The Hedgehog and the Fox is an essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin—one of his most popular essays with the general public—which was published as a book in 1953. However, Berlin said, “I never meant it very seriously.
I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously. Every classification throws light on something”. In Erasmus’s Adagia from 1500, the expression is recorded as Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum. Turning to Tolstoy, Berlin contends that at first glance, Tolstoy escapes definition into one of the two groups.
He postulates that while Tolstoy’s talents are those of a fox, his beliefs are that one ought to be a hedgehog and so Tolstoy’s own voluminous assessments of his own work are misleading. In the latter half of the essay, Berlin illuminates Tolstoy by an extended comparison between him and the early 19th-century thinker Joseph de Maistre, a comparison that gains in piquancy because while Tolstoy and de Maistre held violently contrasting views on more superficial matters, they held some profoundly similar views about the fundamental nature of existence and the limits of a rational, scientific approach to it. In the final few paragraphs of the essay, Berlin reasserts his thesis that Tolstoy was by nature a fox but by conviction a hedgehog and goes on to say that the division within himself caused him great pain at the end of his life.