“On no other account do I congratulate myself more,” Erasmus wrote toward the end of his life, “than on the fact that I have never attached myself to any party.” It takes perseverance to keep calmly advocating an independent, liberal position — balanced, fair, respectful of complexity, more concerned to get at the truth than to be entertaining — when what Jacob Burckhardt called the terribles simplificateurs are harvesting youthful enthusiasm and collective emotion.
Now there’s an ideal worth striving for and a consoling mantra in times of madness. Hear, hear.
“Erasmians” is the term that Garton Ash, echoing Ralf Dahrendorf, applies to thinkers like Isaiah Berlin, one of the two main subjects of this interesting essay. Speaking of Berlin, I have actually been planning to re-read all of his books later this summer (yes, yes, I know I said that in 2014, but it’s for real this time). And just to tie it all together in a nice, serendipitous bow, Garton Ash himself was recently named, in another interesting article, as one of the “Children of Berlin” whom the world could stand to see more of.