The Hedgehog & The Fox

Organizing Principles

The fox knows many things,
But the hedgehog knows one big thing
Archilochus, c. 680 – c. 645 BC. Fragment.

Sytematizers—hedgehogs—like to think they can spot the paradigm lurking behind extreme complexity. Anecdotalists, raconteurs, foxes, on the other hand, become dizzy at the thought of the altitude required. It’s fairly clear that the foxes have more fun, and the hedgehogs more satisfaction.

isaiah_berlinIsaiah Berlin plays with these mysterious lines in a popular essay from 1953: ❝ […] taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. 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; these last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; […] ❞

Berlin goes on to say that Dante was a hedgehog, Shakespeare a fox; and that Tolstoy, by nature a fox, nevertheless believed in being a hedgehog. It seems obvious that writers are far more marketable as foxes than as hedgehogs, and perhaps this suggests a reason for Tolstoy’s two inner antagonists. Be that as it may, stated in plain English Berlin’s dichotomy is monism versus pluralism.

Never for a moment thinking, as one assumes, of natural philosophy—the vulgar term for which is of course science, Berlin overlooks that whole class of hedgehogs: theoretical scientists—they whose princes from Euclid to Einstein, and whose rank-and-file, all share the powerful understanding that Nature does not contradict herself, and that any paradox lies only in the eye of the observer. And so a fundamental theorem suggests itself: that all scientists are hedgehogs, and that all foxes are incapable of scientific enquiry. How then to deal with such arch-foxes as Goethe, who was fond of scientific enquiry? Was he perhaps interested only in being diverted by this or that experiment, without dreaming too much of underlying principles? If so, this would save Berlin’s verdict that Goethe was in his heart pure fox.

In his essay, Berlin goes on to put Tolstoy on the couch in an attempt to interrogate his inner suppressed hedgehog, particularly in relation to his theory of history. In the present essay, The Europeans asks whether the great, baffling project of the political Left in Europe—contemporary gauchisme for want of a better moniker—can be any better understood by the hedgehog than by the fox. Remember, the hedgehog is a scientist—as earnest as the ideologue, but differing from him fundamentally on the question of evidence.

To put it ironically, there is no clear evidence that evidence itself is of any interest to the adherents of present-day gauchisme. It is alone the moral intent of a policy that animates the European Left: perverse and often overwhelming consequences are completely discounted, and only noticed at all when a sizeable part of the electorate expresses rage. Mere misgivings are ignored. Loss of freedom in Western Europe is a rigorously deducible consequence of indiscriminate non-European immigration. Resisting calls for vivre-ensemble, French and German societies can muster only a nervous communautarisme. All European governments and parties from the Centre-Right (Merkel) to the Hard Left (Jean-Luc Mélenchon) refuse point-blank to see or hear, to look or listen to, any evidence that might run counter to the only social policy that now matters, as it trumps all the rest: open borders.

The political world is not a laboratory bench, and there are no instruments available to the observer other than a disinterested critical intelligence and a knowledge of verifiable, gross events. But even within these constraints, it seems obvious that an ancient division has deepened over the past few decades: that between the state and the people. The state is of course populated by people, it has no real existence otherwise, but it is not populated by the people—rather by a for the most part elective nomenklatura of cabinet ministers and senior functionaries. The Brussels-Strasbourg nomenklatura is not elected at all: its members emerge. The European Left, including even the British, has unequivocally pulled on the balaclava, so to speak, of the nomenklatura. The complexion of the British Conservatives, on the other hand, suggests something different: that they crave their own de facto one-party state, just as Labour does, but know that they can pursue it only through the ballot-box, as Labour’s policy — to promote mass immigration in order to replace a recalcitrant constituency with one that can be relied upon to express undying gratitude — is clearly not open to them. We will rub your noses in multiculturalism!, Ed Milliband is reported as saying. The situation in mainland Europe is different: in France, everything to the left of the Front national is now just ‘the Left’—a more or less coherent grouping that is united by one overriding goal: Lutter contre le Front national! A similar configuration exists also in Germany, but there the far Right is weak, and so treated only with contempt. In France, the Front national has the strong support of a very large minority, and so is treated with both fear and contempt.

On this analysis, it is possible to argue that specifically in Western continental Europe, the rift between state and people is equivalent to a rift between the Left and the people, and that this will endure whether the Left is in power, as now, or not. In the event that in 2017 Marine Le Pen becomes president of France, or the Front national takes control of the National Assembly, or there is cohabitation and therefore much breaking of glass, the Left will absolutely not accept the result, and will take to the streets. Already, Les Républicains and the ruling Parti socialiste are floating the idea of tactical sacrifices in order to block the election of Front national candidates. Only the Front national has any chance of breaking the integrated grip of traditional centre-Right-centre-Left alternance.

And so the underlying principle that seems to explain the behaviour of the European Left in general, and particularly in relation to the current mass migration crisis, is this: the Left no longer recognizes the people as the source of its legitimacy. Ideology and the search for the entrenchment of power trumps democracy. The people are no longer there to be represented and disinterestedly governed at their own request, but only to be manipulated, psychologically fashioned, and if they oppose, vilified or even prosecuted through the courts. Various leftist organizations—political parties, media concerns, NGOs, as well as activists in the judiciary—tingle with the idea of interdicting the Front national and its individual members. Presently, Marine Le Pen is facing renewed prosecution for incitement to racial hatred, for a casual remark made in 2010 on the blocking of city streets by muslim worshippers. The rift between state and people in a nominally democratic system goes to completion when the opposing will of a large minority is treated with open contempt. It is this palpable contempt for reasoned opposition to the Left’s iron doctrine of open borders, and its bitter vindictiveness on being forced by overwhelming events to compromise its principles, that explains the current crisis. The state and the people have divorced: all that remains is calumny. The people are unworthy of the Left; they must be replaced: and this is precisely what is happening.

There is a sense, too, in which this rift-paradigm can be elevated to something that has come into view since the advent of global trade management: the emergence of an integrated — albeit fractious — geopolitical class, whereby all peoples are kept out of account whether by despotic means or under cover of ‘democracy’. Here again is the same rift between the coalesced geopolitical club and the people, the same refractory statecraft, the same contempt, — but remarkably little fear. Not to mention the ever-widening income gap in the winner-takes-all economic game. The state floats on the people, displaces them, but rarely takes them on board. Too abstract? Think of Bush and Blair, and then think of the casualties in their hundreds of thousands.

If the people wish to govern themselves, they must first become ungovernable.