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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.
"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
"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
"Berlin sets out to inform, entertain, and defend the Anglo-Saxon concepts of liberty and pluralism against all comers. . . . The language is vivid, direct, playful, learned; the presentation ordered and concise."--Jeremy Lott, Chronicles