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.

Varför är Oakeshott värd att läsa?

Jag försökte en gång läsa Michael Oakeshott. En essä om historiefilosofi vill jag minnas. Det gick inte bra. Orsaken var kanske att jag, likt Isaiah Berlin, tillhör en ”too wooden a tradition” och därför inte förstår poängen. Så här skriver Berlin i ett brev till Ursula Niebuhr i oktober 1952:

[Michael Oakeshott] I cannot for my part make out at all, some kind of neo-Burkean aestheticising essayist, very smooth and eloquent, with a good deal of charm and even fascination for all uses, but for the life of me I cannot reduce what he says to any kind of brass tacks. However I may be wrong and brought up in too wooden a tradition, and perhaps that is how metaphysical physicists used to talk and perhaps it is all about something after all.

Är det någon (Patrik?) som kan förklara vad Oakeshott kan ge och varför jag borde ge honom en chans till?

Isaiah Berlin, Enlightening. Letters 1946—1960, Chatto & Windus, London, 2009, s. 328.

Tips från coachen (Isaiah Berlin)

Like Whitehead, who said, ‘Seek simplicity and avoid it’. You must seek simplicity and yet be frightened of it, it mustn’t be too simple. Seek systems, if you like, and be on your guard.

Isaiah Berlin (& Beata Polanowska-Sygulska), Unfinished Dialogue, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006), s. 135.

Isaiah Berlin om liberalismen och rättfärdigandet av utbildning och fostran av barn

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.

Isaiah Berlin, ”A Letter to George Kennan”, Liberty, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), s. 339–342.

”The way elderly officials like to sublimate themselves in the presence of persons they suspect of being intellectuals” (Isaiah Berlin)

I sitt sökande efter en diplomatisk tjänst söker Isaiah Berlin upp diverse brittiska myndighetsfilialer i New York och Washington. Bland annat British Library of Information (en avdelning för propaganda/kulturellt utbyte) . . .

. . . where I was told I would find a granite faced old bully who would say no to everything. His name was to be Fletcher. The last only is true. His name is certainly Fletcher. But what I found was a tired, bored, silly selfconscious old creature, anxious to discuss bogus philosophical questions, the ends of education in general, the problem as to why Stalin is not a Christian, the possibility of Gandhi converting Stalin to non-aggression etc. That sort of stuff I know of old, it is the way elderly officials like to sublimate themselves in the presence of persons they suspect of being intellectuals.

Isaiah Berlin, Flourishing. Letters 1928—1946, Chatto & Windus, London, 2004, s. 341.

Isaiah Berlins första intryck av Amerika

Isaiahs osäkerhet inför framtiden upplöstes mycket snabbt. Plötsligt fick han besök av Guy Burgess som påstod sig ha ordnat en tjänst åt Berlin vid ambassaden i Moskva. Det beslöts att Burgess skulle följa med på resan dit, och bara några dagar senare begav de sig på en resa över Atlanten för att via ett stopp i New York och Washington ta sig till Ryssland. Men väl i New York började personer i den engelska administrationen ana oråd när det gällde Burgess och hans planer. Tillslut kom beskedet att deras vidare resa till Moskva blivit inställd.

Dessa misstankar var korrekta. Burgess hade ordnat jobbet och resan för att få en ursäkt att själv ta sig Moskva utan misstankar och där kunna konferera med överordnade i NKVD, vars kontaktman i London hade tvingats bli hemkallad. Isaiah hyste aldrig några misstankar om att Burgess kunde vara spion.

Beskedet till Isaiah var att han var fri att göra som han ville och att varken Foreign Office eller ambassaden kunde erbjuda honom tjänst. Han valde att stanna, och med tiden började det tisslas och tasslas bakom hans rygg och man försökte hitta en post på ambassaden. En av dem som arbetade för att skaffa fram en tjänst åt Isaiah var John Wheeler-Bennett. Han hade ätit middag med Isaiah under dennes första kväll i Washington och blivit djupt imponerad. I sina memoarer skrev han senare att Berlin ”had been in America scarcely forty-eight hours but his comments on the situation would seem to betoken a lifetime of acquaintance with that country” [s. 325].

Här nedan följer några av Berlins beskrivningar av Amerika ur de brev han skrev hem.

The United States is both predictable and not. At first it seems familiar enough [. . .]. Soon the illusion is dispelled. The chief advantage is that everyone and everything is very easy. Nothing lacks to human comfort. Everything has been foreseen. [s. 319]
[. . .]
I quite see why they find the English unnecessarily complicated about nothing, why they are surprised and wounded by the elaborate, & as seems to them, deliberately difficult attitude adopted to their simple behaviour.
[. . .]
There may be individual introversion, mystery etc. There is no social mystery, no social mazes which in principle cannot be represented by a definite plan, as e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Bloomsbury, even Edinburgh I expect. This is very grave. There is a total lack of salt, peppar, mustard, etc. No spark, at least none I’ve met yet. Everything is stated. [s. 320]

Mother would like America very much: open, vigorous, 2×2=4 sort of people, who want yes or no for an answer. [s. 323]

As for the U.S.A. I haven’t seen it. Such odd corners of it as I have come across strike me as full of individuals endowed with far greater vitality, honesty and simplicity than anyone in Europe: everything is clear, explicit, floodlit even. [. . .] I am myself a little disturbed by this terrific clarity & emphasis: where nothing is taken for granted, everything is stated in so many unambiguous terms, no secret seasoning is tasteable, everything is what it is and proclaims itself sometimes at great length, to be so. But it is superior to the nuances and evasions of England and France. Aesthetically inferior but morally superior. It destroys art but conduces to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. [s. 327]

I cannot say how much I long to go home. How much nicer England is. [s. 332]

Remaining here in any capacity is a nightmare to me. No one I’ve met — the nicest even, have the slightest element of the suppressed reserve of European life which functions as a background unfelt until one is withdrawn from it into this great big glaring sunlit extravert over-articulated scene. [. . .] My admiration for Roosevelt has greatly grown when one realizes the crassness he is faced with: to like Americans very much — as opposed to admiring, respecting, enjoying, believing in them, is, I am now sure, a mark of absence of soul: of a passion for the aerated, hygienic and wholesome, an open air attitude which you cannot, I suddenly say testily, expect me to sympathize with. [s. 337]

Isaiah Berlin, Flourishing. Letters 1928—1946, Chatto & Windus, London, 2004, s. 311–37.