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Good-bye to Berlin

Isaiah Berlin did not resolve the dilemmas of modern liberalism. But he saw them more clearly than anyone else

By AC Grayling   December 1997

Isaiah Berlin’s intellectual legacy is to be found in his life-long argument with the Enlightenment. He applauded the desire of Enlightenment thinkers to stamp out ignorance and superstition, serving-as they do-to sustain cruel and unjust social arrangements. But Berlin warned against the methods they advocated, which in our own century have taken the harshest forms-rationality applied like a cold bare steel to the warm stuff of human sensibility. In particular he argued that the Enlightenment emphasis on reason as sovereign in human affairs was misplaced; not because reason is an unworthy god-far from it-but because it oversimplifies when complexity and…

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