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Sauce for the liberal goose

Liberalism has become the world's dominant political theory but its philosophical foundations remain uncertain. Ernest Gellner unravels the flaws in the work of Isaiah Berlin, the champion of modern liberalism

By Ernest Gellner   November 1995

The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing. Isaiah Berlin has preached the virtues of the fox so long, so persistently and so coherently, that he has become the veritable hedgehog of foxiness. He seems possessed by a single dominating idea-that we should not have single dominating ideas. In his view, the system of human values has no all-embracing, unifying apex, which could constitute a kind of final court of appeal for deciding all issues. Thinkers have pursued such a philosopher’s stone, but the quest is in vain. If Tolstoy was a fox trying to be a…

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