”Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question” (Isaiah Berlin)

Stephen Law redogör i The Philosophers’ Magazine för sin bok The War for Children’s Minds. Han citerar där ur The Catholic Encyclopedia’s inlägg under ”infallibility”:

[One] must listen to the voice of those whom God has expressly appointed to teach in His name, rather than to one’s own private judgment … he who chooses to make himself, instead of the authority which God has instituted, the final arbiter in matters of faith is far from possessing the true spirit of faith.

Att jämföra med Isaiah Berlin i ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’:

Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question, who freely obey the orders of leaders, spiritual or temporal, whose word is fully accepted as unbreakable law; or those who have, by their own methods, arrived at clear and unshakable convictions about what to do and what to be that brook no possibe doubt. I can only say that those who rest on such comfortable beds of dogma are victims of forms of self-induced myopia, blinkers that may make for contentment, but not for understanding of what it is to be human.

Berlins värdepluralism har ibland tolkats som en intäkt till grupprättigheter och särlagstiftning för att skydda icke-liberala minoriteter. Dessa ”tolerans-liberaler” accepterar då exempelvis separat skolgång med religiösa utgångspunkter. Men många av de citat jag lagt ut på sistone pekar mot att vid varje tillfälle Berlin diskuterar utbildning och skola så låter han som en genuin ”autonomi-liberal” . Värdepluralismen tycks implicera att individen oundvikligen är ställd inför svåra avvägningar här i livet, och all utbildning måste sträva mot att ge individen verktyg att handskas med detta; därmed är all utbildning som tvärtom strävar efter att överföra en fastlagd värdeskala och moralisk auktoritet helt förkastliga. Berlin måste därför ses som en försvarare av det som han beskriver som karakteristiskt för västerländsk utbildningstradition:

Western education since the earliest times has consisted in teaching men the techniques of answering for themselves the questions which most tormented men – what to be, what to do, how to treat others, what to seek above all other things.

Hursomhelst, för att återgå till Stephen Law: han har en tankeställare till alla de som anser det legitimt med religiösa skolor.

Now here is the challenge. Those who favour a move back in the direction of the kind of Authority-based religious education that predominated up until the 1960s should ask themselves the following question.

Suppose political schools started springing up – a neoconservative school in Billericay followed by a communist school in Middlesbrough. Suppose these schools select pupils on the basis of parents’ political beliefs. Suppose they start each morning with the collective singing of political anthems. Suppose portraits of their political leaders beam down from every classroom wall. Suppose they insist that pupils accept, more or less uncritically, the beliefs embodied in their revered political texts.

If such schools did spring up, there would be outrage. These establishments would be accused of educationally stunting children, forcing their minds into politically pre-approved moulds. They’re the kind of Orwellian schools you find under totalitarian regimes in places like Stalinist Russia. My question is, if such political schools are utterly unacceptable, if they are guilty of educationally stunting children, why on earth are so many of us still prepared to tolerate their religious equivalents?

Isaiah Berlin, ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, (London: Pimlico, 2003), s. 13-14.
Isaiah Berlin, ‘Democracy, Communism and the Individual’, (s. 5-6), The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library.

Isaiah Berlin om utbildning och indoktrinering

Jag har tidigare refererat till ett långt stycke där Isaiah Berlin behandlar utbildning och skola. Det gör han tyvärr på väldigt få ställen, men nu har jag i alla fall hittat ytterligare ett. Likt brevet till George Kennan handlar följande passage om vad som skiljer västerländska demokratier från totalitära staterna.

This violent contrast emerges most clearly in the conception of education: Western education since the earliest times has consisted in teaching men the techniques of answering for themselves the questions which most tormented men – what to be, what to do, how to treat others, what to seek above all other things.

Much blood has been shed by the schools of thought and religions advocating different ways of seeking replies to these questions. But even those most despotic in practice have paid at least lip-service to the idea that men must be so taught as to want to seek the right ends freely, because they believed in them and not because they were socially or morally conditioned into believing nothing else.

But the task of a Communist educator is not to supply knowledge and develop the faculty of assessing critically, but principally that of Stalin’s engineer – of so adjusting the individual that he should only ask those questions the answers to which are readily accessible, that he shall grow up in such a way that he would naturally fit into his society with minimum friction. History decrees how the society must behave if it is not to be destroyed. Only those are happy who are not self-destructive. There is, therefore, only one nostrum for happiness and this the ‘social engineer’ applies in creating those human arts or limbs and organs of which the ‘progressive’ social mechanism or organism must consist.

Curiosity for its own sake, the spirit of independent individual enquiry, the desire to create or contemplate beautiful things for their own sake, to find out truth for its own sake, to pursue ends because they are what they are and satisfy some deep desire of our nature, are henceforth damned because they may increase the differences between men, because they may not conduce to harmonious development of a monolithic society.

Isaiah Berlin, ‘Democracy, Communism and the Individual’ (s. 5-6), The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library.

Berlins frihetsbegrepp och värdeteori

Några spridda anteckningar:

De tankar som Isaiah Berlin uttryckte i brevet till George Kennan har en kantiansk, upplysningsliberal ton i högre grad än vad som brukar förknippas med Berlin. Bör bilden av honom förändras i denna riktning?

Två som tycker det är George Crowder och Joshua Cherniss. I båda deras bidrag i volymen The One and the Many: Reading Isaiah Berlin (Crowder & Hardy 2007) påpekas att ofta misstolkas Berlins ”Two Concepts of Liberty” till att betyda ett ensidigt ställningstagande för negativ frihet. Positiv frihet är inte ett fullständigt falskt eller värdelöst frihetsbegrepp; Berlins huvudpoäng är att det så enkelt kan missbrukas, förvanskas och användas för att legitimera förtryck (Crowder 2007, s. 228).

Joshua Cherniss studie av Berlins tidiga politiska filosofi visar också att Berlin ”was less straightforwardly wedded to the ’negative’ concept, and more sympathetic to some elements of the ’positive’ conception, than many readings of TCL suggest.” Dessa tidiga texter visar på en större sympati för ”the idea of autonomy (defined not as rule by reason or self-given law, but as ability independently to set the direction of one’s own life)”. (Cherniss 2007, 95)

Denna idé om autonomi uttrycks klart i Berlins sätt att legitimera utbildning av barn i brevet till Kennan. Ett brev som enligt Cherniss visar på . . .

. . . the influence on Berlin of Kantian ethics, which his later emphasis on pluralism has tended to obscure. Berlin was never an adherent of Kant’s rationalistic moral theory; but his conception of human dignity was deeply influenced by Kant, to whom he traced his belief in the evil of using human beings ’as means to ends that are not their own, but those of the manipulator, the treatment of free beings as if they were things, tools’. [. . .] [It] was from Kant that he derived important aspects of his own theory of values. Kant, Berlin explained, argued that individuals were ends in themselves ’because they were the sole authors of moral values’. Values existed, not in nature, but only in the wills of individuals. Human beings, as the authors of all genuine values, could not be sacrificed to anything other than their own purposes, without ’stultifying the absoluteness, the end-in-itselfness’ of values. From this it also followed that all individuals were morally equal, because all were equally creators, carriers and fulfillers of values. This was the basis of the liberal belief in the ’right to develop one’s individual capacity’ . . . (Cherniss 2007, 109; citaten är från Berlin 2006, 151 & 154)

Den bild som Cherniss målar upp kan jämföras med Bhikhu Parekhs kritik av Berlin:

Berlin is ambiguous about the nature of values and seems to oscillate between the extremes of objectivism and subjectivism. Sometimes he argues that men ‘choose’, ‘accept’ or ‘commit’ themselves to certain values, implying that the values exist independently of human choice. This is Platonism in a pluralist disguise. Like Plato’s ideas the ultimate values occupy a realm of their own and inspire men to commit themselves to any one of them. On other occasions Berlin takes the opposite view. As we saw, he says that there is ‘no principle or value higher than the ends of the individual’ and that all values ‘are made so by the free acts of man’. It is difficult to see how such a view can be sustained. To say that whatever an individual chooses is a value, and that all such values are ultimate, is to imply that the purposes men follow and the choices they make are beyond moral evaluation, and that is simply not true. We would not allow a Hitler to claim that his purposes are sacred, ultimate and beyond criticism. While it makes sense to say that men are the sole authors of values in the sense that the systems of values do not grow on trees but are products of human decisions, it does not follow, and is in any case empirically false, to say that every man is the sole author of his values. Since Berlin slides from man in the collective to man in the singular sense, he does not notice that what can plausibly be said about men in the plural becomes false when said of each individually. (Parekh 1982, 224)

I en not till detta stycke skriver Parekh att Berlin klargjort för honom att ”he does not subscribe to moral subjektivism”. (Jfr. Cherniss 2006, s. xlii & xliv.)

I somras läste jag Berlins Political Ideas in the Romantic Age (PIRA), ett förarbete (som först publicerades 2006) till bland annat Berlins fyra essäer om frihet och en del andra föreläsningar och essäer om både upplysningen och romantiken. Där kan man läsa att de som förespråkar det rätta frihetsbegreppet kan legitimera det på följande sätt:

[The] wishes and ideals of […] men are to be respected  […] very much as Kant recommended, though not perhaps for one of his explicit reasons – not because they are rational beings (whatever may be meant by that) – but really for his other reason, that men are ends in themselves because they are the sole source of all morality, the beings for whose sake alone whatever is worth doing is worth doing, because the notion of ends in themselves is one of ends which men invent for themselves, and there is therefore nothing outside them to which thay can in principle be deemed worthy of sacrifice. (Berlin 2006, 206)

Denna vänding, från att värden upptäcks till att de skapas, identifierar Berlin i PIRA som romantikens huvudsakliga bidrag till västerlandets idéhistoriska utveckling.

För att återgå till frihetsbegreppet: Cherniss föreslår att det bästa sättet att beskriva Berlins frihetsbegrepp är att gå bortom negativ och positiv frihet och istället tala om ett ”basic concept of liberty as the ability to make choices for oneself”. Traditionellt har Berlins försvar för individualitet och fritt val tolkats som ett ensidigt försvar för negativ frihet, men Cherniss tillägger att . . .

. . . it contained an element of ’positive’ liberty as well, for it included not only freedom from coercion, but also the exercise of the ability to choose and to will, to act in accordance with one’s own beliefs, to select and pursue ideals for oneself – that is, a form of self-rule or autonomy.” (Cherniss 2007, 115)


  • Berlin, Isaiah (2006), Political Ideas in the Romantic Age, (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
  • Cherniss, Joshua L. (2007), ’Berlin’s Early Political Thought’, i Crowder & Hardy 2007.
  • Cherniss, Joshua L. (2006), ’Isaiah Berlin’s Political Ideas: From the Twentieth Century to the Romantic Age’, i Berlin 2006.
  • Crowder, George & Hardy, Henry (2007) (red.), The One and the Many: Reading Isaiah Berlin (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books)
  • Crowder, George (2007), ’Value Pluralism and Liberalism: Berlin and Beyond’, i Crowder & Hardy 2007.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu (1982), ’The Political Thought of Sir Isaiah Berlin’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 201–226.