"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 marshaled vast erudition and eloquence in defense of the endangered values of individual liberty and moral and political pluralism. In the "Crooked Timber of Humanity" he exposes the links between the ideas of the past and the social and political cataclysms of our present century: 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.
Isaiah Berlin was a Fellow of All Souls and New College, Professor of Social and Political Theory, and founding President of Wolfson College. He also held the Presidency of the British Academy. He died in 1997. Henry Hardy is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and is one of Isaiah Berlin's
Literary Trustees. He has edited several other books by Berlin, and is currently preparing his letters and his remaining unpublished writings for publication.
Editor's Preface The Pursuit of the Ideal The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West Giambattista Vico and Cultural History Alleged Relativism in Eighteenth-Century European Thought Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism European Unity and its Vicissitudes The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will: The Revolt against the Myth of an Ideal World The Bent Twig: On the Rise of Nationalism Index
A beautifully patterned tapestry of philosophical thought... A history of ideas that possesses all the drama of a novel, all the immediacy of headline news. The New York Times The perfect guide through the complex radical changes that have swept Western societies... A brilliant, convincing work ... humane, compassionate, important. San Francisco Chronicle Overwhelming intelligence ... [Berlin's] mind is captivating... His reflections ... strike at the heart of our most parroted beliefs. Washington Post Book World As a historian of ideas, [Berlin] has no equal; and what he has to say is expressed in prose of exceptional lucidity and grace. -- Anthony Storr Independent on Sunday
A fifth volume of collected essays by Oxford philosopher and historian Berlin (Personal Impressions, 1980; Concepts and Categories, 1979) that demonstrates once again why he is probably the best historian of ideas in the world today. The pieces, written between 1960 and 1986, and appearing originally in sources ranging from The New York Review of Books to the British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, deal with such issues as nationalism, European unity, fascism, relativism, and cultural history. But Berlin's central preoccupation is with what he calls "the great ideological storms that have altered the lives of virtually all mankind." In one of the most illuminating essays here, "European Unity and its Vicissitudes," he shows how during the past several decades, political ideas conceived by thinkers little regarded in their time have had a more violently revolutionary influence on human lives than at any time since the 17th century (those of Joseph de Maistre, for instance, whom Berlin, in the longest essay in the book, sees as a precursor of fascism); and how it has come about that, in the pursuit of utopian ideals, millions have been killed without pity (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot). In "The Pursuit of the Ideal," Berlin demonstrates how recent the notion of tolerance has been, gradually arising only during the 19th century; throughout most of recorded history, he explains, it was assumed that only a single body of truth existed, with deviance from it almost incomprehensible. But the results of our era's greater tolerance have not been unmixed, he says, and in "The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will," he considers some of the problems posed by the passionate intensity of our times. Despite some inevitable overlap among the essays, Sir Isaiah proves a superb historical guide - humane, tolerant, elegant, and with dazzling insight into the dilemmas of our time. (Kirkus Reviews)
CROOKED TIMBER OF HUMANITY
Princeton University Press
Princeton University Press
Chapters in the History of Ideas
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