Isaiah Berlin's celebrated radio lectures on six formative anti-liberal thinkers were broadcast by the BBC in 1952. They are published here for the first time, fifty years later. They comprise one of Berlin's earliest and most convincing expositions of his views on human freedom and on the history of ideas--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. Working with BBC transcripts and Berlin's annotated drafts, Henry Hardy has recreated these lectures, which consolidated the forty-three-year-old Berlin's growing reputation as a man who could speak about intellectual matters in an accessible and involving 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 at last recreated here for all to share.
Isaiah Berlin was, until his death in 1997, a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was renowned as an essayist and as the author of many books, among them Karl Marx, Four Essays on Liberty (now included in Liberty), Russian Thinkers, The Sense of Reality, The Proper Study of Mankind, and, from Princeton, Concepts and Categories, Against the Current, Personal Impressions, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas, and Three Critics of the Enlightenment. Henry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin's literary trustees. He has edited several other volumes by Berlin and is currently preparing Berlin's letters and remaining unpublished writings for publication.
"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
"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, The Sunday Telegraph
"Imagine turning on the radio and hearing a brilliant, immensely erudite man speaking extemporaneously at breakneck pace for a full hour about the ideas of an 18th century philosopher. . . . In fact, the radio audience was treated not merely to one, but six hourlong broadcasts. . . . Now, half a century later, the lectures are finally available in written form, assiduously edited from rough transcripts by Henry Hardy."--Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times
"Berlin's first great public successes remain utterly, indeed inspirationally, absorbing."--Ray Olson, Booklist
Table of Contents:
Editor's Preface ix
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Isaiah Berlin:
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Henry Hardy:
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