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. "Fichte gradually adopts the idea that the individual himself is nothing, that man is nothing without society, that man is nothing without the group, that the human being hardly exists at all." (p. 67). The first three pages of notes are mainly citations. The notes on Fichte cover seven pages and include additional phrases from Fichte's work not mentioned in Berlin's lectures but noted on the manuscript. This provides the opportunity to read bits like, "the natural institution of the State ends this independence provisionally and melts the separate parts into one whole, until finally morality recreates the whole species into one." (p. 166).
The notes on Hegel provide a citation for `slaughter-bench.' Hegel gets credit for a new way of looking at the history of everything which is so inspired by greatness that "To see a vast human upheaval and then to condemn it because it is cruel or because it is unjust to the innocent is for Hegel profoundly foolish and contemptible." (p. 92). Also, "Hegel's most original achievement was to invent the very idea of the history of thought." (p. 99). From there, it figures that Saint-Simon would expect the French to produce rationally a society. "For him, history is a story of living men trying to develop their faculties as richly and many-sidedly as possible." (p. 112).
On the other hand, I also have Isaiah Berlin's book, RUSSIAN THINKERS, and Joseph de Maistre, the last lecture topic for this book, was a source for Tolstoy. "Maistre is fascinated by the spectacle of war." (p. 139). "Tolstoy read Maistre because Maistre lived in Petersburg during the period in which he was interested, and he echoes his description of what a real battle is like, describing the experience of people present at the battle rather than giving the orderly, tidied-up account constructed later by eye-witnesses or historians." (p. 140). After that, the phrase, "says Maistre in a mocking manner," (p. 141) applied to the ideas in the preceding lectures, establishes that "No metaphysical magic eye will detect abstract entities called rights, not derived from either human or divine authority." (pp. 143-4). I think the last lecture is far easier to understand than the others.