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Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty Hardcover – February 17, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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The Isaiah Berlin lectures collected in this volume were originally aired on BBC radio in 1952. They appear here in print for the first time, thanks to editor Henry Hardy, who produced these fine essays from BBC transcripts and Berlin's own notes. It is perhaps better to read Berlin than hear him; as Hardy points out in his introduction, the late thinker had the unfortunate habit of speaking rapidly. A contemporary once said he was "the only man who pronounces 'epistemological' as one syllable." Yet they are a joy to have in any form, as Berlin is a clear and crisp communicator of ideas. Political theory is not always the most engaging subject matter, but on these pages Berlin makes it accessible as he probes the legacies of "six thinkers who were hostile to liberty"--namely Helvetus, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Simon, and Maistre. He doesn't exactly beat around the bush. Rousseau, he writes, "claims to have been the most ardent and passionate lover of human liberty who ever lived." But Berlin's own verdict is quite different: He "was one of the most sinister and most formidable enemies of liberty in the whole history of modern thought." Reading these jarring essays is like listening to a favorite college professor lecture on a topic he knows well. --John Miller

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*Starred Review* In 1952, the BBC broadcast six lectures by Berlin on philosophers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who profoundly affected subsequent European history and, balefully, traditional understandings of personal freedom. The talks captivated an enormous listenership and established Berlin as the premier popular authority on philosophy in Britain and America. This book publishes those lectures for the first time. Their subjects are Helvetius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Simon, and Maistre; that is, five progressives who favored the proposition that a person should be able to choose what he wants to do and acquire, provided he harms no others, and one conservative who distrusted such liberty. As each progressive developed his political thought, he saw the need for negating that kind of liberty. Helvetius' utilitarianism, Rousseau's concept of the general will, Fichte's triumphalist nationalism, Hegel's historical dialectic, and Saint-Simon's elitism all militate against personal freedom of choice because all assume that what is good for every human is ascertainable by reason and, because it is good, enforceable upon all. Practical politics informed by those progressive ideas produced those twentieth-century plagues, fascism and communism. Well before then, Maistre denounced reason, asserted that humans were basically self-destructive, and that only such irrational institutions as the church and hereditary monarchy, enforcing such irrational social arrangements as marriage and the loyalty of soldiers, kept societies intact. Of course, the tenor of Maistre's conservatism helped rather than hindered the revolutionaries he loathed after they seized power. Berlin's first great public successes remain utterly, indeed inspirationally, absorbing. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; annotated edition edition (February 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691090998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691090993
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,355,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Amore Roberto on December 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Isaiah Berlin has no need to be introduced.

He was one of the most brilliant philosophical minds of the XX century and is still famous for his remarkably clear prose and acute analyses.


The first book I chanced to read by him was the exceptional "The Roots of Romanticism", a study on the decline of the Enlightenment ideas and the development all over Europe of a different - more emotional - sensibility.

I was surprised and fascinated by his acumen.

A terse and unassuming style, introducing complex arguments with few simple words and remarkable composure.

An unwavering faith that ideas are not something outside history, but are the deep bone-structure of human events (a conviction he matured probably under the influence of Heinrich Heine).

The rare ability to surprise the reader introducing age-old arguments in unexpected and unusual ways, eventually drawing him to unforeseen conclusions.

All these features are present as well in this essay.


This work is the transcription of a series of BBC radio broadcasts held in 1952 about "the enemies of human freedom". Actually most of the original records have been lost but for the one dedicated to Rousseau and so the text has been partly restored with the use and collation of extant - sometimes shaky - transcripts.

This may account for a certain roughness of the style, specially visible in the first part.


In "The Roots of Romanticism" Berlin shows the development and the fascination of the new ideas and their impact on European history: the scene is immense and philosophy intertwines with history and literature.
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Format: Hardcover
I was more familiar with German philosophy, as an intellectual reaction to the French revolution, than with the French and Italian thinkers who are also discussed in the radio lectures which are included in this book. I also have the book, KARL MARX by Isaiah Berlin, and noticed some of the same themes, though this book is mainly concerned with a half century prior to the writings of Karl Marx. I try to see the humor in history, so when Isaiah Berlin says that Helvetius's principal work, published in 1758, "was found to be so atheistical, so heretical, that it was condemned both by Church and by State, and was burnt by the public hangman," (p. 11) I'm not surprised that this might be "the first clear formulation of the principle of utilitarianism." (p. 13).
Rousseau is the philosopher that Berlin blames most frequently for stating opposition to those who are overly refined. This includes "All those nineteenth century thinkers who are violently anti-intellectual, and in a sense anti-cultural, indeed . . . including Nietzsche himself, are the natural descendants of Rousseau." (p. 41). The Germans were not particularly well off, politically or materially at the time, so some tried to advance themselves by studying Kant. "Therefore, Kant says, the most sacred object in the universe, the only thing which is entirely good, is the good will, that is to say the free, moral, spiritual self within the body." (p. 57). Fichte's biggest contribution to 20th century political thought in Germany has been on leadership as a solution for a crisis, and Berlin considers the hero: "The favored image is that of Luther: there he stands, he cannot move, because he serves his inner ideal." (p. 65) But Fichte went in a philosophical direction.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A good book for understanding what is happening in America today. Those who are capable of appreciating the principles presented here already have an understanding of these ideas ("Things oft thought . . . .") and will find their beliefs reinforced; others will have little patience for ideas which are not directly located in their self-interest or their convenient. politically correct beliefs.
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the product meet my expectations
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