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The hedgehog and the fox

There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says, The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The line has been translated and interpreted in several different ways, and has even been applied to people.

Born in Russia in 1909, Isaiah Berlin grew up in England, helped to found Wolfson College, Oxford, and famously wrote The Hedgehog and the Fox. His essay examined Tolstoy, and suggested that Tolstoy was a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog.

On the 9th we asked, Is it ever right to fight? We quoted two Brits, Norman Kember and CS Lewis, with quite different ideas. You may find that one of them is a hedgehog, and the other, a fox.

On the 12th, Peter Hitchens of the Daily Mail described deterrence as a way of preventing war. His story about the hedgehog and fox contributes to our earlier discussion, and makes one of his points:

I'll always remember visiting an East Berlin department store in the early 1980s, and finding it festooned with rather well-drawn cartoons of a fox and a hedgehog, arguing about whether the hedgehog should remove his prickles. The fox promised the hedgehog he would be safe to do so. The hedgehog replied, rather sensibly, "Perhaps so, but not until you remove your teeth."

Personally, I feel more like a hedgehog, but I can't help thinking that the fox has something to say. It's possible that the need to commit to an idea I believe is always right may be wrong. There are also a few ideas the fox and the hedgehog share and for which they are willing to die – protecting their babies, for one.

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