a very, very great deal

Men’s ultimate ends sometimes conflict: choices, at times agonising, and uneasy compromises cannot be avoided. But some needs seem universal. If we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, extend the area of individual liberty, fight injustice, create the minimum conditions of a decent society, if we can generate a modicum of toleration, of legal and social equality, if we can provide methods of solving social problems without facing men with intolerable alternatives — that would be a very, very great deal. These goals are less glamorous, less exciting than the glittering visions, the absolute certainties, of the revolutionaries; they have less appeal to the idealistic young, who prefer a more dramatic confrontation of vice and virtue, a choice between truth and falsehood, black and white, the possibility of heroic sacrifice on the altar of the good and the just — but the results of working for these more moderate and humane aims lead to a more benevolent and civilised society. The sense of infallibility provided by fantasies is more exciting, but generates madness in societies as well as individuals.

— Isaiah Berlin, “The Three Strands in My Life” (1979)