Manual Isaiah Berlin: The Journey of a Jewish Liberal

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These letters frequently reveal Berlin as both unctuous and feline.

The Journey of a Jewish Liberal

But there was a nastier side too. Sometimes this was more than just gossip. This is one of the central moments in the book. Eliot wrote to complain.


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The context is crucial. Berlin could have taken Eliot on. But he avoided confrontation. The implication is that he did so because Eliot was one of the great and the good. Unfortunately, this is part of a larger pattern of dubious references to Jews by Berlin himself. In these letters, Berlin often worries about his cowardice. For someone so curious about others, he is not very curious about his own motivations.

The Spectacles of Isaiah Berlin

This is part of a larger pattern of absences and silences. There are a few passing references to Arendt whom he loathed , Raymond Aron, Hayek and Heidegger, but not enough to suggest any real engagement. His passion for music and opera stopped in the 19th century, apart from a magnificent description of Shostakovich and his admiration for Stravinsky.

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More puzzling are the great political thinkers who are missing or just pass by. These are the years when Berlin was producing his most famous essays on liberty and freedom, and yet there is nothing to speak of on Locke or Adam Smith, Bentham or Hobbes. Nor does he write much about the state of political thought in general. Just a few passing references. For the first pages, in fact, you might wonder whether the author of these letters was much of a thinker at all. There is an awful lot of gossip and tittle-tattle about Oxford dons and society hostesses.

Not much reflection on the terrible war that had just taken place, no substantial attempt to make sense of Nazism, Communism or Totalitarianism. And then, around , something happens. The gears shift and he starts producing a series of letters about theories of history, liberty, Tolstoy, The Brothers Karamazov. It is exhilarating to read—and tells us something interesting about Berlin. He has no interest in covering issues systematically. It is all about the sudden insight. He found them fascinating. Perhaps he should have been more interested in Hobbes and Locke but he liked quirky and eccentric thinkers and writers regardless of where they came from or how important everyone else said they were.

And then there are the extraordinary vignettes. If you only had one passage to sum up the thuggery of Stalinism, this is as good as it gets, and is worth quoting at length:. What else? He was not a philosopher, he was an economist. Categories of Interest: Select All. Current Affairs. Historical Fiction.

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It provides If men never disagreed about the ends of life, if our ancestors had remained undisturbed in the Garden of Eden, the studies to which the Chichele Chair of Social and Political Theory is. It aims to Isaiah Berlin the Journey of a Jewish Liberal. Isaiah Berlin the Journey of a Jewish Liberal.. It aims to provide the first historically contextualized monographic study