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The Magus of the North: J.G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism Hardcover – May, 1994

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 143 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st American ed edition (May 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374196575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374196578
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Revered by Kierkegaard as a genius, German thinker Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788), a Lutheran pietist, counterposed God's will and direct revelation to the shortcomings of science and secular liberalism. In this absorbing if unconvincing study, Berlin portrays Hamann as "the first out-and-out opponent of the French Enlightenment," a forerunner of Nietzsche and the existentialists in his defense of the intuitive and the concrete against the hyperrational, generalizing, scientific West. In his opposition to reason, his anti-intellectual identification with the masses and his attacks on Jews, Hamann fueled the irrational currents that culminated in Nazi hysteria, charges Berlin. Nevertheless, the author, a distinguished historian of ideas, believes that Hamann's original views on creativity, language as a system of symbols and the hazards of abstract thought command the attention of readers willing to tackle Hamann's digressive, dense and flowery prose style.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Hamann was the son of a bathhouse keeper who himself became a warehouse manager. His is an outsider's philosophy, but he caught the eye of Goethe and Hegel. He came from the strain of German pietism that produced Kant yet struck out against the whole enlightenment preoccupation with reason and rational morality. In this book, revived from forgotten Columbia lectures, Berlin concentrates on Hamann's skepticism, not his Bible-based fideism. Berlin sees Hamann's arguments against the pretensions of human reason as the first major assault on the enlightenment's use of reason to bring heaven to earth. But in this portrait by the debonair apostle of a cool Oxonian common sense that rejects rationalism and skepticism alike, Hamann seems to froth at the mouth. Berlin's one positive interest is developed in his appendix on Hamann's belief that language is the result of the knitting together of the human faculties to make an intelligible unity and is neither a miraculous intervention of God nor something we invented. Any Berlin book is essential for academic libraries and public libraries serving informed readers.
- Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is apainful review for me to write, as I admire many of Berlins writings. However, this book does little more than to reveal Berlins inability to comprehend Christian mysticism or religous belief. Hamann scholars(and one of my best friends is a Hamann scholar) are almost unanimous in dismissing Berlins book. Hamann was not "stupid" ( such well known intellectual lightweights as Goethe,Kant, Kierkegaard and Hegel regarded him as a genius.)nor was he an 'irrationalist', unless it is "rational' to worship "reason". Yes, Hamann questioned many of the shibboleths of progressive, enlightened "humanism"..they could stand some criticism. To suggest some sort of genealogical linkage between Hamann and the Third Reich is, to say the least,absurd. At least one could hope that some reader might turn from reading Berlins little essay and turn to Hamanns writings, in all their wonderful strangeness, or at even better to hunt down Ronald Gregor Smith fascinating, out of print book, J.G. Hamann,Philosopher of christian Existence, or Gwen Griffith Dickson scholarly, but frightfully expensive, Hamanns Meta-Critique of Reason. Let me just say in closing that Michael Oakeshott had a point when he called Isaiah Berlin "A veritable Pagannini of Ideas."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bob Swain on February 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is better than these reviews let on. It is true that the book is not a happy look at Hamann's work, but Berlin is no dummy. He has read Hamann and for those of us who would appreciate Hamann's Lutheran hedonism, he doesn't spoil it. Through the cracks one can see and understand Hamann's work through Berlin's lucid and warm style. I loved this book, even though the one or two notes about how he led to Kafka, surrealism, and Nazism, were not well thought-out.

Berlin's Judaism, and the whole Luther to Hitler idea, seem to have allowed from some not very well critiqued notions. Hamann knew Hebrew very well, and has many many positive things to say about the OT. But Berlin couldn't help but give him a whack.

I really enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down in spite of its flaws.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Christiana Washington on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Read the delightful and uplifting book about J.G. Hamann called, "J.G. Hamann: A Study in Christian Existentialism" written by Ronald Gregor Smith. It shows the real man behind the mystery and the beauty of his faith in Christ. This book is not worth the time or struggle to get through the author's most lengthy discourse about absurd and ludicrous associations between what Hamann wrote and the Nazi oppressors!
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