Avslutningen på ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ och ett brev om liberalismen

Här kommer ett citat ur ett brev Isaiah Berlin skrev den 30 december 1952.

I think that what I am pleading for is really what used to be called Liberalism, i.e. a society in which the largest number of persons are allowed to pursue the largest number of ends as freely as possible, in which these ends are themselves criticised as little as possible and the fervour with which such ends are held is not required to be bolsterad up by some bogus rational och supernatural argument to prove the universal validity of the end.

Everyone does, in fact, have purposes and values for which they live and for which they are occasionally prepared to die. In times of crises, when a large number of people appear to be living and dying for ends which we find repellent, it is desirable to make explicit what it is that we are prepared to fight for […].

Ends are not demonstrable, they just are held and in a healthy society there are great many of them, occasionally colliding with each other, and this needs a machinery of conciliation etc. [. . .]

What I believe, I think, is all that J.S. Mill said in his essay on liberty, and the Russian revolutionary, Herzen, in a work called From the Other Shore, a society in which liberty is more important even than happiness, people are forced to choose, though they do not necessarily like it, people do not accept supernatural or scientific sanctions for their ultimate ends but are content with the fact that they are ultimate for them individually (which is all that is ever true).

Och här kommer de avslutande orden ur föreläsningen ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958).

It may be that the ideal of freedom to choose ends without claiming eternal validity for them, and the pluralism of values connected with this, is only the late fruit of our declining capitalist civilisation: an ideal which remote ages and primitive societies have not recognised, and one which posterity will regard with curiosity, even sympathy, but little comprehension. This may be so; but no sceptical conclusions seem to me to follow. Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed.

Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past. ‘To realise the relative validity of one’s convictions’, said an admirable writer of our time, ‘and yet stand for them unflinchingly is what distinguishes a civilised man from a barbarian’. [Schumpeter] To demand more than this is perhaps a deep and incurable metaphysical need; but to allow such a need to determine one’s practise is a symptom of an equally deep, and more dangerous, moral and political immaturity.

Berlin, Isaiah (2002), Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press), s. 217.
Berlin, Isaiah, Enlightening. Letters 1946—1960, Chatto & Windus, London, 2009, s. 350–1.



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