Isaiah Berlin

Recently I read Isaiah Berlin’s Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought. I had previously read his monumental essay, Two Concepts of Liberty, a version of which is in this book as well.

As a philosopher, Berlin spent much time writing about liberty. He developed what is known today as liberal pluralism, a concept I will explore later.

Later I will re-read the book adding notes here as I go along.

Political Ideas in the Romantic Age is the only tract that Berlin wrote as a complete book. He put the book aside after completing it and it was published posthumously in 2006. It is a magnificent account of the development of liberal philosophy in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. He discusses all the main disputes, the rationalists versus the empiricists, natural rights theory, utilitarianism and Rousseau’s influence with his writings on the Social Compact.

Berlin writes lucidly and clearly, but the book is not an easy read. He has a tendency to write long sentences with many descriptive clauses, as well as paragraphs that sometimes run a page and a half in length. But his grasp of the topic is extensive and he touches on the arguments of many major philosophers from Locke to Hume to Bentham to Rousseau and Kant. He takes considerable time with the French philosophers – Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, and others.

There is so much of value in this book that a second reading is worthwhile. I’ll post more as I go along.


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