This month (bi-month? Something like that – I wish these happened
a little more frequently) I’m again talking with my friend, medievalist and journalist Clare Gillis. In part in response to the topic popping up in the news from time to time, I figured we should have a conversation about Isaiah Berlin’s essay on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace titled The Hedgehog and the Fox.
Initially, the Hedgehog and the Fox were meant to distinguish between writers or historians that look at the world through a single, over-arching lens in formulating their explanations and their work (the hedgehogs who know “one big thing”). Versus the foxes that are constantly adapting or changing how they approach problems and the solutions they rely on (the Foxes who “know many things”). The concept applies fairly directly to history and is something that many historians are familiar with, but the appearance in politics and other contemporary areas of discussion amuses me and it seemed worth talking about.
In the podcast, we explain how Isaiah Berlin formulated the original essay and how it applies to War and Peace and then we branch off from there. Along the way, Clare and I talk about a wide variety of topics that come out of the conceit of the Hedgehog and the Fox ranging from our dissertation topics, the methodology of doing history, the relation of the past to the present, high medieval political violence, and Newt Gingrich’s tweets about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (fair warning…for that you actually have to wait almost to the very end, but it is in there – I promise!)
It is tempting, in light of the reliance on War and Peace for the origins of this topic, to present a great banquet dish that Tolstoy would have enjoyed as the meal for this hefty podcast. However, it turns out that Tolstoy was a fairly moralistic eater – a vegetarian and generally opposed to extravagant food. He advocated eating a combination of bread, oats, and rice for the majority of one’s life – not an entirely inspiring menu for our conversation. So instead of a full meal as the length clearly implies, I’m going with what was purportedly Tolstoy’s favorite pie – often called “Anke Pie.” It’s really more of a lemon tart with a sweet pound-cake like crust covered or filled with an sweetened lemon custard thickened with eggs. There are Several Recipes available on the internet and if you try one, I’d love to hear how it turned out!
Bibliography (in rough order of podcast mention):
Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1953).
Philip Tetlock and D. Gardiner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (New York: Crown, 2015).
Thomas Bisson, Tormented Voices: Power, Crisis, and Humanity in Rural Catalonia, 1140-1200 (Harvard University Press, 1998).
Bisson, Cultures of Power: Lordship, Status, and Process in Twelfth-Century Europe (U. Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
Bisson, The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power Lordship and the Origins of European Government (Princeton University Press, 2015).
Michael McCormick, Origins of the European Economy: Communication and Commerce AD 300-900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).