The Book Of Isaiah

John Banville reviews Isaiah Berlin’s third collection of letters, praising the philosopher as a man “unshakable in his commitment to his version of liberalism and what is called value-pluralism, ‘the conception that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational, fully men, capable of understanding each other and sympathizing and deriving light from each other'”:

IB was one of the great affirmers of our time, a man to be admired not only for his intellectual achievements but for his loyalty, his humor, his modesty, his delight in the world and the people in it. He was neither a temporizer nor a meliorist, yet all his thought was directed toward a humane estimation of life and its possibilities. Here he is, writing in 1969 to his friend Dorothea Head:

Nothing is less popular today than to say that there is no millennium, that values collide, that there is no final solution, that one can only gain one value at the expense of another, that whatever one chooses entails the sacrifice of something else—or that it is at any rate often so. This is regarded as either false or cynical or both, but the opposite belief is what, it seems to me, has cost us so much frightful suffering and blood in the past.

It was certainly unpopular—it still is—to say such things, but IB never faltered in his determination that they should be said, and said again.