Isaiah Berlin and International Relations

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Isaiah Berlin is a classic name in political theory, but does he have anything to teach us about international relations? In the Cold War he was a realist disciple of the containment doctrine, indeed a more hawkish container than his friend George Kennan, at least until he saw what was happening in Vietnam. In the aftermath of the Cold War, confronted with an outburst of resurgent nationalism, he seemed more like a utopian idealist, dreaming with Herder of a world of cultural harmony. But that dream is undermined by his own value pluralism, which points towards something more rigorous and interesting, a case for liberal internationalism in tension with its realist rival. From a value-pluralist point of view, realism tends towards moral monism, and liberal internationalism is normatively the more balanced view. However, liberals should still take seriously the central realist insight that security is an especially important value in the anarchic international context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Legacy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • international relations
  • Isaiah Berlin
  • liberalism
  • pluralism
  • realism


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