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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best and most important books I have ever read.
"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...
Published on June 28, 1999

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12 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I've Had better
Isaiah Berlin is a good scholar and a colorful writer. However, his book The Roots of Romanticism, I did not find helpful. I suppose maybe if one approached this book with no prior knowledge of romanticism, maybe than it might provide some useful information. But if one is looking for further insight this is not the book.
My main critique with this book is its lack...
Published on December 27, 2002 by P. Soen


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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best and most important books I have ever read., June 28, 1999
By A Customer
"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.' We are products of certain doubts--we cannot tell...we oscillate between the two." This is my favorite passage in the entire book. I like its dualism, its ambivalence, dynamism, doubt, willingness to live with question marks--without insisting upon periods, or even calling for complete sentences. This is Berlin at his best. Berlin at his worst is another matter, much more rare, as when he concludes that Romanticism arose from a feeling of "sour grapes." That is like saying Solzhenitsyn kept crying over "spilled milk." But this is no place to take up such a dispute. Instead, let me try to distill what Berlin is saying:
The roots of Romanticism are buried deep in German soil, in the Lutheran pietist movement, in the writings of its spokesman--J. G. Hamann (1730-88). It was Hamann who "struck the most violent blow against the Enlightenment and began the whole Romantic process, the whole process of revolt." Thus, Romanticism began as a rebellion against the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment preached that truth was universal, that knowledge was virtue, and that the only way to know the truth--about anything!--was to apply the methods of science and reason. Everything was knowable. Gaps in knowledge would be filled in--sooner or later--by the progress of science and reason. The laws of human nature could be discovered by these same methods. Such laws apply equally to all. They are the same for everyone--no matter who, no matter where, no matter when. They are universal, eternal, absolute. The right way to live was to find these hidden laws--by means of science and reason--and obey them. This is "the great single mould [of] the 'philosophia perennis,'" which Romanticism broke.
But what is Romanticism? It is will! One is not determined. One determines. Romanticism is not reasonable compliance with universal laws of human nature. It is bold forging through the external world--to make one's own way--according to the dictates of one's own free will. It is making free with whatever gets in one's way. It is not knowledge, but action. Not calculation, but desire. Not reason, but assertion. Not science, but self. And as for truth--scientific truths are of no moment; all that matters is that one be true to oneself.
But I oversimplify. To hear the whole story, to see the whole picture, you need to read the book: a crisp 150-page tour de force on the roots of Romanticism.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars that last review sucks, November 11, 2004
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This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (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. The previous reviewer ("I've Had Better") recommended Berlin's Three Critics of the Enlightenment as a work with a little more philosophical depth. I think that's probably right. But I'll also add my own recommendation, going in the other direction: Concepts and Categories is a wonderful collection of essays, each of which is entirely self-contained, completely unambiguous, and painstakingly precise. For the reader who likes things straight and simple.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that every student of 19th and 20th century art, history and philosophy must read, January 8, 2008
By 
Charles Gidley Wheeler (Kempsford, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (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. Herder, Hegel, Goethe, Schlegel, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Novalis, Nietzsche--all these and many more admitted the influence of Spinoza on their thought, and reflected his monism in their works. Their influence continues to be felt to this day in the works of 20th century European philosophers, notably those of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Gadamer.

Hegel said Spinoza was the central point of modern philosophy: "either Spinoza or no philosophy." In The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer acknowledged the influence of Spinoza, and in his Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy he pays homage to Spinoza as beginning "an entirely new epoch of free investigation, independent of all theological teaching."

Novalis, who referred to Spinoza as a "God-intoxicated man" said that "the true philosophy is realistic idealism--or Spinozism." Schelling admitted that "no one can hope to progress to the true and complete philosophy without having at least once in his life sunk himself in the abyss of Spinozism." And Goethe asserted: "Spinoza does not prove the existence of God; existence is God."

In 1798, Schlegel, who held that modern philosophy began with Spinoza, wrote excitedly to Novalis suggesting the establishment of a new religion based on the philosophy of infinite substance as God-or-Nature. In his letter he is confident that such a religion will have the backing of Schleiermacher, Goethe, Fichte and Schelling.

The pantheistic view was not limited to philosophers, artists and mystics. By the late eighteenth century the notion that the universe was a single plenum in which force and matter were intimately linked was taking hold among physicists. The Danish physicist Hans Oersted (1777-1851) declares in The Soul in Nature that Spirit and Nature are one, viewed under two different aspects. "This system [...] is a part of a more distant and higher system, an eternal whole created in infinite space, which embraces all the ideas realized in existence. [...] The complete idea is expressed in the totality of things. [...] Each individual is thus a particular realization of the fundamental Idea of Being."

In spite of this omission, The Roots of Romanticism is an outstanding work of scholarship.

Basic Flying Instruction: A Comprehensive Introduction to Western Philosophy
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful But A Bit Dated, April 18, 2009
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (Paperback)
This concise book is the edited transcript of lectures delivered by Berlin in the mid-1960s. The origin of Romanticism was a major preoccupation of Berlin's in his last years and this set of lectures is a precis of his analysis. This book exhibits many of the best aspects of Berlin's work. It is insightful, explores areas that would have been unfamiliar to many readers, and like much of Berlin's work, is a pleasure to read. Berlin offers a structural analysis of Romanticism. What matters for him is not so much the specific content of the thought of the Romantics but their methods of thinking. Key features of Romanticism are a rejection of the essentially scientific approach of the Enlightenment, an emphasis on the power of the will to impose structure on reality, the idea of insoluable mystery at the heart of a changing, formless reality, rejection of the idea of universal values in favor of incommensurability of individual (later generalized to national) experience, and exaltation of emotional and aesthetic experience. Berlin provides a brief discussion of some of the consequences of Romanticism, including its encouragement of the role of the artist and an inadvertant role in encouraging pluralism, but less positively an emphasis on dark, sinister forces and the irrational in politics.

Berlin presents the Romantic movement as emanating largely from Germany, originating with JG Hamann and Herder and transmitted through a variety of important German intellectuals like the Schlegel brothers and Schopenhauer. In this analysis, Romanticism arises as a reaction of essentially provincial thinkers from the backwater of Germany against the cosmpolitanism of the French Enlightenment. Berlin presents Kant as an ironic contributor to Romanticism because of his emphasis on the importance of he will. I suspect that Berlin's depiction of French Enlightenment cosmopolitianism versus German provincialism is overdrawn. If Germany was such a backwater, how did Germany produce so many impressive figures at the end of the 18th century? In the second half of the 18th century, there were quite a few universities in Germany, many boasting impressive collections of scholars participating in international intellectual networks. In textual criticism, historical analysis, and different aspects of the natural sciences, German scholars were frequently at the forefront. An interesting and surprisingly relevant discussion of this phenomenon can be found in Martin Rudwick's books on the history of Geology. German scholars, in particular, were pioneers in disciplines stressing contingency and uniqueness in historical events, an important precursor to Romanticism. The efforts of these scholars were carried out in a scientific, Enlightenment spirit. As Berlin points out, Romanticism involved repudiation of Enlightenment ideals. But Romanticism may have been a child of the Enlightenment to a greater extent than implied by Berlin's analysis.

Berlin sees Romanticism as a major event but because it rejects not only the rationalism of the Enlightenment but also because he argues that rationalism is a major feature of both the Classical and Christian intellectual traditions. This is a very good point, but perhaps overdrawn, because there is also a mystical Christian tradition with some features overlapping with Romanticism. Berlin, unfortunately, devotes only a fraction of these lectures to the consequences of Romanticism. In particular, it would have been very interesting to have Berlin's analysis of the crucial role of Romanticism in the genesis of 19th century conservatism and fascism. Berlin does point to the important connections between Romanticism and fascism, an implicit repudiation of one of the important points in his famous essay Two Concepts of Liberty.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and inspiring, January 1, 2007
By 
W. Jamison "William S. Jamison" (Eagle River, Ak United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (Paperback)
IB takes us on a tour of his mind as he negotiates the mean between the extremes in understanding the nature of romanticism. He clearly describes various points of view and from those builds a middle ground that seems a best interpretation. Most wonderful is the clearness of his vision as he lays out the collection of writers he spent a life time coming to know in depth. The complex is made relatively simple while not losing its richness in the process. You come away wanting to read more as his enthusiasm for scholarship is easily caught by the reader. Under his explanation romanticism is defined, its roots described, and the branches displayed. Romanticism becomes obviously a tree that forms the scenery behind much of our current values. We can see the forest and the trees with this kind of insight. Thank goodness these lectures are made available at last.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breath-taking intellectual tour de force, June 1, 1999
By 
If you never heard Berlin lecture, you've missed something very special. Twenty-five years ago I heard the BBC broadcasts of these lectures and was hooked - the sparkle and fizz and force of IDEAS explored and played with by a mind of great clarity, power and humour. This is a superb introduction to the change in values that transformed European thought, art, society - even economics - two centuries ago. Berlin's asides, aphorisms and apercus are more stimulating than most books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the kind of movement brains can be trapped with, November 20, 2013
By 
Bruce P. Barten (Saint Paul, MN United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (Paperback)
This book has lectures by an Oxford professor talking to The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in March and April, 1965, when reality was at a tipping point:

when the arts dominated other aspects of life,
when there was a kind of tyranny of art over life,
which in some sense is the essence of the romantic movement (p. xi).

I usually find books by Isaiah Berlin in a library that has philosophy in one room. This book was on a shelf with NX books about art. In the case of my generation, knowledge was about to explode in the direction of pork orgy trigger gnosis. Another book in the NX category, Idols of Perversity (1986) by Bram Dijkstra has a drawing called The Idol of Perversity (1891) before the title page, with the first chapter describing The Awakening Conscience (1853), a painting by William Holman Hunt. The lectures by Isaiah Berlin are about books in which:

The only persons who have ever made sense
of reality are those who understand that to try
to circumscribe things, to try to nail them down,
no matter how scrupulously, is a vain task. (p. 120).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not a finer introductory tome on the subject, February 11, 2013
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This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (Paperback)
If everyone wrote like Isaiah Berlin orates, the world would be a much much better place. Should you have had the pleasure, then you have had the pleasure. Clauses build on clauses of clauses - so fitting for this particular subject of which he speaks - with crescendo rolls always resolving to something worth savoring until the next round (never long forthcoming). The man is a true poet: that or Henry Hardy has taken some poetic liberties of his own.

Content-wise, what more is there to want? It is true that, beyond Hume, Berlin doesn't delve too deeply into Englightenment "roots" for the intellectual sources of Romanticism: to that extent, he pretty much just juxtaposes the major themes and ideas of that period with those of the title; Spinoza, certainly, could have been more properly addressed. Does this make for a lesser work? Well, sure, in one sense. Man can always want a different narrative by which to reach the same conclusion, I suppose. But Berlin's big point here is to leave the reader juxtaposed/disjointed. The Romantic movement was a rupture, an opened chasm, a wound that its predecessor knew not how to mend. To be fair, it is not as though Berlin ignores Kant, who really did have one foot in each movement (for a wonderful account of this drama, I can only recommend Frederick Beiser's wonderful The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte.

Art, politics, philosophy, literature...it's all covered here, and all with a sweep only deserving of those much more learned than you or I. Throughout, Berlin's commitment to fairness and objectivity shines. Perhaps the one thing that I admire about Berlin above all is his magisterial objectivity throughout the affair. I'm not sure I've ever had the pleasure of reading one's words that are so consistently impartial and considerate of his subjects.

If you like your prose as poetry and your intellectual history as pure pleasure, then this is the book for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, February 14, 2007
This review is from: The Roots of Romanticism (Paperback)
I found this series of lectures an insightful and fascinating read. I knew nothing about the subject beforehand, but now I feel I have a solid understanding of the basic ideas of Romanticism, how they were a contrast to the Enlightenment, and how they evolved. I only wish I had been able to hear these lectures when they were presented.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Revolt against the Enlightenment, May 22, 2000
By A Customer
Berlin's thesis is that romanticism arose as a reaction to the Enlightenment. The axioms of the Enlightenment are that: all the great questions have valid, objective answers; these answers can be obtained by certain methods (i.e., rationalism and the scientific method); they can be stated as propositions that are compatible with one another; and these answers, or propositions, point to the ideal, perfect state of affairs.
Romanticism proposes two counter ideas. One is that there is no objective structure of things. Thus, there is no pattern to which individuals must adapt themselves. The second is that values are not something to be discovered and understood, but created. The result of these ideas is that an individual's universe is what he or she chooses to make it. Hence, the heart of romanticism is invention and creation. This accounts for the various manifestations of the movement-individualism, nationalism, emotionalism, etc.
This book began as a series of lectures. As such, it is easy to read. Berlin presents complicated ideas in a simple, straightforward manner. My only criticism is that the book is mistitled. Berlin was a philosopher. He concentrates on ideas, but this narrow focus hardly describes the roots of the Romantic Movement. There is little discussion of either the historical, political, or social events that gave rise to romanticism. Berlin treats the romantic ideas as if they appeared in a vacuum. For a deeper understanding of the historical roots of romanticism, I'd recommend Jacques Barzun's Classic, Romantic, and Modern or his Romanticism and the Modern Ego.
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