Human beings like to believe that it is possible to build a collective society where everyone will be happy. The duty of intellectuals is to show the world as it really is—what is to be hoped for, and what is to be feared. Mario Vargas Llosa does his duty very well.
Each essay comprises a pen portrait of its subject’s life and works, combining a brisk biographical overview with a succinct summary of their particular contribution to the doctrine of liberalism. Cumulatively, they form a neat potted history of an intellectual tradition ... As an introductory primer, The Call of the Tribe is erudite and informative, well worthy of a place on any politics undergraduate reading list. However, as a political thinker in his own right, Vargas Llosa doesn’t bring a great deal to the party. Like many converts, he gives the impression of being haunted by the imagined reproaches of his younger self ... He appears unwilling or unable to acknowledge the dogmatic strain in his own thought.
The best essay in this book is on Isaiah Berlin, who argued that humans hold ideals that don’t fit together; they have to work out ways to accommodate them through compromise and tolerance of difference ... Throughout, Vargas Llosa comes across as gracious, self-aware, and modest.