The Dragons of Expectation by Robert Conquest
In his famous 1951 essay on Leo Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin mined a fragmentary saying of the Greek poet Archilochus to create one of the most intriguing, if also sometimes misleading, dichotomies in the history of ideas.
“Hedgehogs” were those think-ers—Lucretius, Plato, Dante, Hegel, Dostoevsky—who were captives to a single large and all-embracing idea or concern. “Foxes,” on the other hand, were the elusive characters—Herodotus, Shakespeare, Montaigne—who entertained multifarious ideas, who saw many different principles and goods at work in the world, and were pleased to let them roam free rather than seeking to enclose them in the frame of a Big Picture. Hedgehogs were monists, foxes were pluralists, and the difference between them, as Berlin saw it, divided not only writers or thinkers but “human beings in general.”
About the Author
Wilfred M. McClay, who holds the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, contributed “Is Conservatism Finished?” to the January COMMENTARY. His latest book is Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past.