Philosopher, political theorist, and essayist, Isaiah Berlin was born in 1909 to Russian-speaking Jewish parents in Latvia. Reared in Latvia and later in Russia, Berlin developed a strong Russian-Jewish identity, having witnessed both the Social-Democratic and the Bolshevik Revolutions. At the age of 12, Berlin moved with his family to England, where he attended prep school and then St. Paul's. In 1928, he went up as a scholar to Corpus Christi College in Oxford. After an unsuccessful attempt at the Manchester Guardian, Berlin was offered a position as lecturer in philosophy at New College. Almost immediately, he was elected to a fellowship at All Souls. During this time at All Souls, Berlin wrote his brilliant biographical study of Marx, titled Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1939), for the Home University Library. Berlin continued to teach through early World War II, and was then sent to New York by the Ministry of Information, and subsequently to the Foreign Office in Washington, D.C. It was during these years that he drafted several fine works regarding the changing political mood of the United States, collected in Washington Despatches 1941-1945 (1981). By the end of the war, Berlin had shifted his focus from philosophy to the history of ideas, and in 1950 he returned to All Souls. In 1957, he was elected to the Chichele Chair of Social and Political Theory, delivering his influential and best-known inaugural lecture, Two Concepts of Liberty. Berlin died in Oxford on November 5, 1997.
Isaiah Berlin's celebrated radio lectures on six formative anti-liberal thinkers were broadcast by the BBC in 1952. They are published here for the first time, fifty years later. They comprise one of Berlin's earliest and most convincing expositions of his views on human freedom and on the history of ideas--views that later found expression in such famous works as "Two Concepts of Liberty," and were at the heart of his lifelong work on the Enlightenment and its critics. Working with BBC transcripts and Berlin's annotated drafts, Henry Hardy has recreated these lectures, which consolidated the forty-three-year-old Berlin's growing reputation as a man who could speak about intellectual matters in an accessible and involving way.
In his lucid examination of sometimes complex ideas, Berlin demonstrates that a balanced understanding and a resilient defense of human liberty depend on learning both from the errors of freedom's alleged defenders and from the dark insights of its avowed antagonists. This book throws light on the early development of Berlin's most influential ideas and supplements his already published writings with fuller treatments of Helvétius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, and Saint-Simon, with the ultra-conservative Maistre bringing up the rear. These thinkers gave to freedom a new dimension of power--power that, Berlin argues, has historically brought about less, not more, individual liberty.
These lectures show Berlin at his liveliest and most torrentially spontaneous, testifying to his talents as a teacher of rare brilliance and impact. Listeners tuned in expectantly each week to the hour-long broadcasts and found themselves mesmerized by Berlin's astonishingly fluent extempore style. One listener, a leading historian of ideas who was then a schoolboy, was to recount that the lectures "excited me so much that I sat, for every talk, on the floor beside the wireless, taking notes." This excitement is at last recreated here for all to share.