Eras Journal – Hogg, J. Abstract

Abstract of Hogg, J. ” The Ambiguity of Intellectual Engagement: Towards a Reassessment of Isaiah Berlin’s Legacy”.

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), is well known for his lecture ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’. Published in 1958, this lecture impacted heavily upon the western Cold War conception of liberty. Beyond ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, he is known for his forays into broadcasting and his collections of essays on various philosophers.

Since his death in 1997, there have been attempts to synthesise his ideas into a coherent political philosophy for the future. Whilst the publication of academic material on Isaiah Berlin is on the rise, the variety of interpretation remains narrow.

The nature of Berlin’s intellectual ‘role’ needs to be reassessed. An examination of his use of language, his methodology, and his Zionist loyalties will illustrate the need to understand the elusive nature of his ‘role’, and the impact it may have on our understanding of his ‘liberal-pluralist’ legacy.

My approach seeks to place Berlin firmly in the perspective of the Anglo-American cultural Cold War, examining his specific role as a ‘passive’ Cold War intellectual with ‘active’ Zionist affiliations. The importance of ‘normality’ and ‘reconstructive imagination’ to Berlin’s work will be examined, and the conservatism of his methodology highlighted.

The implications of this approach may mean that analysts of Berlin, who position him as one of the foremost figures of modern liberal thought, may wish to consider his thought less in ‘intellectualised’ isolation, and increasingly as a product of a complex milieu .

Berlin’s use of language, in part emanating from this unique milieu, lay bare Berlin’s ideological concerns and preoccupations. This, in turn, moves his ‘liberal-pluralist’ legacy into problematic territory.