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Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment$
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Laurence Brockliss and Ritchie Robertson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198783930

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783930.001.0001

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Second Thoughts of a Biographer

Second Thoughts of a Biographer

Chapter:
(p.220) 16 Second Thoughts of a Biographer
Source:
Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment
Author(s):

Michael Ignatieff

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783930.003.0017

As Isaiah Berlin’s designated biographer, I had to walk a fine line between respect for my subject—he had given me his trust, after all—and fair investigation of his strengths and weaknesses as a man and as a thinker. After his death, my role changed again. This time the conflict was between moving on to other subjects, freeing myself from his spell, as it were, and continuing to stand guard to defend his reputation. The essay takes up these conflicts in a biographer’s role and in the process uncovers another one: standing by what you wrote at the time versus revising it to take account of new controversies and discoveries. I look critically at subsequent accounts of Berlin’s work, focusing especially on several critiques of Berlin’s liberalism, notably Jeremy Waldron’s argument that Berlin said almost nothing about the institutional and constitutional requirements for the liberalism he believed in.

Keywords:   biography, liberal temperament, Isaac Deutscher, Jeremy Waldron, democracy

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