The fox and the hedgehog: Kerry and Bush revisited
Here's a guy I'd love to have known. Everything I've ever read about Isaiah Berlin indicates that he was one of the most fascinating people ever; a giant mind, a great heart, and a tremendous sense of joy. One of these days (yeah, right!) I'm going to actually read some of his works, instead of just excerpts and tantalizing quotes.
Berlin is famous for his distinction between the fox (who knows many things) and the hedgehog (who knows one great thing). Here's Berlin explaining the idea:
For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance-and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.
During the 2004 campaign, many people pointed out that Bush was the quintessential hedgehog, and Kerry the classic fox. I agree. So why, so long after the election, am I bringing this up again?
Well, one reason is that I really, really, like the fox/hedgehog distinction, so I thought it bears repeating. But the other reason is something that just occurred to me, and that is that perhaps some of the enmity towards Bush comes from lack of understanding of the value of hedgehogginess. Perhaps even some of the anger at Kerry stems from a contempt for foxiness, for all I know (I'm somewhat of a fox myself, so I don't think that's what I dislike about Kerry--it is his shiftiness and narcissism, and his inability to take any stand.)
It's a yin/yang thing, I guess; the world seems to need both types. Each is best at certain tasks. For dealing with the war against Islamicist fundamentalist terrorism, I think it's clear we need a hedgehog. Others, of course, think a fox is the way to go.
My guess is that the Democratic party right now has a much higher percentage of foxes than the Republicans do, and that hedgehogs are far more numerous among Republicans than Democrats. Perhaps the short version of what happened to people like me, post-9/11 (the very short, hedgehoggy version), is that we changed from fox to hedgehog.