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The Roots of Romanticism Paperback – April 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0691086620 ISBN-10: 9780691086620

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Product Details

  • Series: A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780691086620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691086620
  • ASIN: 0691086621
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In these lectures, originally delivered at Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art in 1965, acclaimed historian of philosophy Isaiah Berlin addresses the origins of what he deems "the greatest single shift in the consciousness of the West that has occurred." His focus, apart from some digressions into Montesquieu, Hume, and Rousseau, is on the German philosophers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and he runs through the contributions of Herder, Kant, Schiller, Fichte, Schlegel, and others in turn. He also shows how romanticism would later influence both the existentialists and the fascists, but paradoxically have its greatest influence upon the emergence of a liberalism that seems at complete odds with the romantic sensibility. Berlin's tone is informed but rarely obtuse, making The Roots of Romanticism as fun to read as it must have been to hear him deliver spoken. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this posthumous volume, the British philosopher and historian of ideas quickly establishes his theory that GermanyAnot England or FranceAwas the birthplace of the romantic movement. A sense of provincial insignificance and ressentiment against the sophistication, prestige and military power of the French underwrote the movement's birth, he contends. Still, the territory covered by "Romanticism" seems so vast as to be contradictory, containing both "primitivism" and "dandyism," the worship both of the noble savage's simplicity and of "red waistcoats, blue hair, green wigs, absinthe, death, [and] suicide." While others have, understandably, thrown up their hands at the idea of uniting such disparate enthusiasms, Berlin sees contradiction itself as central to romanticism's legacy. Before romanticism, he argues, people believed that for any question there should be only one right answer, however difficult to discern. To a romantic, all beliefs, however incompatible, can be admired if they are held with real convictionAa notion from which both relativism and pluralism (like Berlin's own) are born. Further, the romantics sought to free the human will from all constraints: "the attempt to blow up and explode the very notion of a stable structure of anything," he asserts, is "the deepest and in a sense the most insane [element] in this extremely valuable and important movement." As if in illustration of the romantics' own principle, Berlin, despite his belief that the movement's ideals ultimately become dangerous, nonetheless gets inside the minds of the thinkers he analyzesAHerder, Kant, SchillerAand presents their ideas persuasively. Written for a lecture series in the early '60s and not originally intended as a book (Hardy is to be commended for a masterful editing job), Berlin's work here transcends these limits. It is thoroughly brilliant, often thrilling and yet always accessible.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend this book--even for the general reader.
Beatrix Theo
This is a very good point, but perhaps overdrawn, because there is also a mystical Christian tradition with some features overlapping with Romanticism.
R. Albin
Berlin's asides, aphorisms and apercus are more stimulating than most books.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"The Roots of Romanticism" is the 1999 edition of a series of six lectures given by Isaiah Berlin at the National Gallery, Washington DC, in 1965. Towards the end of his life, Berlin, who died in 1997, was working on a book on Romanticism. The book was never completed. Nevertheless, Berlin's extant writings on Romanticism can be found in any number of essays scattered throughout his various books. So,...why this book? This book brings everything together in a lively and intensive treatment of the subject--with many "new" things to say. The lectures are riveting, engrossing, mesmerizing to read. Indeed, the reading is so good that one listens for--and hears!--the voice of Isaiah Berlin delivering these spellbinding lectures.
But why bother? Why bother reading--or listening to--old lectures? by an old man? about old ideas? Who wants it? Who needs it? Who has time for all that stuff? The very act of reading dispels such foolish questions. This is one of the best and most important books I have ever read. The reading is enthralling. The ideas are dazzling. And the subject is vital. Romanticism--"the greatest single shift in the consciousness of the west"--is alive today: flowing through our times, our world, our selves.
But Berlin is no Romantic. He is an historian of ideas. Or, if you like, a sort of intellectual spy: one who goes behind enemy lines, probes, investigates, gets inside the skin of the foe--and almost takes his side! (but not quite). To open this book is to open the door to such a spy. To read it is to debrief him. His report is facinating:
"We are children of both worlds. On one hand, we are heirs to Romanticism, because Romanticism broke the great single mould [of] the 'philosophia perennis.
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Format: Paperback
Romanticism, `the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world', was a reaction to the 18th century Enlightenment view that we could in some way stand apart from the world and analyse it, get to know it and ultimately control it through rational argument, logic, mathematics and science. This positivist view, held by the philosophes of 18th century France, was overturned by the French Revolution and the Lisbon earthquake, events that proved conclusively that this was not, after all, the best of all possible worlds, as Leibniz had claimed. In the Roots of Romanticism, which is a transcript of six lectures delivered in Washington in 1965, Isaiah Berlin traces the roots and fruits of a movement which gave rise to a way of viewing the world that many now take for granted.

The author's scholarship and grasp of his subject is masterful. This is a book that every student of 19th and 20th century art, history and philosophy must read. In the space of 118 pages, Isaiah Berlin knits together, in a readable and at times entertaining way, the complicated pattern of views held by the German and British romanticists, and shows the lasting effects of those views.

If the book has one fault it is the fact that Berlin gives so little weight to the influence of Spinoza's philosophy. In Spinoza, opponents of the Enlightenment found not merely a set of counter-arguments to the positivist view that the universe could be described in mathematical terms, but a comprehensive system that cohered with reason, logic and all the evidence of common sense and experience.

In Germany, the mechanistic world view was effectively eclipsed by the view, first expressed by Spinoza in his Ethics, that God and Nature were one and the same thing.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jared Wood on November 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book may have its faults, but ambiguity and lack of conciseness are not among them. What the reviewer before me failed to realize is that the Isiah Berlin of 1965 was pulling against a strongly ahistorical approach to philosophy that had completely dominated the English-speaking scene for 30 or 40 years. Berlin's deliberate refusal to start out with a clearly defined conception of Romanticism strikes me as a brave and bracing move. To try to understand a philosophical movement by tracing out important moments in its intellectual history--this project marks an entirely different way of doing philosophy, one that Berlin himself helped reintroduce as a completely legitimate philosophical methodology.

That being said, this is a difficult book, in certain ways. I can see why it might appear to be sprawling and slightly lacking in direction. It's not (I would probably even want to quarrel with Berlin over just how directly he thinks Romanticism points us towards liberalism, but that's not really important here). Berlin is a historical thinker (something very different than a historian of philosophy), and his references can be fairly difficult to keep up with (especially if you're really trying to pay attention to how they all fit together). But he's also a good enough writer that you can fake your way through any of the stuff you're not entirely grounded in yet.

Isiah Berlin is an important philosopher--one who gets glossed over all too often (and he's a philosopher who calls our attention to other philosophers who get glossed over all too often). He's fun to read, and that's more important than people tend to realize or admit.
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