‘IB was one of the great affirmers of our time.’ John Banville, New York Review of Books
The title of this final volume of Isaiah Berlin’s letters is echoed by John Banville’s verdict in his review of its predecessor, Building: Letters 1960–75, which saw Berlin publish some of his most important work, and create, in Oxford’s Wolfson College, an institutional and architectural legacy. In the period covered by this new volume (1975–97) he consolidates his intellectual legacy with a series of essay collections. These generate many requests for clarification from his readers, and stimulate him to reaffirm and sometimes refine his ideas, throwing substantive new light on his thought as he grapples with human issues of enduring importance.
Berlin’s comments on world affairs, especially the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the collapse of Communism, are characteristically acute. This is also the era of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Iranian revolution, the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, and wars in the Falkland Islands, the Persian Gulf and the Balkans. Berlin scrutinises the leading politicians of the day, including Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev, and draws illuminating sketches of public figures, notably contrasting the personas of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrey Sakharov. He declines a peerage, is awarded the Agnelli Prize for ethics, campaigns against philistine architecture in London and Jerusalem, helps run the National Gallery and Covent Garden, and talks at length to his biographer. He reflects on the ideas for which he is famous – especially liberty and pluralism – and there is a generous leavening of the conversational brilliance for which he is also renowned, as he corresponds with friends about politics, the academic world, music and musicians, art and artists, and writers and their work, always displaying a Shakespearean fascination with the variety of humankind.
Affirming is the crowning achievement both of Berlin’s epistolary life and of the widely acclaimed edition of his letters whose first volume appeared in 2004.
In the period covered here (1960–75) Isaiah Berlin creates Wolfson College, Oxford; John F. Kennedy becomes US President (and is assassinated); Berlin dines with JFK on the day he is told of the Soviet missile bases in Cuba; the Six-Day Arab–Israeli war of 1967 creates problems that are still with us today; Richard M. Nixon succeeds Johnson as US President and resigns over Watergate; and the long agony of the Vietnam War grinds on in the background.
At the same time Berlin publishes some of his most important work, including Four Essays on Liberty – the key texts of his liberal pluralism – and the essays later included in Vico and Herder. He talks on the radio, appears on television and in documentary films and gives numerous lectures, especially his celebrated Mellon Lectures, later published as The Roots of Romanticism.
Behind these public events is a constant stream of gossip and commentary, acerbic humour and warm personal feeling. Berlin writes about an enormous range of topics to a sometimes dazzling cast of correspondents. This new volume leaves no doubt that Berlin is one of the very best letter-writers of the twentieth century.
This book brings together three major studies from Isaiah Berlin's central intellectual project – to explain the opposition to the excessively scientistic French Enlightenment by getting under the skin of its critics and giving a sympathetic account of their views.
The contributions of these particular critics could hardly be more important. Giambattista Vico estabished that the humanties are and must remain crucially different from the sciences: J G Herder – sometimes called the father of European nationalism – originated populism, expressionism and pluralism (an idea which Berlin enriched and made powerfully his own); and the anti-rationalist J.G. Hamann lit the fuse of romanticism, the major movement to arise out of the various currents of hostility to Enlightenment thought.
The intellectual tension that existed between Enlightenment advocates and these critics is as crucial today as it was at its inception. With his customary humane understanding, Berlin analyses the ideas of three deeply original but often neglected thinkers, and demonstrates their disturbing relevance to the central issues of today's world.
This new edition includes three previously uncollected pieces on Vico, an interesting passage excluded from the first edition of the essay on Hamann, and Berlin's thoughtful letters responding to two reviewers of that same edition.
'Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.' Immanuel Kant
Isaiah Berlin was one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century - an activist of the intellect who marshalled vast erudition and eloquence in defence of the endangered values of individual liberty and moral and political plurality. In The Crooked Timber of Humanity he exposes the links between the ideas of the past and the social and political cataclysms of our own time: between the Platonic belief in absolute truth and the lure of authoritarianism; between the eighteenth-century reactionary ideologue Joseph de Maistre and twentieth-century Fascism; between the romanticism of Schiller and Byron and the militant - and sometimes genocidal - nationalism that convulses the modern world.
This new edition features a revised text, a new foreword in which award-winning novelist John Banville discusses Berlin's life and ideas, particularly his defence of pluralism, and a substantial new appendix that provides rich context, including letters and previously uncollected writings by Berlin, notably his virtuoso review of Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy.
EDITED BY HENRY HARDY AND ROGER HAUSHEER AND WITH A NEW FOREWORD BY ANDREW MARR
Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading thinkers of the century, and one of the finest writers. The Proper Study Of Mankind selects some of the best of his essays. The full (and enormous) range of his work is represented here, from the exposition of his most distinctive doctrine - pluralism - to studies of Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Churchill and Roosevelt. In these pages he encapsulates the principal movements that characterise the modern age: romanticism, historicism, Fascism, relativism, irrationalism and nationalism. His ideas are always tied to the people who conceived them, so that abstractions are brought alive. His insights both illuminate the past and offer a key to the burning issues of the today.
This enthusiastically received collection contains Isaiah Berlin's appreciation of seventeen people of unusual distinction in the intellectual or political world - sometimes in both. The names of many of them are familiar - Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chaim Weizmann, Albert Einstein, L. B. Namier, J. L. Austin, Maurice Bowra. With the exception of Roosevelt he met them all, and he knew many of them well.
For this new edition four new portraits have been added, including recollections of Virginia Woolf and Edmund Wilson. The volume ends with a vivid and moving account of Berlin's meetings in Russia with Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova in 1945 and 1956.
'People are my landscape', Isaiah Berlin liked to say, and nowhere is the truth of this observation more evident than in his letters. He is a fascinated watcher of human beings in all their variety, and revels in describing them to his many correspondents. His letters combine ironic social comedy and a passionate concern for individual freedom. His interpretation of political events, historical and contemporary, and his views on how life should be lived, are always grounded in the personal, and his fiercest condemnation is reserved for purveyors of grand abstract theories that ignore what people are really like.
This second volume of Berlin's letters takes up the story when, after war service in the United States, he returns to life as an Oxford don. Against the background of post-war austerity, the letters chart years of academic frustration and self-doubt, the intellectual explosion when he moves from philosophy to the history of ideas, his growing national fame as broadcaster and lecturer, the publication of some of his best-known works, his election to a professorship, and his reaction to knighthood.
These are the years, too, of momentous developments in his private life: the bachelor don's loss of sexual innocence, the emotional turmoil of his father's death, his courtship of a married woman and transformation into husband and stepfather. Above all, these revealing letters vividly display Berlin's effervescent personality - often infuriating, but always irresistible.
'I was exhausted at the end, & yet I am sure that if ever I saw & heard anyone in a true state of inspiration it was then.'
So wrote a listener to her friend after attending one of the lectures based on the book. Political Ideas in the Romantic Age is the text Berlin wrote for four of the lectures, delivered in 1952. He revised what he had written extensively afterwards but never published it. It is his longest work and also the only connected account he gave of his key insights into the history of the ideas that dominate the political arguments of our own time.
As he put it in his Prologue, 'The age of which we speak was singularly rich in original conceptions; they transformed our world, and the words in which they were formulated speak to us still'.
Isaiah Berlin's celebrated radio lectures on six formative anti-liberal thinkers were delivered on the BBC's Third Programme in 1952. They are published here for the first time, fifty years on. Freedom and its Betrayal is one of Isaiah Berlin's earliest and most convincing expositions of his views on human freedom and the history of ideas, views which later found expression in such famous works as 'Two Concepts of Liberty', and were at the heart of his lifelong work on the Enlightenment and its critics.
In his lucid examinations of sometimes difficult ideas Berlin demonstrates that a balanced understanding and a resilient defence of human liberty depend on learning both from the errors of freedom's alleged defenders and from the dark insights of its avowed antagonists. This book throws light on the early development of Berlin's ideas, and supplements his already published writings with fuller treatments of Helvétius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel and Saint-Simon, with the ultra-conservative traditionalist Maistre bringing up the rear.
Freedom and its Betrayal shows Berlin at his liveliest and most torrentially spontaneous, testifying to his talents as a teacher of rare brilliance and impact. Listeners tuned in expectantly each week to the broadcasts and found themselves mesmerised by Berlin's astonishingly fluent extempore style. A leading historian of ideas, who was then a schoolboy, records that the lectures 'excited me so much that I sat, for every talk, on the floor beside the wireless, taking notes'. This excitement is at last recreated here for all to share.
'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 civilisation' - Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1958.
The nineteen essays collected here show Isaiah Berlin at his most lucid: these short, introductory pieces provide the perfect starting point for the reader new to his work. Their linking theme is the crucial social and political role of ideas, and of their progenitors. The subjects vary widely - from philosophy to education, from Russia to Israel, from Marxism to romanticism - and the appositeness of Heine's warning is exemplified on a broad front.
The contents include Berlin's last essay - a retrospective autobiographical survey and the classic statement of his Zionist views. As a whole the book exhibits the full range of his expertise, and demonstrates the enormously engaging individuality, as well as the power, of his own ideas.
Although Isaiah Berlin liked to say that he left philosophy for the history of ideas after the Second World War, there is a decided continuity between his more purely philosophical writings, most of which are collected in this volume, and the more historical work for which he is better known.
Included here are Berlin's early arguments against logical positivism and later essays which more evidently reflect his life-long interest in political theory, intellectual history and the philosophy of history.
In two related pieces he gives his view on the philosopher's task, to uncover the various models - the concepts and categories - that we bring to our experience, and that help to form it. In his own words 'The goal of philosophy is always the same, to assist men to understand themselves and thus operate in the open, and not wildly, in the dark.'
Berlin's main theme in these essays is the importance in the history of ideas of dissenters whose thinking still challenges conventional wisdom - among them Machiavelli, Vico, Montesquieu, Herzen and Sorel. With his unusual powers of imaginative re-creation, he brings to life original minds that swam against the current of their times, and in the process offers a powerful defence of variety in our visions of life.
Roger Hausheer's introduction surveys Berlin's whole oeuvre, and the full bibliography of his pubication has been updated for this Pimlico edition.
Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga, now capital of Latvia, in 1909. When he was six, his family moved to Russia, and in Petrograd in 1917 Berlin witnessed both Revolutions - Social Democratic and Bolshevik. In 1921 he and his parents emigrated to England, where he was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Apart from his war service in New York, Washington, Moscow and Leningrad, he remained at Oxford thereafter - as a Fellow of All Souls, then of New College, as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, and as founding President of Wolfson College. He also held the Presidency of the British Academy.