Isaiah Berlin

Sir Isaiah Berlin OM CBE FBA was a Russian-British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas. He was an essayist, conversationalist, raconteur, and lecturer. In its obituary of the scholar, the Independent stated that "Isaiah Berlin was often described, especially in his old age, by means of superlatives: the world's greatest talker, the century's most inspired reader, one of the finest minds of our time [...] there is no doubt that he showed in more than one direction the unexpectedly large possibilities open to us at the top end of the range of human potential".
Born in Riga, Latvia in 1909, he moved to Petrograd, Russia at the age of six, where he witnessed the revolutions of 1917. In 1921 his family came to England, and he was educated at St Paul's School, London and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In 1932, at the age of 23, Berlin was elected to a prize fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford. He translated works by Ivan Turgenev from Russian into English and, during the war, worked for the British Diplomatic Service. From 1957 to 1967 he was Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford.
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Isaiah Berlin
The essays collected in this new volume reveal Isaiah Berlin at his most lucid and accessible. He was constitutionally incapable of writing with the opacity of the specialist, but these shorter, more introductory pieces provide the perfect starting-point for the reader new to his work. Those who are already familiar with his writing will also be grateful for this further addition to his collected essays.

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.

Isaiah Berlin
Isaiah Berlin's response to the Soviet Union was central to his identity, both personally and intellectually. Born a Russian subject in Riga in 1909, he spoke Russian as a child and witnessed both revolutions in St. Petersburg in 1917, emigrating to the West in 1921. He first returned to Russia in 1945, when he met the writers Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak. These formative encounters helped shape his later work, especially his defense of political freedom and his studies of pre-Soviet Russian thinkers. Never before collected, Berlin's writings about the USSR include his accounts of his famous meetings with Russian writers shortly after the Second World War; the celebrated 1945 Foreign Office memorandum on the state of the arts under Stalin; his account of Stalin's manipulative 'artificial dialectic'; portraits of Osip Mandel´shtam and Boris Pasternak; his survey of Soviet Russian culture written after a visit in 1956; a postscript stimulated by the events of 1989; and more. This collection includes essays that have never been published before, as well as works that are not widely known because they were published under pseudonyms to protect relatives living in Russia. The contents of this book were discussed at a seminar in Oxford in 2003, held under the auspices of the Brookings Institution. Berlin's editor, Henry Hardy, had prepared the essays for collective publication and here recounts their history. In his foreword, Brookings president Strobe Talbott, an expert on the Soviet Union, relates the essays to Berlin's other work. The Soviet Mind will assume its rightful place among Berlin's works and will prove invaluable for policymakers, students, and those interested in Russian politics, past, present and future.
Isaiah Berlin
Isaiah Berlin was deeply admired during his life, but his full contribution was perhaps underestimated because of his preference for the long essay form. The efforts of Henry Hardy to edit Berlin's work and reintroduce it to a broad, eager readership have gone far to remedy this. Now, Princeton is pleased to return to print, under one cover, Berlin's essays on these celebrated and captivating intellectual portraits: Vico, Hamann, and Herder. These essays on three relatively uncelebrated thinkers are not marginal ruminations, but rather among Berlin's most important studies in the history of ideas. They are integral to his central project: the critical recovery of the ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment and the explanation of its appeal and consequences--both positive and (often) tragic.

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.

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