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Freedom And Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty [Kindle Edition]

Isaiah Berlin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Isaiah Berlin's celebrated radio lectures on six formative anti-liberal thinkers were delivered on the BBC's Third Programme in 1952. They are published here for the first time, fifty years on. Freedom and its Betrayal is one of Isaiah Berlin's earliest and most convincing expositions of his views on human freedom and the history of ideas, views which 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.

In his lucid examinations of sometimes difficult ideas Berlin demonstrates that a balanced understanding and a resilient defence 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 ideas, and supplements his already published writings with fuller treatments of Helvétius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel and Saint-Simon, with the ultra-conservative traditionalist Maistre bringing up the rear.

Freedom and its Betrayal shows 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 broadcasts and found themselves mesmerised by Berlin's astonishingly fluent extempore style. A leading historian of ideas, who was then a schoolboy, records 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.

Product Description


"When reading Isaiah Berlin we breathe an altogether different air, and not simply because he was a superior writer. With him we know we are inside the psychological and historical clockwork that turns the hands of modern life. . . . [This book], in a remarkably narrow compass, takes us deep into the crisis of modern political ideas and makes us experience all the contradictions and complexities of our situation. If this is not a political philosophy, or at least a preparation for it, I don't know what is."--Mark Lilla, New York Review of Books

"Considering how murky intellectual history can sometimes seem, these lectures are astonishing for their lucidity and power."--Darrin M. McMahon, Wall Street Journal

"The most famous lectures Berlin ever gave. . . . [T]hey fascinated and astounded their listeners, quickly turning Isaiah Berlin into a household name. Never before had someone addressed such abstract topics with such fluency and intensity, not reading form a script but speaking directly to his audience."--Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph

"Imagine turning on the radio and hearing a brilliant, immensely erudite man speaking extemporaneously at breakneck pace for a full hour about the ideas of an 18th century philosopher. . . . In fact, the radio audience was treated not merely to one, but six hourlong broadcasts. . . . Now, half a century later, the lectures are finally available in written form, assiduously edited from rough transcripts by Henry Hardy."--Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times

"Berlin's first great public successes remain utterly, indeed inspirationally, absorbing."--Ray Olson, Booklist

"Berlin says that people are individuals and have a right to be respected, that liberty is supreme, that we wish for many things in life and must compromise, and that authority is dangerous and power must be under control. And he says what he says in magnificent style. Liberal values are simple truths which are always in danger of being crowded out by philosophical systems."--Stein Ringen, Times Literary Supplement

"Berlin sets out to inform, entertain, and defend the Anglo-Saxon concepts of liberty and pluralism against all comers. . . . The language is vivid, direct, playful, learned; the presentation ordered and concise."--Jeremy Lott, Chronicles

Book Description

'Never before had someone addressed such abstract topics with such fluency and intensity - these lectures, while presupposing no specialist expertise, introduce some of the key issues in modern political theory in an enthusiastic and quite unpatronising way' Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 316 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (30 Jun. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008BSOJ28
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #315,060 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's The Big Idea? 29 Dec. 2003
Berlin call himself an historian of ideas, rather than a philosopher. Nevertheless, his way of reporting history throws its own light on these ideas, drawing out the ironies and ambiguities of their evolution.
In Six Enemies of Liberty, he examines in loving detail, the peculiarities of the times and the thinking of six key personalities who decisively influenced our ideas of freedom and repression, duty and justice, of our rights and our obligations.
Berlin has the wonderful art of making general trends in thought explicit, where these attitudes often were, or often are, the implicit assumptions of those who owned them. He then contrasts them with conflicting attitudes which seemed equally obvious to other people in other circumstances. This draws out the full novelty of the concepts in discussion.
Some of the thinkers (Rouseau, Kant..) are familiar to most students of philosophy or history, but we tend to think of them only as bit part players who lent key aspects of our current sense of liberty. Their inclusion in a list of 'traitors' is enough to raise an eybrow, but the book argues carefully and convincingly, that however well intended these men were, their attitudes to freedom then were finaly the opposite of what the West in the 21st century would usually regard as valuable.
As an historian, Berlin always frames their ideas in the context of the going debate of their time, bringing out the full passion of their declarations and protests. He also always manages to produce a couple of names that lie off the beaten track - De Maistre was particularly new and interesting for me - to make the whole experience richer and more entertaining.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Effortless Insight 21 Sept. 2003
The book contains six essays orignally given as radio lectures, and the direct and straightforward way difficult ideas on philosophy are communicated shines through the beautifully flowing prose. The writing is elegant, immediate and almost casually deep. An excellent introduction to philosophy around the Enlightenment, and a wonderful display of a lively mind at work.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Six Enemies of Human Freedom 12 Dec. 2005
By Amore Roberto - Published on
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.

In "Freedom and Its Betrayal" the effort is focused on a single theme, considered in its negative value (betrayal) showing how the "liberal" and individualistic modern concept of liberty has not just one, but many intellectual "enemies".

The conferences expand a theme that is central in his thinking and investigate the ideas of six seminal thinkers who lived just before or not long after the French Revolution: Helvetius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Simon and De Maistre.


This is not the place to consider in depth the charges moved to each one of them (I will be glad to discuss specific issues with any reader who wants to write me), but some features of Berlin's approach are remarkable.

Every introduction is more a presentation of the thinker's relevant ideas and the indictment is not directed to the author, but to the logical consequences of his ideas, with only occasional mention to the - alleged - historical outcome.

Every thinker is even treated with sympathy and curiosity - an almost reverential gratitude, because philosophy to Berlin is not strictly speaking a place to administer condemnation or to grant salvation, but the place dedicated to constant and peaceful evaluation.


While the book is not so stylish and captivating as "The Roots of Romanticism", it is nonetheless hugely interesting to all those interested in the history of ideas.

Occasionally and notwithstanding a sloppy prose, you can find true cameos, in which inspiration and passion bestow an unusual poetical force.

One especially deserves citation for the faint echo of Montaigne's skepticism and the elegance of its repetition:

"Nature, and she alone, teaches philosophers what the true ends of men are.

True, Nature at all times speaks with too many voices.

She said to Spinoza that she was a logical system, but to Leibniz that she was a congeries of souls.

She said to Diderot that the world was a machine with cords, pulleys and springs, whereas to Herder she said that it was an organic living whole.

To Montequieu she talked about the infinite value of variety, to Helvetius of unalterable uniformity.

To Rousseau she declared that she had been perverted by civilization, sciences and the art, whereas to d'Alembert she promised to reveal their secret.

Condorcet and Paine perceived that she implanted inalienable rights in man; to Bentham she says this is mere "bawling upon paper" - "nonsense upon stilts".

To Berkley she reveals herself as the language of God to man.

To d'Holbach she said that there was no God and Churches were conspiracies.

Pope, Shaftesbury, Rousseau see nature as a marvelous harmony. Hegel sees her as a glorious field in which great armies clash by night.

And De Maistre sees her as an agony of blood and fear of self immolation.

What is Nature? And what is meant by Natural?"(pag 54 in my edition)


I'm used to suggest other books to readers interested in the same topic. This time I will only suggest

- "The Roots of Romanticism" by the same author

- "The Power of Ideas" (see my review if interested) - a collection of short essays that is flawed by the dubious choice of the curator.


You are most welcome if you can suggest other books about the same theme or just share ideas and comments!

Thanks for reading.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking out loud 21 Oct. 2002
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good book. . . . 7 Jan. 2014
By Tammany - Published on
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars the product meet my 19 Nov. 2014
By SaNaa - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
the product meet my expectations
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