One of my favorite public intellectuals (if you can have a favorite) has been the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, whose family barely escaped the Russian Revolution, and emigrated to England. Berlin took to his new home and language like a duck to water and eventually became an Oxford don. He wrote a famous essay called “The Hedgehog and the Fox” in which he divides philosophers into two types, “hedgehogs” (who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea) and “foxes” (who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea). For example, Karl Marx would be a hedgehog and Shakespeare would be a fox. Berlin uses this dichotomy to discuss Tolstoy’s view of history, and places him astride the two camps. This could make an interesting parlor game. Is your favorite thinker a hedgehog, or a fox? What are you?
If you’re interested, check out Berlin’s “Russian Thinkers” in which his famous essay appears.