Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997) was an Oxford philosopher and historian of ideas who made a key contribution to the development of political theory with his 1958 essay 'Two Concepts of Liberty'. More famous still is his 1953 study on Tolstoy's view of history, The Hedgehog and the Fox. Berlin was an original thinker whose works grow increasingly relevant in a wide range of contexts. They also inform our understanding of liberty and plurality, the essential underpinnings of an open society.
The Isaiah Berlin Legacy Project, based at Wolfson College, Oxford, exists to promote the value of Berlin’s life and works. It aims to make his ideas more widely accessible in the digital age, while illustrating their growing relevance to the central questions of the day.
The Project is led by the Isaiah Berlin Legacy Fellow at Wolfson, Mark Pottle. It operates through a Trust Office in the heart of the College, and curates the Isaiah Berlin Room in the Library there.
The Project also helps to administer the definitive collection of Berlin MSS that is an important part of Oxford University’s magnificent collection of modern papers. The bulk of Berlin's papers was given to the Bodleian Library (access its catalogue here) by the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust in 1999.
Isaiah Berlin Online is a newly launched website for the academic community and the interested non-specialist. It provides definitive information on Berlin's life and works. At its heart is a comprehensive and searchable catalogue of Berlin's publications, broadcasts and interviews. There is also a digital image library, the Isaiah Berlin Image Database (IBID).
As well as being a work of reference, Isaiah Berlin Online is intended to be a resource for enquiring minds, shedding light on the multiplicity of ideas in which Berlin was himself interested.
The site is being built by the Isaiah Berlin Legacy Fellow, who thanks Wolfson College and the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust for their support in (respectively) hosting and creating the site, and Olamalu of Witney, Oxon, for their web design.
'In the end I come down on the side of the Enlightenment, but the other side should be listened to: they have identified grave flaws, they have a vision too.' (to Mark Lilla, 13 December 1993)
A link to pages that will explore IB's writings on Jewish themes, including the Diaspora, anti-Semitism, and Jewish identity.
Berlin was a Russian-speaker with a lifelong interest in the Russian intelligentsia: find out
Music and Opera
'I have listened to more soloists, chamber music, opera, symphonies, choral works than almost, I think, anyone living.' (to Michael Ignatieff, 10 January 1997).
A link to pages that will recall Berlin's meetings with Akhmatova, his memories, and thoughts thereon. Find out more...
Back in the USSR
Berlin was a self-proclaimed 'cold war liberal', who had strong feelings about the Bolshevik Revolution, and even more so the Soviet state that succeeded it: find out
To be, or not to be...
'I still believe [...] in the deep truth of that saying of C. I. Lewis that "the truth when it is discovered will not necessarily prove interesting"' (to Charles Taylor, 1962)
'Berlin remained a Zionist, but always a liberal Zionist. He was deeply loyal to his fellow Jews, but he deplored narrow tribalism' (Alan Ryan, ODNB).
Washington & the East Coast
Berlin spent the Second World War mostly in the United States, and made many post-war visits to the great universities of the East Coast.
'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' (to Lidiya Chukovskaya, 20 November 1975).
Berlin entertained sharply contrasting views on Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, both of whom he admired, but in very different ways.
IB and B. L. Pasternak
'Pasternak, to his honour, be it said, was one of the purest poets of our age – everything he writes is poetical, whether it be prose or verse, essays or novels or stories or indeed words in ordinary (in his case very extraordinary) conversation' (to Christopher Barnes, 13 July 1972).
John Banville, New York Review of Books , 19 December 2013