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Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty Paperback – May 23, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0199249893 ISBN-10: 019924989X Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (May 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019924989X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199249893
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'For anyone wishing to have the essence of Berlin's thinking, Liberty is the volume to have.' John Banville, Irish Times

'Liberty not only offers a comprehensive overview of Isaiah Berlin's main topics and ideas, but also enables us to understand the development and relevance of those ideas in the context of his personality.' Steffen Gross, Dialektik

Reviews of Four Essays of Liberty

`Practically every paragraph introduces us to half a dozen new ideas and as many thinkers - the landscape flashes past, peopled with familiar and unfamiliar people, all arguing incessantly. It is all a very long way from the austere eloquence of Mill's marvellous essay On Liberty, with which this collection's title seems to challenge comparison; but it is a measure of the stature of these essays that they stand such a comparison.' Alan Ryan, New Society

`These famous essays ... are informed by that radical humanism, in the truest sense of that impoverished word, which has attached Sir Isaiah so closely to such nineteenth century figures as Herzen and Mill ...' Philip Toynbee, Observer

About the Author

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 He has edited several other books by Berlin, and is currently preparing his letters and his remaining unpublished writings for publication.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Isaiah Berlin is one of the most important philosophers of liberty and freedom in the 20th century.
William J. Romanos
The product of a truly free mind, at the same time profound and swift, it is certainly one of the best products of philosophy of our time.
Guillermo Maynez
That leads me to the question of inner freedom, i.e. psychological aspects of consciousness that Berlin avoids like most other scholars.
Michael Gerlinger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Morseburg on October 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Late Isaiah Berlin was authority on philosophy and a historian of ideas. Born in Latvia, he moved to Russia with his parents when he was six. As an eight year-old he witnessed the May Revolution and the October Bolshevik Revolution that installed Lennin and instituted the Soviet reign of terror. He escaped to England with his family in 1921 where he was educated at St. Paul's School and Oxford, University. His early experience with totalitarianism colored his life's work in the world of ideas and throughout his career he was an articulate and sometimes lonely voice for liberty and the liberal, pluralistic society. This book "Liberty" is a newly edited and expanded edition of Berlin's most famous work "Four Essays in Liberty." Since his death, his editor Henry Hardy had drawn together his books and essays and they have been assembled in new editions.

In "Liberty" he sets out to follow the concept of Liberty. In one of the most illuminating essays he sets out to answer the question: "What is Political Liberty" which then segues into the "The Birth of Greek Individualism." In "Two Concepts of Liberty" he takes western intellectuals to task for the results of the dangerous ideas that they heralded. He cites Henrich Heine who warned us that "philosophical concepts in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilization." In his essay "Historical Inevitably" he attacks the Marxist notion that there are inevitable stages of history, that one stage follows another as winter follows fall and he traces the path of thought in the past terrible epoch in "Political Ideas in the 20th Century." Each of the essays are thoughtful, trenchant and well argued. In a time when far too many intellectuals still adhere to ideas that were the foundation of terror, Isaiah Berlin's advocacy and exploration of human freedom should find a wide audience.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
Berlin's considerable reputation rests largely on his essays. In his chosen areas of political philosophy and intellectual history, he produced no major systematic works. His essays, particularly those in the history of ideas, are long, insightful, and informed by impressive breadth of knowledge and a humane temperament. He was a consistently excellent and sometimes elegant writer. Of all his essays, he felt his most substantial work was the writings on Liberty collected in this volume. The core of this book is the Four Essays on Liberty, which appeared originally as a book of that title about 40 years ago.

How good are these essays? They were written originally in the late 1940s through late 1950s and were directed, at least in part, at issues that preoccupied British intellectuals of that period. The backdrop was the Cold War, and debates about the justification of socialist ideals and the nature of socialism. Most of these essays have not worn well. I don't think there is much original or profound in either the first or last essays of the four; Political Ideas in the 20th Century, and John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life. I suspect most critical readers will find the essay entitled Historical Inevitability to be fairly pedestrian. This leaves the most celebrated of these essays, Two Concepts of Liberty. It is on this essay and some of his best historical studies that Berlin's reputation rests.

In Two Concepts, Berlin developed his famous distinction between "negative" and "positive" concepts of liberty. He particularly focused on how a certain rationalist conception of "positive" liberty can become, though often via a tortuous route, a justification for attacks on "negative" liberty and assault basic human rights.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Henry Hardy the devoted student and editor of the work of Isaiah Berlin has reedited and expanded Berlin's on Liberty. These essays are at the heart of Berlin's liberal political philsophy. And their most well- known conception is the distinction between 'negative and positive liberty'.

This is the way Wikipedia makes the distinction.

"He defined negative liberty as the absence of constraints on, or interference with, agents' possible action. I am more "negatively free" to the extent that fewer opportunities for possible action are foreclosed or interfered with. Positive liberty he associated with the idea of self-mastery, or the capacity to determine oneself, to be in control of one's destiny. While Berlin granted that both concepts of liberty represent valid human ideals, he believed that as a matter of history, the positive concept of liberty has proven more susceptible to political abuse. He argued that under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel (all committed to the positive concept of liberty), European political thinkers were frequently tempted to equate liberty with forms of political discipline or constraint. This became politically dangerous when the relevant ideals of positive liberty were, in the course of the 19th century, used to defend ideals of national self-determination, imperatives of democratic self-government, and the communist notion of humanity collectively asserting rational control over its own destiny. In this way of thinking, Berlin contended, demands for freedom paradoxically become demands for forms of collective control and discipline - those deemed necessary for the "self-mastery" or self-determination of nations, classes, democratic communities, and perhaps of humanity as a whole.
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