Isaiah Berlin: Affirming – Letters 1975–1997

Mw09579John Gray at Literary Review:

Isaiah Berlin had no very high opinion of his contribution to human thought. Writing in 1978 to the psychoanalyst Anthony Storr, he confessed, ‘Every line I have ever written and every lecture I have ever delivered seems to me of very little or no value.’ Nor did Berlin attach any great importance to the publication of his ideas. Partly this indifference reflected an academic culture – now barely remembered – in which the ‘publish or perish’ imperative did not exist. In the Oxford Berlin knew as a student and as a young fellow at New College and All Souls, building up a large corpus of published work tended to be seen as testimony to careerism or vanity rather than commitment to scholarship. Something of this attitude lasted into the Seventies, and it was only in the Eighties and Nineties that a cult of productivity fully took hold. Today, with universities labouring under a regime in which research and publication are monitored continuously, it is doubtful whether someone like Berlin would be able to find and keep an academic position in Britain.

Henry Hardy became Berlin’s editor in 1974. There can be no doubt that, without Hardy’s stimulus and more than forty years of tireless dedication, few of the twenty-odd volumes of Berlin’s writings that are in print would ever have seen the light of day. Certainly Berlin’s letters would not have been published. That would have been a pity since, as Hardy and his coeditor, Mark Pottle, write in the preface to this fourth and final volume, Berlin’s correspondence is an ‘integral part of hisoeuvre’. Extending up to the days before his death, this collection shows Berlin responding to a succession of world events: the rise of Thatcher and Reagan, IRA terrorism, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Falklands War, the formation of Solidarity in Poland, the emergence of Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall, among others.

more here.