These celebrated lectures constitute one of Isaiah Berlin's most concise, accessible, and convincing presentations of his views on human freedom--views that 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. When they were broadcast on BBC radio in 1952, the lectures created a sensation and confirmed Berlin's reputation as an intellectual who could speak to the public in an appealing and compelling way.
In his lucid examination of sometimes complex ideas, Berlin demonstrates that a balanced understanding and a resilient defense 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 most influential ideas and supplements his already published writings with fuller treatments of Helvétius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, and Saint-Simon, with the ultra-conservative Maistre bringing up the rear. These thinkers gave to freedom a new dimension of power--power that, Berlin argues, has historically brought about less, not more, individual liberty.
These lectures show 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 hour-long broadcasts and found themselves mesmerized by Berlin's astonishingly fluent extempore style. One listener, a leading historian of ideas who was then a schoolboy, was to recount that the lectures "excited me so much that I sat, for every talk, on the floor beside the wireless, taking notes." This excitement is recreated here for all to share.
A recording of only one of the lectures has survived, but Henry Hardy has recreated them all here from BBC transcripts and Berlin's annotated drafts. Hardy has also added, as an appendix to this new edition, a revealing text of "Two Concepts" based on Berlin's earliest surviving drafts, which throws light on some of the issues raised by the essay. And, in a new foreword, historian Enrique Krauze traces the origin of Berlin's idea of negative freedom to his rejection of the notion that the creation of the State of Israel left Jews with only two choices: to emigrate to Israel or renounce Jewish identity.
Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) was one of the leading intellectual historians of the twentieth century and the founding president of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. His many books include The Hedgehog and the Fox, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, and The Roots of Romanticism (all Princeton).
"When reading Isaiah Berlin we breathe an altogether different air, and not simply because he was a superior writer. With him we know we are inside the psychological and historical clockwork that turns the hands of modern life. . . . [This book], in a remarkably narrow compass, takes us deep into the crisis of modern political ideas and makes us experience all the contradictions and complexities of our situation. If this is not a political philosophy, or at least a preparation for it, I don't know what is."--Mark Lilla, New York Review of Books
"Considering how murky intellectual history can sometimes seem, these lectures are astonishing for their lucidity and power."--Darrin M. McMahon, Wall Street Journal
"Berlin says that people are individuals and have a right to be respected, that liberty is supreme, that we wish for many things in life and must compromise, and that authority is dangerous and power must be under control. And he says what he says in magnificent style. Liberal values are simple truths which are always in danger of being crowded out by philosophical systems."--Stein Ringen, Times Literary Supplement
"The most famous lectures Berlin ever gave. . . . [T]hey fascinated and astounded their listeners, quickly turning Isaiah Berlin into a household name. Never before had someone addressed such abstract topics with such fluency and intensity, not reading form a script but speaking directly to his audience."--Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph
"Berlin's first great public successes remain utterly, indeed inspirationally, absorbing."--Ray Olson, Booklist
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Isaiah Berlin:
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Henry Hardy:
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