Archives for March 21st, 2009


The Fox and the Hedgehog

In the last paragraph of her column yesterday, Peggy Noonan says the following:

These are the two great issues, the economic crisis and our safety. In the face of them, what strikes one is the weightlessness of the Obama administration, the jumping from issue to issue and venue to venue from day to day. Isaiah Berlin famously suggested a leader is a fox or a hedgehog. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. In political leadership the hedgehog has certain significant advantages, focus and clarity of vision among them. Most presidents are one or the other. So far Mr. Obama seems neither.

I haven’t attempted to track down the Isaiah Berlin reference, but, of course, the idea about the fox and the hedgehog is much older. Remember Archilochus (fr. 201 West)?

πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα.

‘The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one. One good one.’ (Lattimore’s tr.)