Berlin takes the Ancient Greek fragment stating that ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’ as an entertaining basis for dividing thinkers into hedgehogs and foxes.
Hedgehogs, with one big idea for viewing the world, include Plato, Dante and Proust; foxes, for whom experience remains more conceptually irreducible and ‘centrifugal’, include Shakespeare, Aristotle and Montaigne. Tolstoy, Berlin hypothesises, was by nature a fox but believed in being a hedgehog, so falls neatly into neither category. The majority of this long but lightly learned essay then examines Tolstoy’s view of history, expressed in War and Peace.
Related recommendation: Mary McCarthy’s ‘My Confession’ (1954)