1951 brevväxlade Isaiah Berlin med den berömde amerikanske diplomaten George Kennan (upphovsmannnen till ‘containment’-politiken gentemot Sovjet). Breven mellan dessa figurer, båda två starkt förknippade med begreppet ‘cold war liberalism’, kom att handla om just innebörden av ett liberalt samhälle och om berättigandet av dess principer.
En central aspekt är att ett liberalt samhälle inte manipulerar (”tamper”) eller formar (”mould”) sina medborgare till lydiga undersåtar utan låter dem utvecklas till fria individer.
What I take you to say, and what I should have said myself if I had had the wit or the depth, is that the one thing which no utilitarian paradise, no promise of eternal harmony in the future within some vast organic whole will make us accept is the use of human beings as mere means – the doctoring of them until they are made to do what they do, not for the sake of purposes which are their purposes, fulfilment of hopes which however foolish or desperate are at least their own, but for reasons which only we, the manipulators, who freely twist them for our purposes, can understand. What horrifies one about Soviet or Nazi practise is not merely the suffering and the cruelty, since although that is bad enough, it is something which history has produced too often, and to ignore its apparent inevitability is perhaps real Utopianism – no; what turns one inside out, and is indescribable, is the spectacle of one set of persons who so tamper and ‘get at’ others that the others do their will without knowing what they are doing; and in this lose their status as free human beings, indeed as human beings at all.
[. . . ]
Certainly we do not detest this kind of destruction of liberty merely because it denies liberty of action; there is a far greater horror in depriving men of the very capacity for freedom – that is the real sin against the Holy Ghost. Everything else is bearable so long as the possibility of goodness – of a state of affairs in which men freely choose, disinterestedly seek their ends for their own sake – is still open, however much suffering they may have gone through. Their souls are destroyed only when this is no longer possible. It is when the desire for choice is broken that what men do thereby loses all moral value, and actions lose all significance (in terms of good and evil) in their own eyes; that is what is meant by destroying people’s self-respect, by turning them, in your words, into rags.
Men om motståndet till denna typ av manipulering är kännetecknet för att liberalt samhälle så uppkommer ett problem. På vilka grunder kan ett sådant samhälle legitimera utbildning och fostran av sina barn?
If pushed to the extreme, this doctrine would, of course, do away with all education, since when we send children to school or influence them in other ways without obtaining their approval for what we are doing, are we not ’tampering’ with them, ’moulding’ them like pieces of clay with no purpose of their own? Our answer has to be that certainly all ’moulding’ is evil, and that if human beings at birth had the power of choice and the means of understanding the world, it would be criminal; since they have not, we temporarily enslave them, for fear that, otherwise, they will suffer worse misfortunes from nature and from men, and this ’temporary enslavement’ is a necessary evil until such time as they are able to chosose for themselves – the ’enslavement’ having as its purpose not an inculcation of obedience but its contrary, the development of power of free judgement and choice; still, evil it remains even if necessary.
De som skiljer de kommunistiska och fascistiska samhällena från de liberala är att de förstnämnda vidhåller att detta slags uppfostran inte bara är nödvändigt för barnen utan för hela folket hela tiden, för att skapa det utopiska samhället. Liberaler har ett annat synsätt:
For we, i.e. those who join with us, are more concerned with making people free than making them happy; we would rather that they choose badly than not at all; because we believe that unless they choose they cannot be either happy or unhappy in any sense in which these conditions are worth having; the very notion of ’worth having’ presupposes the choice of ends, a system of free preferences; and an undermining of them is what strikes us with such cold terror, worse than the most unjust sufferings, which nevertheless leave the possibility of knowing them for what they are – of free judgement, which makes it possible to condemn them – still open.