Monday, July 14, 2014 Tammuz 16, 5774

Outfoxed!

July 13, 2006 By:
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Azure, an intellectual quarterly out of Jerusalem, has established itself in about six years as an indispensable source of new ideas about Zionism, Israeli politics and Jewish culture. It's spring edition, No. 24, is typical of its concerns.

In "The IDF and the Israeli Spirit," Moshe Yaalon, the former military chief of staff, considers what the editors call "the greatest threat facing the Jewish state." Yagil Henkin, a doctoral student in military history at Bar-Ilan University, then examines "How Great Nations Win Small Wars." And in "Sciences of What and the Science of Who," Georges Hansel, of the University of Rouen, shows that, in Judaism, "reason and revelation are closer than you might think." There are also four review-essays on current books and films.

But the piece that interested me most is Assaf Inbari's "The Spectacles of Isaiah Berlin," which demonstrates that the great philosopher and humanist, and the 20th century's "greatest liberal," was by no means a pluralist, as he enjoyed portraying himself.

Inbari, who is identified as an essayist and literary critic, begins by saying: "Honest liberals know they are not pluralists. They know that the liberal worldview does not recognize the validity of other worldviews, and that it aspires -- using all the economic, media and military means at its disposal -- to make itself dominant. Liberalism is not tolerance, liberalism is not pluralism, and admitting this is not a mark against it; it is simply to recognize the difference between the perception of a liberal agenda as the just, indispensable agenda, and 'let a thousand flowers bloom.' "

Inbari's thesis is complex, but worth delving into. In this brief space, I can offer only a smattering of what he's explicates so well. In a portion of the essay, he uses one of Berlin's most famous insights to deconstruct the philosopher's theoretical worldview. The concept deals with the difference between what Berlin called hedgehogs and foxes.

"Berlin divided the intellectuals who molded Western culture into monists, whom he nicknamed 'hedgehogs,' and pluralists, whom he dubbed 'foxes.' The hedgehogs are the bad guys, and the foxes are the good guys. Plato, Hegel and Nietzsche are hedgehogs, whereas Aristotle, Montaigne and Goethe are foxes. It is irrelevant what each of them professed, or the theoretical or literary genre in which each expressed himself -- only the general mentality, the hedgehoginess or the foxiness, so to speak, is important. From this ethereal perspective, Berlin dealt with Europe's ideological history. The Enlightenment philosophers interested him as hedgehogs, whereas Machiavelli, the Romanticists, and the 19th-century Russian thinkers interested him only as foxes."

Everything Berlin said, wrote and did made him appear to side with the foxes. He wanted to appear to know many things, rather than just one big thing, like the hedgehogs. But Inbari's splendid piece proves conclusively that "he was a hedgehog par excellence, a soft-spoken dogmatist." 

 

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