Institutional Scholarship

Dignity is Everything: Isaiah Berlin and His Jewish Identity.

TriCollege Digital Repository

Title: Dignity is Everything: Isaiah Berlin and His Jewish Identity.
Author: Chappel, James
Advisor: Gerstein, Linda
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 444024 bytes273732 bytes
Issue Date: 2005
Abstract: This essay represents my attempt to grapple with the meaning of Isaiah Berlin’s life and work. It is not a dispassionate consideration of his thought; those seeking that are directed to George Crowder’s excellent Isaiah Berlin: Liberty and Pluralism. Nor is it a biography, as Michael Ignatieff has already written a very fine one. It is rather my attempt to answer the following personal question: why is it that Berlin is such a wildly attractive figure to me? I had dabbled in philosophy and intellectual history before encountering Berlin. But when I read him for the first time, I felt like the Piltdown Man stumbling upon New York City. Ideas came to life, and the history of thought became exciting and important. But the army that sprang from the dragon’s teeth was not staid and dull. Berlin delights in ideas that flash instead of plod, coming from thinkers more like the warriors of the Old Testament than the benevolent preachers of the New. And when I began to read Berlin’s purely philosophical works, it struck me that these terrifying but fascinating ideas were not absent from his own thought: modified, surely, but not entirely ignored as they were by other liberals, then and now. This essay is my attempt to ascertain how and why Berlin’s ideas “flash” like those of de Maistre, instead of seeming limp and dull like those of John Dewey and Karl Popper, two of the most estimable liberals of the 20th century. Berlin’s wit, which has ever remained his most attractive feature to me, is much closer to the aristocratic hauteur of the conservative Waugh than the bitter acerbity of Bertrand Russell. As the Queen Mother once reputedly said of Isaiah Berlin: he is “such fun!”
Subject: Berlin, Isaiah, Sir
Subject: Berlin, Isaiah, Sir -- Philosophy
Subject: Jews -- Identity
Terms of Use:
Permanent URL:

Files in this item

Files Description Size Format
2005ChappelJ.pdf Thesis 433.6Kb PDF
Author_permission.pdf **Archive Staff Only** 5.888Kb PDF


Chappel, James. "Dignity is Everything: Isaiah Berlin and His Jewish Identity.". 2005. Available electronically from

This item appears in the following Collection(s) Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as


Advanced Search


My Account