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It was absurd to desire to take as prisoners the Emperor, kings, and dukes, since the possession of such prisoners would have greatly enhanced the difficulty of the Russian position, as was recognized by the most clear-sighted diplomatists of the time (J. Maistre and others).L. Tolstoy, War and PeaceMaistre’s works are regarded as interesting rather than important, the last despairing effort of feudalism and the dark ages to resist the march of progress. He excites the sharpest reactions: scarce...
The Crooked Timber of Humanity is not an ode to conformity as some radicals might describe it, but an attempt to show our complexity as human beings.Isaiah Berlin has a reputation for being a magnificent essayist but this book has exceeded my expectations. Basically, you' ll get a good grasp of his value pluralism notion and become more skeptical towards utopian ideologies. Enlightenment was the triumph of reason and logic but the romantics soon showed its flaws, depicting the human condition as...
"From the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made." -- Immanuel KantIsaiah Berlin sees human life as necessarily tragic, not because of human depravity in a Christian sense but because of the incompatibility of human goods. Humans will never be able to attain both perfect liberty and perfect equality, for example; they must make a difficult choice between them or seek only a partial measure of each. ("Total liberty for wolves is death to the lambs," in Berlin's famous formulat...
In this compelling examination of the historical roots of modern thinking Isaiah Berlin occupies himself with the clash of ideas between French Enlightenment thinkers on one side and a small group of irrationalist reactionaries on the other. He primarily focuses on Giambattista Vico, Johann Gottfried Herder, Joseph de Maistre and Johann Georg Hamann and discusses how their reaction against the enlightenment concept of universal truth led to the romantic movement and ultimately to fascism. Berlin...
Like The Blank Slate, this book was a life-changer for me. Reading it convinced me that radicalism in politics is ultimately self-defeating, and that irreconcilable political opponents not simply can get along, but they must get along (with some rare exceptions, viz. Nazis). Liberalism isn't acceptance of those boneheads over there, but is rather the idea that failing to give them a voice will lead to something a lot worse.
I’ve been intrigued by Isaiah Berlin ever since I found out that he was the author of the seminal essay on Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” His collection of later essays, The Crooked Timber of History, was equally compelling. The first two essays, “The Pursuit of the Ideal” and “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West,” were interesting in the discussion of the inevitable failure of utopian movements like communism and fascism due to the fact that ideals differ from culture to culture. Thi...
4/5There are a couple of chapters in here that repeat the same theory or point multiple times. But that aside, Berlin writes (or speaks) with clarity and precision over vast epochs of intellectual history. German Romanticism, Nationalism and of course the essay which this collection is most known for, Joseph De Maistre. De Maistre was an elegant, intelligent, prophetic and bone-chilling thinker who predicted the Russian Revolution and developed a view of the world that was closely replicated amo...
Comprising of what are arguably his most interesting essays, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas certainly represents a supremely engaging collection of Isaiah Berlin’s best works. Concerned with the dangers posed by utopian thought and the strengths of what he describes as being cultural pluralism, each of the eight essays contained within examine the historical roots of modern thinking and argue against the manmade utopianism that wreaked so much havoc in the twent...
A collection of essays from the renown historian Isaiah Berlin, who essentially offers an entirely reasonable and nuanced argument for abandoning Platonic ideals, absolute ethical values, categorical imperatives, and quests for Utopia. Berlin offers a pluralistic, cultural approach to understanding human affairs, not unlike the Italian historian Vico. As humans, we are capable of understanding other humans, and their values, actions, and customs. We can criticise and condemn other cultures, but
A must. Berlin is one of the greatest sages of the previous century. When the misty fad of Foucault, Derrida and company has faded and we are in deep catastrophe and faced with the temptations to radical extremism violence and mad utopianism on the left and rigid reaction on the right Berlin will be needed.
A worthy successor to "Against The Current".All of the essays were informative, but the most important (to me) were "Joseph De Maistre and the Origins of Fascism", followed by "The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West", and "The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will: The Revolt against the Myth of an Ideal World".
I recommend the chapters entitled "Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism" (available for download at the New York Review of Books' website), "The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will," and "The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West."
Some books come to you at the right time and help you articulate your own thinking. After only 30 pages, my brain is on fire. I am awestruck by Berlin's depth, intelligence and synthesis of thought.
Absolutely exceptional. I highly recommend this book. Stimulating, thiught provoking and brilliant. Minds get hungry and are fed by this very kind of book.
Very well-written articles. Rich material. Brilliant insights into the history of ideas.
The title chosen for this collection of Berlin’s essays is apt. Based on a quote by Immanuel Kant which says, roughly translated, that “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made,” Berlin systematically follows the idea of an imperfect world lived by imperfect beings doing their best to find a perfect way of life and discovering in the end, for one reason or another, that it’s impossible. Like the Fountain of Youth, or the Seven Cities of Cibola, or any other pot at th...
If you’re interested in a contemporary philosopher who is able to put thousands of years into clear perspective, I would certainly place Sir Isaiah Berlin at or near the top of the list. Mr. Berlin’s vaunted reputation as an advocate for classical liberal principles and a first rate thought historian is entirely well deserved as The Crooked Timber of Humanity amply demonstrates. full review here:The Crooked Timber of Humanity - http://wp.me/p6lj8t-iv
It seemed a good time to read even a dated defense of liberal democracy, although a fine intellectual work will always seem to be timely. Berlin is European-focused and here wrestles repeatedly with the question of how the first half of the twentieth century went so wrong, and yet the essays are not so narrowly confined, drawing on an impressively broad familiarity with past and contemporary thinkers. In the end, the work conveys a humane voice speaking on behalf of humanism.
A very interesting group of essays. It is both a history of philosophical ideas as well as new philosophy for the modern era.A society based on Reason can be stifling. Romantic thoughts of individualism sit latent. Even though you may love the technological innovations that society provides, you easily still feel like a cog in a wheel that doesn't suit you. You may look to Nationalism to satisfy your needs. At least that way you feel like you're adding a personal touch through your culture.
It is a very well written book, as usual with Isaiah Berlin, but a bit repetitive at times since several essays rehash the same themes and thinkers and they have also been treated in other books and essays by Berlin.I thought the best essay in this collection was "the bent twig" on the rise of nationalism, with some fantastic pages around p270. That was vintage Berlin.
Of course, Berlin's essays are an absolute pleasure and fun to read. But more than that, here is one of the best defenses of political pluralism and classical liberalism committed to paper, as well as a devastating attack on authoritarianism, fascism and other absolutist and utopian political monsters.
Probably brilliant, but a difficult read.
The author has relevant commentary on fascism and authoritarianism but these essays have redundant points and much that is off-track. Needed a better editor. But I like his perspective.
Berlin's theme is that we can't take things like liberty, justice and humanity for granted. We need a constant focus on ethical thought, moral inquiry and political philosophy (ethical thought applied to society) to retain our humanity. Even if an absolute can't be reached in our aspirations, we can prioritize avoiding the extremes of suffering and work from there.
In this series of eight essays, Isaiah Berlin recounts the intellectual dispute that took place in the late 18th to early 19th century that gave rise to the Romantic movement, and how ideas from both sides of the debate combined and recombined in the heads of various thinkers over the years so as to produce the fascist and socialist movements of the twentieth century. One side of the dispute consists of those who believed in universal, objective truth, scientific rationalism, a common human natu...
KOBOBOOKSReviewed by The Guardian (23 Jul 2013)
Brilliant posthumous collection of essays from a profoundly civilized advocate of tolerant and open societies. "Joseph De Maistre and the Origins of Fascism" was a tour de force. I'd say more, but I loaned out my copy a couple of decades ago and it hasn't been returned.
Crooked indeed! Kant had it right that nothing straight could come from this "timber." But does that mean we must resort to fascism and reliance on state authority to impose compliance and conformity? Berlin's discussions of the origins of fascism and nationalism are excellent.
fascinating book, with plenty of interesting ideas about how people make decisions over the long-term, and how "true-to-ourselves" we can ever be.