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He is also the editor of The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin, published in 2009. He was an émigré Russian Jew who came to Britain at the age of eleven, leaving the Soviet Union because of the after-effects of the Russian Revolution.
Henry Hardy, the editor who helped publish many of them, chooses the best books by (and one about) Isaiah Berlin.
Henry Hardy is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and one of Isaiah Berlin’s Literary Trustees.
I arrived for the interview and was immediately very struck by the man who was in charge of the proceedings – Isaiah Berlin.
I didn’t know about him before, but he was intensely alive and talked about ideas in a fascinating way. “He thought that his work was not particularly good, not particularly important, and I don’t think that was an affectation: he really did believe that.” You mention him talking – he’s renowned as a talker.
I was forever enlisted on the side of limited, constitutional government -- flawed as it was and despised at the time as "the system." Berlin's argument seems blindingly obvious now.
But the anti-"system" ravings of, say, the Unabomber, which seem grotesque today, were common fare on the campuses of 1969. In 1969, when history had not quite played itself out, Berlin's book was a tonic. It was brilliant in deconstructing the political romantics. Philosopher Leo Strauss, in his essay "Relativism" surgically exposed the central paradox of Berlin's position: that it made pluralism -- the denial of one supreme, absolute value -- the supreme, absolute value. Make your children read it before they go to college, the last redoubt of romantic neo-Marxism. The pluralism Berlin championed will be challenged again.He went to Oxford, and Oxford became his spiritual home – his intellectual home – for the whole of his life.He was there right through from being an undergraduate until he died, apart from a period during the war when he served the British government in America – in New York and Washington – commenting on American political affairs.He also held the Presidency of the British Academy. Henry Hardy is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and is one of Isaiah Berlin's Literary Trustees.He has edited several other books by Berlin, and is currently preparing his letters and his remaining unpublished writings for publication.Liberty is a revised and expanded edition of the book that Isaiah Berlin regarded as his most important Four Essays on Liberty, a standard text of liberalism, constantly in demand and constantly discussed since it was first published in 1969.Writing in Harper's, Irving Howe described it as "an exhilarating performancethis, one tells oneself, is what the life of the mind can be." Berlin's editor Henry Hardy has revised the text, incorporating a fifth essay that Berlin himself had wanted to include.He has edited many books by Berlin, including those discussed in this interview.The fourth and final volume of his edition of Berlin's letters, Affirming: Letters 1975-1997, co-edited with Mark Pottle, was published by Chatto & Windus in September 2015.What they offer may be glorious and uplifting and just. In fact, said Berlin, these other "higher" pseudo-freedoms peddled by the monist prophets are very dangerous. And another thing, said Berlin: Historical inevitability is bunk, a kind of religion for atheists.They proclaim one true value above all else -- equality in Marx, fraternity in Rousseau -- and in the end the individual with his freedom is crushed underfoot. And one more thing, he said (in the fourth and final essay of the book): The true heart of the liberal political tradition is the belief that no one has the secret as to what is the ultimate end and goal of life.