the hero worshipper


For all Berlin’s faith in the power of ideas, he saw imaginative leadership as crucial; indeed, he described himself as a “natural hero worshipper”. When introduced to John F. Kennedy, his anxiety was acute. As the president quizzed him about intellectuals in Russia, weighing up who had stayed strong and measuring men for their practical use, Berlin was both attracted and repelled. He viewed JFK occasionally as a latter-day Alexander the Great, more often as a Napoleon, and, while friendly with many of Camelot’s inner circle, Berlin remained reluctant to be publicly pinned down to any political position. In the sphere of academic politics he was a true master, bamboozling or silently targeting those who played Moriarty to his Holmes. One such figure was the Polish-Jewish Marxist émigré Isaac Deutscher, and Berlin’s back-channel attacks upon him are the subject of David Caute’s Isaac and Isaiah. Caute, a prolific historian, novelist and journalist, has written widely about the cold war, and was a fellow at All Souls with Berlin between 1959 and 1965.

more from Duncan Kelly at the FT here.