The Hedgehog and the Fox


Courtesy Arielle Davidoff who showed me this essay

An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History
To the memory of Jasper Ridley
A queer combination of the brain of an English
chemist with the soul of an Indian Buddhist.
E. M. de Vogu¨ e´
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.’
2 Scholars have differed about the correct
interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than
that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog’s one
defence. But, 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, organising 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 to 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
1 Le Roman russe (Paris, 1886), p. 282. 2 ‘po*ll’ oi#d’ a$lw* phx, a$ll’ e$ci&nov e=n me*ga.’ Archilochus fragment 201 in
M. L. West (ed.), Iambi et Elegi Graeci, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1971).