative leader, forcing an

22 November Mrs Thatcher resigns as

Conservative leader and prime
minister after failing

22 November to win outright in first ballot of

(cont.) leadership contest

27 November John Major wins second ballot,

becoming Conservative leader
and prime minister

1990 publications
The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
‘Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism’, in CTH
Contribution to The Evolution of the Symphony Orchestra: History, Problems
and Agenda
Contribution to Robert B. Silvers
Contribution to ‘The State of Europe: Christmas Eve 1989’ (Granta)
Contribution on Mozart (Vita)
Contribution to ROH programme insert on Garrett Drogheda
(with others) ‘An Open Letter on Anti-Armenian Pogroms in the Soviet Union’
(letter, NYRB)
Contribution to ‘Boris Pasternak’ (letters, TLS)
‘No Conservative’ (on Herder; letter, NYRB)

1 January–mid July Oxford/London

17 January– 28 US-led coalition (Operation

February Desert Storm) drives Iraq
from Kuwait

7 February IRA attempts to assassinate

British cabinet in mortar
attack on 10 Downing Street

21 May Former Indian prime

minister Rajiv Gandhi
assassinated while
campaigning in Tamil Nadu

13 June (IB 82) Boris Yeltsin elected

President of Russian

25 June Slovenia and Croatia

declare independence from
Serb-dominated Yugoslav
Federation, beginning years
of ethnic conflict in Bosnia
and Herzegovina

Mid July– 20 Paraggi


20–5 July Hohenems

27–8 July Verona

10–18 August Salzburg

13–21 August Hard-line Communists try

to depose Mikhail
Gorbachev: the coup fails,
signalling the end of the
Communist Party in Russia

Early September Brief visit to


20 September– Oxford/London
mid/late December

Mid/late December Israel (Dead Sea

and Jerusalem),
where IB contracts
‘a mysterious
illness’: admitted
to Hadassah

25 December Mikhail Gorbachev

formally resigns as
President of USSR; Boris
Yeltsin effectively succeeds
him as President of Russian

26 December USSR formally ceases to

exist, replaced by
Commonwealth of
Independent States

31 December Oxford/London

1991 publications
‘Der Vetter aus Oxford’ (Yehudi Menuhin), in Jutta Schall-Emden (ed.), Weder
Pauken noch Trompeten: Für Yehudi Menuhin
Letter to Antonio Verri, in id. (ed.), Vico e il pensiero contemporaneo
(with others) ‘The Detention of Sari Nusseibeh’ (letter, Independent and NYRB,
in slightly different forms, and with more signatories in the NYRB)
‘Position on the Chair’ (letter, Observer)

1 January–23 June Oxford/London

9 April Conservatives win General

Election with reduced majority
of 21

19 April Castaway on
Desert Island
Discs, BBC
Radio 4

23–9 June (IB 83) Hohenems

29 June–7 August Oxford/London

18 July John Smith elected Labour

leader, succeeding Neil

7–c.11 August Salzburg

c.11–25 August Baden-Baden

25–31 August Salzburg

31 August– 1 Mondsee

1–25 September Paraggi

16 September ‘Black Wednesday’: John

Major suspends British
membership of European
Exchange Rate Mechanism as
pound plummets

25 September–31 Oxford/London

4 November Democrat Bill Clinton defeats

incumbent Republican George
H. W. Bush for US presidency

1992 publications
‘Alexander and Salome Halpern’ (in Russian translation), in Mikhail
Parkhomovsky (ed.), Jews in the Culture of Russia Abroad: Collected
Articles, Publications, Memoirs and Essays
‘The Early Years’, in Freda Silver Jackson (ed.), Then and Now: A Collection of
‘Reply to Ronald H. McKinney, “Towards a Postmodern Ethics: Sir Isaiah Berlin
and John Caputo”’ (Journal of Value Inquiry)
Introduction to Founders and Followers: Literary Lectures Given on the
Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the London Library
Introduction to inaugural concert programme for Israel’s new Supreme Court
Building, November 1992
Letters to Conor Cruise O’Brien in his The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography
and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke
‘Mixing It’ (letter, Oxford Magazine)
‘No Trace of Roguery’ (letter, Spectator)
(unattributed) ‘Professor H. L. A. Hart’ (obituary, Times)
Contribution to feature on the literary canon (Times Higher Education
Appreciation of David Patterson (Centre Piece, newsletter of the Oxford Centre
for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies)
Comment in Charles C. Brown, Niebuhr and His Age: Reinhold Niebuhr’s
Prophetic Role and Legacy


1 January–16 June Oxford/London

26 February Islamist terrorists detonate car

bomb in World Trade Center,
NY, killing 5 and injuring
scores more

20 March IRA bombs Warrington, killing

2 boys and injuring over 50

16–20 June (IB 84) Feldkirch

music festival,

20 June–late July Oxford/London

Late July–26 Paraggi


1 August Munich

2–11 August Salzburg

11–29/30 August London

13 September Israeli prime minister Yitzhak

Rabin and PLO leader Yasser
Arafat shake hands at White
House, affirming the Oslo I
Accord, aimed at ending the
Israel–Palestine conflict

26 September–31 Oxford/London

4 October US forces in Mogadishu,

Somalia, in fierce battle after
failed attempt to capture local

15 December British and Irish premiers sign

Joint Declaration of Peace in
effort to end Northern Ireland

1993 publications
The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern
‘England’s Mistaken Moralist’ (G. E. Moore in Principia Ethica), contribution to
‘Speaking Volumes’ (The Times Higher Education Supplement)
‘A Reply to David West’ (Political Studies)
‘Yitzhak Sadeh’ (Midstream)
Contribution to Sir Isaiah Berlin and others, Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart 1907–
1992: Speeches Delivered at Memorial Ceremony on 6 February 1993
Contribution on books read during 1992 (Misuzu)
Contribution to tenth anniversary CD booklet for Music at Oxford


1 January–31 Oxford/London

5 February Mortar bomb in Sarajevo

marketplace kills 68, wounds
200; Serb artillery then
withdraws from Sarajevo after
threat of NATO airstrikes

6 April Death of Rwandan President

Juvenal Habyarimana triggers
ethnic violence: at least
800,000 Tutsis and moderate
Hutus killed by Hutu militants
in c.100 days

10 May African National Congress

wins South Africa’s first
democratic elections; its leader,
Nelson Mandela, becomes the
country’s first black President

27 May Alexander Solzhenitsyn returns

to Russia from 20 years’ exile
in US and is highly critical of
new leadership

19–25 June Feldkirch

1 July (IB 85) Yasser Arafat returns to Gaza

after 27 years’ exile

8 July Dublin to
receive hon.
LittD from
Trinity College

21 July Tony Blair elected Labour

leader after untimely death of
John Smith in May

14–23 August Salzburg

31 August IRA announces complete

ceasefire; Russian troops
withdraw from Estonia, Latvia
and other former Eastern Bloc

31 August–26 Paraggi

26 September–mid Oxford/London

Mid October NY

13 October Loyalist paramilitaries in

Northern Ireland announce
14 October Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres
and Yitzhak Rabin share Nobel
Peace Prize for their
peacemaking efforts in Middle

Mid October–31 Oxford/London


26 October Yitzhak Rabin and King

Hussein of Jordan sign treaty
ending 46 years of war between
Israel and Jordan

24 November Created hon.

Doctor of
Laws, Toronto

9 December British officials meet

representatives of Sinn Fein for

1994 publications
‘La rivoluzione romantica: una crisi nella storia del pensiero moderno’ (‘The
Romantic Revolution: A Crisis in the History of Modern Thought’), in
Isaiah Berlin, Tra la filosofia e la storia delle idee: intervista
autobiografica, ed. Steven Lukes
(with Bernard Williams) ‘Pluralism and Liberalism: A Reply’ (to George
Crowder, Political Studies)
Introduction to Joseph de Maistre, Considerations on France, ed. Richard A.
Introduction to James Tully (ed.), Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The
Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question
Contribution to Brian Harrison (ed.), Corpuscles: A History of Corpus Christi
College, Oxford, in the Twentieth Century, Written by Its Members
Contribution to ‘Brushes with Genius’ (meetings with Picasso, Independent on
Contribution to ‘Classics of Our Time’ (Sunday Telegraph)
Contribution to ‘Referred Pleasures: Fifteen writers celebrate their favourite
reference books’ (TLS)
Tribute to Sir Neville Marriner, in souvenir programme for his 70th birthday
concert, 5 April 1994, Royal Festival Hall


January–December Oxford/London

17 January Earthquake strikes Japanese

city of Kobe, killing more than

3 May Hon. DPhil,


19 May Bomb in government building in

Oklahoma City kills 168; Gulf
War veteran with grievances
against Federal government

11–13 June (IB 86) More than 8,000 Bosnian

Muslims sheltering in a UN
‘safe area’ massacred by units
of Bosnian Serb army in

29 June Mir Russian space station and

US shuttle Atlantis dock in
orbit, starting new era of space
co-operation between former
Cold War adversaries

3–c.19 September Paraggi

28 September Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser

Arafat sign Oslo II Accord in

September/early Pacemaker
October fitted

4 November Yitzhak Rabin assassinated by

radical Orthodox Jew opposed
to Oslo accords; succeeded by
Shimon Peres

10 November Nigeria suspended from

Commonwealth after
government of General Sani
Abacha executes writer and
activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8
other dissidents

14 December Presidents of Bosnia, Serbia

and Croatia sign Dayton
Accord in Paris, aiming to
bring an end to ethnic conflict
in Bosnia-Herzegovina

20 December Buckingham Palace announces

that the Queen has advised the
Prince and Princess of Wales to

1995 publications
‘Liberty’, in Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
Contribution to ‘Remembering Stephen’ (a tribute to Stephen Spender, Index on
(with Andrzej Walicki) ‘Sir Isaiah Berlin do Andrzeja Walickiego’ (letters from
IB to AW, Res Publica)
(with Robert Grant) ‘Tolstoy and Enlightenment: An Exchange’ (Oyster Club)
‘Nin Ryan’ (obituary, Independent)
Foreword to ‘… from the fruits of her labour she planted a vineyard.’, Essays on
the Role of Private Philanthropy in Israel to Mark the 100th Anniversary of
the Birth of Dorothy de Rothschild, 7 March 1995
Contribution (on Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago) to ‘On the Shelf’ (Sunday


1 January–4 August Oxford/London

2 January US troops enter Bosnia as

peacekeeping force under
Dayton accords

10 January King Hussein of Jordan visits

Tel Aviv in a sign of
rapprochement with Israel

31 January Tamil Tiger rebels kill more

than 50 in a suicide bombing in
financial district of Colombo
during Sri Lanka’s long-running
civil war

9 February IRA bomb in London’s

docklands ends 18-month

18 April 17 Greek tourists and an

Egyptian tour guide shot dead
by Islamist terrorists in Cairo

29 May Binyamin Netanyahu, having

campaigned against Rabin–
Peres peace plan, becomes
Likud prime minister of Israel,
narrowly defeating Labor’s
Shimon Peres

15 June (IB 87) Massive IRA car bomb

devastates busy Manchester
shopping centre

4–11 August Salzburg

11–16 August London

16–21 August Pesaro

21 August–2 London

23 August Osama bin Laden, founder of

militant Islamist al-Qaeda
network, issues a fatwa
declaring war on ‘the Zionist–
Crusader alliance’

28 August Divorce of Prince and Princess

of Wales

2–late September Paraggi

Late September–31 Oxford/London


27 September Taliban fighters in

Afghanistan’s civil war take
Kabul, declaring an Islamic
state and imposing Sharia law

6 November Bill Clinton first Democratic

President since FDR to be re-
elected, defeating Republican
Bob Dole

13 December Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan

elected Secretary-General of
UN in succession to the
Egyptian, Boutros Boutros-
Ghali, a second term for whom
was opposed by US
1996 publications
The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their History
‘Berlin’, in Thomas Mautner (ed.), A Dictionary of Philosophy
Contribution to ‘Why be Jewish?’, The UJS Haggadah
Supplementary obituary note on Lydia Chukovskaya (Guardian)
‘A Flick Back’ (letter, Guardian)
‘No Smoking in Class’ (letter, Sunday Telegraph)
(with others) ‘Solidarity with Turkish Writers’ (letter, Independent)


1 January–5 Oxford/London

January Illness leads to

cancellation of
plan to visit

17 April Athens for hon.

doctorate in

22 April Visit to Israel

for Passover
fails to

1 May Labour Party wins landslide

victory in British General
Election; Tony Blair becomes
prime minister

1 July (IB 88) Hong Kong transferred from

UK to China
8 July NATO invites Czech Republic,
Hungary and Poland to join

19 July IRA announces new ceasefire

from next day

22 July IB’s final

illness begins

31 August Diana, Princess of Wales, dies

of injuries sustained in car
crash in Paris

6 September Funeral of Princess of Wales

11 September Scottish voters decisively

endorse proposals for a
Scottish Parliament in
Edinburgh, with powers
devolved from Westminster

23 October Tony Blair

writes to IB
about liberty
and the left; IB
too ill to reply

5 November IB dies in

1997 publications
The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays
‘Literature and Art in the RSFSR’ (1945) (Kulisa NG)
‘Sir Thomas Armstrong (1898–1994)’, in Christ Church 1996
Contribution to ‘Books of the Century’ (Sunday Telegraph)
Contribution (on his favourite images) to RA (The Royal Academy Magazine)
Letters to Rocco Pezzimenti in his The Open Society and its Friends, with Letters
from Isaiah Berlin and the Late Karl R. Popper
In memory of Stuart Hampshire

Letters 1975–1997


Edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle

with the assistance of Nicholas Hall

Additional research · Brigid Allen, Victoria Benner, James Chappel, Georgina Edwards, Hugh Eveleigh,
Jason Ferrell, Steffen Groß, Nicholas Hall, Serena Moore, Eleonora Paganini, Kim Reynolds, Teisha
Ruggiero, Patrick Wise-Walsh
Archival Research · Michael Hughes
Consultant Russianists · Tatiana Pozdnyakova, Josephine von Zitzewitz
Consultant Hebraist · Norman Solomon
Transcription · Betty Colquhoun, Esther Johnson

These days, where there is so much strife, so much war and so much destruction, to do something which
is civilised in intent, and I hope in result, at the top end of what is possible in a civilisation: what a privilege,
eh? What a privilege!
Peter Maxwell Daviesfn1

[T]here is no doubt that [Isaiah Berlin] showed in more than one direction the unexpectedly large
possibilities open to us at the top end of the range of human potential.fn2
The answer is ‘Yes.’
Isaiah Berlin pp Pat Utechinfn1

IB was one of the great affirmers of our time.

John Banvillefn2
[…] a rapid torrent of descriptive sentences, fresh, lucid,
direct, interspersed with vivid and never irrelevant
digressions, variations on the same theme in many keys,
[…] quotations real and imaginary, verbal inventions,
[…] mordant personal observations and cascades of
vivid images […], which, so far from either tiring or
distracting the reader by their virtuosity, add to the force
and swiftness of the narrative. The effect is one of
spontaneous improvisation: exhilarating conversation by
an intellectually gay and exceptionally clever and honest
man endowed with singular powers of observation and
IB, ‘Herzen and His Memoirs’, AC2 245

No doubt the twenty-fifth century will recognise my

To Charles Blattberg, 19 March 1996

[U]nder pressure from people like you I may change or modify or sharpen this view.
To Claude Galipeau, 5 January 1991

Is this satisfactory? I do hope so. If not, do go on pressing me. I don’t mind a bit: it is only Pat upon
whose shoulders the dreadful burden of my answers lies.
To HH, 17 April 1991

IN THIS FOURTH and final volume of his selected letters, Isaiah Berlin – having
retired at the end of the previous volume as President of Wolfson College, Oxford
– completes his four-year Presidency of the British Academy in London and
returns to his spiritual home in Oxford, All Souls College, as a Distinguished
Fellow.fn1 Throughout the last two decades of his life he is as profuse a
correspondent – mostly by dictation – as ever, though the publication in this
period of several collections of his essays, and one short monograph, leads
gradually to a change in tone and emphasis, as his readers write to ask for
clarification of this or that point in his work. He replies punctiliously, and often at
considerable length – to the despair of his secretary, Pat Utechin, who, though she
admired his conscientiousness, felt that he could have been more selective and
economical in his responses.fn2
But Berlin firmly believed that it was the responsibility of a thinker who
published his ideas to reply to all serious requests for elucidation from whatever
quarter. The result is a body of correspondence that should be seen as an integral
part of his oeuvre, comprising as it does a sort of running commentary on his more
formal work that sometimes throws supplementary light on his central ideas,
clearing away some of the misunderstandings that occasionally arose from the
more condensed and allusive statements in his published essays. Among many
other subjects, he returned repeatedly to pluralism of values and of cultures,
political liberalism, national consciousness and other forms of belonging, and the
essential ingredients of human nature, as opposed to human characteristics that
vary between persons, groups, cultures or epochs; and he chewed over and
refined what he had said and written and thought about these subjects before.
Pluralism is a particular leitmotif of the letters from these years; and pluralism
is the doctrine above all that he might reasonably have claimed as his own
creation, at any rate in the fully explicit form in which he stated it.fn3 He first set it
out clearly, indeed canonically, in 1958 in ‘The One and the Many’, the final
(eighth) section of Two Concepts of Liberty (reprinted in Four Essays on Liberty
in 1969), but it was some thirty years before the sustained investigation by others
of this radically disturbing view began to gather momentum – largely, perhaps, as
a result of the publication, from 1978 onwards, of further collections of his
previously scattered essays, in some of which he had more to say about the
doctrine in question. As Charles Taylor has written:
Isaiah’s plurality thesis was not only a blow to various totalitarian theories of positive liberty, it was also
deeply unsettling to the moral theories dominant in his own milieu. It is one of the paradoxes of our
intellectual world, which will be increasingly discussed in the future, why this latter point was not realised.
The bomb was planted in the academy, but somehow failed to go off.fn4

However that may be, the bomb well and truly went off in the last two decades
of the twentieth century, when pluralism’s relevance to the contemporary world
became even greater than it was at the end of the 1950s. Indeed, the continuing
timeliness of Berlin’s crucial idea is one of the main reasons for the vigour of the
discussion that has centred upon it. All the issues that gather round the question of
the proper limits to tolerance of difference – multiculturalism, nationalism,
fundamentalist extremism and terrorism, cultural imperialism – turn on whether
pluralism is true, and, if so, what its implications are for our conduct in particular
circumstances. As Berlin himself wrote about this ‘important topic’ in 1993: ‘I
have for many years thought the problem of the incommensurability, and still more
the incompatibility, of some values to be central to all ethical, social, political and
aesthetic issues, and could never find any treatment of this topic in what is
commonly called “the literature”.’fn5
Other notable general themes that recur include the continuously worrying
conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, on which he makes a rare public
statement at the end of his life (included here), and many of his observations on
which are, sadly, just as applicable today as when he made them; the related
question of Jewish identity, both in general and as it affected himself; and the fall
of Communism and its impact on Eastern Europe. More specifically, he continues
to respond as acutely and entertainingly as ever to a wide range of public events,
and to letters from his close friends – though death contracts their number as the
years pass.fn6 He reports on his travels to Australia and the Pacific, to Japan and
Iran, and to the USSR, which he revisits in 1988 for the first and only time since
he had taken his new wife there in 1956. We hear his views on current political
issues in America and Britain (Reagan and Thatcher), in Israel (Shamir and
Begin), and in the Soviet Union (Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov).
These are the years of continuing IRA terrorism, the Camp David accords, the
Islamic revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing US-
led boycott of the Moscow Olympics; the unmasking of Anthony Blunt as the
‘fourth man’, the formation of Solidarity in Poland, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon
and the Falklands War; the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall,
Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the Gulf War and the collapse of the
Soviet Union. We hear from Berlin on all these subjects in his letters, and about a
large supporting cast of thinkers, composers, musicians, and other prominent and
unprominent persons.
As for his personal life, Berlin is offered but declines a life peerage, is
awarded the Agnelli Prize for his contribution to ethical thought, and celebrates
his seventieth and (especially) eightieth birthdays; he remains until 1987 on the
board of Covent Garden and has much to say about opera; he talks to Michael
Ignatieff, mostly on tape, over ten years and appoints him his biographer; and he
continues his working partnership with Henry Hardy, which results in eight
published volumes in his lifetime, and prepares the ground for seven more after
his death, as well as for the four-volume edition of his letters which the present
volume completes. He has a long and (eventually) distressingly bitter
correspondence with Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana; he enters into a controversy with
Noam Chomsky about a contribution by the latter to Index on Censorship; he
reflects on the mental depredations of old age (remarkably slight in his own case,
viewed from outside); he lends his name, directly or indirectly, to causes in which
he believes, and affords assistance to correspondents who make an appeal to
His rate of publication scarcely slackens. His book Vico and Herder: Two
Studies in the History of Ideas – heavily revised versions of work published
earlier, with a substantial new introduction – appears in 1976. He writes essays
on romanticism, operatic performances and (separately) surtitles, and a number of
further aspects of Vico; on Hume and Hamann, utopian ideas, nationalism, and
Einstein and Israel; on his meetings with Akhmatova and Pasternak, relativism, the
‘three strands’ in his life and the dispatches he drafted in Washington for the
Foreign Office during the Second World War; on Mozart at Glyndebourne, the
unexpected survival of the Russian intelligentsia, Jewish Oxford, the London
Library and the nature and development of his own ideas. Alongside this new
work, seven volumes of collected essays (the first four originally appearing under
the unifying title Selected Writings) and one new freestanding book (on J. G.
Hamann) are published and attract a great deal of critical attention – most but not
all of it positive – and, as noted above, much correspondence from curious
readers. Some of these volumes include work from earlier years that had not
previously been published, including pieces – especially a long essay on Joseph
de Maistre and the origins of Fascism, and his study of Hamann – which he
revises extensively. Indeed one volume, The Sense of Reality, consists almost
entirely of previously unpublished material. He also translates Turgenev’s play A
Month in the Country for a new production by Peter Gill at the National Theatre.
His presidential addresses to the British Academy appear in its Proceedings.
He contributes forewords, reviews books, writes letters to the press, replies in
print to published criticisms of his work, and gives some seventy interviews,
mostly for publication or broadcast.fn8 Notable among the interviews are those
with Michael Berkeley, Frans Boenders, John Drummond, Nathan Gardels,
Michael Ignatieff, Ramin Jahanbegloo (which became a book, Conversations with
Isaiah Berlin), Peter Jay, Enrique Krauze, Lars Roar Langslet, Bernard Levin,
Sue Lawley, Steven Lukes, Bryan Magee, Beata Polanowska-Sygulska, Igor
Shaitanov and Vsevolod Shishkovsky (the last two in Russian).
He writes pen-portraits of those he has met and often known well: Thomas
Armstrong, David Ben-Gurion, David Cecil, Martin Cooper, Patricia Douglas,
Nahum Goldmann, Harry d’Avigdor Goldsmid, Alexander and Salome Halpern,
Herbert Hart, Auberon Herbert, Maynard and Lydia Keynes, Teddy Kollek,
Yehudi Menuhin, John Plamenatz, Dorothy de Rothschild, Yitzhak Sadeh, Stephen
Spender, Jacob Talmon, Charles Taylor, John Wheeler-Bennett, Virginia Woolf
and others. And all the time the letters pour forth in all directions. He was one of
the last great letter-writers of an age brought to an end by the Internet.


Letter after letter!

To HH, 4 December 1978, 94

The proportion of available letters included in this volume is similar to that in its
predecessor: a very slightly larger percentage (just under a fifth) of a somewhat
smaller pool of transcribed material. Cutting has once more been painful, and the
material on the cutting-room floor includes many excellent letters. In particular,
there was room for only a sample of his letters about his conception of human
nature and human values, all of which should be read by any interpreters of his
ideas who wish to see the full, sometimes puzzlingly unclear and/or contradictory,
picture. In order to make more of these letters available to scholars in a timely
fashion, a further selection has been posted online.fn9 For excluded letters on other
topics readers will for the time being need to consult Berlin’s papers in the
Bodleian Library in Oxford, at any rate until the project of adding many of them to
the online Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library (IBVL) has been completed.
All the other provisos stated in the preface to the previous volume apply here
too. One additional point that may be worth spelling out concerns punctuation. As
before, we have felt ourselves free to tidy the presentation and punctuation of
typed letters (without, of course, changing the wording except where there was an
obvious misdictation or mistranscription). Much of this aspect of his letters stems
from his secretary: his inclusion of punctuation in his dictation was somewhat
sporadic and unreliable. Moreover, both when one is composing prose viva voce,
and when one is transcribing shorthand or recorded dictation, it is often difficult
to choose the best punctuation while in transit, as it were: the logical structure of a
long sentence is sometimes unclear until it is complete, if then. Berlin’s sentences
are notorious for their length and complexity, though they do mostly, in the end,
wind safe to sea. As typed by Pat Utechin, they tend to exhibit a structurally
ambiguous and taxingly extended series of dashes, and we have broken them up
liberally by inserting or substituting full stops, colons, semi-colons, commas and
parentheses – and occasionally even dashes where, exceptionally, there were none
– hoping and believing that the result is easier to follow. Manuscript items,
however (again as in previous volumes), are transcribed faithfully, except where
obsessive fidelity would entail serious difficulty in comprehension. In these
autograph communications readers may observe Berlin’s characteristic use of
colons and dashes as rhetorical signposts – breathing marks – more than as
conventional literary punctuation.fn10
We should also record that we have made some minimal cuts to avoid
distracting, boring or irritating the reader with repetitive and insubstantial matter
of the kind that often opens and closes letters: ‘Thank you for your letter of 1
January, which I have only just seen on my return from a week in London’ etc.
When letters are read in bulk, these formalities can become tiresome. We have
also suppressed certain formulaic riffs to which Berlin was given, for instance
apologies for not writing by hand, of which there are hundreds of instances, often
similarly worded. In all such cases, of course, cuts are marked with ellipses. It
has to be admitted, too, that Berlin’s increasingly frequent letters of condolence
naturally tended to draw on the same stock of thoughts and images, and this
explains why there are not more of them here.
What we say at the start of the second section of the preface to Building applies
to the present volume as well, and we shall not repeat it in full here. Our
principles of selection remain the same, so that we continue not to censor
interesting material that reveals Berlin’s feet of (albeit top quality) clay, and
occasionally omit passages that do, or might, offend the living.fn11 In this latter
connection we have sometimes followed Berlin’s own advice to his friend Irving
Singer: ‘The best idea […] is to send the offensive passage to the subject and ask
if he (she) minds.’fn12 Berlin could be catty in his letters – ‘I am an intemperate
writer and probably made a number of unjustifiable remarks about all kinds of
good people’fn13 – and had a bee in his bonnet about certain bêtes noires; but
against this must be set the fact that he was an enormously kind man who, in
general, could not bear to do anyone else down. He once asked a colleague why a
particular election to a fellowship had been made, since the successful candidate
was no good. The colleague reasonably replied that in his reference Berlin had
said that that he was one of the most distinguished graduate students in political
theory in the university. ‘You should never have taken any notice of that,’ Berlin
replied in dismay. Indeed, it was often said in the university that his references
should be discounted, since he would always praise his students indiscriminately.
During the years covered by this volume an extensive correspondence occurred
between Berlin and Henry Hardy, much of it about Berlin’s core ideas.fn14 Because
of the possible conflict of interest that this fact may be thought to create, we
should like to make explicit that the choice of which (parts) of these letters to
include was made solely by Mark Pottle (who also wrote the entry on HH in the
biographical glossary and the connective tissue here–here). Some of those that
have been excluded are in the online file referred to above.fn15
As before, we have set a limit to the explanations we provide, assuming in
general that words included in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary do not
(all) require glosses. But we have translated most words and phrases in foreign
languages, including French, since it is no longer safe to assume that familiarity
with this or any other foreign language is part of everyone’s basic intellectual
furniture. We have also supplied, as footnotes or linking passages, information that
we hope will enable the widest range of readers to understand the letters. Many
will need no such introduction to the topics at hand, but we have aimed for
consistency and comprehensiveness, and have designed our apparatus to make
Berlin’s letters accessible to future generations, and to cultures different from our
own. The same approach informs our biographical footnotes: we provide basic
information, wherever possible, for everyone mentioned in the text, even for such
universal figures as Shakespeare. This will irritate some readers, maybe, but
seems to us preferable to a more selective policy that, in its arbitrariness and
partiality, would inevitably reflect the cultural assumptions, predilections and
interests of the editors and the civilisation to which they belong, to the potential
disadvantage of readers in the future, and indeed of those alive today who are not
schooled in the Western liberal culture in which IB was himself steeped. It also
seems useful to us to provide the years of birth and death of even the best-known
We should like to express our special gratitude to the two colleagues who have
worked most closely with us in the preparation of this final volume. Our research
associate Nicholas Hall has managed to find precise answers to innumerable
queries, and has proved as deft at handling Internet databases and search engines
as he has been resolute in tracking down elusive quarries in the Bodleian
Libraries and elsewhere. All of the burdens we have laid upon him he has
shouldered uncomplainingly and efficiently, enabling us to concentrate on other
aspects of the editorial task. Without him this book would never have appeared
anything like as soon as it has. In parallel with his work for us he has been editing
the diaries and letters of the remarkable Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (1905–35),
one of the first to bring the Ukrainian famine of 1932–3 to the attention of the
world. Our archivist Georgina Edwards has patiently prepared our holdings for
transfer to other homes at the end of Wolfson’s ‘Berlin Papers Project’, which
began in 1990 and reaches its conclusion with the present volume. She has also
managed the project office with quiet tact and effectiveness, as well as working
for Brasenose Archives when she has not been working for us.
The other Trustees of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust, and Berlin’s family, have
once again helped us with the preparation of the text, reading drafts and making
suggestions from which we have profited. We have also been assisted in various
ways by Nick Allen, Shlomo Avineri, Simon Bailey, Liz Baird, Thomas Binder,
Etan Bloom, Vernon Bogdanor, Peter Boswell, Elena Bonham Carter, Alfred
Brendel, Irene Brendel, Terrell Carver, Charles, Prince of Wales, Meir Chazan,
Elena Chukovskaya, Joshua Cherniss, Nick Clarke, Aimee Collis, Angela
Courtney, Alan Crookham, George Crowder, Judith Curthoys, Robin Darwall-
Smith, Timothy Day, Dimitris Dimitrakos, Arie Dubnov, Lazar Fleishman, Adam
Garfinkle, Erin George, Susie Gilbert, Martin Goodman, John Goodwin, Simon
Green, Samuel Guttenplan, Sue Hales, Becky Hardie, Mary Hardy, Thérèse
Herbert, Robin Hessman, Anthony Hippisley, Hirata Masako, Kei Hiruta,
Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Jennifer Holmes, David Hutson, Michael Inwood,
Baruch Knei-Paz, Lars Roar Langslet, Wolfram Latsch, John Levy, Alistair
Lexden, Martin Liddy, Yigal Liverant, John Livingstone, Paul Luna, Grant
McIntyre, Bryan Magee, Paolo Mancosu, Yehuda Meltzer, David Miller, Serena
Moore, Gaye Morgan, Claus Moser, Kanami Nakatake, Penelope Newsome,
Nicky Nevin, Georges Nivat, Kate O’Donnell, Bertell Ollman, Peter
Oppenheimer, Lionel Orchard, Lewis Owens, Christopher Phipps, Michael Quinn,
Jane Rawson, Henry Richardson, Bridget Riley, Sylva Rubashova, Arthur Ruppin,
Dean Ryan, Philip Schofield, Sandy Scholey, Colin Shindler, John Simpson, Adam
Sisman, Rowena Skelton-Wallace, Alexander Sokolov Grant, Matthew Spender,
Keith Thomas, Jennifer Thorp, John Tooley, Eyal Tsur, David Vital, Wang Qian,
Brandon Ward, Edmund Weiner, Caro Westmore, Leon Wieseltier, Mirko
Wischke, Susan Wood, Fred Worms, Bondo Wyszpolski, Philip Ziegler, and the
staff of the ODNB; and by many others, especially archivists, librarians and other
institutional officers, too numerous to list here exhaustively, who have often gone
well beyond the call of duty in answering our enquiries. Nor should the
professional team listed on the half-title page be left unmentioned: we have relied
on them in countless ways.
Our title is intended to reflect both Berlin’s (re-)affirmation in his letters of his
important views on central human questions; and also his ebullient and life-
affirming personality, so vividly on display in his correspondence, and so neatly
and serendipitously encapsulated in the last and briefest item in the book: ‘The
answer is “Yes.”’
We record in sorrow that, while this volume was in preparation, the death of
Berlin’s widow Aline, an original Trustee of The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust,fn16
deprived this project of a most generous and constant supporter and friend, whose
enthusiasm, practical aid and unmatched personal knowledge has sustained us
over the years. We have also lost another faithful Trusteefn17 and friend in Jon
Stallworthy, professor of English and fellow of Wolfson, poet, publisher, editor,
biographer and expert on war poetry: in more than one of these guises he was an
immense help to us, and his position as elder statesman of College was especially
valuable to the work of the Trust. We are sad that Lady Berlin and Professor
Stallworthy did not live to see the publication of the final volume, but they did see
a draft text.
To Lady Berlin and all our benefactors over twenty-five years, large and small,
financial and moral, who not only enabled us to complete this edition of letters,
but also made possible the preparation of all the volumes by Berlin that have
appeared since 1990, we say a final heartfelt thank you. They have not been
systematically identified in previous volumes, so let us now name them all, in
alphabetical order: Aline Berlin, Peter Halban and the Berlin Charitable Trust;
Gilbert de Botton; Gerald Chan and the Morningside Foundation; Katharine
Graham; the Trustees of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust; the Jacob Rothschild
GAM Charitable Trust; Lewis Owens and EdmissionUK; Antony Percy; Jacob
Rothschild and the Rothschild Foundation; Geoffrey Wilkinson and the Wilkinson
Charitable Foundation; Ken Wilson and the Ford Foundation; the successive
Presidents and fellows of Wolfson; and Leonard Wolfson and the Wolfson
Foundation. The thorough research needed for a full scholarly edition of letters by
such a wide-ranging and allusive correspondent as Berlin takes time and does not
come cheap, and our debt to these wonderful examples of charitable giving is
immeasurable. Nor must we pass over those whose non-pecuniary support proved
indispensable: in particular Alan Bullock, who with great gusto raised the initial
funding for the project, and continued in this role until Berlin died; and successive
Bursars of Wolfson, whose tolerance and generosity have made a significant
contribution to our esprit de corps. To these too we record our unforgettable debt.
We now bid farewell to Berlin’s letters, their recipients and readers, after a
journey that began in earnest for one of us a quarter of a century ago.fn18 The
younger of us is the same age as Berlin was when he became President of
Wolfson, the elder (now an old-age pensioner) the same age as when he retired
from that position. As we reflect on what Berlin had been and done by our ages,
and on the letters he wrote after his retirement – so much more numerous than
those printed here – we marvel increasingly at the intellectual energy and
creativity of this warm, fizzing, fluent, generous epicentre of enthusiastic
engagement with people and their ideas, this extraordinary man and his capacious,
penetrating, lucid, unpretentious, articulate mind, with its relish for life in all its
manifestations: a mind whose contents he shared so liberally with his
correspondents, and one with which we have been fortunate to keep company for
so long.
Towards the end of his (and Berlin’s) life, his friend the satirist John Wells
described him persuasively to one of us as ‘the best human being I have known’.
Berlin’s own words to Chaim Weizmann also come to mind: ‘My association with
you has been in all my life the thing in which I felt more pride and moral
satisfaction than anything else whatever – not to speak of the personal pleasure
and the sense of justification for one’s existence which it provided and


In the second impression of the hardback edition we corrected a number of errors

that came to light after publication, and added some further information, both in
situ and here. In the Pimlico edition we have made further corrections and
recorded some recent deaths. For helpful feedback about the first impression we
should like to thank William J. Connell, Roy Davison, Miriam Eliav-Feldon, Ian
Jackson and Avner Offer.

The format of the names, addresses and dates in the letter-headings has been
standardised, and the most common addresses abbreviated as follows:

All Souls All Souls College, Oxford

Headington House Headington House, Old High Street, Headington, Oxford
Paraggi 500 Scalini, Paraggi, Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

All Oxford colleges except New College, Exeter College and Christ Church
(which is not known as ‘Christ Church College’) are referred to in the notes
without the word ‘College’. ‘Corpus’ or ‘CCC’ is Corpus Christi College and
‘Univ.’ is University College. All Colleges mentioned are in Oxford unless
otherwise stated, and Universities are in general referred to without including the
word ‘University’ (so ‘Cambridge’, ‘Columbia’, ‘Exeter’, ‘London’ etc.), unless
the context does not make clear that a university is in question.
Knighthoods are in general indicated by the date and rank of the earliest
entitlement to be addressed as ‘Sir’ (e.g. ‘KCMG 1949’), and any subsequent
upgrades (e.g. ‘KCB 1953, GCMG 1955, GCB 1960’) are omitted. Plain ‘Kt’
means Knight Bachelor, the bottom rung of the ladder of knighthood. Life peers are
referred to as such rather than by their longer specific titles (e.g. ‘life peer 1976’
not ‘Baron Bullock of Leafield 1976’).
Page references are not introduced with ‘p.’ or ‘pp.’ when the context makes it
obvious that that is what they are. Cross references of the form ‘(256/6)’ mean
‘see here, note 6’.
Originals are typed unless said to be in manuscript. The location of these
originals is provided as part of the index of correspondents. Where we have used
carbon copies (retained by Berlin’s secretaries), this is stated:fn1 Berlin often
amended top copies, and we should be grateful to see top copies of any letters,
whether or not included here, but especially if we have used a carbon for a letter
selected for inclusion. Signatures have been added (in square brackets) to letters
of which we have seen only carbons. The date of dictated letters (i.e. most letters)
may be the date of dictation, of typing, or of the expected addition of IB’s
Though in general ‘house style’ has been held constant through the volumes,
consistency has not been rigidly imposed. During the quarter-century of the
preparation of this edition, subeditorial fashions have changed, and some of these
changes are reflected in the editorial matter in successive volumes, for example in
an increased preference for lower-case initial letters in job titles (within limits:
‘prof. of philosophy’, but ‘Wayneflete Prof. of Metaphysical Philosophy’),
gender-neutral appellations (‘chair’) and religion-neutral dates (‘BCE’, ‘CE’); the
style of Berlin’s own text, however, has not been too anachronistically updated.
Additional abbreviations have been introduced to save space. Finally, the vast
development of the Internet while the edition has been in progress has made it
ever more possible to track down detailed information in a manageable time, and
this sometimes shows.
People and other subjects requiring a gloss are in general footnoted when they
are first referred to, but not otherwise. The index will quickly locate this
introductory note (its page reference being given in italics) if it is needed to
elucidate a later reference. Recipients of letters are referred to by their initials in
notes to letters received by them.
Listed below are people referred to more than once without a surname (given in
the text in square brackets for single surnameless references). The incomplete
versions of their names in the left-hand column are not annotated unless they are
used for the earliest reference to their bearers; rather, these names can be assumed
to refer to the individuals in the right-hand column unless we state otherwise, or
the context makes clear that someone else is meant. Many but not all of these
individuals, together with other important or frequently mentioned people, are
subjects of the entries in the biographical glossary that precedes the indexes, and
are glossed only briefly on their first occurrence, when an asterisk before the
surname indicates that an entry is to be found in the glossary, thus: ‘Isaiah

AA Anna Akhmatova
Adam Adam von Trott
Aline Aline Berlin
AJPT/Alan A. J. P. Taylor
Alexandra Alexandra Schlesinger
Alfred Alfred Brendel
BJ Marie Lynd
Bob Robert Silvers
Chuck Charles Taylor
Diana Diana Cooper/
Dominique Dominique Nabokov
Douglas Douglas Jay
Edmund/EW Edmund Wilson
Freddie A. J. Ayer
Goronwy Goronwy Rees
Henry Henry Paget
(Lord Anglesey)
Herbert H. L. A. Hart
Iris Iris Murdoch
Jacob Jacob Rothschild
Jean Jean Floud
Joe Joseph Alsop
Kay Katharine Graham
Lionel Lionel Trilling
Lucia Lucia White
Marietta Marietta Tree
Mary Mary Bennett
Maurice Maurice Bowra
Nicolas Nicolas Nabokov
Noel Noel Annan
Pod Norman Podhoretz
Renée Renée Ayer, later
Stephen Stephen Spender
Stuart Stuart Hampshire
Teddy Teddy Kollek
Wystan W. H. Auden

A list of other abbreviations follows. For publication details of books listed see
‹?› enclose (a) substantial manuscript additions to typed
items made by IB (or by secretaries in carbons), but not
most small MS corrections; (b) URLs, last accessed on
30 November 2013, but subject to changefn2
[?] uncertain transcription of preceding word; if preceded
by space, illegible word
[ ] gap in carbon typescript where typist could not interpret
IB’s dictation
… authorial ellipsis
[…] text omitted by editors
AC; AC2 IB, Against the Current; 2nd ed.
AD [numeral] Anno Domini (‘in the year of the Lord’, i.e. the stated
number of years after the conventional year of birth of
Jesus of Nazareth); numerically equivalent to CE
AGM annual general meeting
ANU Australian National University (Canberra)
AP Associated Press
b. born
BA British Academy
[numeral] BCE the stated number of years before the Common Era;
numerically equivalent to BC (before Christ)
the Berlins Aline and Isaiah Berlin
BI The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah
Berlin, ed. HH)
BIS British Information Services
BLitt baccalaureus litterarum (bachelor of letters)
Bt Baronet
CAABU Council for the Advancement of Arab–British
CBE Companion of the British Empire
CC IB, Concepts and Categories
CCC, Corpus Corpus Christi College
[numeral] CE the stated number of years after the beginning of the
Common Era; numerically equivalent to AD
CH Companion of Honour
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CIB Ramin Jahanbegloo, Conversations with Isaiah Berlin
Co. company
Commons House of Commons (UK Parliament)
CND Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
CP Communist Party
CPGB Communist Party of Great Britain
CPSU Communist Party of the Soviet Union
CTH; CTH2 IB, The Crooked Timber of Humanity; 2nd ed.
CUNY City University of New York
CW Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Collected Works
(London, 1975–2005) [referred to by volume and page,
thus: CW iii 172]
d. died
DBE Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
DCL Doctor of Civil Law
dept department
DPhil doctor philosophiae (doctor of philosophy)
ed. edition/edited by (one editor)
eds editions/edited by (more than one editor)
EEC European Economic Community (‘Common Market’)
ENO English National Opera
FBA Fellow of the British Academy
FIB; FIB2 IB, Freedom and Its Betrayal; 2nd ed.
FDR Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FO Foreign Office (London)
FRG Federal Republic of Germany
FRS Fellow of the Royal Society
FRSE Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
GDR German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
HF; HF2 IB, The Hedgehog and the Fox; 2nd. ed.
HH Henry Hardy
HM Her/His Majesty[’s]
hon. honorary
HUJ The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
IAS Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
IB Isaiah Berlin
IBAC Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration (418)
IBLT Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust
IBVL Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library,
IDF Israeli Defense Forces
IRA Irish Republican Army
IUJF Inter-University Jewish Federation
JC Jewish Chronicle
Jr Junior
KM; KM5 IB, Karl Marx; 5th ed.
Kt Knight
L IB, Liberty
L1 The first volume (1928–46) of this edition of IB’s
L2 The second volume (1946–60) of the same
L3 The third volume (1960–75) of the same
LLD legum doctor (doctor of laws)
LMH Lady Margaret Hall (Oxford college)
Lords House of Lords (UK Parliament)

LPO London Philharmonic Orchestra

LRB London Review of Books
LSE London School of Economics (and Political Science)
Mass. Massachusetts
m. married
MC Military Cross
MCC Marylebone Cricket Club
Met New York Metropolitan Opera
MI Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (London/New
York, 1998)
MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MI Tape recording of interview by Michael Ignatieff (interviews
conducted 1988–97), followed by tape no. and date of
MK Member of Knesset (Israeli parliament)
MLitt magister litterarum (master of letters)
MP Member of Parliament
MSB Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Berlin, followed by
specific shelfmark and folio(s), e.g. MSB 232/1–3 =
MS. Berlin 232, fos 1–3
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
n.d. no date
NGO non-governmental organisation
NKVD People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (USSR)
NRP National Religious Party (Israel)
NY New York
NYRB New York Review of Books
NYT New York Times
NYU New York University
ODNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
ODQ Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
OM Order of Merit
OUP Oxford University Press
PhD philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy)
PI; PI2; PI3 IB, Personal Impressions; 2nd ed.; 3rd ed.
PLO Palestine Liberation Organization
POI IB, The Power of Ideas
pp per pro[curationem], through the agency of (after name
of correspondent, and before name of person signing on
his/her behalf: e.g. IB pp PU)
PPE Philosophy, Politics and Economics (Oxford
undergraduate course)
PPS Parliamentray Private Secretary; second postscript
PRO Public Record Office
prof. professor
PS postscript/Private Secretary
PSM IB, The Proper Study of Mankind
PU Pat Utechin
repr. reprinted
RIBA Royal Institute of British Architects
ROH Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
RR IB, The Roots of Romanticism
RT; RT2 IB, Russian Thinkers; 2nd ed.
SM IB, The Soviet Mind
SOAS School of Oriental and African Studies
SPD Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German
Social Democratic Party)
Sr Senior
SR IB, The Sense of Reality
SS Stephen Spender/Schutzstaffel (the ‘Defence Corps’ of
the Nazi Party)
TCE; TCE2 IB, Three Critics of the Enlightenment; 2nd ed.
THES The Times Higher Education Supplement
Times The Times (London)
TLS The Times Literary Supplement
trans. translated by
UCL University College London
UCLA University of California, Los Angeles
UD IB and Beata Polanowska-Sygulska, Unfinished
UN United Nations
UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Univ. University College
UNRRA United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration
US United States (of America)
USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
VH IB, Vico and Herder
vol./vols volume(s)
Wasp White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
WSC Winston [Spencer-]Churchill
WW1 First World War
WW2 Second World War
The British Academy suite et fin

The assassination of Lord Moyne,fn1 the British resident minister in Cairo, on 6 November 1944 by
two members of the Jewish underground terrorist organization Lehifn2 had been greeted with
outrage, not only in Britain but among moderate Zionists in Palestine. The killers were hanged in
Cairo on 23 March 1945; thirty years later their bodies were handed over by the Egyptian
authorities to the Israeli government, and on 26 June 1975 the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin,fn3
led thousands of mourners in what had the appearance of a state funeral. Terrorist outrages,
whether in Britain or the Middle East, had by then become a depressingly frequent feature of
modern life, prompting The Times to observe, of the adulation of Lord Moyne’s assassins:

Of course these people have to be brave, whether they are Jews or Arabs or Irishmen or of any other
nationality. Of course by their own lights they are patriots. But the great men who led the Israeli nation [in
1944] did not accept the support of murder, and it is a reflection on the men who lead Israel now that they
accept other and lower standards. As do almost all Arab leaders.fn4

This judgement presaged a troubled era in the Middle East, and if IB grew critical of British press
reporting on Israel in these years, he also grew increasingly critical of the Israeli leadership, and
the fate of of Israel consumed him until his dying day.

1 July 1975
Headington House

Dear Stephen,
[…] I entirely agree with you about Lord Moyne etc. It is both immoral and
colossally stupid – a gift to the PLO, the biggest they have ever received. And
according to our Peter,fn6 who is in Jerusalem now, they have no sense at all of
anything being odd or wrong. I feel both angry and depressed about this, and feel a
kind of unworthy relief that I am on record about the Moyne assassination: in a
published lecture in Jerusalem I did say that it did the Zionist movement fatal
damage,fn7 and it seems to be pursuing it still.
Mrs Gandhi does not surprise me – she is an awful woman and capable of
anything.fn8 Next time I see Irisfn9 I shall certainly very gently ask for her views.
Yours ever,

31 July 1975 [manuscript]

Dear Jean,
[…] I’ve just read about Akhmatova’sfn11 life, a memoir,fn12 a very sensitive &
distinguished woman’s reminiscences of her: it is solemn, terribly sad, tragic &
full of deaths & – round the nearest corner – torture and executions – & moving as
Solzhenitsynfn13 – who is terrifying – is not: because extremely personal and
interwoven with old fashioned, noble rules of conduct: of what one does &
doesn’t do: what good literary manners are: what one can & what one cannot say
(going back to Emily Dickinson or Chekhov or Jane Austen):fn14 all this in the
midst of unimaginable brutalities, hunger, squalor, blood – in which these ladies –
the writer, Lydia Chukovsky,fn15 & her heroine, Akhmatova, & all their friends,
remain uncontaminated, unbroken, sensitive, articulate, dignified, morally
impeccable, not priggish even, and a wonderful, I hope irremoveable reproach to
history & E. H. Carr,fn16 and all the contemptible ‘impassive’ recorders of the
majestic march of the forces of progress.fn17 I don’t know who first protested
against this appalling vulgarity: Schillerfn18 I think: Herderfn19 thought it all
avoidable: Schiller, not. But there, I must not go on: I’ve just discovered a
dreadful mistake in “Vico” – my account of him, I mean.fn20 How could I not have
known that Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464)fn21 anticipated Vico’s account of what
Rylefn22 always calls ‘maths’? Can I insert a footnote noting, but not overrating this
fact?fn23 Why has no one else I’ve read, noticed it? I am no scholar, but sometimes
muddled amateurs like me (I don’t underrate myself: but I am that:) stumble on
tiny facts like this, of interest to nobody save a few Vicomaniacs who will
(because they haven’t discovered this themselves) certainly ignore it. Perhaps
Mat[t]hewsfn24 is right: perhaps scholarship – learning – does not matter that
much: & Lockwood’sfn25 name is much more important than Prof. Kristeller’sfn26
(who managed to prove that Minucius Felixfn27 wrote X or Y two months after it
had been thought earlier: “but Prof Kristeller’ Morgenbesserfn28 asked “what
difference does this make?’ ‘What difference?’ K. answered ‘What difference?!?
Two months!”
Here in Paraggi it is peaceful. My health is slowly being restored by old
fashioned tonics & a new diet (I do love that: any doctor can twist me round his
little finger: I know I am being twisted, but having a servile nature, like it). I am
informed that I am toxic: not infected: but need detoxication: so I munch boiled
vegetables, keep off meat. Bob Silversfn29 has, I hear, become a vegetarian by
conviction: converted by an article by Singerfn30 in his own journal: he eats fish
because they suffer less (how do we know?) – does he wear leather shoes?fn31 He
is coming for 2 days with his Countessfn32 […].
12 August 1975 [manuscript]
As from, & indeed from, Paraggi

Dear Jean,
[…] I am bored: not profoundly: I seldom am, owing to my shallow & rapidly
adaptive nature, and lack of creative neuroses or important traumas or a deep,
dark German inner life, and a genuine absence of self absorption & self
importance – not tragic but sublime, unbearable but formidable and spiritually
important deep self-lacerating storms – but to the extent that my extravert nature
permits, I am bored with myself: this has come on as a result of forcing myself to
plunge into a huge ragbag of notes on romanticism etc.fn33 which shows me to
myself in a chaotic & trivial light: my notes are copious, unreadable (to me),
unsystematic, not stupid (for the most part) but dust & ashes compared to real
thinkers (of whom I am relieved to tell you, I know none in our country). Ryle
thinks he is one: he is, I think, mistaken: Leavisfn34 does: but he is not that: there
are no real ideas – only techniques & anathemas & a view of the subject – to feed
off – Eliotfn35 was one, I think: deeply unsympathetic: so were Arnoldfn36 and
Wittgenstein:fn37 Oakeshottfn38 thinks he is one, but believe me (for I have no proof)
he is a feeble heir of Montaignefn39 & Burke,fn40 with not one idea, or even
formulation, to call his own: & his influence, which is certainly a fact, is a means
of letting people off the disagreeable task of serious self examination. Even
Bagehotfn41 was a giant compared to him – a real original, an English phenomenon,
smaller than, but analogous to, Dr Johnson & Cobbettfn42 & the probably
underrated Morley.fn43 What on earth am I doing writing this cross & probably
envious denunciation of everybody? […]
While he was President of Wolfson, July 1966 to March 1975, IB’s foreign travel had mostly been
limited to trips to the East Coast of the US, principally Boston, New York and Washington. Though
these visits were frequent and enjoyable, he looked forward to the time when he would retire from
Wolfson ‘and be, as Khrushchevfn44 said about himself, “a free Cossack” (not an entirely
convincing image so far as I am concerned)’.fn45 In anticipation of that freedom he accepted the
position of visiting lecturer at the History of Ideas Unit of the Australian National University at
Canberra, from September to November 1975. Alinefn46 accompanied him throughout. Their
outward journey took in Tahiti (plate 3) – ‘little boys & girls, in tidy uniforms, looking like
Gauguin paintings, dutifully intone “nos ancêtres, les Gaulois …”fn47 – it is all too beautiful, sun
drenched, remote – very agreeable and not to be seriously tolerated for more than a week (4 days
for us)’;fn48 and then Fiji – ‘Aline points out the aesthetic & cultural superiority of French
colonies – rigorous direct rule – to British ex-colonies, free, & not miserably poor, & full of
Indians & glum to a degree. Silent unhappy New Zealand couples and unconvincing dances by
bored native children’.fn49 Australia, where they arrived in mid September, was a revelation,
confounding the apprehensions that IB had experienced in the comfort of his home in Headington.

30 August 1975 [manuscript]
Headington House

Dear Hugh,
I am writing this on the very eve of leaving these shores for Australia – God
knows why; senile curiosity – I wish I weren’t going: I have no wish to lecture or
hold classes or travel: even the prospect of Tahiti or Bali does not allure me: full
of juke boxes & malaria, I imagine, and tax haven seekers. But I promised to go in
a moment of irrational Wanderlust, long ago, & now my words have come home to
roost. So we go. Alas, this means that I cannot dine with the Brethren till
Hilary:fn51 sad: I’ll lift a glass of Australian Burgundy in a silent toast: but do not
intend to drink the contents. […]
My heart sinks. A synthetic image composed of Wheare, Crombie, Hancock and
the late Warden of Rhodes Housefn52 swims before my eyes: miserere.fn53
6 October 1975 [manuscript]
Australian National University, Canberra

Dear Jean,
Canberra is an unattractive city. Scattered like Los Angeles – without even Los
A’s queer, sinister, eccentric quality, it has no centre, no flavour, no real life. The
academics are perfectly nice & friendly, but it is a relief to go to Sydney or
Melbourne or anywhere, even if it means talking about Hamann.fn54 Kamenka,fn55
my boss, is a disarming, affable, know-all, with a rather pedantic ambitious
Chinese wifefn56 who lacks the higher attributes very conspicuously: she works
hard & is not sympathetic: Herbertfn57 thinks highly of her. Sydney is a very
attractive, brash town: the harbour is marvellous, even I noticed that: the Opera
striking & too small for what it is: given that one wishes to do something violently
unforgettable it shd dominate more […]: John P.fn58 much appreciated here: his
death widely mourned by D. McCallumfn59 & the U. of Sydney – I got a lot of
credit for claiming to be a friend of his. Melbourne is very different: rich, British
to a degree, snobbish, with a hotel in which we were put up which outdoes
England in Edwardian conveniences & curlicewsfn60 (including calling Room
Service – ‘Pantry’.) My host, a Chilean called Velizfn61 who was at L.S.E. in the
early 50ies: very gay & affable, all his colleagues (including himself) seemed to
have listened to my notorious Comte Lecturefn62 & thought it execrable; they all
claimed that life, vicissitudes, old age brought them round to my side: I felt like
some aged reactionary after the failure of a revolution. I am lecturing too much &
working quite hard to earn my visit: the kangaroos, emus, koala bears, parrots are
worth inspecting: so is the Melbourne art gallery. Tasmania, Adelaide, N.
Zealand, are still to come. They are not like America: yet they are too, you know
(as Americans say) like the Middle West 30 or so years ago. The upper crust
speak English with only the faintest digger accent: some speak a horrible
artificial neither honest Australian nor B.B.C: Geelong Grammar School (C. of
E.) is a marvellous piece of fair haired, blue eyed England, real public school
stuff, up to date, clean fun, not too many dagoes or cockneys, with a splendid
headmaster (Sir H. Fisher’sfn63 brother)fn64 & headmaster’s wife:fn65 I adored our
visit there: for a sociologist with a sharp eye & adequate irony & malice,
Australia is a wonderful hunting ground: what about Vaizey?fn66 I believe they
were madly relieved to liberate themselves: some because they knew him &
didn’t like the idea: some out of straight local chauvinism. The vitality is
infectious: but to live here cd be difficult: too wholesome, too provincial, nobody
to talk to. Norman Chesterfn67 is I am astonished to say, detested: thought nasty,
stupid (intellectually) & lacking in all virtues. So at least all the politics dept
chaps. I love them all: I really do: they aren’t in the least like either Wheare or
Crombie: they look like Chester, & turn out to be salt of the earth & vastly friendly
despite my queer accent etc: & Aline goes for bush walks with their ladies […].
25 October 1975 [manuscript]

Dear Pat
New Zealand over; nice, tame country: very remote from everywhere: very
pleased with itself, social justice, classlessness (lower middle class throughout:)
& very nice, friendly, decent, anglophile, jealous of Australia & disapproving of
its antics; Canterbury University is like a Scots university in 1890; peace,
harmony & remarkably dull. Marxists should study it. Australia is like Paris by
comparison. My Canberra lectures are done (thank God) now only Tasmania &
Adelaide (latter spoken of with class conscious scorn as genteel & snobbish in
advanced Canberra circles) + 2 radio programmes (unavoidable if offence to be
avoided) + short address to Australian Academy (I shall talk about lack of funding
in Britain: dully professional address: cannot be bothered to seek to shine upon
them: they wish to shine, not to be shone upon, as Noel Cowardfn68 once said
about himself at the Asquithsfn69 – when he found they shone on him)fn70 & then
heigh ho! To Bali […].
When he retired from the Presidency of Wolfson in 1975 IB’s reputation was assured, but not his
legacy. He had published few books, and no original monograph, and he would fail to emulate his
predecessors in the Mellon Lectureship, Kenneth Clark fn71 and Ernst Gombrich,fn72 who had each
turned their series into an important book, since his own planned work on romanticism did not
materialise.fn73 In the eyes of critics he was a talker, not a writer,fn74 a mistaken impression that he
self-deprecatingly reinforced in his own correspondence, where there are repeated confessions
about his indolence. In reality he was industrious, and had published well over 150 pieces by the
mid 1970s,fn75 a fact established by an enthusiastic, somewhat obsessive, young editor, Henry
Hardy,fn76 who first met Berlin when he applied to do a BPhil in philosophy at Wolfson in 1972.
HH was excited by the challenge of publishing more of IB’s work, and with IB’s initially somewhat
grudging consent proceeded, in his spare time, to produce four volumes of his uncollected essays
1978–80; a fifth appeared in 1990, shortly before HH left his post at OUP to begin full-time work
on IB’s papers.fn77 There was undeniably a tension between their respective views of the project,
HH wanting to publish more books, more frequently, than IB was really happy with: ‘Why this
tearing hurry?’ he wrote to him in May 1979.fn78 But as the years went by IB came to acknowledge
what he owed to his ‘devoted friend’: ‘such reputation as I now have is almost certainly due to his
collections of my scattered pieces into little books, which have suddenly converted me from
someone who has hardly written anything into an almost indecently prolific author’.fn79

13 November 1975

Dear Henry,
I have just sent you a jolly postcard, and this is the grave letter that follows. I
am glad that you love your job and that you like Londonfn80 like Dr Johnson. As for
books having to be of the same size – I agonised bitterly over squeezing drops of
blood out of my, of course, very long written text of Karl Marx.fn81 The chief
editor, the late H. A. L. Fisher,fn82 assured me (after I had pleaded tearfully to let
me publish two books) that the restrictions on space would be the making of the
book. This could be true, though I did not feel it at the time. It is like censorship in
Russia in the nineteenth century: if it is not too efficient, the response to the
challenge can act as a tremendous stimulus. On the other hand, there is, I believe,
a letter from Hegelfn83 to his publisher, Cotta,fn84 explaining that if Cotta really
wants the book to be longer, he, Hegel, would be perfectly willing to expand it to
any required length.fn85 Rhetorical writers, like Hegel and me, can do this; and it is
very shaming (it actually happened with The Hedgehog and the Fox).fn86
[…] As to my bits and pieces – I am not at all surprised that my footnotes are
inaccurate. I am wildly unscholarly and I am sure the book on Vico will be
exposed mercilessly by some pundit.fn87 Yet I long for accuracy, even pedantry. It
would be nice to think that my confusions are the vice of some mysterious virtue,
but I fear this is not so. I am really most grateful to you for all that you can do in
this and every way. I have heard nothing about David Shapiro.fn88 I wonder what
kind of introduction he will write? Aileen Kellyfn89 has discovered the same
horrible inaccuracy on my part when she read my piece on Fathers and
Children.fn90 I need help at every stage, I see, and am very lucky to have both her
and you. […]
We adored Australia. It does not make England seem in the least remote, as it
certainly looks from New York or San Francisco. Australians are all too aware of
England and English, even when they are slightly touchy about it, like e.g. my
friend Professor Passmore,fn91 who complains that the BBC constantly makes
snide references to Australians, which I believe to be quite groundless. I loved all
the Australians I met, particularly philosophers. The Anderson legend is
exceedingly intriguing,fn92 and George Paul is a great Australian hero like Austin
in America.fn93 If I were exiled from England and transported to Australia, I
should not complain. It is a large, rich, wide world with an open and fascinating
future, unexhausted and not corrupt or guilt-ridden like much of America. In fact, I
have become an Australophile. We must certainly discuss determinism and
responsibility. The people who say they are not fond of blaming seem to me to
indulge in a form of writers’ vanity.
Yours ever,
20 November 1975 [translation of Russian manuscript]fn94
As from All Souls

[Dear Lidiya Korneevna,

I have behaved despicably towards you: I received your splendid letter in
1973,fn95 in which you told me very very interesting things about Chekhov and
AA’s and B[oris] L[eonidovich Pasternak]’sfn96 attitudes towards him (which
clarified many things for me), and then a year later you sent me your remarkable (I
don’t know why you belittle yourself – I have never in my life read anything less
banal) book about Herzen.fn97 And I repaid you with base ingratitude – I did not
even send you confirmation of my having received the book – […] I am simply a
good-for-nothing, do not deserve even a drop of respect, and do not even dare to
ask for a pardon. Where am I writing to you from now? From the Far East – where
all of a sudden I have a couple of hours of ‘leisure’ – I am on my way home to
Oxford from Australia. The truth of the matter is:
1) I’m not used to writing in Russian and I don’t have any real language at my
disposal – it’s what the Italians call ‘mancanza di parole’fn98 – because I stopped
writing and thinking in Russian as long ago as 1919, when I was 10, but there is
nothing that is, if not more excruciating, then at least more insuperable, than to be
full of English words and thoughts, but not to have the chance to pour all of them
through the excessively narrow ‘neck’ of the bottle, especially for a person in
whose head there is a constant jumble or jungle (as here on the island of Java
where I currently am) – thickets of unnecessary words. Oh, how I envy those who
think in well-ordered, logically coherent and clear thoughts (you yourself can
certify that I write chaotically with grammatical and all sorts of other mistakes),
and that’s why I kept postponing and putting off my reply despite the fact that your
letter and book touched me very much and still go on doing so today.
2) I have also read some things you wrote about AA:fn99 and this made a big
impression on me and reminded me of so many things I had ‘lived through and
thought through’fn100 that I did not know (and still don’t) how to say something to
you which is not totally inadequate.
All that taken together paralysed me. This letter is not a letter but just an
inappropriate substitute for one: and just a plea for compassion (how horrible my
Russian is!). On the subject of Chekhov I do understand: the whole of that
generation – both the Symbolists and the Acmeistsfn101 – the whole of that ‘silver’
age could not delight in Chekhov: the distance between Baudelaire–Verhaeren–
Nietzsche,fn102 and Graeco-Roman classical literature and Dantefn103 and so on and
Chekhov is too great.
As soon (I almost wrote soonefn104 – I’m mixing up everything) as I return to
England, I shall try to find those articles by Marshakfn105 which you mentioned. We
probably have all Marshak’s writings. But I don’t know anything about Samoilov,
Kornilov or Mezhirov:fn106 how and where can I find them? The more famous ones
are not to my liking. And KI’sfn107 collected works we do have – I plan to sit down
and read everything: I have only just shed my bureaucratic office and
professorship – thank God – and now I have the chance to go back to Russian
books! Apart from their literary value this is refreshing nostalgia – B. L. Pasternak
in his day scolded me for regarding everything truly Russian through enamoured
eyes. That’s true: in my old age recidivism is setting in – I can even read
Levitovfn108 and Co. (whom your father despised). And Herzen! He is the greatest
love of my whole life and for that reason I was thrilled to read your ‘étude’:
Leninfn109 quotes ‘and all’, as the English would say. You too (if you will permit
me to say so) have a ‘heart-driven mind’:fn110 no one in the West has written about
the unique nature of My Past and Thoughts: recently I met one of Herzen’s
French great-grandsons: he remarked sadly that all that Western intellectuals, even
French Communists, who don’t read Russian know about Herzen is the
Russophobic filth which E. H. Carr wrote about him before the war in his
Romantic Exiles:fn111 the sharp and even talented libel on Russian nineteenth-
century émigrés. About Herweghfn112 one can and should forget: in spite of his
friendship with Wagnerfn113 and Marx he was not a poet of talent – a man justly
forgotten. Tolstoy,fn114 on the other hand, who did not really like H[erzen]
personally, was right: even Dostoevskyfn115 called H[erzen] a poet: and
Belinskyfn116 (as always in relation to his friends) was right on the mark, at the
very core of Herzen’s talent. What is your attitude to Belinsky? Old Russian ex-
Formalists – as, for example, Roman Jakobsonfn117 and his disciples – ‘dethroned’
him, but I feel warm towards him. Despite all his raging, mistakes and
misunderstandings, he, precisely he, created that new current of literary criticism
which is called ‘commitment’, ‘engagement’, which has developed so widely and
interestingly in the West over the last thirty to forty years: the attitude to art which
does not break down the individual into pieces – into roles – does not separate the
citizen from the writer, politics from ethics, the public from the private. All this
came from Russia, from her great writers – but the father of all this is, I think,
despite the antipathy shown him by Dostoevsky after 1849 and by Tolstoy, after
all, Belinsky; it ‘raked over’ literature throughout the world; and everything which
you say so astutely, vividly and with such profound, sincere and cogent emotion,
without pathos, about Herzen’s integrity – about the imprint of his personality on
everything he wrote – is part of the same phenomenon. The world is divided
between those who love this integrity and those to whom it is profoundly
repellent: Proust,fn118 Eliot, Stravinskyfn119 and so on: ‘we’ and ‘the others’. The
pleasure your book gave me defies description. There you have it.
Someone told me that you are intending to write a critique of Nadezhda
Mandelʹshtam’s second book.fn120 I hope you will do it, although it is clear how
much bitterness must seethe within that breast.fn121 But even so, re-establishing the
truth and justice is worthwhile: about me as well she wrote nonsense – although
not bitter, and the mistakes are more or less to be understood – but even so it’s
complete nonsense, not a word of truth.fn122 But those are all trifles. This letter I
shall send off to you in Singapore or Siam – I hope it will reach you. I am not
capable of waiting till Oxford – ‘it is aflame and burning’fn123 – my sense of guilt.
Once again I bow my head and ask for forgiveness. Everything which you sent
me, KI’s article and your book and especially the letters, is very precious to me. If
you will have mercy on me (and close your eyes to my spelling), please send me
an answer, otherwise I shall never forgive myself.
Yours sincerely
Isaiah Berlin]
In spring 1975 Joe Alsop fn124 made one of his many visits to Israel, which he had supported
unswervingly over the years. He was shocked by the ‘drastically altered attitude’fn125 that he
found there towards the US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger,fn126 who only a short time before
had been feted for his diplomacy during the Yom Kippur War. Alsop feared that this hostility
heralded a breakdown in US–Israeli relations, which would be disastrous to both countries; and
he discerned in it a fatal inability on the part of Israel’s political class to show that unity in
peacetime that it habitually found in time of war: ‘I’m afraid the time has come for you Israelis to
tackle the hardest problem that has ever faced you – the problem of genuine Middle Eastern
peacemaking, with Israel participating in a positive way. You cannot, after all, contemplate a state
of permanent belligerency between you and your Arab neighbors.’ Implicit in Alsop’s approach
was his belief in Kissinger’s diplomacy, which reflected changes in US policy, notably a greater
degree of engagement with Egypt under Anwar Sadat.fn127 In a long open letter ‘to an Israeli
friend’ in the New York Times in December 1975, Alsop urged Israel to come to its senses, recalling
what President Ford fn128 had said to him ‘long ago, and I think with unchallengeable good sense:
“Most Americans are willing to take great risks to preserve the state of Israel, but they are not
willing to take great risks to preserve Israel’s conquests.” Therein lies the basic Israeli dilemma,
and I needn’t underline it any further for you.’

23 December 1975
Headington House

Dear Joe,
[…] A kind friend has sent us your Letter to an Israeli Friend. I am ready to
accept your main theses as valid, including the unfortunate fact that local Israeli
politics are the cause of irrational behaviour on the Israel government’s part; and
do not even wish to question your belief that Dr K[issinger] cannot err. What left
Aline and me – to use your own expression – thunderstruck (you were
thunderstruck, I think, three times – once was enough for us) was the tone and style
and turn of phrase in your piece. Even Arthur Schlesinger,fn129 who wrote furiously
to me about Rabin’s allegedly open opposition to McGovern during the last
election,fn130 did not vent his spleen in public. Edwin Montagufn131 once, when
Secretary for India, spoke of Lord Curzon’sfn132 ‘bullying, hectoring tone’:fn133 I
think there is more than a touch of Curzon in your thunderbolts. I remember that
you spoke in somewhat similar fashion here once, and blew the British
ambassador to Israel – Ledwidgefn134 – out of the water: that was positively
enjoyable, if rather cruel; and I remember that you spoke to me in somewhat
similar terms when the blacks were rioting at Wattsfn135 – about what would
happen to them if they persisted in harrying the whites. But your fierce
admonitions to ‘you Israelis’ […] can only, it seems to me, be
counterproductive.fn136 It might cause resentful stiffening on the part even of Israeli
doves, who go far beyond Mr K[issinger]’s and your policies in concessions to
the Arabs; add grist to the mill of those who, like Mrs Meirfn137 (Dr K[issinger],
whom I saw two Saturdays ago in London, spoke pretty savagely of her), believe
that all Gentiles must ultimately betray the Jews, that Israel’s only hope is in its
own prowess and the help of Jews, that it is better to die gloriously than in
squalor like Czechoslovakia or S. Vietnam; and, finally, increase hostility to Israel
in the United States on the part of those who think that the interests of the US and
Israel are incompatible, and that Israel is a pure embarrassment to be sloughed
off. This, surely, is not what you intend? But so far as your piece is likely to have
an effect, I cannot see how it can fail to have precisely this one. Dr K[issinger]
was quite clear that his difficulties e.g. in Angolafn138 and with Syriafn139 are due to
the belief that the US will not indefinitely resist Russian pressure in the Middle
East, because of the US public reaction to Vietnam – rampant neo-isolationism
etc. Israel’s tiresomeness is merely episodic in all this – he realises that Rabin’s
stubbornness is due to political weakness, and can be overcome in the end; but not
by open menaces. As for Syria – do you really think that the USSR will permit a
settlement in which it plays no real part? But, issues apart, it is your fury with
Israel’s errors and unbelievable blundering diplomacy that we find so
flabbergasting. Why now? Why when they are down? In a despairing mood?
We plainly must have a conversation à deux – or à trois if Aline wishes to be
present – about all this some time. To think that you and Izzy Stonefn140 should find
yourselves on the same platform! Forgive me for this last quip, but it is
irresistible: and sadly accurate. […]
Where are we to discuss your piece? Preferably in Headington House – come
and stay for as long as you like – our love for you is undiminished, despite this
huge peccadillo. […]

‹Stuartfn141 is astonished by your switch. Unable to explain it – he thinks it is just

plain anti-Israel.

15 January 1976
Headington House

Dearest Joe,
Your letterfn142 arrived an hour ago, and was read avidly by Aline and me. Let
me begin by assuring you that my feelings are no more changed than yours – my
love for you and devotion to you are not and cannot be affected by differences of
opinion or even disapproval and, confidence for confidence, let me assure you in
the most hideous secrecy that of course the kind friend who sent your article to me
was none other than Arthur,fn143 who must have felt pleasure in the thought that the
contrast in my mind between his distinct coolness towards Israel – deriving from
Adlaifn144 – with your firm support, which I did not fail to rub in, might at last be
shaken. I do not blame him for this natural, irresistible impulse to make a little
trouble between us. But for God’s sake don’t speak to him, or anyone, about it –
bad blood cannot do anyone any good.
Your letter is, of course, a magnificent analysis of the position, which I fully
accept. I did not in my letter quarrel with a single detail of your exposition of the
facts: it was masterly, convincing, profoundly depressing for anyone who desires
the good of either Israel or America. I did not and do not doubt its realism or
complete good faith. Nor am I surprised by the fact that a good many American
Jews – you correctly call them Jewish Americans – have been shaken by your
analysis and agonised by the problem that it created for them personally. You must
not be surprised that if a friend imparts home truths in public – however salutary
these may be – particularly that one who, in complete sincerity, says that he finds
it painful to say such things but that he can no other – [he] may be suspected of
imperfect friendship. As my hero Herzen said long ago, when one is in trouble one
turns to one’s friends for love, not justice; help, not truth.fn145 This is the difference
between being a friend and being a judge. If you say, ‘Others are deceiving you, I
alone tell you the truth’, you take the risk of being misunderstood. It is a risk that
must be taken if the alternative is destruction through illusion.
The question in this case is whether this was the hour and this the manner of
telling the truth. That it is largely true, I repeat, I do not myself doubt. You know
far more about the movement of American opinion and American politics than I
ever shall, so I accept what you say without the slightest hesitation. I am prepared
to believe it absolutely. But then, in my letter to you, I did not question that […].
Nor am I – like most of the Foreign Offices of Western Europe (including certainly
the British one), or many Israelis – critical of the main lines of Kissinger’s
diplomacy: some of it has failed, but much of it succeeded brilliantly, and the
detaching of Sadat from the Soviet Union is a major achievement which has, of
course, radically altered the situation in the Middle East. It is mere short-
sightedness and obstinacy on the part of the Israelis to behave not only as if Sadat
were a bitter enemy in the long run (which he is) but also in the short run (which
he is not). Long runs are made of short runs – to ignore the latter is very foolish (I
am told that ‘worse than a crime – a mistake’ was said not by Talleyrand,fn146 as
commonly assumed, but by Boulay de la Meurthe in connection with the murder of
the duc d’Enghienfn147 – you might investigate). None of this do I question. We are
of one mind about all that. I am to meet Mrs Meirfn148 at lunch tomorrow – a huge
lunch – questions may be asked, but I shall probably not be brave enough to make
your points to her in public (as perhaps I should).
What I questioned and still question is […] the minatory tone of your piece. I
have no doubt that you did agonise over how to put it all in so delicate a situation,
and in speaking, after all, to friends – but I think that your irritation with them did
out, in places, very fiercely.fn149 […] there are such things as self-fulfilling
prophecies: if you say ‘Beware, you are digging your own grave’ – if you say this
orbi et urbifn150 – you surely make that grave more probable; that, indeed, is often
the purpose of all such strictures. The chances of its causing repentance in time
can only exist if the warning is accompanied by threats of real pressure, as with
the denunciations of Soviet treatment of the Jews, which work because all kinds of
sanctions are actually involved.
So it all comes to the question, not of whether what you say is true, or
important, or well-meant – none of which I question – but whether it should have
been said in that form, that place, to the whole wide world. About that I am
prepared to argue when we meet: I believe that the immediate effect is to
strengthen anti-Israel feeling. The question is whether so desperate a move is
needed. […]
Yours ever,
26 February 1976: publication of IB’s Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas.

15 March 1976
Headington House

Dear Skinner,
Thank you for your letter about my book.fn152 I am glad I sent it to you for many
reasons which you can easily think of, but in particular, of course, because you are
one of the few people in England, it seems to me, who are deeply interested in
these problems and have contributed very fruitfully to their discussion. Whom can
I talk to about these matters? Who in Oxford is really interested? Alan Ryanfn153
somewhat, Stuart Hampshire to a degree, not Tony Quinton,fn154 for all his
omnivorous intellectual curiosity. And who in England? That is one of the reasons
for which I enjoy going to America, where I can find people to talk about these
things. […]
I cannot deny that what interests me most, both about Vico and Herder, are the
ideas which still seem to me to be living, hares that are still running, issues that
are of permanent concern, at least of lasting concern, to other societies. But I am
sufficiently conscious of (at least, I think and hope I am) the situations and issues
that gave birth and strength and content to these ideas: the anti-medieval and anti-
clerical drive of the Renaissance, the acute political, or politico-theological,
controversies of the sixteenth century, which made some of these things into issues
for which men fought and died, and with which they were concerned if only for
mere survival. I do not trust myself, as an amateur historian, sufficiently – indeed,
I do not trust myself at all in this respect – to relate these ideas to their contexts in
a way in which you, for example, quite rightly wish and seek to do. I am delighted
to think that I should have been of the slightest assistance to you in this respect. I
am very far from thinking that ideas give birth to ideas in some timeless medium: I
do believe that the book makes this clear, not merely by precept, but in the way in
which it is actually written. Anything that you write about the genesis of
historicism in pre-Vico times would of course be of the greatest interest to me. I
could never acquiesce in the idea that Vico came out of the study of the classics,
or reading Bacon,fn155 still less out of Neapolitan empirical science, which the
worthy and learned and personally very nice, but faithfully Marxist, Badalonifn156
tries, in my opinion so hopelessly, to demonstrate. No faithful member of the Party
could possibly trace ideas approved of by Marx to nationalist or theological
disputes, unless these things can be ‘unmasked’ in turn to demonstrate deep social
conflict. […] But I need not preach all this to you. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

PS […] The thing to me about Vico and Herder is that they opened windows on to
new prospects. Nothing is ever more marvellous, and men who do it are rightly
excited, and indeed overwhelmed. […]
17 March 1976
Headington House

Chérissime Rowland,
First, let me thank you for your present […] – the handkerchiefs are exquisite
and I am in much need of them (according to Aline), particularly as she thinks that
the layers of dust on the lenses of my spectacles, besides obstructing vision, are an
exaggeration of my academic untidiness. Liberated from Wolfson, I am now
installed in a large panelled room in All Souls College, as a kind of life fellow of
All Souls under a statute which is an old, eighteenth-century abuse by which I
profit.fn158 Long may it last. I keep warning my colleagues of the fearful dangers
that they face from the envious glances directed at their ancient institution, not
merely by other colleges in Oxford (this was always the case), but also by
government and Parliament and the Labour Party and many another narrow-eyed
group and sect, to whom All Souls is the quintessence of ancien régime. Nor are
the views and personality of my dear friend John Sparrow,fn159 in whose society I
find such pleasure, an antidote to such suspicions.
We are at the moment in the throes of trying to elect his successor, as he will be
seventy next year and obliged to retire. By huge efforts we managed to scale down
the list of twenty-three possible candidates, all members of the College, to twenty;
and last Saturday, by even more agonised efforts, got these down to seven – all
excellent men, as everyone is not tired of explaining, any one of whom would do
the job splendidly. I do not think this at all, nor does anyone else. The real battles
will begin in May. I am (rightly) suspected of belonging to the progressive camp:
that is to say, an adherent of someone reasonably young, with sharp and critical
capacities, stern academic standards and a reasonably strong social conscience –
as against some cosy old conservative who will let things be, and be totally
incapable of keeping the College afloat in the rough weather which it is bound to
encounter, both financially and politically. The mood is still reasonably friendly,
but it is idle to expect that candidates who burn with ambition should behave
altogether naturally towards people whom they suspect of being unlikely to vote
for them. It is like an extended political convention, or a Papal conclave, just kept
from boiling over by a useful hypocritical pretence that nothing is happening, that
everyone loves everyone equally, that everyone is modest and self-effacing and
thinks that others are far better qualified to have the job than they are. Still, it is
quite entertaining: after [an] absence of some ten years, I attended my first College
meeting the other morning, and it was as if the ten years had never been: everyone
was exactly like themselves. The great political figures and ambassadors – Lord
Hailshamfn160 and Lord Sherfieldfn161 and Sir Keith Josephfn162 and Douglas Jayfn163
and Lord Wilberforcefn164 – all delivered splendid speeches, as if on the benches
of the House of Lords; while the junior fellows were oppositional, a trifle
arrogant, agreeably subversive, and had obviously ganged up against the
establishment. All very enjoyable. I cannot believe that Oxford will remain quite
so unchanged in the years to come, but in the meanwhile it is all rather comforting.
They kept me as a fellow, but would not do so for Rowse,fn165 because he had
become too megalomaniac, remorselessly boring and offensive to guests, varying
his conversation with long, self-laudatory speeches, harangues against the masses
of his critics or other enemies, punctuated by occasionally unctuous flattery of
those he thought important for his purposes.
The country in general seems to be in a state of complacent depression:
everyone knows that we are slowly going downhill, that unemployment is
increasing, that the pound is declining. (The news on the wireless now always
begins with words like ‘The pound has had another uncomfortable day – it ended
in a lower state than it started. Our economics correspondent predicts that worse
is to come.’) Nobody knows, or pretends to know, what will happen next. The
parties go through the routine of attacking each other, but it is all a little like the
last days of some old regime, though in the case of England, where everything
ultimately happens very slowly and decorously, this may take a long time.
Your fellow residentfn166 Solzhenitsyn made a powerful appearance on
television,fn167 in which he said that the West was in open decay, that the Soviet
Union could seize it with bare hands (a Russian idiom) whenever it chose, that the
collapse of morale was everywhere noticeable, and that, in short, our sins had
found us out. This is rather like the sort of speeches that Pétainfn168 used to make
during the Vichy regime, and George Kennanfn169 in America is somewhat liable
to. Dr Kissinger, oddly enough, says much the same thing, but from the other end.
Now that the United States [has] refused to take action in Angola, he is clear that
China, which only needed the United States as a shield against Russia, is sheering
away (the invitation to Nixonfn170 was intended to underline who they thought their
true friends were, as against broken reeds like Ford and Kissinger); [that] the
Russians, who only need the United States as a shield against China, are equally
disillusioned by the total collapse of the Executive in the face of Congress;fn171 that
Syria, which at one time looked like beginning to nibble out of America’s hand,
unlike Egypt, which is positively eating out of it, is now much tougher, because
they rightly assume that the United States would not intervene whatever anyone
did in the Middle East; that the Israelis, now that they knew that America would
not in fact come to their physical defence, even though it might lecture those who
attacked them, were now preparing for their last desperate stand; and that as a
result of all these self-inflicted injuries, the West was probably done for sooner
than anyone supposed. Moreover, every senator and representative had now
increased his staff to about a hundred persons (I believe this to be true), consisting
of research assistants, public relations men, secretaries, letter-answerers etc.,
none of whom had been checked by the security agencies and [who] are
consequently penetrated by the Russians – in short, that the last hours of the great
American Republic were not far off. Obviously things are not quite as black as
this, but I must admit that the old anti-Vietnam coalition seems as depressed as the
defeated hawks. Nobody is very keen on anybody as presidential candidate (why
am I piling Pelion on Ossa of gloom for your benefit? I really ought to stop). The
number of persons who feel positively favourable to either Reaganfn172 or Ford is
minute; the old liberals, the Kennedy mafia, are in favour of the worthy Udall,fn173
who does not appear to have much chance; Senator Jacksonfn174 is popular only
with labour, Jews and cold warriors; Humphreyfn175 may be chosen in an
exhausted way because nobody can think of anyone else; and various Southern
governors are regarded with natural suspicion and contempt by the entire Northern
In England nobody really loves either Mr Wilsonfn176 or Mrs Thatcherfn177 either.
Whom are we to look to? Maofn178 is now literally unintelligible – makes peculiar
noises which three secretaries try and translate into intelligent utterances. Nobody
knows what he is really saying – his dynamic wifefn179 pretends she knows what he
wants, but the three secretaries sometimes interpret him differently. So that is
rather odd, too. Mrs Gandhi has gone wrong.fn180 Tito locks up his opponents
rather more vigorously than before.fn181 Where are we to look for liberty, progress,
the pursuit of happiness? I realise that this is exactly how people talked in, for
example, 1810 – those who thought that the real Europe was before 1789 decided
in 1810 that Europe was dying, if not dead; but it was in fact entering upon one of
the most vigorous periods of its existence. And so it may be now. All I am saying
is merely the function of age and habits of thought formed too long ago. So we
must gird ourselves for the new world and will it to be grist to some new mill,
with which we must identify ourselves. I do not really know what this means in
practice, but I am sure it is the right attitude, rather than jeremiads over what
cannot be restored. What do you feel? All these things cannot seem quite so acute
in Lausanne, but perhaps they do?
Joe Alsop, having observed the collapse of all his aspirations and hopes, and
the end of the old Wasp ascendancy, and the retreat from the principles of
Theodore Roosevelt and the American Century,fn182 is now entirely preoccupied
with his huge history of collecting (of works of art) and of taste, in which he is
encouraged by various German professors. As he is very industrious and very
resolute and very intelligent, he may yet produce an interesting volume on all
Although I am entirely devoid of all visual sense, as you know, I have agreed to
become a Trustee of the National Galleryfn184 in the belief that I can act as a
mouthpiece for various young historians of art and aesthetes like Francis
Haskellfn185 and Stuart Hampshire, who otherwise cannot get their view heard. I
am willing to repeat their opinions parrot-wise, and defend their suggestions as if
they were my own, and in this way I might be of some tiny use. Why was I
appointed? Because I am thought quite harmless and no nuisance to the
establishment. Covent Garden has just had a splendid visit from La Scala – the
young conductor Abbadofn186 is magnificent, the orchestra is far better than ours,
so is the chorus; the singers are very adequate, and their visit was one enormous
triumph (so, curiously enough, was the visit of the Covent Garden company to
Milan). They performed Simon Boccanegra, La Cenerentola and the Verdifn187
Requiem here, to entirely packed houses which went into justified transports of
enthusiasm; while our company did Peter Grimes, Benvenuto Cellini and La
clemenza di Tito in Milan, apparently also wildly acclaimed. Mr Healey,fn188 the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, who attended the performance of Boccanegra the
night after the Queen,fn189 made a speech in perfectly good Italian – he had served
on the Italian front during the war, kept up his Italian, and made several excellent
jokes. The Italians were tremendously impressed and said that no Italian Minister
of Finance had ever attended a performance at the Scala, still less Covent Garden,
and would not have been able to make a speech in literary English. The director of
the Scala, Grassi,fn190 said it was a wonderful thing that England and Italy, said to
be hurtling to their financial doom amid the storms of inflation, were both able to
put on splendid performances of this kind, and how wonderful it was to be the two
most bankrupt nations in Europe. […]
Yours ever ‹with much love

Wilson resigned this morning. No real reason given.fn191 I expect this refutes much
of what I say: I am not much of an observer of the public scene.›

6 April 1976
Headington House

Dear Martin,
My handwriting is unreadable and my secretary has been in hospital. This
explains the delay in my answer reaching you – please forgive me. I felt ashamed
afterwards of not breaking my silence, and relieved at the fact that no one asked
me to. Your quotation from Ruppin’sfn193 instructions to his children moved me
genuinely.fn194 I do put this guilt-inducing question to myself, perhaps not every
day, but frequently enough to cause discomfort. Should I, for example, have
spoken sternly to Symefn195 (that is the man, I assume, to whom you were referring
– the man who disapproved of the creation of Israel)? But on that occasion I
thought that anyone prepared to go and receive an Honorary Degree at Tel Aviv
was sufficiently reconciled to the facts not to need either a sermon or the
excommunication which Talmonfn196 was contemplating.
To come to the substance of your letter. It was, I admit, a depressing
occasion.fn197 To ignore attacks is, I agree, weak and generally mistaken; but on the
other hand, to deny allegations is never entirely convincing – people will always
think there is something in a charge, and assume that the answer is a routine
reaction to be discounted, particularly if it comes from obviously interested
parties such as Zionists or bearers of Jewish names; at best, if there is a
controversy, in, say, The Times, the effect on the uncommitted reader is probably
to assume that there is something in what both parties say, that this is a predictable
dogfight to be ignored by those not directly involved. But of course it does not
follow that there is nothing to be done and that one must simply sit still with
folded hands and suffer lies and calumnies patiently and peacefully, or, perhaps,
with feigned indifference. What, then – as Chernyshevsky called his novel, and
Lenin repeated – is to be done?fn198 […] I firmly believe that the best thing that can
be done is to send people to Israel. What they experience there, even if they are
critical, refutes more lies and allegations, and leaves a deeper impression, than
anything else that can be done. Do you think this not valid?
Secondly, I think that students, particularly the representatives I met at the
IUJF,fn199 are more energetic, more convinced and convincing, closer to the truth,
and more sympathetic as human beings, and so likely to create more good will,
than the average academic. A young man I met in London recently seemed to me
much better aware of both the difficulties and the possibilities than the group at
Yarnton who depressed you (and me) so terribly. The attacks on Israel – at least,
the most formidable – come from the misguided young, who are often idealistic,
passionate and often plumb wrong. The Third World and its rhetoric has become
the escape world in which all those who are discontented with the institutions in
the West can invest their confused idealism. I doubt if Israel need have got itself
into the wrong camp in which they are now situated if they had not been so
complacent and so blind – it was not so even over Suez in 1956, still less in
1967.fn200 What, you may ask, has altered a situation in which even the Italian
Communist Party could split over pro- and anti-Israel sentiment during the Six
Day War? But all that is spilt milk. Anyway, it seems to me that students, not dons,
are those who need convincing, and only other students – with the exception of a
handful of teachers whom they trust and admire – can perform this most uphill
task. If there is any financing to be done, it should go towards them. In short, you
and I must speak to them, and forget about the dons for the moment.
The third point is that we literally need what the Soviets used to call ‘the
propagandist’s handbook’, on the assumption that propaganda is not necessarily
false, dishonest, unscrupulous, but only an effective way of exposing falsehood
and saying what one truly believes. Somebody – you? I? a handful of us in
Oxford? if not we, then who? it cannot be left to others – must compile a list of the
commonest charges against Israel, the commonest slogans, the commonest libels;
and then get experts to provide us with answers, and then translate these answers
into language which people can understand rather than the stale homilies of
professional Zionists. Maybe some of these charges are genuine: if so, they should
be admitted. If we believe in this cause at all, there is no need to suppress the truth
or suggest falsehood. It sounds uncritical, and full of simple faith, but I have
believed this all my life and see no reason for retreating from this now.
Consequently, be of good cheer. Don’t be got down by that rather dreary
occasion; let the committee go its own way and do what it can, for it certainly
cannot do any harm. But in the meanwhile, despite your overwhelming
preoccupations, which I understand, set aside, on Ruppin-like principles, a
Sunday afternoon during which you and I and Shukmanfn201 and one Israeli dove
(who will be familiar with all the objections, and will not want to condone and
exonerate) get together – four persons is perfectly enough – to see what are the
questions and what the answers are […].
Yours ever,

20 May 1976
Headington House

Dear William,
I have a personal favour to ask of you. If the British Academy were to invite
you to become a fellow, I suspect that your first impulse would be to decline. This
institution may well mean very little or nothing to you, but I think that if we met I
could convince you that its activities have not been useless – that it does give
grants to people and finance enterprises some of which you would positively
approve of and none of which you would utterly condemn. The fact that its
fellowship should have been offered to you years and years ago, and that it came
as a shock to me and others to discover that it had not (nor was it, I suspect, to
Eliot)fn203 – disgraceful as this fact is – will not, I hope, deter you from accepting.
I need not enlarge to you on the less estimable characteristics of literary
specialists in England, and probably elsewhere; enough of them in the relevant
section of the Academy now feel repentant to have shamed the rest, and they
should not be penalised for seeing the light, however late. If you refuse, this fact
will remain a standing reproach to the Academy, which I, who have a short while
ago become its President, will find personally as well as functionally painful. So
please do not reject us. […]
Perhaps I am quite wrong in thinking that your instinctive reaction would be to
ignore the proffered hand, but I somehow do not think I am. If I may say so, you
shine so brightly by your own light that you confer distinction on institutions rather
than derive it from them; moreover, journeys to London may be irksome to you. So
let me once again entreat you not to spurn us; if only as a pure, private act of
kindness to myself.
No need to answer this if you do not feel like it.
Yours ever,
Isaiah (Berlin)

‹Of course this letter is madly indiscreet and wholly improper: We have never
written so to anyone else, or ever expect to again: but I find the prospect of quite
understandable disdain from you too awful.›

31 May 1976
Headington House

Dear Bernard,
Thank you ever so much for your most welcome letter about my posthumous
Selected Writings. It was very good of you to look at them all again. Whatever you
may say, it must have been something of a nuisance and a bore – no, no, don’t
reassure me, it must, it must. However, I am quite sure that you are right:
‘Verification’ has some historical justification, and I am glad you liked the piece
on hypothetical propositions etc. I remember how stern Stuart was with me for
ignoring the formal and material modes, and how Strawsonfn205 quite correctly
pointed out various obvious objections which phenomenalists could make, which I
still think not worth bothering about, since all that matters is the central issue. All
I write is by nature dishevelled – the well-combed and neatly fitting wigs of
Warnockfn206 and other Wykehamists are not for me. If this sounds like making a
romantic virtue out of irremediable mental disorder (‘The chaos of the papers on
your table doubtless represents equal chaos in your mind’, said the eminent Irish
scholar Myles Dillonfn207 to me once), it is just that. Anyway, thank you very much
indeed – I shall act according to your advice and report to Henry Hardy, who will
be much relieved. My contempt for my own works cannot really be assuaged;
nevertheless, I am of course delighted to hear from someone as critical and as
truthful as you undoubtedly are that they may not be quite as worthless as in some
sense I shall continue to think them to be.
Mack Smith and Mathias look rather gloomy,fn208 but Mack Smith will recover
and resume his usual stony glare; Mathias will take a little longer. I have
persuaded Michael Dummettfn209 not to tell Tony [Quinton] that his name is no
longer being considered, since (a) he knows it, and (b) not all truth liberates.
Michael Howardfn210 wanders disdainfully up and down the College, with a
slightly Rowse-like expression on his face (‘The fools!’ etc.). Pat Neillfn211 came
to the opera with us on Friday, just to show that there were no hard feelings.fn212
Wallace-Hadrillfn213 cannot bring himself to come to the SGMfn214 because he is in
such a state – I am rather sympathetic, but a thin skin is neither a necessary nor a
sufficient condition for this particular post, though touching in itself. […]
Yours ever,

7 October 1976
Headington House

Dearest Diana,
I should have answered your letter of 2 August weeks, and indeed months, ago.
It took a very long time to arrive, my handwriting is illegible – to inflict it upon
[you] would be an act of gratuitous cruelty, something which during the prayers on
the Jewish Day of Atonement one promises not to perpetrate (I think it is called
‘causeless hatred’ – apparently well-grounded hatred is OK). So I write now. […]
I do not know Martha’s Vineyard, of which you speak, but I do know whom you
mean by the lady dictatorfn216 – my views are, I am sure, identical with yours. This
is, I know, an opinion not shared by a number of our friends, at least mine – yours
may have better judgement. My old and dear friend George Backer,fn217 whom I do
not suppose you ever knew, [who] was a nice man and tried to be an intellectual,
touchingly, and did many acts of kindness to myself and others, seems to have had
an intimate relationship with her many years ago; he died last year. Edmund
Wilson,fn218 whom I loved and respected, seemed to tolerate her and indeed even
like her; Joe Alsop, of all people, had her to stay quite recently because she said
that he had behaved honourably during the McCarthy period; she came to tea here,
at her request, when her Candidefn219 was being played at the local theatre, and I
was uncomfortable and she later said that she, too, had felt extremely constricted
and uneasy. I first met her, I think, at lunch with the Hayters,fn220 or at least, with
William Hayter, in Washington: it had something to do with his service in
Moscow, some topic of conversation during the war which she wished to have
with him, and I thought her very unattractive then. I am sure she is gifted and
knows many things, that her writings are characteristic of a phase of American
opinion, and so on, but there is something about her personality which I find that I
cannot abide. It may be a purely chemical reaction – it is not her opinions. I can
talk perfectly comfortably to a Communist like Hobsbawm;fn221 I quite enjoy my
personal relations with my opinionated and not wholly scrupulous enemy E. H.
Carr, whom I positively like even while I am stirred to considerable indignation
by his way with historical facts; I do not mind the wicked A. J. P. Taylor,fn222 the
wicked, or ex-wicked, I. F. Stone – in this respect I am sure I am far less
principled than you are – but the dictatrix you speak of, and indeed Lionel’sfn223
old friend Lord Snow,fn224 are more than I can take. Can it be to do with their
appearances? I do not wish to think this. Still, the face is the only mirror of the
soul that we possess, and extreme coarseness of expression is not wholly
irrelevant, therefore. […]
Now, as to the seminar for Lionel, […] for the title, do you think that
‘Nationalism: Its Origins and Unforeseen Career’,fn225 or something of that kind,
will do? What I should like to talk about, if that is permitted, is the origins of
nationalism at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century;
and the fact that none of the prophets of the nineteenth century, though they
predicted practically everything, had an inkling of the fact that it would be, with
racism, the dominant influence of our own time – and how come? You must tell me
if this seems adequate to you, for it is all I can possibly do: my ideas are fewer
and fewer; I cling to anything that comes to my head with pathetic avidity, for fear
of total pauperisation. I have no shelf full of books of appalling and undisputed
authority to lean on, none of the pride in their indisputable authority of the stern
Central European masters who know, and have always known, that they have the
truth and that those who question it are either fools or rogues. This hardly ever
happens in English-speaking countries: I suppose that Dr Leavis and Trevor-
Roper are exceptions in England – who are the American equivalents? […]
Our friend David Pryce-Jones,fn226 son of Alan,fn227 has written a biography of
Unity Mitford,fn228 Hitler’sfn229 friend. I doubt if such a biography was really worth
writing, but since her sister is the Duchess of Devonshire,fn230 a tremendous upper-
class cabal has been formed to do everything possible to prevent publication
(which they cannot do); to persuade all the persons who have given information to
deny that he has reproduced them correctly, and sign affidavits to that effect; to get
journals either to ignore it or review it unfavourably. As an example of such
influence as portions of our aristocracy still possess, it is an extraordinary
spectacle. The book may or may not be any good, but a conspiracy against it is
very unattractive, headed as it is, ultimately, by her brother-in-law Sir Oswaldfn231
himself, who I daresay is not over-anxious to have his past revealed in colours
very different from those of his own autobiography.fn232 This is re-advertised with
blurbs in its favour by Lord Boothby,fn233 Michael Foot,fn234 Crossman,fn235 A. J. P.
Taylor and Harold Macmillan,fn236 all of whom acclaim the author as a wonderful
fellow. Perhaps it was like this in the Renaissance and the Roman Empire?
Sincerity and integrity: when and where?
Yours ever, ‹with fondest love›

21 December 1976
Headington House

Chérissime Nicolas,
[…] I remember your saying that you were contemplating a new book on ‘Les
riches heures du CIA’.fn238 If you were serious about this, let me earnestly advise
you not to do this. One’s memory is not infallible; the subject is, to say the least,
sensitive; you and I, flown by the sheer joy of the variety of life, are apt to colour
events and persons – dates, faces, events go round kaleidoscopically in one’s
mind, and this particular topic is likely to cause furious rejoinders, denials,
explosions, from old enemies, old friends, new enemies, new friends, neutrals of
all sizes and types who will, rightly or wrongly, regard themselves as
misrepresented, maligned, compromised, libelled, and from reviewers who will
enter the fray. I doubt if you can want to be for the rest of your life the centre of
unending rows: even the most innocent gossip leads to that, as well you know. So
let me strongly advise you to leave that minefield alone, and, like me, confine
yourself to the spoken word, which causes trouble enough, but less than printed
I am constantly pressed to write my own memoirs: I have no intention of doing
so, partly because I am too little interested in myself and regard everything I have
done as being even more worthless than perhaps some of it is; but mainly because
to write about other people (even in the charming, if candid, fashion in which you
write about e.g. Auden,fn239 or myself)fn240 is always a kind of invasion of privacy;
and I believe that the people in Bloomsbury who believed that personal relations
came before anything were not mistaken – ‘private faces in public places are
wiser and nicer than public faces in private places’.fn241 People should be left to
live in peace. You won’t quite agree, but you will agree sufficiently to avoid
causing inevitable pain and distress, even to some not entirely sympathetic
That is my sermon to you this Christmas: the snow lies heavily upon the ground
here, and reminds me of my visit to Akhmatova in 1945. I did describe it to Miss
Amanda Haight, who has written a biography of AA;fn242 although her account of
me is scrupulous, accurate, based on what I myself told her – yet, yet, I am
appallingly embarrassed by the information now afforded to the public of my
personal relationship with the poetess, even though it is related briefly and
decently, in neutral, impersonal terms. I do not think this is unique sensitiveness: I
perfectly understand what Wystan meant when he wanted all his private letters
destroyed, and thought that writers had the right not to disclose their private lives,
and that others, who did so, were interlopers and vulgar gossip-writers. If one
writes imaginative prose or verse, where the facts of one’s private life have a
certain relevance (as, goodness me, they certainly did in the life of Anna
Andreevna), critics have a certain horrible right to draw the curtain; but even this
right they ought to use sparingly and not beyond absolute necessity. T. S. Eliot,
who, in his will, asked that no biography of him should be written, seems to me to
have behaved more sympathetically than Edmund Wilson, our old friend, who I
think wanted Edelfn243 to write one. Or perhaps he only wanted Edel to edit his
letters. But at least fifty or a hundred years ought to pass, unless one is completely
I don’t know why I suddenly decided to preach this long sermon to you, as if for
publication! Be kind, and destroy this letter after you have read it: I should be
distressed to think that anyone other than you is likely to read it, by whatever
accident, even though it contains no secrets.
Now to really important things: I am not at all clear about Renée [Hampshire]’s
cat – is it alive? is it dead? I fear I may be unable to go to a Christmas lunch with
the Hampshires,fn244 at which no fewer than two black couples are being
entertained, as well as a complement of the halt, the blind, the lame which Renée
has accumulated. Bob and his Countess can give you an account of their tea in
Wadham: the best moment was when Renée asked about details of the lunch they
had with us, and the Countess claims that she described the sweet in particular
detail – the glaze on the soufflé, the little things which surrounded it, the exquisite
taste, and explained that as we had no servants (which is true, our Spaniards are
gone),fn245 Aline certainly prepared this herself. Renée said ‘I really do not think,
perhaps, that Aline did it herself … really not … I do not think …’. […]
We shall be virtually alone for the next fortnight here, no social engagements, no
visitors. I am, or pretend to be, too feeble to move until the New Year. Bliss. I
hope you too are in this condition. Nobody believes that you or I like this kind of
life, but we do: you here in the summer, I here in the winter. Perhaps more difficult
in New York.
See you in April, love to Dominique,

29 December 1976
Headington House

Dear Leonard,
Thank you very much for sending me the second edition of The Origin of the
Communist Autocracy.fn248 Well do I remember the circumstances of the first
publication. All I can say is that historic justice has been done – your reputation
has risen as that of Chatham House has fallen.fn249 Who now thinks of it as an
institution of central importance where foreign statesmen count it a privilege to
speak? I read the second preface with pleasure: the good Lenin and bad Stalinfn250
really is a pathetic fallacy, by which many disappointed ex-Communists still live.
I wonder if some very, very early Christians felt this about Paul, as Renan plainly
did.fn251 And talking of preachers, I only have two qualifications. I do not believe
in ‘the banality of evil’.fn252 I think this is psychologically false, as, indeed, I think
most of what the late Miss Arendtfn253 said, though she was no doubt perfectly
sincere – but too German for me. I believe that those who function in totalitarian
systems either do so with conviction, i.e. believing that they are doing good, or
despite mild qualms, ‘That is the way we live now’, ‘There has been a great
mutation’, ‘This is the turn that history has taken’ – but that implies a certain
awareness of deviation from the old moral code, which one may disregard in
practice but which one has not forgotten in theory, and which occasionally pricks
one. What I do not believe is that any of the minor officials simply mechanically
perform their duty, totally unaware of why this might be thought upsetting by some
of their own kith and kin. In Italy, for example, the bulk of the population regarded
Fascism with cynicism but not with indifference; in Russia, part cynicism, part
conviction. And so on. But I may well be mistaken. I often am.
My second qualification is about the great African saint.fn254 There was a bit of
Lenin in him too. After all, he was the first person, so far as I know, who openly
justified the torture of heretics, and the application of violence to them. No doubt
it was done before, both by Christians and Jews, but the justification – in his case,
against the enormities of the Donatists – had not been enunciated before in explicit
terms. […] Anyway, I regard all the great Christian persecutors, and finally the
secular ones as well, as direct descendants, ideologically, of St Augustine. That
he was a genius is clear; his sainthood appears to me more than dubious. I have
always wondered why the Orthodox Church went beyond beatification, though
even that seems to me to pay homage to the blackest, fiercest, most intolerant
tradition in Christianity: from Calvin through Dzherzhinsky is no great
But I still believe that this book is the greatest single original contribution to the
history of Bolshevism made by anyone in our time. I hope it will be reviewed
afresh and as it deserves.

14 January 1977 [manuscript]
Headington House

Dearest Clarissa,
You must have imagined often and often what it would be like:fn257 you knew in
advance – past crises when it nearly happened, or looked as if it would, had, you
thought perhaps, prepared you for it, yet when it does happen, it is very different:
and rather worse; and nothing can ever be the same. Everyone will tell you – and
they will say no more than the truth – that the love and devotion and wisdom and
what the Bible calls lovingkindness with which you preserved Anthony & made
him happy and prolonged his days, were beyond praise & beyond description –
noble, moving and magnificent beyond words. Marriage to you was surely the best
and to him the most deeply satisfying thing even in his brave and dedicated life,
filled with achievements: you sustained him and made him happy at an agonizing
time in his career – nor do I believe that ever before had he been with anyone who
gave him so much help, confidence, loyalty, and love as surely you did. But the
cost to you must have been, at times, very great: not appalling because you loved
him; still, if, as Pasternak says in Dr Zhivago, all life is a sacrifice,fn258 no one has
lived more truly than you: (forgive me for this solemn address! but I truly mean
every word I say: I cannot say it to your face: but I can write it, and I am glad and
anxious to say it at last) – no one has lived a better or nobler life, and I (and
surely all who know you) feel boundless admiration for you and for what you have
been and are. To have had a life so free from the smallest, the least hint of
meanness, of moral squalor (as Bloomsbury used to call it), of any concession, of
compromise, not to have evaded, not to have falsified one’s own feelings or
perception of reality – to have stayed clear and fearless about it all – surely this is
a matter of the highest pride? And all this with humour, gaiety, amusement, love of
life & people, and not the beginning of complaint, where others would have felt
that they were owed so much for acting so – I cannot tell you how marvellous this
seems to me, how vastly superior to the run of the mill people you are often
surrounded by I think you to be: all this besides and over and above the deep love
I bear you. […] And I’ll never forget with what courtesy & friendliness Anthony
behaved towards me: I am not exactly “his type” – Aline much more so; hence,
gratitude. She, of course, wants to send every possible loving message to you
also. I’ll wait for your signal. And if you summon me, & when you do, I’ll go on
babbling as always, until you stop me. In the meanwhile if there is anything we
can do, you know you have but to convey it […]. You will have a superhumanly
large correspondence to cope with: don’t, I beg you earnestly, don’t acknowledge
this in any possible way. I know this [is] all inadequate, inevitably: but perhaps
too inadequate. Sorry.
My warmest warmest love

25 January 1977
Headington House

Dear Mr Wyszpolski,
[…] About the filming of historical biographies: I wish I could be of help to
you, but I fear I cannot. No doubt we do judge of the past in terms of our own
experience, view it through spectacles coloured by contemporary conditions – the
very thing that Vico warned us against so strongly. How is one to avoid
anachronism?fn260 Vico and many subsequent writers tell us that there are certain
laws of development of society whereby we can determine what the prevailing
concepts, the prevailing outlook and language and view of life must have been in
this or that age; but we must not attribute to those who lived in it thoughts or
feelings or motives which could only have occurred at a later stage. Whether such
laws exist, and if so what they are, has ever since been a matter of dispute. Others
maintained that one must simply steep oneself in the life of the past by a species of
sympathetic insight, which enables one to put oneself in the shoes of people who
belong to times and places, other cultures, not too remote in either time or space;
but how can one ever tell whether one’s ‘insight’ into a past age, or groups, or
individuals, is correct? There are some historical tests, of course, of coherence
with known facts; some psychological laws, perhaps, or even sociological ones,
which – while they may not be precise – are better than nothing; still there is a
pervasive doubt about all such reconstructions. This troubles, or should trouble,
historians and biographers, and film scriptwriters, perhaps, more than it does.
[…] When I read about the history of events in the 1930s, through which I lived,
written by young men who have not, I sometimes do not believe that it is the world
I remember that they are writing about. There is a […] book by Professor Hay, of
Edinburgh, on the Renaissance, which I find useful.fn261 If I were you, I should do
what you yourself have thought of – read Machiavelli,fn262 read Guicciardini,fn263
read The Lives of the Painters, particularly the famous one of Michelangelofn264 –
something will seep through. For instance, when Machiavelli writes to someone
that his writing may be rather illegible because he has been tortured recently,fn265
the fact that he refers to such torture as a pretty normal occurrence, and complains
of its effects rather as we might of arthritis or a headache (perhaps it is different
behind the Iron Curtain, or in Argentina or Chile, or Iraq), does convey to me the
distance between us and them – there is something about this in a not very good
book by Lytton Strachey – Elizabeth and Essex – where he stresses how unlike us
the Elizabethans were.fn266 I once saw a performance of an Elizabethan play, The
Witch of Edmonton,fn267 which conveyed to me the different world of witchcraft,
superstition and brutality. This emerges from second- and third-rate works much
more vividly than from first-rate ones, which have universal themes – more from
minor Elizabethan writers than from Shakespeare,fn268 or from minor Renaissance
storytellers than from printed poets. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
On 20 February 1977 an opinion poll in Israel predicted that the ruling Alignment (Labor) list
would lose heavily in the 17 May Knesset elections, resulting in a right-wing government for the
first time in Israel’s history. The prediction proved correct, and there was a sea change in Israeli
politics, Menachem Begin’sfn269 Likud fn270 winning one-third of the votes. IB had viewed such a
possibility with dismay, and he viewed its consequences with increasing concern.

16 March 1977
Headington House

Dear David,
Your melancholy letters plunge me into melancholy too, but I am sure that you
do not, alas, exaggerate, and that the situation is as gloomy as you paint it. The
rumours are that Yadinfn272 will accumulate about thirty seats. If he gets anywhere
near this, what will he do with his army? In which direction will he march them?
One must obviously prefer him to the NRP,fn273 even though I constantly remember
Weizmannfn274 found the company of Itche-Mayer Levinfn275 more congenial than
that of his officially closer allies. That was founded on a certain mutual cynicism,
which is not the right recipe for the present, whatever situations it is thought to be
suitable for; will he not be a bit too tough? You may say ‘It is all very well for
you, sitting there on the lawn at All Souls, to indulge in doveish sentiments and
recommend liberal concessions from us, when for us it is a matter of life or
death.’ Yet I think it is possible to go too far in defying the Americans. I have a
recurrent nightmare of Carter,fn276 if faced by too much obstinacy on the part of
unyielding Israeli hawks, losing his temper and blowing up like Bevin.fn277 If
America retreats from the scene – and the arguments that it simply cannot do so, in
its own interest, are not convincing – then I think the future of Israel really is dark.
So long as it does not do this, there is not merely hope but a great deal of it; I do
not think it matters a rap what either the UK or Europe does about all this. But I
must not go on philosophising in the void.
Do you know a man called Iverach McDonald,fn278 who used to be foreign
editor of The Times, and then deputy editor, I think, and now retired, who is going
to Israel for the twin purpose of visiting Biblical sites – he is a solid Scotsman,
brought up on the Old Testament and knows it backwards – and to gather material
for the last volume of the history of The Times which he is writing […]?fn279 […]
he told us that when he was last in Palestine, in 1956, he asked the taxi-driver
about the hill down which they had come, ‘What is it?’ ‘A hill,’ said the driver.
Iverach then said ‘Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be
rain upon you, nor fields of offerings; while the shield of the mighty is vilely cast
away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.’fn280 The
driver said, ‘I don’t know what you mean; it has rained here for three days since
Monday, what is all this about dew?’ […]
Yours ever,

16 March 1977
[Headington House]

Dear Morton,
Your handwriting gives me great pleasure. This is a really sure sign of affection
– one’s immediate reaction to handwriting on envelopes or letters seems to me a
more direct symptom of one’s feelings than almost anything save the sight of a face
or a figure. There used to be a screen in the All Souls buttery, where lunch is
eaten; one never knew who was coming in, one heard steps, but then one suddenly
saw a face as it appeared from behind the screen; spirits immediately rose or fell,
perhaps not dramatically, or even stayed still (not very often) – one then knew at
least whose company one liked, and who lowered one’s spirits. So with
Yes, I remember Aline’s condition on the way to the airport. She is really a kind
of centaur, half woman, half car – David Pearsfn282 is also like that. When in a car
they become spiritually and physically fused with it, its behaviour is theirs, its
sensations are those of limbs, intimately connected with thought and feeling and
will (is there such a thing as will? perhaps not, but I do not like to think it or even
have it said).
We are to go to Japan during the first week in April; before that, New York for
about five days for me (Aline may come a day or two before). What am I doing
there? You may well ask. I have been asked to deliver one of the three Trilling
seminars. I liked Lionel Trilling, but not extravagantly; I liked him more towards
the end of his life than when I first met him; unlike most of his friends in Oxford –
Hampshire, for example, or Hart, who liked him less as time went on and thought
him pompous, pretentious, while I thought him touching, not very clever, sensitive,
responsive, silvery, without cutting edge, neither a great scholar nor a great critic,
but disarming and in need of sympathy and encouragement, famous and admired as
he was: and in every respect a very decent, reputable man, even though he was
taken in by a certain sort of European glossiness and false style (Barzun).fn283
Anyway, be that as it may, Diana, his wife, is a savage and impossible termagant
of whom I am genuinely fond despite her furious onslaughts, faintly reminiscent of
her old radical past (she used to begin sentences ‘When Li and I were members of
the Communist Party’, when in fact they never were, converts of Sidney Hookfn284
though in some sense they must have been). When she asked me to ‘deliver’ one of
these seminars, I found it difficult to refuse, and now it is like a halter round my
neck, a perpetual unlifting weight. I have worked up a piece I once wrote for
Foreign Affairs, called ‘The Bent Twig’,fn285 on nationalism, into something which
may do, but may not. My ‘discussants’ are to be Gertrude Himmelfarbfn286 and
Michael Walzerfn287 – neatly disposed to the right and the left of me, I suppose. My
only real point in the entire piece, which I have spun out and spun out to make it
look like an offering, is that nobody in the nineteenth century predicted the
fantastic rise of nationalism in our own time; nobody, save perhaps Moses
Hess,fn288 and he merely said that a fusion of Communism and nationalism was
desirable, not certain to occur.
Anyway, it is not an intellectually exciting subject, and I shall be glad to be rid
of it, and shall certainly not publish it.fn289 This happens in the first week in April.
Then I propose to unload this on to the poor Japanese, together with something
about Utopias and what stopped people producing them, on the whole, after the
eighteenth century – there were some, but they haven’t the confidence of the old
worked-out visions.fn290 Will the Japanese like that? I wonder. I am rather nervous
of going there – I have no idea what to expect. I do know two or three Japanese
scholars who were at Oxford and who did seem to me intelligent, but Freddie
Ayerfn291 gave me a harrowing description of what it is like to be the guest of the
Japan Foundation – how one is given dinner by twenty-five Japanese professors
of whom only three understand English; a great deal of affable smiling, good will
one could cut with a knife, but not much communication. They then sit down in a
U-shaped manner around one, and one of them says, ‘Won’t you say a few
words?’, and this means that they want a lecture of an hour and a half. ‘Without
four prepared lectures, you cannot go to Japan,’ said Freddie to me severely,
before reading a chapter of his autobiography, in which I am much mentioned,
sometimes with favour, sometimes more ambivalently.fn292 It will be a very honest,
rather uninteresting book, I suspect, which will tell the story of his life, omitting
its ‘affective’ aspects, the only thing that has a genuine vitality. He will do this out
of decent feeling – why should all those ladies be for ever compromised? But it
will make the book a rather mechanical jog-trot, I fear. It is Russell’sfn293 book, I
think, which inspires him with the idea of doing it: he identifies himself with
Russell to a very profound degree.
I am glad that the new head of the Institutefn294 pleases you. Here too, there are
some changes: we have elected a new Warden of All Souls – a very nice, sweet,
good, honourable, utterly blameless, kind, amiable lawyerfn295 […]. The rival
candidate was Bernard Williams, whose supporters assured him that it was in the
bag. I turned out to be the only person who warned him that it might well not be
so, and was sorry to be so true a prophet. I think I really am getting rather old. I
feel the strain of having to squeeze ideas out of myself; when called upon to give a
lecture or write an article, it is more painful than it used to be, and I think that
what I say is less worth saying, in spite of my tendency to reckless generalisation.
The generalisations are just as reckless as they were, but paler. If you can imagine
such a thing as reckless truisms, these are what I seem to myself to be generating.
Yours ever,
On 10 April 1977 IB and Aline flew from New York to Toyko for a three-week stay in Japan as the
guests of the Japan Foundation, which promoted cultural exchanges, and IB revelled in the
opportunity to experience a way of life unlike any he had known. As he wrote to Joe Alsop: ‘If
only I had listened to you more gratefully about China, I might have been able to understand this
culture better. I am rather overwhelmed by its gravity, aestheticism, unbroken roots in a past remote
from the West – or anything but itself.’fn296

23 April 1977 [manuscript postcard]
Kyoto, Japan

Strange country. The courtesy is exquisite and unending: did Lionel ever come
here? He wd have loved the low toned tact and infinite trouble which people take
in avoiding the slightest conceivable source of embarrassment from any act to
anyone: there is a terrific intensity of feeling, repressed, disciplined by ritual,
turned to an elaborate game, but charming, civilised, and at times greatly comical:
It is like living in a state of continuous formal play, in which all the moves are
predictable, but nevertheless give constant pleasure, because so beautifully made:
most odd & unlike what we call human relations. I go lecturing away to polite
expressionless heads who seem to have no English. Nice, all the same. L’s name
very well known here. […]

5 May 1977
Headington House

Dear Gleb Petrovich,

[…] I met AA twice in the Soviet Union, on both occasions in her room in
Leningrad.fn298 The first time was in the autumn of 1945 – late October or
November – the date is probably noted in the poem ‘Cinque’, which speaks of two
voices, which will be familiar to you.fn299 This was the far longer, and more
‘fundamental’ meeting. I then returned to Moscow. I left the Soviet Union via
Leningrad in early January 1946. I called on AA in the afternoon of 5 January (not
in the evening, for my train left for Helsinki, I seem to recollect, before midnight).
According to AA, it was on the day after this that microphones were openly
inserted into the ceiling of her room, and she began to be harassed after that
(although I do not wish to be cited as reporting all this: if you wish to use this
information, it had better be referred to as ‘communicated by AA to friends during
one of her visits to the West’, or something like that). As for the verses in ‘Stalin
cycle’,fn300 she did ask me whether I understood the motive for them. I said that
everyone who knew the circumstances did so, that no decent human being held
them against her – she seemed satisfied. Much the most eccentric thing in Amanda
Haight’s book is the proposition, which she obviously took quite literally and
believed, that AA and I ‘started the cold war’.fn301 AA did say this to me, but apt
as she was to romanticise her own life and that of others, I do not myself think that
she believed this in any ordinary sense of the word, although it entered into her
vision of her own and her country’s past, conceived as a tragic drama.
You speak of the review in the New Yorker of Amanda Haight’s bookfn302 – I
have not seen it, but it seems to me that the quality of the reviews in that journal
lapsed a long time ago; I do not know who the literary editor may be, but I am
quite clear that he does not know his business. I should be grateful if you did not
repeat this to George Steiner,fn303 who takes immense pride in being, as he thinks
of it, Edmund Wilson’s successor, when in fact he is not worthy of tying his
bootstraps. Nor, for that matter, am I. But I do not write reviews for the New
Yorker; and in view of the somewhat ironical treatment of my works – which they,
I believe, think to be friendly – I never shall.
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin

23 May 1977
Headington House

Dear Professor Maruyama,

I felt, and so did my wife, throughout our three weeks in Japan, that we were
moving in a noble and coherent dream of great beauty and some strangeness. It
was a transcending experience, in some ways the strongest cultural impact I have
ever suffered in my life; but (and perhaps this is an indication of a certain
shallowness of nature on my part), however disturbing, it was always enjoyable.
It was sometimes tantalising – not exactly inscrutable, but composed of an infinity
of perspectives, so that each door opens into a prospect that leads one to the next,
to an apparently infinite enfilade,fn305 each of which is completely satisfying in
itself and yet creates a yearning for that which lies behind it. I am not expressing
myself very clearly, and all this romantic patter is merely an attempt to convey
how strange and marvellous I found it all. You never warned me, during our
meetings in Oxford, how firmly, despite all the modernisation and Westernisation
of the Japanese cities and economic life, the independent Japanese culture had in
fact been preserved. Beside it, England, and particularly America, must surely
seem crude, chaotic, shoddy, horribly uncontrolled. All this on the basis of three
weeks in Japan! What right have I to generalise, or say anything at all about a life
and a civilisation of which I have only seen the tip of the topmost part of the
surface? […]
I suspect that even China is more intelligible to Westerners than Japan, if only
because the contact of the Chinese with foreigners is longer, more continuous, and
so the adaptation is greater. But I think this insulation a marvellous thing – the
desire to knock down walls and cause familiarity between everyone and everyone
can go too far. A fastidious withdrawal is a precondition of certain forms of
artistic creation and spiritual self-protection, without which all values tend to
assimilation, identity – that is, evaporate altogether. But again, I am beginning to
indulge in fine writing.
What I really wish to say is that I know well that it is […] really to you that we
owe it all. For fear of further fine writing, let me say that it has been the most
marvellous visit of our life; and that nothing, even a second visit to Japan, could
ever equal it; and that for this I shall always remain profoundly grateful to you. I
am not really used to VIP treatment, but even that was done with such exquisite
tact and courtesy that it was never oppressive, never excessive. I must not go on.
You will, I am sure, know that I cannot put into words my real feeling; but I wish
you to know that it is unique and delightful, and that you are its primary begetter.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

31 May 1977
Headington House

Dear Mitchell,
[…] Did I really send you two newspaper cuttings from the NYT? Why should I
have wished to draw your attention to juvenile sex delinquency? Of course, I am
capable of anything, but this does seem rather ‘undermotivated’, as they say
nowadays. As for China and Beethovenfn307 and Schubert,fn308 that I might well
have sent you. Did we talk about China in any connection? I recollect nothing.
[…] I have, since I sent the cutting, been to Australia, where I heard the Shanghai
Symphony Orchestra. They played extremely well, but their looks – […]
fantastically gleich[ge]schaltetfn309 – did rather frighten me: as [they] did, indeed,
some of the pro-Chinese Australian Labour Party stalwarts who were sitting next
to me. They marched in, in their identical suits; smiled, all of them for exactly the
same number of seconds; ceased smiling at precisely the same split second; first
played traditional Chinese music on the old instruments, rather marvellously, I
thought; then the ‘revolutionary’ music, which was a very feeble dilution of Soviet
music of the 1920s, i.e. Glazunovfn310 with water, weak, conventional, Western
salon music, remote from any possible individual content, sugary and
characterless; then Waltzing Matilda, dazzlingly done, a compliment to Australia
which caused pleasure and amusement in the audience. […]
I wish I knew how to assess the situation in a country as genuinely remote from
us as China. I have just been to Japan, and that is truly a strange civilisation.
Under the veneer of skyscrapers and Sony and colossal efficiency and student
revolt there is an ancient civilisation, rigid, strange, complicated, much more
remote from us than any part of Europe or Russia or India than the books about it
seem to convey – at least, I thought so. Since I don’t speak Japanese, this could
only be judged from general behaviour: non-verbal communication has its limits. I
should love to go to China, but I am terribly conscious of the fact that if one does
not speak the language, and does not stay for, say, two or three months in one
place, so that one can get the hang of how things are done and what thoughts are
thought, one is at the mercy of governments, propagandists, counter-propagandists
and one’s own outlook and biases. All that people in the West read about Russia
in the 1920s – not the history but the reportage – and still more in the 1930s, or at
any rate vast quantities of it, seem[s] absurdly distorted now, both ways. At least
in this case I know the language and I have been there, and have my own
impressions, such as they are, to rely on; but the only books to do with anything in
the Soviet Union which seem to me authentic, and not to be preaching a sermon of
some kind, are the angry – but humanly angry – books of Madame Mandel´shtam.
Full of resentments against this or that person, but these are ordinary, human
reactions, sometimes moving, sometimes expressions of the kind of bitchy
jealousies which occur in any literary and artistic community – but all natural,
spontaneous and intelligible. I get a sense of absolute authenticity about these
books which I do not get about others. You may well disagree.
Do let us talk about Benjamin.fn311 I do not claim to understand much of what he
wrote, but he was clearly an extremely sensitive, gifted and tormented man, who,
if he had remained in any Communist country, would have ended badly; not as
badly as he did end, perhaps – he might just have survived – but would more
likely have returned to Switzerland, where he was during the First World War, and
been unhappy and indignant there too. Anyhow, he is a far more sympathetic critic
and human being than (to me) Brecht,fn312 who is far more gifted, and whose poetry
I think wonderful, far better than the plays, in whom there is a core of disdainful
contempt for human stupidity and weakness and muddle, and an ultimate
inhumanity disguised as humanism which leads to those, to me horrifying, cynical
jokes, which nevertheless are extremely intelligent and often, of course, very
good: i.e. the difference between people who, if ordered to shoot their friends,
have no compunction about pressing the trigger, and those who at least feel
qualms, whether they do it or not. Would you deny that Brecht belongs to the first
category? Nevertheless, he is, without a doubt, a major figure. As for Pushkin,fn313
the mere name lifts the spirit of all Russians, whether they read him or not. He is a
unique phenomenon. […]
Isaiah Berlin
23 June 1977
Headington House

Dear David,
[…] You can imagine what my views of the prospective government are, and
you are not mistaken. And I, in my turn, as you rightly say, can imagine yours.
Everyone seems agreed that the old government had to go. As for the quarrel with
America, I do not think there is an analogy with Beneš/Hácha:fn314 if Carter finds
Arafat,fn315 Assad,fn316 Saudi Arabians etc. sensible, reasonable etc., as he well
may (whether they are or not, particularly if they are not), and Israel obstructive in
what looks like an obstinate way, and then loses his temper, like Bevin, the
consequences to Israel may well be grave – graver, I think, than if there are
concessions of what I should regard as a reasonable and you a dangerous and
intolerable kind. But I do not expect you to agree with me about that.
I suffer from an incurable distaste – that is too weak a word – for all that Begin
stands for.fn317 I should not think a Dayanfn318 government bad at all, since he is
aware of what both Russia and America can be and do, which I feel sure that
Begin is not. The notion that Israel can stand alone, supported only by South
Africa, or sub rosa by Iran, without Europe or America, and defy public opinion,
however erroneous such opinion may be, seems to me wildly impracticable and
dangerous. That is why I think that […] when Israel is attacked for, say, judicial
torture, it is far better that it should invite the International Jurists, or some body
not obviously corrupt or biased, like the United Nations, and at least retain a
certain amount of general good will in the United States, Scandinavian countries,
etc., than that it should stand proudly aloof, cross its arms on its breast and make
itself ready for a final stand. But perhaps all this exaggerates the extremes
between which it is placed – perhaps Likud will not go too far, perhaps the
resistance of the unions will modify its stand, perhaps my nightmare is groundless.
I hope so. I have a feeling that the consensus between Israel and the Diaspora that
existed for more than sixty years has been all but snapped – that there is no
common ground, no natural affinity or possibility of informal contact as there was
between the old discredited government and the Jews outside the country, between
Likud and the Jews of America and Europe. This is a major rift which bodes no
good. However, I must stop being a Cassandra and hope that you are right. […]
Yours ever,

18 July 1977
Headington House

Dearest Cousin,
I stand before you in sackcloth and ashes, for I have not acknowledged your
book:fn320 this was an appalling solecism on my part, the only reason for which
was the disorder of my life, which anyone visiting the room in which I am writing
could deduce from the permanent chaos that prevails in it – and also the fact that I
have put off the pleasure of reading it until I go to Italy (today), where everything
is delightful, and this would be a bonne bouche to look forward to. I have read
nothing for two, three, four, five months – not even the biography of my friend
Freddie Ayer, which, since references to me evidently appear passim, and since
everyone minds about what is said about them, whether they admit this or not,
might have driven all other reading from my desk and mind. But it hasn’t. That,
too, I shall read in Italy with, I suspect, mixed feelings. All this only to explain my
Now, about Schubert.fn321 Of course I also love him to distraction, particularly
the late works, but really everything, even the works that others find mechanical or
dull or over-extended, for if one loves a composer or a writer truly, one loves the
padding, the canvas, as well as the images upon it – anything that is characteristic
of the composer. This, indeed, is what love entails: to love only what is best or
most beautiful is quite, quite different. That is what I feel about Brahms, about
Debussy, but not about Bach or Mozart or Beethoven or Schubert or Rembrandt or
Piero della Francesca or Pushkin, or, oddly enough, Berlioz.fn322 But I cannot write
about any of these things: writing about music is in any case something that a very
few critics have ever succeeded in doing at all adequately. Has any musical critic
ever really opened your eyes or ears to anything? Do you remember all those
sentimental pages by Aldous Huxley, or Rolland, or E. M. Forster?fn323 No good,
embarrassing, useless.
Romanticism is a terrible subject, on which I do intend to write one day, but
only on the intellectual origins, or perhaps the social milieu in which it was born,
is it possible to write sense: on the ideology and on the history, but not on the
actual embodiments, the works of art – at least, I have never read anything in the
least satisfactory, and much that is insincere and pretentious. No, I could not do it,
I wish I could. What do words like ‘profound’ when applied to music mean? In
virtue of what do we say that the posthumous quartets are ‘deeper’ than the works
of Sullivanfn324 or Menotti?fn325 The metaphor is one from a well: how much further
can we press the simile? Why a well? Because the water is dark and no bottom is
visible? What is meant by calling music ‘dark’ or expressive of some unattainable
ideal or height? And so on and so on. But I will not waste your hours with all this
frustration. Nor should I inflict it on the innocent reader. But thank you ever so
much for thinking of me. Perhaps when I am in my late nineties, like Sir Robert
Mayer,fn326 and have written my pages on the intellectual origins of romanticism, I
may have more to say. But I suspect not even then. Wittgenstein was right: music is
a field wovon man nicht sprechen kann.fn327 He thought there were only four great
composers: Haydn,fn328 Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert; possibly Labor,fn329 a Czech
who taught him and his brothers – not, I fear, an immortal – and if anyone
professed a love of Wagner, he never spoke to such a person again.fn330 A little
extreme, I think, but on the right lines.
Yours ever, with much love,
In October 1977 IB went to Iran, accompanied by Aline, as the President of the British Academy, to
open a new building for the British Institute of Persian Studies in the Embassy compound in
Teheran. The Institute had been founded in 1961 as one of the overseas research bodies sponsored
by the Academy, and that occasion had been marked by a visit and lecture by Maurice Bowra,fn331
then the President of the Academy. Sixteen years later IB followed in his friend’s footsteps,
delivering a lecture entitled ‘The Rise of Cultural Pluralism’ at the official opening of the new
building. The guest of honour was Her Imperial Majesty the Shahbanu of Iran,fn332 who had
contributed generously to the cost of the building, and who brought with her a retinue of courtiers
who wondered how long the lecture – which they would be obliged to sit through – would last.
According to Peter Brown,fn333 the Secretary of the British Academy, who was present:

Isaiah, already unsure of his reception, had arranged with the Institute’s director, Dr David Stronach,fn334
that he [Stronach] would give a signal from the back of the hall when the time came to conclude. He was
soon in his stride, in full rhapsodical flow, but a section of the audience became increasingly restless.
Stronach became alarmed and after what I remember (perhaps falsely?) as only a few minutes gave the
agreed sign, bringing Isaiah good-humouredly to a juddering halt, more or less mid paragraph.fn335

The official reception afterwards proved more successful, and the Berlins, with Peter Brown and
Max Mallowan,fn336 then toured the major sites in Iran (plate 8), hosted by the Institute. Brown
recalls IB ‘making no concessions to the heat, in dark suit, and, in the car with the windows firmly
closed, talking as only he did, mainly Oxford gossip’.fn337 On his return to England in early
November IB fell ill with atrial fibrillations, and then a form of hepatitis, which sent him to hospital
for a fortnight.

21 November 1977
Headington House

Dear Henry,
[…] You ask me whether I really rate my essays as low as I sometimes affect to
do – believe me, it is no affectation. I do not believe in any great mine of potential
talent in myself still unexploited. I do, indeed, believe that Aileen and Rogerfn338
and yourself overestimate my work: I think this must be because of the fervour
with which I talk at times about things in which I am interested, rather more than
the intrinsic value of the ideas themselves. I should like to think that I am wrong
about this – nothing is nicer than praise by honest men – but I remain unshakeably
convinced that I have all my life been overestimated.
So say what you will. I feel terrible about this: rather like the man who at some
testimonial dinner was praised to the skies by the man who proposed his health.
He gracefully acknowledged, with pleasure, all the handsome things that had been
said about him, but said that there was perhaps one attribute of his which had not
been mentioned by anyone and of which he felt proudest of all – his conspicuous
modesty. I remember, too, although I was not present, that there was a famous
Balliol dinner, at which praise was showered on the Master, Lord Lindsay,fn339
who, in reply, among other things, after thanking everybody for everything, said
that there was one thing that he had missed – nobody had spoken of a nice, honest
chap called Sandy Lindsay. I don’t want to be like that! Is that vanity? Perhaps.
All I really want said is that although even I recognise that some of my pieces are
less good than others, I do not think any of them begin to reach the level of some of
the writers I truly admire, e.g. Herzen, or Brandesfn340 or Edmund Wilson, to name
only three men who had something new and important to say and knew how to say
it. So there.
6 December 1977
Headington House

Dear Kyril,
[…] You are right that the point you take up is of fundamental importance,
because the problem is a contemporary one in a number of countries and with
regard to a number of governments.fn342 You are perfectly right: when I say that
‘morally sensitive men’ shied away from any kind of co-operation with the Tsarist
government, I do indeed mean the former of your two alternatives – not objections
to specific undertakings, but reluctance to be involved, or even to support,
governmental activities in any large and positive sense (of course I do not mean in
the field of public health, let us say, or the zemstva,fn343 or teaching in schools or
universities). What I mean is accepting posts from the government or in politically
important areas. Roughly what Spanish liberals must have felt under the Franco
regimefn344 – liberals, and not merely Communists or other extremists, or even
socialists. When someone like Madariaga,fn345 who was certainly no leftist,
emigrated from Spain after occupying all those eminent positions, he did so
because he could not collaborate in helping the Franco regime; this was surely
true of a large number of enlightened persons in Imperial Russia […].
You say that ‘regime’ means something new and transitory.fn346 Surely not: when
Tocquevillefn347 speaks of the Ancien Régimefn348 what this refers to is the
centuries of the French monarchy. The word is much less used now, perhaps: it is
mainly used not for new, but for old, established, traditional governments – the
tsarist regime, the French monarchy. If people do not talk about the ‘royal regime’
in England, it is because the word ‘regime’ does connote something authoritarian,
something repressive – there is an undoubtedly pejorative flavour to the word –
which the citizens of this country or Scandinavia do not in fact feel about their
governments, for the most part. I suspect that Persians of a certain kind might well
use it for the political order in Iran, whether the present one or the old; and I admit
that when people do talk about ‘the Soviet regime’ they wish, consciously or
unconsciously, to transfer to the Soviet Union the kind of unfriendly, negative
feeling which those who applied it to tsarism in fact, whether consciously or
unconsciously, felt and wished to convey. It seems to me to connote something old,
heavy, traditional, frozen.
Let me go on. You say that ‘most men, whether morally sensitive or not, co-
operate with the established order – tsarist or any other – however much they may
criticise it, simply because they take it for granted and merge (or, perhaps,
confuse) the two concepts of government and country’. To acquiesce is not to co-
operate: ‘inner emigration’ – opting out – is a method of non-collaboration,
condemned by ‘resisters’, but very different, surely, from co-operation? Then you
mention Sakharovfn349 and Shahak.fn350 I should be inclined to deny this. The
essence is not co-operation: Sakharov does more than criticise, he condemns
Soviet practices. Shahak is close to thinking Israel a criminal state – he would
certainly not accept a post in it (the main difference being, I suppose, that
Sakharov was put out of his post whereas Shahak continues to be a professor at
the Hebrew University – so far as one can see, unmolested by the authorities).
Shahak would be outraged if you suggested to him that he was co-operating with
the government: he certainly does not identify government and country. Nor,
surely, does Sakharov. The Russians I speak of were patriotic enough – Sakharov
is, and perhaps Shahak also (at least he believes in what he calls the ‘tradition of
Judaism’ as a spiritual tradition – I suspect he has no use for either state or
nation). These people think they do more good by staying in a country whose
government, and indeed whose whole political structure, they abhor and regard as
immoral, because (I think they would so justify this) they think they do more good
by resisting from within than harm by making use of its public services or being
members of at least some of its non-political institutions. I think that if you could
prove to them that the state derives more benefit from their presence than their
absence, they would be morally forced to say that emigration was preferable. […]
4 January 1978
Headington House

Dear Kyril,
[…] As for co-operation with the state, I really do disagree with you:
acquiescence is not co-operation. Sakharov worked as a scientist in the Soviet
Union because he is a patriot and it was a natural thing to do. When he convinced
himself that it was an immoral government, he spoke out in a manner which, no
one could doubt, would lead to some sort of repression. I do not think there is any
valid sense of the word in which he could be said to co-operate with the regime. I
think the same is true of Shahak – he will not emigrate because he probably thinks
that it is his duty to denounce an evil government, as did the prophets of old. Some
of the dissidents in Russia probably feel the same. Avvakumfn351 did not seek to
emigrate either, and no one could say that he collaborated, towards the end of his
life, with the government of Tsar Alexis. The vast bulk of any population,
whatever they may feel, set about their own business, which may in some cases be
the government’s business, and hope for the best. The historical role of the
intelligentsia in Russia is precisely not to do that. Again, I do not in my turn wish
to apportion praise or blame: I only wish to say that to live in a country and to
some degree not disobey its laws is not to co-operate with it – unless one thinks
that all subversion from within is immoral as such, no matter what the government
or the situation. Would you not have to say that Solzhenitsyn, before he was
expelled, was collaborating with the regime? That all the dissidents, expelled or
unexpelled, are? By just living there and willy-nilly obeying the laws of the land?
That can surely not be right, otherwise the notion of co-operation loses meaning.
Yours ever,
[unsigned: IB in hospital with possible hepatitis]
5 January 1978: publication of IB’s Russian Thinkers, edited by HH and Aileen Kelly, with an
introduction by Aileen Kelly.

10 February 1978
Headington House

Dear Bernard
I ought to have written before, but, as you know, was physically incapacitated –
and still am, but to a much lesser degree. I am now convinced that the virus was
implanted in me in Persia (David Pears, naturally, has a parallel case of a pop
painter, summoned to paint the Shahfn352 and his family, who has suffered a similar
fate) and is a perfectly appropriate punishment for meeting the Empress: had I
actually met the Shah I might not have escaped with my life (I do see how
comfortable metaphysical superstitions can be when science fails to produce a
clear answer, as in my case).
But that is not the purpose of this letter. In the first place, let me tell you that I
think your introduction to my philosophical works is a heroic act of friendshipfn353
– almost approximating to the sort of heroic martyrdom much discussed by
Dummett and his friends – and really is further from my deserts than almost
anything that has ever happened to me. […]
Secondly, let me tell you that I am reading Descartesfn354 with immense
enjoyment. I thought I was not interested in him, but your book seems wonderful to
me – I love learning about thinkers and their thoughts, and carry your book from
room to room in Headington House, which is the only exercise I am permitted at
the moment. […]
Last night I listened to a scientist on Radio 4 who said how terrible I was and
how marvellous Magee,fn355 if only he were allowed to deliver a lecture himself:
‘Every time Magee spoke, it all burst into flames’, said Professor Laithwaite,fn356
until I plunged the whole thing again into ghastly unintelligible patter. Very good
for me (presumably).
Yours ever, with deep gratitude


3 March 1978
Headington House

Dear Shmuel, dear Miriam,

Thank you ever so much for your letters. It is delightful to receive such letters at
any time, but particularly when one is in a slightly depressed state, from which,
however, I am now proud to inform you that I have fully emerged. The nature of
my ailment remains obscure: the doctors talk learnedly about this or that virus, but
they are like physicians in Molièrefn358 or Shawfn359 (The Doctor’s Dilemma still
has some life in it – did you know that the hero was Marx’s son-in-law?).fn360 They
will not confess that they simply do not know, and use Latin terms in a vain
attempt to conceal their perfectly natural and excusable ignorance. However, they
have behaved very decently to me – not given me pills or disagreeable treatment
against unknown causes, but let nature do her work. I have a certain sympathy for
my mother,fn361 who was terrified of doctors and medicines all her life (not
surgeons, oddly enough), and regarded taking an aspirin as a major risk, to be
embarked on only in desperate situations, when the headache became too
unbearable – and lived until the age of 94, and died very peacefully. If I were not
so colossally indolent, I should mind my inactivity far more than I do. As it is, I
secretly enjoy it – not having to go to committees, deliver lectures, give
appointments to notorious operators and bores is pure gain.
I was very sorry not to present his prize to Dodds.fn362 I shall send you Freddie
Ayer’s autobiography – the comparison with Dodds is to the advantage of … but I
shall not anticipate your verdict. I had no idea that all his life Ayer was constantly
measuring himself against me – on the whole to his advantage, I daresay rightly.
He played no such part in my life – I don’t think anyone has. But it is a queer
sensation to realise that one had, all unknowingly, played a curious role throughout
someone else’s existence – not a wholly negative one, by any means, but still,
embarrassing because so totally unintended and so unlike one’s image of oneself.
In the meanwhile, here we sit, hoping for reasonable behaviour by the present
leaders of Israel. There is an extraordinary contrast between the attitude of the
British ‘quality’ media – The Times, the Guardian, the BBC, which are on the
whole critical and hostile, and deplore Israel’s fatal obstinacy in the face of
Sadat’s admirable initiatives – and the American press, the New York Times, the
European Times-Heraldfn363 etc., which remain sympathetic to Israel and
optimistic. I don’t know if you saw a letter by Siegmund Warburgfn364 in The Times
at the beginning of last week. The sentiments were such as we all might agree
with; nevertheless, my immediate, unreflected reaction was that there was
something terribly pompous and monomaniacal in lecturing the state of Israel in
the pages of The Times: whom was he addressing, whose conduct did he intend to
improve? He wrote as a spokesman of all the moderate Jews in the Diaspora,
chiding the Israeli government for its chauvinism and blindness – and this was
naturally followed by a letter of strong support by Anthony Nutting.fn365 If he had
written to the Jerusalem Post, it might at least have stirred some debate. As it is,
it was ultimately an apologetic letter: ‘Do not believe that we are all blind
nationalists; G. Schocken,fn366 other Israelis, people like me, who are legion, are
decent, liberal moderates; do not identify us with these terrible nationalists, set on
a fatal course’ etc. He intended, I think, to say the same to Sadat when they met in
Paris, and was only held back by the fact that the others with him declined to
accompany him if he proposed to embark on that kind of oration. All this, I need
hardly tell you, is confidential, and I would not be sending it through the post if I
was not in so feeble a condition at the moment, and consequently over-reckless. I
wonder if you agree, or if you think I am being too conventionally reasonable
about all this: I simply do not believe in preaching to sovereign states from abroad
unless they perpetrate outrages – and then it does little good, but at least it is right
to cry out. […]
Much love from us both,
21 March 1978
Headington House

Dear Bernard,
Let me tell you that your performance on the Magee show was far and away the
best to date.fn367 He told me that you had to do it twice – that is probably a fact
about him rather than yourself or the ‘performance’ itself. I hope the original talk
has not perished – the ur-dialogue is indispensable to future doctoral work.
Comparison of sentences could make the fortune of more than one professor of the
subject. You were the only performer to date who did not appear to be
prearranged, pre-packed – everyone else seemed to be that, without exception.
The lowest point was certainly Mr Barrett.fn368 Freddie is not altogether wrong
when he said that all he reported Heideggerfn369 as saying was that (a) all men are
mortal, and some are worried about it, (b) we did not choose our parents. I did not
share the general impression of Marcuse’sfn370 overwhelming charm, and thought
Harefn371 a caricature of an Oxford philosopher of a certain date, the leading
Beckmesserfn372 in his field. Loyalty prevents me from continuing with the list. I
enjoyed Quine,fn373 and since I do not crave for novelty, listened with pleasure
both to Chuckfn374 and to Freddie. I am all poised for Searle,fn375 Chomskyfn376 and
Putnamfn377 – all of whom I believe have something to say. I shall be sorry to miss
Dworkinfn378 and Iris – if I am well enough, we may go to Italy for ten days or so
in April. We shall be glued to our radios, with news of the by then almost certain
civil war, and be back just in time for the joy of listening to Gellner.fn379 […]
Yours ever,
IB’s four-year term as President of the British Academy came to an end at the annual meeting of 29
June 1978, though in practice he held the reins for a little longer. One of his last tasks was to
canvass opinion among members of the governing council, and four ex-Presidents, as to who
should be his successor. By March 1978 three candidates had emerged, Helen Gardner,fn380 Robert
Blakefn381 and Kenneth Dover,fn382 and of these the latter had the most support. IB therefore
planned to recommend him for the presidency at the annual meeting on 29 June: in theory an
alternative candidate could be proposed, but in practice this never happened. Dover’s nomination,
and therefore certain election, were not welcomed by Hugh Trevor-Roper, who wrote to IB in
protest: IB replied by pointing out that the President was effectively a figurehead who had much
less influence than was supposed, and this was certainly his experience of the post; but it did not
prove so for Dover, who in the first year of his presidency was embroiled in a controversy over
whether Anthony Bluntfn383 should remain a fellow of the Academy after being exposed as a Soviet
spy. IB was relieved to have avoided this controversy, writing to Myron Gilmorefn384 in July: ‘thank
God my British Academy job is almost over and I can relapse into a reasonable degree of
indolence, which has always been my ideal since, I think, I was in the womb’.fn385

24 March 1978
Headington House
Dear Hugh,
Thank you very much for your letter. You may well be right – I do not know Sir
K. Dover at all well, indeed scarcely at all. I have not spoken to him on more than
three, or at most four, occasions, and then for not more than ten minutes or so. […]
But having started the democratic process, there is, so far as I can see, no way of
stopping it. Kenneth Dover got more votes than anyone else by about three heads. I
have written to all the members of the BA Council to say that, unless I hear to the
contrary, I shall assume that the Council wishes me to approach Dover, Helen
[Gardner], Robert [Blake] in this order, which corresponds to their relative
popularity. I could, I suppose, have a ‘run-off’ in the French manner, but I suspect
that if I did the result would be exactly the same. The opposition to both Helen and
Robert is so great on the part of some people that, as often happens in such cases,
a harmless person who has the smallest number of opponents gets in – that, I
suspect, is how I came to be appointed.
You did, when we saw each other, suggest Herbert Hart, and even lightly
mentioned the name of the Cornish poet,fn386 but while the second is not to be
seriously considered by rational men anxious to avoid public ridicule, the former
would, of course, be very good indeed – and indeed, would, I think, be elected by
acclamation, were it not that he is too old. […] But do not repine! The influence of
the President is smaller than you might suppose: apart from presiding over the
Council and some committees, he has very few things in his gift – the annual
speaker at the dinner and, at most, one appointment or two inside the Academy.
I promise to do my best to reinforce the new Council with stout-hearted and
rational beings, of powerful personality, who will resist any aberrant figure. And,
indeed, if your gloomy anticipations prove correct, this will pave the way to pre-
eminent merit next time. As I told you when we met, since I shall be consulted by
the new President, if I am alive, in 1982, I shall raise my voice most emphatically
in favour of yourself. Remember that troughs create a demand for crests – this
zigzag or see-saw will surely operate! […]
Yours ever,

‹Better burn this letter! I apprehend the fate of your filing cabinets – what will
posterity make of the stimulus to this letter, and the indiscretions of which we
shall be thought guilty – why shd posterity be titillated in this way? Even assuming
that such trifles are thought rewarding, what right have they? What, as someone
said in a similar context, have they done for us?›fn387
28 April 1978
Headington House
Dear Yaacov,
[…] Of course I did not mean to say that one is not allowed to criticise a
sovereign state,fn388 however harshly, if one feels like it, even unjustifiably. I have
no such Bismarckian feelings,fn389 and the Hegelian state is anathema to me. I
meant something else: critics of the central policies of a country, if they live
abroad, whether they are citizens or otherwise connected, usually only do this if
they are deeply provoked; that is, if they think that the policies are shameful, or
betray the central values of a nation which mean something to the critics; that is,
unless the critics are indifferent to the country and simply do it because they feel
like it or because they are in fact hostile to the country in question. Americans did
it in the case of the Vietnam war, and one could understand them; even they only
did it inside America; those who did it from abroad were not listened to, carried
little weight. In the case, however, of Israel, Jews sometimes feel – particularly if
they feel self-important – that it is a veritable enterprise to which they are
contributors, and that this alone gives them a right to give advice and complain
publicly, in the newspapers of the countries in which they live, if their advice is
not followed; and this irritates me.
This is all I meant by saying that Israel was a sovereign state – it is not simply
the headquarters of a world Zionist organisation. I do not accept Ben-Gurion’sfn390
view of Auslandsjudenfn391 as having specific obligations to Israel. If they choose
to live in the Diaspora, they are perfectly entitled to their choice: they may be
criticised by Israelis or Zionists for choosing a mode of life which is attacked as
morally or socially or politically inferior, of bartering full national existence for
comfort, security or money – this is sometimes just and sometimes unjust, but all
men are liable to criticism from all other men, and this is as it should be. But to
denounce the policies of Israel’s present government, which, like you, I also think
mistaken and dangerous, and in the long run suicidal, and that in the pages of a
journal – the London Times – which is anti-Israel as part of a set policy, seems to
me unhelpful and merely likely to strengthen the hand of the enemies of the state: it
did not surprise me when virtually the only supporter of Sir Siegmund turned out
to be Antony Nutting, a friend of the PLO.
I was afraid that Zionists might write letters and accuse Sir Siegmund of
‘disloyalty’, and that too, would have been bad – he owes no loyalty to Israel: at
best, devotion to it, which in fact, although he said that he had always been a
friend of that country, was very much not the case in 1949 when I crossed the
ocean on the same boat and he denounced Israel’s war of independence as
wickedly anti-British, in a bitter argument with a fellow banker called
Kramarsky.fn392 Since then he has greatly changed his views, and is a follower of
Nahum Goldmann.fn393 But I have a feeling that when Israel [behaves] badly he is
indignant, and even, perhaps, feels ashamed, but is not upset as one is when one is
anxious for the state of someone or something one loves and is emotionally
identified with. I do not begin to deny his right to speak out if he chooses, but I
cannot help feeling that there is an element here of the second son in the Haggadah
– ‘“What is this activity that you are engaged upon?” – you and not we’fn394 – and
my own attitude is correspondingly affected.
It is another matter if Raymond Aron,fn395 who is a professional commentator,
and expected to pronounce on all the central questions of the day, speaks out; and I
need hardly tell you that the protest of the 30,000 in Tel Aviv delighted me;fn396 so
did the manifesto of the New York intellectuals,fn397 who by no stretch of the
imagination could be regarded as dedicated to abstract liberal principles without
emotional ties to Israel; and if a similar manifesto were to be drafted in England (I
have not seen the American one) in the name of genuinely pro-Israel academics
and intellectuals, I should be ready to support it; but I suspect that in England there
is no ‘intelligentsia’ as there is in New York or Chicago, nor a blindly loyal
instrument of any Israeli government, such as appears – or until today appeared –
to exist in the United States. […]
So, as far as I can see, there is no real disagreement between us, not even an
apparent one. I think you genuinely misunderstood my use of ‘sovereign state’ as
being an expression of awe before this super-individual, organic expression of the
World Spirit. I need not tell you that those are not my sentiments. […]
Yours ever,
2 May 1978
Headington House
Dear Arthur
Thank you ever so much for your letter of 20 March, which I enjoyed very much
indeed, particularly the news of Prich.fn398 I am distressed about his blindness, it
gives me fearful guilt, I ought to go and see him or write to him or something – and
yet I do not know what to say, our last meeting was so awkward, and he constantly
suspects me of doing things out of compassion and not affection. I will try and
think of a method of approach.
We are in a peculiar political position: all the polls indicate that the
Conservatives will win, for no better reason than the general systolic system of
ups and downs, action and reaction (what is the Marxist dialectic doing?). Yet it is
plain that the Conservative team is dim to a degree: the voters have never heard of
half of them – Heathfn399 and Mrs Thatcher mean something to the voters, but the
shadow cabinet in general, virtually nothing at all, and rightly so. I wish David
Harlechfn400 and Roy Jenkinsfn401 were not quite such shadowy figures themselves
by now: the former, at least, retired from genuinely active politics by his own
wish; but Roy, I think, made a genuine mistake – I think if he had hung on, even if
he had harried the present government somewhat from the back benches, he would
have had a better chance of returning to real political activity than he now seems
to me to have. But somewhere there is a lack of that minimum will to power which
any successful politician must surely have, some surrender to social life and
comfort, the gentlemanly existence and a sane and moderate view of the political
and economic scene, without the risks and the heat and the in-fighting which are,
perhaps, required for genuine effectiveness. The doughnut is of the highest order
of consistency and suitability to the palate of the most demanding, but there is just
not enough jam at the centre. I think this was always so. There is no lack of
ambition, only of willpower to satisfy it. […]
Let us turn to a more serious and sadder subject. Is it really true that Nicolas
died of medical errors? I think that perhaps Dominique, who stayed here and
talked about all this, it seemed to me, very sanely and calmly, is right when she
said that Nicolas had lost all desire to live; perhaps as a result of the
CIA/Encounter row,fn402 he found himself offside, as it were, bombinating in a
void,fn403 without a specific function, with only vague negotiations about this or
that musical festival. The Congress of Cultural Freedom kept him going, and after
it collapsed he only had his personal friends, and this was not quite enough – and
therefore he could not in any case have lasted long. This is melancholy, and may
be true – what do you think? I had a heart-warming and rather rending letter from
Avisfn404 which conveyed the impression that doctors had doomed him. Perhaps it
does not matter now. I wrote a little piece about him in the London Times because
I was sure that nobody else would, and to my astonishment they printed it almost
at once. He leaves a deep gap in my life; I really was very attached to him. He
was exhausting company, of course, but his warmth, imagination, profound inner
independence and what I can only call the sad nobility of a man in permanent exile
– he was not cosmopolitan, and certainly [not] gallicised or americanised or in
any way wishing to throw roots in any foreign land – but, like his more gifted, far
less sympathetic cousin Vladimir,fn405 an aristocrat in exile with bags permanently
packed to return to his native land, which he knew he would never reach, and
therefore clinging to every genuine fragment of it, which to some extent I
represented, and, oddly enough, Russian Jews in Israel, where he once told me he
alone felt comfortable, because he could talk to these people who talked in a
language totally familiar to him, even when they were comical bourgeois, without
any [misunderstanding?], and made him feel at home.fn406
Last week I went to lunch with R. Griersonfn407 to meet the Harrimans.fn408 He is
fantastically preserved, and not even very deaf. As is the American custom, he
was asked to address the table on the present state of affairs, and did so, very
nicely, in the presence of E. Heath and small fry like Aline and me and some lady
from Harvard and I cannot now remember who else. He defended Carter, but
complained that he took nobody’s advice, and having been elected on an anti-
Washington ticket he found it difficult to come to terms with the bogey. He said
that the Soviet Union had no intention of making war because it did not want atom
bombs to fall on its surface, and that Brzezinskifn409 was utterly wrong about all
that; that what the Soviet Union was doing in the horn of Africa was highly
undesirable,fn410 but that the United States was not prepared to do anything about
that because they left that to the British, who must take the initiative in this matter,
which is clearly not going to happen, if only because of lack of means. When told
that, Averell shrugged his shoulders. I heard Macmillan about a week before
suddenly burst forth at a dinner in Oxford about what a nightmare it was to have to
live through the same ghastly history once again: appeasement in the 1930s, when
he occasionally asked himself if he was mad, or if Baldwin and Chamberlain
were – or perhaps they were right.fn411 Sam Hoare,fn412 after all, was an intelligent
man and he believed that an arrangement with the Germans was possible –
perhaps he, Macmillan, and his friends were having nightmares, not seeing reality
straight, but they turned out to be right. Once again, appeasement was in full
swing, this time of the Russians, and the Russians could and should be stopped in
Africa, but […] the other side could only come through South Africa, which was
taboo, a moral leper; therefore this was precluded, so the Russians were bound to
win, against no resistance. Averell does not believe this at all, nor in the end (I
add pompously) do I.
What on earth is George Kennan at?*fn413 Why does he think that these tired old
men in the Kremlin only want a reasonable degree of security, and why does he
think that in that case Angola or Ethiopia are so important to them? Reluctantly, I
find that I vote with Pipes,fn414 without enthusiasm. Of course, you can say that
Soviet policy has always been defensive, but that defence in their eyes consists in
occupying positions before the enemy does so, and that the frontiers of the Soviet
Union are not secure, so long as combinations of strength against it are in
principle possible. This form of defensiveness does not stop until all possible
sources of danger have been liquidated – not in the name of ideology or the
happiness of mankind, purely pre-emptively.
Mistaken and dangerous though I think Mr Begin’s policies to be (I own to a
personal loathing of him ever since 1946–7 – my hatred of terrorism has become
absolute – and yet, when I used to read about the Russian terrorists in the 1880s
and 1890sfn415 I used to think that …), I understand this rather better. It is not true
to say that in these days of atomic weapons, no frontiers are all that important, that
security is unobtainable when nuclear war is a threat, etc. I do not believe that, in
the case of small countries, nuclear war is a threat. I do not believe that, despite
all the Cassandras, there will be a major conflict in this century; not, at least, until
the Chinese are ready. But that wars can occur with conventional weapons which
do not threaten the world order, and that small countries are in danger of that, I do
believe. The danger to the Israelis comes obviously from the Arabs, supported by
various Soviet-supplied Cubans, not from starting a world war on the field of
Armageddon, where the Kings of Israel kept their horses. Israeli policy is plainly
suicidal, simply because they cannot govern a million and a half Arabs, under
whatever arrangements, without being duly blown up, as the Czechs were by the
Sudets.fn416 So they must retreat, in sheer self-interest, not to please the UN or the
great powers; but so long as Begin is there, they won’t: he resembles de Valerafn417
more than anyone else that I can think of, and there is nobody in the world less
likely, it seems to me, to begin to engage Mr Carter’s sympathies, or, indeed,
anyone’s but the Poles’, whose more old-fashioned generals (of Pilsudski’s
day)fn418 he seems to me to model himself on. If one has to choose between
fanatics and political operators, I should unhesitatingly choose the latter, and that
is the only choice in Israel at present, it seems to me. Sad but true. Perhaps it is
true of most countries. Having reached this sublime thought, I must stop. But not
before telling you how ashamed I feel that you should have been asked to produce
a blurb for my Russian bookfn419 – you should not have done it. […]
Yours ever & ever

‹*Secretly I have never thought his ideas on Russia bore on reality: it was, in all
its shyings to & fro, half a private fantasy. But don’t, on pain of I don’t know what,
reveal to anyone this heretical thought!›


I do not at all wish to die: I am full of curiosity.

To Arthur Schlesinger, 12 July 1978

12 July 1978
Headington House

Dear Arthur,
Indeed I received your letter about Nicolas’s death – I had some inkling that this
was what must have happened, although Dominique loyally more than half
concealed it.fn1 I think that she thought that he would not live long anyway: he had
lost the desire to live – was visibly declining – and she did not want to make too
much fuss about something which she in any case regarded as inevitable, although
I may not be doing her justice. But it is a shocking story all the same. Iatrogenic
death is something which occasionally terrifies me too. I do not really mind dying
very much – do you? Pain I am afraid of, but death not much. On the other hand, I
do not at all wish to die: I am full of curiosity. I have no wish to act; I am a natural
observer – unkind persons might say voyeur – of history; but I simply long to
know what happens next. What will happen to the Soviet Union, what to China,
what to Israel? How will it all end? Who will do what? I want to know about the
twenty-second and twenty-third centuries, and far beyond that – not all time and
all existence, but very large portions of it, both the grandes lignes and
individuals’ lives. That is why I find Tolstoy so sympathetic as a novelist, and,
indeed, as involved in a desperate attempt to explain what it is that he is trying to
do when he knows that it is, according to his own theory, irrational and in any
case impossible.
Your piece on Nicolasfn2 is excellent. Even more so is your piece on
Solzhenitsyn.fn3 He is all that you say. But not very remote from George Kennan, as
far as I can see. The mixture of despair of materialism, desire to retract oneself
into one’s own special calling – these in a minor measure are George’s too, are
they not? In any case, you have got Solzhenitsyn absolutely right. His gifts, his
courage, his immense effect are undeniable, and an asset to the human race: he
seems to be the only individual who has ever succeeded in inflicting genuine
damage on the Soviet regime – nobody else has done it, even in a small measure.
Because he wrote what he wrote, all kinds of unknown folk – peasants in Italy,
workers in France, probably downtrodden peons in Latin America, Arabs, Indians
etc. – are all dimly aware that terrible things go on inside the Soviet Union, and
that is why Communist parties have to put on Euro-Communist guises, or perhaps
genuinely deviate somewhat; why even orthodox Communist parties have to
explain that while their ideals are still impeccably Marxist, yet they wish to have
nothing to do with concentration camps, repression etc.; why M. Elleinsteinfn4 has
to associate himself with denunciations of the latest Soviet trials, and so on. It is
an extraordinary achievement: it could only have been done by someone who was
not a member of the intelligentsia but was obviously of proletarian origin and had
been to a camp himself, and was not a Jew, not an intellectual, not a Westerniser,
etc. Of course, Sakharov is my man, as he is, I am sure, yours: that is the authentic
noble liberal voice, very like Herzen’s – everything he says seems to me true,
unanswerable and more simply and better put, braver and more moving, than any
other voice in the world today.
As for Solzhenitsyn, he is, so far as I can see, much more like the seventeenth-
century schismatics, to whom Peter the Greatfn5 was an evil ruler, tsar of a
kingdom organised by Satan, which had to be, if not destroyed, at any rate resisted
at all costs, and destroyed if possible. All those early eighteenth-century
followers of the Archpriest Avvakum, who regularly burnt themselves rather than
submit to Peter’s proscription or his tax-gatherers, were made of the same stuff as
Solzhenitsyn is now. There is something spiritually grand and terrifying about that.
But he is to me a sort of early Soviet man turned inside out – the mirror image of a
fanatical Communist of earlier days, who knows the answer, who will stop at
nothing to convert people to it, who thinks that every means is justified if the
sacred end is to be brought about, save that his end is at least capable of being
respected by theocrats (of whom you and I do not think well), while in the Soviet
Union today there are no ends except self-perpetuation and survival, so far as I
can see. There may be faithful Communists in Romania, Yugoslavia, Peru, and for
all I know East Germany, certainly Japan, maybe even in America and England –
none in the Soviet Union in the sense that none of them believe that after the seas
of blood some glorious consummation can in principle be reached. Not even
fanatics – what more terrifying condemnation can the rulers of a nation be guilty
[…] Do telephone immediately you touch the soil of Italy – as Diana Cooperfn6
used to say ‘First the loo, then telephone me.’ She is marvellous still – I have
never seen anything like it – most beautiful, exquisitely preserved; aged eighty-six,
I should say; perhaps a little too white, too frail in some of her movements, but a
monument to a culture which, whatever else may be said against it, had plenty of
spirit and appetite for life. She goes to every party she is asked to and trembles
nervously before it – like me before delivering a lecture. As Raymond Asquithfn7
once said about her, ‘She has no heart, but her brain is in the right place.’fn8 That is
perhaps a little too harsh – I think there is a heart there, myself – but you see what
I mean. Anyway, she is particularly super-admirable. […]
‹Fondest love to Alexandra›
Yours ever,
7 September 1978: publication of IB’s Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays, edited by HH,
with an introduction by Bernard Williams.

29 September 1978
Headington House

Dear Storr, ‹– am I allowed to call you Anthony?›

Thank you ever so much for sending me your lecture on Newton.fn10 I read it
with the greatest pleasure and agreement. Of course Manuelfn11 goes too far – he is
over-exuberant, enslaved by Erikson,fn12 and goes overboard. How could any
serious person, even the most fanatical Freudian or Eriksonian, believe that
deprivation and lack of love would by itself produce rejection of the notion of
action at a distance and the invocation of ether? The idea that causality or
gravitation is a kind of pushing or pulling, and that this entails contact between
bodies, is a common-sense notion, and the contrary of this – however valid in fact
– seems counter-intuitive. Nobody, so far as I know, questioned Newton’s
conclusions about this, whether or not they were deprived of parental love at an
early age (am I talking like a philistine?). As for self-depreciation, I wonder: I
received a full measure of parental love at all times – my fatherfn13 died when I
was forty-four, my mother twenty years later; yet every line I have ever written
and every lecture I have ever delivered seems to me of very little or no value.
After every lecture I feel a sense of shame, which seems equal on all occasions;
and as some of my lectures must be worse than others, while the degree of shame
seems constant, this is no doubt a neurotic symptom.
So withdrawal of parental love cannot be a necessary cause of this condition.
Remoteness, a relative absence of intimate personal relationships, is, as I think
you show, a genuine ingredient of certain types of genius. It is certainly true of
Einstein,fn14 who was himself aware of his absence of contact with human beings;
although in his case it certainly did not take the form of a desire for power or
glory. Still, I am sure that Popperfn15 is wrong to dismiss psychopathology in this
regard: I am sure you are right about that. The withdrawn quality, a certain
inhumanity, uncosiness, of the scientists of genius I have met – Bohr (for all his
humane sentiments), Einstein, von Neumann, Dirac; even such people as Jack
Haldane, for all his ebullience, or R. Oppenheimer – is very marked.fn16 This
applies far more to abstract, conceptual thinkers than to experimentalists, I
suspect: it applies, indeed, to Keynesfn17 himself and to the philosophers you list –
Russell pre-eminently. I suspect that mathematicians and physicists and certain
types of philosophers, especially logicians, have this far more than biologists or
physiologists: abstract thinkers rather than those intent on curing the ills of the
body or mind – Florey,fn18 or Lister,fn19 or Abrahamfn20 (cephalosporin) or
Pasteurfn21 or Alan Hodgkin.fn22
It may well be that the capacity for intentness for long periods upon highly
general ideas, as opposed to constant contact with empirical facts, is due to or at
least ‘helped’ by some trauma, some form of withdrawal from individual or social
integration with persons and things. So that in the utopia in which everyone was
integrated, adjusted, happy, fully realised, less progress would be made in the
abstract branches of knowledge. Is the desire for a unified world picture –
everything in place, everything fitting in, no loose ends, every entity in its unique,
proper place (a passion I do not suffer from, if suffer is the word) – a sign of
wanting to compensate for some broken relationship? It is one of the oldest and
most central human tendencies – all desire for perfection in metaphysical,
political, social, aesthetic, psychological terms – which is the largest part of
Western thought, and Eastern too, I expect – seems to spring from this. I think it
unrealistic, and indeed, dangerous, and liable to lead to fanaticism and ruthless
repression of unaccountable differences – tyranny in the world of practice – but I
seem to myself to be in a small minority, in any society in any period known to us.
I’d love to know what you think about that. […] Do let us meet soon.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah B
IB’s collected pen-portraits of his contemporaries, Personal Impressions, was to include (at HH’s
suggestion) a personal impression of the author himself, in the form of an introductory essay
written by his friend Noel Annan.fn23 IB however was mortified when he saw an early draft, and
wrote to Bob Silvers: ‘Despite all his excellent qualities, and my affection – and indeed, respect –
for him, and the friendship that has bound us for years, I should not have dreamt of choosing him
to write this introduction.’fn24 He found

a good many passages in it wholly inappropriate. I shall have to have a private talk with Lord Annan
about all this, as I fear (though I beg you not to pass this on to anyone) I could not dream of letting the
volume appear with the introduction in its present form – it seems to me both inaccurate in its report of
my opinions and in places acutely embarrassing. I am so sorry to feel so strongly, but I fear that the data
justifies it. I have consulted one or two others, who feel rather more strongly than I do. I do not look
forward to my long talk with Lord Annan on this topic – I can imagine what my feelings would be if the
position were reversed.fn25

2 October 1978
Headington House

Dear Noel,
You can imagine with what acute embarrassment I am writing this. That I am
infinitely grateful to you for writing about me at all, you can imagine – all the nice
things, particularly when they are more than my due, I enjoy like so many
delicious lollipops which one rolls upon one’s tongue with increasing delight. I
am prepared to go on repeating this to you until you experience a sense of
satiation. There are, of course, also bits which seem to me in need of condensation
or alteration.fn26 This is inevitable, and I feel awful about having to discuss them –
how can one possibly claim the slightest objectivity in a matter which concerns
oneself so intimately? […]
‘Studies in praise’fn27 – so they are. Perhaps you could say something about the
fact that I enjoy being able to praise – I always have. I daresay I am guilty of a
(sometimes frustrated) tendency to hero-worship: I am greatly excited by
occasions for meeting men or women of genius – Freud,fn28 Einstein, Virginia
Woolf,fn29 Russell, Pasternak, Picasso,fn30 Stravinsky – and massive though my
defects no doubt are, the desire to do down is not one of them; the ‘feet of clay’fn31
of which you speak in your piece [are] something I am happy to discuss, without, I
believe, much personal feeling, much as one might do so with characters in
fiction. And, funnily enough, I think the highly critical Keynes – if you look at his
essays in biography – also enjoyed offering encomia. To be able to do it, besides
being a great pleasure (which Austin, of all people, once told me was one of his
greatest pleasures in the case of those who deserved them), enhances one’s world
and one’s life.
[…] I think you really do exaggerate my scepticism. It is true that I am highly
sceptical of final solutions of any kind. Of panaceas, in fact. But what have I
against monetarism, deficit budgeting, syndicalism?fn32 I do not think I have views
on these. I am not totally against participatory populism, even, since I regard
equality as one of the ultimate goals of men, and its rejection as such is deeply
unsympathetic to me; against even such moderate conservatives as David Cecil,fn33
Rees-Mogg,fn34 Tony Quinton or Raymond Carrfn35 I should be inclined to defend
equality as a sacred value – obliged, no doubt, to yield to other equally ultimate
values when there is a collision, but certainly to be practised wherever it cannot
be shown to be doing positive damage. The notion that all culture is founded on
inequality, and that culture is the one value we must defend with our lives, are
neither of them propositions I am prepared to defend.
[…] I am not at all against believing that life can be ordered for the better,
following a rule of conduct or a critique of culture or a method, even a scientific
law – often one can, and if one can, one should (I say didactically).fn36 […]
I do not say that ‘In fact you cannot pursue one good end without setting another
on one side’:fn37 I say that one cannot always do this – equality and freedom may
sometimes be reconciled and sometimes not. This sounds very boring, but it is
surely true: there are forms of inequality which diminish freedom, forms of
oppression which destroy equality, etc. The agonising choice arises when they do
conflict, and to deny that they ever can is what I preach against – not that one is
caught at every moment of life and choice between these terrible alternatives. Life
is not one long effort to impale oneself on one horn of a dilemma in order to avoid
the other. Peaceful ‘trade-offs’ are possible: and not agonising (always).
[…] ‘Positive’ freedom is not ‘diminishing the freedom of the few in order to
increase the freedom of the many’,fn38 but the alleged freedom of the ‘real’ self, or
‘the self at its best’, at the expense of what we ordinarily judge a man’s
personality to be – with its attributes, wishes, needs. So that the experts who
divine the ‘true’ needs of the ‘true’ self are thus justified in setting aside what
people actually say they love or hate or need or aspire to, as the pronouncements
of the insufficiently enlightened, developed, ‘empirical’, ‘lower’, ‘self’. We do
this in the case of children or very benighted undeveloped human beings (so Mill
maintained),fn39 but, whether or not it is permissible there, the question is whether
this can be extended to all men, as in theory Hegel, Green,fn40 Bosanquetfn41 etc.
maintained – whether or not you identify the ‘real’ authoritative self with the state,
the Church, the people, the class, the party etc. So when you say ‘can be
reconciled’, this should be ‘can always, in the end, be reconciled’; and for ‘but
they cannot’ I wish to read ‘but they sometimes cannot’; and for ‘ideology’ I
should substitute ‘the one true, infallible ideology’.fn42 Otherwise I should find
myself marching with Oakeshott and all kinds of irrationalists and obscurantists.
Whereas I wish to align myself with the non-Utilitarian Mill, with Erasmus,
Diderot, Turgenev, Herzen, Schumpeterfn43 and, indeed, E. M. Forster & Co. – a
very different company. To be anti-absolutist, to believe in constant corrigibility,
is not to reject ideas, theories, rational constructions as such. I look on Russell as
politically sympathetic; Quintin Hogg and Burke as the opposite.
[…] Austin: he did indeed reject the idea of a logically perfect language, but
Wittgenstein – the later Wittgenstein – rejected this before him, as against his own
former self and against Russell.fn44 So that is not the central reason for my
admiration of Austin, though of course it is part of it. […] What I truly admired
about him was that he was prepared to take every problem as it came, and tried to
solve it in its own terms, as it were, and not force it into a Procrustean bed of a
single, all-embracing system, and so transform its formulation that it ceased to be
the problem that in fact it was, or else [was] rejected as a pseudo-problem,
because it did not fit, as some logical positivists (e.g. Freddie) tended to do.
When you say that Austin reinforced my ‘unbounded’ suspicion of all
ideologies,fn45 at most what he did was to reinforce my suspicion of all total
ideologies which profess to solve everything by the one true system; which is
somewhat different. He did look on ordinary language as a pointer to true
meaning; but he believed in teamwork and systems. I don’t (much).
[…] Why is man a free agent because he thinks?fn46 Is there something totally
incompatible between determinism and thinking? I do not think so – but this is a
vast philosophical issue – perhaps you should not prejudge it with one firm
sentence. […]
I do not think that I intend to throw doubts on religious morality as such,fn47 only
on one that excludes all non-religious values. On Utilitarianism, yes, but the case
of Kantfn48 is much more complicated: I am deeply pro-Kantian on certain issues,
e.g. his obscure but epoch-making doctrine of the freedom of the will, his concept
of the moral autonomy of the individual, his doctrine of human beings as ends in
themselves, and of moral values as constituted by human commitment to them (I
won’t go into the niceties of what this means, how far Kant held it, etc.), which
seem to me of the first importance, and to which I am wholly sympathetic. So I am
not to be taken as an opponent of Kantian morality tout court – I should leave this
last sentence out altogether. Since Stuart has always maintained that I was an
unregenerate Humean, and Humefn49 is a Utilitarian, the whole issue is distinctly
complex. I think that if I am described as wanting to throw doubt on any moral or
political system which is founded on, or includes, an unalterable hierarchy of
values binding on all men at all times in all places, capable of providing an
objective and unalterable solution to every moral and political (and aesthetic)
problem, this would be true. But not much more than this.
[…] I cannot deny my love of gossip,fn50 though whether – and this raises a
point of principle – it is appropriate to produce a portrait of me in this
introduction rather than reflections on the pieces contained in the volume is
something we might have a word about. I really do feel that I am being
obituarised, and emerge corpse-like in consequence. However true, kind or
revealing the picture may be, I cannot deny that I sweat with embarrassment. Is
this ‘hypersensitive’ (something that none other than Lord Droghedafn51 called
me)? Oh dear. But I do feel this strongly, so if you could take some of this out! Do!
It is intolerable, awful of me, but I do feel it, so I do beg you to hold your hand.
[…] Namier:fn52 he insisted not so much that the history of ideas was a non-
existent subject,fn53 as that Marx’s ideas in particular were not worth bothering
about. Nor did he, in spite of his ironies, ever actually tell me that my approach
was worthless – only that I was wasting my time on Marx, and that the philosophy
of history seemed a morass to him. […]
I certainly do find in the rise of the state of Israel an argument against
deterministic history of an impersonal kind; but the English resistance in 1940
seems to me just as much an argument against it; so does Hitler’s attack on Russia,
which need not have occurred but which has altered our world.fn54 The fate of the
whole of central and Eastern Europe – that turned on the decision of an individual,
too. So the modern history of the Jews is not the sole, or even the greatest, piece
of evidence against determinism in my mind. But it is one, and I do say it.
[…] I do not think that history is the history of great men at all:fn55 I think there
are turning points at which great men can give a decisive impulsion in one
direction or another, but that there is an analysable texture of impersonal events. I
think this is a genuine misinterpretation of what I believe.
[…] Do I say ‘Do not ask these sorts of questions about great men’?fn56 I do not
think I forbid people to ask them when writing about their appearance on ‘the
stage of history’.fn57 I do think that some personal qualities may not be relevant.
But your text rather makes it appear that I think great men are beyond moral
scrutiny, rather as Hegel maintained that they were. And this I should absolutely
deny.fn58 […]
That’s all. Will you forgive me? Have I rewarded generosity with meanness?
Behaved abominably? Will you forgive me? Please?

[7 October 1978]fn60 Tabernacles, First Day
[Headington House]

Dear Isaac,
I, for my part, have just emerged after six hours of Götterdämmerung and am
myself in a distinctly twilit condition. But Colin Davisfn61 conducted it extremely
well. It is, I fear, undeniable that Wagner is probably the most powerful cultural
influence of the entire nineteenth century, who made a difference far beyond music
– in all the arts, in politics, in literature. It was a ‘Prom’ evening – only £2 for
sitting on the floor of the auditorium, and the passionate, not to say violent,
enthusiasm of all those rough youths and far-out girls was tremendous – not a very
good or hopeful sign, I thought. It is the violence that excites them. Wagner as an
idol of radical youth in England is something new. It is not merely all that
verbiage about his revolutionary activities in 1849, the careful omission not only
of the anti-Semitism but of the violent Prussian nationalism in 1870, and hideous
delight at the crushing of the French and the worship of Bismarck (all carefully
left out), but the story and the music themselves of The Ring – the combination of
sex, violence and apocalyptic mystique – that gets them, I think. Your old friend
Bernsteinfn62 is not very far from it all, but never mind (I am being too bitchy).
[…] The German ambassadorfn63 was next to me at supper during the work, and
when I cautiously observed to him that I thought there was a lot of Wagner in
Hitler,fn64 he said ‘Why do you not also say that there is a very great deal of Hitler
in Wagner?’ Better for him to say it than for me, I thought. But I rather warmed to
him after that, especially after he told me that he thought that Wagner ought to be
shortened by huge, judicious cuts. I told him that Bingfn65 felt the same way about
it, and that Diamandfn66 once told him that the entire Ring was being done
somewhere in one evening – ‘just the highlights, just the thing for you, Rudi’ – and
Rudi answered ‘Highlights? I didn’t know there were any.’ […]
Yours, ‹with much love to your entire family & from us “all”›
27 November 1978
Headington House

Dear Mr Warden,
Fifteen or more years ago a motion to make women eligible for fellowships at
the College was proposed at an SGM: I voted against it.fn67 I have regretted this
ever since. I have changed my mind because I cannot think of a single rational
objection to this proposal. May I state my position in the form of comments on
Bryan Wilson’sfn68 very well written and persuasive list of objections to your
paper? […]
As for the argument […] that this move would create ‘inevitable bitter
divisions within the College’, even the most overdue reforms can do this: the
abolition of the marriage ban, more than a century ago,fn69 led to bitter feeling on
the part of the unbending Tories […], but nobody now, so far as I know, sheds
tears over this departure from tradition. There was, after all, some bitterness when
we went back on our decision to admit graduates:fn70 I am glad to say that these
wounds seem to have healed completely. I am the last person to minimise the
importance of harmony and good feeling, but to resort to its claims as decisive
would render all serious change, however intrinsically desirable, impossible. I
cannot persuade myself that the consequences of this change would be anything
like as divisive as Wilson and others dread. This seems to be unduly pessimistic.
Keeping in line with others. Wilson’s point is, I take it, that we are already so
different from other colleges that any unpopularity which may result from staying
as we are should not greatly matter. I agree. But the point, surely, is that our other
differences from other colleges have a rational basis: there is a strong case for a
college dedicated exclusively to research, even though its members, both
professors and research fellows, are involved in teaching duties – this is
defensible on purely academic grounds, as a unique benefit to learning. No such
argument can be produced for the exclusion of women. I cannot find a rational
basis for this argument, which appears to me to be founded, ultimately, on
uncritical adherence to tradition, or even prejudice. […]
I have no quarrel with Wilson’s desire to see that ‘the value and richness of
particular and distinctive traditions and arrangements’ and ‘all unique and
individual differences’ should, so far as possible, be preserved, if only for the
sake of variety of life. But I part company with him if, in my view, these
differences are based on, or lead to, obvious breaches of natural justice, which
can only be defended either on grounds of unyielding conservatism, or (what I
cannot help regarding as) prejudice.
The case for admitting women is both that of simple justice, and, on the
assumption that the central purpose of the College is the promotion of learning
(which, so far as I know, nobody has yet questioned), that the opening of the doors
to women of high intellectual and personal qualifications could only contribute to
this end. All Souls has the best research facilities, in a very wide field, of any
institution in England. To deny suitably qualified women their use for the sole
reason that they are women seems to me indefensible. To stand out against the rest
of the University either in the name of a principle, or even of a form of life, which
seems to us to be so important that we should be morally justified in fighting for
this to the last, if need be alone (or in the company of Oriel),fn71 seems to me
perfectly right. My argument is not that we must march with the times and join the
great majority of colleges, without considering the implications for us. But I fail to
detect any such principle, or a seriously threatened way of academic life that must
be defended at all costs. For these reasons I should like to associate myself with
the position you have taken. I have no doubt that both sides in this dispute are
wholly sincere and concerned solely with the welfare of the College; but your
letter, and Bryan Wilson’s, have made it clear to me on which side I stand.fn72
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
4 December 1978
Headington House

Dear Henry,
Letter after letter! Noel Annan’s piece is far better than it was, but there are still
one or two ‘bad’ bits – not very important ones, but one in particular which would
embarrass too many people without cause. I will write to him again. Sincere and
laudatory as his introduction is, and now shorn of its direct errors of fact,
especially about philosophy (for which we have to thank Stuart Hampshire), and
warm-hearted as it plainly is, I shall, I am afraid, have gooseflesh whenever I
think of it, for the rest of my life. Hubert Hendersonfn73 once told me, about Sir
Roy Harrod’sfn74 life of Keynes, that everything in it was two or three degrees out,
just wrong by a thin margin, and that this produced a continuous feeling of
irritation, when things were nearly but never quite right about a man whom he
knew – or thought he knew – far better than Harrod knew him, which caused him
to refuse to review it. About pieces on oneself, one must speak with greater
humility and caution: a man hears his own voice quite differently from the way
others hear it; nevertheless, I shall never be quite reconciled to it. You will think
that I am making far too much of all this. I expect I am. I shall not say a word about
this to you again. All I ask is that people should not write or say to me anything
about how well captured my views and personality [are], how exact, and yet
generous, the vignette is. But they will. No more on that. […]
I am still looking for the carnivorous sheep.fn75 As in the case of the quotation
from E. M. Forster,fn76 I am convinced that it is in de Maistrefn77 – but I cannot lay
everything else aside to look for it in the collected works, so perhaps it would be
as well if we resorted to one of our well-known subterfuges, and said, ‘de
Maistre somewhere says’ – or something of that sort. What do you think?
Yours ever,
7 December 1978
Headington House

Dearest Noel,
My gratitude can no longer be conveyed by mere epistolary prose: it is a great
deficiency not to be either a creative, or at least an interpretative, artist, so that
one can convey emotion by means of direct expression – dance, song, poetry,
beating a tom-tom in a special rhythm. I really am most grateful to you for all your
patience in making these, to me, relief-bringing changes. At this point, I ought
simply to say all this again and sign. But – forgive me even more generously than
you have before – I cannot quite do that: there are a few trivial points which I
should like to make, and one or two (not more, I swear) untrivial ones. […]
I do not really want to be too nasty about MCC Jews:fn78 there are some who
assimilate so successfully that one really cannot mind what they are or do; if there
are any members of ‘say’ the Jesselfn79 family who preferred the MCC to
Jerusalem, I could not mind. I do not mind those who have really forgotten Zion. I
am not against assimilation if it can be done, only against ghastly and conscious
efforts to do so, which actually prevent it. […] I do not wish to be thought what I
am not – a fanatical anti-assimilationist, as most Zionists, of course, are, but I
(deeply) am not. I admit to taking some pleasure in detecting what Namier called
‘trembling Israelites’;fn80 with their children and grandchildren, who have ceased
to tremble and ceased to be Israelites in all but form or religion, I really have no
quarrel: I had none with the late Lord Melchett,fn81 I have none with the present
Lord Reading,fn82 not even Sybil Cholmondeleyfn83 or Antoinette’sfn84 French
relations – quite different from my contemporary at Oxford, Roy Beddington,fn85 to
whom one only had to mention Jews to throw him into cold and hot fits, if you see
what I mean. It is the open or secret wincing that is awful.
[…] Only two things, and then I cease, I swear it. But these are genuine issues.
[…] About my ‘dual loyalty being stretched and strained’:fn86 though I say, I
think, that my position was not a wholly comfortable one, my loyalty to England
was not in fact stretched or strained. My position was perfectly clear to me: quite
apart from loyalty, or a sense of gratitude for my too unobstructed career, I was
clear that I was a servant of the British government and had chosen to be so quite
freely; I was not a conscript; as long as the war lasted I had no right to work for
any other master, or, if I was asked to do something too outrageous, then I had no
doubt that I had to decline and opt out – resign, or be shot, so to speak; but not to
disobey. Since I was a civilian and under no constraints (I had not even signed the
Official Secrets Act, for some reason), my obligation in this respect appeared to
me to be all the stronger. And I found no difficulty in relations with my colleagues,
most of whom were anti-Zionists in some degree, sometimes to an acute degree;
they knew my views (those who were interested), and this may have made for
some discomfort when the topic came up; but not for ‘stretching and straining
My second point is that, as persons of foreign origin, but more particularly
Jews, have often been suspected of double allegiance – to their country and their
race (or community, or the state of Israel, etc. etc.) – which seemed to the
somewhat anti-Semitic Harold Nicolsonfn87 a good reason why Jews should not be
employed by the Foreign Office; and since this is a still pretty generally accepted
view; anything which implies that to be a Jew is to be under such strains (this used
to be alleged against Catholics, but no longer is, I think) seems to me to provide
tinder for xenophobia in general and anti-Semitism in particular. Dual allegiance
is an issue: it is not true that it is not one at all. Weizmann was often asked what he
would do if his British loyalties – which, as you know, were considerable – came
into collision with his Zionist ones. This did happen in the end, and he wrote a
moving letter to the Foreign Secretary – Bevin (!) – which was suppressed at the
time by an official in the Foreign Office, Bernard Burrows,fn88 who thought it was
wrong to forward any letter from such an awful man to the Foreign Secretary: but
that is another story.fn89 My point is that since I did not suffer from this strain –
though no doubt some Zionists thought that I should have done, and that I was a
British stooge – my situation should not be given as an illustration of such tension.
I reached my decision without conscious reflection; I took the supremacy of total
loyalty to England for granted. […]
Have I abused your devotion, patience and generosity? Have I behaved
intolerably? Have I gone too far? At any rate, I am ashamed of going on so. The
only really serious point is the one about dual allegiance and the straining of
loyalties, not so much because of biographical accuracy as because of the
generalised implications for others, the use that could be made of it by evil-
minded persons (imagine Alifn90 or Private Eyefn91 on this – imagine a cartoon of
me, stretched and strained, with a hideous-looking Begin on the left and a
frightful-looking Churchill on the right, each beckoning). Anyway, you have
behaved with great sweetness and nobility and beauty of character, and I have
been tiresome, niggling and a strainer and stretcher of your great but not unlimited
I fall on my knees before you and cover my face.

11 December 1978
Headington House

Dear Chimen,
Thank you ever so much for your letter of 1 December. Heaven knows why I
was awarded the Jerusalem Book Prize.fn93 When I was asked to say a few words
impromptu on Jerusalem Radio I ‘screwed it up’, to use Nixon’s unforgettable
phrase, though the result may not be as fatal as Watergate’s.fn94 I am no good at
spontaneous interviews: no thoughts come into my head. I was asked in what way
the three traditions in which I grew up – Russian, Jewish and British – fit into my
character. How does one answer that? I can think of an answer to it now – but not
on the spot.fn95 Similarly, when I was asked what I regarded as the leading
principle of my life – have I one? – I denied it, and emerged as a feeble
opportunist and pragmatist (I expect). Thirdly, who would I award such a prize to
now, as a champion of liberty, etc.? Popper, said I firmly – he does not like being
described as a Jew, does not care for Israel, and his last works are not at all to my
taste. Having given absurd answers to all these questions, I am covered with
shame. But I am genuinely happy to receive this prize, because any form of
recognition from that quarter naturally delights me. […]
3 January 1979
Headington House

Dearest Noel,
[…] No one has ever harried a potential benefactor so much since Maurice
harried Roy Harrod about the Times obituary that Roy had undertaken to compose
– and in the end it was a palimpsest of Harrod and the boys at Wadham.fn96 I am
grateful to you for saving me from the fury of the decent assimilated Jews – some
of Aline’s cousins, for example. […]
My relationships with people: I can certainly have affable relations with people
I think awful and embarrassing, but in certain cases the awfulness does create
sympathy and affection – rather like bores, whom I was accused by Nabokov of
liking too much. But the case of the sinister and evil is different, believe me. Lord
Snow I regard as merely awful, tremendously unattractive, but not sinister or evil.
[…] Really evil people, or those who seem so to me, I cannot manage at all – if
Sir Oswald or Lady Mosleyfn97 were in the room, I should, I think, walk out
without hesitation. I was acutely uncomfortable in the presence of Lords
Beaverbrook,fn98 Cherwell,fn99 Radcliffefn100 and – what peerage did Tom Driberg
take?fn101 Them I thought genuinely evil, and Beaverbrook and Driberg sinister too.
I felt horror in their presence and tended to leave rooms. I do not think Lord
Ecclesfn102 or Lord Homefn103 or any member of the Mitfordfn104 and Footfn105
families are in the least evil, but would rather not have met them. If I can
conveniently ignore their presence or go to the other end of the room, I do so
systematically. I am not very discriminating, but in the presence of what I feel to
be genuinely evil I shrivel. Unlike Maurice, I cannot say ‘I like shits.’ On the other
hand, I do like some awful people too, and still do. Next time we meet, we might
go over our respective lists. You have ‘the two most corrupt couples in London’
on yours; I have some as good. Do not, I beg you, overestimate my frontiers of
tolerance. I draw the line at the Italian and Spanish aristocracy, but I like Philip
Johnson,fn106 Mrs Longworth.fn107 I shivered in the presence of Chips Channon.fn108
And so on. I cannot be as uncensorious as all that. I could go on for ever, of course
– everyone is delighted to be allowed to talk about themselves from time to time.
But I know from the example of certain common friends what a fearful bore this
can be – I must stop at once.
With endless gratitude,
29 January 1979
Headington House

Dear Yaacov,
[…] Physical health is everything: we both have something to complain of –
you, perhaps, more than I. But I, too, during my brief visit to America in
November (Yale, Washington etc.), was once more subjected to my irregular pulse
and extreme discomfort. No sooner did I come back to England than on the whole
it abated: it is a pure result of tension, and in America I never feel relaxed. Even
dinner parties induce it. At any rate, I came back to England a patient, swallowed
some sort of new pills given me by a clever Jewish doctor (what an anti-Semitic
phrase!), which seem to have done me good.
So now I gird my loins to go to the deeply troubled land of Israel. It all began
with an invitation from the Princeton Institute to deliver a lecture on Einstein’s
impact on general thought as part of the centenaryfn109 celebrations which they are
holding there. I replied as politely as I could to Dr Woolf, of the Institute, that,
while his impact on the conception of the physical universe was obviously
transforming, and his impact on the philosophy of science, according to some,
significant (it was genuine, but smaller than people suppose), his impact on the
world of general thought was, to say the least, problematic. There is no doubt
about Newton’s impact on the entire Enlightenment, or Darwin’sfn110 […] or
Freud’s on our world – but Einstein’s? I should say virtually none. Of course
relativity was interpreted as relativism – everything is relative, etc. – but he
happened to believe the precise opposite, that there was an objective material
world, independent of human thought, and that although our concepts were not, as
he had once believed, themselves derived from experience (which Machfn111 had
taught), but were arbitrary creations of the ever-creative human imagination and
intellect, nevertheless the many possible ways of describing this world were only
valid if they corresponded to some kind of external reality, of which men were a
part but which, pace Marx, they did not – so far as natural science was concerned
– affect in any way. I did not say all this to Dr Woolf, but I did say that I did not
think that the subject he proposed for me existed. He wrote back very politely and
said that what he had meant was the world in which Einstein had lived; I replied
once again that the German world was known to others better than to myself, the
Princeton world also, and that I was totally unqualified to deal with this topic. I
then received a similar invitation from Washington, which I declined in similar
terms. I then received one from Jerusalem: Aline said that I could not refuse
everything and that, whatever my pulse and its rhythms, I must do something. So I
agreed to say a few words by way of introduction to Isaac Stern and his orchestra
– and this I have composed and wonder whether it begins to be adequate. I suffer
from despising everything I write: what others write is objective, valid, important,
true, original, at least sometimes; what I write is invented by me, so what value
can it possibly have? […]
Your letters to me are the only totally convincing account of Israeli politics that
I receive: I occasionally go to meetings of a little group in London which is
addressed by the Israel ambassador,fn112 who has just been sacked
unceremoniously and gratuitously by Dayan, simply because he did not like him.
He is a perfectly good ambassador, dignified, socially highly acceptable, and
intelligent – there was no real reason for dismissing him with the kind of brutal
suddenness which shocked and distressed everyone who liked him here. He was
not marvellous, but he was much more than adequate; this seems to me fairly
symptomatic of the way in which Israeli policy is conducted now, with total
disregard for other lands and reactions in the most influential circles, both in great
matters and in minute ones like this. […]
In the meanwhile, all that you say about the policies of the Israel government is
painfully true: when I was in Washington in mid November the mood was sharply
anti-Israel, on the part of friend and foe alike (this is true of official circles in
England too – but it was always truer of establishment opinion in England so far
as officials were concerned than even in America – with the sole exception of the
State Department and the Foreign Office, which were always at one on this issue).
Nor is the idea of sending Harold Wilson to the United States to collect money for
the Technionfn113 a very marvellous one, it seems to me – although rich American
Jews are as naive as rich British Jews, and the savour of even an ex-Prime-
Minister with Wilson’s particular characteristics may give them naive pleasure
and a false sense of important allies in important places.
To go back to Washington: when I was there Henry Kissinger said more or less
what you said to me – that partition was the only sensible and practicable
solution. He maintained that by talking about home rule on the West Bank the
Begin government had given away all its cards, that home rule was clearly
unrealisable – and must lead to war or to an Arab state; that the frontiers of such a
state are preselected by offering the entire West Bank for home rule, and that this
leaves Israel with no diplomatic or military cards to play – which seemed to him
unaccountably stupid. ‘Unaccountably’ is the only inappropriate word, it seems to
me, but he is surely right – large concessions but not complete cession of territory
on the West Bank seems the only feasible alternative. And I have a terrible feeling
that Israel is behaving rather as the European powers did vis-à-vis German claims
in the early 1930s – what was not given to the Democrats was given to Bruning;
what was not given to Bruning was offered to Schleicher or Groener; what was
not offered to them was offered to Papen, and so to Hitler.fn114 In other words, a
somewhat precarious but not hopeless peace could have been purchased years ago
by concessions far smaller than those which now seem, even to the allies of Israel,
ridiculously small; there was a moment when enough Arabs would have accepted
them and it would have been difficult for the others to fight a war to reject them.
Still, all this is speculative and would-have-been history which E. H. Carr and
other realists reject as unworthy of serious men. How wrong, how deeply wrong,
such people are: nothing in history can be understood save in terms of possible
alternatives – it is only disbelief in the existence of alternatives, i.e. […] a rigid
determinism (I am back on my hobby-horse), that makes history so dreadfully
boring. Carr’s history of the Soviet Union,fn115 although very full of material,
carefully and excellently written, is one of the most tedious and dreary books in
existence: if ever the archives, or even a part of them, are opened, it will have to
be rewritten very radically.
Morton White, of the Princeton Institute, keeps tempting me with offers to
collaborate with him in writing a piece on historical method, philosophically
considered, and perhaps I shall do it. History is certainly much too important to be
left to historians – with certain exceptions. […]
With much love,
Yours ever,

12 April 1979
Headington House

Dear Aberbach,
[…] You ask me about Nietzsche. Remember that the blond beastfn117 is made to
serve, if not nationalist, at least racist purposes; that the contempt for Christianity
and liberalism is quite enough to go on with for a Fascist regime – the ideas of
Nietzsche, in a vulgarised form, were widespread among people who never read
a line of him, as the ideas of Marx and Freud are today. He certainly had an
influence on Italian Fascism, and on German militarism and imperialism. You are
right that he deprecated German nationalism and praised the Jews – at least in
contrast with the despised Christians. You must remember, however, that his
sisterfn118 was married to a ferocious nationalist who became a Nazi – Försterfn119
– and was a violent nationalist and anti-Semite herself: and she forged a certain
number of his writings, which later editors have had to cope with […]. Nietzsche
was not a nationalist, but he added – or rather, the vulgarisation of his ideas added
– the notions of self-assertive elitism, craving for violence, and contempt for
liberalism, internationalism, pacifism etc., which in the end produced the critical
mass which issued into Fascism of the pagan variety, i.e. Italian and German, with
imitations in south and north-eastern Europe, as opposed to the Iberian peninsula,
where it was intimately linked with the Church. […]
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin
12 May 1979
Headington House

Dearest Noel,
Your letter arrived half an hour ago, and I wish to answer it immediately,
without reflection, and record my deep gratitude to you for responding as you have
to my genuine cri de coeur […].
Now, about the facts themselves. In spite of All Souls, New York, Jerusalem,
the British Academy, I am not a public figure in the sense in which, let us say, A.
J. P. Taylor, or Graham Greene,fn120 or Arthur Schlesinger, or Arnold Toynbee,fn121
or Kenneth Clark are. Truly, I am not; and because I am not, I was terribly hesitant
about accepting either a knighthood or the OM, because I thought it would give
undue prominence to basically unpublic activities and a life which, so far as I
could make it so without betraying loyalties or convictions, was purely marginal
to the central issues and activities of any region of national life (let alone the
central current). […] you will not persuade me that I am a natural object of public
interest – I need to be built up by artificial means, by masters of the media, in
order even to seem to be so. I wish I were like Moore,fn122 but I admit I am not,
philosophical genius apart; neither am I like C. S. Lewisfn123 or Leavis or even
awful Lord Snow (whose public praise naturally embarrasses me); or a man who
stands for certain views, a kind of ideologue, identified with a movement, like
Laskifn124 or Tawneyfn125 or Cole,fn126 or even Oakeshott – more like Butterfieldfn127
(at most), not quite as bad as what Crossman and a good many others thought and
think me to be – a well-disposed, amiable rattle. Do not, I beg you, think this is
simply an attempt, stimulated by some kind of genuinely felt false modesty (if you
see what I mean), to opt out of an exposed position in which I am liable to receive
both kicks and ha’pence. […]
Yours ever, with much love […].
28 May 1979
Headington House

Dear Arthur,
[…] We came back from Jerusalem a short while ago, where I was more or less
forced to undergo a TV interview, and the prime minister of that country,fn128 on the
next day, informed me that he had watched this interview and that the announcer
had said about me that I was well known to be opposed to the Herutfn129 party, and
in particular to himself, although I would not say so in public. ‘I was rather
intrigued by that,’ he said: ‘Professor Berlin, what have you against me?’
Disarming but embarrassing. I failed to satisfy him. He is a very unattractive and
politically deplorable man, and I hate all terrorists anyway (I would not rule out
the justifiability of terrorism in some situations). But, despite your beliefs to the
contrary, I am bound to say that it is not a hotbed of nationalism – far from it – and
is both liberal and democratic beyond most countries in the world, if by ‘liberal’
is meant total freedom of expression. Arabs can say terrible things about Jews, the
poor can be openly rude to the rich, without being made to suffer for it by any
overt public action; and rights are protected, though there is some inequality of
status as between Arabs and Jews, due to gnawing doubts about survival, either
nationally or individually, on the part of the Jews; by ‘democratic’ all I think that I
mean is that the government, or those in power, have systematically to curry
favour with the citizens for fear of being thrown out. I know of no other effective
definition of democracy – neither majority rule nor equality of rights nor
representative government, etc., etc. But lest this degenerate into a piece of Zionist
propaganda abhorred by Izzy Stone, I shall come to a rapid end. Do let us discuss
this in the summer when we meet. […]

A Festschrift to mark IB’s seventieth birthday was presented to him at a lunch in Wolfson on 2 June 1979. Pat
Utechin’s copy of the menu is shown here. ‘Septuagesimo [sic] anno [expleto]’ (‘Now that seventy years have
passed’) is an allusion to Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo anno.
The menu is signed by the contributors who attended, and by other guests, here identified in parentheses:
Robert Wokler, Charles Taylor, Robin Milner-Gulland, Pat Utechin, Bernard Williams, HH, Jerry [G. A.]
Cohen, Larry Siedentop, Samuel Guttenplan (373/4), Cecilia Dick (Domestic Bursar, Wolfson), Hugo Brunner
(228/2), Adrian Bullock (Production Manager, General Division, OUP), Aline Berlin, IB, Herbert Hart, Stuart
Hampshire, Michael Brock (Warden, Nuffield; formerly Vice President and Bursar, Wolfson), George
Richardson (Secretary to the Delegates and Chief Executive, OUP), Richard Wollheim, Kate Ryan (on a
maternity break between publishing jobs; wife of Alan Ryan), Alan Ryan, Patrick Gardiner.

7 June 1979: publication of IB’s Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, edited by HH,
with an introduction by Roger Hausheer.

19 June 1979
Headington House

Dear Quentin (if I may: I really cannot do anything else after your review of vol. 3
of my posthumous works),fn130
[…] All that you say seems to me entirely true – particularly my irresistible
attraction to those moments in the history of ideas when some effective deviation,
or better still overturn, occurs, some radical turning point after which nothing is
ever quite the same. I think this happened after Aristotle, with the Stoics and
Epicureans;fn131 it happened when the Jews and Greeks collided; then
Machiavelli,fn132 then the German historicists and Romantics,fn133 but then, despite
Marx and Freud, never again to the same degree. I am prone to exaggeration and
this may be going too far: but it is the isolated original swimmers against the
stream, even those who stand stock still and do not let the stream carry them away
– the exceptions, not the upholders and disciples of a continuous tradition – the
swerve, not a regular curve, almost plottable, a species of historical analytic
geometry, moving inexorably in some direction or other. I suspect that all this is
ultimately temperamental, that Fichtefn134 was right – that as a man’s temperament,
so his philosophy. This has no bearing on the validity of doctrines, but a strong
one on why some people think the thoughts they do. At any rate, you have
penetrated my not very effective disguises, as also has Kołakowski in the
Guardian:fn135 it is a source of genuine pride to me, and, of course, gratitude too,
that you should have written as you have. […]
Yours very sincerely,

16 July 1979
Headington House

Dearest Rowland,
[…] I have just been rung up by a man and asked to write personal letters to the
Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary – or at least to sign a letter with five or
six other signatories – demanding that we receive 15,000 Vietnamese refugees in
England.fn136 Of course we must be as generous as we can to these unfortunate
people: the British record with regard to refugees in the 1930s is quite decent –
that is, the Home Office behaved quite well and the Foreign Office abominably.
But if I know anything about governments, particularly Conservative governments,
the idea that Lord Carringtonfn137 or Mr William Whitelawfn138 will be stirred by a
letter written by six worthy and well-meaning persons saying that we ought to be
kind to the Vietnamese has little sense of reality. So I encouraged the man to
produce a letter for a newspaper, which I was prepared to sign, not this kind of
useless private pressure.
There is a great deal of selective indignation going on: those who were against
the Vietnam War are not particularly stirred about the Vietnamese refugees, and
prefer not to think about Cambodia at all;fn139 those who were for it are not
particularly stirred about Chilean or Argentinian victims.fn140 The Persian situation
draws reactions from everyone: the right don’t like the defeat of the Shah and the
discomfiture of the West, but approve Khomeini’sfn141 anti-Communism – the left is
totally silent. I wish I were a Catholic or a Communist with a moral and political
director who would tell me exactly what to think. As it is, I am, as I have always
been, an understander of too many sides in too many cases, and therefore quite
useless. […]
Yours ever,

19 July 1979
Headington House

Dear Irving,
[…] The Harvard ceremony was extraordinary.fn143 I was genuinely flattered by
being offered this degree, for I have warm feelings towards Harvard, which so far
as I am concerned has always been very kind to me, as you know – but the whole
spectacle! The passing of the generations, the class of 1904, the oldest living
Harvard man, the bath-chairs, the shepherds who were appointed to guide the
honorand sheep – in my case, John Clivefn144 in the morning, which was all right
since he is an old friend and I am attached to him; in the afternoon, John
Updike,fn145 who had written a particularly hostile review of my book on Vico and
Herder in the New Yorker;fn146 neither he nor I alluded to this in any fashion, though
I did mention Vico once or twice in an absent sort of way, just to see if there was
the faintest reaction; there was; but I affected not to see that. Do you read his
novels? I read one, I cannot remember its name, but it seemed to me mainly
pornographic, although skilfully written: he is obviously pleased with himself; he
spent a year in Oxford at the Ruskin School, talked wistfully about that, was
perfectly friendly, and so, in a slightly insincere way, was I.
However, there were embarrassments: at the dinner on the night before, some
cad had revealed the fact that it was in fact my birthday (6 June), so the President
felt obliged to announce this to the assembled company, a cake was produced, at
very short notice evidently, with three little candles – I suppose this was felt to be
better than two, and two better than one – which I duly blew out, and a short
speech of welcome was made. Obviously I was expected to answer in some witty,
irresistible fashion, but I did not. I simply could not do it. One thing is that I am
incapable of spontaneous reactions in public, though I have a lot of pensées
d’escalierfn147 afterwards and feel shame at having cut a bruta figura;fn148 so all I
did was to bow and say ‘Thank you’ under my breath. Some sensitive persons
applauded, in approval of no speech, others looked slightly cross. I should have
felt even more embarrassed had the German Chancellorfn149 been present, but
fortunately he did not arrive until the next day.
Then, at dinner with the Mason Hammonds,fn150 where we stayed, John Clive
read a comical poem in my honour, which was very prettily and ingeniously
composed, and again, I lowered my head and muttered that I was very grateful. I
did not leap to my feet and say ‘Unused as I am to public speaking, I cannot let this
occasion pass without …’. I did not do too well – however, I do not suppose
anyone will remember this too strongly against me.
I am a natural recipient of hon. degrees because I am harmless and, when two
much more controversial figures are suggested to those who take an interest in
such things, the two parties clash over the rival merits of incompatible candidates,
and I am chosen as a compromise solution. I have a feeling that I owe my entire
career to this kind of thing; I do not complain; to be overestimated is not the most
painful of states; I am about to be given an hon. degree at Sussex University,
where a riot by the undergraduates is expected, not so much against me personally
as against the University and reactionaries in general, with whom I am identified.
Still, I am seventy, as you know – it is not my world, I say to myself, I cannot cope
with it, let the young (men of sixty) deal with it as best they can. […]

19 September 1979 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Professor Fisch,

[…] Let me answer your enquiry: the inaccurate account of my conversation
with Shefferfn152 was in Sir Alfred Ayer’s autobiography,fn153 now, I think, in
paperback, in which he says that my chief reason for abandoning philosophy for
the history of ideas and the like was Sheffer’s insistence that one needed
mathematical logic to do philosophy nowadays, and that I was not prepared to
embark on that course. In fact, of course, Sheffer believed in something directly
opposite. He was a logician of very great talent himself and he thought that the
relation of logic to philosophy was somewhat marginal. He hated logical
positivism passionately; he said that if he had known what Carnapfn154 and ‘his
miserable crew’ were going to convert philosophy into, he would rather not have
written himself, for he regarded himself as partially responsible for this
development. His attitude to Russell, by the time I met him, was ambivalent: he
admired his genius and of course was a disciple as a logician. His main burden
was that whereas in logic and psychology progress was possible, as it was in the
natural sciences, so that what was superseded became obsolete, this was not the
case in epistemology, ethics and general philosophy: ‘How can you speak of a
scholar in ethics? A man learned in the theory of knowledge?’ He thought it was a
marvellous subject in itself, ruined by positivists, but no more capable of progress
than, say, criticism or the arts. […]
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]

21 September 1979 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Professor Childers,

[…] I do indeed, as my secretary told you, contemplate writing something about
my meetings with Russian writers in the autumn of 1945fn156 – the most interesting
by far were, of course, Pasternak and Akhmatova. Whether what I say about them
will prove of any interest, now that so much has been written about both, is
another matter, but I do intend to record something, even though my memory about
events of more than thirty years ago is apt to be both inaccurate and selective. I
kept no notes at the time and have only kept my memory fresh by talking about it to
friends from time to time. This is no doubt what storytellers in primitive societies
tend to do – it does not, I am afraid, do anything to guarantee accuracy or truth.
Now, as to your specific enquiries. You are perfectly right that the Poem
without a Hero does carry references to my visit; and so do other poems by
Akhmatova, in particular Cinque (I have a volume of her poems inscribed by her
with the first poem of Cinque),fn157 and a good deal in Shipovnik, Polnochnye
stikhi and elsewhere. All this was confirmed to me by Amanda Haight, who, as
you know, was close to Akhmatova in her last years. […] I do not propose in my
memoir to speculate on the subject of why it is that I am indeed ‘the guest from the
future’, nor why my visit brought her ‘doom’fn158 – I expect that my visit, the first
by any foreigner since 1917, did complicate her position somewhat, and although I
am assured by various Soviet scholars that Zhdanovfn159 would have condemned
her in any case, she herself was convinced that Stalin himself was personally
furious about the fact that she allowed me to call on her – I was an official of the
British Embassy and therefore necessarily a spy. She confirmed this to me when
she received her honorary degree in Oxford. She solemnly and repeatedly told me
that she and I began the cold war and wrought fateful changes in the fate of the
world – I think she really believed this in some sense. I do not know if you have
read the touching and fascinating memoir of her by Lydia Chukovskaya – she there
speaks of the fact that once an idea implanted itself in AA’s mind she drew
rigorously logical consequences from it and believed them all and was
I shall, of course, be glad to send you my memoir once it is published; you may
then, of course, use it as you please, but I would beg you to wait until you receive
it. On the other hand, I must explain that I do not intend to interpret Akhmatova’s
characteristically self-revealing poems so far as they have any relationship to
myself; this could only be speculative, as well as an unheard-of vulgarity and
unbearable exploitation of what was purely personal in my brief meetings with
her, and must remain so. I propose in my memoir to confine myself to our
conversations about literature and literary personalities appropriate for public
discussion. I am sure you will understand and appreciate my reluctance to go
further. There was nothing secret or mysterious about our meetings; she was a
great poet and I was her respectful visitor; nevertheless, to speculate about mood
and feeling is something that I cannot and will not bring myself to do, now or ever.
I have answered in that sense to the many enquiries which, as you rightly suppose,
have been addressed to me.
I ought to add that although I am the person to whom the third dedicationfn160
was made – and this is widely known both in the West and in the Soviet Union –
this cannot be stated or even hinted at in any Soviet publication. Zhirmunskyfn161
felt very embarrassed by this. I told him that I understood perfectly and that he did
not need to offer the apologies that he did. Nevertheless, he continued to say how
unfortunate this was, and begged me not to think ill of him for succumbing to
authority. He was an exceptionally brave, honest and altogether decent man, and
behaved exceptionally well to Akhmatova herself when she was in disgrace. I
assured him of my full understanding of his problem, but he remained
inconsolable. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
27 September 1979
Headington House

Dear Claudio,
Thank you ever so much for your heart-warming letter of 15 September, and in
particular for the Clare Market Review.fn162 I understand very well the impression
that my unfortunate lecture – unfortunate because I read one line out of every four,
as I told you, and got confused and muddled in the course of reading it – must have
made on the enthusiastic lumièresfn163 in the then still dominant LSE tradition (for
all that Laski had been replaced by Oakeshott, who introduced me with such
ironical disparagementfn164 – even though he treats me with positive affection now,
particularly when in his cups, we are not, and never can be, friends, or even
opponents bound by a mutual feeling of respect). I expect all this is personal in the
end, and feel humiliated by this thought. Blatant amour propre in this respect is
something I would rather be without.
And here are Michael Foot on one hand and Lord Lambtonfn165 on the other –
both equidistant from me politically, neither the objects of my admiration or
regard (yet I have never met either) until this moment. But now that they have both
written exceedingly friendly notices of the book I sent you …fn166 Why should a
little, or even much, undeserved praise go such a long way with me? Is it so with
you? I admire Dr Leavis, on whom flattery had no effect whatever – if anything, it
was counterproductive: George Steiner once wrote an admiring article about him
in Encounter,fn167 which increased Leavis’s already violent hostility to him and
his writings. I do not wish to go so far. But I wish I had a little of that particular
kind of Stoic ataraxiafn168 – imperviousness to praise or blame. Virginia Woolf
once told me that she never read reviews of her books; I wondered whether she
really could be so strong and independent and contemptuous; her diaries reveal
she read them all and suffered agonies from the unfriendly ones;fn169 I feel
comforted – nothing is more comforting than the weaknesses of persons obviously
superior to oneself in almost every other way, do you not find? […]
20 October 1979
Headington House

Dear Noel,
I am consumed with guilt at not having replied to your marvellous (and I mean
that) letter about Belinsky and Leavis.fn170 Of course you are right. Belinsky, for all
his occasional fanaticism and wrong-headedness, was infinitely responsive to
human relationships – sometimes too much so. His letters, never translated, are the
most moving records of an agonised and warm-hearted human being, to whom his
relations with his friends meant almost everything, whose views on literature and
morality and politics are always sympathetic (at least to me, and I am sure to you)
even when perverse; there is never the hectoring, bullying tone of the infallible
Savonarola,fn171 dispensing praise and blame as an instrument of divine justice,
inflexible, implacable. Leavis could not have been adored by Turgenev (whom he
thought little of – on the only occasion when I met him he said as much), or
Herzen, who would have looked on him as an inquisitor and an enemy of all that
he himself believed in – the variety of life and character and the play of the
imagination wherever it chose to dart, a source of exhilarating vitality and not of a
faith from which any deviation was frivolity or sin. In short, you are right. My
only defence is an addictionfn172 to what in the end is a moral approach, in
Belinsky’s case held in check by an astonishing literary sensibility not often to be
observed in Western criticism – but you are right about the crude exaggerations
practised by poor old Leavis.
Suddenly one afternoon I was rung up by a lady who said that she was Greek,
and a great-granddaughterfn173 of Belinsky, and could I meet her? I felt excited, and
asked her to lunch in an Oxford restaurant. There appeared before me an exquisite
Athenian beauty, with beautiful manners like those of the kind of Greek diplomats
you would meet in fairly grand circles in Paris, absolutely charming, highly
cultivated, with a beautifully brought up daughter who offered me a bag of Greek
pistachio nuts, which I accepted. Belinsky’s wifefn174 – a dreary schoolmistress –
and her daughterfn175 went to Corfu, it seems, for a holiday, where the daughter met
a fairly grand Greek,fn176 married him, and died in Athens. The great-
granddaughter spoke not a word of Russian, and we did not have much in
common, but I was amused and pleased by the whole thing. I liked her much more
than I think Belinsky would have done.
Yours ever,
In a written Commons answer issued on 15 November, Mrs Thatcher revealed that in April 1964
Anthony Blunt, then Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, had admitted to the security authorities, in
return for immunity from prosecution, that ‘he had been recruited by and had acted as a talent-
spotter for Russian intelligence before the war, when he was a don at Cambridge, and had passed
information regularly to the Russians while he was a member of the Security Service between 1940
and 1945’.fn177 The announcement followed revelations in Andrew Boyle’sfn178 The Climate of
Treason: Five Who Spied for Russia (London, 1979), published on 6 November. It transpired that
Blunt had first come under suspicion in 1951, after enquiries into the defection to the USSR that
year of the spies Guy Burgessfn179 and Donald Maclean;fn180 Blunt had assisted in the
arrangements for their flight, and was subsequently interviewed eleven times by the authorities
without confessing. His exposure as the ‘fourth man’ in the Cambridge spy ring with Maclean,
Burgess and Philbyfn181 was front-page news in Britain on 16 November 1979; a month later IB
wrote to Arthur Schlesinger: ‘As for Blunt, it is subject no. 1 among virtually everyone you know.
So far I have attended no dinner party at which violent altercations broke out, as there is a
reasonable degree of unanimity about his conduct. I talked to Mr Boyle myself, which I now
slightly regret, as everything came out in no degree libellously, but inaccurately.’fn182

13 November 1979 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Mr Boyle,
Like the majority of your reviewers, I am reading your book, Climate of
Treason, with great interest. To my surprise, I find myself quoted in it, although I
clearly recollect that when we talked at the Athenaeum, I did so on the
understanding that you would not do this, a condition to which you agreed. But
since there is nothing to be done about that, let that be.
The main purpose of my writing – apart from congratulating you on the
deserved success of your book – is to point out certain inaccuracies, at any rate so
far as facts about myself are concerned.fn183 […]
p. 196, para. 3. You say that I ‘immediately smelled a rat’. This overestimates
my acuteness. I had no idea, of course, that Burgessfn184 had put up a scheme to
Harold Nicolson,fn185 vetted by Lord Perthfn186 etc., about enlightening the Russians
about the truth in the West. I was not told this at all – only that nobody in the
British Embassy in Moscow knew much Russian, that there was no press attaché,
that one was needed (all of which I believe was more or less false), and that I had
the required qualifications. What seemed to me odd was that there was any work
for a press attaché to do in Moscow – the idea of persuading the Soviet press to
insert items favourable to Britain seemed an impossible task, even if this had not
been the time of the Russo-German Pact.fn187 Nevertheless, Harold Nicolson and
Burgess between them said that, what with my knowledge of Russian, and the need
to know what was going on in the Soviet press, there was a job I could do; and as
nobody else offered me anything at the time, I accepted. I had not ‘offered to help
the country in any way I could’fn188 – that would have been rather self-important.
All I did was to fill in a form from the Ministry of Labour which was circulated to
practically all Oxford dons. Nothing followed, and I was indeed told by a friend
of mine, an Oxford poet called Phillips,fn189 who worked in the Ministry of
Labour, that I was unlikely to be offered a job because, as you say, I was born an
alien. I knew this to be the rule, and although I was disappointed, it is quite
incorrect to say that ‘the slight had rankled’. Rightly or wrongly, I had not felt it to
be a slight, only a piece of mechanical bureaucracy.
I am not clear whether you think that this imaginary ‘slight’ had anything to do
with my acceptance of what I took to be the post of press attaché in Moscow,
which I duly discussed with officials both in the Ministry of Information and the
Foreign Office (not, however, the Northern Department of the latter, e.g. Fitzroy
Maclean,fn190 who told me afterwards that it was he who informed Sir Stafford
Crippsfn191 and recorded his objection;fn192 but it is perfectly true that I consulted a
number of persons, including the celebrated éminence grise Lionel Curtis,fn193 my
colleague at All Souls, and only accepted after they all seemed to think that the
idea was sound).
here I am said to have gone on a VIP flight to the United States.fn194 This was not
so: Burgess and I went by Cunarder, the Antonia, about 15,000 tons, which
narrowly missed being hit by a torpedo a day or two out of Liverpool. We went
not ‘before the end of September’, but in July, from Liverpool to Quebec and on to
Montreal, New York, Washington. A few lines below this, you say that ‘an urgent
message arrived for them’, i.e. Burgess and myself. An urgent message arrived for
Burgess, recalling him, but none for me. In due course I asked that an enquiry be
addressed to the Foreign Office as to whether I was to proceed alone to Moscow.
The answer was that, as it was not intended to employ me in Moscow, I was free
to do whatever I wished. I was offered a post in Washington by Stephen Childsfn195
in his section of the embassy (he said he was short-handed and had authority to
employ additional staff). I wrote to Harold Nicolson, my would-be employer, and
said that it seemed to me best to return to Oxford, and asked his advice, which I
felt I was bound to do. He replied that if any job was offered to one in wartime
one had a duty to accept, and that I was in his opinion obliged to accept Childs’s
offer. Nevertheless, after doing the job on APfn196 of which you speak, I went
home. I felt that I had something to do in Oxford and possibly something in
Moscow, but that I was in Washington by pure chance and I did not wish to be, or
seem to be, embusqué;fn197 the last thing I wanted to do was to be a refugee from
England at that moment. This may seem copybook patriotism but it is what I felt. I
did detect a considerable anti-British bias in the AP despatches – I gather that this
led to a démarche, and the tone was improved. I returned to England in October –
I do not remember whether it was late October or not – on the same Pan Am plane
as the ambassador, Lord Lothianfn198 – via Lisbon, and after some delay there did
indeed return to Oxford.
Maclean:fn199 I can assure you that I did not know that Maclean had recluse-like
habits, nor did I consider anything he did ‘abnormal and unhealthy’.fn200 I did not
tax him on the subject. It was he who said to me that he seemed to meet nobody but
conventional and pompous officials, that he understood that I knew some New
Dealers (which was true), and could he meet some of them? Thereupon I
persuaded a friend of mine whose husband was in uniform in the Pacific (they
were both ardent New Dealers and both became exceedingly famous later – the
lady is one of the best-known public figures in the United States now) to invite
Maclean to dinner.fn201 All the other guests were her friends and I had never met
them before.
here The evening was indeed a disaster. Some remark of mine about Mrs
Longworth did indeed set Maclean off. He said that persons who called
themselves liberal had no business knowing reactionaries of her type; he could not
understand how I could even be tempted to do so. All life was a battle and one
should know which side one was on and stay faithful to it. One must be clear
which side of the barricades one was on: relations with the enemy were not
permissible – at this point he became exceedingly abusive. I replied that the
civilisation we were fighting for – civilisation, as well as our lives – entailed the
freedom to know anyone one pleased, just because one liked them, although in a
crisis – war or revolution – one might have to shoot them; but that I did not accept
the proposition that life was perpetual war between two sides (whatever they
might be). Perhaps I should have realised from Maclean’s speech that he was
some sort of political extremist, e.g. a Communist or very left-wing socialist, or
something of that kind; but the thought never entered my head. Indeed, I never
knew that Burgess was a Communist either. Such imperceptiveness is rare, and as
I said above, I think you have overestimated my sagacity.
The rest of the company thereupon joined in the debate, and took Maclean’s
side and attacked me passionately and unanimously. At this point an element of
farce enters your account. You say that Maclean reached down and grabbed me by
the lapels of my jacket (as he was towering over me). This did not occur, still less
the interposition of Douglas Fairbanks, Jrfn202 – he was not present, nor was there
the remotest likelihood of his being there: I have no idea what he was doing, but
he was known neither to my hostess nor myself nor anyone present, so far as I
know, and could not, I suspect, be described either as a New Dealer or an anti-
New-Dealer. What I think I said to you was that, as the company attacked me, I felt
like Douglas Fairbanks (Sr),fn203 standing on a table in one of the old films,
fending off a dozen assailants – but, unlike Douglas Fairbanks, receiving many
painful wounds.fn204 I think it must have been Douglas Fairbanks’s name in your
notes in this context that led you to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, whose appearance in
the story seems, on the face of it, pure fantasy.
I did indeed receive a letter of apology, but Maclean did not call upon me; nor
did he say (enigmatically or otherwise) ‘Why don’t you join us?’fn205 What he did
do was to invite me to lunch at his house (in order to make up); I there met his
wifefn206 and one or two of her sisters. The conversation at first was quite
amicable, but somehow the name of the Vice President of the United States, Henry
Wallace,fn207 was mentioned, and I expressed the opinion that he had a screw loose
somewhere. Whereupon, after the ladies had left the room, Maclean did indeed
have another tantrum, and said that Wallace was a splendid man, much admired by
his wife and her family, and that I was very wrong to say such things about him,
and should not do so again. After that, our relationship came, as you rightly say, to
an end. I never, so far as I remember, spoke to him again and he did not conceal
his dislike of me.
This is all, but as I am sure that you are concerned with total accuracy I feel that
you will not mind my pointing out these inaccuracies. I shall now return to reading
your fascinating book.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin


23 November 1979
Headington House

Dear Shiela,
[…] I did not stay with Goronwyfn209 for long – his appearance is so terribly
changed that it was all I could do not to give any sign of my shock. Mel Laskyfn210
was announced as waiting to see him, and this rather curtailed my visit. Goronwy
was perfectly clear-headed – we talked about Machiavelli, he spoke touchingly
about the volume of my essays which he had reviewed so generously in
Encounter,fn211 and we only touched very lightly on the Bluntfn212 affair. But he
said that he had lived under a cloud for many years – I took this to refer to the
friction with his friends over those articles.fn213 I do not know what other cloud
there might have been; anyway, I did not ask. I was terribly upset by the visit and
am so still. He said that he would not see me again, but I promised to go and see
him next week and shall fulfil that promise – but whether he will be alive by then
it is impossible to say. I warned Lasky not to give any sign of shock when he went
in to see him after me. […]
As for a letter about Goronwy as I remember him, I am quite incapable of that;
nor do I remember warning you, however sagely, about him: did I really do that?
How awful and priggish, however right I may have been. I have changed.
Yours ever, ‹with much love›
10 December 1979 [carbon]
[Headington House]

[Dear Prime Minister,]

May I begin by expressing my deep gratitude for the great honour, certainly
more than my due, for which you most generously wish to put forward my name.
However, I look upon a life peerage as conferring not only a title and certain
privileges but also certain responsibilities which I do not feel capable of
Consequently I hope you will forgive me if I decline this dignity. I should like
to say once again that I am deeply conscious of how signal an honour it is for
which you wish to recommend me – an act of singular kindness which I shall
remember so long as I live.
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]
Sir Isaiah Berlin

13 December 1979 [manuscript]
All Souls

Dear Daniel,
Your father’s death is a deep grief to me. I was told that he was to be moved to
a nursing home not far from Oxford on Friday: & so I arranged to see him today:
& this morning someone from Encounter telephoned to say it was no good. Of
course you must have gone over many times in your mind about how it would be –
you knew as I did that he could not live long – but no matter what one imagines
one’s state of mind would be, when it happens it is always much worse: and
nothing is ever the same; & the thought that I would never see him again – he told
me so when I went to see him ten or so days ago – is one I cannot get used to at
I first got to know him when we were both undergraduates – in 1931 I think – &
we became great friends: […] & remained so through thick & thin – the thick used
to occur now & then – things always looked brighter, gayer, more delightful when
he was there: I loved his company more than anyone’s in the thirties – and the
forties & fifties – & really all the time, even when differences divided us, as
happened in the mid-fifties – & when I saw him again, ten years or so ago, all the
old feeling returned & his marvellously life enhancing exhilarating qualities, his
imagination, his affectionateness, his warmth & vitality & bright qualities made up
for everything. I knew that he was going through a difficult time after your mother
was no more: & I used to have lunch with him, & see him in Oxford, & it was
always a source of unique delight to me; nobody ever made things sparkle more in
my existence: his voice, his laugh, haunt me now: I ought to have taken more
trouble: seen him oftener: he was a genuine lifelong friend; & he thought so too: I
must not go on […]. I am terribly distressed: I hope something worthy of him is
done or written: I shall do my best to come to the funeral – or if there is a
memorial service – I am quite incapable of saying or writing anything: too much
painful feeling.
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin

5 February 1980

Dear Brian,
[…] Afghanistan is all the news here, as you may imagine. George Kennan has
written an article for the New York Timesfn216 in which he thinks all this is
bellicose hysteria induced by the American government; that, though no doubt the
Russians are wicked to have attacked Afghanistan, and have done it very
‘clumsily’, yet Afghanistan is after all their neighbour, it has a very unstable
political regime, they have been involved in its affairs for many years, why should
America with its feeble resources wave the big stick? Indeed, what he says in the
one remark worth quoting in the entire article is that it is unwise to wave a very
small stick and to thunder all over the place. He goes on to say that it is very
unwise to rely on the Middle East for oil and one must simply do without it. I
assume he means that everybody should go on bicycles, which he genuinely
believes in, even though it entails unemployment of forty or fifty million. No doubt
a thunderous answer by Professor Richard Pipes will follow. […]
So long.
Yours ever,
13 March 1980
Headington House

Dear Claudio,
[…] I have now religiously been ‘through’ The Ring two and a half times and it
has still not ‘taken’ as it should have. I remember that Bernard Berensonfn217 once
told me that he was converted to Catholicism in the 1890s ‘but it did not take’ – I
feel the same. I am only too willing to be carried away by a Dionysiac frenzy and
become a slave of the monstrous Wagner for a time and experience that spiritual
and evidently almost physical transformation which the disciples claim to have
attained. It is no go: I remain obstinately unaffected. I realise, of course, that I am
listening to and seeing works of genius, I follow the leitmotifs, I think the
orchestral sounds magnificent, I wait to be swept off my feet – and remain stone
sober. How often must I try? Or is it a hopeless business? What can it be that is so
wrong with me?
Yours ever,
Anthony Blunt’s exposure as a spy in November 1979 led to the annulment of his knighthood, and
placed in doubt his fellowship of the British Academy. Early in 1980 the Academy’s governing
council voted narrowly for his expulsion, and a motion was put to the annual general meeting on 3
July, when the fellows voted against expulsion; a compromise resolution put forward by Lionel
Robbins,fn218 which IB had drafted (and favoured), stating that the Academy deplored Blunt’s
conduct but wished to take no further action, was not considered. IB lamented this, because in the
weeks that followed a caucus grew within the Academy calling for Blunt’s resignation, prompting
A. J. P. Taylor to resign his own fellowship in protest at what he described as a witch-hunt. Blunt
was not indifferent to the travails of the Academy, and after an exchange with Kenneth Dover, he
resigned on 17 August, bringing the affair to an end. By then IB was in Italy, ‘far – mercifully far –
from all those anti-Blunt campaigns’.fn219

14 March 1980
Headington House

Dear Bernard,
[…] The Blunt situation grinds on: you have presumably by now received his
reply (predictable, I should have thought), that he does not wish to appear before
Council and explain his conduct to them. So Council has to meet again and decide
whether to ‘proceed’. The machinery having once started, I daresay it cannot by
now be stopped. Richard,fn220 in my view, has not done the cause much good by
(apparently, according to Eric Hobsbawm) writing to the President in strong
terms, threatening to resign etc.fn221 The reaction is that council must not act under
threats – as you may imagine, this is precisely how Kenneth Dover would react.
Hobsbawm himself says that he wrote a more judicious letter, and received a
judicious answer. Dover is fundamentally in favour of deprivation, but supposes
that the fellowship will probably vote against this course. I wonder. It now looks
as if, whichever way the thing goes, there will be some effusion of blood, and I
cannot help feeling that this could have been avoided. I found to my surprise that
two heads of Cambridge Colleges (Lord Dacre,fn222 if I can call him such, and
Robin Matthews), while expressing themselves as against expulsion, do not
propose to attend because of a general feeling of awkwardness about it all. Eric
Hobsbawm wishes me to make a powerful speech, but I cannot do this for I do not
base my opinion (which is the same as yours) on any general principle about
which I can speak with clear passion, as required on such occasions – it just is a
question of where one draws the line, which can be asserted but not deduced from
statable general truths.
Now to more delightful matters: the opera on 3 April is OK – it is indeed the
Box and therefore DJ (alas).fn223 Aline says we ought to rebel and appear in
slacks, but I lack an adequate degree of courage. I might have done it in Lord
Drogheda’s day as a kind of belated act of public-school revolt (not very
characteristic of me, but more so, I say proudly, than you might suppose), but I do
not wish to irritate Clausfn224 or John Tooleyfn225 – very undespotic figures. […]

31 March 1980
Headington House

Dear Bertell,
[…] Your image of me as a violently provocative generator of socialists by
stimulating sharp reactions to my (I suspect you think over-vehemently stated)
views fascinates me. I see myself as the mildest, most uncertain, tentative,
undogmatic, excessively self-critical thinker (the late Crossman once said to me
with a sneer, ‘What are you? You call yourself a thinker, I suppose?’), a cause –
too often, perhaps – of scepticism in others, but not a rouser of passionate
opposition save among fanatical Catholics and Marxists not pervious to the
slightest criticism or disagreement. Still, it may be that Karl Marx believed
himself to be an amiable, gentle soul who never spoke much but was a marvellous
listener. All the same, everything you have ever said to me and about me has
warmed, and still warms, the cockles of my heart. I enjoyed your last visit more
than I can say, and long for another.

8 April 1980
Headington House
Dear Iosif (if you continue to call me Sir Isaiah, I shall fall into a state of
wounded melancholy – you can spell it in the Russian or the English manner, but if
you use my title I shall be forced to resort to mnogouvazhaemyfn228 and that kind of
[…] Have you read Chukovskaya’s huge book of entretiensfn229 with AA? Only
the beginning appeared in Russian, and the rest for some reason in French (Albin
Michel). I am reading it now – it is, of course, absorbing to me, but I see that
‘objectively’ it is rather flat. The devotion, indeed, love, for Pasternak combined
with stern judgements on him, the nightmare in which all the dramatis personae
live and speak, Lydia’s torments about whether or not she should have spoken out
at a meeting of the Writers’ Union which condemned Pasternak,fn230 which she
thinks might have killed her father, the hostile gossip about Ivinskaya,fn231 the
lifting of the entire level whenever AA herself speaks, the calm and tragic dignity
of everything directly connected with her, the abominations which she is forced to
face, the courage and decency of the small group of friends who alone make her
existence tolerable, the daily expectations of persecution, violence, death, and the
unyielding creative activity – the unbelievable resources, the adamantine morality
on which this is based – how can anyone in the West, the ordinary reader of Bob’s
paperfn232 or my collected volume of obituariesfn233 (which is what it will in effect
be) begin to understand this?
What can I say but thank you very, very much, and for God’s sake be careful of
your health – preserve yourself. […]

11 April 1980
Headington House

Dear Walter,
Trevor-Roper: I was asked about this everywhere, in Princeton, New York,
someone telephoned me from Canada, Aline etc.fn236 Trevor-Roper is not anti-
Semitic – at least, no more so than most persons of his education and milieu: this
still holds. There was a time, which you may recollect, when he was positively
pro-Zionist, and I dare say may be so still – save that your present government has
ensured that almost no gentile (it seems to me) anywhere, and few Jews (at least
in this country), can any longer offer unqualified support to Israel under its present
government. You do not need me to tell you this: the Israeli ambassadorfn237 – a
perfectly nice man, as you know – addressed a mixed Jewish/gentile group in
Cambridge recently, and four or five of the Zionists present walked out during his
words about the settlements: not a very good thing.
But back to Trevor-Roper. He sees himself, I think, as a kind of Gibbonfn238 or
Voltaire,fn239 a mocker of everything mystical, religious, irrational, emotional –
irony, reason, Whig civilisation are his ideals. I have not read Schorske’sfn240 book
yet, but I suspect that he treats Herzlfn241 as a product of the irrational and decadent
atmosphere of Vienna with which he is concerned, that the hysterical reception of
Herzl (I do not know where – perhaps Bulgaria) as a prophet and a prince is cited
– and that this was enough for Trevor-Roper, who liked to coin a phrase for its
own sake, to produce the offending sentence, just to épaterfn242 liberal idealists
and the like, and make them squirm, which he enjoys. In addition to this, there was
an incident here, which you may have heard about, when the defeat of a motion in
Congregation to give the late Bhutto (when he was prime minister) an Oxford
doctoratefn243 was attributed by his champion, Trevor-Roper, to ‘leftists and
Jews’,fn244 about which I had occasion to reproach him;fn245 and this may be an
echo of that wound to his vanity. However, I shall one of these days take it up with
him, and if anything interesting transpires shall report to you.
Yours ever,

PS I have no doubt that the average reader may well assume that Trevor-Roper is
anti-Semitic, or at least Anti-Zionist, but although I hold no particular brief for
him I do not believe that this is in fact so. […]

18 April 1980
Headington House

Dear Mr Carpenter,
[…] What I remember is this. In 1941 the then head of the British Information
Services in New York – one of whose principal tasks was to engage the
sympathies of the Americans in the British war effort – the very well-known and
eminent historian C. K. (later Sir Charles) Webster,fn247 muttered to me (and
perhaps to others, but of that I know nothing) that a bad impression might be made
on sympathetic, or potentially sympathetic, Americans by the spectacle of young
Englishmen (I ought to say Britons), not connected in any way with the war effort,
knocking about at large, embusqués,fn248 in America; and in this connection he did
indeed mention Auden, not surprisingly, since the case of Auden and Isherwood
was, I imagine, at this time being referred to in the British press.fn249 I have no
idea whether Webster took any action in this matter – certainly I know nothing
about any ‘duress’ or direct pressure applied to Auden. When I saw him in New
York in 1941 he said nothing to me about it. It may all have been confined to
Webster’s private grumbles on the subject.
It is also true that Mrs Francis Biddlefn250 herself (as you know, a well-known
poet) did say to me, when I met her in Washington towards the end of 1941, that
the deaths of gifted poets in the First World War, particularly English ones, was a
melancholy story and ought not to be allowed to happen again, and that she hoped
that Auden would be saved from such a fate. Again, she said nothing about doing
something in this connection. It is possible that, since she was the wife of the
Attorney General of the United States, her influence may have had something to do
with the speeding up of his American naturalisation (I have no idea when this was
accomplished). On this rather flimsy information, it is possible to erect any
hypothesis about steps being taken to ‘rescue’ Auden from impending
conscription. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
18 April 1980
Headington House

Dear Dick,
Thank you ever so much for Struve, vol. 2.fn251 I still feel deep pride in the
original dedication and have no doubt whatever that this is a major contribution
not only to Russian intellectual history but to the history of ideas which led to the
cataclysm of our times. Mrs Thatcher and I seem to be the only persons in the UK
to approve fully of the Olympic boycottfn252 – all the rest, if they do it at all, are à
contre-coeur.fn253 On the other hand the blockade of Iranfn254 seems to me (if it is
genuinely effective) likely to lead to the disintegration of that country, with the
Soviet Union, Pakistan and various Baluchis and Kurds snatching at this and that,
and in the end a new dictatorship, possibly from Moscow. I do not believe that the
obvious answer, ‘Well, what would you do in Carter’s place?’, is devastating: in
his place I should simply play for time and hope for the best – I see no other
solution that holds the least promise of safety for the hostages or the oil. And that I
suppose is what Israel ought to be doing too, though I would much, much rather
that someone else – Peres,fn255 Weizmann – did it in the place of the inflexible and
monomaniacal Begin, who is thinking of nothing but his own record and place in
history, and to hell with peace and freedom and prosperity in the short run, i.e. in
this world. […]
In the course of his visits to Princeton, IB made the acquaintance of Svetlana Allilueva (Mrs Lana
Peters),fn256 daughter of Joseph Stalin, who had defected to the US from Russia in 1967, becoming
a naturalised US citizen. IB had met her on relatively few occasions before she expressed an
interest in settling in England, where she wished her child to be educated. She had only modest
means, and few friends who could help her, and in 1982 IB made enquiries on her behalf, to see if
she could gain admission to Britain, with a view to earning a living there by writing. He was
convinced of her literary gifts, and was prepared to recommend her to the immigration authorities;
he and Aline were even willing to help with the costs of her child’s schooling. But he was also
aware that her predicament was difficult, and that she might ‘exaggerate the peace and dignity of
life in England’,fn257 as it indeed proved. When in 1983 her expectations failed to materialise, she
began to accuse IB, quite baselessly, of failing her.

25 April 1980
[Headington House]

Dear Svetlana,
[…] You are quite right about Americans and psychiatrists. In the old days it
was done by priests, but the conversation of the average American, of the kind that
you speak of and who tell you their TV-derived ideas, is so tedious that I should
not be prepared to listen to them even for $35 an hour – nor even, perhaps, for
$350, unless to keep the wolf from the door, to support my starving family. Of
course you cannot write a book ‘about America’ of the kind they expect – you
should not even think of it. If you need to increase your income there must be other
ways of doing so.
I understand perfectly that you think that England might be a more civilised
place to live in, that there is room for private life here, that everything is not open
and public, that people do not talk to strangers as they talk to intimate friends, that
they do not think that all facts are interesting and equally interesting, as they are
certainly thought to be in some circles in America; though I must own that
intellectually I have had a very good time in America myself, and find that there is
a certain spontaneity, imagination, appetite for life, a freshness of approach which
is sometimes lacking in the old country which I inhabit. Still, that only applies to
small, semi-professional circles in New York, the largely Jewish culture which
obtains there and is frowned at by ‘middle America’.
Your idea of coming to England is in principle a good one. I imagine there are
men and women of breeding and distinction with whom you could live and who
would not invade your privacy and would treat you with courtesy and tact. The
problem is, I need not tell you, how to find them. I do not really know how to set
about this, although I should like to. We live with Oxford University at one end
and a few old friends in London at the other. The unworldliness of the academic
friends is balanced by the pronounced worldliness of our London friends and
acquaintances. In neither world would such persons exist as (if I understand what
it is that you would like – and I feel sure that I do) you are thinking of. I promise
you to search for them.
I think I ought to warn you that when George Kennan came here he was bitterly
disappointed. He had some image of a civilised, wise, deeply traditional,
sensitive, reticent people who did not talk much, but when they did had something
to say, and said it with charm and depth, if not of feeling, at any rate of experience.
He imagined, I am sure, evenings at Oxford with distinguished thinkers and
visitors from London, from the great world, of great refinement and insight,
cultured, quiet and impressive. His dream was rudely shattered. He found a pretty
provincial assembly, steeped in their own local gossip, talking about nothing but
parochial issues in academic life, from which naturally he was excluded – in
which he did not wish to be included any more than you with your Merry Wives of
Princeton. His anglophile sentiments suffered a dreadful shock, and he is not
nearly so friendly to England as he expected to be. Nobody noticed his entering
and leaving rooms – no visitors are lionised here, and that, so far as it goes, is
very good. But the trouble is that life is depressed: incomes have gone down,
there is much dreariness, neglect, boredom; the vieille Angleterre,fn258 the
civilised aristocrats, the marvellous novelists and poets, the urbane, cultivated
statesmen – that England, believe me, is no more. The noise, the dirt, the
obscenities in the streets are sometimes worse – because drained of life – than the
equivalent in America. Solzhenitsyn’s unfriendly reactionfn259 was due [to] a
certain perception of a lack of vitality, of letting things go down without much
struggle. All this leads to a certain degree of tolerance, but it can also be lowering
to the spirit. So I should not hurry to come to this country, whatever the
circumstances, too soon, if I were you. You should come on a visit first and you
will see for yourself. Believe me, I understand what it is that you wish to find and
what to avoid, to be free from. ‘Your’ England really is something now in the past.
There is mediocrity everywhere.
I am not aware if that for which you seek can truly be found today – not in
France, not in Italy, still less in Germany, and Scandinavia and Holland are too
stuffy and dull. Still, I shall go on looking. Let us assume that the world you are
looking for is not imaginary, not a Utopia. I do not wish to discourage you too
deeply – it may be that England in some respects, and particularly Scotland,
would suit you better than America. Everything depends on individual
relationships, on the degree of natural sympathy between individuals – no country
can guarantee that. I think your ideas are not absurd in the least, I think that
fundamentally you are probably quite right. I shall write to you again in a month or
two and tell you whether I have any concrete ideas or have been frustrated. […]
The Hurva (‘ruin’) Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem had been rebuilt
in the 1860s after lying in ruins for more than a century. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War it was
destroyed by the Arab Legion, and when the Old City came under Israeli control after the Six Day
War, plans were made to rebuild it; but a controversy arose as to whether the building should be
traditional in design – ‘where it was, as it was’ (a phrase originally used of the San Marco bell-
tower in Venice when it collapsed in 1902) – or reflect a more modern Western aesthetic. IB
appealed to his old friend Teddy Kollek,fn260 the celebrated mayor of Jerusalem, to reject Denys
Lasdun,fn261 the architect who had been favoured by Charles Clore.fn262 The synagogue was
eventually rebuilt in its original style, and officially opened in 2010.

29 April 1980
[Headington House]

Dear Teddy,
Forgive this cri de coeur, but the thought is preying on me. Whoever I have
spoken to about Lasdun as the architect of Hurva Synagogue expresses legitimate
horror. I realise that this may have been the dying wish of the late Sir Charles
Clore, but even so, it could be an aesthetic and political disaster – to restore is
one thing, to rebuild another. What would the restoration of the Hurva cost? I
should be prepared to recommend to the Rothschild Foundation that they do
something in that direction if it was to save the city from real disaster. I beg you
not to think that these are hysterical words, dictated in the middle of the night
under the influence of nightmarish broodings. The late Sir Charles was not notable
for his aesthetic tastes: the flat in the Weizmann Institute has at least ruined
nothing, but the Clore and Wolfson structures in Jerusalem do that city very little
honour, and their founders even less. A gentle, sensitive, imaginative but deeply
traditional (Lasdun says he is, but he is not) architect, especially one good at
exquisite pastiche (do not let them tell you that this is ‘dishonest’, that we must be
of our time, that architecture is a progressive art, etc.: the Italian reconstructions
on Rhodes and other ex-Italian islands are far better than the ghastly buildings by
famous architects which have destroyed Tokyo or Regent’s Street in London) –
believe me, this would be better than a second-rate brutalist. You should come to
England and look at his buildings here to satisfy yourself about the truth of what I
say. […] I kneel before you and beg for mercy for the city.

9 May 1980 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Anne,
[…] You are right in thinking that I am very reluctant to re-read my own letters,
and I would naturally prefer that others did not see them either. I have no idea
what I put in them. When I accidentally come across something that I have written
to other people I am overcome by shame and self-reproach at both the content and
the style. I have therefore never asked anyone to send back letters that they may
have received from me. After my death I do not mind what happens, but during my
lifetime I wish this cup to pass from me.
My letters to BBfn264 cannot possibly shed any light on him – his to me may
possibly do so, although I suspect not much. Still, if you want to see that, I do not
wish to withhold it from you, but I would rather look at it myself first […].
Forgive me for being so difficult, but I suffer from very mixed feelings towards
Berenson. He was, of course, a very gifted and remarkable man and a very
beguiling talker, but I never thought him either a nice man or an honourable one,
and all this was, of course, confirmed by those who investigated his relations with
dealers and patrons. As I think I told you, when I first met him – in a train – I
thought him quite awful and had no wish to see him again. When I did see him
again twenty years later, I found his company enjoyable and interesting, but I did
not like him even then, and I am put off by the thought of being connected with him
in any way. […] When Schapirofn265 wrote his famous attack on him, and I was
about to rise up to defend him, the late Ben Nicolson,fn266 who knew him very
well, assured me that at least eighty per cent of what Schapiro had said was
entirely true and that loyalty could go too far.fn267 I felt warmer towards BB then
than I do now that I have read some of his letters, some of which seem loathsome
to me. The truth was not in him, and sincerity was not one of his attributes. And –
this will shock you – I did not think Nicky Marianofn268 was very genuine or
sympathetic. Hence my general reluctance to think about that world. All this
sounds terribly priggish, and perhaps it is, but it is how I feel and cannot help
feeling. […]
You speak of BB’s ‘aesthetic view of life’. I do not believe in this much – he
loved nature and the art of the past deeply and genuinely, I think, but his view of
life was dominated by social ambition and security, and haunted by his buried
past; the aestheticism was a rationalisation, a curtain to hide the materialism and
cynicism of which he may have been ashamed but which he could not help. But
there – I only say this to you, you must never publish a word of this, and I am quite
prepared to be told that I am mistaken. […]
14 June 1980
Headington House

Dear Cousin,
Thank you ever so much for your plan for Jerusalem.fn269 Admirable as it is, it
presupposes a degree of peaceful collaboration between Jews and Arabs in
Jerusalem which at present is very far to seek: whenever Teddy Kollek ceases to
be Mayor, it will be further still. It needs the good will of King Hussein,fn270 the
Saudis etc. At least it is a far better scheme than trusteeship by the UN, which (in
its previous incarnation) worked so badly in the Saar, Danzig, Memel etc.,fn271 and
which foolish, though no doubt sincere, pro-Arabs like Lord Caradonfn272 are
pressing for. I do not doubt that, if the Israelis come out with some such proposal,
it will be fanatically turned down by any Arab who fears the fate of a traitor to his
people; nor is there the slightest hope of the present government – soon may it go –
reading a sentence of your proposal, as surely you well know; it is only the most
doveish fringe of the admirable ‘Peace Now’fn273 group that could be induced to
take it seriously. Still, it is a noble effort […].
Yours ever, ‹with much love›

20 June 1980
Headington House

Dear Dr Roth,
Thank you for sending me the discussion paper ‘The Erosion of Liberal Support
for Jewry’. It seems to me very well done. I have no doubt that, apart from the
general improvement of the position of Jews in the free world during the last
quarter of a century, the most important single factor in eroding liberal support is
the attitude which Israel appears to take towards the problem of the Palestinian
refugees – nothing did more harm than Mrs Meir’s celebrated statement that there
were no Palestinians, which even her own immediately popular image abroad did
not dispel.fn275 The Third World’s automatic support for Palestinians, with all its
shades of sincerity and insincerity, and the support for Israel by the USA, which
seem to align it (Israel) with the ‘ex-colonialists’, occasionally offset by patently
anti-Israel moves (whether political, as in the case of the UNESCO scandal,fn276 or
physical, as in the case of terrorist attacks), worked against Israel. The present
policy on the West Bank settlements has, I fear, wholly counteracted the sympathy
of liberals over the savage attacks upon it by terrorists and the swelling tide of
pro-Arab propaganda, stimulated by causes which are familiar enough. Moreover,
the ‘My country right or wrong’fn277 attitude of a great many Jewish communities,
understandable enough both in Europe and especially in America, goes directly
counter to liberal sentiment in such matters. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

25 September 1980 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Ruth,
[…] You are perfectly right, the Hurva problem is an infinite number of times
more important than the music centre, and the results liable to be genuinely tragic
(the Music Centre only mildly disastrous).fn279 But there really is no point in my
coming to look at Lasdun’s plans. Quite apart from the fact that I can never
visualise a building from elevations and explanations, however lucid, I should not
be against this or that aspect or part of the plan, but am in principle against the
whole thing – even more on political than on aesthetic grounds. Many bad
moments as there have been, this is literally the worst moment that could so far be
imagined for a dramatic piece of modernism, however modified, in the Old City.
Why should we choose this moment to reinforce – as indirectly this does – the
present government’s politically disastrous insistence on flouting what is now
literally world opinion? Nor is the idea of the expenditure of this kind of money,
wherever it comes from, likely to be well received by anyone (except fanatics) in
Israel’s present economic situation.
I realise that Teddy feels committed to Mrs Duffield,fn280 having gone so far: but
could not the whole thing be at least postponed, for whatever reason, until a more
rational government is in power, and no final decision be made? Lasdun, of
course, will be impatient, as he has the reputation of being the most intolerable
prima donna of all European architects (I do not know him personally, and base
myself on the very emphatic evidence of his clients, e.g. the Vice Chancellor of the
University of East Anglia,fn281 who, as I remember, was driven mad by him, and
the people at the National Theatre) – but the future of Jerusalem is perhaps more
As you know, my view is that the synagogue should be reconstructed in a more
or less pastiche-like manner, to fit entirely with its surroundings, and not be a
monument to modern taste. My views are affected, I must confess, by the fact that I
find no architecture more depressing than the old-fashioned avant-garde, which, as
anyone of taste will tell you, Lasdun is regarded as representing (Jacobfn282 will
confirm this). The kind of architect you need is not someone who wishes to
express his own powerful ego at all costs – even his admirers do not deny that
Lasdun does just that, and it matters less in London (where some of his ugliest
buildings are, as well as the one tolerable one) than it would in Jerusalem, for
reasons which I need not enlarge upon.
So what is the use of my coming to say: ‘For God’s sake, don’t madden the
Arabs, don’t add to the triumphs (enough have been celebrated lately) of the
worldwide anti-Zionist forces, don’t (this is almost the weakest part of my plea,
because in the end subjective) ruin Jerusalem aesthetically, don’t give a powerful
handle to every enemy of Zionism in the world. A better day may come, when
decent people will recover their love and enthusiasm for Israel – it may not be far
off. Why commit yourself to something both irreversible and, in the opinion of
every single person here whom I have spoken to, disastrous?’?
You cannot want me to come to Jerusalem to say this to Lasdun and Mrs
Duffield. I know that Nelson Glueckfn283 saved Jerusalem from Khan’sfn284
beautiful but totally unsuitable design, but I am incapable of that kind of bitter
confrontation. So I shall come in November, as planned, three days before Jacob,
and if it is a fait accompli shall beg you not to speak of it to me – I have never felt
so depressed about anything in Israel before in my life, except the results of the
last election, into the hands of whose victors this plan will surely play.fn285 Dixi et
salvavi amimam meam. Ich kann nicht anders.fn286

PS On a jollier note, thank God there is nothing by your friend in Oxford; we have
enough ugly buildings of our own and do not need him inflicted on us […].
7 October 1980 [manuscript]
Headington House

I am naturally delighted that the first volume of my hero’s memoirsfn288 should
have given Your Royal Highness real pleasure: I agree that they do tend to show
that plus ça change: the present despotism and the suffocating regime Herzen
describes did have a hideous family resemblance: the governing class has
changed, the methods have become more mechanised and the country is screwed
together in the iron grip: but otherwise … What seems to me to make Herzen so
agreeable to read is his lively, spontaneous eloquence and his acute sense of the
ridiculous; and also his personal distinction and charm as a wonderful raconteur.
The fact that the Paris Rothschildfn289 managed to extract Herzen’s property out of
the clutches of the Russian government (he seems to have done it just to show he
could) made Herzen financially independent, rare among refugees; he could, and
did, live in a Victorian gentleman’s style, & this shows in his writings: & annoyed
the grim, hardnosed Russian revolutionaries of a later generation, though they
acknowledged him as a grandfather (he hated them). I propose, if I may, to send
your Royal Highness the entire translation – four large volumes,fn290 I fear it
overlaps with the paperback, but can be dipped into – particularly the chapters on
London where he lived – with much enjoyment: the writing seems to me at once
moving and full of a kind of irresponsible gaiety (in the other & better sense of
that valuable word).
We are most grateful for the invitation to the opera: may we come to Lucia on
the 21st October? It is wonderfully good of you, Sir, to ask us. We look forward to
it immensely.
I remain Your Royal Highness’s obedient servant
Isaiah Berlin
30 October 1980: publication of IB’s Personal Impressions, edited by HH, with an introduction by
Noel Annan.

3 November 1980
Headington House

Dear Miriam,
[…] On here of yesterday’s copy of the Observer, under ‘Sayings of the Week’,
I am quoted as saying ‘A work of art is no good if it doesn’t provoke a furore.’ I
have, of course, never made this idiotic statement, which is patently absurd, and
feel deeply embarrassed to have it attributed to me, as you may well understand. I
do not know what the source of it may be,fn292 but I should be genuinely grateful if
you could ask the Editor to publish a démenti, which ought to take the form of ‘For
Isaiah Berlin, read Ken Russell’fn293 – or whoever it is. I really do feel humiliated
by this – it is one of the silliest statements I have ever seen; and yet I am sure that
lots of people who know me are capable of believing that I did in fact say it
(unfortunately, they all know that I don’t drink). So do please rescue me! The
saying by Mary Warnock,fn294 which immediately precedes my alleged epigram, is
from her review of my book in the Listener.fn295 I wonder what light this throws on
anything. ‹But it is a major (v. funny) méchancetéfn296 – like that game in which one
attributes the least characteristic statement to people. Cd the correction be printed
in next week’s Sayings of the Week, please?fn297 Oh dear! What a monstrosity!›
Much love,
5 November 1980
Headington House

Dear Kyril,
Thank you for your letter about my piece in the TLS.fn298 For once I don’t think
that we disagree. When I say ‘The revolution had stimulated great waves of
creative energy in Russia in all the arts; bold experimentalism …’ etc., and then
mention Kandinsky, Chagall, Soutine, up to Z for Zadkine,fn299 plus all those
producers, and speak of masterpieces, I did not, of course, mean that the
revolution literally generated these waves out of some kind of void. By
‘stimulated’ I meant only something like ‘excited’, or ‘created an atmosphere in
which some of these works of art were produced’. Of course I do not begin to
think that the art produced by the early revolutionary years (let alone later) was
superior to that of the early years of the century. Despite Pasternak and his
contemporaries, I would be prepared to go to the block (sorry about the dreadful
pun) for saying that the generation of Blok, Bely, Vyacheslav Ivanov,fn300 and the
generation of painters and sculptors born in the 1880s and 1890s, not to speak of
the much older Kandinsky, and for that matter the Arts Theatre – that all these
were greatly superior to anyone whose Blüthezeitfn301 occurred at any point during
the Soviet regime. Despotism is sometimes not incompatible with great art, but
this one certainly was.
What I was trying to stress, perhaps not clearly enough, was the contrast
between the undoubted excitement generated in the very early years of the
Revolution among groups of artists, writers, producers etc., and the dark night
which fell so soon and extinguished all but the bravest dissidents. Of course you
are right in saying that most of the names I cited belong to people whose talents
grew to maturity before the Revolution – the fact that the painters, e.g. Kandinsky,
Chagall, Soutine, Zadkine, Arkhipenko, Lipchitz,fn302 all left Russia before 1914
‹and some of them became what they became abroad: e.g. K. & C. & S. & L.› –
although some of them returned during the war and the Revolution – is not
important – they were products, however oppositional, of the pre-Revolutionary
culture (I know I am not allowed to say ‘the old regime’); my only point is that
some of them were genuinely excited by 1917 and the brave new technological,
art-for-the-masses world. […]
It seems to me the situation is rather similar to, say, the effect of the French
Revolution on, for example, David,fn303 who produced masterpieces before it but
was ideologically and artistically deeply affected by it (as, say, Fragonard and
Isabeyfn304 were not); or as Delacroix or Courbetfn305 reacted to 1848, even though
they were mature artists by then. They were not ‘made’ by these revolutions any
more than the relevant Russians, but they were caught up, at least for a time
(Courbet for life) by them.
Some of these writers and artists ‹& critics – Babelʹ, Tynyanov, Eikhenbaum,
A. Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Zoshchenko›,fn306 not to speak of the producers, in Russia
were certainly fresher and more alive during those few years before the guillotine
fell than were the rather tired older writers, whether they remained in Russia or
not […]. With the exception of Mandelʹshtam, Pasternak (and Akhmatova, who
remained outside all this) I have no taste for either the tired old émigrés, internal
or external, or real Soviet art and literature, Mayakovskyfn307 et al. But when
Roman Jakobson, Artur Lourié (the composer), Prokofiev, Chagall, Eisensteinfn308
talked to me about how exciting those few early years were, I was prepared to
believe it – it was all summer lightning, brief and unreal perhaps, but it
occurred.fn309 My only point in that piece was to contrast the relative freedom of
art in that brief period with the appalling aftermath, the nobility and courage of
Pasternak and Mandelʹshtam and Akhmatova and their friends – the sort of thing
Lydia Chukovsky wrote about – during those ghastly decades. They ‹Pasternak, K.
Chukovsky, Shostakovichfn310 all talked of how ‘realized’ they felt in the brief
corridor› did look with some nostalgia on 1917–22, even though Blok died of
hunger and disease then. […]
Yours ever,
8 December 1980
Headington House

Dear Morton,
Thank you for your letter of 24 November anent value judgements in history.
Are such judgements permissible? E. H. Carr, as you know, caricatures my view
by saying that in effect I advocate saying to King Johnfn311 (I think that is his
example, but I cannot remember), after describing his activities, ‘You cad!’, or to
Stalin ‘You wicked fellow!’fn312 I did not mean to say that historians are not
forbidden to moralise – they have the same rights as any other men – whether they
do it as historians or as human beings does not, as you say, matter very much. My
difficulty is with question 2: Are moral judgements indispensable components of
the historical work itself? This seems to me to be part and parcel of what you call
‘another question’ – the value judgement behind the arras.fn313 It seems to me that
the mere use of descriptive words, with no evaluative intent, itself carries
evaluations. Apart from the fact that the selection of the facts, the emphasis etc.
presuppose or embody a view as to what matters, and therefore matters to
someone – the historian himself, his party, his society, mankind at large (which
need not be made explicit, but nevertheless can be written between the lines easily
enough) – there is also the question of the words themselves. To say that Stalin or
Hitler murdered vast numbers of persons is different from saying that he killed
them, or that his policies were a cause of the rise in mortality in certain
populations, or that the average age of Jews or Volga Germans or whoever was a
good deal lower in 1938 than it had been in 1928, or 1908. The evidence on
which these statements are founded is much the same. The causal connection can
be indicated in a neutral manner, which […] would be positively misleading, or at
least indicate a Stalin-exonerating or Stalin-defending bias. No doubt there are
types of history – say, historical demography, based mainly on statistical tables, or
historical geography and the like – where the language really can be made almost
as ‘value free’ as it is in chemistry. But can ‘ordinary’ political or general, social
or even art history be written like that? Carr tries to get out of it by distinguishing
progressive from reactionary tendencies, as if this did not imply a clear,
sometimes exceedingly crude, set of values. […]
Yours ever,

31 December 1980
Headington House

Dear Dita,
[…] Your kind words about my piece on the Russian poets moved me
particularly, since you know the circumstances – who better? We know these
things both by [experience?] and heredity – knowledge by acquaintance, as
Russell pointed out, is quite different from knowledge by description, and it is that
that I was trying to convey. The behaviour of both Pasternak and Akhmatova, and
others, in the face of what they lived through, does vividly transform one’s (at any
rate my) notions about moral freedom and dignity […]. It was not the ‘massive
evil’ in Russia that was news to me; although, of course, if one sees it face to face,
as it were (knowledge by acquaintance again), it makes a difference. It was the
quality of the survivors of the pre-1914 culture under conditions of persecution
which brought out its full grandeur, not, for obvious reasons, so patent in the
émigrés. It is a platitude to say that critical situations exhibit the moral texture of
individuals. In this case, I was affected for life by seeing a combination of genius
with nobility of character and courage, virtues which do not necessarily go with
artistic gifts. These people were not only martyrs – blind fanatics, innocent
children, ordinary people with no special attributes can be that – but by luck, or
something else, we cannot tell what, they had the opportunity of rising above the
world in which they lived, and did so. The moral effect is literally indescribable.
So much for that terrible world, which I do not wish to visit again. I shall never go
to the Soviet Unionfn315 – the mere thought that talking to people may have
compromised them, even if ever so little, is too oppressive and guilt-inducing. I
shall continue to watch from outside. […]
You ask if Pasternak and Akhmatova thought that they were ‘world-historical
individuals’. Goodness knows: this is not confined to them, or to Russians. Robert
Lowellfn316 was rather like that too. I do not mean that any of them actually thought
that they were fateful figures called upon to change the course of things, though
Akhmatova did believe that she and I started the Cold War;fn317 but that they were
prone to a mythological view of life, in which everybody played certain parts, and
if one departed from one’s assigned role (as I did in Akhmatova’s great fantasy,
when I married),fn318 it caused annoyance. I do not think that the horrors of Soviet,
or even Russian, life were directly responsible for this: self-romanticisation and
self-dramatisation have probably existed at all times. Hegel certainly thought of
himself in these terms, so did M. Kojève,fn319 who wished to have an influence on
Stalin – or at least, the kind of relation which he imagined Hegel had to
Napoleon,fn320 not so much personal as two actors in the same cosmic drama. I
have a feeling that George Kennan is liable to fantasies of this kind, too – he once
told me that Gandhifn321 and he were the only men of any stature in political life
who had spiritual vision. If you come to see me in Princeton in February, I’ll tell
you what he is saying now.
Much love,
One of the nineteenth-century Russian authors IB felt most in sympathy with was Ivan Turgenev,
and he had a hand in two productions of his comedy of manners, A Month in the Country (1855),
first staged in Moscow in 1872. It was at IB’s suggestion that a ballet based on the play,
choreographed by Frederick Ashton,fn322 was set to the music of Chopin: the premiere at Covent
Garden on 12 February 1976, with music arranged by John Lanchbery,fn323 was soon established
in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Five years later IB was commissioned to translate the play for the
National Theatre: ‘There is absolutely no need for a new English translation’, he wrote to Andrzej
Walicki:fn324 ‘Mrs Garnett’sfn325 old version is perfectly good enough, both for reading and for
acting; but there is a perpetual pressure for new translations simply because they are new, and for
some reason I was tempted to do it – it was a kind of challenge. I have now finished it, and it is a
marvellous play, far better than I ever thought before.’fn326 IB’s text was the basis of the
production by Peter Gillfn327 that opened at the Olivier Theatre on 19 February 1981,fn328 and The
Times found words of praise for the script: ‘The new translation by Isaiah Berlin transmits the
elegance of the hothouse and (from hasty comparison) often finds one precise word where other
versions use an approximate two. It also underlines the larger metaphor of departure; so that with
the Governess’s closing line, “I’m going too”, a vista appears of other and larger despotisms that
are due to be abandoned.’fn329 IB was in the US with Aline on the opening night, 19 February, but
early in January he met the cast to discuss his translation and their staging.

10 January 1981 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Mr Gill,
I am so sorry to have left so precipitately, and to have talked so fast and so
much: was it the slightest use? I never got to my funeral, of course; I was an hour
late and might just as well have stayed, and was afterwards very sorry that I didn’t
– I do mismanage my life.
I don’t think I replied to that charming actress’s question about why the
Russians talked about the ends of life so much in those country houses – certainly
not adequately. What I really meant was: Why don’t they in Jane Austen’s novels,
and why do they in Turgenev? – for socially there is a certain analogy. There is no
final answer – personal and provincial class habits differ from each other in
different countries as they do, and none of the explanations given by sociologists
and psychologists ever seems really convincing. But all I could and should have
said, perhaps, is that in England or France there really is a certain continuity of
life: the way people behave, and what they think or talk about, in the nineteenth
century – even when they are self-conscious, as they are in, say, George Eliot,fn330
even in Emily Brontëfn331 – is not all that different from what similar persons might
have talked about in the eighteenth century in similar circumstances socially and
topographically. There is a line from Jane Austen to Mrs Gaskell,fn332 Mrs
Humphry Ward,fn333 Virginia Woolf; there is a line from Sterne and Lamb to
Betjeman.fn334 But in Russia – that’s what I should have said – the break from the
past, effectively imposed by Peter the Great, who forced Western culture upon
some of his subjects, was really revolutionary.fn335 Russia never quite came to
after that – they were Russians, with a set of national and family characteristics,
superimposed on which was all that German and French and even English culture.
They were at once conscious of their own backwardness, and at the same time
of the worried attitude towards them of Western Europe: the fear of the sheer brute
physical power of Russia, shown after its triumphant march across Europe to
Paris in 1815, mingled with contempt towards these uncouth barbarians, these
pathetic imitators of the West who had everything to learn. All this created self-
questioning in the intelligentsia, and a degree of self-consciousness and
uneasiness even below that, in these ‘county’ circles. Rakitinfn336 is aware of the
anomalous condition of the Russians, and their inferiority to the West: the student
Belyaev is subject to radical influences at his university, which blow in from the
West, not from any Russian roots. Belinsky is a purveyor of these, and they were
more earnestly and deeply believed in than they were in the West, and were
transformed by the passionate and religious conviction that this was where
salvation must come from – but still, not native. It is a mixture of naivety and a
thin layer of sophistication from the West, which makes all Russians (perhaps not
all, but most of the famous ones) concerned with ‘Who are we Russians, where
are we going, what is our fate, why were we created?’ The ‘top’ nations, the
French and the English, don’t ask that sort of thing; they take themselves for
granted quite complacently and justifiably (perhaps); but ‘developing’ nations,
like Africans now, are worried about what is thought of them, whether they are
doing well, whether it is all right or not all right to try and imitate more developed
nations, etc. That makes people introspective, self-critical etc., often in a very
charming, fresh way. That is the best I can do, and I am sorry not to have said that
at the time. Perhaps I couldn’t have got it all out: I should have talked too fast and
nobody would have understood a word.
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]
11 February 1981
Headington House

Dear Morton,
Let me begin by saying that we still feel awful about not coming to Princeton. If
my pulse had not played up I should have come, flu or no flu, but once that
happens I can never know when or whether it will subside, when it may start up
again or what to do about it. My cardiologist took the same line, so this relieved
me of some degree of guilt. […]
I did participate in the fellowship election at All Souls, but refrained from
making my usual vehement speech, which probably did the winning candidate – a
Miss Hurley,fn337 an American disciple of Charles Taylor, Ronnie Dworkin, the
later Wittgenstein – a good deal of good. The first woman, and I think the first
American citizen, to be elected to a proper fellowship. Some of my more
conservative colleagues could hardly speak for – not exactly indignation, but
mortification, inability to absorb into their conscious mind that such a thing had
finally happened. Something of the sort happened when we took our first and only
black manfn338 […], but this went even deeper. I literally cannot understand such
feelings, and am the only member of my age-group who has spoken and voted for
this revolutionary step. I am consequently regarded with considerable disfavour
by some very old friends, who suspect me, I think, of trying to keep in with the
young. Not that all the young were in favour – we have some splendid young
fogies. The speeches, the behaviour, the storms in this body of sixty to seventy
fellows were extraordinary, impossible to describe in neutral language. But I still
feel acute guilt about not being at Princeton, quite apart from regret and a sense of
bereftness – not to be described in neutral language either, which brings me to my
next point.
Neutral and loaded language: no, I do not believe that historians are obliged to
moralise; there is no need for them to say ‘Stalin (a scoundrel) viciously
massacred an unheard-of number of utterly innocent and honourable people to
satisfy his blood-lust’, etc. This is rather what E. H. Carr thinks I am advocating,
but that is a mere travesty. I do not mind historians moralising if they choose to – it
is their right as human beings, although they will, of course, create in the reader’s
mind some suspicion of their bias […].
My position is somewhat different: in cases of human activities, especially in
dealings of human beings among themselves, some of the central terms inevitably
used seem to me, whether one consciously intends them to do so or not, to convey
an evaluative attitude. ‘Murder’, as Russell rightly says,fn339 must now carry the
implication of culpable homicide; but so in my view do all the other terms. There
are various ways of saying that someone deprived someone else of his life, and
each of these ways seems to me to have some evaluative force. Thus, although the
descriptive element is identical in them all, ‘X murdered Y’, ‘X killed Y’, ‘X
executed Y’, ‘X inadvertently’ – a descriptive word – ‘caused Y’s demise’, ‘X
poisoned Y’, ‘X’s operation ended in Y’s death’, etc. etc. all record the same
descriptive kernel, yet each conveys a different impression of the writer’s attitude.
To say, as you suggest, ‘Stalin committed adultery’, and then add a footnote to the
effect that this is not meant as a moral judgement, will surely not make much
difference to those who think that adultery is a mortal sin; if you wish to avoid
evaluation and convey neutrality of judgement you must say something like ‘Stalin
lived in an intimate relationship with X, who had a husband’; but this, in my view,
conveys what zealots would condemn as obvious condonation on the part of the
In other words, what I am arguing is that the statement ‘I am avoiding moral
judgements’ is itself a moral judgement about the obligations of historians. And,
let us say, a Marxist or a liberal or whoever who recommends looking at the facts
in a certain fashion – say in a temperate, cool, detached manner, or alternatively
from the point of view of the class alignment in a given situation – is likely to be
charged with (and certainly perceived as) emphasising some aspects of the
situation much more than others because of presuppositions about values, e.g. the
ends of man, or correct or incorrect views of these ends. It does not seem to me to
matter much whether you encourage readers to moralise or not. As I say, I am
more interested in the force of the words themselves, and do not believe in the
possibility of complete neutrality where human relationships are concerned. A
chemist or physicist really does get neutrality, or something very, very near it; in
human affairs, the mere selection of the facts, the emphasis on this rather than that,
indicates one’s conception of what matters and what doesn’t – that is certainly
evaluation (where ‘moral’ ends and something else, ‘political’ or ‘aesthetic’,
begins is another question, not easily answered, I think). All such things imply, or
even presuppose, scales of value. […] In short, I do not believe that the effort to
avoid giving the impression of bias – if by bias is meant any evaluation at all –
can be achieved, because emphasis, the order of events, the omission of this, a
detail about that, reference to goals, motives, outlooks (in descriptions which are
more than protocol sentences)fn340 cannot but involve points of view, a sense of
values which, where they are accepted without question, are simply not noticed
until viewed from the standpoint of some other moral position.
Do you disagree with all this? When I read E. H. Carr I know perfectly well
what his values are: so I do when I read Halévyfn341 or Sam Morisonfn342 or
Namier. If I am not sympathetic to them, I notice this; otherwise I probably remain
unconscious. None of these people go about saying ‘What a splendid
achievement!’ or ‘How disgusting!’ or ‘steeped in crime’, as the well-known
neutral Machiavelli did about people he held up for admiration. […]
Love to Lucia,

27 March 1981
Headington House

Dear Nora,
[…] First of all, let me go back to the topic we talked about in Fortnum’s.fn344 Is
the Soviet Union inspired by a Marxist ideal of world Communist revolution, or
by traditional Russian imperialism plus the government’s aim of self-
perpetuation? I believe that the answer is somewhat analogous to what could have
been said about Islam during the first thousand years of its existence. On the one
hand, there is the Muslim doctrine of the need to propagate the faith, if need be by
the sword: this inspired early Muslim conquests. But once Islam was ‘contained’
by Charles Martel or by the re-conquest in Spain or, finally, at the gates of
Vienna,fn345 the vast Turkish Empire, although officially inspired by the official
ideal of the Caliphate and Islam as a fighting religion, in fact settled down to a
pattern of hostilities followed by long de facto truces. There was a curtain then,
just as effective as the iron curtain; not much truck between the two worlds. The
Turks conquered whatever they could, and held on to their conquests, until decay
set in.
So, too, the Soviet Union, except the difference is that the Turks didn’t have
ideological allies in the West. All empires bent on […] acquisition, retention and
extension must be animated by some kind of ideology which justifies their conduct
to themselves – this is true of Rome, France, Britain, everybody. So, too, the
Russians. But it does not dictate the tactics or even the strategy, the purpose of
which is the extension of power without consideration of ultimate ends, whatever
such extensions may be. Rich men seldom ask themselves what exactly the
advantages of being richer and richer may be; nor do states; though usually
ideologues try to justify it, and other ideologues criticise it.
So much for my cynicism on this subject. I think the question Pipes v.
Solzhenitsyn – imperialism v. ideology – is not a real contrast. The main thing is
to eliminate danger by defeating enemies and extending power as far as practical.
Who they are enemies to – to the ideology or to the Soviet state – is irrelevant:
enemies to the one are enemies to the other. The point is that historically it is clear
that ideological objections to power moves are rejected in the Soviet Union:
anyone who says that one should support Mao against Chiang Kai Shek,fn346 not
deal with Mussolini,fn347 and not support Hitler in 1939, not support de Gaullefn348
against the socialists in France, or Giscardfn349 against Mitterrand,fn350 etc. – for
ideological reasons, loyalty to Marxist ideals, etc. – is told he just doesn’t
understand the national needs of the Soviet Union or its ideological war against
capitalism, which are one and the same thing, whatever means are adopted, at the
cost if need be of the destruction of Communists and other allies. […]
I do not think that ‘socialism in one country’fn351 means ‘socialism in only one
country’ – the idea of encouraging Communist revolutions in other countries, or
steps towards them via nationalist anti-imperialism, was surely never abandoned,
even officially. I have a feeling that the thing to say is that the Soviet Union can be
stopped by concerted action, and without atom bombs. They were going to take
over Persia in 1945, and certainly stirred up a great Communist Tudehfn352
movement there, but were in fact stopped by Byrnesfn353 and Bevin. Cuba was,
after all, an unprovoked threat, but it was coped with; they were stopped in Egypt,
they were stopped in Korea.fn354 If foreign rule is regarded as undesirable, and rule
by Moscow particularly hideous, and if Western Europe really does not propose
to subjugate anyone – nor America after the lesson of Vietnam unless the Soviet
Union conspicuously makes trouble in Latin America (I think this, but it may be
disputed) – if this is so, the idea that force is always answered by force and that
Western strength is bound to provoke war seems to me untrue. What reason is
there for supposing that if the West were to abandon this or that weapon the
Russians would do likewise? After the Second War, the Americans in effect did
demobilise, the armament industry did run down – but the Russians showed no
sign of following suit, and the Cold War was caused (whatever the revisionists
said) by the flexing of Soviet muscles, not American. The crucial moment was
when Mrs Rooseveltfn355 and her fellow liberals, and large sections of the British
Labour Party (not just Bevin, but people like Healey, Aneurin Bevan),fn356
understood that the Soviet Union penetrates wherever defences are weak or there
is a vacuum of any kind; even Cripps came to believe this. What reason is there to
think that the Soviet Union has changed its spots just because Stalin is dead?
Stalin was notoriously cautious: his heirs, at best, plan the careful expansion of
power and deliberate debilitation of the West, rather than precipitate adventures,
which might, as in Cuba, prove counterproductive. […]
Cultural exchanges, etc. […] There are very few cases where Soviet visitors to
the West have been convinced that the West is worse than, or at least as bad as,
they supposed – they may say this to keep their party ticket, but in fact they do
learn. Conversely, there are very few cases of Western visitors [to] the Soviet
Union who think that things are nothing like as bad as they had supposed: a good
example of this is the reaction of most Western correspondents who went to the
Olympics. The Muggeridgefn357 experience is not only not unique, but there are
very few known exceptions. Nobody now comes back from the Soviet Union to
point the contrast between reasonable peace-supporting policies of the Soviet
leaders versus the sabre-rattling Western imperialists and warmongers – as they
used to come back even from Hitler’s Germany. It is a comfort that evidently one
cannot fool even all the leftists all the time. […]
Finally: the last three years of campaigning for human rights has not made [the]
USSR respect the rights of other societies, or individuals – only their power. […]
Threatening war is always stupid and dangerous; all we can be expected to do
(even if we are the most ardent socialists) is to support morally decent forms of
government wherever they are, and keep our own powder dry. With a monstrous
regime like the Soviet Union,* one can only achieve – not a modus vivendi but a
modus non vivendi, which is not at all the same thing as [a] modus moriendifn358 –
and this applies to our new Chinese friends too – however desirable it is to keep
on good terms with everybody […].
Yours ever,

‹*Radekfn359 once said to Charles Bohlen,fn360 so B told me, ‘Communism is not

like a bath: one cannot make it now colder now hotter’. Read ‘Soviet conduct’.
Our effect on its domestic policies is zero: they do relent only if they think that
their allies abroad are likely to be too deeply shocked: & not always then: &
never more than temporarily; there is no evidence that Western rearmament has
ever made them more aggressive: nobody thinks Afghanistan or Cambodia or
Korea were provoked by Western acts or threats, or do they?›
7 April 1981
Headington House

Dear Morton,
[…] You say you are uninterested in the writer’s evaluative attitude towards
events and persons. In fact, what you are saying is ‘Facts are sacred, comment is
free’fn361 – the noble but unrealisable ideal of the old Manchester Guardian. I
think that for once Carr, quoting Goethe,fn362 is right:fn363 there are no ‘facts’ in that
sense, all facts embody theories, and all theories – if I am right – embody
evaluations. Of course I don’t want the reporter evaluating the facts for me, I only
want him to tell me what happened; I don’t want him declaring his full political
and religious position, à la Eliot; I don’t think I want to know whether the
historian is a royalist or not – I think that I can discover that pretty well from the
language he uses about a king and his family; and if he were writing about
revolutions, I think I could equally deduce from his language whether he was
royalist, anti-royalist, neutral etc. You really do believe, I think, that the historian
can furnish you with the ‘bare facts’ and let you react to them in ways in which
you might not be able to help reacting: I do not believe this. In other words, I
believe that it is possible to write about geological formations in that way, but not
about the motives, goals, outlooks, fears and hopes, loves and hates, ‘what
Alcibiades did and suffered’,fn364 his relationships to the society in which he lived
and other societies, and the rest of it.
How, you ask, shall we resolve our differences? Only by talking, I expect. I am
certainly not saying that historians must express attitudes and ought to do so –
only that they must; and ought not to behave as if they didn’t; and thereby mis-
express them if they feel them. Is that nonsense?
Yours ever,

16 April 1981 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Professor Harell,

[…] I think you are perfectly right. What is wrong with Generals Pfuel,
Bennigsen and Pauluccifn366 is that they do not understand what men live by, and
try to apply abstract schemata to men and their behaviour, beliefs, lives, which, in
Tolstoy’s view, breed illusions, sometimes of megalomania. I do not know that he
actually concedes that many of these men are ‘honest, struggling against
hollowness, self-delusion and fraudulence’;fn367 certainly the Germans, Tsar
Alexander,fn368 Napoleon do not do that; for Tolstoy, unlike, say, Turgenev,
characters in the novels are on either the right or the wrong side; they are good,
with an insight into spiritual reality, or blind inflicters of damage on themselves
and others. I think the paeans to ‘the people’fn369 are not principally because they
are the people (as against self-intoxicated individuals or individualists) [but]
because he thinks simple men have an instinctive understanding of reality, both
material and moral, of what makes life worth living, of what are the true ends of
man, or the relations of man and God, and all the things that to Tolstoy appeared to
matter more than the kind of knowledge science or history or economics or
worldly wisdom of any kind can bring – for he came to denounce them all.
Kutuzov (who, as you know, is not in the least like the real Kutuzov of history,
who was a cunning courtier and a first-rate intriguer)fn370 is a hero because he
feels what the people feel, understands life as they do, they feel he is in
communion with them and he feels this about them. It is not, I think, the mere fact
that ‘the people’, whatever that might mean – and for Tolstoy and the Russian
radicals in general it meant the poor, the ignorant, the exploited, the simple, not the
comfortably-off, the officials, the professors, the bankers etc. – not because ‘the
people’ feel or know this, but because what they feel and know is closer to the
truth than the civilised world which Tolstoy denounced as corrupt and involved in
false values. In short, he was not, in my view, a populist in the sense that he
believed that one must do what the people wants because it wants it, so much as a
believer that to the simple and [uncorrupted?] truths are revealed that are no
longer acceptable to the corrupt middle and upper classes, their lackeys and
providers of their pleasures.
I think that towards the end of his life Tolstoy came to believe that men who
took the Christian Gospels seriously could know the truth, and that anyone who
departed from these truths was simply wrong and dangerous. […] As you know,
he disapproved of the revolutionaries, even if he also hated their government, and
the fact that the mass of the people (even if it had been so) placed their faith in
revolutionaries would not have caused him to think that the revolutionaries and
their followers had got it right, so to speak.
One might say, I suppose, that the mass of the German people, particularly
peasants, simple folk, etc., were in strong sympathy with Hitler, that the mass of
Huns or Tartars were in sympathy with Attila or Genghis Khanfn371 – but that
would not have made Tolstoy suppose that this was sufficient to guarantee the
validity of their beliefs or actions, surely? Nor do I believe that democracy
consists in the instinctive faiths and natural beliefs of what Communists used to
call ‘the masses’. When these masses killed Jews, or witches – there is, after all,
no doubt that it was spontaneous, not enforced – this did not constitute democracy
in any modern sense. I do not know what I mean by democracy – I think simply
any form of government (not widespread popular desires or activities) which
depends on the favour of the electors. Such a government may seek to bribe or
flatter or otherwise gain this favour, in which case it can be described as a corrupt
or dishonest democracy, but still a democracy. Whereas forms of government can
be conceived where the despot is genuinely enlightened, the laws are just,
individual liberty quite wide, but this is despotism all the same, and, if one
believes in the proposition that the people should participate in the government of
their societies, to be rejected.
I do not think that Tolstoy cared for any of these political forms, only for
spiritual salvation. He thought that the peasants were spiritually less corrupt,
purer, than his own class (although the only people he describes with any degree
of veracity, and indeed genius, are the aristocracy – his peasants are wooden and
the middle classes absent). He deified the people only because he thought they
were the carriers of God’s truth, and not because they were the people, so it seems
to me; and the Germans, theorisers, manipulators, were to be condemned not
because they were not members of the masses, but because they had lost sight of
true values, which only a different kind of life, closer to that which was lived by
the ordinary peasant, would secure. All this comes from Rousseaufn372 as much as
from the New Testament – mystical faith in the pure souls of the peasant is not
democracy, in my sense at least.
You wonder whether my views do not emerge in the course of that essay. I
expect they do: one never knows how much of oneself one reveals in writing
about others – I, perhaps, more than most. I certainly do not much believe in the
application of the methods of the natural sciences to the explanation of human
behaviour, at least, nor of the relationships of individual men and women to each
other – although it may do better in areas like geography, food supply, natural
factors, the actions of large masses of men over huge periods of time (as in the
kind of books that Braudelfn373 and his school write). Tolstoy thought all history
was bunk, to use Henry Ford’s phrase,fn374 and his attack on sociologists, liberals,
intellectuals etc. derives not from a different view of history (of which in the end
he confessed despair and ignorance), but because their eyes were directed at the
external instead of the inner world. The fact that he wrote the best historical novel
ever produced by a human being is a marvellous paradox. […]
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]

30 April 1981
Headington House

Dear Mr Stone,
Thank you for the review.fn376 It is very brilliant, and as readable and enjoyable
as the works of the master himself. I share your admiration for him, as you know,
and am fond of him, and do not mind his quirks; but I am not convinced – as I
suspect you are – that Mein Kampffn377 was irrelevant to Hitler’s actions. After
all, most of the things he wished to happen, he did his best to bring about. Nobody
is less disposed to believe in determinism and predictability than I am, but Alan’s
addiction to the idea that everything, virtually, is contingent, that the faintest
suspicion of a theory or a hypothesis indicates a foolish academic preoccupation
with ideas, lack of a tough sense of the kaleidoscope of reality, is too much even
for me. Only those historians seem to me to survive who provide a genuine vision
of a society or a period, like Gibbon, Macaulay,fn378 Fustel de Coulanges,fn379 even
Acton,fn380 Halévy, Trevelyanfn381 – not necessarily working from primary sources.
But do you think that Alan does present a picture of a society or an age? His
Bismarck does, and so do bits of the Oxford History;fn382 but The Origins of the
Second World War? What he mostly loves doing is giving a series of short, sharp
jabs to, and placing a series of delicious banana-skins under, the pompous and
magniloquent and moralistic. Nevertheless, he is a marvellous writer, and wasn’t
well treated, though Oxford never did what he says it did – it really did not, for all
his fury. You are right that the passion for Beaverbrook derives from the fact that
he made a fuss of him, as you say, when he had been let down – as he thought – by
others: Namier, Oxford, the establishment, everyone, even old pupils. The mere
sight of him scudding along in the street with his head down gives me pleasure and
a sense of life – and I cross over if only to get an unappreciative growl. […]
Isaiah Berlin

PS Why do you say that Carr has touched on a large variety of subjects, or
something of the sort? Besides Russia, there is only the appeasement bookfn383 and
Karl Marxfn384 – all that fits into a single pattern: even Dostoevsky and Bakunin
are all part of that single pattern.fn385 Deutscher,fn386 I remember, reproached his
friend Carr for lack of respect for ideas, e.g. Trotsky’s,fn387 etc.;fn388 but what one
does not feel at home with, one does not like, and Carr’s relation to ideas is all
too like that of the Foreign Office, which seems to me a kind of mirror image. Or
is that unfair?

26 May 1981
Headington House

Dear John,
Thank you very much for your extremely nice, and, if I may say so,
characteristically generous and honourable letter. My sources about Einstein’s
views are the same as yours;fn390 it was on them that I based an address on him,fn391
the main purpose of which was to show his courage and independence – whatever
may be thought of the wisdom (which, as you may imagine, I do not question) of
his Zionist views (as opposed to other views), which so shocked his assimilated
Jewish friends and colleagues in the 1920s and later. […]
I am glad that you now think that Einstein was, even if [not] tout court, a
Zionist. Of course, if one is writing at length (as I did in that lecture), one has to
qualify, as you suggest. Einstein was a pacifist, but when the hour struck he
supported war against Hitler. He was an internationalist, with socialist
sympathies; nevertheless, in the case of Jews, he obviously wanted them to have a
national existence, with a specific territory, and he said so unequivocally. I think
you are right in thinking, if only on the basis of the passage you quoted, that he
hated all coercion – all armies, frontiers, state authority, etc. – and probably
believed in some kind of vague, egalitarian world state of a peaceful semi-
anarchist kind, whatever that might be (perhaps ‘state’ is the wrong word, but
except for his Zionist beliefs, his political opinions were never exactly concrete).
Like Weizmann (though he never said so in public), he would have preferred a
Jewish Palestine with a friendly Arab minority, having something like dominion
status within the British Empire, with its foreign and perhaps its financial policy
controlled by London. He may himself have thought this was utopian, and it did
make him refrain from all criticism of the state of Israel, some of the policies of
which he would surely have disapproved of. […] A Jewish state was not the ideal
solution, but better than the alternative – the continuation of a Diaspora without
hope of reconstruction as a nation. That, I am sure, is what he not only said but
believed. He thought that all criticism of Israeli policies would play into the hands
of its opponents, especially the Arabs, whom he never again mentioned,
presumably because he thought that reconciliation in the immediate future was a
hopeless goal. He was convinced, too, as he says somewhere in the book we both
used as our evidence, that Arab gangs were financed from abroad.fn392 I don’t
know whom he was thinking of: Germans and Italians, I should think, at that date. I
only refer to this to show the general direction of his ideas at that time.
Consequently I really do think that you diverge sharply from his entire attitude
to the problem. As for my belief in ‘the necessity for territorial statehood’,fn393 I
do indeed believe in it. You think that a scattered Diaspora can ‘continue to have a
most potent and fruitful existence’:fn394 history seems to me to show that this is not
so, that when Weizmann spoke of the Jews as being ground into the dust between
the upper and the nether millstone of other powers, he was saying no more than
what is true. I am no friend to Begin, as you may imagine, but I do not for a
moment believe that the Holocaust would have killed anti-Semitism for ever if
there had been no Israel. Do you really think that all those anti-Semitic articles
about the Jews in the Soviet Union, during and after the Holocaust, would have
ceased, or not continued to be symptoms of an apparently undying hostility? Or
that anti-Semitism in, say, South Africa or Argentina has anything to do with
Israel’s existence? Or that charges apparently being made in Germany now that
Einstein went to America out of greed for money, and that his theory is anyway
unproven (unlike Max Planck,fn395 who stayed and is a hero) – some newspaper in
Germany quotes pamphlets and letters to this effect – would not be being made if
Israel did not exist?
You may say that all this is lunatic fringe stuff, and so it is – but Hitler in his
day was so thought of. Can you expect his victims to take these things lightly?
Anti-Israelism, and at times anti-Semitism, are certainly connected with Israel, the
PLO etc.: but there is still plenty of it without that. As for ‘fruitful existence’, it
has been very fitful in the long span of Western history. Such talent and genius as
the Jews have generated seem to me to have been the result of pressures
sometimes amounting to suffering. The price of being a Diaspora has simply been
too high, even before the Holocaust, in terms of what Dostoevsky called ‘the
insulted and the oppressed’fn396 and the wounded and the dead. At least the Jews in
Israel, whatever their shortcomings, or their future, are saved from the moral
insecurity and uneasiness, and the twisting and the turning, which Einstein bravely
denounced in the case of his German Jewish fellow citizens. You may say that this
was bought at too high a cost to the Arabs. Of course injustice to the Arabs has
been done. It is only a question of whether Weizmann was not right when he said
that when there are two valid claims, all one can do is obtain the least degree of
injustice, and he believed (and I agree with him) that the injustice to the Arabs
(which a different British policy could have avoided, but I won’t go into that here)
is less than leaving the Jews in a condition in too many countries in which they
feel alien and insecure, with all the distortions of personality which this entails.
But I really must not go on, for I shall not convert you, nor you me. I only want
to add that I always thought that to ask the Jews to go on as they were because of
their contribution to general culture was like telling oysters that they must go on
contracting diseases so that one in a million might generate a pearl. Supposing an
oyster says that it is not interested in pearls, doesn’t want to enrich culture, just
wants to live an ordinary, normal oyster’s life in the kind of conditions in which
other creatures live theirs – if need be, remain ungifted, ordinary and obscure – is
that to be forbidden? Is martyrdom, or the risk of it, a duty? You speak of the brute
force with which the Jewish nation was created in Palestine, and of its fanaticism,
and the danger and dishonour this creates. I disagree. It was created not by brute
force but by legal decision: this decision was defied, naturally enough, by the
Arabs, and after that the long war began in which neither side could possibly
escape unscathed.fn397 As for fanaticism, the vast majority of the Jews of Israel are
anything but fanatical, and detest terrorism as much as anyone – as much as I do,
who hate it in all its forms, Begin, the Stern Gang,fn398 the IRA, PLO, everyone
who is ready to massacre in the name of whatever ideal. Begin, whom I dislike as
much as anyone, would not be in power today if it were not for the votes of the
oriental Jews, who remember nothing but their treatment – for centuries, not just
after Zionism – by the Arabs in the countries from which they immigrated. This is
in no sense a justification of Begin or his policies, but it is at least a part-
explanation of what makes extremism arise. Where hatred and prejudice have
been too strong, insulation seems to me the only solution: for the Jews to govern
two million Arabs, or the Arabs to govern three million Jews, in any shape or
form, would obviously be disastrous. […]
27 May 1981
Headington House

Carissimo amico,
[…] Of course we shall be here in November. If you can pass through England,
this would make me happy; if you go to Australia for any length of time, you will
get leave and resources to come to Europe – Australia is aware of its somewhat
isolated geographical situation, and travel of this kind is part of the system. Leszek
Kołakowski is just off to Chicago, where he will spend 1981–2: he seems to be
neither happy nor unhappy here, but lonely. He will obviously never be contented
outside Poland. He says, convincingly, that England is an island in Europe, that
Oxford is an island in England, that All Souls is an island in Oxford, and that he is
an island in All Souls. It is a great relief to be able to talk to him. All Souls has
grown much more philistine than in your day, perhaps as part of the general
decline of intellectual standards in England. When Mitterand had his inauguration,
he invited ‘humanist’ intelligentsia from America, Arthur Miller,fn399 James
Baldwin,fn400 Saul Bellowfn401 (who would not [come], the company was too left-
wing for him), Elie Wieselfn402 (Holocaust Jews, etc.); some intellectuals from
Italy; I do not know whom besides Schmidt from Germany; but in England, they
could think of no one – only Noel Baker,fn403 who must be in his middle nineties.
Indeed, who is there? Who are our leading ‘humanists’ of whom the French would
have heard? Gombrich? Karl Popper? Englishmen? Henry Moore?fn404 There is
something wrong about this. The political situation may have been darker, but the
intellectual situation was far better in the 1930s. On this sombre note I close, and
wait for November, or at any rate news of you […].
Isaiah B

24 September 1981
Headington House

Dear George,
[…] I wish I could recommend someone to you – someone, I mean, whom I
know about – about NKVD–Gestapo collaboration in 1939–41,fn406 but I know
nothing about these things: I am not a Sovietologist, although sometimes described
as one in pejorative language in Soviet publications. I think the man to turn to is
Leo Labedz,fn407 of Survey, who, even if he did not know anything himself, would
know precisely to whom to turn (always assuming that there exists someone to turn
to). The article you sent me seems to me horribly convincing. Not so much the
Katyn massacre:fn408 killings of that order had, after all, happened before in recent
history, if not in Europe then by the Turks, and in the seventeenth century the
Ukrainians (Poles and Jews); the slaughter by Bohdan Chmielnicki’sfn409 bands in
the 1660s was probably one of the most extensive since Genghis Khan. But I still
think you are absolutely right: it is really the deportation and destruction of the
kulaks during the first Five-Year Plan that probably impressed Hitler and his
henchmen. On the other hand, it is commonly supposed that it was the Nazi purges
of 1934fn410 that inspired Stalin to his own Great Purge of the later 1930s.fn411 Still,
the Russians have primacy in this matter, and you are perfectly right to discount
the legend that it was Stalin, and not Lenin, who began the terror and systematic
liquidation of whole classes of persons. Do Marx and Engels actually advocate
racial extermination? Are you thinking of passages in which the liquidation of
Czech institutions by German ones is advocated by Engels?fn412 Or the anti-Semitic
remarks in ‘[On] The Jewish Question’?fn413 Racism in Marx and Engels is there,
of course, but it is not something which any socialist, let alone Communist, has
ever conceded. But what passages in particular are you thinking of? […] When I
wrote my little book on Marx, I did remark on his awkward attitude to his Jewish
originsfn414 – on which I dwelt again in an essay on Marx and Disraelifn415 – but
public advocacy of racial extermination, texts Lenin might have read? If this is
indeed so you should write about it, it is a very timely topic.
Yours ever,
29 September 1981
Headington House

Dear Moran,
Thank you ever so much for sending me your review of Against the Current.fn417
What can I say? It is at once the most generous, penetrating, interesting and to me –
as you might well imagine – unbelievably welcome review of anything I have ever
written (my memory is not very good, but I believe this to be absolutely true). It
shows more Einfühlungfn418 into the character and purpose of what I think and
believe than anyone has ever shown. Consequently, what can I do but express the
most unlimited gratitude to you?
You wonder whether you are perhaps ‘wrong’ about me? Not at all – at least, so
far as I can tell. I think the quotation from Mill about the possibility of revealing to
writers that about themselves which can only be perceived by another observer –
which no introspection discloses – is absolutely true in this case.fn419 And the
critical remarks, expressed with the greatest courtesy and concern for my feelings
as a human being, seem to me to have much justice in them.
Firstly, you wonder whether my dogmatic summaries of the doctrines of the
Enlightenment are valid. I am sure you are right: so far as they are valid, they
apply to some (at most), not all, of the eighteenth-century French thinkers among
the philosophes – it does not allow for the pessimism of many of them, or the
scepticism of even so committed a thinker as Voltaire – and certainly not to e.g.
Diderot, who cannot possibly be excluded from the Enlightenment. And in the
nineteenth century it perhaps applies only to Comte and his immediate allies and
followers. But there is more to the Enlightenment than that, especially on its
negative side: the war against irrationalism, prejudice, oppression, cruelty,
intolerance and stupidity, in both theory and practice, [and] its often frightful
consequences. I tried to say some of this in the brief and not particularly
illuminating introduction to the little anthology called The Age of
Enlightenmentfn420 – I do not recommend you or anyone else to look at it now: it is
harmless, but rather flat. The positive element, and the rich variety and
undogmatic humanism, of much of the Enlightenment is, for obviously polemical
reasons, not allowed enough by me; and perhaps the picture of the Enlightenment
is too much of an Aunt Sally, and I do not deny that it is the rectilinear,
emotionally blind, unimaginative, rationalist dogmatism – what Hayek called
‘scientism’fn421 (my views are sometimes described as analogous to Hayek’s, to
my extreme dissatisfaction) – that I think has caused havoc. This is the dominant
theology of the West during the last two hundred years, despite all the attacks upon
it, clerical or Romantic or populist or sceptical; it is still what you and I and
people we respect and admire rightly believe ourselves to be on the side of; yet
the protest against it of my irrationalist ‘clients’ seems to me – even though it
does, of course, go too far and produce nonsense and ghastly obscurantism and
awful practice of its own – to bring out weaknesses much more sharply than
‘constructive’ criticism by allies. But you are perfectly right: I am obviously
concerned with present discontents. The fact that there is a line between the denial
of human rights in totalitarian Communist countries and the noble defence of
reason in the eighteenth century is not accidental. It is, of course, terribly wrong
and unhistorical and altogether disreputable to blame Benthamfn422 or Helvétiusfn423
for Stalin, or Hegel and Nietzsche for Nazism, etc. Nevertheless, the tracing of
roots does fascinate me, as I am sure it engages your interest. My basic objection
is, I suppose, the Dickens–Tolstoyan one:fn424 the lumières did not, and do not, for
the most part, know what it is that men live by. […]
Again, you are quite right to wonder whether my ‘empathy’ does not go too far.
When I write about someone to whom it seems to me historical justice has not
been done, whose ideas are more original, have more in them, are more important
and sometimes even valid, than is allowed for by conventional accounts, I do
probably get carried away and begin to speak with their voices, or at least their
voices as I hear them; this must make it seem to some people that I am too
empathetic, for Hamann or de Maistrefn425 and their progeny are real and
dangerous enemies of the Enlightenment and against what I myself believe in; and
since I write with equal enthusiasm about unquestionable ‘progressives’ like J. S.
Mill or Herzen or Belinsky, or a sceptical but sufficiently anti-reactionary liberal
like Turgenev, the reader doesn’t know what to think; I seem to be ‘representing’
all these opposed clients. I think the charge, mild and generous as it is, that you
basically make, and that perhaps should be made against my method, is rather like
that which some of the radical philosophes made against Montesquieu,fn426 when
he was accused of being more interested in describing the customs of men than in
pointing out their defects and seeking to suggest improvements. At least, the tone
is too ambiguous, so that nobody is quite clear where I stand, and this must irritate
all the committed. But I cannot help it. My favourite quotation is one I’ve got into
the Oxford Book of Quotations (I think) – Kant’s (in Collingwood’sfn427 version)
‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.’fn428 Some
histories of ideas pay no heed to that.
You are quite right, also, in supposing that most historians of thought must
regard my methods as insufficiently academic and detached, too descriptive,
insufficiently accurate, analytic, cautious, detailed. That, too, I cannot help. You
very sweetly condone this and let me get away with it; I can imagine that you
know of people who do not. I remember a review of Vico and Herder by Mary
Warnock, in which she made it plain that my exposition might at times be
beguiling, but it was not critical in the proper sense, and simply wouldn’t do: it
was really just rhetoric.fn429 […]
Yours very sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
30 September 1981
Headington House

Dearest Joe,
[…] Did you really start writing your big bookfn430 eighteen years ago? 1963?
Inconceivable! Time goes rather too fast at my age, and even at yours. Do you
think about death much? I occasionally wonder how many years I have to live,
will I be able to write a big book in the years left to me, and does it matter
whether I can or not? When I see in All Souls College statistics that some given
professor will retire in 2003 a very slight cold shiver passes very quickly through
me. Very unlike John Sparrow, I am not either depressed or indignant at the
thought of the termination of my life; I have a feeling that our political, and I dare
say social, system will alter radically in Europe before the end of the century. I
cannot see how it cannot – all European countries are declining. America is all
right because neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are slaves of ideology;
but Conservatives, Liberals, Social Democrats, Socialists, Communists cannot
possibly survive in their present form. In that sense, Marx was quite right:
whatever the material patterns of life – relations of production, etc. – if the
ideologies don’t fit, ‘the integument bursts’.fn431 So I shall really be quite glad to
disappear before it all: I feel firmly tied to the values of the nineteenth century –
as you are, on the whole, I think, to the values of the inter-war years – or I am
I have no doubt about the success of your big book. And certainly your memoir
of Rooseveltfn432 will go like hot cakes.fn433 You know it well. […] Mere
immersion in all those years must, alone, have exhilarated you; and you are in an
absolutely unique position to do it – all the other writers about Roosevelt are
inevitably a little too class-conscious when writing about this left-wing prince.
Which reminds me of Mr Ziegler,fn434 who is writing the life of Mountbattenfn435 –
a left-wing prince, infallibly successful in all democratic societies – Ziegler the
biographer of Diana. The extracts in the Sunday Telegraph seem a trifle cheap to
me: all this dwelling on Duff’sfn436 amours, drunkenness, idleness etc., and the
impression that Diana actually looked for possible mistresses for him – that is
certainly untrue – conjures up a ‘Let them eat cake’fn437 picture which is utterly
untrue to our old friend. Why couldn’t Susan Maryfn438 have written this book?
What is Diana’s attitude to it? There are many versions: (a) that she insisted on it
appearing in her lifetime, and is simply delighted with it; (b) she insisted on it
appearing in her lifetime, and thinks it too awful; (c) she did not want it to appear
at all, and refuses to read it; (d) she doesn’t care; and so on.fn439
John Juliusfn440 rang me up in a state of great agitation the other day – someone,
Nigel Nicolsonfn441 in the Financial Times, reviewing the book, said that Duff,
although a tremendous pro-Zionist etc., was somewhat anti-Semitic too.fn442 John
Julius told me this with indignation, and asked me to write and refute it: I referred
him to Victor Rothschild,fn443 who was a really intimate friend of Duff’s, who is
ready to write the letter and would rather I did not co-sign it with him – just as
well. John Julius told me that when he came back from school at the age of nine,
and said that he had met a boy called Davis, whom he liked very much, ‘he is a
Jew, though’, Diana gave him a tremendous slap and told him that he was never to
say such a thing again. He said that his cheek still burns from this. It is a matter of
small importance: of course, in a sense Ziegler must be right – Duff, however pro-
Jewish, pro-Zionist etc., had the ordinary prejudices of the world in which he was
brought up, both the fashionable VD doctor his father, and the duchess his
mother;fn444 while he strongly disapproved of anti-Semitism, as you or I
disapprove of, let us say, anti-Papism, nevertheless we do in fact suspect priests,
Jesuits etc. of conducting some underground activity against liberal civilisation. I
shall be glad to see Victor Rothschild’s letter, and John Julius’s indignant rebuttal
– I do not entirely believe in them, but think it a very good thing to say this.
So you feel sad about finishing your big book, like Gibbon; only you mustn’t
turn into what J. S. Mill called ‘a pig contented’ v. ‘Socrates discontented’fn445 – I
am very nearly the former, but your temperament is different: you must, like
Gibbon, continue to scribble, scribble, scribble.fn446
Ah, but you should have seen the Annenbergs with Mrs Reagan here, in Covent
Garden, with Princess Margaret at their side.fn447 Goodness, if I could see you, I
really could tell you some stories that would delight your heart – which noses
were put out of joint, and how much, over invitations to the evening party at
Buckingham Palace, the actual wedding, placement at the wedding (why was Mrs
Reagan so far behind Lady Avon, why was Lady Spencerfn448 further back?), why
was the accountant sacked by Lady Spencer but retained by the Princess of
Walesfn449 invited to all the ceremonies, why, why, why; why did Professor
Plumbfn450 have a heart attack from dancing too much as Lady Spencer’s guest at
Buckingham Palace, why was he only given a green, or yellow, or blue ticket, or
whatever it is, to a Buckingham Palace garden party, and declared, to someone
else with the same ticket, ‘No! A green ticket you have? I cannot understand it –
nothing for the Enclosure? You must never come again’? All this delights me – I
am still far too frivolous for what I am supposed to be – a retired old person,
asleep in the corner of a common room, glad to be spoken to by the younger set.
Talking of academics, John Sparrow now is distinctly on the bottle, and cannot
remember in the morning who put him to bed the night before – and rather
truculent. I propose not to go to the dining club we are both members of because
he becomes too uncontrolled too early in the evening: still, he may recover. He is
one of my oldest friends – he used to be the best company in the world, extremely
intelligent, able, amusing, independent, fearless, comically reactionary but
delightful – and now, especially since the death of Mrs Fleming, is in pieces.fn451
Much love, as always,
Yours ever,

PS My relations with the late Burdon-Muller were not very good towards the end,
after his accusation that my views on Vietnam were influenced by a desire to
please Bundyfn452 on account of the grant to Wolfson. But he left me $2,000 in his
will, as well as a pair of cufflinks. More guilt.
11 January 1982
Headington House

Милый Друг!fn453
I did indeed receive your letter and the article on your personal impressions of
the situation in Poland. I did not reply to it because things in Poland began to alter,
things began to boil, and your analysis of the situation – although I can see that it is
still perfectly valid – was overtaken by history to such a degree that I could not
produce a coherent response. People here are uncritically enthusiastic about
Solidarnośćfn454 – naturally enough: a spontaneous rising against despotism, such
as they were in 1831 or 1864,fn455 without perception of or, indeed, interest in the
quality of feeling and ideology of the leaders of this movement. The enthusiasm
here is both moving and proper, even though you are obviously perfectly right
about the populism and anti-intellectualism and remoteness from what you and I
would regard as essential conditions of human liberty on the part of this
passionate, indignant, justified, confused, collectivist reaction.
All this I understand – not many other people, I suspect, do, now, at least here;
if one tried to explain it, it would be regarded as improper, indecent, almost
blasphemous. So I shall keep my peace. The position is all too clear to me – of
course you could not do anything to add grist to the mill of your enemies against
your friends. You are right to be pleased to be in Australia: you are in no moral
dilemma, and moral agony seems to be worse than any other (Marx said that the
only antidote to moral pain was physical pain, or something of the sort. I
Are you surprised that among the arrested there are non-political persons, Jews
etc.? Once oppression begins, it nearly always extends to persons who are
unpopular for one reason or another. This happens even in the case of the kind of
upheavals that you and I would broadly sympathise with; but once there is an
upheaval, it acquires its own momentum, and the just suffer with the unjust. Those
who realise this are a minority of sceptical intellectuals, out of whom no society
can be built, and who are always caught between crossfires. That is the price we
pay. You ask whether there are protests by Western intellectuals, as in the case of
Vietnam or El Salvador, South Africa. Yes. The British Academy, a pretty
immobile body in general, under the impulsion of Seton-Watson,fn457 will send a
protest to the Polish Academy, whose President I think was arrested and then let
out.fn458 The greatest shock here among my colleagues is the death of Lipińsky, at
the age of, I believe, ninety-three, in prison: I do not know if this is right, but some
of the economists here seem to believe it – I can well believe it myself.fn459
I went to a meeting of the PEN Club.fn460 The evening was not terribly
exhilarating in itself (although I am a Vice President of the British Section, I have
never been to a single ‘function’ of it in my life), and there a halting speech was
made by the son of the head of the Polish PEN. That assembly, too, not exactly
made up of leading intellectuals, but still, decent, high-minded persons, novelists,
poets etc., has also sent some kind of indignant message. So there is no lack of
that. The English can certainly be trusted to do that; even the one card-holding
member of the Communist Party known to me here, Eric Hobsbawm (I believe him
to be a card-holding Communist, but I have no concrete evidence; I have not seen
his party card, and one never knows),fn461 seemed to me unusually distressed about
what is happening. Czechoslovakia did not mean so much to him, because that was
merely reaction against intellectuals and the like: but here unions are being
suppressed, and that is very terrible from the point of view of a Communist of the
least degree of sincerity. The British Party, of course, condemned the events – the
French Party I do not think did. The French government did, which contains
Communist members, but the Party as such has not spoken, so far as I know. The
Italians were delighted to thunder against it. Will this make a difference to the
Soviet leaders? Or have they discounted this in advance? The latter, I fear.
Meanwhile various persons have asked me in a very concerned way about your
safety – Leonard Schapiro, Hugh Seton-Watson, people at St Antony’s, and the
like – and when I said that you were in Australia there was great relief and
satisfaction. I hope you are being treated well by Kamenka and the others. He is a
local liberal apparatchik, if such a thing can be conceived, but a benevolent one,
provided that his little kingdom is not adversely affected. And he has done much
good: his own works are mediocre in quality, as you know, but he does a great
deal of good by simply detecting excellence in others, and on the whole
supporting intellectually worthy causes with energy and success. So do not let us
look too deeply in the mouths of gift horses. I beg you not to leave this letter on
your desk in the History of Ideas Unit. Let me say once again how happy I am that
you are not in that terrible cauldron.
I have just received a little book – a collection of Leontʹev’s letters to Rozanov,
printed by some unknown firm in England,fn462 sent by some, to me, totally
unknown lady, who is probably some kind of recent émigré. Quite interesting:
neither is a figure exactly sympathetic to me; nevertheless their gifts were of a
certain quality, a relief from Philistine liberalism and routine, mechanical
socialism. I am occasionally accused of too much interest in mrakobesyfn463 – it is
true that I prefer even the malicious detection of shortcomings in liberal and
humanitarian doctrines to rose water and high-minded repetitions of familiar
platitudes. I cannot help that. A taste for irony is an inescapable attribute of
civilised observers, from Petroniusfn464 to Montaigne, Diderot, Herzen, you, me.
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin
Mary Fisher, Maire Lynd, Christopher Cox, Ruth Metaxa, Ireland 1934

The main shack on the island in 2011; (inset left) the shacks in the 1930s; (inset right) Christopher Cox, Mary
Fisher, Maire Lynd, 1934

January 1982
Headington House

Dearest BJ,
[…] Do you remember the beginning of our first visit to Ireland? Where did we
land? In Rosslare? Or in or near Waterford? What was the name of the lough near
Oughterard where Countess Metaxa’s island was?fn466 (As you see, my memory is
gone: an agreeable haze surrounds my recollection of how it all was, then and
later – but details …?) We had decided to go by way of Elizabeth Bowen’s
House, Bowen’s Court, in County Cork near Kildorrery, to which we had been
invited for a night by my friend Humphry House,fn467 who was staying with her.
None of us knew her personally. We knew that she was a famous writer, that she
was married to a man called Alan Cameron,fn468 that they lived in Headington; she
was, I knew, a great friend of Maurice Bowra and John Maud;fn469 and Humphry,
who had become devoted to her, had said that she would give us a night’s lodging.
We approached the grey, somewhat severe stone mansion, I remember (or think
I remember), with slight nervousness. Two ladies were seated on the terrace. As
we approached them we saw that they were topping and tailing gooseberries. One
of them was Elizabeth Bowen; the other was a friend and neighbour. They had
evidently not been warned of our coming by Humphry. We introduced ourselves.
Although clearly surprised by our arrival, they behaved with exquisite politeness;
I explained, with some embarrassment, that Humphry had encouraged us to come.
Elizabeth went into the house to fetch Humphry. The friend, who, I continued to
believe for many weeks, was called Miss Prong (in fact her name was Brown),
chatted amiably about this and that until the return of Elizabeth, accompanied by
Humphry, who was apologetic, but not very. We sat in wicker chairs (not hip-
baths filled with cushions, in which, we were told, the Irish gentry used to sit on
sunlit afternoons and drink white wine), and after some initial stiffness we all
talked easily.
On the island in Lough an Illaun: the jetty and boat in 2011 and (inset) 1938: IB, Maire Lynd, Mary Fisher,
Lackavrea mountain
Humphry, dark, heavy, with a lowering brow, formidable, talked slowly and
deliberately, principally to you; he was by nature highly susceptible, and plainly
found you irresistibly attractive. Elizabeth spoke with immense charm, stammering
slightly, about everything in the world. So did Miss Prong, in a slightly lower key.
We were given tea indoors; were told about, and taken to see, the wishing well,
where you certainly, and Christopher,fn470 Maryfn471 and I perhaps also, expressed
silent wishes; we climbed to the upper landing of the house – a large central room
from which our bedrooms opened; it was virtually empty, with huge, craniological
heads made of plaster (I think) on the floor, and portraits propped against the
walls: it was not exactly crumbling, but dank and abandoned and, as I later
learned on a fateful occasion (when neither you nor Mary nor Christopher were
present, only Goronwy – but that, of course, is another story), used to play deck
quoits in.
Humphry followed you like a huge, lovelorn dog – his feelings were
unmistakable. This worried me. In those days I was prudish to a degree: at parties,
I am told, I used to look round sharply, like a governess, to see whether anyone
was holding hands. Humphry was a friend to whom I was devoted: but he was a
man of passionate nature, which he had little wish to control. At this time he was
unhappy, jobless, a prey to religious doubts, and only too ready for emotional
We dined happily and well. But I felt responsible for the visit, a self-appointed
duenna, set over Mary and yourself. I was unwilling to confess my worry to
Christopher for fear of being accused (justly) of being an absurd fusspot. After
dinner, after you had all gone to bed, Humphry duly informed me that he was in
love: deeply, irrevocably. I cannot remember what I said: but I was told by him
that nothing I had said ‘hung on at all’, and was totally unreal. We went to bed at 2
or 3 a.m.
I did not report any of this to anyone. I cannot pretend that I passed a sleepless
night. In the morning we continued on our journey. Humphry insisted on coming
with us to some neighbouring town. I was in a troubled state, like a distracted
chaperone, and, out of pure nervousness, sang, clutched at the steering wheel, was
accused of jeering at the villagers and peasants we passed in our car, and was
reproved by both Christopher and Humphry. You looked disapproving, too: Mary
alone remained calm.
We stopped for a meal somewhere. ‘You are a prig and spoilsport,’ said
Humphry as he took his leave of us, ‘and you do talk the most terrible nonsense
about people and books and everything. It just won’t do. Goodbye.’ And marched
off. ‘Please don’t answer him,’ you murmured, putting your hand on my sleeve. ‘I
thought Elizabeth Cameron very nice indeed.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I thought she was
wonderful, very much my cup of tea.’ ‘She is all our cups of tea,’ said
Christopher. ‘Oh dear, put down again,’ I said. After which we drove off in the
best of spirits to the west, bought soda bread and an enormous ham and some
butter to sustain us on Countess Metaxa’s island.
Humphry and I remained close friends, for all his occasional truculence, until
his untimely death.
With lifelong love from an older septuagenarian to a far, far younger one.

11 March 1982 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Miss Emmet,

Thank you for your letter, which very properly takes up remarks I made the
other night.fn474 It has made me realise that I am not at all clear about the issue
myself, although I am prepared to defend my original thesis.
I did indeed mean that the alternatives were extinction (however arrived at) on
the one hand, and on the other, in your own words, ‘centuries of gulags, and the
sufferings inflicted on the victims of repressive regimes’, to which I would add all
the other forms of misery and squalor and degradation and dehumanisation, such
as the victims undoubtedly suffered – we, after all, only hear from those who
preserved their human semblance and a measure of dignity and freedom. You
rightly point out that human history and prehistory are full of appalling sufferings
and horrors perpetrated by human beings on each other, but that nevertheless
wonderful things have been created, and that moments of joy and noble
achievement, above all unextinguished hope, nevertheless occurred – and does all
this not outweigh the darkness and hopelessness of the millions, soon billions?
Sums like this are difficult to make, and I do not urge a purely utilitarian scale,
whereby the probability of the total sum of suffering could be shown by some
rational method to be greater than that of – to call it so for short – happiness. Then
there would be no point in going on. There was a philosopher in ancient Greece, a
Stoic, I think, who used to persuade people to commit suicide if the prospect of
happiness was too poor.fn475 I do not mean that. I think in the end that, just as we
ask ourselves whether something is worth doing, or life is worth living, just as
situations arise in which it seems perfectly reasonable to terminate one’s life if the
alternative is too awful – where one has no worthwhile motive for going on – so
this could arise for whole groups or societies, and, in theory, for the whole of
I think you are perfectly right. That is, I think that it is difficult to imagine a
situation in which there was literally no hope left, no hope of that minimum degree
of human relationships, of the capacity for any use of thought, imagination,
emotional response to anything. It is difficult to imagine this, but not impossible. I
simply cast my mind back to my short term of duty in the Soviet Union in 1945,
when I asked myself what I would do if I suddenly found myself with a Soviet
passport instead of a British one. I was quite clear then that I would wish to blow
my brains out rather than try to adjust myself to the system in the hope of better
things, or of being able to help others, or the like. And if I felt this, if I felt that life
for me in the Soviet Union was intolerable (though I knew it was not so for
everybody), then why not for X and Y and Z, who theoretically might include all
mankind? But you are perfectly right: it is an absurd proposition to advance as
baldly as I did. The only point I wished to make was that the by now ridiculous
formula of ‘a fate worse than death’fn476 had some genuine content, and that mere
clinging to life, mere tenacity, was not enough. That, and something more: that the
price for the ‘marvels: of beauty and knowledge and joy’ (and the ‘health and
well-being’ of animals and plants) might be too high, that not to save mankind
from some appalling fate short of actual extinction might be a disservice to it. And
to this appalling proposition, I think I still cling.
I do hope I have made myself clearer. I think we do disagree. I do not think that
the marvels necessarily weigh more than the horrors. It may be that they do, but it
may also be that they do not, and will not; and unless one believes that life was
given one by God and [one] has no right to deprive oneself or others of it because
it is not something we are entitled to withhold or extinguish (if one believes that,
then of course you are right), the question remains open. You are simply more
optimistic than I am: you believe that there is always a possibility of so much light
at the end of each tunnel as to make it all worthwhile; I wish I believed that. The
only thing that comforts me is that even such reflections make no difference to
practice, even in so unsatisfactory a world as we live in at present. But the
blessings, I fully admit, still enormously outweigh the horrors, and there is
rational ground for hope.
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]
15 March 1982 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Isaac,
I am back from Jerusalem – exhausted, exhilarated (by the vitality of all our
friends) and, of course, depressed. If the present policies are followed, they will
endure for longer than people think or hope, but in the end they cannot but lead to a
huge debacle. When I arrived, Teddy earnestly begged me to put in one of those
little prayers into a crevice in the Wall, imploring the Deity for Begin’s recovery:
his disappearance would, in everyone’s view, let in Sharonfn477 and Shamir,fn478
who are more violent and touched with a certain insanity. Or so people say. The
fact that Sharon goes to see my cousin the Lubavitcherfn479 in New York whenever
he is there does not exactly delight me. Politically we can only shut our eyes and
pray for the best, or the ‘least worst’ – there is certainly nothing that people like
us can do. I no longer think that it is wicked to thunder against that government in
London or New York, even though I am not disposed to do any thundering myself,
partly because I do not know what alternative I could responsibly and
conscientiously offer. But enough of that – it is too gloomy. […]
Teddy, Ruthi [Cheshin] etc. of course send you warmest greetings, although I
said I would not see you for some time – they will probably turn up in New York
before long, as always. What Teddy has done to the Damascus Gate is marvellous
– the diversion of the late Sir Charles Clore’s funds from Hurva to David’s Tower
does nothing but good. The idea of restoring the Hurva as it was in the seventeenth
century (which seems obviously right), according to Teddy, is likely to be
condemned by the Israel Architects Association: foolish fellows – to wish to be
modern at all costs and in all environments is also a kind of vulgarity, don’t you
think? Now that we have got into abstract issues, better stop. We must be concrete,
Comrade, as Koestler’sfn480 old Communist cronies used to say.
Love to Vera,fn481
Yours ever,
30 March 1982 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Miss Emmet,

[…] I am afraid that what I said to you in my last letter was founded on a
mechanical extrapolation of that which applies to one individual, as applying to
more than one and in the end to all – that is, mankind at large. I see on reflection
that this is patently absurd. I may have a right to put an end to my own life; not
only a right, but it is something that can be rationally defended, perhaps even
emotionally defended, too; I may even have a right to kill others in some
circumstances. But you are perfectly right – indeed, self-evidently so – that neither
an individual nor a group nor a nation has a right to decree this for mankind, i.e.
[…] put an end to human life (and perhaps all life), for all one can tell, for ever. It
is difficult to know when, if ever, I have the right to urge, even compel, others to
do things which expose them to mortal danger, e.g. conscript people in wartime.
But to condemn the whole of humanity to perish, no matter what the probable
horrors of its continued existence, is plainly unthinkable and mad. The question is,
whether one is so much as permitted to contemplate the possibilities of universal
extinction as a less awful alternative than continued existence, provided, of
course, one does nothing towards the former. Since the consequences are not
remotely calculable, it is absurd to weigh these alternatives. Consequently, I
capitulate. I think I spoke rashly. My arguments and my position are refuted by
your simple and unanswerable last letter. My mind is cleared, and I am most
grateful to you.
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]

9 April 1982
Headington House

Dear Galen,
I have read your article in Quartofn483 with, one might say, excessively total
agreement, and great pleasure. ‘Excessively’ because I cannot read the authors of
whom you speak: I have done my best with Derrida,fn484 and such American
offshoots as Paul de Man,fn485 and a man whose name I have forgotten who used to
be Cultural Attaché in the French Embassy here,fn486 and Barthesfn487 also […], and
decided that it was not for me. I feel some guilt about not embarking on reading
Heidegger, whom I suspect to be a major thinker of some kind, however repellent
(at least to me); but none about ignoring the objects of your ‘mildly polemical’
treatment. I am sure you are perfectly right: there is something to be said about the
ambiguity, levels of understanding, differences of meaning to different groups,
cultures, times, places; conflicts of meaning, etc. But it has been badly overdriven,
and your robust insistence on the fact that we can describe the real world in
adequately clear and precise language, and reasonably hope to be understood
across large stretches of time and space, that the language both of the sciences and
common sense can be made sufficiently clear and unambiguous, and is not
susceptible to being dissolved or undermined (note the metaphors!) in this way,
needs very badly to be expressed. It seems to me to lead to a fantastic kind of
linguistic Idealism – a world constituted by languages – to which, in a mild form,
the new objectivism of values is addicted. Of course there is a genetic fallacy –
even if Vico was right in supposing that the history of linguistic usages, and even
of individual terms, throws light on cultural history and leads to a valuable kind of
self-knowledge, it does not follow that what is being said, or those who say it, can
be resolved into, or wholly (or even very largely) accounted for, by reference to
impersonal social forces or psychological, physiological, genetic factors (e.g. the
social growth of linguistic forms, or anthropology), the very identification of
which presupposes a pretty fixed, clear, intelligible kind of use of prose. One must
allow, I suppose, the fact that all new ideas usually make an impact by being
greatly exaggerated. Platofn488 exaggerated, so did the Stoics, Descartes,
Leibniz,fn489 Berkeley,fn490 Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud etc. etc.
Aristotle and Lockefn491 perhaps did not, but I can think of few other first-rate
philosophers who didn’t overstate their cases – it needs something to crack ‘the
cake of custom’,fn492 the obstruction of received ideas. But the converse does not
follow. Exaggeration is not enough.
The trouble about sending this article to me is that you are adding the most
welcome support to my already existing biases. I now feel less inclined than ever
to plunge into those murky seas – I feel convinced that most of the stuff you write
about is in fact rot, of a very pretentious, boring kind. Sartrefn493 was, of course, an
interesting figure before Marxism overcame him; so was Kojève, who is almost
single-handedly responsible for the Hegelianised Marxism of everybody from
Sartre and his immediate disciples to Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre,fn494 the
old New Left (is there a new New Left? if so, I know nothing of them).
So let me tell you again how much pleasure your piece has given me; the book
you are reviewing was described to me as not too good by my friend Jerry
Cohen,fn495 whose views on the French fumistesfn496 coincide with yours, but that is
merely a peg on which to hang your very timely reflections. No philosophical
movement has ever been killed by criticism, I believe; only changes of outlook,
new problems, due to who knows what, do that (to that extent, the sociologists of
knowledge, from Mannheimfn497 to Kuhn,fn498 are right, though they, too, wildly
exaggerate). But Julien Benda’s little book Sur le succès du bergsonisme,fn499
Russell’s strictures,fn500 Leonard Woolf’s little book Quack, Quack!,fn501 have
done something to keep Bergson from these shores – something Freddie Ayer did
not succeed in doing against Sartre (who did have important things to say).fn502
Who will strike a blow, a really hefty blow, for reason? against froth? Won’t you?
Yours ever,
22 September 1982 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Professor Bakshi,

I have now read your monograph on the decline of political theory.fn504 I read it
with much interest, and have learned a good deal from it – it is one of the fullest
surveys of recent thought on the subject that I have come across, and I congratulate
you on it. At the same time, I have some thoughts about it, which I shall try and
formulate […].
I must confess that I don’t distinguish political theory from political philosophy
– they seem to me so overlapping as to be virtually identical. Perhaps the former
is a little more concrete, examining the role and interplay of institutions; but both
seem to apply what you call axiological principles to social, political and
generally public life. Some have thought political theory to be simply ethics
applied not to individuals but to groups, and I have a certain amount of sympathy
with this point of view. As for political science, that can no doubt to some degree
be defined as who, whom, when, where, how? Politics, said somebody, is about
power. I disagree. Political philosophy is about ends, not facts save as
illustrations for contributions to the meanings of past users of political
terminology. Political philosophy surely asks ‘Why should I obey?’ not ‘Why do I
obey?’; ‘What is a right?’ – which is another way of asking ‘What grounds have I
for claiming to be able to vote?’ and ‘Who conferred this liberty?’ and ‘In what
way were they entitled to do so?’ and ‘What is entitlement? Does it rest on a
contract, or the word of God, and if so, why should the contract be carried out,
God be obeyed?’ and so on and so on. I am sure you do not disagree.
The importance of contexts. Yes, of course, to understand the terms in which
philosophers, political or otherwise, in order to understand the thrust, the point, of
their statements and arguments, I do require to know what questions they were
asking themselves (that much, Collingwood said already); and that, no doubt, has
direct relevance to the circumstances in which they lived and their general
outlook, cast of thought, method of communicating, search for understanding of
themselves, of others, and of the world around them. But then, to seek to reduce
their ideas to their temporal or spatial context, to say that we really do not know
much about what Athens was like in the days of Plato or Aristotle, we cannot be
sure of the meanings of Greek words, is surely not right, for it does not seem
absurd to say that Plato was one of the supreme thinkers, about politics as well as
almost everything else. When Aristotle accuses him of wanting an over-unified
society, he said that this cannot be done, that men are more various and that the
rules by which they can seek either life or the good life must be more flexible than
Plato demands, we seem to understand what is being said – not merely in relation
to Athens and Greece, but to other demands for uniformity, say Spinoza’sfn505 or
those of the Communist Party. So, too, Rousseau may in fact, when talking about
the General Will, have had in mind the privileges of the various estates – nobility,
the Church, the court etc. – but his plea for independence of the wills of others has
wider implications than protest against the particular inequalities of his own time.
The doctrine of natural rights, whether stated by Locke or Jefferson,fn506 or of
human rights today, which is pretty nearly the same thing, may well be enriched
and elucidated by explaining precisely what was meant by Grotiusfn507 or
Burlamaquifn508 or the Hebrew prophets, but the general implications are such as
interest us today.
There are, it seems to me, issues that transcend their time because men,
however various and changeable their natures, have certain qualities, face certain
problems, from generation to generation, which do not differ sufficiently to make
central issues either obsolete or unintelligible at later dates. The great thinkers are
surely those who enunciated these ideas most starkly, at a sufficiently profound
and general level; to attempt to dilute them into their times seems to go against all
that we think and know. Shakespeare gets through even the worst translators, so
does the Bible […].
This, of course, is not an argument against trying to establish as precisely as
possible, in the light of evidence, what these terms mean – that Machiavelli meant
by stato not what we call ‘states’, but rather as we use the word in ‘He came in
great state’, is important; but still, we understand the main thrust of his argument
and what he was trying to refute in the way of Christian humility, feeble
government, even if we do not know about stato. This is not a plea for the
unhistorical way in which I was taught Plato and Aristotle when I was young – as
if they were Englishmen, giving papers in a philosophical society – but it is a
protest against the exaggeration of treating the history of ideas as a history of
things that pass and die with their age. It is my experience that those who write the
history of, say, political philosophy, do it very mechanically and understand very,
very little unless they have themselves struggled with problems of this type, and
understand – or want to understand – where the shoe pinched in the sixteenth as
opposed to the eighteenth century; and unless it pinches still, these ideas really
have died away (as some certainly have: who now cares about the doctrine of
Two Swords, Pope and Emperor?).fn509 We read Hobbesfn510 and Locke, and not
Filmerfn511 or the pre-Adamitic theoristsfn512 at whom he is alleged to be tilting,
because their words speak to us. Hobbes is marvellously relevant to the
discontents of the twentieth century, as Filmer or Althusiusfn513 are not, at least to
the same degree. These may be truisms, but I think that they need stating in view of
the powerful influence which, I am sure rightly, you say that the historicists have
had or are having.
You say […] that political theories arise out of upheavals in society. I am sure
this is by and large the case. But even if it is true of Hobbes, Rousseau, Hegel,
Mill, what about Hume, who lived in a very stable and relatively untroubled
society, or at least what seemed to him such? Or, indeed, Kant, who has had a
powerful influence on political thought, but before the French Revolution lived in
a very stable East Prussian society? What, indeed, about Aquinas?fn514 It seems to
me that certain central questions can arise at almost any time, and that it is these
questions that moral, political, aesthetic, social thought – whether called
philosophy or theory – is about, i.e. the ultimate ends of men, based on a certain
conception of human nature, which differs from thinker to thinker quite often:
Machiavelli’s man is very different from Locke’s, so is Kant’s timeless eternal
moral being, or Spinoza’s unchanging human nature […].
You speak of the decline of political theory in English-speaking countries, at
any rate since, say, the death of T. H. Green; and it is true that until the Second
World War this was a very justified complaint. One of the reasons for this, I think
– I do not know if you will agree – is the emergence of new disciplines. Parricide
is common among theories: it is not only in Freud that the children kill the father.
These new disciplines have made the whole thing much more complicated. With
the rise of economics, sociology, social psychology, Freudian psychology, when
men spoke about freedom people asked: ‘Which kind do you mean? Freedom from
anxiety? Economic freedom? Freedom of societies, or of the individuals in
them?’, just as Sismondifn515 asked: ‘What is meant by a rich state? That the
treasury is full, or that the citizens are prosperous?’fn516 The complications which
these new disciplines have introduced destroyed the pristine simplicity that made
it possible for Locke, Rousseau, even Mill, to talk as they did.
Sociology has on the whole not been a success story; at least, political
sociology has no doubt generated much useful and surprising knowledge, but the
effort to discover powerful general propositions about the laws, or even
tendencies, that govern human history has – at least in our century – not been
crowned with much success. That is no doubt why sociology, which, under Comte,
started so ambitiously, is at present in a somewhat frustrated condition. And this
leads me to the view than Comte’s effort to create a natural science of politics
founded upon the discovery of irrefutable laws of history, on the analogy of the
triumph of the natural sciences, was in principle misconceived. The analogy is not
valid: men are not merely objects in nature, governed by discoverable causal
laws. To understand human behaviour, one needs to understand how men interpret
themselves and their relations to others, how they see themselves in the world,
what they think their relationship is to past and future, to nature, and above all to
one another. Thinkers like Vico and Herder and Hegel, and the social
anthropologists of our day (say Evans-Pritchard, or Geertz, or Levi-Strauss)fn517
see this, and are not betrayed into pseudo-scientific pursuits. In this sense, logical
positivismfn518 rendered a disservice, and it and a great deal of modern
behaviourismfn519 simply don’t answer the questions which men want to ask. ‘Why
should I be treated as a commodity? Why should I not rebel against authority? Is it
right for judges, policemen, prime ministers to order me about? Are all values
compatible? Why cannot we, even in principle, be both perfectly just and
perfectly merciful? I must choose: what must I choose, and why? Why cannot I do
what I like, rather than behave decently? What is a minimally decent society?’ To
all this, behaviouralism (which seems to me on the wane) gives no answers, only
examines conduct and tell us what happens, how, when and under what pressures.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
In June 1982 the Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon initiated Operation Peace of the Galilee (the
[First] Lebanon War), intended to eliminate Palestinian terrorist groups operating from southern
Lebanon. The operation at first had broad support in Israel, but public controversy dogged its
course, and dissent intensified after the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra
and Shatila near Beirut, 16–18 September 1982. Calls for a commission of enquiry into the
massacre were initially resisted by the government, and on 20 September the President, Yitzhak
Navon,fn520 met with Prime Minister Menachem Begin to demand action. Navon’s office
subsequently issued a statement:

We do not have the right to, and should not, ignore the issue: not towards ourselves, not towards our
image in our own eyes, nor towards that part of the world which we perceive ourselves as being part of.
Our duty is to investigate, as quickly as possible and in an accurate manner, by credible and independent
people, everything that occurred in this unfortunate affair, and, if it is warranted, to draw the full
conclusions of this investigation.fn521

On 25 September the opposition Alignment Party organised one of the largest demonstrations in
Israeli history, in Tel Aviv, and on 28 September the government acceded to the demands for a
commission of enquiry; it was headed by Justice Yitzhak Kahan.fn522 His report on the Sabra and
Shatila massacre was published on 7 February 1983: it found the state of Israel indirectly
responsible for the massacre, as the camps were under IDF control when they were attacked by
Christian Phalangist militias. Kahan recommended that Sharon should be removed from the post of
minister of defence, and not reappointed to that office, which eventually led to Sharon’s
The massacre caused outrage in the Diaspora as well as in Israel, and IB was one of those
deeply affected. At a time when it still seemed uncertain whether the government would set up a
commission of enquiry, IB played a central role in drafting, and dispatching, a letter to Ha’aretz in
protest. As he explained to Ursula Niebuhr,fn523 29 October 1982:
I feel deeply distressed [by] that horrible government, as you may imagine, and did indeed draft a letter to
Ha’aretz, which I got some tycoons to sign as well as worthy academics – worthy tycoons, I must admit,
because I thought that would get through, whereas the fact that a lot of academics don’t like massacres
or violence or coercion is not news. In effect, the letter said ‘We have never signed a letter critical of the
Israel government before; we have not done so (a) because we are told we don’t know the pressures and
dangers of life in Israel and (b) because we didn’t want to give aid and comfort to her enemies; but […]
we could keep silence no longer about the reluctance of Mr Begin’s government to have an enquiry,
which makes us doubt its bona fides’ – and more in the same sense. […] The letter duly appeared: at first
they thought it was a bit too late, and so it was; collecting signatures is not easy; I have never done it
before and hope never to have to do it again. But in the end it appeared, plus an articlefn524 saying that
Stalin’s question ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ cannot be answered in terms of military divisions
alone, and that the letter was signed by quite a division, etc. (of which I have now been promoted to being
the commander).

23 September 1982 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Dr Mabro,
[…] I entirely agree with you that aggression fosters hatred, but this statement,
as you well know, cuts both ways. I am indeed horrified by the fact that these
Christian militias are permitted to enter the two camps by Israeli authorities – so,
as you must know, are many people in Israel. Speaking as a Jew to an Arab (to
invert your expression), I should be glad to protest together with you, if you in
your turn are prepared to protest against the outrages committed by Arab
terrorists, both of the PLO and associated organisations and allies, against
innocent Israelis, especially women and children. Massacres are always odious,
whoever commits them, whoever the victims are. At least indignation has been
expressed in wide sections of the Israeli population – you and I have yet to hear
similar indignation against terrorism by Arab parties or public opinion in the Arab
states. If that were so, we could sign a joint letter, denouncing both sides for their
excesses and brutality. I feel strongly that what is sauce for the Israeli goose must
be sauce also for the Arab gander.
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]

[Editorial translation of a letter published in Hebrew in Ha’aretz, 1 October 1982, 22, headed ‘Let
Israel Regain Its Honour’]fn526

[We have for a long time been among the active supporters of Zionism and the
state of Israel, and our support continues. In the past we have hesitated to criticise
the government of Israel publicly – not only because we respected the point made
by many Israelis that those who live outside Israel’s borders cannot really
comprehend the severity of the dangers and pressures which are the lot of Jews
living in Israel. Moreover, we did not – and still do not – want to join those of
Israel’s critics who kept their silence when Jews in Israel – men, women and
children – had been massacred by Arab terrorists and their allies.
But faced with the massacre perpetrated last week in the refugee camps Shatila
and Sabra in Beirut, and the ensuing situation, we feel that he who remains silent
in such times is mistaken. We wholeheartedly support the demand of President
Yitzhak Navonfn527 to set up an independent commission of enquiry to investigate
the chain of events leading to this shocking event.
He who refuses to investigate will cause doubts in the hearts of civilised and
honest people in Israel and abroad about the integrity of the government of Israel.
We have been and still are devoted friends of the state of Israel and its people,
and we hope that everything will be done to clear their conscience and to bring
back their honour, which has been a source of pride for Jews all over the world.
Lord (Sidney) Bernstein, Chairman, Granada TV
Lord (Marcus) Sieff, Chairman, Marks and Spencer
Lord (Samuel) Segal
Lord (Arnold) Goodman
Lord (Victor) Rothschild, banker
Baroness (Dora) Gaitskell, House of Lords
Baroness (Alma) Birk, House of Lords
Sir Isaiah Berlin, All Souls College, Oxford
Steven Roth, Director, Institute of Jewish Affairs, London
T. R. Fyvel, writer
Professor Chimen Abramsky, University College, London
Jacob Rothschild, banker
William Frankel, writer
Professor Alfred Neuberger, Director, Institute for Preventive Medicine, London
Ellis Birk
Professor Julius Gould, Nottingham University
John Gross, writer (former editor, TLS)
Professor D. D. Raphael, Imperial College, London
N. M. Dunietz, Oxford
Rabbi Hugo Gryn
Professor David Daiches, Edinburgh University
Professor John Friend, Hull University
Professor Leonard Schapiro, London School of Economics
S. Zipperstein
Peter Oppenheimer, Oxford
Michael Freeden, Oxford
Peter Pulzer, Oxford]

15 November 1982
Headington House

Dearest Shirley,
What a wonderful letter! I am so glad you loved Leningrad. It is indeed a
beautiful city, very neoclassical and un-Russian, despite everything, not built for
the kind of inhabitants that hurry along the streets now – or did, at least, in 1956,
when I last saw it, and I cannot believe that much has changed. I ought to have
asked you to pay a special visit to the Fontanka canal and look at the exquisite
iron railings of the ‘Fountain House’ of the Sheremetevs,fn529 where I visited the
poet Anna Akhmatova in 1945 – it is, or was, a most exquisite palazzo.fn530 You
were quite right to wonder at the fact that Peter the Great could have driven all
those miserable slaves to perish in the marshes of that most unhealthy climate in
order to build this proud, handsome, aloof monumentfn531 – ‘a window into
Europe’,fn532 as it was called, a challenge to traditional Russia of the most
emphatic kind […].
I was absolutely fascinated by your accounts of those stray characters who
attached themselves to you, who hoped against hope to get out, or to get some sort
of benefits from the foreigners, or to penetrate in some way the walls that surround
them, whether physically or culturally. I wonder how many of them got into actual
trouble for attaching themselves to you – not that you could help it. When they did
that in the old days, of course, they got picked up at once and sent to fearful
camps. Now I dare say it isn’t quite so severe, but nevertheless one of my great
reasons for not going to the Soviet Union is my feeling that if I talk to anyone, as I
am liable to do, and get into a real conversation – which delights me, because
there is nothing more agreeable than talking to simple, spontaneous people who
have been bottled up for years, and then they realise there is someone from the
Western world speaking their language with whom they can actually chat in some
very spontaneous free fashion, not just ask questions but enter into a kind of
personal relationship – I feel that they will have to pay dearly for this; and
therefore although one may enjoy oneself a great deal it is at a cost for them which
they themselves sometimes do not realise, since some of them live in a kind of
fool’s paradise. That happened certainly in 1945, and also in 1956, and I daren’t
risk it again. To me, the pleasure would be very great – but to them the cost.
I have a feeling that George Galitzinefn533 would not be my cup of tea – I may be
wrong […]. I have a slight phobia about White Russians – their charm doesn’t
work for me; there is always an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, and a desire to
defend the indefensible in the old regime, and sometimes even a certain instinctive
pride in the splendour of that regime, which did, after all, expand the frontiers of
Russia and put an end to all those knock-kneed liberals, socialistic Jews and other
subversive elements who did not understand the glories and agonies of the real
Russia. All this may to some degree be justified, but Turgenev and I don’t like it,
whereas Dostoevsky obviously did. Tolstoy detested such people – in some sense,
of course, he felt by origin and habits one of them, and that all the miseries and
injustices of his country were brought about by his own class. All these complex
emotions, which are not too far below the surface, embarrass me, and so I have
kept away from White Russians all my life – except the very gentle, tame ones like
my friend Dimitri Obolensky,fn534 who is a professor here; and dear Nicolas
Nabokov, a rotten liberal through and through, had exactly the same feelings about
these people as I do.
I have a feeling that the physical appearance of Russians has changed as a result
of the Revolution. All those beautiful, tall ladies with aristocratic features, who
probably had Swedish and Finnish blood in them, have disappeared to make room
for those fat laundresses, doubtless partly the product of the bread and potatoes on
which many of them have had to live for too long. The type has actually changed –
so has the outlook. Dear me, now I am talking like a White Russian […].
I loved the anecdotes, I loved your letter.
15 December 1982
Headington House

Dear Mr Stone (with your permission I shall call you Norman, but not without),
I have read your splendid piece on EHC:fn535 I may not be the most unbiased
judge, but I can find nothing unjust in it – such minor points as I have, I shall now
[…] I am not sure how much insight he had into the Russian past. I think what
fascinated him was individuals: Dostoevsky (quite genuinely), but Bakunin and
Herzen in a rather curious way. No doubt remoteness from his own world was a
factor, but the thing I felt (particularly with regard to Bakunin, but also to a great
extent with Herzen) is that he writes like a detached, ironical observer, a British
official, as it were, in a foreign land, amused, even fascinated, by the goings-on of
these eccentric, uncontrolled, slightly absurd creatures – their enthusiasms, their
love affairs, their over-tense, over-excited relationships with each other, and
indeed, with ideas too; with which, however, he feels no personal sympathy. Their
agonies are not conveyed in the language of understanding, they are always being
looked at through a telescope, and the habits of these odd foreigners are described
much in the way that Norman Douglas writes about the ‘Little White Cows’ on
Capri (Nepenthe) in South Windfn536 – a mixture, I suppose, of Gorky’s Bolshevik
summer-school attenders and dotty religious sectarians.fn537 And all this for the
entertainment of sane, sensible Englishmen who live in the real world (very
different from, say, Maurice Baring’sfn538 genuine insight into at any rate his
aristocratic–peasant Russia).
You have called that ‘insight’. He reports accurately the movements, letters,
political acts, domestic arrangements of these strange characters, but they remain
marionettes, much as Roman emperors do to Gibbon. No life is infused into them,
they remain on the stage. I think this is part of his entire treatment of people who
do not seem to him serious. It extends to the silly liberal professors of the 1930s,
Toynbee and Zimmern,fn539 ranting away about collective security, liberal values
or whatever, when they do not see the telegrams and dispatches and therefore
cannot know what is really going on; and to the idiotic Russian émigrés of the
1920s and 1930s and later dates. But the Bolsheviks are serious because, as you
of course say, they are in his view successful. They can only be taken really
seriously if their success lasts for, I suppose, at least over half a century – that is
why Bismarck, in his view, was not a success, even though some people might
think that [in] his own lifetime, at any rate, he had achieved all he had set out to
do. You rightly say that Abramsky is obviously wrong in saying that he had
interviewed everybody that he could on the Russian Revolution. Not only did he
not do so, but he made it a principle not to – failures are only likely to try to
exonerate themselves, and what is the use of listening to that? We don’t want to
hear why some batsmen score ducks, still less why they think they did, etc.
The question is: Why did he hate the Americans? Was that just general leftism?
Maybe. But also, I think, because it is connected with the kind of class and type of
person from whom he had suffered some humiliation – the British ruling class, the
Victorian-Edwardian establishment, a world he wanted overthrown and which
was being propped up by the USA. However, that is mere speculation.
You say that he was the most eminent left-wing British historian during his
lifetime. I would tend to agree, but will AJPT concede that? Perhaps he would.
He would certainly say so now, but not twenty years ago, I’ll bet. Certainly he is
more readable and, I should say, despite everything, a better historian. […]
John Grossfn540 once told me that an interesting BLitt could be written on the
reviews of Russian books in the TLS during the Carr–Deutscher period
(Deutscher’s review of Doctor Zhivago was a famous monstrosity).fn541 One of the
differences between them was that Deutscher could not quite accept Carr’s
extreme contempt for ideas as factors in history: Carr had no fault to find with
Deutscher. Yet what you say about Deutscher’s book on Stalinfn542 is absolutely
right. The apparently dispassionate tone in which it is written conceals the most
violent bias and distortions and suppressions: his treatment of Kronstadtfn543 is no
better than Carr’s. I am glad you refer to the attempted suppression of Leonard
Schapiro’s first book – he would have had no career as a historian of Communism
if this had succeeded.fn544 […]
Your last pages on him [Carr] are very devastating, but I cannot deny that they
give me a certain amount of natural satisfaction.fn545 I did find it difficult to
swallow his genuine lack of interest in the complex nature of the facts – he did not
bend the pattern he sought to impose. I feel that the early volumes of the History,
which is all that I have ever read (and not much of that, save vol. 1, which I
reviewed somewhere – I simply cannot remember where, perhaps in the Sunday
Times)fn546 were rather like reading a highly competent and clearly written official
history of the activities of, say, the Foreign Office, based on its documents,
without the aid of a single unofficial piece of information, written by a well-
trained, highly competent bureaucrat with a gift for exposition, unswerving loyalty
to his superiors and colleagues, not much regard for the far from simple,
unsymmetrical nature of reality – that, quite apart from a peculiarly powerful
contempt for the martyrs and the minorities, and a total disregard of the alternative
solutions there were to given problems, even for Soviet rulers: the reasons for
which they chose to do what they did, and rejected other alternatives, or ignored
them, were sufficient and justifiable.
I must not go on. I think it is a fine piece, and serves much better now that he is
dead. Despite his crude Marxist attacks on me personally, we got on, as I told you,
quite well. He had not had an entirely happy life, and to add to his cup of misery,
although it was not that full, would, perhaps, have been unkind. But now the truth
can be told. It really is an object lesson of how not to write history, not to ignore
ideas; and how personal resentment and coldness of nature are not the best
qualities for those who attempt what men have done and suffered.fn547 […]
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin
15 April 1983
Headington House

Dear Edward (I beg you not to stand on ceremony),

[…] What Reni Brendelfn549 said to you is quite true. I did tell her, when she
mentioned you in conversation, that your articles on Arab–Israeli conflict
distressed me, and sometimes caused me bitter feeling: it is not so much their
content as their tone that has this effect on me, and I daresay on other friends of
Israel. What you say about my friendly feelings towards yourself and your family
is entirely true. I felt this years ago, and do so still. […] It is because of these
feelings on my part, and because I know that you are completely honest in your
beliefs and speak them without fear or favour, that I like and respect you
personally; but I should have found it embarrassing to meet you socially without
saying something about our differences. Had I not, I should have felt craven; and
then we might have had a sharp argument, and that, I thought, would have been
unfair to our hostess, to the Brendels, to all the others. There is nothing I dread so
much as public altercation, but to have said nothing or to have said something mild
would have made me feel ashamed.
When you say that you are not anti-Semitic, I find it astonishing that you should
bother to say this. I find it almost offensive that you should suppose that I could
think you anti-Semitic in any degree. I know that the line between anti-Zionism
and anti-Semitism can be very thin at times, and that the partisan feelings which
Israel engenders sometimes spill over, at times half consciously, into irritation
with the Jews as such, and even dislike of them. But never conceivably could I
have thought this about you.
Let me go back to the issue between us, and first of all, very briefly, state my
own position. I am a Zionist, if only because I believe that neither the Jews nor
anyone else should be condemned to be a minority everywhere, for that distorts
human development, both of individuals and of peoples. Perhaps it would have
been better for the Jews if they had been assimilated – disappeared, as the
Assyrians and Carthaginians have.fn550 But they have not, and their efforts to do so
– at least on the part of some of them – have ended in ghastly and humiliating
failure, particularly in countries where it appeared that they had been progressing
most rapidly and effectively, e.g. Germany at the end of the last and beginning of
this century, and Russia in the early years of the Revolution, before Stalin’s real
anti-Semitism became permanently respectabilised, de facto, as a widespread
attitude in the Soviet Union. Also, I think that Palestine was the only country in
which the Jews could have set up a genuine establishment of their own, for
reasons which of course I could expound to you, and which you probably know
very well, but for which there is obviously no space here.
Moreover, it is clear to me that the Arabs of Palestine have suffered an
injustice, for reasons which again are self-evident. The question therefore is
whether the misery of the Jews, and the danger to them in Muslim as well as
Christian countries, did not outweigh the wound inflicted upon the Arabs. When
conflicts of this kind arise, the least degree of misery (and injustice) is the only
right goal to aim at, though what this is cannot be demonstrated conclusively by
any methods that I recognise as valid (least of all historic rights, national self-
determination, God’s covenant with Abraham, or any other a priori approach). It
is a question of a painful empirical adjustment, and partition schemes seem to me
to have been the least unjust in the circumstances: i.e. a Jewish and an Arab state
– what the very moderate Arabs demand now, both Palestinian and others. The
Zionists, à contre-coeur,fn551 did accept this: e.g. the recommendations in 1937 of
the Peel Report;fn552 of the British cabinet plan in 1944fn553 or whenever that was
(at least Weizmann regarded this as an acceptable minimum); of the United
Nations; etc.
All these were rejected by the Arabs, who, of course, hated the whole thing.
Wars were fought, Jews won them, they held on to their gains to minimise as far as
they could the dangers of being attacked again. The Arabs, quite understandably,
did not and do not want the Jews there at all […]. The view – which your articles
offer to your readers – that the Arabs have been maltreated, that the Israelis are
wicked and often hypocritical aggressors, and should at the very least be squeezed
back into the pre-Six-Day-War, or -1947, frontiers – with the implication that they
should not have been there at all – is a view held widely. Of course I know that
one can be a decent, fair-minded and honourable person and hold it – after all, the
entire British Foreign Office, with very few exceptions, have held it since
virtually Curzon’s day; the entire State Department has held it, and holds it still;
there is not a Foreign Office in the world that, in my view, would not heave a sigh
of relief if Israel went out of existence – its continuance is of value to the Jews
alone. I don’t think this is an exaggeration; and your expression of such sentiments
is only a particularly sharp and uncompromising form of it.
As a result of the Arab–Jewish wars, and Arab feeling that at any rate official
British opinion was very much on their side, Arab bitterness and hostility to Israel
have increased sharply; it is not unnatural that Israeli fears have increased
correspondingly. Most pro-Arabs would, I think, wish the Jews to return to pre-
1947 conditions, even though Hitler and the Russian pogroms make it
understandable that most Jews cannot want this to be the case. Of course I realise
that to be strongly pro-Arab is not to be a villain. What has wounded me deeply
and continuously in your articles is their tone more than their content.
I say again that you have made yourself in effect the voice of the PLO, which, as
I am sure you will not deny, fundamentally seeks to regain the whole of Palestine –
reconquistafn554 – and out with the Jews if necessary; it will only swallow them if
it absolutely must (and most of them don’t think that even now), because of their
inability to drive them out; all of which they blame – naturally enough – on
America. So far as I know, you have not at any point conceded anything to the
point of view of, or a case for, the immigrants into Palestine – for them and their
Israeli children – whose last best hope of a normal life Israel in fact constitutes,
and who view a PLO state as dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, if
not immediately, then by stages, as the Carthaginians were slowly eliminated: or
You may think the Jewish case is weaker than that of the Arabs, as I think it
stronger; but if one is to be minimally fair, one must balance one’s passionate and
understandable pro-Palestine indignation with some degree of understanding of,
even if one cannot generate any sympathy for, the population which came initially
only to live a normal life – the number of aggressive Jewish nationalists in 1918
was minute and uninfluential – and found itself caught in a trap, and like other
trapped animals sometimes strikes out blindly and self-destructively
[…] if the Jews are to give up the West Bank, cannot the PLO yield something
concrete? Before 1972 a large majority of Israelis were, in my view, ready to give
up most of the West Bank for peace. Now they don’t think that the PLO means
peace. And Arafat’s inability to say the word ‘Israel’, save in execration,
reinforces this. […]
I won’t argue with you about whether an Israel side by side with a West Bank
PLO-dominated state is feasible – I don’t think so; but that is an empirical point
which does not, at least for me, involve any issue of principle. What I want to
stress is that anyone reading your articles cannot help feeling that the Israelis are
pretty black, with very few exceptions indeed, and that none of the Arabs are so –
at most they are light grey. Is this unfair? […]
We ought to talk this out. I am glad Mrs B[rendel] spoke to you: she simply
assumed, from my complaints about your tone, that our meeting might have
embarrassed me; I do find my feelings about your pieces difficult to bear or
swallow, but a conversation will do much, I hope, to make things easier. You are
quite right: angry silence is worst of all […]. Private life and personal relations
are not everything, but they are a very great deal; I cannot believe that you believe
the opposite.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

PS It is a historical irony that the PLO is a mirror image of the Zionist

Revisionists,fn556 created by the Jews: the same passion, slogans, actions. Partition
is, I am sure, in principle, the only way out. If only Begin, Sharon, Abu Nidal,fn557
Arafat would go.
I have remembered a curious image produced by Isaac Deutscher, for whose
doctrines in general I have little sympathy, and who was, of course, wholly anti-
Zionist: it was of a man in a burning house jumping out of the window on to the
back of another man standing casually in the street, who was knocked out by
this.fn558 I infer, even if Deutscher did not mean, that room in the street had to be
found for both, in 1918, not just 1945. I think there is a good deal in that analogy.
Do you disagree?

15 June 1983
Headington House

Dear Dr Hoetink,
Thank you for your letter of 11 May: it put very searching and central questions
to me, which go to the heart of my entire position. I wish I were one of those
people who know the true answers and are not assailed by doubts either about the
solutions themselves or their own capacity to reach them. Auguste Comte, the
logical positivists of the 1920s and 1930s, my colleagues in Oxford Professors
Hare and Dummett, are not, so far as I know, assailed by doubts about their
positions. I am. Still, I should like to tell you what I believe at present.
I wish I thought that Goethe was right: that all men in their dunkelen Strebenfn560
nevertheless knew the right path, however different in different times and places. I
don’t think this. Men have been responsible for what almost everyone would now
regard as frightful acts – massacres of the innocent, destruction of entire societies
and cultures (against which God warns Jonah in the last verses of that remarkable
book of the Old Testament)fn561 – in the full conviction that what they have done is
wholly and eternally right; not just because of errors of fact, e.g. that there are
Untermenschenfn562 and that Jews and Gypsies are such, but because of dedication
to purposes and values which we may find detestable or barbarous. If I deny, as I
do, the absolute authority of universal laws and truths – which hold for everyone
everywhere – arrived at by some species of infallible intuition, or metaphysical
reasoning, or faith, or revelation, or theological reasoning, am I then committed to
some species of relativism or subjectivism, as so many have supposed, and still
suppose? I think not. These are my reasons.
I accept the obvious validity of the views of those who believe in an empirical
version of ‘natural law’fn563 (e.g. my colleague Herbert Hart), namely, that
minimum of moral values accepted by all men without which human societies
would disintegrate, and from which, for quasi-biological causes, men cannot
depart without perishing. Such are the perception of the difference of good and
bad,fn564 of true and false, perhaps of just and unjust. Without this minimum no life
can be lived long: nothing is predictable; communication between men (and I
daresay animals) cannot occur; no society can begin to exist if there are no hopes
or fears; or if there is universal lying (i.e. no predictable behaviour of things or
persons), universal murder and so on. So some common values are indispensable
for the most primitive associations. This does form a kind of universally accepted
‘natural law’; but it is not nearly sufficient to give us what we need –
constellations, systems, of values to govern life.
Next, there is the need for communication between human beings. If I cannot
communicate with you, if your behaviour follows no rules that I can understand or
grasp (whether I approve or not), you are not a human being for me: we don’t live
in the same world. If, to use Hume’s example, I meet a man who simply cannot
see why he should not destroy the world to relieve a soreness on his little
finger,fn565 I have no means of conducting a wholly meaningful dialogue with him.
The minimum values needed for intercommunication are in this sense an objective,
not a subjective, need: part of the objective world which we inhabit together,
which we literally cannot do without. This will not exclude relativity in a wide
sphere. The ends of life – values – can differ widely. So I continue.
If the number of possible human ends is literally infinite, a kind of relativistic
‘ideal utilitarianism’fn566 would follow: I live for collecting green objects because
they are green; you destroy all blue objects because they are blue. These are our
ultimate ends: there is no overarching criterion or scale of values to determine
whether either of us is right or wrong. We just do have the ends we have: ends
cannot be criticised. The only thing we can do is to judge, on the basis of
experience, experiment etc. which are the best means to those ends. Such
utilitarianism is called ‘ideal’ because not only happiness or pleasure, but
literally anything – worship of the one God, destruction of certain types of beetle,
creation of works of art, torture of small children – anything – can be an ultimate
end which governs someone’s life. If I cannot understand why you think about
nothing but how to accumulate matchboxes, not because this gives you pleasure (I
could understand that – just), but because they are matchboxes, I call you
irrational; but nothing follows; it is an end of life, as good as any other,
uncriticisable; there is no criterion of criticism. That would lead to pure
subjectivism or relativism.
I don’t believe that human beings are like that. I believe (on the basis of the
collective, recorded experience of mankind and the data of observation) that the
number of pursuable human ends is not unlimited. You asked me whether I thought
that there was a ‘core’ human nature; not, as you rightly surmised, quod semper,
quod ubique, quod ab omnibus;fn567 but in the sense that only some values, some
ends, can be ultimate goals for human beings. Yes. Some of them are indeed
incompatible with one another, and this entails the incoherence of the idea of
perfection – of the possibility of a harmony of all human values. But there are only
17 or 83 or 117 such, not an infinity.
By value[s] and ends I do not mean isolated values: peace or liberty or
happiness or justice or love or artistic activity – too general in any case; capable
of much specification and interpretation. I mean reasonably coherent visions of
life; patterns of behaviour and beliefs and feeling and disposition and ideals
grandly called Weltanschauungen;fn568 entire structures, entire ways of life, in
which the values or ends or motives are interconnected in particular ways, so that
one cannot simply remove ‘a value’ or ‘a purpose’ from one pattern – that of an
industrial organiser or a religious army general, a socialist doctor or a sceptical
liberal intellectual – and transplant it from one of these patterns into another. They
form wholes: ‘organic’, some call them, though I do not find that this biological
metaphor adds all that much.
I believe that the network of values realised in these ways of life – limited by
being ends of more or less sane human beings and not angels or lunatics – are
objective in the sense that they embrace goals which human beings can pursue as
human beings, as they can contract pneumonia, but not grow a thousand feet tall.
They are such that, even if I myself don’t hold them, or reject or even detest them,
nevertheless I can understand how, in a given situation, with a given (intelligible
to me) character, a man or woman could coherently pursue them.
That is what Vichian or Herderian empathy is for (Einfühlen).fn569 I can
imaginatively enter – have an insight – into what it must have been like to be a
Greek slave, or a Roman soldier, or a martyr, a Jacobin, a royalist, a Communist,
an ayatollah, a Chinese anti-imperialist, an American hippy. With enough
knowledge of the relevant historical facts and enough imaginative insight, I ought
to be able to grasp why the Christian ‘deadly sins’ did not include, say, cruelty or
treachery, which I consider far worse than gluttony or accidie, which are included
in the list. The spiritual pattern, relation to God, is conceived in a way I may not
share or sympathise with, but am able to comprehend. This comprehensibility
gives the medieval Christian outlook an objective status as one of 17 or 181 ways
of living open to men; pure relativism or subjectivism does not require the
possibility of understanding of other outlooks or customs or ways of life, public or
All these ‘varieties of experience’ – William James’s pluralism is the doctrine I
feel closest tofn570 – are authentic and capable of being lived through by X and
understood by Y, across centuries and vast spaces. It is the inability to allow for
this that makes much of the otherwise marvellously liberating French
Enlightenment so unhistorical and dogmatically self-centred and blind to what
human beings and lives can be – the whole rich tapestry of the human past, with its
repeated and unrepeated patterns – and gives it a thin lucidity at the cost of
variety, and above all depth.
Much of the difference of outlooks is, of course, due to sheer empirical
illusions: that there is a Moloch which clamours for human sacrifice; or that
burning people at the stake improves their chances of avoiding hell; or that there
are subhuman creatures, biologically identifiable – Blacks, Jews etc.; or that self-
flagellation opens the gate to spiritual illumination. If these remediable errors and
illusions are discounted, the values of different sects and ideologies may turn out
to be much more similar than is commonly thought. Basic differences of human
outlook have been much exaggerated. But they exist. The world of the rich is
different from that of the poor; of tycoons from that of artists; of a Jewish atonal
composer from that of an Arab peasant; Khomeini’s from Voltaire’s. But provided
they are intelligible, form choosable lives – ones I can conceive of, or imagine,
myself as capable of entertaining in a particular place and time and context – then,
however remote or odious it may be to me as I am, they are, in my sense,
objective: human nature is definable in terms of this diapason.
So Vico tells us that only men who are mean, cruel, oppressive, intensely
ambitious, could have generated the Iliad and Odyssey.fn571 In so far as we claim
to understand these masterpieces, and recognise them as works of genius, we can
enter into the Homeric world as a possible life for us, had we been there then. I
reject Homeric life; I am repelled by the world of Wagner’s tetralogy; but I can
enter into them imaginatively. If there is no ‘common ground’, there is no
understanding or communication. The common ground does not entail a common
‘core’: Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ is sufficient.fn572 If A has something in
common with B, B with C, C with D, etc., I can move along this line and finally
arrive at Z; there need be no centre, no ‘basic’ human nature, no ‘natural man’
stripped of all his acquired characteristics. This is not like relativism, which says
‘I like my coffee black’ v. ‘I want it white’ – two ‘brute facts’ with no bridge
between them; no common ground; where anyone might be of any sort, pursue any
end – everyone to his taste.
The real (objective) human values are, as it were, given. They cannot be
invented. They are developments of a finite set of humanly leadable lives. Anyone
who is identifiable in terms of at any rate some constituents of one of these
leadable lives – possible outlooks and dispositions – is for me a human being.
How many constituents it is impossible to specify – a sufficiency. This is what I
should like to call objective pluralism: choosable, intelligible lives and outlooks.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

27 June 1983 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Philip,
I have made a very private enquiry, via a common friend, of Francis Baconfn574
(he was told that I, who knew him, would like to send an unsolicited letter to
someone at the Palace recommending an OM). He said that he would not accept it,
that he wished ‘to remain as he was at birth, with no added attributes’. Of course,
once approached, he might take it. But I think, on the whole, better not.
I am quite sure there is no other British painter or sculptor of OM quality.
Lucian Freudfn575 is nearest, but he has just got a CH, and Moynihanfn576 and
Gowingfn577 and Spearfn578 and Carel Weightfn579 and so on are talented but not of
the first class. I wonder if John Betjeman is right for this? He is far from well, and
he has created a world of his own, and his verse has made an impact on writers,
as well as gained a popularity with the public unparalleled by any other poet. He
is a kind of (minor) genius, in my view. Is he too old? An OM would be well
received, I believe. I wish we had a marvellous architect or film producer; and
one actor is enough.fn580
The only other person who seems suitable to me is the art historian Sir Ernst
Gombrich. He has made a vital difference to his subject (which is my criterion for
scholars in the humanities) – nobody in art history can ignore him. In that respect
he stands alone, like Syme, and much more than Kenneth Clark. I think all art
historians would acknowledge this, whether they like his views or not.
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin

[July 1983, carbon]
Headington House

[…] One of the most startling things is that there is no effort in this reportfn582 to
compare British operatic with European experience. Even the most passionate
regionalist cannot but profit from knowing how opera is supported in the
provincial capitals of e.g. Germany, Italy, and even Switzerland and France; about
the dominant part that municipal aid plays there; and how well they do without an
Arts Council (but never mind about that). There really are some lessons to be
learnt about what to do and to avoid, which it is typical British parochialism to
ignore – that does seem to me worth saying, however irritating.
Broadcasts […]: if Carl Rosafn583 and visits by the troops to the Naples opera at
the end of the war have had this splendid effect on hoi polloi, then why are there
not more broadcasts, why only on the Third Programme or BBC2? Why not on
BBC and TV1fn584 as well? This really would be a very good thing. The chief
obstacle is surely the unions, I imagine. Isn’t that right? We are told that the costs
of the big five companies are likely to increase because of ‘international
producers, designers, conductors, artists’. And what about the unions? NATKE,
MU, Equity?fn585 It is not the foreign canaries and maestri who cost that much
more, as we know, but chorus, orchestra, stage-hands etc. Tremendously well
worth emphasising this point – the talk of snobbish use of foreigners needs
This comes up again […]: we are pandering to international stars in the choice
of operas, and this is positively bad for opera. Here we must say what John
Tooley has repeated so often, that one of the central purposes of any great opera
house – one of the big five [sc. four], Scala, Vienna, the Met, us, and, well below
that, Paris, West Berlin, East Berlin, Hamburg, Rome, Naples etc. – is to give the
public an opportunity of hearing the greatest (or, indeed, the most famous) singers
of our times. The history of opera is largely the history of singers, for whom
Rossini,fn586 Verdi, Donizetti,fn587 and indeed Mozart and Wagner, composed parts
in their operas. The degree to which we yield to the wishes of these world-famous
singers is not great, and if we did not the public would rightly feel cheated and be
displeased. And this would be bad, not good, for opera. The objection is a
typically priggish-populist-academic resentment of glamour in any form – and yet
vocal splendour is the heart of opera in its great period. This can be said with
some emphasis: it is part of being first-rate. And [it is] no good saying that Welsh,
Scottish, Kent have come on tremendously and are practically the equal of ROH
and even ENO: they are not, and this [is] regionalist fanaticism and anti the
alleged wealth and fashion supposedly found at Covent Garden.
[…] We are accused of ‘an unimpressive record’ in respect of ‘new works’.
Something was said about this at the Board, but we really ought to list the entire
oeuvre of Brittenfn588 and Tippett,fn589 and the works of Henze,fn590 Tavener,fn591
Searle,fn592 Maxwell Davies,fn593 and indeed Schoenbergfn594 (we started off Moses
and Aaron on its world career) and his Erwartung, Shostakovich, Janáček,fn595
whom I think we produced before ENO; and indeed Lulu, which counts as modern
because hitherto not done in full. It is a monstrous charge. We have, of course, lost
a lot of money over this, but still regard it as our sacred duty. This charge should
be hit quite hard.
In connection with this […], we are urged to increase the public’s taste for new
works by ‘education’ etc., which the regional companies are said to be doing. In
fact, we know perfectly well that nobody has succeeded in doing this: all new
works are resisted by the public everywhere, for obvious reasons. Grimes, after
40 years (?) and Wozzeck after 50, are still money-losers, at any rate in England.
Schoolmasters all over England promote school performances of British
composers, etc., but this has done little good from the box office point of view.
This is a pious wish on the part of the committee, and should be described as
such. One of the true reasons for this situation is, of course, that there is very little
good modern opera, and people prefer to listen to nineteenth-century works not
simply because they are more familiar, but because they are much better. Everyone
secretly knows this. If the perfectly worthy champions of new music (even our
own Alexander Goehr,fn596 naturally) desire this, they must demand a huge subsidy
for it, otherwise no good, except flops d’estimefn597 at best.
[…] What is meant by saying that ROH audiences (apart from ticket prices
‘separately mentioned’) are ‘weighted in favour of the economically and socially
privileged’? Does it mean that people in jeans feel ill at ease? This seems to me
Hoggartianfn598 claptrap all the same. This is bound to be true of all the great opera
houses, but it is equally true of the Bolshoi, Zagreb, and I dare say in Siberian
towns as well. Perhaps there is nothing to be said about that, although it would be
as well to say something in order to make them spell out just what they do mean:
would it be a concession to them if we served beer in the crush bar, as I suspect
we do not? Does ENO? Anyway, the difference between a great opera house and a
Volksoperfn599 is bound to exist, and there is plainly a need for both. When the
televised Bayreuth Ring was looked at by one million persons, it shows that when
things are first-rate the public does respond. […]
It is not true that commercial sponsors only support what is ‘known and
fashionable’. If composers of the order of Stravinsky or Britten were still writing,
business would support that too. The idea of not giving business sponsors too
much credit is an old Arts Council demand – it is ridiculous. It is the function and
duty of the Arts Council to provide funds, but not that of commercial enterprises,
so why should we be asked to give exaggerated thanks to Roy Shawfn600 (from
whom it comes), and not to Commercial Union? This point, in a mild way, should
be made. […]
[IB pp PU]
In 1983 BBC2 TV’s Timewatchfn601 interviewed Jenifer Hartfn602 for a programme about British
Intelligence in the 1930s. Hart had joined the Communist Party in the summer of 1933 at Oxford,
and had been told to keep her membership a secret on joining the Home Office in 1935, so that
she could act as a ‘mole’ or sleeper. In her 1998 autobiography Ask Me No Morefn603 Hart
claimed to have left the CPGB in 1939, and denied ever passing on any secrets, but during the
1960s she was twice interviewed by MI5, and by 1983 it was public knowledge that she was
suspected of having been a Soviet agent. She saw the interview with Timewatch as an opportunity
to address these suspicions, and spoke candidly of the appeal of Communism for her generation.
Soon afterwards she was contacted by an ex-lodger, now a journalist, who alluded ominously to
the BBC press releases for the programme, and invited her to set the record straight. This she ill-
advisedly attempted to do, describing once again the importance of Communist ideals in the 1930s,
and remarking: ‘I mean one felt one wasn’t a narrow patriot: I never felt much loyalty to my
country, but don’t say that.’fn604
The telephone conversation was secretly recorded, and formed the basis of an article in the
Sunday Times, 17 July 1983, ‘I Was Russian Spy, Says MI5 Man’s Wife’. The article not only stated
that she had admitted to being a Soviet agent, but implied that her husband was complicit, having
known of her involvement while he was at MI5. The Harts subsequently sued the Sunday Times for
defamation, and won costs, but the paper issued only a ‘very brief and wholly inadequate’
apology,fn605 and in October of that year Herbert Hart suffered a nervous breakdown. While IB
had great sympathy for Jenifer, he regarded her husband, also a close friend, as the real victim of
the whole affair. ‘It is worse for him – all this – than for her,’ he wrote to Pat Utechin: ‘he is so
impeccable & upright – […] She doesn’t care much, I suspect.’fn606 Much later he wrote to Diana
Hopkinson,fn607 a near contemporary of Jenifer Hart at Oxford: ‘What a tangled story it is.
Nobody seems to have emerged well out of it, except for Herbert, who was so falsely accused. It
really was a monstrous attack, disgusting in every detail.’fn608

10 August 1983 [manuscript]

Dearest Jenifer,
Your letter really did upset us: the lies, bad faith, malice, desire to throw
intellectuals to the lions of the political pornography hungry (as Herbert rightly
calls it) public is very disgusting. After Stuart’s horrible experience at the hands
of a similar scoundrel from the Observer (did you not see his letter on this in the
Times?fn609 he was helped to draft it, on my pressing advice, by Arnold
G[oodman]fn610 – his pride rebelled against this, but sense prevailed)fn611 you shd
have known better: & your sharp treatment of whoever it was from MI5 who
reasonably called on you, in the 1960ies was it? After Blunt was blown? did not
help:fn612 & I do see that Herbert must be even more upset: at least you did dabble
in Communism – I had no idea of it at the time! – whereas he is super-honourable
(oh dear does that mean to imply that I think you are not? I do not, I cannot, mean
to imply this: you are far too wedded to principles, odd ones at times, but lack of
integrity is not an attribute of yours) and patriotic and Caesar’s wife: of course he
knew all about your wanderings – but by 1939 you had been converted to
reason,fn613 & it had no relevance to his war work. Still all that is in the past. My
view is (a) that Goodman is a tremendous authority on relations to the Press: he
usually advises against proceedings both because the press is very heavily
defended by legal experts, but even more because even if you win, you are liable
to endless persecution by journalists (goodness how far less honourable &
civilized & decent a profession in England than in America or France or
Germany! I wonder why) for the rest of your life. So do listen to me, & consult
Goodman privately, no matter what your solicitor says; his advice on writing a
letter to a journal wd have saved you much trouble.
b) If you need “conservative” character witnesses or Herbert does (what an
irony! Aristidesfn614 in search of testimony to uprightness!) – […] Richard
Wilberforce is excellent; also Belofffn615 who is often silly and strident, but
perfectly decent & brave, & has known you as a real friend for years. Not
Quinton, who looks on Herbert as a detractor (Politics Chair etc.).fn616 What about
Lord Dacre? Whatever he is thought to be, not a pillar of the Left; & he deeply
respects Herbert (pity he left “The Club!”).fn617 Is Dick Whitefn618 out of [the]
question? John Maud wd have done very well: so wd H. W. B. Joseph.fn619
Sparrow too far gone. Finnis?fn620 Blake (is he a friend or ex-friend of Herbert? I
imagine not.) Warnock?fn621 Very conservative look: & relevant as Vice-
Chancellor; Bullock?fn622 all possible. End of my imaginative capacity. I’ll [be]
back in Oxford about 17th or 18th Sept: I imagine all is quiet at the moment: Jean
who is coming here on Sept 6 or 7 will tell us more I expect: the Donaldsonsfn623
who love you & will be here will listen with all their ears – they may have some
useful ideas. Dear Jenifer I am distressed: you do make precipitate moves – I find
that wonderful – but occasionally it must get you into hot water. Remind
Wilberforce about his ancestor – the Bishop’s answer about why he was called
‘Soapy Sam’ “Because I am always in hot water & my hands are always
Love from us both

19 September 1983
Headington House

Dear Alistair,
I don’t see the New Yorker at all regularly, and was therefore delighted to
receive your excellent piece on my herofn626 – hero, yes, because I think he saved
our lives, and I expect that under my old chief Lord Halifaxfn627 we should have
made peace in 1940, and been successfully invaded after (or before) the defeat of
Russia, etc. But on the only occasion when I met him to talk to, I was, despite all
my passionate admiration, put off by his brutality, his contempt for the lesser
breeds without the law, his lust for war, his odious doctrine about the need –
eternal need – for a permanent reserve of unemployed as a source of efficiency,
and so on. And I had to remind myself that he was a genius, a saviour – and, of
course, I did fall under the spell of his very funny and fascinating conversation.
As for our ages, I have (don’t laugh, please don’t – shed a tear) lost the use of
one of my two vocal cords, and only produce a hideous guttural sound, a kind of
croak, which distresses and disgusts me; but otherwise I am not too bad for my
years – and, my God, nor are you. If we drank like Denis Broganfn628 we should be
long since under the cold earth – but we don’t. You are wonderfully productive; I
moderately. But I wish we could meet: it would make me very happy. Let me say
once again, your piece on WSC really is a masterpiece.
Yours ever,

21 October 1983 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear G[eorgy] M[ikhailovich],

I hope you are as well as our years permit, and that our many years of
friendship will bear the burden of the somewhat disagreeable fact which I wish to
bring to your attention. I was horrified to see in Patricia Blake’sfn630 introduction
to Writers in Russia: 1917–1978, by Max Hayward,fn631 pp. l–li, the following
sentence: ‘He [i.e. GM] went to Isaiah Berlin and told him that Pasternak wanted
the book [i.e. Doctor Zhivago] translated and published quickly. “That’s all
nonsense,” Berlin said. “It’s an interesting novel, but whether it’s published now,
or fifteen years from now, doesn’t matter.” GM says “I decided to give the
manuscript to Max”’, etc.
I am quite clear that I never uttered, nor could have uttered, the sentence
attributed to me, nor anything remotely like it. As you know, Pasternak gave me a
copy of Doctor Zhivago in Moscowfn632 in 1956: I read it at once, and thought it,
as I still do, a work of genius. The poet’s wife Zinaidafn633 begged me to persuade
him not to publish it, out of fear of consequences to him, herself and her children.
But when I put this to him, he almost lost his temper, and shamed me into silence.
All this I have described in my memoir of my visit to him in my Personal
Impressions;fn634 and I recollect repeating it to you on my return. You did not, I am
sure, consult me about the English translation at any stage. Pasternak did ask me to
translate it: after reading it, I did not think I could do it adequately. It is
inconceivable that I could have used such dismissive, almost contemptuous,
words as ‘interesting novel’, or that it did not matter when it was published in
English, since I look upon the novel as a masterpiece by a man of genius, one of
the most moving writings of our century; and am known to think this by anyone
who has ever spoken to me, or read what I have written, e.g. about my visit, and
more briefly in the Sunday Times or the Observer (I cannot remember which).fn635
I did question the wisdom of broadcasting the original over the Russian Service
of the BBC (though he may well have wished this), since I thought that the harm
this would do Pasternak would outweigh anything it could do for the cause of
freedom or truth or literature. What followed his Nobel Prize you know. But
whether I was right or wrong about this, I look on the attribution to me of these
words as not only grotesque but defamatory. I cannot and will not believe that you
are responsible for this invention.
My veneration for Pasternak is such that I propose to publish this letter,
certainly in the TLS and the NYRB,fn636 since I regard the words ascribed to me as
a piece of singularly revolting philistinism and vulgarity – something that, in the
words of the law, is calculated to bring me into ‘ridicule and contempt’. I intend
to put the record straight. My love and regard for you are known to you and to
everyone who knows us both. I cannot believe that you have libelled me in this
way, even in a moment of irritation; I prefer to believe that words have been put
been put in your mouth. An assurance from you that this is indeed the case would,
as you well imagine, be a source of relief to me. I only hope that this will not
upset you as greatly as it has upset me.fn637
Among the most interesting episodes in IB’s life was the time that he spent in New York and
Washington during the Second World War in the service of the British government. This brought
him into contact with a broad cross-section of American society, and with members of the US
administration, so that he was well placed both to gather information, and to share it. He used this
vantage-point to strengthen, wherever he could, the position of the Anglophile Zionist leader
Chaim Weizmann. He made no secret of his Zionism, but claimed to have had no doubts as to where
his ultimate allegiance lay: ‘I took the supremacy of total loyalty to England for granted.’fn638
The reality was more complicated, and in July 1943 he intervened secretly to undermine a joint
declaration by the British and American governments that would have imposed an effective
moratorium on decisions relating to Palestine until the war was over.fn639 Both London and
Washington feared alienating the Arab states, whose support was seen as vital to the war effort, by
appearing to favour the Zionist cause, and the joint declaration would have represented a
considerable setback to Jewish interests. Convinced of this, IB leaked news of it to the Zionist
newspaper publisher George Backer, who contacted the treasury secretary Henry
Morgenthau,fn640 who in turn made strong representations to FDR. In consequence Washington
abandoned its support for the declaration, to the consternation of the British government.
IB was subsequently asked by the Foreign Office to account for the failure of the plan, and this
he did in the form of a personal letterfn641 to Angus Malcolm,fn642 a former colleague at the
Washington Embassy, in which he painted a detailed picture of the intricate politics of Washington,
and the activities of the Jewish lobbies there. The letter, dated 9 August 1943, expressed his regret
that the declaration had been aborted; he presumably meant to cover his tracks, but the letter
seemed incomprehensible to the Israeli journalist Louis Rapoport,fn643 who in 1983 discovered it at
the PRO in London and wrote to IB. IB did not divulge his role in what Rapoport called ‘the
Hoskins affair’ (after the American diplomatfn644 who initiated the joint declaration) until the end
of his life, when he confessed it to his biographer. In 1983 he still kept cover, as he had done forty
years earlier. He answered Rapoport’s queries about his apparently anti-Zionist tone by claiming
that his letter to Malcolm was in effect an official dispatch, which had been amended by an
unidentified anti-Zionist at the Embassy. This seems impossible: the letter shows no signs of
tampering, and is signed by IB. That Rapoport came to accept IB’s explanation of its provenance
stemmed surely from deference to his standing as a prominent liberal Jewish intellectual, and not
from a dispassionate assessment of the facts.

2 November 1983
Headington House

Dear Mr Rapoport,
[…] you have put several questions to me which I shall attempt to answer; but
you will, I am sure, realise that events of forty years ago are not easy to remember
with any precision. I have never kept any record of anything in my life, so I can
only try to jog my unreliable memory: I cannot possibly guarantee the accuracy of
the result.
You ask about the ‘Joint Declaration’, as I think it was called, of 1943. It was, I
believe, to be issued under the names of Roosevelt and Churchill, and to say that
Zionist pressure, propaganda etc. was upsetting the Arabs, and therefore
constituted an obstacle to the Allied war effort; and urged either the modification
or total cessation (I cannot remember which) of such pressure. I have no doubt,
any more than you have, that, if this had been published, it would have inflicted
great damage to Zionist activity; not, perhaps, as great as that of the 1938–9 White
Paperfn645 (in the spirit of which it was clearly conceived by its authors in the
State Department and the Foreign Office – I fancy it was initiated by the latter, but
I don’t know), but still very considerable and lasting.
Churchill’s name would certainly have shaken the American Jewish community
(not to speak of Jews in the British Commonwealth), but Roosevelt’s much more
violently. F. D. Roosevelt was at the time a great Jewish hero in America and the
entire free world. A statement made on his authority that Zionism was doing harm
to the war effort would have produced a deep trauma. Jewish loyalties would
have come into conflict with those to America, the Allied cause, the war against
Hitler. The great majority of American Jews would surely have been severely
shaken, and Zionist activity would have suffered a terrible blow. The fact that
Jews were singled out for such a reproof (after all, there was plenty of pro-Indian,
anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist agitation going on in the US at the time, supported
by liberals, Irish organisations, anti-British – ex-isolationist – etc. groups all over
the country) would itself have been an open affront.
I thought the idea – I cannot now remember how or when I came to know of it –
I think only after it was dead – as iniquitous as I am sure you think it. In the event,
the plan became known (as my letter to Angus Malcolm which you mention
probably reports) to important Jews in the administration, such as Henry
Morgenthau and the President’s speech-writer Samuel Rosenman,fn646 as well as
influential persons such as Frankfurterfn647 and Baruchfn648 – I don’t really know
who else – and was cancelled. After it was abandoned, news of it was leaked to
and published by the columnist Drew Pearson;fn649 then there was naturally a storm
of protest by Zionist bodies and their well-wishers. Since I was known to be in
touch with Zionists, I was asked by the Foreign Office (i.e. Angus Malcolm) to
find out what had happened. I told Malcolm what I have told you, in greater detail.
You ask me if the words expressing regret that the statement was aborted were
‘camouflage’ on my part. No: I was not responsible for them; my job was to write
the first draft of what was in fact a despatch, even if it was couched in the form of
a letter. This was sent to e.g. the Head of the Chancery (Michael Wright,fn650 a
passionate anti-Zionist and pro-Arab), or it may have been some other equally
anti-Zionist official, naturally displeased by the fate of the statement. I did not see
the final text until years later, in the PRO, while looking for something else; the
tone of the ‘letter’ did not, I admit, surprise me. I was personally immensely
relieved by the failure of this bitterly anti-Zionist effort. So were some Jews
highly placed in the administration to whom I spoke of it after Drew Pearson had
given it wide and hostile publicity: they all agreed that it would have appalled the
Jewish community and might have led to deep divisions within it. I do not think
that it would have had as disastrous an effect as the White Paper of 1938/9. […]
Nevertheless, damage would have been done. The anti-Zionism of the Middle
Eastern section of the State Department at that time cannot be exaggerated. So the
‘gzerah’fn651 passed. This is all I know. But I can quite see that you might be
surprised by the tone of the letter to Malcolm, given my known and unchanging
pro-Zionist opinions. Such changes were made in other drafts of despatches
composed by me – as, indeed, was the right of my superior officers and Lord
Halifax himself. I reported the facts faithfully in the line of my duty: how they
were ultimately presented was not under my control. […]
As for Stephen Wise,fn652 I simply do not know the truth about all this: at what
dates the news of extermination camps reached him; to whom he spoke and what
he did, or failed to do; what could have been done. I was outside all that, in my
embassy enclosure. When I ask myself when I came to realise the full horror of the
Holocaust, I do not know the answer: probably not before 1944, or even later.fn653
The American newspapers paid little publicity to such horrors.fn654 No Zionist
leader told me about systematic extermination until 1945. We knew about the
Warsaw ghetto, and assumed that all Jews behind German lines were probably
doomed in one way or another – prison, or torture, or death – but not the full
horror: that, nobody in my world, Jewish or gentile, imagined.
I think it was probably impossible to stop the actual mass killings of Jews by
Germans. What could have been done, and was not, was […] rescue of some Jews
from SE Europe – Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia etc. – by dire threats to Balkan
and SE European states of the punishment likely to be visited upon them by the
Allies if they harmed Jews, surrendered them to Eichmann,fn655 etc. By the time the
Allies looked like winning – from the end of 1943 onwards – this might have
frightened some countries into refraining from killing or surrendering Jews to the
Nazis. And this was not attempted, so far as I know, save in very general terms,
which did not penetrate. That is my personal view. I cannot tell if I am right.
Jewish pressure in the US – especially by eminent Jews (not the population in
general – which I still think was not effective till the end of the war, when the
camps were entered by US troops and a general sense of horror spread
everywhere) – might have worked. Such pressure did not occur on a sufficient
scale, for fear, I suppose, of rocking the military boat; such attitudes have
occurred before and after, as you know – humanity, courage and persistence are
always in short supply.
I hope this is of some help.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
3 November 1983 [manuscript]
Headington House

Dear Mrs Schapiro,

It was with deep grief that I learnt that Leonard had had a stroke: when the
nurse I spoke to said that he had not regained consciousness, I realized that the
situation was very grave. I find it hard to accustom myself to the thought that
Leonard is no more. He was, as you know, my oldest friend. We were first brought
together by our parents in Petrograd in late 1916 when I was seven, and Leonard
eight: he was superior to me in every respect. In 1917 & 1918 he educated me in
artistic matters: we were both moderately precocious, but he much more so: he
told me all about Alexandre Benois, Bakst, Dobujinsky, Kustodiev, other Russian
painters;fn657 he gave me postcards – coloured illustrations – of their work: he was
a sculptor & produced a marvellous head of the dying Marat;fn658 he told me about
a composer called César Franckfn659 & opened all kinds of new horizons; we spent
two summers together in Pavlovsk & he was the leader of our little group of boys
and girls: I looked up to him in every way. Then in Riga his Latin teacher held him
up as a model to me: in England, I chose St. Paul’s School, & persuaded my
parents to send me there, solely because he was there already & I knew I wd have
a friend; & so it went, happily, for years. After I went to Oxford I saw him far
less, & our paths diverged: he became a barrister, I a don; still, I went to stay with
him in the Black Forest with his charming (paternal) grandmother, widow of
Philip[p] Schapiro;fn660 I saw him from time to time in the thirties; he was
politically well to the right of me – & inclined towards religion & infected me
with a desire to visit synagogues (which we did, though not often, together) in the
poorer part of London, where the services were more sincere & devout, it seemed
to us. But I must not go on so: it is only that his loss leaves a terrible gap in my
life, even though we did not see each other all that often in the last ten – twenty –
years. You do not need me to tell you how greatly his learning, capacity for
writing, courage, but above all unswerving integrity, total honesty and devotion to
truth as he saw it, gained the admiration of almost everyone who came into any
kind of relationship with him: the denunciation of him from the Left, did him
nothing but honour: his enemies were not honourable people.fn661 I admired him &
loved him & mourn his passing and offer you my warmest feeling: after my
parents’ death – & but for an aunt aged 96fn662 – he is the oldest root of my life.
Yours very sincerely
Isaiah Berlin.
3 January 1984
Headington House

Dear Hugh,
I was delighted by your letter. In your beautiful, clear hand you paint the inferno
in which you are forced to live in almost Dantean colours.fn663 They sound a
dreadful crew, and I only hope that you will be able to go on to the end,
unflinching, if only to show them the stuff the elect of Oxford are made of. I am
thinking of the statistics of Oxford immigrants to Cambridge, and what became of
them. Roger Mynors,fn664 as you know, loathed it from start to finish; A. H. M.
Jonesfn665 did not like it; Bernard Williams likes it less than he did to begin with;
C. S. Lewis detested it, or so he told me; my friend Wynne Godley,fn666 the
economist at King’s, cannot bear it; on the other hand, Denys Pagefn667 took to it
like a duck to water, Jean Floud could not but enjoy it because she was made so
much more of there than at Nuffield, but is relieved to come back. So will you be
when your thorny path leads back to our happier world.
That reminds me of the Club. I fully intend to go to its next dinner, despite the
occasional sense of unease that I have before and during our feasts, caused by the
nervous anticipations of the behaviour of our secretaryfn668 – I think that all the
Brethren feel this in some degree, save for Charles Stuart,fn669 who seems wholly
unperturbed by the permanent possibility of embarrassment which prevails
throughout the evening.
Back to academic affairs. All Souls, as you know, is offering two research
fellowships – one for the over-forties, one to those below that age. About two
hundred entries. The short list, which is quite long, contains the names of Conrad
Russell,fn670 whom you must know; Pagden,fn671 whom I rescued from being
eliminated; Norman Stone, whom I think a clever man, but who will not be able to
clear the hurdle of his ‘bad taste’ in his piece on E. H. Carr in the London Review
of Books,fn672 about which there was a good deal of priggish comment (‘Is he some
kind of scoundrel?’, the Wardenfn673 asked me, on the basis of a letter from an old
friend of mine and an acquaintance of yours) – Cobbfn674 had written a wonderfully
characteristic testimonial for him, saying how marvellous it was that he should
have done in that old wretch Carr, partly on information derived from him, Cobb,
what a splendid historian he is, how glad he is that the ‘old monster’ got what he
so richly deserved, etc. I am afraid that won’t do him much good with the great
philistine block, with its pronounced anti-intellectual and anti-academic bias (led
by e.g. Quintin H[ogg] and various other contemporaries of mine in various stages
of decomposition), which has led to some unworthy elections.
You speak of your colleague Norman.fn675 Let me tell you that one of the junior
fellows of my College earnestly enquired of one of his seniors whether
Cowlingfn676 could be induced to apply for the chair of political theory, or even
invited to do so! To do him justice, Patrick Neill is aware of a kind of militant
middle- or even low-brow front at work. Exactly the same is going on in Section
15 of the British Academy,fn677 where Lord Beloff is trying to reproduce his kind. I
long for all academic institutions – colleges, academies, universities – to put up a
large notice upon which might be inscribed in bold letters Hinshelwood’sfn678
words ‘There is no quicker way of making a first-class institution third-class than
by appointing second-class men.’ […]
6 January 1984 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Svetlana,
I have received your bitter, violent and very wounding letter of 3 January, in
which you tell me that you think me a vile hypocrite, a promise-breaker, and call
down the justice of God upon me. I realise that your circumstances are difficult,
that you are very unhappy, and that this may account for your wild statements,
which amount to a kind of curse upon me and all my works. I do not suppose that
anything I can say could make much impression upon you in your present state of
mind; nevertheless, I do not think that such statements, no matter how baseless, can
be left without an answer. I should therefore like to repeat what I have said to you
before, both in speech and in writing: that, contrary to your allegation, I never
tried to persuade you to come to England. You told me that you found your life in
America intolerable and wondered whether England or Switzerland could be
more congenial. I thought that they might, but that Switzerland might be more
expensive than England. I can quote in evidence of this your own letter to me of 18
October 1983, in which you say:
I DO NOT ‘ACCUSE’ you of tempting me to move to GB, or to have some persuasion on my own opinions
in this respect: to bring Olga to England for her education had been M Y IDEA since many years ago; it
was only now that I finally came to grips with all practicalities to fulfil this in action. […]fn679

Two months later, you have said the opposite to all this. I can only repeat once
again that I have done all that you had requested me to do: recommended you to
my publisher, who to my knowledge has treated you courteously throughout;
written a letter which I think has had some effect in causing the Home Office to
give you temporary residence; when you asked advice about a school for your
daughter, Aline and I did our best to provide it.
You say in the letter which I have already quoted, ‘So, by now, I can say that
there is hardly anything that I could ASK you to do to help me.’ Only to read the
book you are writing and to help you to place it with a publisher in England. I
have not offered to do this because I know that I have little influence with
publishers, and that Hugo Brunnerfn680 or an agent recommended by him could do
this far better than I. I am quite certain that my reading of your manuscript would
be of no use to you.
I have written all this because I believe it to be wrong to leave false charges
unanswered. I do not suppose that any of this is likely to make any impression
upon you, given your opinion of the kind of person I am.
Your last letter makes it purposeless to continue this correspondence, or,
indeed, any further communication between us. You call down divine justice upon
me: so far as my behaviour towards yourself is concerned, I have no fear of it.
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]

30 January 1984 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Robert,
[…] I am so sorry not to be able to come to the next meeting of you-know-
what.fn682 I am a little shocked about the substitution of Sir S. Sitwellfn683 (the
credit for this is claimed by Lords Donaldson and Hutchinsonfn684 – I have told
them that there is nothing to claim), whose works no one has read for years, in
place of the Librarian of the University of Hull,fn685 who by general (and I think
just) acclaim is our best living poet, bar only Robert Graves,fn686 but he is now too
old for anything. I think, therefore, that we should put up Larkin again. I should
myself be inclined to add Brendelfn687 for an hon. knighthood (he is an Austrian
citizen, but lives here, is extremely Anglophile, and seems to me of the right
calibre) – but that could wait, I think. I should like to repeat my support for a
knighthood for Geoffrey Warnock, now upstaged by the damehood of his wife
Mary: he has been an excellent vice chancellor during a very difficult period, and
is in my view a good philosopher. His name is before the British Academy, though
it is never certain who will be elected; and there was (sent to 10 Downing Street,
I think) that long round robin of his academic admirers, instigated by Rex
Richardsfn688 – merited, in my opinion.
I am quite sure that no painter or writer deserves either a CH or a knighthood,
but I think a CBE could properly be offered to Bridget Riley.fn689 Sooner or later I
expect we shall have to do something for Keith Thomas,fn690 who was, after all,
recommended by the History Faculty for the Regius Chair – but the P[rime]
M[inister] thought differently.fn691 And there is Professor Richard Cobb, FBA –
eccentric, unsober, but brilliant, a unique specialist on France. Lord Dacre would
certainly support, so would others in the British Academy. It would show real
imagination to make him a knight. […]
Yours ever,
31 January 1984
Headington House

Dear Alistair,
[…] Your enclosure is absolutely delightful. How could I possibly have read
The Journals of Lady Monkswell, 1873–1895?fn692 The silliness, naivety and
unselfconscious, disarming snobbery seem to me to show that she had no eye to
publication, unlike e.g. Harold Nicolson or my ex-colleague A. L. Rowse – he is
certain that his diaries will form a great twenty-first century industry, like
Pepysfn693 or Horace Walpole;fn694 since he considers that he is an insufficiently
recognised man of genius, towering far above the envious pygmies who seek
perpetually to drag him down to their miserable level, he is preparing bombshell
after bombshell. Last time I met him at the Athenaeum he said to me ‘My God, the
College [i.e. All Souls] is in for it – they’ll catch it!’fn695 I expect they will, too:
all kinds of reputations will be founded on these paranoiac outpourings. Do you
know Rowse at all? The temperament of a genius, without the genius – and that is
quite a serious condition to be in.
But I must curb my malice, and thank you again for those wonderful extracts. I
should have liked to meet the agreeable, curly-haired Oliver Holmes, and dear
young Mrs Holmes, and the little dried-up old Dr Holmes who loved Longfellow
‘but not intensely’;fn696 and somebody – I cannot remember who – who has ‘a
beautiful nose’.fn697 I wonder, however, whether they would have liked me much.
Still, I would have taken the risk of being snubbed. Have you ever thought about
people who are snubbable as against those who are not? The late Lord Halifax,
for example, was absolutely unsnubbable, whereas the late Lord Simonfn698 was
very snubbable indeed. Lord Curzon, I think, thought he was unsnubbable but in
fact was[n’t]. Those are only the famous men, but in one’s own private
acquaintance it’s quite an interesting classification: unsnubbability is a very
enviable quality. I see that I am writing in the style of Lady Monkswell,fn699 and
must therefore stop. […]
Yours ever,

[c.22 February 1984, carbon]
Headington House

Dear Karl,
I have had a bad time with the London Review: first Aarslefffn701 (I did not
much like Nigel Hamilton’s wholly contemptuous review of ‘my’ Washington
dispatches,fn702 but I thought that what he said was quite just); then a nasty piece
about the domination of America by the ‘Elders of Zion’, with their mysterious,
unlimited power, by the fanatical Ian Gilmour,fn703 who obviously really does think
there is a conspiracy and that American senators are manipulated – even in States
like Idaho, where there are virtually no Jews – by horrid methods that he only
mysteriously hints at, but I know what he means, and it won’t do. […] The present
government of Israel is, in my view, wicked and odious, but that is not the point.
Your Middle Eastern experts seem to me possessed – and have been for some time
– by a hatred beyond reason of the entire horrid enterprise of Zionism, of the
springs and nature of which they show not the slightest knowledge, as if it was
something frightful, exploding out of nothing.
Stuart telephoned me the other day and asked me if I had seen the latest copy of
the LRB. I said I had not. He begged me not to look at it, since the article by
Edward Saidfn704 would surely cause me to cancel my subscription, and would
send me into a sharp decline. I did, of course, read it at once. Stuart’s disapproval
was concerned not too much with the first part of the article, which, we agreed,
was routine PLO stuff, only more repetitive, pretentious and confused than the
shorter and clearer statements by Arafat, but with the encomium to Chomsky.fn705 I
know Chomsky quite well, and like him – he is a man of brilliant gifts and great
personal charm; but his polemical writings are not exactly notable for scruple or
unswerving adherence to the truth. This is true about all his writings, including
linguistics,fn706 but he lost all political credibility after he maintained that the
reports of massacres by the Khmer Rouge were largely inventions of the American
media,fn707 and after a piece by himfn708 was published, with his permission, as an
introduction to a book by a man called Faurisson,fn709 who said that the Holocaust
had never occurred, but was a Zionist invention. The tribute to Chomsky’s
integrity irritated Stuart because of its patent falsity. (He said that this was
intended to support the right to free speech, but it went too far even for his
followers.) One cannot, of course, blame any Palestinian Arab for hating Israel,
whatever he writes; but so far as serious students of the subject are concerned,
Said was laid out once and for all by the formidable Bernard Lewis,fn710 in an
article in the NYRB:fn711 his Harold-Bloom-hypnotisedfn712 critical essays seem to
me, in their own silly way, no better, though I expect Frank K.fn713 might defend
them on principle.
What I really want to ask you is: Must you use only zealots in writing about the
Middle East? If you employ members of the Council of the PLO or CAABU,
should not this be balanced with pieces by some ghastly ex-member of the
Irgunfn714 or the Stern Gang? It is clear that nobody can be neutral about either the
Soviet Union or Israel. Nevertheless, there are degrees of rabidity – there must be
more temperate people who can write. In Israel itself there exists a movement
called ‘Peace Now’, which is entirely decent and very moderate – prepared to
talk to the PLO, give up the West Bank, etc. They organised huge meetings to
protest about the invasion of Lebanon, the treatment of Arabs, and everything that
goes with it (one of its members, the novelist Amos Oz,fn715 who is a genuinely
brave protester, is one of the people whom Chomsky – approved by Said –
regards as a greater menace than the nationalist fanatics).fn716 These people are not
favoured by the government, nor even by sections of the Israel Labour Party, for
whom they go too far, but I admire them greatly. Can’t there be something by, or at
least about, them? There are no other moderates in the Middle East. They write
calmly and well.
But why am I going on like this? What right have I to write a letter simply to say
that I keep having an awful time with your otherwise excellent periodical? My
unfortunate experience is probably unique. It is only that I wanted to get all this
stuff off my chest, but there is no reason why you should be subjected to a tirade.
Please forgive me. I should have preferred to say this to you, but we see each
other, sadly, so seldom, that the only way of dealing with this is in writing. No
doubt the Edwards – Said, Mortimer etc. – would say that my letter is precisely
the kind of attempt at censorship that the wicked Zionists are so good at. They are
impervious to argument. Anyway, Stuart encouraged me to write to you, else I
don’t think I should have. […]
Yours, in unbroken friendship,
24 February 1984
Headington House

Dear Henry,
After reading the letter addressed by Abba Ebanfn718 to the Nobel Peace Prize
Committee in Oslo, I think that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to ‘Peace
Now’ would be justified, both politically and morally, and would have a good
effect. Would you consider writing to the Peace Prize Committee a letter, however
brief, indicating your support for Eban’s initiative (they will presumably have
received his letter and thought about it by now)? I should like to add that in my
view ‘Peace Now’ is made up of entirely decent persons. Their number is not
large, but their influence has turned out to be considerable, and their activity as a
kind of conscience of Israel – especially as many of them are soldiers who have
fought in Israeli wars – is doing nothing but good. Of course, if for some reason
you do not wish to write to Oslo, I would entirely understand, and apologise for
intruding upon you in this way.
Yours sincerely,

9 April 1984 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear William,
Ex nihilo nihil fit.fn720 My mind is empty and if you would like to impersonate
me I shall raise no objection. I am too old to mind about anything much now, even
Reagan and Mrs Thatcher, Shamir and even the Ayatollah [Khomeini], and that is
going very far – but you will see the helpless and hopeless condition I am in.
11 April 1984
Headington House

Dear Arthur
Your letter to the Peace Prize people is absolutely marvellousfn721 – its
superiority to that of e.g. David Astorfn722 cannot be overstated. I cannot remember
if I sent them my own letter or not, but I do not think it could have any weight – for
ethnic reasons. But I shall fire one off anyway, stirred by your encouragement.
So Joe is still lecturing? He was in far better form here than I have seen him for
a long, long time – didn’t drink, no enormous ‘Ah’s, no tirades against
‘liberals’,fn723 altogether a return to the best years. Extraordinary. It must all be the
work of doctors, for I know of no political or personal events that could have
caused such splendid return to form. My feeling is that we are in for Mrs Thatcher
and Reagan for a good long time – that all the old hacks should look for other
professions. There is a faint ray of hope in Israel, but that might mean the return of
the old hacks too. The sight of the Walt Rostowsfn724 here, together with that of the
man who used to write Johnson’sfn725 speeches (what is his name?fn726 he is an
academic, Jewish, dark hair, dark face, rode very high at the end of Kennedy and
beginning of Johnson), reminded me of old hacks – and the state I was in when I
told Henry Lucefn727 that it was faith that did all the harm and spilt all the blood.
You can imagine how ill received that was. Still, I would not like to go with ‘pas
trop de zèle’fn728 inscribed on my tomb.
Yours ever, ‹Much love from us both›
7 May 1984
Headington House

Dear Mr Rapoport,
[…] So far as the issue of Wise, Goldmannfn729 and the official Zionist
leadership in America during the war versus Bergsonfn730 are concerned, I have
told you all I know in the letter of 2 November: the Zionist leaders thought that
Bergson’s activities were likely to irritate, and possibly alienate, important
American individuals and groups, whose support they regarded as crucial to the
fulfilment of Zionist aims. […] I am not clear even now how much difference
Bergson’s agitation actually made – whether e.g. the petitions signed by senators,
congressmen and influential persons in fact made a significant difference to the
policies of the Roosevelt administration. What did make an enormous difference,
of course, were the first reports and photographs from the death camps. This
turned the tide throughout America in a pro-Zionist direction. But even if agitation,
shouting, did not work – at any rate after the war had started – it certainly could
have made a difference in the 1930s; and even if it might not have done so, given
the rigid opposition to immigration by Congress, government departments, etc.
[…] I agree with you that Jews should have shouted, even if this frightened some
of the timorous rich among them; that it was shameful not to have done so; that
there are circumstances in which decent people can only do one thing. At least the
British Home Office let in a much larger proportion of Jewish refugees than did
the Americans.
Now, let me turn to your observations about myself. Of course I cannot ask you
not to be critical of what I did or said or was – if I really said or did or was what
you take me to have done or been. But I do, naturally enough, take exception to
being seriously misrepresented – I suspect this to be due to my failure to make
myself sufficiently clear in my replies to your questions. […]
You say that ‘both the ostensibly pro-Zionist Berlin and his colleague William
Hayter … thought that the Anti-Zionist Declaration should be issued immediately’,
etc.fn731 I simply cannot understand this. Issues of policy were not referred to me
on this, or anything else. I knew nothing of the Joint Declaration until the whole
thing was over and the Declaration dead.fn732 My job was to report general
political opinion in the US and the views of influential individuals and groups – I
was a kind of foreign correspondent, save that some of my reports went in a code
and to a limited official readership. The Joint Declaration had been killed before
it was leaked to Drew Pearson, I don’t know by whom; and when the storm of
Jewish protest naturally occurred I was asked by the Foreign Office (in the person
of Angus Malcolm) to tell them what I could discover about what had happened.
[…] I drafted an official letter to Malcolm and told him what was being said, but
the sentence you quote […] about how melancholy it was that the state Department
should have failed to implement the Declaration was certainly not written by me. I
did tell you, in my letter of 2 November, that this sentence was not mine – and I
stand by that. I cannot understand why you should fail to believe me […]. Since
my pro-Zionist sentiments were no secret from my colleagues, such a sentence by
me would have caused astonishment and comment, I am sure, at the time. I must
therefore ask you to withdraw this wholly unjust charge against me: I do not want
to have to deny the truth of what you have said, and feel sure that you do not wish
to put me under this, to me disagreeable, necessity. The sentence in question was
not one which I was capable of uttering. I have never indulged in any kind of
camouflage in my life, and hope I never shall.
[…] The impression you give of some kind of double-dealing on my part is, I
assure you, false – and indeed gravely defamatory. Again (on the same page) you
speak of my ‘delicate game’. I played no game. I gave no confidential information
to Dr Weizmann and his colleagues, and it should be said for them that, close as
my relations were to Dr Weizmann, then and later, he never asked me for
‘classified’ information – if only out of a desire not to embarrass me, I imagine –
and this held for other Zionists also. […]
I am perfectly ready to accept responsibility, and if need be criticism, for what I
truly did or said, e.g. my underestimate of Jewish influence in 1945, or my
acceptance of the official Zionists’ view of Bergson’s activities, but not for what I
did not believe or say or do. Memory may be a fallible guide, but not as fallible
as that in matters which mean a great deal to one. And this applies no less to your
words in the Epilogue on my being ‘on the wrong side of the Hoskins affair’. I
was not.
Let me add two relevant footnotes. First, about Hoskins. I did not know him at
the time of the Joint Declaration. I met him only once, a month or two later, at the
home of a colleague of mine who had served in Baghdad, and was a mild anti-
Zionist. Hoskins launched a diatribe against the Zionist intrigues which had
scotched his excellent plan, which he described to me – Joint Declaration and all.
I told him what I thought of his plan and his motives, and the likely consequences.
We began to argue; it ended in a violent row, I think the worst row I have ever had
with anyone, and finally he left in a state of great anger. He told one of my friends,
a British official, still alive and still a friend,fn733 that I was a Zionist agent and
that he would try to convey to the British Embassy that they should get rid of me.
For all I know he may have tried to do this, but I heard nothing of it, although our
common friend could never understand why Hoskins conceived such hatred for
me. It was, in fact, reciprocated.
Secondly, about the Jewish Army. While I was an official of the British
Information Services in New York in 1941 I was called on by Peter Bergson, and
later by one of Jabotinsky’sfn734 people (I cannot remember the name), both of
whom asked me about why I thought the British government objected to the idea of
a Jewish Army. I cannot remember what I said to Bergson, but I do remember that,
when the other man asked me whether I thought that the proposal was blocked for
political reasons, I said that this might well be the case, that Lord Lloyd,fn735
whom I had met at a dinner in London in 1940, had talked about the proposal for a
Jewish Army made to him by Weizmann (he was at that time Secretary for War),
and then muttered something about the fact that the price paid for Weizmann’s
services as a chemist in the First World War had been too high – or some such
remark. Jabotinsky’s man reported my response in a letter sent to someone in
London. The letter was duly intercepted by the British censors, and I received a
stern reprimand from the Ministry of Information for having committed a
monstrous blunder. Later, in the Foreign Office papers in the PRO, I discovered
that a suggestion had been made that I should be sacked for taking an anti-
government line (the official reason for refusing the Army was lack of equipment).
I was defended by a friendly official, who said that no great harm, in his opinion,
had been done, and that a severe warning might be enough. So much for my
‘ostensible pro-Zionism’.
[…] I cannot persuade myself that you could allow the offending passages about
me to stand in view of what I have said. I am sure that your purpose, like mine, is
to establish the truth, or get as near to it as one can. I hope that you agree with me
– I shall be glad to hear that you do.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

5 July 1984 [manuscript]
Headington House

Dear Pat,
I was very distressed to see the obituary of Paulfn737 in the Times – I liked and
respected and admired him very much: & he was wonderfully nice to me in
Washington & forever after – I remember him as a contemporary at Oxford – at
lectures – at classes – in the streets – we did meet then, but only really came to
know each other in Lord Halifax’s embassy: what first astonished and delighted
me about him was that he preserved his humanity intact – mysteriously, given the
smoothing out, & (I can’t help noticing) somewhat dehumanizing effect of the
diplomatic service. I don’t mean the naturally smooth or unreal: but the need to
suppress one’s natural moral reactions and feelings to fit in with policy decided
above one: to find bad reasons to justify the wicked or stupid behaviour of other
governments (and one’s own) with the perfectly good purpose of preventing
conflict – the pot from boiling over – & defending the national interest – that is
bound (as with lawyers) to atrophy human responses – spontaneity – to petrify
feeling. We’ve all known diplomats who were totally honest, brave, decent,
charming, upright, able, excellent, devoted servants of the state: but after, say, 35,
a mask, a carapace, develops: & feelings turned in on themselves sometimes rot
inwardlyfn738 & lead to terrible bitterness as in Cadogan’s memoirs.fn739 Well: what
I want to say – I do apologise for all [th]is maundering [–] is that Paul
miraculously (or not [–] perhaps it was marriage to you, which is evidence in
itself) escaped this: remained open, human, warmhearted, in touch with the human
feelings of others – in the world outside the office – with a great variety of social,
religious, personal kinds of experience which made him about the most
understanding servant of the Crown I have ever known: and all this with immense
expert skill at the business of the Foreign Office, scrupulous observance of the
rules, justice, kindness, and fearless integrity. There: I must not go on: I am not
composing a memorial oration: but it was unusually intelligent of the office – or of
someone – to make him its head. Wherever I saw him in some public assembly,
my spirits rose: & his love for you and what you were to him & for his life &
happiness in all the tribulations of health and thorns of life, everyone who knows
you, knows. Words are not much good at saying what one feels when really fateful
things happen: & mine are pretty illegible into the bargain. God bless you for
many years – & don’t acknowledge this in any way, please. Aline feels as I do, we
send you our warmest wishes –
13 July 1984
Headington House

Dear Bryan,
I have read Kundera’s second article:fn740 I do not find it disturbing, because I
believe in the truth of his general thesis – indeed, that is in part why I ceased to be
a philosopher in 1950 and applied myself to reading nineteenth-century Russians,
who are morally and psychologically more sympathetic to me than the great
rationalist and empirical thinkers of the West. In fact, I find his thesis something
that many of us ‘have thought but ne’er so well expressed’.fn741 Is it news to you?
Only out of your excessive devotion to Popper – after all, after the scientists and
the disciples in LSE (only one now, so far as I know, namely Watkins),fn742 I am
the greatest admirer of Popper after you, but even I think that your faith in his
immortality is, perhaps, not wholly well founded. On this, Kundera is right. He is
right to quote Broch,fn743 who thinks that what the novel can do, only the novel can
do – that Freud is wrong, who said science cannot answer all our questions, but
what it cannot do, nothing else can. I don’t share Kundera’s enthusiasm for
Thomas Mann;fn744 Broch I haven’t read – Heidegger, no matter how splendid,
cannot reveal what artists, novelists and poets can about the contradictory and
many-faceted moral and religious visions. He is wrong to say that Tolstoy wrote
about the power of the irrational: he tried to expose rational planning of the
German kind, to him a hollow fraud, because of our ignorance, because of the
greater grasp of truth in the intuitive sense of reality (peasants, Kutuzov etc.). But
he was himself rational through and through – that, indeed, was part of the trouble
he had with religion. He simply believed that too many causes – ‘small
causes’fn745 – governed the world, causes which we cannot know or integrate; but
that in principle, if we could, rational behaviour would be possible. He
denounced the arrogance of science and system-building, but did not celebrate
dark, irrational forces as Hamann or Nietzsche or D. H. Lawrencefn746 did. But that
is enough – I must go to Italy. I shall see you, I hope, on return – I am sorry you
won’t be in Salzburg. Up Kundera! I must sit down and read his novels.

PS I cannot value Jacques le fataliste or Tristram Shandy as Kundera doesfn747 –

the first is brilliant and interesting but not a masterpiece (it is scarcely a novel in
our sense); the second is, of course, an enormously admired classic, with a huge
following, particularly among German Romantics – did Schopenhauer like it?fn748
For me it is the beginning of a kind of wistful, self-deprecating fantasy, which
generated Lamb and Betjeman, full of charm, and deliberate inconsequentiality –
but too deliberate, too contrived, too fey. […]
In his views on architecture IB was no reactionary, and greatly admired the Japanese architect
Kenzō Tange,fn749 designer of the modernist Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (1949–56). But
he also prized neoclassical harmony and proportions, and was one of the National Gallery
trustees strongly opposed to the Hampton extension proposed by the Ahrends, Burton and Koralek
(ABK) partnership in 1983. In order to pay for itself the extension was to combine gallery space
with a prestige office development, and at the trustees’ behest ABK were obliged to modify their
original design. Their revised plan included a 120-foot-high glass-faced tower topped by
aluminium masts, and this proved the most controversial part of a vision that elicited strong
opposition, to which the Prince of Wales gave voice in a famous image. On 30 May 1984 he
addressed the guests at the 150th anniversary gala evening of the Royal Institute of British
Architects at Hampton Court, making a much quoted speech in which he appealed for greater
harmony between the aspirations of architects and the feelings of ‘the mass of ordinary people’.
He took the Hampton extension as a case in point:

Instead of designing an extension to the elegant facade of the National Gallery which complements it,
[…] it looks as if we may be presented with a kind of vast municipal fire station, complete with the sort of
tower that contains a siren.
I would understand better this type of high-tech approach if you demolished the whole of Trafalgar
Square and started again with a single architect responsible for the entire layout, but what is proposed is
like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend. Apart from anything else, it
defeats me why anyone wishing to display the early Renaissance pictures belonging to the gallery should
do so in a new gallery so manifestly at odds with the whole spirit of that age of astonishing

The Prince’s intervention was welcomed by IB and came at a crucial time. Shortly afterwards IB
wrote to Noel Annan, then chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery, seeking to
galvanise resistance to the ABK design, and the government subsequently announced that it had
been rejected, the tower being singled out for particular criticism. Meanwhile the trustees sought
private funding to enable the extension to be devoted exclusively to gallery space, and on 2 April
1985 it was announced that John Sainsburyfn751 and his brothersfn752 would donate some £50
million. This gift transformed the situation, and the Sainsbury Wing, designed by the postmodernist
partnership of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown,fn753 opened to general acclaim on 9 July
14 July 1984 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Noel,
[…] I believe we ought to tell the Ministerfn754 that the majority of the Board are
now against this building altogether […], that we have a duty to the public not to
outrage it with a building in which we never ourselves believed much – it is not
as if we were defending a bold scheme against the philistines – and that our
‘change of heart’ was a gradual process, as the design progressed and became less
and less tolerable. […]
I do believe in immediate action. Michael Leveyfn755 may well explode, but
never mind – I do not need to tell you that I realise that you will stand up to him on
this issue, whether he goes to the Tuesday meeting (which I, alas, cannot attend) or
not. You behaved admirably at the last meeting, with splendid courage and
firmness (that we shall be accused of infirmity of will does not matter – better
candour and truth than mere obstinacy, and it is marvellous that you do not mind
our making ourselves ridiculous). Of course John Baring,fn756 Michael Sacherfn757
and, no doubt, Stuart Youngfn758 may wish to dissociate themselves from the
majority, and this, no doubt, will have to be made clear – i.e. that the entire Board
is against the scheme as it stands, that a minority think that with a modified tower
it might do, but the majority are dead against what has emerged from the drawing
board, and believe (I think this quite important) than no architect can be trusted to
produce a satisfactory revamped scheme if the heart of the old one (and the
architect insisted that it was that) has been torn from it. To force a man to produce
something he does not believe in cannot turn out well.
We may well be threatened with the need to wait for the report, which I am sure
would be unwise, with the collapsing morale of the staff (moral blackmail, to be
ignored); and the possibility should not be suppressed that someone may resign. If
you and I do, the plan really would be dead, I think – you and I and Bridgetfn759
and Carylfn760 could mount the pyre with some dignity, I believe, lamented by
Howardfn761 and viewed nervously but with crocodile tears by the minority. What
a marvellous letter we could send, roughly following Country Life, which
apparently urges the Board to come to its senses.fn762 We fly the colours of the
Prince of Wales, In hoc vinces.fn763
[…] If Michael blows up, so be it. The faithful will march to the edge and over
into the abyss. I believe that we can win, and have a perfectly good building; that
we should let things sleep for a year or two and recommence. Even Broackesfn764
might come round to this – but even if not, others could be found after the dust has
settled. I apologise for all this; I am sure it is otiose and that you have it all and
more in mind. Avanti!fn765 I had a talk with Jacobfn766 and John Sainsbury – very
sound. […]
20 November 1984
Headington House

Dear Irving,
The Nature of Lovefn767 has not arrived yet, but your letter has, and that, I feel,
is almost as good – in fact, rather better – shorter and more personal. My health is
only moderate, my spirits fairly low but not very. The loss of voice does not get
me down, because it liberates me from lectures, classes, after-dinner speeches
and other horrors. Otherwise, given my enormous age, I really am quite mobile
and active. I sit in the British Museum, day by day, reading about German
Romantics, on whom in principle I wish to write a huge book – but whether I have
enough years to do this in is the question. Did Freud read Proust? Did Proust read
Freud?fn768 If they’d met they certainly would not have got on, that is clear. Nor
would either have got on with Joyce,fn769 that is equally clear. Certainly Freud
would have denied that you, or anyone else, is ever too old for love – but for
purely physiological reasons it does not happen all that frequently. As for the
meaning of life, I do not believe that it has any: I do not at all ask what it is, for I
suspect it has none, and this is a source of great comfort to me – we make of it
what we can, and that is all there is about it. Those who seek for some deep,
cosmic, all-embracing, teleologically arguable libretto or god are, believe me,
pathetically mistaken. […]
Yours ever,
8 January 1985 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Martin,
[…] Now you ask me about WSC. I met him in all on four occasions, only once
properly to speak to. The three earlier occasions were (a) in the White House on
one of his visits to Washington, when I was handed some kind of message to him
from the embassy, which I delivered, and received a few kindly words of general
encouragement: he asked me what I did and did not listen, and said ‘Carry on,
carry on, do your best, my boy’, or something of the kind; (b) at Hatfield,fn770
where he devoted his entire attention to the American ambassador – Douglasfn771 –
and paid no attention to anyone else, including his host. I remember David Cecil
was there, determined to secure his attention, and finally got through with ‘Isaiah
and I were arguing about the meaning of the word “pettifogging” – what do you
think it means, exactly?’ ‘“Pettifogging” means deliberately obfuscating the issue
in a pedantic manner’, Winston replied, and then turned his back on him and back
to Douglas and Anglo-American relations. (c) at Oliver Lyttelton’s,fn772 discussing
the possibility of the Third World War: he wondered which of the great centres of
culture we would be forced to bomb first – Paris? Rome? Someone said ‘I am
told that Crossman says that armies and navies will be quite useless in the next
war’, to which Winston replied ‘Crossman – double-Crossman – behind the bars
with him, he is no true friend of liberty or of England.’ I may have got this wrong
but that is what I remembered – or rather, remember having remembered at the
The only real meeting I had with WSC was when Bill Deakinfn773 took me to
lunch at Chartwellfn774 during the first post-war Labour government, probably in
1947 or so. He conceived the idea that I knew something about Russia, and
wished me to vet his account, in the first volume of his memoirs, about the
Moscow trials. I knew no more than anyone else who read the newspapers,
although I knew Russian (which did not particularly help with this). He propped
up the page proofs against some object on the luncheon table, as if wishing me to
read it there and then; then felt that this was not exactly courteous, withdrew the
proofs and chatted. He seemed convinced that Stalin was right to execute Marshal
Tukhachevskyfn775 and the others, because he had been told by Beneš that these
men were traitors. I said that no evidence had been discovered for this, so far as I
knew, in the German papers captured by the allies; but he was very insistent. I
imagine that what probably happened was that the NKVD – or whatever it was
called then – fed information through Prague so that it appeared to come from a
reliable friendly source. Anyway, Winston seemed to believe it and could not be
shaken […].fn776
He then proceeded to denounce the Astor family,fn777 saying that none of its
members had done England any good, that they were really a pretty dismal and
disastrous lot: he sang a song to the effect that ‘We will hang the Astors from a
mulberry tree.’ He asked me who my ambassador was during the war. When I said
‘Lord Halifax’, he said, so far as I can remember, something that went as follows:
‘Edward is a man compounded of charm. In his presence I invariably melt. He is
no coward. No gentleman is. But there is something which goes through him like a
yellow streak: grovel, grovel, grovel. Grovel to the Germans, grovel to the
Indians, grovel to the Americans’ – or ‘to everybody’. When I said something
feeble like ‘I imagine that he had really had little experience of foreign affairs or
foreigners before being put in charge of the Foreign Office’, he said ‘If you
believe that, you would believe anything’, à la the Duke of Wellington.fn778
Then he drew me into a corner and asked me what honorarium I would accept
for reading his first volume and commenting on it. I said that it was a great honour
and that I should not dream of expecting payment or agreeing to be paid: he said
‘That is very monkish of you, much too unworldly. Anyone who does a job must
be paid for it. You must not behave in this absurd way.’ Bill Deakin, who was
there, may or may not corroborate all this; the conversation, or fragments of it, is
as I remember his words. I remember little else. Except, of course, that he did then
tell me the story about the confusion between Irving Berlin and myself,fn779 in
detail – you know the story, so I need not tell it to you in his or anybody else’s
words. When I asked him ‘Mr Churchill, when you asked him those questions,
what did he reply?’, he said ‘Oh, he said “It’ll be all right” and that kind of thing.’
And said goodbye. Mrs Churchillfn780 said goodbye too, and said, ‘Winston is
rather sad today. His little dog has been killed’ – or had died – ‘He doesn’t really
like dogs at all, but he feels that he should.’
I then read the volume and produced my comments. I received a letter which
said, I think, ‘Thank you for your observations. I will send you my rejoinders
presently.’ But no rejoinders ever came. The thing I noticed about the first volume
– I do not know if it is in the final version – is his account of the visit to Munich,
when he said to Hanfstaenglfn781 something to the effect that he admired men who
raised their countries from a low condition, the patriots who stood up and lifted
people when they needed it, etc. This Hitler appeared to him to have done, but
what had he against the Jews?fn782 Of course, if the Jews were against the country,
they had to be put down, but surely the German Jews were among the most
patriotic of German citizens, and perfectly loyal: why, then, all this? Hanfstaengl
must have realised that if he brought this up during his interview in Munich with
the leader of the National Socialist Party, it might lead to an altercation or a scene,
the Führer might lose his temper, and the interview be off. You will find all that in
vol. 1 of the war memoirs. I pointed out that requiring no opposition from Jews
put them, as it were, on probation, and might not be well received by some of his
readers – but I received no ‘rejoinder’ about this or any other point. […]
Yours ever,
2 April 1985 [manuscript]
Headington House

I cannot resist – I hope Your Royal Highness will forgive me – saying how
grateful London, the nation, and above all the National Gallery should be to Y.R.H
for the part which the carbuncle has played in paving the way to the magnificent
act of generosity on the part of John Sainsbury and his brothers, which has saved
the situation. The Trustees seemed to me to have shown weakness (I include
myself among them, of course) in letting themselves be rolled along as far as they
were by our friend Hugh Cassonfn783 and the Royal Fine Arts Commission (which
acclaimed the carbuncle) towards the abyss. A minority of us did try to arrest this
fatal course, but not very effectively; in the end the entire Board of Trustees did
recoil: but it would have been too late if it weren’t for your remarks to the R.I.B.A
which radically changed the entire atmosphere. Until you spoke, the opposition
was none too effective: vocal, but the voices were too few; then the tide turned. If
it weren’t for that, God knows what the ministry’s inspector – who was much too
favourable to the scheme as it was – might not have said: and posterity would
have denounced all those responsible, bitterly and with justice. May I warmly
congratulate Your Royal Highness in saving us all from this hideous fate; I do
apologise for this uncontrollable personal outburst.
I have the honour to remain Your Royal Highness’s humble and obedient
Isaiah Berlin

4 April 1985
Headington House

My dear Nivat,
Thank you for sending me your review of my collection of articles on Russian
topics.fn785 I do not, of course, begin to question your right to make whatever
criticisms you think just (although I shall come to these in a moment). But I do not
think that your opening remarks about Oxford high tables or my discreet and
frequently rewarded diplomatic activities (I did serve in embassies, but had no
executive duties of any kind and engaged in no diplomacy, discreet or otherwise)
are worthy of a serious review in a serious periodical.fn786 These sentences seem
to me to trivialise the opening of your piece, unexpectedly – at least to me – from
the man and scholar whom I have admired for all these years. You will think this
too sharp, but believe me, any reader of your article cannot but be affected by the
ironical tone of your little vignette, which sounds more like George Steiner than
yourself. […]
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin

PS I have just read your most interesting and rightly harrowing article on literature
as witness to inhumanity.fn787 I am glad that I can this time, without serious
reservations, tell you how much I like it and respect it, particularly your
reflections on Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov. (Did you ever see the film based on the
Czech Communist London’s bookfn788 about his experiences during and after the
Slánský Trial?fn789 It bears out painfully Bettelheim’sfn790 account of the pathetic
dependence of the victims on their torturers.)
The phenomenon of Faurisson is truly frighteningfn791 – I cannot understand even
now how Chomsky, with all his bouts of fanaticism, came to allow his writing to
be used as an introduction to Faurisson’s book. And all your admirable lines on
prison literature, from Dostoevskyfn792 onwards […]. But the Russian memoirs, as
well as Margaret Buber-Neumann,fn793 haunt one and always will. I wonder how
soon they will be forgotten, except by specialists.
I do not believe that Kafka,fn794 as usually thought, is in some way a prophet of
this. His combination of minute realism with the sinister and irrational trap in
which his heroes find themselves seems to me really different from the frightening
but alas not unintelligible monstrosities of Hitler and Stalin – their purposes are
not obscure. The extermination of the Jews and the reasons for it were set out
clearly enough; Stalin’s desire to beat his subjects into a kind of pulp out of which
he could fashion whatever he liked is brutally clear. So long as there were laws
men could obey, they could escape (e.g. non-Jews under Hitler) – but arbitrary
rule leads to helplessness and therefore to malleability. The late Professor A.
Kojève once said this to me and I think he is right – he saw himself as Hegel, and
Stalin as Napoleon, and wrote him letters, strangely enough unanswered; but he
was a very perceptive man. This is not so in Kafka. It may be that the fate of the
Jews is what inspired his concept of the victims, or it may be that God appeared
to him in the guise of the source of total authority, if guided by his own rules, not
those of our human morality, unintelligible to us, too absolute, à la
Kierkegaard;fn795 something terrifying enough, but profounder than the workaday
horrors of deliberate human invention. There is something numinous in the terrors
of Kafka’s nightmares – the prison from which the helpless victims seek to escape
is somehow of supernatural origin: not so in earthly cells.
I see no merit, I admit, in Steiner’s view that the corruption of language, if it is
that, is a harbinger of the inhumanity to comefn796 – that, I think, is wholly
implausible; and Hitler’s appeal to the Jewish ‘chosen race’ concept is a very
typical piece of Jewish self-laceration, of which Steiner is an obvious
example,fn797 as the somewhat greater figure of Heine was before him.fn798 Steiner
seems to me to have too professional an interest in the Holocaust, and [to] glory in
being obsessed by it. Or is this unjust?
I must admit that Miss Arendt is a bête noire of mine – I see nothing in her
writings of the slightest value or interest, and never have. The pages you admire in
the book on totalitarianism seem to me either truisms (about the Nazis: ‘everything
is possible’fn799 was not true of them – Aryans had to be preserved, while Celts
and Latins were neutral; I believe in interpreting words literally) or inaccurate
(about Russia – her attitude to Russian totalitarianism seems to me mechanical and
[to] show no insight at all) – it is all a kind of metaphysical free association: no
bones, no argument, a kind of patter. […]

29 April 1985 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Rabbi Brichto,

[…] I was interested to see that at the last meetingfn801 the BBC World Service,
particularly programmes to the Third World, was discussed. I have no doubt
myself that it is heavily biased against Israel – the constant repetition, both on the
external service and the domestic services, of the hatred shown by Israeli troops
among the Shias,fn802 the brutality of Israel against unarmed Arab boys of fifteen,
whom they are described as murdering in a mindless way (without remarking that
boys of fifteen in that part of the world perpetrate brutalities of their own), and so
on, is no accident. I shall never forget the pride with which the present director of
the BBC, Alasdair Milne,fn803 told my wife […] that his son was the Oxford
representative of the Friends of the PLO.fn804 I abhor the Likud more than most, and
believe the Lebanese war to be both a blunder and a crime, but I do hope that
someone will tell people like Ian Gilmour and his son,fn805 and Mr Fisk,fn806 that
Jews have the longest memory of any known human community, and that when
their names have been totally forgotten elsewhere, they will linger on on an
unforgotten list of ill-wishers of the Jewish people. […]
Yours sincerely,
[Isaiah Berlin]
12 July 1985 [manuscript]
All Souls

Dearest Shiela
I am just off to Italy for the summer – but cannot part without saying how sad it
is that there you sit in Ireland – isolated, insulated; what drove you there? desire
for rural life: some ancestral pull, some British longing – nostalgia for an idyllic
past, away from the racket? You always did prefer fields covered with flowers to
the beau monde of Oxford: a mixture of social idealism with romantic idealization
of men of action – heroes – martyrs, and a desire for self realization. Goronwy
does not fit into all this: but your view of him was coloured with love and the
exhilaration which he brought to everything when he was young (he did rather lose
his way in later years: but still wrote very well & vividly – & had a genuine
gaiety not entirely ruined by drink and resentments) but – there: I did not want to
write about our innocent & reputable pasts: only to wish you well. ‘Have a nice
life’ say American graduates occasionally, after, at even rarer moments
‘wonderful to know you’. It is too. Do let us meet at least a little more often – in
the South: I have begun to hate travel: but you are younger not only literally but in
many other ways: still hopeful, not, like me, comfortably resigned –
yours with all my love (as we used to say)
Shiela Sokolov Grant’s lifelong friendship with IB was forged in the early 1930s when, as Shiela
Grant Duff (SGD), she read PPE at LMH. Passionately moral in her approach both to personal
relations and to international politics, she became a close friend of the charismatic German
Rhodes Scholar Adam von Trott,fn807 then reading PPE at Balliol, who was also a friend of IB.
Trott viewed with alarm Hitler’s accession to power in 1933, and, unable to condone emigration,
returned to Germany that year to continue his legal studies, keeping in close contact with his
English friends while he sought to build connections with the German resistance to Hitler. SGD
meanwhile became a foreign correspondent, a prominent anti-appeaser, and a defender of what
she believed was a strategically vital Czechoslovakia.fn808 She and Trott were both idealists, she
from a Liberal background, more than decimated by the First World War, he from a family steeped
in Prussian civil service ideals; both in their own way failed in their efforts to avoid a second
world war. Trott, the most studied of the Kreisau Circle/Stauffenberg fn809 plot martyrs, could not
understand the depth of SGD’s anguish after Munich, and failed to take her into his confidence
when, in 1939, he sought, through the Astor family and their circle, to persuade Britain to make
concessions to Nazi Germany, at the expense of the Poles and the Czechs, as part of building an
anti-Hitler coup.fn810 Until late August of that year they conducted an intense correspondence, at
the heart of which was their joint desire to unite Europe on the foundations of Anglo-German
understanding, but Trott’s bid for further appeasement undermined SGD’s faith in him, and their
last letters ‘were not without bitterness’.fn811
The disintegration of their friendship was a personal tragedy that mirrored events on a wider
stage. IB’s own respect for Trott survived the breach caused by Trott’s controversial 1934 letter to
the Manchester Guardian denying anti-Semitism in the German courts.fn812 He accepted Trott’s
explanation of his conduct, and his ‘friendly feelings towards Adam’ continued ‘until the summer
of 1939’, the last time he saw him, when, ‘although his anti-Nazi views were not in doubt, his talk
was too ambiguous. This shook me, but did not lead to real doubts until the reports of what he said
in England in 1939 […] reached me.’fn813
IB’s conflicting feelings were not simplified by Trott’s martyrdom in the cause of German
resistance to Nazism. After the 20 July 1944 bomb plot to kill Hitler Trott was arrested and
executed, which endowed his memory with a special status, not least for most of his Oxford friends.
When, almost forty years later, Shiela Sokolov Grant asked IB to review Klemens von Klemperer’s
forthcoming edition of her correspondence with Trott, the aptly named A Noble Combat,fn814 IB
declined, having no wish to enter public controversy over Trott’s character and motives. As he had
written to her on a previous occasion: ‘Peace be to his ashes: he died a heroic death and perhaps
that is all that matters now.’fn815


27 August 1985
As from Headington House

Dearest Shiela,
[…] As for letters – Adam’s to you and yours to him, mine to you, etc. – this is
most unjust. I have certainly sent you spontaneous letters, particularly when we
were very young, and on other occasions too, though I cannot remember which –
your oblivion in this matter I forgive. But the notion that I only write to you in
response to demands of one kind or another from you is most baseless. However,
in this case, there is something, after all, in what you say, for the next topic on
which I am bound to address you is von Klemperer’s book, of course. You ask me
to review it. I cannot. Not only because I don’t write reviews – as you know – but
also because I cannot bear to go back to Adam and all that. Even so, it was with
blood that I wrote those few pages that were read aloud before David Astor’s
lecture on Adam at Balliol.fn816 I have said my say, my views on him are known to
the few people who take an interest in them, and, after all, I only saw Adam
literally twice after he left Oxford for Germany – once when he came back en
route from America, and we had to have our ‘explanation’ about his letter to the
Manchester Guardian, and once in 1938, when he said that Germany must be
surrounded, otherwise it was all up with all of us. I have no idea what he did in
China; I have no idea what he did in America before the war, nor what he did
when he went there after our war had begun. All that, so far as I am concerned, is
hearsay. Therefore his views, his attitudes, at times when I didn’t see him are
something I cannot possibly pronounce about; and the whole thing is half a century
away. No, no, I don’t want to think about him any more, least of all to say anything
in public about which I can never feel at all sure. I have no doubt the book of
letters ought to be reviewed by serious people – one or two, no doubt, will be
stimulated by David Astor and the German friends, so you must expect something
not entirely just or pleasing in one or two English periodicals (but I hope I am
wrong); but otherwise it will enter into the corpus of what went on ideologically
in Germany in the 1930s.
I am very glad that Tim Masonfn817 has been a help to you. He is an exceedingly
nice man. When he came to Oxford he looked to me rather ill and distraught, and I
was told that he had had some kind of mild breakdown: but I expect all that is
over. Is it a case of left versus right? That all those more or less right-wing friends
of Adam’s in Germany want to believe one thing, partly out of conservatism,
partly out of German patriotism, and that Tim and his friends want to believe that
Communists and socialists and other politically sympathetic (at any rate to them)
individuals did more resisting than they are commonly credited with having done?
I wonder. At any rate, controversy about this (though not, I suspect, very
prominently) will, I suppose, go on for years, until we are all dead and it all dies
down and enters into some corners and footnotes – which is all that I have ever
had anything to do with either deserves or anyway will get. […]
Anyway, it was delightful to hear from you; I look forward to seeing you; don’t,
I beg you, press me about von Klemperer’s book – of course I shall read it, of
course I shall talk to you about it, but wild horses wouldn’t make me say a word
in public about Adam, the Germans, except before 1850, when I find them
dangerous and fascinating and am reading about them all the time – and propose,
perhaps, even to say something in print, perhaps posthumously. One cannot
possibly pronounce about one’s attitudes and beliefs of half a century ago without
feeling that it may be quite, quite wrong. Still, I shall read the book with absolute
fascination, as I do everything you write, as well you know. Your last book,fn818
after all, got some perfectly favourable and deserved reviews, and this one even
more so, of that I am convinced. The view of Adam as a saint and martyr is
inevitable – he was more interesting, knew many more people, was much more
widely liked and taken an interest in, than the other anti-Nazis; certainly than
Stauffenberg, who had been a straight pro-Nazi before, or Moltke,fn819 who was
honourable, pious, utterly decent and brave, but personally much less interesting.
So that was inevitable, given that [that] particular group of persons had to have a
hero who somehow cast a better light on them too. But this attitude will not go on
for long. Christopher Sykes’s book,fn820 and your book, are likely in the long run to
have much, much more influence, supported as they are by much solider data and a
wider context. So rest in peace!
Now, as for Goronwy – a much more delightful subject to me, in spite of
everything, rogue and scamp as I am afraid he most definitely was. God knows
what Goronwy was vis-à-vis Communism. Rosamond Lehmann,fn821 as you know,
says that he told her, when he was living with her, that he was not only a
Communist but an agent; and it seems generally agreed that if he was, he ceased to
be at the time of the Russo-German pact. The only thing I found odd was that in his
account of his past, when he says that Guy Burgess asked him to be an agent and
he took no notice of it and simply regarded it as a joke, he never says then, or
anywhere else, whether in fact he was a Communist at any stage; and I now,
retrospectively, believe that he may well have been, like everybody else. But that
is a matter of very small importance.
You speak of him as an artist ‘with all the wild creativity of his Celtic blood’.
‘Wild creativity’? I really do not see that. I don’t think he was wild at all: he had
great charm, a beautiful voice, he was a good writer, he was very bright, he was
all the things that we know him to have been. I don’t think Celts are particularly
wild, though they are usually held to be – perhaps some Irish have been, but very
few Welsh. And I don’t believe that he was tremendously creative. You think he
was not a very reassuring character, but what do you mean? Highly intelligent,
very fetching, delightful to be with, gay, set one up a great deal. I remember how
wonderful it was when I met him in Salzburg in 1933, and he immediately said in
German ‘Wie ist die Lage?’,fn822 and giggled excitedly, and wrote to me to say that
he had taken part in a German, rather pro-Nazi, film, if you remember, by saying ‘I
move in film circles, I am very much their cup of tea and a fresh one at that.’ All
that was simply splendid, but I don’t believe in the wild creativity; and I admit I
know nothing about Communist friends […].
Yours, ‹with fondest love›

28 August 1985
Headington House

Dear Mimi,
You ask, about Leonid Pasternak,fn824 why nothing about Jews? Because,
descended from rabbis in Odessa as he undoubtedly was, he and his family were,
so to speak, on the way out: he got himself to Moscow, where Jews by and large
were not permitted to live, met Tolstoy, various Russian painters, and, with relief,
plunged into an entirely Slav scene. He did not have any particular phobia about
the Jews: when he went to Berlin after the Revolution, he painted some prominent
Jews […], and painted the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I don’t
think he minded whether he knew Jews or not, he was quite relaxed on the subject;
but didn’t care for his origins or for anything to do with Judaism – not uncommon
with assimilated Russian Jews. His son Boris was a very different matter; and
suffered from acute phobia; and ran away from anything remotely Jewish as
energetically as possible, and ladled off everything he had to say about them […]
into the figure of Gordon in Zhivago, which liberated him to be a blue-eyed, fair-
haired Slav hero. Having discharged all this justifiable (but nevertheless perhaps
superfluous) malice, I rest my case. […]
Yours ever, ‹with much love from›

16 September 1985 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Miss Felsenthal,

[…] I met Alice Longworth at dinner with Mr and Mrs Eugene Meyerfn826 in
Washington in 1941, when I was a British official (serving first in New York and
later at the British Embassy in Washington). I sat next to her at dinner, and she was
very friendly and infinitely exhilarating and amusing, and I thought that she was
one of the most brilliant and remarkable persons I had ever met. When I lived in
Washington, 1942–6, I got to know her well. She was very hospitable to me, and I
greatly enjoyed seeing her, both in her own house and at dinner with common
friends […], because of the brilliance, verve and charm of her conversation, and
her general style, her tenue. She was a grande dame of the first order, and would
have been so in any society at any time. Above all, I think, she wanted to be
amused, and therefore liked clever, interesting people of intellectual vitality, or
those who had achieved something strange and interesting, or those who fed her
acute sense of the ridiculous in life, for which she had an undying appetite. She
was always described as being extremely right-wing, and this, of course, in a
sense is perfectly true. It sprang, it seemed to me, from several sources: partly
because she genuinely liked to shock, épater,fn827 the solemn and the earnest – she
genuinely disliked the […] liberal, high-minded, idealistic do-gooders of every
kind, and delighted in mocking, and holding them up to ridicule and laughter. But if
these liberals turned out to be intelligent, amusing, full of vitality, original,
fascinating in any way, their politics or their idealism did not stand in the way of
friendship. Thus she was a friend of Justice Felix Frankfurter, who was nothing if
not an idealistic liberal; but that was because of his love of life and of amusement,
and his ebullient and delightful temperament. Another source was, I think, the fact
that she felt that Franklin Roosevelt had outshone her father, to whom she was
totally devoted and whom she regarded as a far greater man than the second
Roosevelt. She particularly disliked Eleanor for her high-mindedness, her
earnestness, her humanitarianism – qualities which she held in genuine contempt.
What she liked was heroism, boldness, power, pride, unashamed ambition,
grandeur of character: she disliked dimness, servility, convention. She liked
Renaissance virtues, pagan qualities, and therefore took pleasure, in a defiant,
perverse sort of way, in denouncing liberals, do-gooders etc., which is what gave
her the reputation (not undeserved, of course) of being an acute reactionary. She
believed in elites, and felt herself to be part of one, and disliked democracy and
general American ideals, save in the form in which her father accepted them.
She had great wit, and considerable malice, though I never found it to be
cruel.fn828 She certainly never in my presence referred to Senator Borah,fn829 and I
never heard that she had any relationship with Senator Joseph McCarthy.fn830 But
she was quite capable of saying something complimentary about him in order to
shock, excite, annoy, hold up to ridicule. She was perfectly irresponsible, but it
was a mistake to take her political pronouncements seriously – she certainly never
did herself. She was a very clever, indeed very brilliant, talker – deliberately
unfair, but loyal and affectionate towards those she liked, and open about her likes
and dislikes. There was no touch of hypocrisy or desire to appease those for
whom she did not care, in any degree.
[…] Kind she was not, and did not wish to be, save to those she liked or loved
– towards mankind in general, not at all. She was, I think, intensely jealous of
Eleanor Roosevelt, whose column outshone her own brief one, and was
wonderfully disparaging about Franklin Roosevelt, whom I vastly admired. She
said ‘My poor cousin, he suffered from polio, so he was put in a frame; and now
he wants to put the entire United States into a frame, as if it was a crippled country
– that is all the New Deal is about, you know.’ That kind of analogy, with all its
injustice but brightness, was typical of her. She did make some marvellous jokes:
epigrams, perhaps, would better describe them. Someone said to her that he could
not understand how it was that Philip Lothian, the British ambassador, who, after
all, was born a Catholic, could have been converted to Christian Science.
Whatever one might say against the Catholic Church, it was a great, historically
rich, profound and magnificent affair. How could a man brought up in it, even if he
was in love with Lady Astor (who was, of course, a Christian Scientist), change
from that to something so thin, artificial, to some people’s minds almost vulgar, as
Christian Science? How could he? She said ‘All poor Philip did was to swap
virgins in midstream.’ That seems to me an epigram worthy of Voltaire. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
17 September 1985 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Professor Edel,

[…] As you know, I loved and admired Edmund […], and still do. His
friendship meant a very, very great deal to me, since his late forties when we met
and until his death. The pages of his diary which you have kindly sent mefn831
contain a fairly continuous disparagement of me, which naturally enough I find
profoundly woundingfn832 – together with a great deal of straight invention of facts.
I do not suppose any of the latter was ever deliberate. When he missed his target,
he missed it by many miles, as I am sure you know, and uttered some absurdities
in his life (cf. the egregious review of Doctor Zhivago in the New Yorker, filled
with really grotesque fantasies).fn833 Whether these pages were meant to be
published, whether he was entirely sober when he wrote some of them, seems to
me dubious. […]
All this about Maurice Bowra and David Cecil (who were not friends at all)
blackballing people, etc. is pure nonsense, whatever Connollyfn834 may have said:
nor do I believe that Connolly said it. But as for Roth,fn835 it is true that I held
against him the fact that after the war he tried to keep out all the bourgeoisie, the
shopkeepers and merchants who came to live in Oxford, from the Synagogue,
which he regarded as sacred to the University alone; and I was appealed to, and
did think that any Jew who wished to worship in the Synagogue should have a
right to enter it under ordinary circumstances. My relations with Roth somewhat
deteriorated after that. However, all that is Edmund’s typical perversity, which
you must know as well as I do. […] I don’t go about saying ‘The Jew is a kind of
hunchback’, though I did once write a long piece for the Hebrew University in
which I compare the attitude of assimilated Jews who pretended that there was no
difference between them and non-Jews to hunchbacks who had certificates
showing that they had no humps.fn836 But I don’t think that Edmund ever read that –
still, someone may have said something to him about it, and that is what this may
have come from. Harry Levin’sfn837 gloss is one of typical malice.fn838
[…] The young Don with an impediment in his speech was John Bayley:fn839 the
‘young woman who had written a book on Sartre’ was Iris Murdoch, Bayley’s
wife.fn840 Edmund simply hated them all, including the philosopher (that was Stuart
Hampshire, whom he came round to later). It is true that Edmund was grumpy,
bored and rather disagreeable to Iris, and the evening had plainly not been a
success. I had only asked them because Edmund had asked to meet such
intelligentsia as might be found in Oxford; they were distinguished representatives
of it at the time. I did not invite Maurice Bowra, because I thought he would take
against him – as, indeed, he did, if you look at Europe without Baedeker, where
there is a violent onslaught on my poor old friend.fn841
[…] the idea that the last bit of my essay on Tolstoy is really autobiographical
and that, ‘like all serious Jews’, I long to be a hedgehog is simply not true: one
may not know oneself at all well, but one knows oneself well enough to know that
that is not one’s ideal, secret or overt. This judgement is not offensive, but merely
a total misconception – a typical piece of wild lunging by Edmund, which we all
Edmund, as you know, was a genuine, old-fashioned Anglophobe – all this must
have begun before the First World War, when he came to England and evidently
had a not very good time, and this rubs off on to the pages that you have sent me. I
really feel upset about these pages – I mean, about the references to myself. Of
course we were friends and of course he stayed with me and of course he
probably said worse things about other people to whom he was equally, or more,
attached. But I know that Mary McCarthy,fn842 for example, did manage to arrange
for the omission of particularly embarrassing or offensive remarks about herself,
and I, too, must admit that I crave for some degree of protection. I would, of
course, rather not be mentioned at all than mentioned in this fashion in Edmund’s
diaries. I remember that when Nigel Nicolson edited Virginia Woolf’s letters,fn843
he wrote to people mentioned in them in some disagreeable way, asking them if
they minded these passages being included. Some, so Nigel told me, like Peter
Quennell,fn844 asked for them to be expunged; others, like Raymond Mortimer,fn845
who thought himself a very intimate friend of Virginia’s, and about whom she was
quite singularly nasty, had the courage to say ‘Let them be printed’ – and shortly
afterwards died (not necessarily cause and effect!). I do not aspire to that degree
of courage, and would much rather that passages were left out that would cause
too much malicious pleasure, too much relish, among people whom I regard as
friends and who probably will remain friends – let alone those who are not. After
my death, I do not care.
[…] You must obviously do what you think right, but I do think that human
beings have some right to a degree of protection against wild statements and sheer
spleen. I had a curious impression, quite apart from my personal feelings, as I
read these pages, of a certain odd unworldliness on the part of Edmund. What he
writes about people has a certain unrealism about it – it is as if he moved rather
sightless through the human world as opposed to that of books. He writes like a
man who has led his life in a library, and not really moved among people with a
sense of what was what and who was who in human relationships. Do you think I
am mistaken? You may think that I am being altogether oversensitive. But the
degree of pain is not diminished by one’s knowledge of the thinness of one’s skin.
Oh dear. As someone once said to me, ‘It is only one’s friends who can betray
one, one’s enemies cannot.’ Believe me, I am not over-reacting, and I beg you to
be not just but merciful.
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
5 November 1985 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Leon Edel,

Thank you ever so much for your letter of 30 October. The introductory piece
seems to me quite admirable. There are one or two things I should like to comment
on, but as a general account of EW’s attitude to England it is, I am sure, just and
needed. […].
I should like to tell you a story, told me from both ends, about his wartime visit
to London. The man attached to him and instructed to look after him and give him a
good time was Hamish Hamilton,fn846 the well-known publisher (still alive at an
advanced age, living in Florence), who is half American, was attached to the
Ministry of Information, and I suppose a regular liaison with writers, top-class
journalists and the like. I do not know if you have ever met him: he is an amiable,
slightly nervous club man, married to an Italian, madly upper-class wife, and they
used to have a salon in London for literary persons – literary and artistic figures.
Their intimate friends were Laurence Olivier,fn847 Iris Origo,fn848 the Kenneth
Clarksfn849 and the like; he was a popular member of the Garrick Club, where
those kinds of people congregated, not unlike American publishers of the same
kind – say, his great, great friend Cass Canfield.fn850 He was told to look after EW,
who took an instant hatred to him (as he told me himself); he was given a party, at
which he met the Sitwells,fn851 and T. S. Eliot, to neither of whom he wished to
speak. I rather doubt if Angus Wilsonfn852 would at that date have been invited. The
only person he spoke to was Compton Mackenzie.fn853 He liked him because he
was an old, bearded rogue, a man of letters of the old-fashioned kind, whom he
rather favoured.
David Cecil told me afterwards, after meeting him, that he thought that Edmund
was rather like writers and critics before 1914: when people like Kipling, Wells,
Shaw, Chesterton, Henry Jamesfn854 met at dinner in some club – as they certainly
did – they did not talk about literature or art, they talked about publishers,
royalties, personal affairs; a certain amount of scabrous talk about their amorous
lives; it was all very jolly and masculine and hearty, with gusts of laughter, not at
all like the dinners given by Elizabeth Bowen at which I used to meet, say, T. S.
Eliot or Mrs Woolf, and their friends. There may be something in that. Anyway, he
told me the party was ghastly, that the only man he could talk to was Compton
Mackenzie, and that he wished this hadn’t been done: his particular dislike, of
course, was concentrated on T. S. Eliot, whom he described as ‘somewhere deep
inside himself a scoundrel’ – whatever he may have meant by that.
The one man he wanted to see was his old Princeton professor of philosophy,
the eminent Kantian scholar, Kemp Smith,fn855 who went back from Princeton to
Edinburgh, where by that time, I think, he was living in retirement. He said that
Hamilton made difficulties about the journey to Edinburgh, but he managed to give
him the slip, and went. When he came back he apparently went to another party,
reluctantly, and wished to walk home from it to the hotel at which he was staying –
which apparently involved going via Piccadilly and Park Lane. Hamilton,
according to him, did his best to persuade him to get a taxi, as it was raining etc.,
and anyway for the sake of general comfort. But he, Edmund, knew that Hamilton’s
real motive was to keep him from seeing the prostitutes who were walking the
streets, which the Ministry of Information wished to keep secret, but which he,
Edmund, was determined to see. So he did get into the taxi, and got out of it five
minutes later, and, by God, he did walk the streets and he did see the prostitutes –
so he had succeeded in cheating poor old Hamilton. All this is a very typical
piece of paranoiac imagination, to which he was certainly given, particularly in
England. I am telling you this story to indicate his mood when he came here as
war correspondent, which of course got into Europe without Baedeker.
It was then that he met Maurice Bowra, at dinner with Sylvester Gatesfn856 (I
was not in London at that time), and there they had a row, which he reports in
Europe without Baedeker.fn857 Something like this happened: EW said, according
to himself, that he thought that perhaps Walt Whitmanfn858 was the greatest of all
American writers; MB, contemptuously, ‘Even better than Whyte-Melville?’; by
which Wilson correctly took him to mean Herman Melville,fn859 which he had
casually got wrong, out of general contempt for America. After which they had a
proper row, according to Sylvester Gates, to which EW would go back in
conversations with me […]. About Bowra he said ‘There is no doubt that he
absolutely loves literature. Pity that he has nothing of the slightest interest to say
about any of it, isn’t it?’ When he was told by someone, I think Gates, that Maurice
Bowra, on being given some French decoration, had said that the French
ambassador had formally kissed him on both cheeks (normally done in such
situations) – ‘Il m’a baisé deux fois’fn860 (as you know, ‘baiser’ has an obscene
sense, and the correct word should have been ‘embrassé’) – he, EW, was
delighted, and used to repeat it with loud guffaws every time he remembered
Maurice Bowra in England: particularly when talking to me. He would never tire
of this particular quotation. […]
England to Edmund was the home of class distinctions, privilege, snootiness,
everything that was thought in America by a large number of average Americans
during the war. Big Bill Thompsonfn861 of Chicago was not far away. […]
The last occasion, I think, on which I saw Edmund was when I stayed with him
at Wellfleet and was made to cut out my name with a diamond on his window. I
refused to offer an aphorism of my own, and was made by him to inscribe a verse
from the Prophet Isaiah. I realise from the letters that he regarded me as in some
way inspired by, almost identifying myself with, the Hebrew prophets of old, let
alone the Hasidic sectfn862 in which he mistakenly thought me to have been brought
up. I really do not think he knew much about people – mis-shots are too frequent,
the absurdities too many. There is no doubt that I did rather hero-worship him, and
to an extent do still, in spite of those remarks. […]
Yours very sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
12 November 1985
Headington House

Dear Michael,
[…] You say, quite justly, that I ‘run (mostly) with the foxes’.fn863 I think this
undeniable, but I found it entertaining, and mildly intriguing, that François
Bondy,fn864 reviewing the book in some German newspaper, I think the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,fn865 said (with some irony) that the same ideas
ran through all my writings that he was acquainted with – pluralism,
incompatibility of ultimate values, negative liberty, incoherence of the concept of
a final solution to all our ills, a kind of anti-positivist empiricism, etc. – and that
this recurrent pattern, from which I seem unable to detach myself, makes me a kind
of hedgehog. I do not know if you would agree. Perhaps it is true – it is certainly
not a conscious or deliberate perception of single, overarching principles. […]
It never struck me that there were no hedgehogs who wanted to be foxes: it is an
original idea on your part, as so many are, and I agree. Are there people brought
up in some rigid, all-embracing religious discipline who long to escape it and
enjoy life in all its variety for its own sake, but cannot abandon their
overwhelming sense of the claims of the faith in which they were brought up or to
which they were converted? But of course you are right, such cases do not easily
come to mind, though I suppose they are not entirely impossible. […]
Yours ever,

15 November 1985 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Mr Cooperman,
[…] Let me answer your questions, so far as I am able. What Weizmann feared
was that the Jews were fundamentally an unpolitical society, and that their long
existence as a scattered community, not used to collective decisions and national
life, would [lead them to] quarrel bitterly among themselves and, as they say, ‘tear
themselves apart’. I think that at one time he hoped that Israel might remain part of
some wider and more experienced political entity – say the British Empire,
which, of course, he admired, and for the admiration of which he is now so sternly
criticised by Israelis. He would not, I think, have minded if a very wide measure
of home rule had been granted to the Yishuv,fn867 whereby foreign policy and
perhaps financial policy would be governed by agencies of the British Empire,
everything else being left to the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. Bevin and the
Foreign Office made that quite impossible, and Weizmann, of course, in the end
was passionately in favour of an independent state, but only because all other
expedients proved unavailing and the alternative was intolerable. Do I think the
same? I wish not to. Under Ben-Gurion and Eshkolfn868 and even Golda [Meir] it
looked as if a liberal republican tradition, with a slant towards a good deal of a
social role – in fact, a welfare state – might be coming to maturity. Now the
eruption of religious and political fanaticism frightens me. If ever Israel declines
– I do not believe even now that it will be extinguished in any foreseeable future –
the fault will lie in internal, not external, danger.
Did Weizmann fear secularism as a danger to the preservation of Jewish
tradition? It is difficult to answer for the dead, but I should say no. He was himself
steeped, as I said in that lecture,fn869 in traditional religious Jewish education; his
Yiddish was interspersed with Biblical and Talmudical phrases; he looked on the
influence of the Orthodox rabbinate with suspicion; he believed that the Jews
would remain Jews wherever they were – that, indeed, was the basis and reason
for Zionism, in the end – but he wanted a secular, democratic republic, and
thoroughly approved of the fact that there was no state religion in Israel
(nowadays more of a formal than a real state of affairs). He was a democrat, a
liberal and a man of wide European outlook. The outlook of Mr Begin horrified
him; he did not imagine that a phenomenon like Kahanefn870 could occur. He did
not think about the Arabs much – that was a genuine weakness. In that sense, he
was somewhat narrowly nationalistic. Consciously or not, he wanted something
like the British welfare state, which was created in his lifetime but came to
fruition after his death.
What are my views on the subject? I agree with him – or with what I take to be
his opinions. I think that the development of acute nationalism and religious
intolerance, the control of social and personal life by ultra-Orthodox, or even just
Orthodox, rabbis constitutes an enormous step backwards in the history of the
Jews, and if pursued spells disaster, both morally and materially, both spiritually
and politically. I am sorry to finish this letter on so sombre a note. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin
5 December 1985
Headington House

Dear Alistair,
Thank you for your most fascinating letter. Anti-Semitism: goodness me, Mr
Poliakov’s fourth (I think) volume on the subject has just appeared, and no doubt
there will be seventeen more.fn871 It is a subject which is, of course, endlessly
referred to and written about, and nobody has got it quite right, and I daresay
nobody will. What you say about Balfourfn872 is no doubt true:fn873 I know perfectly
well that one of his motives for Zionism, perhaps the strongest, was his belief that
unless you give the Jews a safety-valve – some way of ‘normalising’ themselves –
they will breed revolutionaries, subverters of the order which he believed in and
which he wished to preserve at all costs. Moreover, he was certainly a somewhat
cynical man, and was not moved by the condition of the poor or the horrors of the
Ireland of his dayfn874 or by the abandonment of the Georgian republic in the
Caucasus by British troops when things got too hot.fn875 Curzon, then Secretary for
India,fn876 demanded that the social democratic Georgian republic be supported
against the Bolsheviks, otherwise there might be a massacre. ‘An extraordinary
massacre, or an ordinary one?’, asked Balfour, according to the account in the
Milner papers.fn877 All this I know. Nevertheless, he was spurred by some kind of
romantic vision of the restoration of the Jews in their ancient homeland, as
Disraeli was, as Lloyd Georgefn878 undoubtedly was, as many of the supporters of
the Zionists among the British […] were. […]
Of course you are right. The upper classes of England, and indeed, in all
countries, have a large dose of anti-Semitism circulating in their veins (sometimes
it becomes acute) – the Belloc-influencedfn879 Catholics among them, or those who
look on Jews as a mixture of Faginfn880 and cigar-chomping bankers (Bevin had a
bit of that in him, undoubtedly – the Jews to him in his Foreign Office days were a
mixture of Laski,fn881 who had humiliated him, I suspect, and horrible New York
Jewish millionaires who were sending poor Jewish scum in leaky ships to
Palestine to madden the innocent Arabs, primitive fellows but ordinary human
beings like himself, victims to the clever-clever machinations of cunning Jewish
businessmen and intellectuals).
But where is the root of all this? Of club anti-Semitism (the normal kind), or
acute anti-Semitism – Wagner, Hitler, Henry Ford,fn882 Houston Stewart
Chamberlain,fn883 the anti-Dreyfusardsfn884 and the rest? Everyone has their own
pet explanation of this. I feel convinced (how can one have concrete evidence for
this?) that it really does have its roots in Christianity. The Gospels refer to ‘the
Jews’ as the people who killed God:fn885 little children, who are taught about this,
have no idea who the Jews are in concrete terms, but there is an obviously sinister
connotation which attaches to the word ‘Jew’ as a result of this; so that when
actual Jews are referred to there is a sense of their being connected in some way
with an alien, sinister, vaguely dangerous and certainly not at all nice sect.
I do not say that this is conscious in, say, British breasts, but it is that ember of a
flame lit by those early Christians who wished to detach themselves from, and
therefore libelled, their enemies, the orthodox Jews in Rome. This ember glows
throughout history. When it merely glows it is, perhaps, not very dangerous or
harmful, but any wind can blow it into a flame. The winds do differ: that is why
there are all those theories of anti-Semitism – the search for a scapegoat, the
economic tensions, xenophobia, fear of clever crooks and intriguers who mislead
not very bright but honest men, of whom the bulk of the nation is composed, etc.
etc. etc. There is, for example, an essay by Sartre which is well-meaning in the
sense of being anti-anti-Semitic, but which does not begin to penetrate to the heart
of the problem.fn886
Since these winds, as I call them, will probably never cease to blow, there will
be anti-Semitism so long as groups of Jews live in the midst of other peoples. The
ultimate cause of it is that they have not assimilated. A minority have, and have
melted away. Namier once had a brilliant image about the Jews of Eastern
Europe:fn887 they begin as a frozen mass, devout, self-insulated, plunged into their
religious habits, a survival from the Middle Ages, squeezed by the Russians into
adjacent territories, and thus rendered into a kind of artificial national minority.
Then the sun of the Enlightenment starts melting this frozen mass. Some of it
evaporates (conversion, intermarriage, assimilation into the surrounding peoples),
some of them remain stiff and frozen (the Orthodox religious un-surrendering
ones), and some are turned into rushing streams – socialist and Zionist. The
socialists wish to destroy the regime which has oppressed them, and make
common cause with its other victims; the Zionists believe that the only solution is
to get out and live a free life somewhere else.
Weizmann had no illusions about this: he was not, as you charitably say, saintly,
far from it; he liked civilised values and was an absolutely fanatical moderate: he
believed that all extremism leads to ruin, however noble the ideals that inspire it.
He liked Balfour not only for what Balfour did for his cause, but also because
Balfour was genuinely charmed by him, and being a famous charmer himself,
charmed him in turn. Weizmann liked refinement, subtlety and aristocratic
qualities, which Balfour, despite his anti-Semitism and heartlessness, certainly
possessed. Balfour saw in him some ancient Jewish prophet carrying great
historical charisma, speaking out of the depths of the biblical tradition, etc., and
this obviously fascinated him in a historic-aesthetic sort of way. Neither
Weizmann nor anyone else would pretend that Balfour was a warm-hearted
idealist/altruist and friend of the oppressed.
The Weizmann I knew was not a Hebrew prophet, but a very strong-willed,
highly rational, exceedingly wise old gentleman (by the time I knew him), who had
come to the conclusion that assimilation had been a failure (and who would deny
it today?); that the Jews had not only not assimilated but were not assimilable,
whatever the circumstances; that to be a minority everywhere was an intolerable
moral condition; that in every country, to have to look over one’s shoulder to see
how others were regarding one, how one ‘fitted in’, with indelible historical
memories of what happened when one didn’t, and the unforgettable stations of
martyrdom, particularly in Christian countries (not that the Muslims treated Jews
much better: there were sufficient pogroms in, say, Morocco, or even Muslim
Spain, throughout the later Middle Ages and the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries; otherwise the famous loi Crémieuxfn888 establishing Jewish rights in
North Africa would [not] have been needed), was intolerable; or, if the desire to
fit in and get by, or, better still, do well, become prosperous, get titles, influence
affairs in one’s adopted country – if that didn’t work, then the opposite: out of
frustration, resentment and defiance came radicalism, revolution, Karl Marx,
Lassallefn889 (it is said that he once said that had he been born a Prussian, he
would have liked to have been a Guards officer, but as it was he had to make do
with creating the German Labour Party, as a great model of all labour parties
elsewhere), Jewish Bolsheviks (Lenin of course was not a Jew, but who his
mother was remains uncertain to this day: her name was ‘Blank’,fn890 and none of
his ten million biographies say one word about her origins – German? Jewish? the
NKVD won’t tell us).
Zionism was an alternative to this. If the Jews could be found a corner in which
to create their own establishment, then all the Jewish attributes which result from
persecution – survival of the fittest, the cleverest, the scepticism, the artistic talent
born of traumata, the violinists, chess-players, tailors, comedians, bankers, fixers,
agents, and agents of agents (seldom the owners of real basic materials – oil or
steel or iron or coal) – all this would disappear, and the Jews would be made
ordinary men and women: farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, soldiers, with a mere
sprinkling of intellectuals, artists etc.
And this, of course, is how it was realised in Israel. No great chess-players, no
splendid novelists – fiddlers, yes – no great conductors, no tortured writers, no
Kafkas, no Heines, no Harold Laskis, no Einsteins, no Freuds, no Marxes.
Mediocrity, perhaps not an altogether unhealthy development from an earlier
situation in which endless, at best discomfort, at worst persecution and
extermination, bred the flowers of art and literature.
To return to anti-Semitism: I cannot see how it could possibly disappear. It
might greatly diminish if Israel were ever allowed to cease to be a source of
friction and anxiety (the problem of the Arabs and Palestine has no clean solution;
it’s a matter of time, patience and some kind of trade-offs, it seems to me). The
Jews of the rest of the world would breathe more easily, and perhaps assimilate
more successfully, as they are more or less doing in parts of America, perhaps.
But even the most friendly, unbiased, unprejudiced Englishman today certainly
does not think of Jews as English. They may be all right, he has nothing against
them, but they are Jews first and foremost. They are Jews not in the sense in which
Presbyterians or Methodists, or even Catholics, are what they are – English
Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians, Presbyterian Scotsmen, Catholic Englishmen.
Jewish Englishmen? Perhaps a few are – perhaps Keith Joseph is so conceived.
But neither Lord Rothschild nor Mr Leon Brittanfn891 is so thought of, and not just
in Conservative purlieus alone. […]
Oh dear, I didn’t mean to write you a sermon on anti-Semitism, and I think the
definition of ‘intellectual’ is very funny and does touch a nerve.fn892 But where
Winston said ‘He never stooped but he never conquered’, I do not know – but it is
very good.fn893 I do not share your contempt for Balfour. He was no better and no
worse than the class and time into which he was born: more imaginative, more
interesting than most of them; more so than Curzon or any of the Dukes; a Zionist
not just because he wanted to get the Jews to leave Europe for fear of what they
might do, rather more because he thought it interesting, perhaps amusing, to see
whether a new nation could be created with a fascinating history. And Winston
too, who was a stout Zionist, certainly did not particularly like Jews. He may have
liked Baruch, as Balfour may have liked Natty Rothschildfn894 (the father of the
man to whom his Declaration was addressed), but they quite definitely thought of
them as foreigners of some kind, métèques,fn895 resident foreigners; some of them
perfectly nice, but still not Englishmen, not Scotsmen, not Welshmen, not Irishmen
– Jews. Like the rich Greeks who live in London: Stavrides, Calvocoressis.
There is an old joke about the fact that if you ask a native of Czechoslovakia
what he is, some will say ‘I am a Czech’, some will say ‘I am a Slovak’, some
will say ‘I am a Ruthenian’; but Jews will say ‘I am a Czechoslovak.’ Therein lies
the perfectly real tragedy to which Israel is the greatest step towards a solution
[…], despite the injustice to the Arabs, despite the appalling behaviour of the
fanatics and the zealots and the fools and the knaves, who are there as frequent as
they are today almost everywhere else – despite all this, nevertheless, an
Weizmann is largely forgotten by the Israelis now, regarded as an old-
fashioned, anglophile, gentlemanly snob (or almost). But if Israel survives at all,
his outlook will be resuscitated. So I believe. […] (I do not think that some of my
Jewish friends – Keith Joseph, the late Justice Lionel Cohenfn896 and his surviving
family, Edward Warburgfn897 in New York – would find my thesis at all attractive,
or even valid, though in their heart of hearts – such of them as still possess hearts
– they would know it to be largely true.)
Forgive me for this unconscionably long outpouring. Next time we meet I shall
be quite willing to carry on in this strain for hours and hours, so do be warned –
this is a threat – I promise you I won’t if I see the least sign of resistance, which
would be only too natural, on your part.
Warmest regards,
Yours ever,

[1985?, manuscript draft]
Headington House

Dear Peter,
[…] The man who arranged my visit to Siegmund Freud was a pious Jewish
metal merchant, Oscar Philipp,fn899 now dead, who was a cousin of Freud’s wife. I
called some time – I cannot recollect when – Netherhall Gardensfn900 – in I think
the late summer of 1938 – but it may have been later, on a Friday afternoon at
about 5 pm. While we were talking about various things – his arrest in Viennafn901
& psychoanalysis in Britain, Frau Freud came in & said (I quote from memory)
‘Since you know my cousin Oscar Philipp, you must know that on Friday evenings
good Jewish women light candles for the approach of the Sabbath. But this
Unmenschfn902 (I think we talked in German) will not allow this, because he says
that religion is a superstition.’ It was said with feigned indignation – humorously
with affection – to which Freud nodded gravely & said ‘Yes, indeed, religion is a
superstition (ein Überglauben)’fn903 & Frau Freud said ‘you see?’ It was all very
charming – obviously this was a regular interchange for more than half a century –
& a standing joke for the benefit of relevant & sympathetic visitors. I cannot, of
course, vouch for the details of this – but that is what I now remember, after more
than forty years. […]
Yours ever,
14 January 1986
Headington House

Dear Michael,
[…] As for relativism, I understand your problem very well, since this is also
mine.fn904 ‘Common ground’ is, I suppose, what Herbert Hart tried to formulate as
a kind of empirical version of natural law,fn905 i.e. those laws without which no
society could survive – if everybody lied, killed (or even, I suppose, if the
majority did), no society could survive and this is therefore almost a kind of
biological necessity, however the word ‘necessity’ is interpreted. But clearly this
is not enough as a minimal code – even if sufficiently universal. So what does one
say? If I am right, and ultimate values can be incompatible, how does one in fact
decide between love and honour? How does one decide whether Antigone was
right or wrong in what she did?fn906 There has been disagreement about this for
some time: Hegel sat on the fence (I think rightly);fn907 Sartre thought Creon was
right. And what about Dido and Aeneas? When he found that she was madly in
love with him, and he was not at all with her – although he lost his head (one
might say) in that cave into which the storm had driven them – what was he to do?
Marry her and condemn them both to conflict and misery? Or abandon her as he
did? Of course Virgil tells you that Mercury came and told him that his duty was to
create Rome, etc., but that is what Kant used to call a miserable subterfuge.fn908
The nineteenth-century editors all thought that Aeneas was a howling cad, and
poor Dido a victim, and her self-immolationfn909 rather wonderful; and the fact that
Hannibalfn910 had to avenge himself on Rome, as her descendant, a pleasing
aetiological myth.
But what do you and I think? Should the Jewish leaders under Nazi rule have
agreed to save a certain number of Jews at the cost of giving the names and
addresses of others and condemning them to immediate slaughter, or should they,
when they were asked to do this, have done nothing, or committed suicide? Surely,
pace Miss Arendt, who I think is terrible on this (as on many things),fn911 we are in
no position to moralise about this: in painful and agonising situations of this order,
surely any criterion that one would regard as in any sense objective (though I shall
never quite know what that means) must be condemned.
In cases of such conflict, even if it is not agonising, but simply a conflict
between ends of life which we hope can be harmonised, if only by a trade-off, but
sometimes cannot, we are, I think, forced to plump and defend our choice in terms
of the values that we regard as ultimate for ourselves and, let us add, assume to be
such for a good many members of the society in the times in which we live.fn912
Since we can, if I am right, in principle not seek for an overarching objective
order, true for all times, in all places, and for all men, then disagreements between
cultures are in the same box as all other conflicts of values. We follow our own;
but we cannot be converted to a religion, to a code of ethics, almost to another
culture, perhaps. If we say ‘This is it at last, now I really do see what is right and
good’, as people certainly have done, and do, and will do, we ought to be able to
explain why this is so to others. We can only do so if we have enough common
ground with others, i.e. enough to make it possible to be able to carry conviction
by, e.g., pointing out similarities of the values they are now preaching to some
which the interlocutor already holds too. Surely that is about as near to objectivity
as we can get? If people object to saying ‘How can we know how to live?’, a
combination of Hart-like arguments about the minimum requirements of a
functioning society (even if immoral) plus examples of lives, outlooks, characters,
the anti-Kantian morality which Bergson, in Two Sources of Morality and
Religion,fn913 talks about, seems to me about all that we can do. And that is surely
how we actually act in practice. Ayatollahs, Leo Strauss,fn914 Kant, the council of
sages in Jerusalem who dictate the policy of the religious parties in the Knesset,
G. D. H. Cole, others who derive light from revelation, or a priori knowledge of
moral values and rules, might disagree, and ask what, if this is not so, does ‘moral
blindness’ mean?fn915 But I think that anyone who does not understand the conflict
of Antigone, or the Jewish leaders under the Nazis, or anyone subjected to moral
blackmail, whether in his own mind or by others, is morally blind. Beyond this, I
cannot go, but I do not claim this to be entirely satisfactory.
Do let us discuss it when next we meet – it is an issue which nobody yet has
written about in a magisterialfn916 fashion which one can accept and say ‘At last
the problem has been, if not solved, enormously clarified.’
Yours ever, ‹most gratefully›

24 February 1986
Headington House

Dear Mrs Polanowska-Sygulska,

Thank you very much for your most interesting letter, which I read with great
pleasure and attention […]. First […] let me talk about the difficult question of
‘human nature’. Do I believe in a fixed and unalterable human nature? You rightly
quote me as saying that I do not, and then again rightly quote me as referring to it
as the basis of human communication. What, then, do I believe? I wish I could
answer this question with extreme precision, but it does not seem to me to lend
itself to that. What, I think, I believe is that there are thinkers, principally
believers in natural law, who propose that all men are created, whether by God or
nature, endowed with innate know-ledge of certain truths – some ‘factual’, some
normative. The lists differ, from Aristotle, the Stoics, Isidore of Seville, Gratian,
Grotiusfn918 etc., but for the most part they include the existence of God, the
knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, the obligation to tell the truth, return
debts, keep promises (pacta sunt servanda),fn919 some or all of the Biblical ten
commandments, and so on. I do not know who first questioned this – I dare say
Epicurus or Lucretius.fn920 But in modern times the main attack upon this was
delivered by thinkers like Vico and Herder and Marx (and, indeed, Hegel and his
followers), and, of course, the empiricists – not Locke, but Hume and his
followers – according to whom, whatever the status of these natural laws,
primitive men did not possess knowledge or even awareness of them, and they
came into consciousness, or, indeed, formed objects of belief or certainty, in the
course of evolution, or under the influence of changes in material circumstances
and the growth of culture (whatever factors enter into that). For this entails that
human beings go through a process of moral or metaphysical growth and
development; and this is as valid as that empirical knowledge is an onward-going
process, whether one believes that it tends to progressive development towards
some kind of perfection (which it may never reach) or not – that it is cumulative
but possesses no identifiable structure or teleological tendency.
This is certainly what Vico and Marx believed. That is, they believed that what
is called human nature varies and differs from culture to culture, or even within
cultures – that various factors play a part in the modification of human responses
to nature and each other; and that therefore the idea that all men, at all times, in all
places, are endowed with actual or potential knowledge of universal, timeless,
unalterable truths (whether such truths exist or not, though for the most part such
people did not believe them to exist) is simply false. The belief in such a priori
knowledge and such unalterable truths does form the heart of the central European
tradition, from Plato and the Stoics, through the Middle Ages, and perhaps in the
Enlightenment as well, to our own day, indeed.
But if Vico and Marx etc. are right, and I think they are, this is not a valid
conception. Human beings differ, their values differ, their understanding of the
world differs; and some kind of historical or anthropological explanation of why
such differences arise is in principle possible, though that explanation itself may
to some degree reflect the particular concepts and categories of the particular
culture to which these students of this subject belong. I do not think this leads to
relativism of any kind; indeed, I have an essay on the alleged relativism of the
eighteenth century, of which I enclose an offprint.fn921
But even though there is no basic human nature in this sensefn922 – in the sense in
which, for example, Rousseau believed that if you strip off all the increments, all
the modifications, corruption, distortion etc. (as he thought of it) brought about by
society and civilisation, there will be discovered a basic natural man, sometimes
identified with, say, Red Indians, who have not had the unfortunate experience of
having their natures distorted by European culture – this is the position attacked,
for example, by Edmund Burke, who says that the idea that there is a natural man
(about whom he thinks the French revolutionaries speak, and whose rights they
wish to restore) is false, that there is no such creature; that the arts, which
according to Rousseau are a later and perhaps disastrous development, are, as he
says, parts of man’s nature;fn923 that there is no central, pure, natural being who
emerges after you have scraped off all the artificial beliefs, habits, values, forms
of life and behaviour which have been, as it were, superimposed on this pure,
natural being – that is what I mean by denying a fixed human nature: I do not
believe that all men are in the relevant respects the same ‘beneath the skin’, i.e. I
believe that variety is part of human existence and in fact (though this is quite
irrelevant) that this is a valuable attribute, though that is a very late idea, probably
not to be met much before the eighteenth century.
What, then, do I mean by saying that men do have a common nature? Well, I
think that common ground between human beings must exist if there is to be any
meaning in the concept of ‘human being’ at all. I think that it is true to say that
there are certain basic needs – for example, for food, shelter, security and, if we
accept Herder, for belonging to a group of one’s own – which anyone qualifying
for the description of ‘human being’ must be held to possess. These are only the
most basic properties. One might be able to add the need for a certain minimum of
liberty, for the opportunity to pursue happiness or the realisation of one’s
potentialities for self-expression, for creation (however elementary), for love, for
worship (as religious thinkers have maintained), for communication, and for some
means of conceiving and describing themselves, perhaps in highly symbolic and
mythological forms, [and] their own relationship to the environment, natural and
human, in which they live. Unless there is that, communication between human
beings, even within a society, let alone understanding of what others have wished
to communicate in other ages and cultures, would become impossible.
I believe in the permanent possibility of change, modification, variety, without
being able to state that there is some central kernel which is what is being
modified or changed. But there must be enough in common between all the various
individuals and groups who are going through various modifications for
communication to be possible; and this can be expressed by listing, almost
mechanically, various basic needs – ‘basic’ for that reason – the various forms
and varieties of which belong to different persons, cultures, societies etc. The
need for food is universal, but the way I satisfy it, the particular foods I crave, the
steps I take to obtain them, will vary. So with all the other basic needs: my
mythology, metaphysics, religion, language, gestures will widely vary, but not the
fact that these are attempted ways of trying to explain to myself, to find myself at
home in, a puzzling and possibly unfriendly environment or, indeed, world.
Wittgenstein once explained the concept of ‘family face’:fn924 that is, among the
portraits of ancestors, face A resembles face B, face B resembles face C, face C
resembles face D, etc., but there is not a central face, the ‘family face’, of which
these are identifiable modifications. Nevertheless, when I say ‘family face’ I do
not mean nothing, I mean precisely that A resembles B, B resembles C and so on,
in various respects, and that they form a continuum, a series, which can be
attributed to family X, not to family Y. So with the various natures of various
cultures, societies, groups etc. This is what I mean: that there is not a fixed, and
yet there is a common, human nature. Without the latter there would be no
possibility of talking about human beings, or, indeed, of intercommunication, on
which all thought depends; and not only thought, but feeling, imagination, action. I
do not know if I make myself clear, but that, I think, is what I believe. […]
Yours sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin[…]

21 March 1986
Headington House

Dearest Imogen,
I was terribly distressed to read in The Times, in Jerusalem, about Martin’s
death.fn926 I was ill all last week, and this somehow seemed to close the heavens
utterly and for ever. I absolutely adored him. I telephoned your mother and spoke
to your brother, who told me that Martin had died in his sleep – so may we all. I
have written a long letter to your mother in longhand, from Jerusalem – it is torture
to read my handwriting, hence this impersonal typewriter. I won’t repeat what I
said to Mary about my first meeting with Martin in the anteroom of the Holywell
Music Room, and all our subsequent meetings when I went to stay with your
grandparents in York. Did you ever know your grandfather? He was a sweet,
gentle, charming old man when I was an undergraduate; and as I used to sit in front
of the fire in the Canon’s house, trying to read Kant, he would come towards me,
offer me some comfort – a chocolate or a glass of wine (not that I could drink it) –
and say ‘Stiff? Very stiff?’, and I would say ‘Yes, yes, very stiff, awful’; ‘Well,
then, why don’t you stop and listen to Martin play a little.’ It was absolutely
idyllic. Nor will I forget Martin in Salzburg: sheaves of music paper on which he
inscribed various songs in the style, he said, of Schumann, for the approval of
Professor Egon Wellesz.fn927 Or the spoof piece we wrote together about a
composer called Fillink, whose principal work was One Step Forwards, Two
Steps Backwards,fn928 and a translation of whose Slav romance in English went
‘Dabchick, dabchick, dabchick hey’.
But I must not go on in this flippant and sentimental vein of reminiscence –
although, deeply painful as I find the thought that I shall never see Martin again,
something of the sense of fun with which our entire relationship was bound up,
and which we expected and I think obtained from each other, keeps breaking
That he felt intensely proud of you, you must know: I think you realised all his
unfulfilled ambitions as a pianist. This really did fill him with joy. […]
I must not go on, all I really want to say is that I am upset, that nothing will
make up for the place that he held in my life, and that Aline and I send you our
warmest love.
Yours ever, ‹with much love›

14 May 1986 [carbon, heavily corrected in manuscript]
Headington House

Dear Mr Shin,
[…] Historicism and value judgement: this, of course, is a famous crux, made,
e.g., by Momigliano in his (in my opinion somewhat wrong-headed) review of my
book in the New York Review of Books some years ago, attributing relativism to
Vico, with which, he says, I did not adequately cope.fn930 But, as you know, my
view is that Vico is not a relativist, but a pluralist. Let me try and answer your
How can we judge other cultures in terms of our own values? And if not, if
Montesquieu and Vico are right, must we try to probe into their value systems and
only judge them in terms of theirs, and not our own? There was a famous
controversy between Lord Acton and Bishop Stubbsfn931 about the crimes of the
Borgias in the Renaissance: Acton simply condemned them as wickedness; Stubbs
tried to defend them on the ground that the morality of the Renaissance was very
different from ours, so that, in terms of people’s thoughts and behaviour of that
time, their deeds must appear in a different light, be differently judged, etc.fn932
Let me explain: I do believe that Vico and Herder were both right in saying that
cultures can only be understood in terms of the values they, and not we, pursue;
and that this is a very difficult thing to do – it means a great deal of sympathy,
research, knowledge, insight, imagination, every faculty and every effort we can
bring into play: that is why the history of culture is such an absorbing and
appallingly difficult subject. The point is that, to understand men in the past, one
must be able to understand how it must have been to have felt and thought as they
did, how values alien to us, or repellent to us, can have been valid, or valid-
seeming, ends that were authoritative to men in remote times and places. As may
be the case, and as your letter implies, we may find it too difficult to understand
how it is possible that these savages, or barbarians, or medieval Franks, or
fourteenth-century Japanese, can have thought what they thought, wanted what they
wanted, judged men or institutions or themselves as they did.
If we really cannot understand this, if it seems to us totally unintelligible, or
even totally disgusting, something we cannot conceive of human beings as
pursuing, as it were, then it seems that we don’t understand them at all, and they
are not, in some sense, wholly human beings at all. Communication has broken
down. Our language is not their language. We cut reality too differently to be able
to understand each other. What, however, must be possible, is for us to be able to
enter into a foreign scheme of values, to think of what it could have been like for
us to have lived then and thought like this; and then, if we want to, simply
condemn it, say ‘These are not our own values.’ They are possible human values,
one could live like that, there could have been a perfectly genuine culture of that
kind, but we reject it in terms of what are ultimate values for us, or our
civilisation, or Kulturkreis.fn933 We are perfectly entitled to explain religions and
the Borgias, or other persons we might regard as wicked or strange, in the light of
their values, and yet be able to condemn them – either because they failed to
pursue what they thought good and right, or, even if they did think it good and
right, because these things are not considered in terms of our values to be good
and right. Their values simply clash with ours, but they must be the kind of values
which we can imagine ourselves as capable of pursuing without ceasing to be
human or decent or intelligible.
That is my answer to the relativism of which Montesquieu or Vico or Herder
stand accused. Herder, like Mao, said that there are many flowers, cultures each
quite different from the others.fn934 Optimistically, he believed that they would all
form a beautiful cosmic harmony. About that, no doubt he was mistaken: they can
collide, they can be incompatible, within cultures, between cultures, even within
human beings, and then we have to do what we can and live in terms of imperfect
compromises. But, because we belong to one kind of flowerbed, not to understand
that the other flowers have their own beds and are equally flower-like flowers –
that, I think, is Herder’s great contribution, of which Vico in some sense was an
anticipator, Vico in terms of historical periods, Herder in terms of different
nationalities, past and contemporary cultures, etc. That is what historicism means
to me, and I think did to Vico. […]
Yours sincerely
Isaiah Berlin

3 June 1986
Headington House

Dear Professor Bell,

[…] I am not so sure that assimilation has as little meaning as you give it. A
great deal of melting is undoubtedly going on through intermarriage and general
evaporation, so much so that the Jewish Board of Deputies in England has set up
some kind of statistical unit to discover why the community is losing so many
members. I am not at all against that: people must do as they wish. But as a
doctrine, a ‘solution’, it is no longer advocated. I do come across ambivalent
figures who are uneasy about their status, certainly in England; less so, I admit, in
America. Oddly enough, I think the 1967 war – the Six Days War – did have a
powerful emancipating effect on Jews everywhere. It almost went beyond Hitler
in causing Jews not only to feel as Jews but to accept that they were what in fact
they were. I did write, years ago, an essay on ‘Jewish Slavery and
Emancipation’,fn936 in which I spoke about hunchbacks (it caused a good deal of
offence in the Anglo-Jewish community at the time), and indicated three phoney
ways of meeting this condition, and one difficult but genuine one.fn937 I never let
this essay be reprinted in English (for some odd reason it appeared in French),
because I didn’t want to stir too great a controversy in a community with which I
should have to live for too many years.
But although the situation of the 1950s, when this was written, has undoubtedly
altered as a result of what happened in Israel, I think I disagree with you in
maintaining […] that all Jews outside Israel to some degree or other feel a certain
social unease. In America particularly, they may feel fully realised inside their
own marvellously successful and powerful Jewish community; still, at any rate
some of the ones I know, either apologetically or defiantly, feel that the eyes of
others (not just Wasps, but gentiles in general) are upon them, and that they are in
some sense watched.
The situation is different from what Weizmann once described it as being when
some Irish lunatic – in 1938, I think – threw a pistol at the feet of the horse which
King Edward VIIfn938 was riding, and was duly arrested. Jews said ‘Thank God it
was not a Jew.’ If it had been a Jew, all Jews would have felt nervous, fingers
would have been pointed at them as a community. That may no longer be so. But
still, outside Israel, even in Yale, Harvard, Princeton, there is a certain social
uneasiness which I detect quite easily, not only on the part of old men like Harry
Levin, let us say, or John Clive, but younger ones as well. They no longer conceal
their origins as, let us say, Bobby Wolff,fn939 the Russian historian, more or less
did; but they haven’t quite come to terms with it, so long as they live in a non-
Jewish environment.
Am I totally mistaken? You say that, by a paradox, normalisation, which was the
purpose of Zionism, has led to an exceedingly abnormal society in Israel –
besieged, distorted by the need to defend itself [in]to an exaggerated and
dangerous nationalism, as in the case of Gush.fn940 But my point is that the Israeli
sabras are the only people who do not feel in an ambivalent situation […] – they
simply don’t feel the Jewish problem as a personal problem. The problem of the
security of their state is, of course, another matter: they think about which states
are friendly, which movements are against them, etc., but when one goes to Israel
I, at any rate, have a feeling that in Tel Aviv there are fewer people noticeably
Jewish, as it were, than there are in Miami or Brighton – they are simply a
somewhat brown-skinned population, most of them, like Cypriots or Maltese. Of
course their problems are appalling, but the purpose of Zionism (‘normalisation’
in the sense they meant it) has been realised: not to the satisfaction of those who
wanted some morally superior, intellectually lofty community to arise, the dream
of Zion as a great spiritual centre, but ‘normalisation’ – yes, I think so. […]
Yours very sincerely,
Isaiah Berlin

PS […] Of course Jews in the West do not feel themselves to be pariahs, but given
e.g. Gore Vidal’sfn941 intemperate attack on Podhoretzfn942 as an Israeli fifth-
columnist, etc.,fn943 no matter how much part of the American scene Commentary
and its influence has become, do you think that a similar attack could have been
delivered against some IRA-supporting prominent public figure, or some
philhellene or Turcophile supported by their side in Cyprus?fn944
When Lindbergh,fn945 all those years ago (is he still alive?), made that famous
attack on British propagandists, Jews etc. as driving America into war in 1941 –
by which I remember he managed to discredit himself (I was a British
propagandist myself in New York at the time) – the British did not mind a bit, but
the Jews did, violently. Do you think that is all past? Do you think the Jews no
longer fidget, however much at ease they feel in New York or Chicago or
California? Do you think the proportion of Jewish members of the faculty in, say,
Harvard, is not a subject for the kind of jokes other minorities are not exposed to
(like references to Mrs T’s kosher cabinet?).fn946 Or am I exaggerating or living in
the past? Both are perfectly possible, and if you tell me so, I shall believe it. […]
One of the most distinctive qualities of IB’s personal correspondence is the lack of self-editing.
After writing critically to his friend Jack Donaldson about mutual acquaintances in the opera
world, in December 1966, he added: ‘P.S. I haven’t reread this, but perhaps there is too much salt,
pepper etc: if so, discount it, be charitable, you are.’fn947 He seems to have hoped that his
correspondents would make allowance for his tendency to exaggerate, whose consequences he
was well aware of: ‘I am an intemperate writer and probably made a number of unjustifiable
remarks about all kinds of good people.’fn948 By contrast, he studiously avoided public
controversy, and on public issues could be circumspect to the point of silence. He fully understood
what this might imply: ‘I am attacked in periodicals and have to answer; I am told I am a charlatan
and ignoramus, I make feeble replies to that; I am accused of hollow conformism or cowardly
evasiveness, and do not reply’; ‘it may be natural cowardice on my part, but I get a sense of
nightmare a little too quickly, and hate fights perhaps too much’; ‘I wish I had not inherited my
father’s timorous, rabbity nature! I can be brave, but oh after what appalling superhuman
struggles with cowardice!’fn949
The point can be overstated: IB was more active in support of public causes, and in taking
stands on political issues, than many allow. But he gave voice to strong opinions more in private
than in public. In 1986 these traits embroiled him in a public controversy that ended his friendship
with Noam Chomsky. The controversy arose because IB objected to a journal of the civil liberties
movement, Index on Censorship, publishing an article by Chomsky about de facto censorship in US
media reporting on Israel.fn950 This was special pleading, even though he had long been
convinced of an anti-Israeli bias in the British media. Instead of writing a public letter to Index, he
wrote privately to the chair of Index, Mark Bonham Carter, and talked to the journalist Nora
Beloff. ‘The last thing I want’, he later wrote to William Frankel,fn951 ‘is a public row with
Chomsky, which never ends – hence my cowardly act of keeping my head down in public and
making a fuss privately.’fn952 The unfortunate irony of this approach was that it created the
circumstances for a lasting breach with Chomsky. In objecting to Chomsky’s article IB had made
some sharply derogatory comments on its author, and through a mole at Index this fact reached the
radical New York journalist Alexander Cockburn,fn953 who gave it publicity, so that IB found
himself in the invidious position of having his privately expressed feelings made public.


18 July 1986 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Mark,
Index: Israel again. As you may imagine, I dislike raising the subject actually
more than you will mind my writing to you about it. Some time ago an Arab poet
in Israel wrote a pretty violent article complaining of being suppressed, arrested,
harassed etc., with some obvious exaggeration but nevertheless clearly some basis
for what he said.fn955 Dear Loisfn956 rang me up saying she was being pressed to
resign from Index because of gross unfairness to Israel, and would I do the same?
I said that neither she nor I must do it, because there was no reason why
censorship in Israel should be exempt from criticism any more than [in] any other
country. But I did talk to somebody – I think Spender,fn957 and possibly Theinerfn958
– and told them that whereas in totalitarian countries checking information is
difficult or impossible, in Israel everyone looks, and there are totally honest
liberals, and above all extreme civil libertarians, who know all about these cases
and tell the truth. Certainly the ferocious but entirely dependable Miss Ruth
Gavison,fn959 Herbert Hart’s devoted pupil, knows most of the facts, and Index
certainly does not check up with her or anyone like her, but only with the pro-Arab
lawyerfn960 who, I am told, is a straight Communist and takes the party line (I, in
my turn, have no way of checking this last, but I believe it, from reading her
statements to the press). Evelyn Rothschildfn961 took the same line, and so we
lowered the temperature over this.
But this time the situation is somewhat different. There is an article in the July–
August issue by Noam Chomsky, called ‘The United States and the Middle
East’.fn962 I know Chomsky well and I like him; he has considerable charm and
remarkable gifts as a highly original writer on linguistics. However, […] his
polemics are very violent, and he is liable, in my view, to distort (don’t circulate
this letter, as I don’t want to choose my words cautiously) pretty unscrupulously. I
cannot help liking him when we meet, but that is neither here nor there. His only
real disciple in England, as you may imagine, is Richard Wollheim.
His article, which contains howling inaccuracies, e.g. that Arafat is perfectly
prepared to recognise Israel on reasonable conditionsfn963 – it is only Israel and
America who brutally repel his advances (now my language is becoming
intemperate) – is designed to show that, while there is technically no censorship
in America, the press and the media are so violently pro-Israel and so violently
anti-Arab that they play up every atrocity against the Jews and hush up every
atrocity committed by Israel against the Arabs; that American opinion is in effect
brainwashed, and that this de facto acts as a kind of psychological censorship,
worse than in totalitarian countries, which only control what people [do] but not
what they think (sic)fn964 – you can see that it is not a credible thesis.
Chomsky went too far for liberals in two cases: (a) when he tried to deny that
there had been a huge massacre in Cambodia – all American propaganda;fn965 and
(b) when he wrote an introduction to a book by a Frenchman called Faurisson
which (the book) denied the fact of the Holocaust, called it Zionist propaganda,
etc.fn966 There was difficulty about publishing the book, and Chomsky defended his
writing of the introduction on the grounds of supporting freedom of speech, not the
author’s thesis.
But that is not my point. A piece denouncing the American media for distortion,
suppression etc. is not an exposure of censorship, which is Index’s business. If I
were to write a passionate piece saying that the Gilmours, père et fils, Grey
Gowrie’sfn967 brother ‘Skimper’,fn968 Mr Fisk, Karl Miller, Edward Mortimer,
David Hirstfn969 et hoc genus omnefn970 are distorting British perception of what
goes on in Israel (which, despite the horrors of the Likud and the West Bank, I
more or less believe they do), I would expect Index to reject it, on the ground that
it had nothing to do with revealing political censorship. Do look at the article – it
does contain a mass of falsehood, and is governed mainly by Chomsky’s
implacable hatred of American politics everywhere, and New York Zionists who
are happy about this: a perfectly tenable position with which I have little
sympathy. Hatred of all American establishments governs him, I think, much more
than thoughts about Israel as such, or fear of a world war triggered off by Israel.
But be that as it may, Index in my view had no business to publish this or any
other piece merely directed against the media in a free country, however irritating
the BBC, the Guardian etc. may be to friends of Israel. I do not see how I can go
on receiving Index – as you know, I did once perform a service to it,fn971 but I
think this has gone too far. I wonder, therefore, if you would be kind enough to see
that my name is removed from the list of recipients. Please do not show my letter
to Mr Theiner or anyone else, because my impression of Chomsky is founded on
general acquaintance with his political writings (he occasionally sends me his
books and articles), and if pressed for precise evidence for some of my statements
I should find it very annoying to have to fish it out. The issue is one of principle,
of the categories of what Index exists to publish, and not whether what Chomsky
said is true or false. Besides, despite his often shocking actions, I wish to
preserve my remote friendship with him.
I do apologise for inflicting all this upon your innocent head. We go to Italy on
Sunday, and obviously there is no urgency. I shall be back in the second week of
September. The Italian postal system is appalling, but we could talk about this
when I get back if you are here.
12 August 1986
Headington House

Dear Mr Rapoport,
I have just read your article ‘Refuseniks’ in the international edition of the
Jerusalem Post, week ending 5 July.fn972 I can only tell you that I was profoundly
moved by it. Of course I have read the stories about refuseniks, both in Martin
Gilbert’s books and articlesfn973 and in the regular bulletins about them which are
sent to me; but I have never read anything which has touched me so deeply and
directly as the quotations you give from the actual people, from Ida Nudelfn974
onwards. It is clear that by writing as you have, you do nothing but good. The one
thing one gathers from all they say is that they are terrified of being forgotten – that
one must talk about them and talk about them and go on talking, however boring
this may be for the rest of the world, and, indeed, for some Jews also – in spite of
the complaints of foreign offices and state departments that this endless harping on
their misfortunes on the part of the Jews is really irritating, goes too far,
complicates diplomatic relationships beyond the actual good that it can do, etc.
etc. (that, after all, in a much more hideous form, was the resistance shown to
‘harping on’ what was happening to the Jews in Germany, as one can read in the
minutes of British Foreign Office officials before and during the war, and I
daresay those of other countries as well). Despite all that, one must go on ‘harping
on’, which obviously does good, and keeps the problem burning, or at least
festering. The danger is that these uncomfortable Jewish customers could one day
be treated as Caucasians and Balts, and, indeed, as the Volga Germans were –
packed away, and no more was heard of them, simply because of absence of
interest in them abroad.
I used not always to think that: I remember when Eliavfn975 – the one who died,
who originally came from my home town of Riga – asked me, I suppose thirty or
so years ago, whether one should scream about these people or whether, on the
contrary, it did harm in the sense that they might be treated worse as a result of
fuss being made in Israel, I thought at one time that perhaps it did endanger, or at
any rate worsen, their condition. But, as so often, I was wrong. Since so far as
anything was done for them, it was done directly in response to agitation, if not
directly by Jews, at least by public opinion in countries with which the Soviet
Union at that time wished to be in more favourable relations, principally, of
course, the United States, but also in countries likely to have influence with the
United States – Britain, France and whoever they thought might help the Soviet
Union to extract concessions from the West.
Consequently I think that the more widely your article can go – in the original,
in translation, by whatever means – the better for Jews and mankind. […]
IB pp PU
19 August 1986
Headington House

Dear Kyril,
I have just finished your excellent translation of ‘Winter Notes’.fn976 As you said
at Martin’s memorial meeting,fn977 it is all there. The entire world is horrible: the
Russians are either barbarous (but that is better than being hypocritical: better to
whip people – at least that is spontaneous and natural – than hypocrisy and
artificial existence, self-deception) – either Russians are barbarian peasants and
peasant-whippers, or they imitate the ghastly West and think that all blessings
come from there. Germany is comical, grotesque, all small-minded, neat and
horrible (memories of your excellent translation of Saltykov).fn978 England is a
great [den?] of the most horrible iniquity – Haymarket,fn979 women for sale
(interesting that he thought English women so beautiful); everything is venal, the
hypocrisy of writing about the pretty Vicarage gardens and the blue-eyed
daughters of the idyllic vicar and his wife side by side with the brutality of the
prostitution, loathsome, in that frightful hell, London, like an inferno and the
negative of all that is good and sacred. Then Paris, vanity, hollow eloquence,
bourgeois pettiness, falsity, graceless, and again, profound hypocrisy, total
destruction of true values, Voltaire and the awful Rousseau, Napoleon III, Jules
What, then, is to be done? Only sacrifice, attempts by town-dwellers to achieve
communion with the peasants – ‘going into the people’fn981 – false Herzenism,
convincing immersion into some idyllic rural state; still worse, imitation of the
odious and worthless West. The only solution – Christian sacrifice of all I am to
mankind; only by losing my soul can I save it, by total reciprocal sacrifice of all to
all. Did he really believe in the remotest possibility of this on earth? I suppose
that in his deepest feeling he did. But it is almost unbearable to read. The loathing
of ordinary life, such contempt, such corrosive destructiveness – that was
certainly the foundation of his genius. Surprisingly unhostile about Turgenev, and
even Belinsky, in this, yet at other times they are, of course, the principal enemy.
I cannot help feeling that as a man it is actually darkness he liked best – in the
underground is where he felt in some sense real. None of this is exactly original
on my part. Critical as I have always been of the smoothness and shallowness of
the great French enemies of superstition, ignorance, oppression etc. in the
eighteenth and indeed nineteenth century too – for a profound lack of
understanding of what it is that man lives by – nevertheless if I have to vote …
Yours ever,
IB pp PU

PS There is, of course, an element of all this in Solzhenitsyn, but the misanthropy
and pessimism and suffocation do not seem to me to be quite so great, don’t you
think? […]

22 September 1986
Headington House

Dear Archie (if I may call you that),

I am invited […] to suggest names of possible candidates for the Wardenship of
St Antony’s. Since you are the only member of the committee whom I know, may I
address myself to you? […]
It seems to me that the most needed qualities in a head of house are justice,
kindness, imagination and intellectual power. […] I do not believe that outsiders,
no matter how eminent, who have been made heads of houses, have proved an
unqualified success either at Oxford or at Cambridge. This is not really due to
personal qualities: it is that academic communities are really rather special, and
such people cannot get used to what seems to them to be the parochialism of
university life. I think one has to have tasted life in the Cathedral Close to be able
to return to it happily and successfully: e.g. Rab Butlerfn983 had been a don for
some years; he knew what Cambridge life was like. With the exception of Lord
Goodman, who is an exception to all rules, and who anyway only came to his
College for a few days each week but has benefited it in many ways, I cannot think
of any outsider – no ambassador, politician, of whatever kind, no matter how
brilliant and successful in public life – who has proved successful as head of
college in our community. I base this on sixty years experience of Oxford (I really
am very old).
This seems a very sweeping statement, and I daresay there are probably
exceptions to it and qualifications that should be made – but I feel convinced that
unless one has had academic experience for a reasonable period of time, as a
teacher or researcher, unless one can function easily and freely as a natural
member of the academic world, and in particular as someone involved in college
life, then the cost of [being] the head of a college is bound to prove, after a short
while, tedious, and what seem to be the trivial issues which occupy governing
bodies, irritating, to inhabitants of wider worlds. I could produce a list of persons
to whom this applies, but that would be invidious and I must not do so, at any rate
in this letter; but it is a truth of which I am deeply, I do not think too deeply,
convinced. […]
Yours ever,
Isaiah Berlin
23 September 1986 [carbon]
Headington House

Dear Mark,
I have just received a copy of a letter which Nora Beloff has sent to Index, and
wishes to be published there.fn984
In the last sentence she plainly refers to me as having withdrawn my
subscription. She came to see me about ‘reds under the bed’ in general, which is,
indeed, her central preoccupation, and, among other things, I told her that I thought
that Chomsky, whom she referred to as a wicked man, had had an article published
in Index to which I had taken some exception. The last thing I wanted was to
provoke her into writing a fulmination of the kind she has perpetrated (can one
perpetrate fulminations? perhaps not).
My only objection, as you know, is not at all hers – namely, the character of
Chomsky, the contents of the article, etc. as such – but merely the fact that charges
of heavy bias in the public media in a free country, where in this case the author
could get his piece published anywhere, is not suitable for a magazine dedicated
to uncovering censorship. The last thing that I wanted to do was to enter into the
rights and wrongs of the case, whatever I might feel – as you said in your letter,
every time Israel is mentioned Jews blow up. This is inevitable, and perhaps quite
natural, but I don’t wish to be reckoned among them. At any rate, I don’t wish to
be accused of steaming up Nora, who needs no steaming up.
I don’t wish to be associated with any of her campaigns, and wish I had not
mentioned the matter to her. Oh dear. I don’t want to start a conflagration. My
letter to you was simply written on an issue of principle; I gather from both you
and Stephen that the general issue of what constitutes censorship is to be
discussed by the Index committee. I do beg you not to mention my name in this
connection, for the reasons I have given.
Yours ever,
In August 1986 IB learned that a letter he had written to Clarissa Avon at the beginning of the
Suez crisis, expressing support for the conduct of her husband, Anthony Eden,fn985 had been used
by the historian Robert Rhodes Jamesfn986 in his biography of Eden, due to be published in
London later that year. IB had written: ‘I should like to offer the Prime Minister all my admiration
and sympathy. His action seems to me very brave very patriotic and – I shd have thought –
absolutely just’ (1 November 1956, L2 547), and it was on the strength of this that Rhodes James
mistakenly identified IB as being ‘among those who publicly supported the government’ (552). A
group of senior dons at Oxford did indeed publicly back the Anglo-French military operation,
including John Sparrow and Gilbert Murray,fn987 but IB was not among them. He was
characteristically torn, able to see all of the elements in a complex situation, but unable to offer a
simple solution. Soon after writing to Lady Avon he changed his mind. In public, though, he
remained non-committal, writing to his stepson Michel Strauss:fn988 ‘I have kept very silent and
signed no letters or counter-letters, appeared on no platforms or counter-platforms’ (8 November
1956, L2 551). That his conduct should later be misrepresented upset him, and he wrote to Pat
Utechin: ‘I am not pleased that Clarissa shd have sent my letter to her to Rh. James without at least
telling me – not friendly like – so I’ll quarrel with her sometime. Meanwhile I expect (deserved
evidently) snide references in reviews: tho’ I may not be noticed much – as I deserve’ (24 August

26 September 1986 [manuscript]
Headington House

Dear Clarissa,
Thank you for your letter about my grievance. Although you advise me not to
answer, I cannot do that, for you have misinterpreted my feelings, and I must
clarify the issue. It is true that I had absolutely no recollection of writing you, or
anyone else, a letter about Suez […]. What I felt, I felt: what I have written, I have
written: I have no intention of withdrawing or retracting anything. It is true that I
had changed my mind after two days and for that reason refused to sign the pro-
government letter signed by Gilbert Murray, John Sparrow and others. But that is
not relevant. I cannot possibly object to my letter being referred to or used by the
biographer. What does offend me is that you shd have passed on, however
inadvertently, a private letter for public use without so much as telling me that you
intended to do so.fn989 This is, in my view, a breach of the rules governing personal
relations, privacy, especially where it affects a friend. However the letter reached
Robert Rhodes James, once you knew he had it and wd use it, it was surely your
duty if only out of friendship, to have told me. It is not the content of the letter that
is relevant, nor its use by Rhodes James of which I cannot complain, but the fact
that a private letter was supplied for a publication, without so much as consulting
the writer: that seems to me highly improper, quite apart from our old friendship:
though the latter seems to me to make it worse. Still, what has occurred has
occurred, & there is nothing to be done. I thought it right to explain to you what I
found painful. There is, I agree, no need to mention the matter again. […]
Yours ever,

1 October 1986
Headington House

Dear Derwent May,

First let me thank you for sending me your little book on Hannah Arendt. I lost,
alas, your copy with its nice inscription, but procured another immediately – the
lost copy is (or was) somewhere in the Sheldonian Theatre, where I began reading
it during an interval of a singularly boring concert, which only loyalty to the
organisers had made me go to. Nobody has returned it to me; it may generate
another reader or two for her works – I am not so ill-disposed to her as to
begrudge her that additional fragment of posthumous reputation. Nevertheless, I
think that it will not last very long – that, unlike Heidegger, who will be
remembered for all kinds of reasons, intellectual as well as political, as in some
sense a major figure, she will be swallowed into a large philosophical limbo in
which most of the French, German and Italian thinkers after Hegel and before
Husserlfn991 and Bergson will lead their forgotten existences, mentioned only by
the most fanatical taxonomists of the history of thought. And that not so much
because of any particular views that she held, but because of insufficiently strong
and individuated philosophical personality, which is what keeps Schopenhauer,
Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein, William James, even Bergson, probably Sartre,
alive. However, I may be wrong. I very often am.
You will not be altogether astonished to learn that, in spite of my assiduous
attention to your every word, my opinion of the good lady remains unaltered. My
trouble is not, as I think I have told you, that her historical facts are jumbled and
wrong, nor that there is an arrogantly dogmatic tone not justified by sufficient
intellectual power in her pronouncements, or a total incapacity for continuous
argument – too few ‘becauses’ and ‘therefores’ – but principally because I simply
cannot fish out any doctrine, attitude, let alone proposition, which seems to me
worth defending or attacking. You will accuse me of blind prejudice; and it may
be that the fact that I found her so personally deeply unattractive on the four
occasions on which I met her to talk to has something to do with this – I wish I
could deny it with conviction.
But believe me, be that as it may, I have done my very best to find something in
her writings which is neither commonplace – sometimes dramatised commonplace
(like the participatory democracy, derived from a totally imaginary vision of the
Greek polis; or the ‘banality of evil’, the second- and third-rate executors of
policy arrived at by more powerful figures: who did not know about the thousands
of Soviet commissars, similar to Eichmann, [or] Inquisitors in sixteenth-century
Spain, who, Herzen says, probably went to bed with quiet consciences and the
smell of roasted human flesh still in their nostrils?)fn992 – [nor] shallow
interpretations of historical phenomena like anti-Semitism: nationalism pitching
on scapegoats, aliens as victims. True enough, but what about the huge massacres
along the Rhine of Jews by Crusaders,fn993 pogroms of various sizes right through
the Middle Ages and well after the Renaissance? It is absurd to ignore the
continuity of anti-Semitism and simply talk about the rich Jews of Germany as
stimulating it. This is the illusion which German Jews (and Jewesses) right
through the nineteenth century lived under: that if only they could get rid of the
unattractive face of plutocracy (the Rothschilds, the Warburgs, the post-1918
crooks and operators, who probably did make widows and orphans bankrupt),
they would remain good Germans and be loved by their fellow citizens, or at any
rate regarded as normal members of German society.
The illusion went on particularly strongly after 1918, when most German Jews
of Miss A’s type said that they would be all right, as far as their good German
neighbours were concerned, if it wasn’t for all those horrible East European Jews
pouring in from Poland and the Baltic and God knows where, with their awful
manners and their side-curls, their Asian habits – bigots, barbarians, who
naturally create anti-Semitism wherever they go. That is exactly what American
Jews felt about the unfortunate Jewish refugees when they poured into New York
in the 1930s and early 1940s; and [they] thought that Congress could never stand
them, and the [loss of the] jobs they were alleged to take away from good solid
Wasps. Alas, every group of Jews at a certain stage blamed anyone but themselves
for what happened.
The classical exposition of this position was made by Moses Hess, himself a
German Jew of solid origins, who wrote a book called Rome and Jerusalem,fn994
which I recommend to you, about the illusions under which what Namier called
his ‘co-racials’ (since he had no religion) lived. It was a wonderful exposure, and
duly denounced or ignored at the time.
Poor Miss A. Her book about Rachel von Varnhagenfn995 is a real piece of
nostalgic self-romanticisation – of course, she is Rachel. And let me tell you, you
take from her book the proposition that her poor husband was really rather a
feeble character, well known only for being married to his brilliant wife; when he
was in fact a brilliant diplomat and a friend of Goethe and very much a man in his
own right – unlike Miss A’s somewhat trivial, though I dare say perfectly decent
and harmless, first and second husbands.fn996
I mustn’t go on like this. I see that I am provoking myself into paeans of
indignation. I must find something favourable to say about your protégé. I will say
this: Kurt Blumenfeld,fn997 with whom I met her in New York in 1941, and with
whom she was then having an affair, told me afterwards, in Jerusalem, that there
was a time when she was a touching, though never very intelligent, seeker after
truth; but that after the war he found it impossible to talk to her. It wasn’t just the
book on Eichmann; she had become conceited, fanatical, and talked terrible
nonsense both about Jews and about history in general; and what a strange thing it
was that all those intellectuals in New York should be taken in by all this cultural
rhetoric. The same was said to me by our friend Scholemfn998 – genuinely a man of
genius, or very near it – with whom, you remember, she had that correspondence
in Encounter about Eichmann.fn999 He said that she had no capacity for thinking
whatever, that only men of letters were taken in by her, not a single genuine
philosopher – like me, he thought Jaspersfn1000 a nice, decent, upright but very
undistinguished thinker, and Heidegger a nasty, able, remarkable villain, but not in
any degree interested in or influenced by her, save in a purely sexual sense.
I can go on like this: Marcuse, who had known her very well in Berlin, said,
when I mentioned her name – and he was a clever, amusing, cynical but very
perceptive old rogue – ‘Hannah? Typical conceited Berlin blue-stocking’:
Berliner blauer Strumpf. But I admit that Auden could not understand why I didn’t
care for her – as ‘she was so nice’, and her book on the human condition,fn1001 of
which I have spoken to you, seemed to him a wonderful book, as it did to Robert
Lowell. Not quite such praise came from Chiaromonte,fn1002 whom I met with
Mary McCarthy, and to whom I complained about the nonsense in that book. He
said, ‘Yes, she does talk nonsense, historically all she says doesn’t hold up, but
she is nice, her views are nice, her attitude is nice, and that’s enough for me.’
Mary was rather angry with him, and more or less stormed out of the room. Mary
was certainly her greatest conquest – to this day I cannot understand why.fn1003
No matter, I won’t go on. All I can say is that you have done her proud, far more
than she deserves, and your motives are still to me totally unclear. Next time we
meet, I may ask you again, and if you complain about being bullied about this, as
you may well do, I promise you not to mention the matter again, and talk about
gayer (not in the modern sense) and jollier and more interesting things.
Yours ever,
27 October 1986
Headington House

Dearest Shirley,
Thank you ever so much for your fascinating travelogue. I can see the
combination of the CND missionaries and the two American fairies (what are we
to call them? I hate ‘gays’, I hate ‘queers’, I hate all the other American
equivalents – and they object to ‘homosexual’ as being a pompous medical term:
so what are we to say? Betjeman used to call them ‘homos’: perhaps that’s best,
even though we don’t talk about ‘heteros’); your motley company came very
clearly before my eyes.
You ask me about some conference in Cambridge, with Russian studies. The
general level of contemporary (and, indeed, uncontemporary) Russian studies in
this country is exceedingly low. I do not say that it is any higher in Europe, but it is
a good deal better (I feel convinced, without too much evidence, but some) in the
United States. The only conferences I have ever been to, usually small, special
ones, were very depressing in the quality of the questions asked, answers given. It
does not consist of people mainly interested in a genuine way in Russian
literature, but in half-hearted, semi-ex-fellow-travellers, if you know what I mean,
not endowed with too much intelligence, critical sense or knowledge. This may be
too harsh, but I wonder. Far worse is the fact that I have never heard of the modern
Russian writers whom your students read with avidity – Bulgakov,fn1004 yes, but
the others, who are they? Unless they are crypto-dissident, I suspect that they are
on a level with our own not terribly good novelists – the good Miss Drabble,fn1005
the Booker Prize winners,fn1006 the wicked A. N. Wilsonfn1007 and the rest, nothing
really to write home about. But it may just be my old age and remoteness from
contemporary life.
Talking of which, I have to confess that the general papers and essays done by
the candidates at All Souls this year do not seem to me to offer one whit of the
kind of papers written in the 1930s. What is this a symptom of? Are we frozen? I
suspect perhaps yes, with all that that entails, like Spain in the late seventeenth
century, let us say, or, worse still, the eighteenth and nineteenth. Ex-empires are
curious places in which to live, or, indeed, flourish. I don’t wonder that Golitsyn
(spelt with pedantic accuracy,fn1008 as in Mussorgsky’sfn1009 Khovanshchina) talked
about the Jews thrusting themselves forward in the way of emigration. I think there
is some truth in that – they wish to get out more acutely than anyone else simply
because, unlike any other ethnic group in the Soviet Union, they have no country,
no territorial base: unlike Bashkirs, or Chukchasfn1010 (a Siberian tribe who have
become the chosen carriers of various Soviet jokes: for example, a Chukcha tries
to park his car somewhere near Red Square in Moscow; he is told by a policeman
that he cannot do this, for it is rather near the government and the Party; the
Chukcha says ‘Yes, I realise that, it’s quite all right, I’ve locked the car’ – this is
highly typical).
But you speak of latent anti-Semitism in Russia – latent? Patent, I should say:
there’s no concealing it, and no effort to do so. There was a brief period in the
early 1930s when anti-Semitism was regarded as a property of Whites, Guards
officers, wicked pogrom-makers and the like, and socialists of all hues were, I
think genuinely, free from it, and horrified by the thought that any of them might be
tainted by it […]. But now it is very open, and much used by the government and
the Party as a weapon against imperialism, American–Zionist plots (rather like the
President of Syriafn1011 at the moment), etc. etc. Russia, by and large, was and is an
anti-Semitic country, and that in itself stimulates the desire to leave it on the part
of Jews – the resentment is genuine enough, but not justified. […]
Much love to Henry and, indeed, to you.
1 December 1986
Headington House

Dear Noam,
I was much irritated by the piece by the, in my opinion, not very respectworthy
Cockburn, and propose to send the enclosed letterfn1012 to the Nation. My point, as
you will see, is that I did not in my private letter discuss the contents of your
article, only its relevance to Index.
I have no reason for thinking that what you said is incorrect. But, given my
views, I suspect I may not think the rejoinder as mistaken as I imagine you will.
I wish we could occasionally meet and talk about these things, which worry me
too, in my own way.
2 December 1986 [carbon; revised 8 December; not sent]
Headington House

A friend has sent me a cutting of an item by your contributor Mr Alexander
Cockburn (22 November, here),fn1013 in which a largely false account is given of
my comments in a private letter on the article by Professor Noam Chomsky. I have
not followed Mr Cockburn’s writings, if only because I have never been able to
take Mr Cockburn seriously, nor have I ever heard of anyone who has: discovery
of the truth, if the item in question is any evidence, does not seem to me to be his
main objective, as it used to be of earlier muckrakers. Nevertheless, your readers,
who may be insufficiently aware of this, deserve to have the record set straight.
According to your contributor, I wrote ‘anonymously’ that Professor Chomsky’s
thesis about the bias of the American press in favour of Israel was not valid.
Whatever my opinion about this, I said nothing of the kind. My present knowledge
of the American media is too small to enable me to assess the justice of Professor
Chomsky’s accusation. Be that as it may, the point I made in a private letter to a
friend,fn1014 which I did not fail to sign, was that the censorship with which Index
has been dealing, and for the most part dealing very well indeed, is censorship in
the proper sense of the word, that is, suppression of writings or other forms of
expression by institutions or their representatives – Churches, political parties,
courts of law, juntas of various kinds, and, of course, government departments
empowered to do this by kings, popes, dictators or parliaments: whoever may be
sovereign in a given state or community.
Other forms of interference with freedom of speech – by pressure groups,
blackmail, threats, corruption, arm-twisting – are evils but not forms of
censorship; activities which legislation is largely incapable of checking; and so
are partiality or bias or whims on the part of editors or journalists or broadcasters
or those who influence them, whom Professor Chomsky condemns. People
sometimes speak of ‘self-censorship’ – that seems to me a metaphor, like promises
made to oneself. The ‘useful little periodical’, as Mr Cockburn so patronisingly
calls Index, has done the excellent job it has because it has confined itself to cases
of censorship proper, which can be accurately pinned down and described (since
they are official). It has its hands full enough with these cases, as it is. If it tried to
go into a wider field, and deal with general cases of interference and obstruction,
it would necessarily take on too much – and dilute its strength in the vast grey
territory which this would open up. Professor Chomsky’s article could very well
have been published in your pages – and more than one British publication which
I could mention would, I think, have been glad to have it. Its publication in Index
seems to me to have opened the door to a new policy, which in my opinion would
damage its effectiveness. This is an issue on which rational persons can disagree;
at any rate, that is my view.
Mr Cockburn refers to my cancellation of my subscription to Index. I should
find that difficult to do, since I had rendered some service to the periodical and it
kindly placed my name on its free list.fn1015 So much for Mr Cockburn and his
revelations: perhaps not too high a price to pay for an uncensored press.
Yours faithfully,
Isaiah Berlin
8 December 1986
Headington House

Dear Noam,
I have decided, after all, not to send my letter to the Nation, of which I sent you
a copy a few days ago.fn1016 I have met Alex Cockburn and did not take to him, and
his methods seem to me so unattractive that to roll about in the mud with him,
however just my cause, seems a somewhat horrible prospect. At the same time I
wish you to know the truth of the matter. While I thought that your piece was one
which, even in my ignorance, I should instinctively somewhat disagree with, that
was not my private and not at all anonymous point which I made to someone on
Index – which was that I thought that your piece did not really deal with
censorship as I understand it, but with bias, violent partiality, etc., and that Index
would do a better job if it confined itself to what, perhaps somewhat pedantically,
I call censorship than if it spread its tentacles to embrace all forms of obstruction,
selectivity, decisions by editors, publishers (some, sometimes, after all, virtuous
and useful ones) etc. etc., to which there is no end. I said nothing about the
contents of your piece and stressed the fact that it was not what I was talking
about. I just wanted you to know that, in case you were taken in by Cockburn’s
highly misleading and hostile account.
We have had friendly relations for so long now, and I believe enjoy a mutual
liking and respect for each other, despite profound disagreements, that I did not
want you to think that I had done what Cockburn charged me with doing.
I wish we could meet occasionally, but I scarcely ever come to America now. I
did come to Cambridge for a few hours more than a year ago, but have no plans to
come again in the near future; and you, I imagine, are not planning to come to
England: if you do, please let me know.
Yours ever,
The above letter to Chomsky tested the water after the embarrassing revelations in Cockburn’s
Nation article. How would Chomsky react? Chomsky’s reply (18 December) left IB in no doubt as to
where he stood. ‘I do not want to conceal from you’, Chomsky wrote, ‘that a certain amount of
material has been leaking about the sordid affair at Index on Censorship, and some of it has
reached me indirectly.’ This included an unsigned memorandum about a letter to the chairman of
Index (Mark Bonham Carter) from ‘a long-term supporter of Index who wishes to remain
anonymous’. IB must have known that Chomsky guessed this was him; and he suffered the
humiliation of having his sharply critical but privately expressed opinion on Chomsky quoted back
to him by Chomsky himself. Of this underhand mode of expressing criticism Chomsky remarked:

This, I should say, is quite typical of many examples I have seen over the years of the behaviour of elite
British intellectuals, spewing forth their malice in secret, knowing that the arrangements of power will
enable them to vilify those whom they regard as having breached the limits of decorous conformity. The
reactions you mention to Alexander Cockburn’s honest and forthright work are simply another example. I
saw enough of the infantile senior common room antics while I was there [in Britain] so that I am not
very much surprised.fn1017

There was no further contact between them.

8 December 1986
Headington House

Dear Arthur
I enclose a letter which I was going to send to the Nation, but have decided not
to. […] It worries me a bit that there should be a mole at Index who supplies Miss
Nora Beloff’s drafts to Cockburn or his friends, but that’s their lookout. In a
periodical such as theirs it is particularly undesirable to have moles, but that is
none of my business. I am merely sending you a copy of my unsent letter in order
to tell you what exactly occurred. I did not blow up at the content of Chomsky’s
article – though it was clearly a characteristic outburst of violent feeling,
occasioned, in my view, not by hostility to Zionism or the state of Israel as such
(he certainly does not wish to obliterate the state, as the PLO would like, and does
not think it a wicked nationalist experiment – he holds the views of the Zionists of
twenty or thirty years ago, which are not in themselves disreputable), but by his
deep hatred certainly of the American Jewish establishment in New York –
Podhoretz and his friends – and of the whole what he conceives of as the
American imperialist structure. A kind of anti-Americanism seems to me to be the
underlying motive, but one can never tell what goes on inside people’s souls.
Podhoretz’s nephewfn1018 is the kind of target that I think that Chomsky wants to
shoot at. I am sure […] it is undesirable to engage with Cockburn – with a
genuinely (I believe, from what I have heard) somewhat disreputable figure; quite
apart from his views. No doubt some of them are due to his loyalty to the memory
of his father,fn1019 whom some people admired but I never did – the Weekfn1020 did
nothing but harm in its day, and as you know, was the basis of Senator Borah’s
isolationist speeches in the Senate.
I see no good in Communism of whatever kind, and never have. In view of all
the recent revelations I seem to be almost alone in my generation to have these
feelings. No doubt inoculation by the 1917 Revolution was in my case a dominant
fact. […]
Yours ever,
28 January 1987
Headington House

Dearest Shiela,
[…] You ask me about Mr Gorbachev.fn1021 I am totally pessimistic. I know that
isn’t fashionable, but my pessimism in the past about all his predecessors and
their alleged breakthroughs have been fully justified. The only man who made any
difference at all was Khrushchev,fn1022 who really did break the Stalin terror to a
high degree: since then, nothing. Clearly Gorbachev is an intelligent man, who
knows the Soviet economy is in a bad state, or needs resources, who doesn’t want
to spend too much on armaments, who wants to be modern, to talk the kind of
language that is fresher, more attractive than that of his dreary predecessors, etc.
etc. But what I believe is this: so long as the system in Russia does not radically
alter, all the rest is necessarily cosmetic. It is intended to improve the atmosphere,
intended to lower the temperature somewhat, that kind of thing (not that war
between the United States and Russia is in any degree probable in our lifetime, or,
I should have thought, for longer after); but unless the system, which is rigid, can
be altered – and I don’t believe that any Russian leader can do that without risking
too great an upheaval, too violent a collapse in unexpected quarters – nothing will
basically alter. People in the West will go on hoping and underlining Gorbachev’s
modernity, Madame Gorbachev’s alleged (not in my eyes) good looksfn1023 – I have
seen her close to, and I can assure you that this is a total myth; she doesn’t look
like a battleaxe, but that’s about all, nor like one of those enormous laundresses to
whom Soviet commissars used to be married. I am complacently pessimistic, I am
afraid; I don’t fear war; the only thing that saddens me is the rapid, uncontrolled
decline of England in almost every sphere – perhaps not in that of armaments, but
apart from that, intellectually, academically, artistically. All the symptoms of a
genuine culture are very clear signs of hyper-decline. I shall be dead before it gets
too bad, but that is cold comfort, I fear. Compared to the United States, we are
inexorably going downhill – even compared to Germany, I fear. Who would have
thought [it] when we were young? […]
You ask about our friendship – that is, fortunately, unalterable, much more
certain than the existence of God or a future life. So be comforted, and come and
see us.
Yours ever, ‹with much love›

2 February 1987
Headington House

Dear Oscar,
[…] I am perfectly willing to see Mr Ray Monkfn1025 about that eveningfn1026 –
and indeed, to tell him, if he wants to know, about my own encounter with
Wittgenstein in Cambridge in 1940, when, in fear and trembling, I read a paper
about solipsism to the Moral Sciences Club. If and when we meet – and I do not
know why we meet so seldom – I can tell you about that, to me, unforgettable
My memories largely tally with yours about the Magdalen evening. The only
point on which I think I differ is this: I remember that after your paper he began
talking about psychological verbs, and said something like ‘I can say when the
bell rang, but if I say “At that time Mr Wood began to dress very well”, I cannot,
in answer to the question “Precisely when did this happen?”, give the hour.’ Then
Prichardfn1028 did indeed get up and said, ‘I thought we were discussing Descartes’
cogito ergo sum – does Professor Wittgenstein’ – both the ‘W’ and the ‘st’ were
pronounced in an English and not a German fashion – ‘believe that this is a valid
inference?’ To which Wittgenstein replied, ‘I did not come here to discuss
Descartes: honest, I didn’t’, and then began talking about psychological verbs
again, and said, ‘I can say “I have started believing, doubting, wondering” but I
cannot say “I started knowing”; this does not demonstrate anything, but it is an
important pointer.’ At which Prichard rose again and said, ‘Would Professor
Wittgenstein mind saying whether cogito ergo sum, in his opinion, is true or false:
yes or no?’ It was at this point that I think Weldonfn1029 looked very cross, indeed
angry, and said, ‘We really must ask Professor Wittgenstein to continue, and not
interrupt in this fashion.’ At which point Prichard got up, looking furious, and
stumped out of the room – and I think he died a few weeks later. Otherwise it was
precisely as you say, according to my recollection. Do you remember none of this?
I also remember Wittgenstein saying, ‘I am on an ascending curve and I should
like to go on talking’; and Hollowayfn1030 said, ‘My name is Mr Holloway and I
have a room in All Souls’, and offered it for the next day. I did not go to All Souls
– or perhaps I did – but I think you did.
I only saw Wittgenstein once again, in the street, when he was walking with, I
think, Smythies;fn1031 he stopped and said, ‘We have met before’, and then marched
Yours ever,
4 February 1987
Headington House

Dear Morton,
Thank you very much for your marvellous piece on William James.fn1032 I have
read it twice, with increasing enjoyment. […]
Naturally you send it to me in particular because of the issue of freedom of the
will. On introspection I find that this is deeply true of myself. I do not think
temperamentally I want the universe to be spick and span, tidy, follow rigorous
rules and be reducible to as few (if possible one) presuppositions [as possible]
from which all other rules and laws would flow – the unified field theory is not to
me in the least an attractive prospect. Of course I realise its rationality, and even
desirability, and the noble aim of Einstein etc. in trying to develop a system in
which everything would follow from everything else – not like that wonderful
thing you said to me about William James on Hegel, about the small boarding-
house in which all lodgers touch each other all the time.fn1033 No, I do not want the
universe to be tidy in that sense, and would like breaks in the continuity,
unexpected events, surges, swerves, what the Epicureans called – I have forgotten
the Greek namefn1034 but the Latin is clinamina – which was their way of
protecting free will against the determinism of the Stoics.
You are quite right that for more than two thousand years thinkers have argued
about determinism with no very concrete result – perhaps precisely because this is
not an intellectual problem that is in principle soluble, but simply shows the way
people want the world to be. It isn’t simply that I want to blame someone for the
Holocaust or the poison gas the Iraqis are using at presentfn1035 – though I do, of
course – and think it unnatural not to do so (at least for me); but I wish to go
further, as you know, and to say that if you tell me that everything is caused and
that cause is caused etc., then blame in that sense, or responsibility, or all the
cluster of concepts which accumulate round it, are literally inapplicablefn1036 […].
I have been trying to think of determinism as an empirical hypothesis. […] But I
don’t think that is right, I think it is a matter of wanting the world to be X or not-X,
rigorously determined or capable of being modified by uncaused human wishes,
acts, decisions. And then on the other side, the estimable scientific desire to
account for everything in what is ultimately a somewhat mechanistic model. All
the stuff about indeterminism, undecidability, rival hypotheses which account
equally well for what occurs, which may or may not be saying the same thing in
different symbolisms, Feyerabendfn1037 etc. etc. seems to me a mere irrelevance to
all this – as I am sure it does to you (I remember Stuart Hughesfn1038 made a lot of
that in explaining why historians in the past were slaves of a nineteenth-century
causal model, and how different it was now that Heisenbergfn1039 had discovered
mere probabilities, and cited E. H. Carr to the purpose).fn1040 Everything that can
be causally explained, predicted, arranged, connected, should be. But freedom of
the will, or consciousness of choice, is a basic datum, and in perfect rivalry to the
observation of the external world. The two things glare at each other and you pays
your money and you takes your choice, as your old friend C. I. Lewisfn1041 would
have said.
So it is a matter of temperament. Do you differ from me? I think you do. I think
the Quine in you resists my old libertarian tutor Frank Hardiefn1042 (of whom you
never will have heard) in me. I am all for Leibniz’s ‘causes that incline but do not
necessitate’fn1043 – I think I know what that means, but am not prepared to explain,
if you see what I mean. So I think ‘Dad’, as both Billy James and his brother
Harryfn1044 referred to him when talking to me, was quite right, as about so many
things. As for God, this may be a matter of temperament too, don’t you think? A
form of making the universe cosier for oneself, however angry the followers of
Kierkegaard would have been with this vulgar phrase on my part.fn1045 […]
Yours ever,
On 12 and 14 March 1987 Oxford MAs turned out in unprecedented numbers to elect the
University’s next chancellor, in succession to Harold Macmillan, who had died the previous
December. The front runners were the former Labour cabinet minister and founder member of the
SDP, Roy Jenkins; his erstwhile parliamentary opponent, the former Conservative prime minister
Edward Heath; and the Provost of Queen’s, Robert Blake. On the eve of the poll the bookies made
Jenkins the favourite, followed by Blake, and then Heath, and this proved to be the finishing order,
much to the delight of IB, whose candidate had won. He had not given very serious consideration
to a proposal that he should himself stand, and once Roy Jenkins had declared his interest such a
candidacy could only have divided the liberal vote, just as Ted Heath and Robert Blake had
divided the conservative one.


21 April 1987
Headington House

Dearest Shiela,
[…] Why would you have wished to vote against Roy? I was one of his ardent
supporters – what have you against the poor man? You cannot think him a traitor to
socialism (are you one? were you ever exactly that?), nor can you be anti-
European, nor can you prefer Lord Blake or Heath, who is by now a mass of
resentments, wounds, anger and total inability to connect with human beings,
though he is, for a politician, honest and, I suppose, in view of the Brandt
Commission, decently progressive.fn1046 He was dreadfully upset to come third and
I doubt if he will ever come to Oxford again – rather like the other wounded
victim, Mrs T.fn1047 I think that Roy Jenkins is superior to the other candidates – or,
as an Italian professor once said about some paper of mine he heard at a society,
‘the least worst’ – but in fact much better than that. He resigned on an issue of
principle, he has never cheated or lied, his views seem to me entirely reputable –
and his taste for gracious living is slightly absurd and has done him much political
damage, but is not a mortal sin.
You ask about Provence, or Dignefn1048 – Aline may, I certainly don’t, know. My
passion for France is limited – I dare not confess this fully to my wife, who takes
it slightly amiss, but I find the French n