The connecting theme of these essays, as in the case of earlier volumes, is the crucial social and political role--past, present and future--of ideas, and of their progenitors. A rich variety of subject-matters is represented--from philosophy to education, from Russia to Israel, from Marxism to romanticism--so that the truth of Heine's warning is exemplified on a broad front. It is a warning that Berlin often referred to, and provides an answer to those who ask, as from time to time they do, why intellectual history matters.
Among the contributions are "My Intellectual Path," Berlin's last essay, a retrospective autobiographical survey of his main preoccupations; and "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation," the classic statement of his Zionist views, long unavailable in print. His other subjects include the Enlightenment, Giambattista Vico, Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, G.V. Plekhanov, the Russian intelligentsia, the idea of liberty, political realism, nationalism, and historicism. The book exhibits the full range of his enormously wide expertise and demonstrates the striking and enormously engaging individuality, as well as the power, of his own ideas.
"Over a hundred years ago, the German poet Heine warned the French not to underestimate the power of ideas: philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilization."--Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1958.
This new edition adds a number of previously uncollected pieces, including Berlin's earliest statement of the pluralism of values for which he is famous.
Giambattista Vico was the anachronistic and impoverished Neapolitan philosopher sometimes credited with founding the human sciences. He opposed Enlightenment methods as cold and fallacious. J. G. Hamann was a pious, cranky dilettante in a peripheral German city. But he was brilliant enough to gain the audience of Kant, Goethe, and Moses Mendelssohn. In Hamann's chaotic and long-ignored writings, Berlin finds the first strong attack on Enlightenment rationalism and a wholly original source of the coming swell of romanticism. Johann Gottfried Herder, the progenitor of populism and European nationalism, rejected universalism and rationalism but championed cultural pluralism.
Individually, these fascinating intellectual biographies reveal Berlin's own great intelligence, learning, and generosity, as well as the passionate genius of his subjects. Together, they constitute an arresting interpretation of romanticism's precursors. In Hamann's railings and the more considered writings of Vico and Herder, Berlin finds critics of the Enlightenment worthy of our careful attention. But he identifies much that is misguided in their rejection of universal values, rationalism, and science. With his customary emphasis on the frightening power of ideas, Berlin traces much of the next centuries' irrationalism and suffering to the historicism and particularism they advocated. What Berlin has to say about these long-dead thinkers--in appreciation and dissent--is remarkably timely in a day when Enlightenment beliefs are being challenged not just by academics but by politicians and by powerful nationalist and fundamentalist movements.
The study of J. G. Hamann was originally published under the title The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism. The essays on Vico and Herder were originally published as Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas. Both are out of print.
This new edition includes a number of previously uncollected pieces on Vico and Herder, two interesting passages excluded from the first edition of the essay on Hamann, and Berlin's thoughtful responses to two reviewers of that same edition.
This volume of Isaiah Berlin's essays presents the sweep of his contributions to philosophy from his early participation in the debates surrounding logical positivism to his later work, which more evidently reflects his life-long interest in political theory, the history of ideas, and the philosophy of history. Here Berlin describes his view of the nature of philosophy, and of its main task: to uncover the various models and presuppositions--the concepts and categories--that men bring to their existence and that help form that existence. Throughout, his writing is informed by his intense consciousness of the plurality of values, the nature of historical understanding, and of the fragility of human freedom in the face of rigid dogma.
This new edition adds a number of previously uncollected pieces that throw further light on Berlin's central philosophical concerns, and a revealing exchange of letters with the editor and Bernard Williams about the genesis of the book.