Thursday, December 19, 2019

Political journeys

The republication of Isaiah Berlin’s numerous essays, beginning with Four Essays on Liberty (1969) and Vico and Herder (1976), and continuing at an increased pace from 1978 under the general editorship of Henry Hardy, has revealed a central theme of Berlin’s thought: his advocacy of the doctrine of value pluralism. Key to this approach is the idea of incommensurability: the resistance of contrasting world views to any amalgamation via an overarching harmony of principles and intentions.
Since the early 1990s value pluralism has captured the attention of many admirers as Berlin’s "master idea." As such, it ranks as the most discussed, most praised, and most controversial of his findings.
I have long been sympathetic to this view, perhaps because my own political evolution has been so complex and diverse. Discarding the Marxism inculcated by my "progressive" parents, I became a liberal Democrat and something of a Cold Warrior. For considerable periods, though, I have been attracted by both anarchism and libertarianism. Briefly, Neo-Conservatism also engaged my attention. Now I am left with only shards collected in this complex journey: call the result empiricism if you will.
So maybe this eclecticism counts as my master idea. Yet it cannot rank as a harmonious conjunction of diverse views, since only fragments are collected. For example, I still hold with libertarians that in many respects there is too much government regulation. Just so.  Yet in some areas, having to do with pollution and other quality of life issues, we may need MORE regulation.